Top 5 German cities to visit in winter

A snowy day at Berlin's Cathedral | Photo by Андрей Шевченко
A snowy day at Berlin's Cathedral | Photo by Андрей Шевченко

Top 5 German cities to visit in winter

by Courtney Woodruff
Stripes Europe

Germany is known for cold, dreary winters, which are brightened considerably by the warmth and cheer of traditional village Weihnachtsmärkte and New Year’s Eve celebrations. But what is there to do after the lights of the Christmas markets fade, and the remnants of explosive fireworks are swept from the streets — besides mope around in eager anticipation of the first signs of spring? Plenty!

1. Berlin
Germany’s capital city is a lively place all winter long. A few weeks after starting the year off with a bang — literally — in front of the world-famous Brandenburg Gate, locals and tourists, alike, gets dressed up for the posh parties that accompany Fashion Week. The glitz and glamour continue the first week of February as stars arrive for Berlinale: Berlin’s International Film Festival. Then, the celebrations move to the streets, where people from all around the world come together for a wild week of Fasching.

Winter is also a great time of year to head indoors to check out Berlin’s 175 museums. From art and ancient artifacts to military history to classic cars and technology, the city contains many treasures of our past and present. The Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum (Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem) offers special programs and events in its greenhouse year-round, as well.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen with its snow-capped mountains | Photo by Wolfgang Zwanzger

2. Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Even though the ski resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is beautiful all year, it is a favorite spot for winter sports, outdoor recreation and adventure from November to May. Hit the slopes with your skis or snowboard, go sledding, try your hand at ice sports, such as Bavarian curling (Eisstockschießen), or stand at the top of the Zugspitze for breathtaking views from Germany’s highest point.

The nearby Partnachklamm, or Partnach Gorge, is considered one of the most beautiful of Bavaria’s natural wonders, and is arguably at its most spectacular in the winter, when the 80-meter-high waterfalls freeze on their way down to the rushing river below. Draped with jagged banners of glimmering ice, the gorge is open for touring November through April from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Magical, evening torch-lit hikes for groups are also available. Bring along your favorite parka and a sturdy pair of rain boots. On your way home, make a detour to nearby Schloss Neuschwanstein, which is even more glamorous than usual when blanketed in snow.

Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Nuremberg | Photo by Olena Serditova

3. Nuremberg
While Nuremberg is known for its gorgeous Christkindlesmarkt, there is so much more to do than sip Glühwein and browse Christmas trinkets in the cobblestone streets. See a ballet at the art nouveau Staatstheater, visit the toy museum to learn how children’s playthings have evolved from medieval dolls to Barbie and LEGO, and taste gingerbread that has been lovingly prepared based on an unaltered, 600-year-old recipe. You can spend an entire day soaking up history at the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds (Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände), and another touring medieval dungeons, a World War II art bunker, Albrecht Dürer’s home and Nuremberg Castle.

The weeks after Christmas, when the crowds have dispersed and the market stalls have been taken down, are a great time to see Nuremberg on a budget. If you plan to be there for more than two days, consider purchasing a Nürnberg Card for free admission to more than 40 museums and attractions in the area.

Forest waterfall in Baden-Baden | Photo by g215

4. Baden-Baden
If relaxation is your top priority, head to the spa town of Baden-Baden to wash away your winter blues in warm thermal baths. Treat yourself to a stress-relieving massage, indulge in a rejuvenating facial, or strengthen your immune system with a visit to Salina Baden-Baden’s holistic Sea Salt Grotto.

In between treatments, you can snuggle up in the back of a horse-drawn carriage for a laidback sightseeing tour highlighting the city’s most famous musicians and writers. You can also visit the gambling den Marlene Dietrich called “the most beautiful casino in the world,” or escape the winter chill with a visit to one of Baden-Baden’s many fascinating museums. Admire the artwork on display at the Staatliche Kunsthalle and Frieder Burda Museum, learn more about composer Johannes Brahms with a visit to his historic home, and drool over the intricately designed decorative eggs and jewelry at the Fabergé Museum.

Baden-Baden is also a great central location from which you can take half-day excursions to places like Karlsruhe, the Black Forest and Strasbourg, France.

Snow landscape in Aachen | Photo by Marius Brettner

5. Aachen
For a spa town experience with alluring historical sites, plus the romance and lively nightlife of a bigger Germany city, plan a winter getaway to Aachen.

What began as a Stone Age flint quarry around 2500 B.C. became a military resort for the Romans as early as the 1st century. In 768, King Charlemagne lived in Aachen, where his palace and chapel were built. The city quickly became his favorite place of residence and the center of his empire. In 814, Charlemagne died and was buried in the palace chapel. Today, Charlemagne’s chapel forms the central component of the Cathedral of Aachen. Pieces from his palace, as well as artifacts from coronations and religious pilgrimages throughout history, are on display in the Cathedral Treasury.

After visiting his resting place, do as Charlemagne did, and go for a relaxing soak in Aachen’s hot springs. The Roman spa, once named “Aquae Granni” after the Celtic god of water and health, is said to have been promoting the health and wellness of its visitors for more than 2,000 years.

If you’re in the mood for an outdoor adventure, head to the Three Countries Corner (Dreiländereck) viewing tower and maze to stand in the spot where Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands meet. Later, warm up at an opera or ballet performance at the city’s municipal theater, visit the International Newspaper Museum (Internationales Zeitungsmuseum), or spend the evening out on the town at one of Aachen’s many pubs and restaurants.

Aachen’s Charlemagne Festival is celebrated on the last day of every January in remembrance of the emperor’s death, and Karneval fills the city’s streets with more than 100 floats on Rosenmontagszug, or Monday’s Carnival Procession, at the end of February.

These months often feel like the longest of the year. Instead of spending the last of your winter days sulking and longing for a new and warmer season, bundle up, brave the cold and experience all Germany has to offer. 

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