Secret Expat tips for a city trip: 7 beautiful historic cities in Germany

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Insider tips for a city trip to some of the best old towns and historic cities in Germany

Beautiful historic cities in Germany: Germany is peppered with so many lovingly decorated old towns. We introduce seven beautiful historical cities that you should definitely visit.

1. Görlitz: this gem in Saxony is one of the best historic cities in Germny

historic cities

What a treasure in the far east: Görlitz is right on the Polish border with its splendid old town with around 4,000 monuments from different eras. The location on the old European trade route (Hohe Straße), which connects Leipzig with Breslau, gave Görlitz an economic boom in the 15th century. You can still see that today in the many Renaissance houses, which were later supplemented by Baroque buildings with beautiful portals.

In the Protestant Church of St. Peter and Paul, you can marvel at the famous sun organ, which dates from 1703 and is still played today. The variety of architectural styles makes the city east of Dresden so interesting, which is why it has often served as a film set for international film productions such as for Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards” or Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Also worth seeing is the Cistercian monastery of Marienthal, which is 14 kilometers outside and can be quickly reached by bike on the Oder-Neisse cycle path.


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2. Lüneburg: Historic salt and Hanseatic city in Lower Saxony

historic cities

What a treat: It was the salt that made the city south of Hamburg rich. In the medieval city center, many well-preserved patrician houses are evidence of this, as is the Am Sande square, which is surrounded by Gothic brick gabled houses. Due to the centuries of salt mining, many buildings are crooked between the museum and the Lüneburg Kalkberg.

Along the old city wall there are many parks and green spaces and the river Ilmenau, which flows through the city, brings a piece of nature into the Hanseatic city. If you want to get out into nature after a sightseeing tour, you will find many options in the directly adjacent Lüneburg Heath.

3. Passau: City of three rivers with a Mediterranean flair

historic cities

What a play of colors: from the south comes the Inn with its green water, from the north the Ilz with its dark moor water and from the west the Danube with its deep blue water. The three rivers unite in the Lower Bavarian provincial metropolis of Passau, which is why it is often referred to as the city of three rivers or the Bavarian Venice.

Italian influences determine the historical core of the university town, which was rebuilt by master builders from Italy after a devastating fire in 1662 . St. Stephen’s Cathedral was given a baroque façade, and its domed towers have towered over the old town ever since. The narrow cobblestone streets, the baroque buildings painted in pastel tones and the many cafés underline the Mediterranean flair.

On the opposite bank of the Danube, the medieval castle Veste Oberhaus is enthroned on a rock. The former episcopal residence is one of the largest and most powerful castles in Europe. The Batterie Linde terrace offers the best view of the play of colors of the rivers and Austria, which is only a few kilometers away.

4. Wetzlar: half-timbered town in central Hesse

historic cities

What a story: in 1689 the highest court of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Imperial Chamber of Commerce, was moved from Speyer to the Free Imperial City of Wetzlar. The “Old Chamber”, which is still in good condition today, brought many high nobility and wealthy families to the city, who erected a number of Baroque and Rococo buildings next to the medieval buildings.

Steep streets still lead from the banks of the Lahn up a mountain slope to the old town. The cathedral with its unfinished facade towers over the medieval squares, half-timbered houses, playful baroque buildings and many small boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The access to the city center via the Alte Lahnbrücke, which was built more than 700 years ago, is even more romantic.

Goethe was also inspired by Wetzlar and, after a long visit in the summer of 1772, wrote the novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, one of his most famous works. The descriptions of the individual locations are so precise that they can still be found today without much effort.

5. Schwerin: State capital with a castle and twelve lakes

historic cities

What a setting: Schwerin, the state capital and oldest city of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is located on the shores of Lake Schwerin in the middle of a wooded lake landscape. The former royal seat was founded by Heinrich the Lion more than 1000 years ago. On the old town square, the Schwerin Cathedral rises with its brick walls in architectural contrast to the junk building from the 18th century with its white Doric columns.

Magnificent town villas and town houses are lined up around the so-called Pfaffenteich, whose narrow cobblestone streets lead into the Schelfstadt with its half-timbered facades and pointed roofs. However, the towers and their golden domes of Schwerin Castle, which is located on an island, dominate everything. 

The huge rotunda consists of eleven floors and has 635 rooms, countless windows, niches, bay windows and balustrades. Splendor and splendor from the 19th century can also be admired in the castle museum, where there is a new silver chamber and a porcelain collection with Meissen porcelain. The palace garden, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful baroque complexes in northern Germany, spreads out in front of the portals.

6. Soest: seesaws in the green city in Westphalia

historic cities

Fantastic building materials: The local green sandstone is the typical building material in Soest’s old town. The limestone with the green tone gives the centuries-old buildings their unique color. In the early Middle Ages, Soest, which lies between Dortmund and Paderborn, was once the second largest city in Germany. From this time there are still 600 listed buildings – including the city wall – which give the city its charm.

Half-timbered rows, romantic alleys and small gardens are just as much a part of it as the baroque town hall with its nine-arched hall, the “Tower of Westphalia”, the cathedral museum, the late Gothic meadow church, the Romanesque house, which is one of the oldest residential buildings between the Rhine and Weser rivers the large pond and the pond mill from the 13th century.

Here is also the “seesaw”, a punitive instrument painted in the color of shame, from which sinners were “rocked” into the pond. This old custom is practiced again today – framed by the Soest Bürgererschützenfest, always on the first Saturday after St. John’s Day on June 24th.

7. Würzburg: Baroque residence, castle and Weinfranken

historic cities

Rich history: 90 percent of the former capital of the Grand Duchy of Würzburg was destroyed in just 17 minutes just before the end of the Second World War. It took until the 1970s to rebuild the Lower Franconian town, which is idyllically situated in a basin on the Main, with its baroque churches and town houses. 

As if by a miracle, the residence built by Balthasar Neumann remained almost unscathed and is still honored by building historians as the high point of baroque palace architecture – also because it unites the most diverse varieties of European baroque.

Unesco also agreed with this opinion in 1981 when they named the residence a World Heritage Site. The Marienberg Fortress lined with vines, the Marienkapelle, the Falkenhaus, the old Main Bridge with its almost five meter high statues of saints are among the highlights of the university town. There are also hikes and excursions to the directly adjacent vineyards and river cruises on the Main. 

Michelle Halterman
Michelle Halterman
USA, China, South Africa and now Munich - Michelle has come a long way in the world. She is an outdoor person and loves to be in nature with friends and on her mountain bike. Or she meets up with friends for pasta, vino, cappaccino & Co.

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