As one of the largest countries in Europe, Germany can feel daunting when you start to plan a family trip there. From the dense and mountainous Black Forest to Bavaria, where the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle sits — not to mention the complicated history of World War II —there’s a lot to wrap your head around. CB! Family Travel Advisor Katie Stewart, who lives in Stuttgart with her family, recommends choosing a few cities and highlights to focus on rather than trying to cover all of Germany with kids in one visit.
“Germany is a huge country,” Katie notes. “There’s this idea that you can hop on a train and be anywhere in a few hours, but Berlin to Munich is a seven-hour train journey, requiring an entire day of travel.” She recommends starting in Berlin and working your way south gradually, with stops in Nuremberg and Stuttgart along the way, in order to take in a good portion of the country for an introductory family trip that still allows ample time in each destination.
While many families, especially with older children and teens, will want to engage with some of Germany’s recent history at sites such as the Berlin Wall and concentration camps near Nuremberg, Katie emphasizes the importance of being sensitive and respectful, as that past is still very much alive for many Germans.
Below is our suggested two-week itinerary that serves as a good introduction to the country.
Start your trip in the edgy, cosmopolitan capital, which requires a flight connection from most U.S. cities, but it’s worth it to put you and your family in the northern part of the country. Though a car is not needed in Berlin itself, Stewart recommends self-driving (Germans drive on the same side of the road as Americans) to take day trips and explore beyond city limits as you work your way south toward Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Munich.
Spend four nights in Berlin (the country’s most populous city with close to 4 million residents), taking in this eclectic melting pot of a city, which boasts historic sites along with a fantastic art and food scene. The past and present mingle here with iconic landmarks sitting along modern industrial buildings. A few must-sees include the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag Dome and the Neues Museum, home to Egyptian queen Nefertiti’s bust. Two others to consider are the new Children’s World at the Jewish Museum, which tells the story of Noah’s Ark using 150 creatively made animals, and the Espionage Museum.
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Berlin on Bike offers affordable, customizable tours that incorporate street art. Younger kids will love the Berlin Zoo, the largest in all of Europe. Base yourself in the city’s family-friendly and charming Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. Or consider a hotel near the zoo for views of the animals from your room, Katie suggests. She and other members of our Advisor team can help you find just the right fit, often with exclusive perks and amenities to boot; reach out for more information.
From Berlin, drive south to Nuremberg, a charming medieval town dominated by its imperial castle-cum-fortress. The city is also known as the site of the Nuremberg trials, where Nazis were tried after World War II for carrying out war crimes and atrocities. Spend three days in the area, and if your kids are old enough, consider day trips to visit a few concentration camps that now serve as memorial sites, such as Dachau and Flossenbürg. Note: Experiencing these can be very difficult even for adults; use your judgment as to what is appropriate for your family.
Also accessible from Nuremberg, along what’s known as the Romantic Road, are Rothenburg and Dinkelsbühl, quintessential medieval towns lined with semi-timbered homes and quaint churches. Both towns, along with Nuremberg, also boast lovely Christmas markets during the winter season.
Next, head southwest for three nights in Stuttgart, considered a manufacturing hub for the country and the cradle of the automobile. The impressive glass-clad Mercedes-Benz Museum, offering a comprehensive history of the automobile company with 160 vehicles and guided tours for families, is a must. The Kessler winery, Germany’s oldest producer of sparkling wines, is about a 20-minute drive from Stuttgart in nearby Esslingen. For castle enthusiasts, Hohenzollern Castle, one of the most magnificent castles in Germany, is roughly an hour’s drive away.
If you plan to travel in fall, Stuttgart’s Oktoberfest, known as Cannstatter Volksfest, is exceptionally family-friendly, essentially a fun carnival with rides and games. “My kids love it,” Katie says. And while the Black Forest covers a large area (2,320 square miles), it’s also possible to access a portion of the verdant, mountainous forest — including Triberg’s waterfalls, the highest in the country — on a daylong excursion from Stuttgart.
Finish in Germany’s largest state, Bavaria, spending four nights in Munich, an Old-World city with sprawling squares, churches and palaces. Its central square, Marienplatz, is home to the famous Glockenspiel, a clock dating back to 1908 with 43 bells and 32 figures that move as part of a show several times a day. The famed Hofbräuhaus beer hall is also nearby, and while it’s a draw for tourists, it is also frequented by locals. While in Munich, a tour of the open-air food market, the Viktualienmarkt, is also a must, Katie adds. Assemble a picnic to enjoy at the onsite biergarten (don’t forget the giant soft pretzels, a kid-friendly favorite!).
Munich’s largest park, the English Garden, makes for an idyllic spot to ride bikes or lounge amid open fields; it also has playground facilities and a biergarten with a small soccer pitch. And don’t miss the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology, with tons of hands-on exhibits that delight kids.
TIP: Bavaria has its own distinct culture, and many locals identify as Bavarian over German. You’ll often be greeted with “Gruss Gott” (“Greet God”) rather than “Hallo” or “Guten Tag” as throughout most of Germany — a lingering tradition from the region’s heavily Catholic roots.
End your Germany adventure with a day trip to the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle, commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1868, in the Bavarian Alps. Reach the castle by bus, horse carriage or walking, based on your family’s abilities and interest (note that advance tickets are required to visit the inside). For younger children, a fantastic park at the bottom of the hill is a great place to stretch legs and play. Fun fact: the cliffside castle is believed to have been the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.
If outdoor pursuits are more your family’s passion, Katie suggests basing yourself in Garmisch-Partenkirchen instead of Munich for the last few days. In addition to nearly 200 miles of hiking trails, it offers access to the Zugspitze, the highest mountain peak in Germany, via cable car. During summer, don’t miss the local sommerrodelbahn — this twisting, turning luge ride will thrill adults as well as kids. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is within easy reach of Neuschwanstein as well.
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