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Authentic Off-The-Beaten-Path German Towns You Have To Visit

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November 28, 2017

Working in a budget hotel in Nuremberg, I get asked to recommend enjoyable cities to visit in Germany on a daily basis. While most travelers usually head straight to the major cities Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich, as well as a couple of smaller cities like Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Dortmund or Leipzig, only very few tourists get to see the real authentic parts of the German historical and cultural heritage. In the media and travel guides, it seems, only the major German cities get attention, which is a shame considering that there are so many excellent, budget-friendly hidden gems worth a visit.

In this post, I´ve listed various small cities (less than 150k citizens) that provide insight into German history, architecture, and culture. Those towns are a lot more off the beaten path than many other tourist spots and will be an authentic experience for foreign travelers.

Only the large German cities get much attention, even though there are so many hidden gems worth exploring.

1. Bamberg

The Franconian town of Bamberg is located at the border of the Franconian Switzerland region and an architectural masterpiece. Its entire medieval Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of Bavaria’s most beautiful. Among tourists and locals, Bamberg is known for being one of Germany’s most authentic beer cities featuring 10 unique breweries. Some people even refer to Bamberg as the beer capital of Germany. Several canals and river branches run through the town giving it the nickname “Small Venice.” Bamberg is also a lively college city with around 13000 students who bring life into pavement cafes, pubs and beer cellars. A visit can easily be done as a day trip while staying in Nuremberg. However,  to experience the medieval Franconian town with its vibrant atmosphere once the day-trip tourists have left, consider staying overnight.

>> See also: Budget Travel Guide: Experience Bamberg In 1 Day

Bamberg Old Town Hall

The Old Bridge and Old Townhall are frequented by students meeting up for a beer in summer.

Bamberg Small Venice

Bamberg´s “Small Venice” is a romantic spot great for photographers.

Top Sights To See

Bamberger Dom (Bamberg Cathedral), Neue Residenz (New Residence), Klein Venedig (Small Venice), Brauereimuseum (Brewery museum)

Typical Food & Drink

Check out restaurants like Schlenkerla or Zum Sternla for authentic Franconian food and beer. Klosterbräu is another good place worth trying – it´s a small brewery a little outside the old sections of downtown. They brew mostly dark beer with a very distinct taste. Regarding beer, consider taking a zip of Bamberg´s exceptional smoked beer – only try if you like the taste of ham. 😉

TopTip

In 2015 and 2016, I used to spend a lot of time in Bamberg as I have tons of friends there who I like to meet up with on a regular basis. I recommend Café Esspress, which offers incredibly cheap food deals every day, e.g. they have themed days, such as Burger Day, Pizza Day, Pasta Day with 50% discounts. Another pub I like is Stilbruch, located in the Sandstraße in the very center of Bamberg. This bar also offers very budget-friendly dishes as well as good Franconian beer.

Beer City Bamberg

Bamberg has 10 breweries and also offers a unique “smoked” beer.

2. Marburg

The famous university town of Marburg is located on a hill. It´s renowned for being a historical spot with impressive buildings and churches from different eras. The vibrant Old Town is unique in Germany and situated just below the hilltop castle, offering fabulous views over the whole city from some of the cafes and shops. Since the entire upper town is a pedestrian zone, you´ll find plenty of pavement cafes, pubs, and restaurants, which are frequented by the town´s numerous students. In fact, the University of Marburg is the oldest Protestant university in the world, founded in 1527, and had once counted many famous people among its students, such as the Brothers Grimm. Students from all over the world dominate the public life and bring youthful vibes to the town near the river Lahn. Located only around 100km north of Frankfurt, Marburg may be a perfect day-trip you can include in your Germany itinerary.

Marburg Castle

Marburg´s hilltop castle is beautiful and offers great views over the entire lower city.

Marburg Old Town

Marburg´s Old Town is situated below the castle and frequented by the town´s students.

Top Sights To See

Marburger Schloss (Marburg Castle), Elisabethkirche (St. Elizabeth Church), Oberstadt (Old Town), Spiegelslustturm (Spiegelslust Tower)

Typical Food & Drink

If you´re looking for some traditional German and Hessian food, check out Restaurant Ratsschänke at the market square in the Old Town.

TopTip

Born in this city, I may recommend a few bars and cafés you will very likely not find in a city guide written by a tourist. For some cheap, but delicious Italian food (pasta, pizza, sandwiches), head to Café Mocca, which is located close to the cinema. If you´re looking for German beer, check out Aldi´s Biergarten located only minutes away from the Old Town as well as Hinkelstein in the upper town section.

Hessian Stramma Max

Typical Hessian dishes include “Stramma Max”, which is available at many cafés throughout the Old Town.

3. Heidelberg

Heidelberg is Germany’s oldest and probably one of the most famous university towns. Among tourists, it is often referred to as a romantic day-trip or weekend-get-away destination. Heidelberg has a remarkably well-preserved baroque Old Town, with a castle sitting perched up on a hill, an impressive cathedral, and picturesque riverside setting. It´s best just to walk around, from one medieval alleyway to the next, and explore the architecture as well as boutique shops and pavement cafes. Due to a large number of students, the city has a youthful charm and has not only historical attractions but also offers excellent cultural and entertainment program. The town is a must-see for photographers and tourists interested in history and arts. It is mostly surrounded by forest and is located about 100km south of Frankfurt making it a perfect spot to include in your Germany itinerary.

Heidelberg City View

From up the Heidelberg Castle, you get a spectacular view over the whole city.

Heidelberg View

Heidelberg is surrounded by nature making it a perfect gateway for long walks and hikes.

