11 Best Places to Visit in Germany in Winter
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Germany is a wonderland of mountains, castles, and ancient cities that will awe you at any time of the year. But visit in winter, and the picture-perfect landscapes covered in snow are suddenly just a bit more magical, more alive. Whether you're headed to historical Berlin or the vast beauty of the Black Forest, Germany is full of destinations that are particularly beautiful during the colder months.
Add to that better prices and smaller crowds, and you'll start realizing why this is a country that's best explored as the temperatures plummet. Need some inspiration? Take a look at our list of the best places to visit in Germany in winter.
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1. Zugspitze Mountain
Germany's best ski resort is at the top of the country's tallest mountain. Zugspitze sits at just under 3,000 meters above sea level and is home to three glaciers. While the mighty mountain is best known for its slopes, it also attracts climbers and mountaineers. The base of Zugspitze offers plenty of trails for winter hiking and snowshoeing.
Three cable cars and the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway (the third highest railway in Europe) make their way up the mountain, bringing sports enthusiasts to the winter sports area. Here, skiers and snowboarders will find 20 kilometers of slopes open and ready for six months out of the year. There are also toboggan runs available.
Many of the pistes are high above the clouds, and the 2,600-meter-high Zugspitz Plateau is famous for its sunny winters - a perfect combination to make thrill-seekers flock here as late as April.
For visitors who need a break from all the excitement, Zugspitze Mountain is home to several restaurants and huts, as well as the igloo village Zugspitze, which offers igloo rooms for a night to remember.
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The largest city in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, Cologne has plenty to offer all yearlong. In winter, the city remains warmer than much of Germany, but still sees some snow.
On those cold January days, head to the Claudius Therme thermal bath to try their outdoor pools and saunas, warming up under the darkening sky. Cologne's carnival in February is also one of the largest in the country, with celebrations and parades taking to the streets for days.
Some of Europe's best Christmas markets are in Germany - and the ones in Cologne are particularly stunning. The city's largest Christmas market is right in front of the Cologne Cathedral's 157-meter-tall Gothic tower. Here, over 150 wooden pavilions sell everything from hand-painted holiday cards to lebkuchen (gingerbread) cookies, traditional wooden toys, and quirky Tassen tableware.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cologne
Berlin's chilly, snowy winters are perfect for indoor fun, but if you're visiting in December, the Christmas markets can't be missed either.
Potsdamer Platz's Winterworld, the historical Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market, and the Domäne Dahlem Advent market (located at a former manor) all offer a different experience, where glassblowers, artisans, carousels, and warm gingerbread combine for an amazing holiday experience.
While you're dressed up for the cold, make time to visit the Botanical Garden, which between mid-November and early January transforms into the Berlin Christmas Garden, filled with magical fairy lights and its own ice-skating rink. The Berlin Wall's outdoor exhibits are also a must at any time of the year.
For indoor entertainment, head to Berlin's Museum Island, where five museums hold everything from sculptures and art to the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Winter is the perfect time to visit the museums, as the crowds are much smaller.
You can also tour the Reichstag (Germany's parliament building), see a show at the world's biggest theater stage (the Friedrichstadt Palast), and pick up some souvenirs at Europe's largest department store, Kaufhaus des Westens.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Berlin: Best Areas & Hotels
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The charming spa town of Baden-Baden sits near the border with France, right against the Black Forest. Although a great destination in any weather, winter adds to the magic of the region. Snow transforms the Black Forest into a winter fairy tale, providing opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the many well-laid trails just minutes from Baden-Baden.
For stunning views, you can also ride the historical Merkurbergbahn (cable car) up Merkur Mountain and discover the many winter trails there. Or hike up to the ruins of Schloss Hohenbaden castle, crowning the hills right above town.
Back in town, there are plenty of Christmas markets to explore in December. You can take a stroll through Lichtentaler Allee park, then grab a table at one of the many cozy cafés around for some traditional chocolate truffles.
Or visit the late-Gothic Stiftskirche church, then head to the Museum Frieder Burda to see the stunning collection of modernist and expressionist art.
As a spa town, Baden-Baden has plenty to offer as well. In winter, take a hot dip into thermal waters at the Caracalla Spa, try Roman baths at Friedrichsbad, or step into a salt cave for some salty sea-like breeze.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Baden-Baden
5. Mosel Valley
Located in southwestern Germany and extending into France and Luxembourg, The Mosel Valley is home to many quaint towns and storybook castles. The towns of Cochem and Burg Eltz are particularly stunning in winter, offering breathtaking views over the river, ancient castles, and plenty of hills for hiking - all of it more magical under a dusting of snow.
Castles and historical sites around the valley are perfect in winter - the fog and snow add to the mystery, and the sites are almost empty, free of the big crowds you'll encounter in summer. In December, the Christmas markets in the region - especially the historical ones at Zell an der Mosel and Bernkastel-Kues - light up the valley.
Even in winter, it's worth braving the cold to explore the Old Town centers in the area. Half-timbered buildings that seem out of a fairy tale line up the streets and make for great photo opportunities. While the river cruises don't run in winter, you can take the train from Koblenz to Cochem and get similar scenic views along the way.
