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10 Best Small Towns in Germany

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A dozen people could travel all over Germany in search of the best cities to visit, and the result would be 12 completely different lists. Some cities may appear on only one or two of them, others appear on several lists but in different orders. And every traveler would have had trouble narrowing the selections down to a few. This is because Germany has such a bounty of beautiful, historic, and interesting little towns.

Thousands of houses dating from the Middle Ages, like Gothic and Baroque churches, still survive in spite of wars and the zeal for modernization. The Renaissance and the old castles overlook the towns; these towers and watch towers often hold museums today.

Particularly in areas such as the Black Forest, which largely escaped World War II bombings, entire streets of half-timbered homes and public buildings are common sights. Choosing among them is almost impossible, so any list will be more subjective than definitive.

All these towns have historic sites, museums, or other tourist attractions to visit, but some make this list more for the pleasure of wandering through visually enchanting lanes and sipping coffee in a café overlooking a postcard-perfect square. No matter how lovely, each of these is more than just a pretty face, and we can promise that you won’t be disappointed by planning your vacation with the help of this list of the best cities in Germany.

1. Bad Wimpfen, Baden-Württemberg

Bad Wimpfen

With its streets of half-timbered houses, steeply pitched red roofs, and pointed spires, Bad Wimpfen could be the poster child of a town in the Black Forest (as it is—you may recognize it from tourist brochures). The remnants of the city walls still seem to hold one side on its hilltop beside the Neckar River.

Bad Wimpfen has earned his place as the highlight of the Burgenstraße, the German Castle Road, as the site of the largest imperial palace north of the Alps. Built in the 12th century by the Staufer dynasty of Friedrich Barbarossa, the castle still retains two of its towers, the arcades, the Chapel of the Palace and the Stone House.

For the best view of Bad Wimpfen’s steep-pitched rooftops, climb to the top of the Blue Tower. The second, known as the Red Tower, contains a museum of medieval armor and weapons.

In the Gothic Stadtkirche, look for the painted walls, the stone pieta, and the stained-glass windows from the 13th century. The Zunftmarkt in late August brings craftspeople together for a market of goods produced by the traditional crafts guilds, as costumed artisans demonstrate medieval trades amid festivities that include a parade, dancing, street performers, and period pageantry. In December, the Christmas market here is one of the best.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bad Wimpfen

2. Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt

The Town Hall in Quedlinburg

The most striking feature of Quedlinburg’s half-timbered buildings—apart from the sheer number of them, considered to be the largest city in Germany—is their progress through the history of the style. Walking through the stone-paved streets, you can trace the history of half-timbered construction, starting with one of the oldest half-timbered houses in Germany. Later Gothic construction was marked by the upper floors, extending in layers from the lower ones, and the addition of sculpted decoration.

Carving became more ornate in the Renaissance era, with the addition of projecting bays, and you will see examples of how the style changed as late as the Baroque and Rococo eras. In all things,

Quedlinburg has 770 protected historic buildings, and at the Fachwerkmuseum im Ständerbau you can learn more about architectural styles and construction.

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But picturesque as they are, half-timbered buildings are not the only attraction for tourists. UNESCO called the Church of St. Servatius “one of the masterpieces of Romanesque architecture” and described its crypt, which contains early frescoes and carved stonework, as “one of the most significant monuments in the history of art from the 10th to the 12th century.” The church is part of Quedlinburg Abbey, founded in the 10th century and led by a series of powerful abbesses who ruled the kingdom.

3. Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, Bavaria


Few small towns in Germany are better known than Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, which, along with neighboring Dinkelsbühl, is the highlight of the oldest tourist route in Germany, the Romantic Road or the Romantische Straße.

Rothenburg’s appeal is not only its half-timbered houses, which many other cities can claim in larger numbers, but its complete ring of city walls that bundle the Old Town into a beautifully preserved package. Walk the walls and climb some of the towers to see the beautiful Tauber Valley and the steep roofs of the city.

Other good points of view are the Castle Gardens and the Rathaus Tower, one of the finest town halls in Bavaria.

As you explore the streets, look up to appreciate the wrought-iron signs on the cafés and shops that cater to the busloads of tourists that often fill the town.

