Germany for First Timers, 10-day Itinerary

See the best Germany has to offer: stunning landscapes, charming medieval towns, and cosmopolitan cities. Make the most of your trip by taking the train between stops. You’ll enjoy views of rolling green countryside, towering wind turbines, and fairy-tale villages as you zip across the country. You’ll also skip the hassle of finding parking and paying for high-cost gasoline.

Fly in: Munich Airport (MUC), Munich

Fly out: Tegel Airport (TXL), Berlin

Days 1 and 2: Munich

Fly into Munich, where you'll spend the first three nights. Get your bearings in Bavaria's capital city by standing in the center of the Marienplatz and watching the charming, twirling figures of the Glockenspiel in the tower of the Rathaus (town hall). Visit one of many world-class museums to see masterpieces in art, science, and technology, then wander through the sprawling Englischer Garten (English Garden). Throughout the city, you can sit elbow to elbow with genial Bavarians at long tables in sunny beer gardens, savoring a liter of cold Hefeweizen and a salty pretzel.

Day 3: Neuschwanstein

From Munich it's an easy day trip to Germany's fairy-tale castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, in Schwangau. Though the 19th-century castle's fantastic silhouette has made it famous, this creation is more opera set than piece of history—the interior was never completed. A tour reveals why the king of Bavaria who built it earned the nickname "Mad" King Ludwig. Tickets come with a specific admission time and should be booked in advance by phone or online. You must pick them up from the ticket center in Hohenschwangau at least an hour before the tour starts—and before making your way up to the castle. Tours last about half an hour. Across the narrow wooded valley from Schloss Neuschwanstein is the ancient castle of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty, Schloss Hohenschwangau, also open for tours. Return to Munich city center in the evening and treat yourself to a hearty meal of Schweinshaxe (roasted pork knuckle) and potatoes.

Logistics: Train from Munich's Hauptbahnhof to Füssen, then 15-minute bus ride to Hohenschwangau. From there it's a 30-minute walk to the castle; 4 hours and 30 minutes round-trip.

Day 4: Freiburg

Get an early start to arrive by late morning in Freiburg, one of Germany’s most beautiful historic towns. Damaged during WWII, it has been rebuilt to preserve its delightful medieval character. Residents love to boast that Freiburg is the country’s sunniest city. Its cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, built over three centuries. Explore on foot, or by bike, and look out for the Bächle, or little brooks, that run for kilometers through this bustling university town. Check in at the Colombi, the town's most luxurious hotel, for a stay with views of the old city.

Logistics: Train from Munich's Hauptbahnhof to Freiburg im Breisgau; 4 hours.

Day 5: The Black Forest

Freiburg puts you at the perfect point from which to explore the spruce-covered, low-lying mountains of the Black Forest. For a romp around the great outdoors, set out for Titisee, a placid glacial lake, passing deep gorges along the way. If your idea of relaxation includes getting off your feet, head toward the northern Black Forest. You can treat yourself to a spa day in tony Baden-Baden, relaxing in curative waters. In the evening return to Freiburg and rest up before the next day's train ride to the north.

Logistics: Train from Freiburg im Breisgau to Titisee or Baden-Baden; 1 hour and 20 minutes round-trip.

Days 6 and 7: Hamburg

Hamburg is one of Germany’s wealthiest cities and the country's largest port. If you’re in Hamburg on Sunday, wake up early to visit the open-air Fischmarkt (fish market) and see vendors set up their fresh wares while locals dance to live music as the sun comes up. Then, take a cruise through the city’s canals with views of the Speicherstadt historic warehouse district, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Exploring the harbor you’ll see the enormous ocean liners that stop in Hamburg before crossing the Atlantic. The city offers exclusive shopping along the Jungfernstieg, a lakeside promenade. Spend the night at the Adina Apartment Hotel Hamburg Michel and enjoy the amenities of your own apartment space.

Logistics: Train from Freiburg im Breisgau to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof; 5 hours and 45 minutes.

Days 8 and 9: Berlin

Start the day at two of the city’s most iconic symbols, the Reichstag and the nearby Brandenburg Gate (note that if you want to visit the Reichstag dome you need to register in advance). Head south to experience the moving silence in the maze of the Holocaust memorial, the Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas. Stop by Potsdamer Platz, which embodies the city’s renaissance: once a no-go zone between East and West Berlin, the square now teems with glittering towers of optimism. A bit farther south is the Topographie des Terrors, an exhibition telling the story of the Nazi takeover in harrowing detail, built where the Gestapo headquarters used to be. Head back to Potsdamer Platz, where you can hop on the double-decker public Bus 200, which travels down the grand, tree-lined boulevard Unter der Linden to the colossal Berliner Dom cathedral. You can then devote the entire afternoon to the stupendous collections of the Museumsinsel. The beautifully restored Neues Museum and the majestic Pergamon are standouts—the Pergamon Altar is closed for restoration until 2019 but the rest of the museum, including the stunning Ishtar Gate, remains open—as is the excellently curated Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum).

Spend the second day exploring the young side of Berlin, in Kreuzberg. This is a good time to rent a bicycle. Browse vintage clothing stores and indie boutiques and have lunch at Markthalle IX, home to a bevy of excellent local food stalls, then head south to Tempelhofer Park, the historic airfield-turned-park. Exit the park to Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood that has emerged as an epicenter of cool. For lunch, there are many Middle Eastern eateries as well as the popular Italian restaurant Lavanderia Vecchia. Continue east and cross the Spree over the redbrick Oberbaum Bridge, which served as a border crossing between East and West Berlin. On the other side of the river is Friedrichshain and the famous East Side Gallery, where international artists covered remnants of the Berlin Wall with colorful murals.

Logistics: Train from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to Berlin Hauptbahnhof; 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Day 10: Potsdam

If you can tear yourself away from Berlin, take a day trip out to Potsdam and tour the opulent palaces and manicured gardens of Sanssouci Park. Schloss Sanssouci, a palace constructed to resemble Versailles, was used as a summer getaway for Frederick the Great and is a must-see. Return to Berlin in the evening to explore more of its distinct neighborhoods, like Turkish Kreuzberg or hip Prenzlauer Berg. The next day, fly home from Berlin.

Logistics: Train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof; 1 hour and 20 minutes round-trip.

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