Winter transforms most of Germany into a snowy wonderland, but the old city of Hamburg makes the most of the cold weather. As soon as the temperatures plummet, Hamburg starts offering advent concerts in the city's many churches, and Christmas markets start selling stollen (fruit cake), as well as hot chocolate for shoppers. In the inner city park of Planten un Blomen park, an ice rink pops up in winter, complete with colorful lights and weekend DJs.
Hamburg lies on the river Elbe and is home to many canals and over 2,500 bridges, perfect for photographing the lights of the city as the fog rolls in. For a more in-depth water experience, head to Landungsbrücken pier to catch a winter boat ride.
Near the pier, you'll also find two museum ships: the cargo ship Cap San Diego and the three-masted sailing ship Rickmer Rickmers. It's possible to book passenger cabins to sleep on the Cap San Diego.
For a break from the cold, check out the Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg or visit the world's largest model railway and miniature airport museum at Miniatur Wunderland, one of Hamburg's top attractions. Hamburg is home to over 60 museums and 40 theaters, so finding things to do indoors won't be hard.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hamburg
About an hour and a half from Munich and at the foot of the mighty Zugspitze mountain, the two towns that make up Garmisch-Partenkirchen are a winter haven for nature lovers.
The 1936 Olympic Games were held here, and its closeness to some of the country's tallest and most beautiful mountains means this is a prime destination for skiing, winter hiking, and cross-country skiing. The historical ski jumping hill of Olympiaschanze is worth a quick visit as well.
But Garmisch-Partenkirchen is about more than snow fun. A leisurely walk through the neighborhood of Partenkirchen and its traditional half-timbered houses with carved scrollwork is a great way to spend a sunny winter afternoon - especially if you make some time to sit down at a local café for some chocolate cake.
For some indoor fun, stop by the Werdenfelser Heimatmuseum and get a peek of local life in the 1800s. And for a stunning view of the alpine surroundings, hop in one of the many gondolas that depart from town, including the Hausbergbahn Gondola, which goes 1,338 meters up Hausberghöhe mountain, or the Alpspitzbahn cable car, which takes you up the Zugspitze to the breathtaking AlpspiX viewing platform.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
8. Neuschwanstein Castle
Germany is home to many stunning castles, but few can match the magic of Neuschwanstein Castle, the castle that inspired Disney's princess castle.
The Romanesque Revival palace sits on a hill in the heart of Bavaria. Originally commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria to be used as a retreat, the castle was almost immediately opened to the public after his death in 1886. Of the original 200 rooms planned, only 15 were ever fully finished. Today, visitors can tour the king's quarters and some of the other rooms.
During the warmer months, the castle sees as many as 6,000 visitors per day, but things are much quieter in winter. Group tours are smaller, photos are better when fewer people are around, and the frosty endless forests around add to the magic.
In addition, the train ride from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle is stunning in winter, as the train crosses alpine villages and forested mountains dusted in snow.
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9. Partnach Gorge
Most tourists heading to the Partnach Gorge arrive in summer - but the Partnach is equally stunning in winter, especially after a heavy snowfall. It sits in the Reintal valley between two massive limestone walls that reach 80 meters high in some areas. Deep into the gorge, visitors can walk along the river, behind the frozen waterfalls, and above the snow-covered rocks in the river below.
The gorge is 700 meters long, with additional trails that take you across suspension bridges and through deep green forests. For those with an even bigger sense of adventure, guided torchlight hikes are held through the gorge only during winter. It's a magical experience, walking in the dark with the light reflecting on the surrounding trickles of ice.
The nearby winter resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers plenty to do, and the picturesque Alpine lakes Eibsee and Riessersee offer additional winter hikes and picture opportunities.
Home to Germany's oldest officially recorded Christmas market, Dresden truly puts on a show during the holiday season. Craftsmen - selling Saxony's Silesian ceramics, Ore Mountain wood carvings, and plenty of blown-glass ornaments - are always in attendance, and Dresden is also well-known for selling traditional Christmas Stollen.
Dresden was heavily damaged by bombing during WWII and painstakingly restored over the next few decades. Today, visitors can see the Baroque palaces and churches in all their glory again. The Hofkirche church, reconstructed using some of the original salvaged stones, is one of the best places to visit in winter, when advent concerts take over the city. And the magnificent Zwinger Palace is equally stunning under a dusting of snow.
The inner courtyard of the Palais Taschenberg gets transformed into a giant ice-skating rink between November and January every year. Indoors, the shopping malls get decked for the cold weather with great sales and local food specialties.
And if you're inclined to take a little day trip, the winter resort town of Altenberg is less than an hour away. Here, you'll find 14 cross-country ski trails, plus plenty of opportunities for winter hiking, snowshoeing, and tobogganing.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Dresden
11. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Located on the western edge of Bavaria, the picturesque town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most photographed in Germany. And if you thought this medieval town looks stunning in pictures, you should see it in person while blanketed in snow.
During December, the medieval Christmas market is one of the town's must-see attractions and a great place to shop for a unique souvenir while snacking on roasted chestnuts.
The Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village, however, is open all year-round - so arrive in November or January and you can still enjoy the magic of the holidays as you walk around for photo opportunities next to a 16-foot-tall Christmas tree or the 12-foot-tall Nutcracker.
The German Christmas Museum, in the heart of town, is a great place to see 19th-century Christmas tree decorations and learn more about old holiday traditions.
To see the town's roofstops covered in snow, head over to the City Tower or walk the cobblestone streets of the Old Town square.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rothenburg