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Best Things to Do in Germany

Imbibe in a Beer Garden

As soon as the sun comes out, beer gardens sprout all over Germany. With as much sunshine per year as Anchorage, Alaska, the Germans know a good thing when they see it, and are quick to set up tables and chairs under the open skies as soon as temperatures allow. Bavaria is the "home" of the beer garden, but you can sample local variations of beer and bratwurst outdoors wherever you happen to be. If the sun's out and you don't see a beer garden, take a beer to the park: Germany has no open-container laws.

Hike a Mountain

The Germans are a fiercely outdoor folk, and if you are anywhere near the mountains (or a hill, or even a relatively flat open space), you'll likely see plenty of people out walking. Pack a bag lunch and some extra bandages and join the crowd—it's a great way to get a feel for the real Germany.

Eat White Asparagus

If you visit between April and June, you're in luck: it's asparagus season. Not just any asparagus, either. Germans are crazy for their very own white asparagus, which is only available during this season. Thicker and larger than green asparagus, the white stuff has to be peeled of its hard sheath (done before cooking). Enjoy it with a slice of ham and potatoes with butter or hollandaise sauce.

Go to a Museum

No matter where you are in Germany, chances are you're close to a museum. Every big city has major, world-class art museums. Technical museums, like Munich's Deutsches Museum, are also impressive and informative. Freiluft, or open-air museums, offer collections of buildings from previous epochs that visitors can walk through to get a sense of daily life in the past. Even sparsely populated areas have their own quirky museums that depict the history of everything from marzipan to beds.

Take a Bike Tour through the City

Whether you're discovering Munich, Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, or one of Germany's many smaller cities, a bike tour is the way to do it. Tour companies offer guided tours (and bikes and helmets, though Germans often don't wear them), or you can rent a bike and set out on your own. Wind your way through Munich's English Garden or along Hamburg's harbor and you'll find that you see much more than you would from a tour bus.

Eat a German Breakfast

The German breakfast is a major affair, involving several types of bread rolls, a salami and dry sausage spread, hard cheeses, butter, chocolate spread, honey, jam, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, liver pate, other meats, hard-boiled eggs eaten in the shell, and coffee. Show up hungry.

Visit the Baker

Germany has an incredible Brotkultur, or bread culture. Bread is a historically important part of the German diet, and there are many, many types of bread to sample. Breads vary greatly from region to region, but they are without exception delicious. Go to a good artisanal bakery and you will be astounded by what you find.

Take a Curative Bath

With more than 300 Kurorte (health spas) and Heilbäder (spas with healing waters), Germany has a long tradition of spa destinations. Located by the sea, near mineral-rich mud sources, near salt deposits, or natural springs, these spas date back to the time of the Kaisers. Visit, and you'll be treated to salt baths, mud baths, saunas, thermal hot springs, and mineral-rich air, depending on the special attributes of the region you're visiting.

Cruise along the Rhine

No trip to Germany is complete without a boat tour of the Rhine. Board in Rudesheim and follow the river to Bingen (or do the reverse). Along the way, you'll see an unparalleled number of castles rising up from the banks along the river. Keep a look out for the rock of the Loreley, the beautiful river maiden of legend who lures sailors to their deaths with her song.

Visit a Christmas Market

Just about every city, town, and village has a Christmas market (and larger cities have more than one—in Berlin, for example, there are as many as 60 small markets each year). The most famous are the markets in Dresden and Nuremburg, both of which have long traditions. Christmas markets, which are held outdoors, open the last week of November and run through Christmas. Bundle up and head to one with money in your pocket to buy handmade gifts like the famous wooden figures carved in the Erzgebirge region as you sip traditional, hot-spiced Glühwein wine to stay warm.

Find a Volksfest

Nearly every city, town, and village hosts an annual Volksfest, or folk festival. These can be very traditional and lots of fun. A cross between a carnival and county fair, these are great places to sample local food specialties, have a home-brewed beer, and generally join in the fun.

Take a Spin in a Fine German Automobile

Germany is the spiritual home of precision auto engineering, and Germans love their cars. You can rent a Porsche, Mercedes, or BMW for a day to see what it's like to drive like the Germans. Take your car-for-a-day to the Nürburgring, a world-famous racetrack built in the 1920s. There, you can get a day pass to drive your car around the track. Visit the on-site auto museum afterward. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz have recently opened fantastic new museums, as well.

Swim in a Lake

Germany is dotted with lakes, and when the weather is warm, locals strip down and go swimming. Don't worry if you don't have your suit with you: it's usually fine (even normal) to skinny-dip.

Rent a Paddleboat

If swimming's not your thing, most lakes have paddleboat rentals in summer. While away the afternoon in the company of the ducks. This is what summer is all about.

Go to a Soccer Game

Soccer is the national sport and it provokes even the most stoic German man's passion (some women follow eagerly, as well). Even if you aren't a soccer fan, going to a live game is exciting. There's a palpable energy and it's easy to follow the action. You can catch a soccer game just about anywhere, anytime except for June and July, and over the Christmas break.

Go Sledding

In winter, children and adults alike head for the nearest incline, sleds in hand. If you don't have a sled, just stand back and enjoy the spectacle. The children's old-fashioned wooden sleds are truly charming.

Updated: 2014-03-11

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