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A Germany travel guide – fairytale castles, bewitching landscapes and cities which pack a cultural punch

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Holidays in Germany go beyond expectations of raucous beer halls, snowy Alps and fairytale castles. Take a break in Germany to discover a country that crackles with creative energy, sizzles with diverse cuisine and stirs the soul with ever-changing landscapes.

Get your bearings

Locked in Europe's heart and bordering nine countries, Germany is a mosaic of landscapes and cultures. Rugged coastlines and windswept moors define the mostly flat north, spilling south to vibrant Hamburg, Germany's biggest port. The scenery shifts to beech woods and wheat fields edging east, home to dynamic capital Berlin and cultured Dresden. To the west, the River Rhine snakes past vine-clad slopes to cities like Gothic Cologne. Wooden farmhouses crouch below undulating hills in the Black Forest in the country's southwest. Bavaria, to the southeast, is the picture-book Germany of Alpine peaks, castles and Munich's high-spirited beer halls.

Cultured cities

Kick off cultural city breaks in Germany in Berlin with walks along the Berlin Wall open-air art gallery or tours of Museum Island's world-class galleries. Classical music fans can listen to the acclaimed boys’ choir sing in Leipzig's St Thomas' Church, where Bach was once musical director, or visit Beethoven's birthplace in Bonn. Modernism is the watchword in Dessau, famed for its geometric Bauhaus architecture, while Frank Gehry has transformed Düsseldorf's skyline with curvy, avant-garde architecture. Stand in awe of the soaring twin spires of Cologne's Gothic cathedral and Dresden's lovingly restored Frauenkirche church. Munich and Stuttgart have burgeoning arts scenes and are home to first-rate galleries and motor museums.

Castles and fairytales 

German legends come alive at fantasy castles like Mad King Ludwig's Schloss Neuschwanstein, the blueprint for the Disney castle. Journey to the Middle Ages at Eisenach's hilltop Wartburg castle where Martin Luther hid in 1521, or the robber-knight castles encircling the Rhine Valley's vine-clad slopes. Fit for a Prussian princess, Potsdam's lavish baroque Schloss Sanssouci. Follow the Grimm Brothers' trail on the 600km Märchenstrasse (Fairytale Road), taking in Hamelin, where the real Pied Piper story might just have happened. 

Local flavours

Each of Germany's holiday regions has a distinctive flavour. In the seafaring north, slurp Aalsuppe (eel soup) and eat rollmop herrings. Berliners tuck into Eisbein (pork knuckles) and Frankfurters enjoy Handkäse mit Musik, pungent sour-milk cheese with onions. The rural, mountainous south is meatier; try Munich's Weisswurst, herby veal-pork sausage, washed down with cloudy Weizen wheat beer. Or sample Swabian Maultaschen, ravioli-like pockets stuffed with pork, spinach and onions, paired with fruity local Riesling wines. Round off your culinary tour with creamy, kirsch-loaded Black Forest cake and Lübeck's famous marzipan.

Active outdoors

Pummelled by the North Sea, dune-fringed Sylt invites bracing coastal walks - bring binoculars to spot grey seals. White cliffs tower above Rügen's sandy beaches and wetlands on Germany's Baltic coast. Active types go hiking in the Müritz National Park's lake-dotted marshlands and the Harz Mountains' cave-riddled gorges. Saxon Switzerland, a bizarre landscape of sandstone pinnacles, draws rock climbers from all over Europe. Bring walking boots to explore the bucolic Black Forest's fir-clad woodlands and deep valleys. Or venture south to Lake Constance, Europe's third largest lake, to cycle or swim. When snow falls, the Bavarian Alps bring adventurous skiers to their dramatic peaks.