Top Sights To Visit

Schloss Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle), Alte Brücke (Old Bridge), Heiliggeistkirche (Church Of The Holy Spirit), Deutsches Apotheken Museum (German Pharmacy Museum)

Typical Food & Drink

Moro Caffe & Thé is a great café to try some rare and unique kinds of coffee and tea. Authentic German food can be found in several restaurants around town. One of them is Brauhaus Vetter, which also brews its own beer: the perfect component alongside a delicious meal with biiiiig portions.

Heidelberg Coffee

In the Old Town, you can find a number of cafés specialized in different kinds of coffee and tea.

4. Weimar

Weimar is a charming, somewhat small Thuringian town with an impressive architecture and historical heritage. It is an essential stop for anyone interested in German history and culture. The city is most famous for having been (temporarily) home to creative minds like Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Nietzsche or Kandinsky. You’ll see them memorialized on the streets throughout Weimar´s beautiful Old Town. Moreover, you’ll find more than 10 historic buildings from the Classical Weimar period, which have even been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. In summer, Weimar hosts arts and music festivals and invites both tourists and locals to stroll around the numerous parks, such as the Goethe Park, which is even larger than the whole city of Weimar. The town is located around 130km from Leipzig and may be an excellent destination for a one-night stay.

Weimar Goethe & Schiller

In front of the German National Theatre, you can find the most famous statue of the German writers Goethe and Schiller.

Weimar Herderplatz

Check out Herderplatz with its beautiful traditional buildings.

Top Sights To See

Stadtschloss Weimar (Weimar City Palace), Goethe Haus (Goethe´s residential building), Schillers Wohnhaus (Schiller´s residential building), Fürstengruft (Burial sites)

Typical Food & Drink

For some traditional Thuringian specialties, go to Gretchen’s Cafe & Restaurant or Zum Weißen Schwan, which even have some dishes and program with reference to Goethe and Schiller. Once in Thuringia, make sure to taste the famous Thuringian sausage at one of the street food stalls.

Thuringian Sausage

Make sure to try the Thuringian Sausage once you´re in Weimar or the area around.

5. Eisenach

Eisenach is a small Thuringian town with an incredible cultural and historical heritage. Besides the state theatre and various historical museums (e.g., the Bachhaus or the Lutherhaus), the city is very close to Wartburg Castle, which can be reached after a 5 km trek from the city center. Wartburg Castle is not only ranked among the most beautiful fairytale castles in Germany but also it is high on history. Its most famous guest was Martin Luther, who resided at the castle for 300 days, during which time he translated the New Testament into German. Other than that, Eisenach is quite a vibrant city despite its small size. Also, it is the gateway to the Thuringia Forest, a densely forested area great for all kinds of outdoor activities. It is located about 70 km west of Erfurt. Both Wartburg Castle and the town of Eisenach can be visited on a day trip from Erfurt or Weimar.

>> See also: 7 Reasons To Visit Wartburg Castle

Eisenach City Center

Eisenach is a small, but vibrant Thuringian town most famous for its historical heritage.

Wartburg

Wartburg Castle is Eisenach’s most famous feature. It is considered one of the oldest and most impressive castles in Germany.

Top Sights To See

Wartburg (Wartburg Castle), Bachhaus (Bach House Museum), Lutherhaus (Luther House Museum), St George’s Church, Drachenschlucht (Dragon’s Gorge)

Typical Food & Drink

Travel back in time and have dinner in the medieval atmosphere of Lutherstube. Apart from that, you can grab Thuringian Sausages at many food stalls in the city center.

6. Passau

The Bavarian city of Passau was shaped by three rivers, the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz, giving it the nickname “City of Three Rivers.” Most tourists come to Passau either on a cruise or a day-trip while staying in the Bavarian Forest National Park, which is less than an hour away. Just like most of the other cities I presented in this post, Passau is a university town with a fifth of the residents being students. The picturesque alleyways in the Old Town can easily be explored on foot allowing you to soak up the city´s unique atmosphere. Passau is also home to the largest cathedral pipe organ in the world and hosts regular organ concerts worth a visit. You will for sure get a spectacular view of the confluence of the three rivers from up the fortress, Veste Oberhaus. Among both locals and tourists, Passau is also considered a culinary town – gingerbread, beer, and typical Bavarian dishes are part of the traditional menu. The city is located on the border with Austria and can easily be visited in a day.

Passau Dom & Old Town

Passau is famous for its location at the confluence of three rivers.

Passau Old Town

The Passau Cathedral hosts the largest pipe organ in the world.

Top Sights To See

Dom St. Stephan (St. Stephan´s Cathedral), Altes Rathaus (Old Townhall), Veste Oberhaus (Fortress), Dreiflusseck (Three River Corner – point of confluence)

Typical Food & Drink

For some proper Bavarian food, such as roasted pork knuckle or dumplings with gravy and red cabbage, go to Heilig-Geist-Stifts-Schenke. You´ll find the best local gingerbread and chocolate at Confiserie & Café Simon.

Bavarian Food Passau

Located on the border with Austria, Passau is a culinary heaven offering both Bavarian and Austrian cuisine.

You want to know more about one city in particular, or you´re planning on staying in one of the towns for more than one or two days? I will be happy to give you some more travel tips and insight into each town. Also, tell me about other places you have in mind that should be added to this list of hidden gems in Germany.

For more hidden gems around the world, take a look at my other budget travel guides!

5 Authentic Off The Beaten Path German Towns You Have To Visit
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Lena On The Move

Hi there, I'm Lena! I love being on the move around the world - travelling, diving or taking pictures. I've recently started dealing with and writing about ways to make diving more affordable. I enjoy sharing my experiences and tips with y'all, fellow budget backpackers and budget divers! Read more

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