The most popular stop is Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village, just off the Marktplatz, but for a less crowded taste of the season, you can visit the Christmas Museum (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum), where exhibits of decorations and artifacts focus on local traditions.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber

4. Schiltach, Baden-Württemberg

Flowers in the picturesque village of Schiltach

A stop along the German half-timbered road, Schiltach owes its early prosperity to the Kinzig River, a major transport route for the 13th century Black Forest timber trade. The river also provided power to sawmills, and its banks were a good location for tanning animal hides. The half-timbered houses that line the riverbank so picturesquely today were the tanners’ homes; this neighborhood outside the city walls is the oldest in Schiltach.

The other assemblage of medieval houses is along Schenkenzeller Straße, which was originally the main street through the old town, where merchants and craftsmen lived. More half-timbered buildings surround the sloping triangular Marktplatz, where you’ll find the four-century-old Town Hall and two of the town’s free museums, Museum am Markt and the Apothecary Museum. A third, the Schüttesäge Museum, occupies a 1491 sawmill that operated until 1931, powered by an undershot waterwheel more than seven meters in diameter.

5. Bernkastel-Kues, Rhineland-Palatinate

Landshut Castle above Bernkastel-Kues

In the heart of the Mosel Valley, the twin towns of Bernkastel and Kues face each other across the river beneath the vine-covered hillsides. Bordering Bernkastel’s medieval Marktplatz, there are well-preserved gabled and half-timbered houses and the Renaissance Rathaus, a town hall built in 1608.

Stroll along the surrounding streets to find more medieval houses, especially on the Römerstrasse and Karlsstrasse, where you’ll find the curious Spitzhäuschen with its projecting upper story. Look for other examples of this method used by medieval builders to maximize a narrow construction site.

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The Early Gothic St. Michael’s Church is on the banks of the river, unchanged from its original 14th-century building.

Among the treasures inside are the 15th-century high altar and an altar commemorating the 17th-century plague. The church’s stone tower was originally built as a watch tower, later incorporated into the city walls before the church was built.

Across the Mosel in Kues are more historic buildings, including St. Nicholas’s Hospital, founded in the 15th century, which contains a collection of astronomical instruments. Climb the hill above Bernkastel for views of the valley and to explore the ruins of the 9th-century Landshut Castle, recently discovered to have Roman origins.

6. Esslingen, Baden-Württemberg

Canals in the village of Esslingen

A highlight on both the German Half-Timmbered Road and the Castle Road, Esslingen became a major trading center in the Middle Ages as a crossroads for medieval traders on the Neckar.

More than 200 wood-framed buildings from the 13th to 16th centuries surround the market square and line its canals. They are the authentic stage set for the annual December Mittelaltermarkt, a Christmas market that re-creates the street markets of the Middle Ages. Handicrafts and food of the era are shown and sold from colorful tents, while costumed jugglers and minstrels walk the streets.

At the center of the market is the Rathausplatz, which overlooks the old town hall from the Gothic period. The colorful Renaissance façade with its famous astronomical clock was added in the 1580s.

Explore the medieval streets and stroll along some of the three kilometers of canals to admire the half-timbered houses, then stop to see the beautiful stained-glass windows of the 13th-century town church of St. Dionys. The church, which shows the transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles, has two unparalleled towers connected by an unusual bridge, built to stabilize them.

The walls and towers of the castle crowning the steep hillside above were built to defend the city. The High Watch Tower was built in the 14th century and offers a bird’s-eye view of Esslingen; the Burg gardens are a nice place to stroll.

7. Wismar, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania


Still an important port on the Baltic Sea, Wismar was once part of the powerful Hanseatic League, whose ships and ports ruled the entire Baltic Sea region in the Middle Ages. So much of its medieval architecture and harbor survive that Wismar was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the neighboring ports of Rostock and Stralsund.

The distinctive gable-beams on many of the buildings are a common feature of Hansa’s architecture, but the mammoth brick churches in cities along this stretch of coast are unlike any other. Wismar has two of these; St. Nicholas’ 36-metre-long nave, built in 1381, is one of the tallest.

Stop also to see the lovely medieval Church of the Holy Ghost.

Wismar’s harbor, the Alter Hafen, is so well preserved that it looks like a stage set—as indeed it has been for several films. Fishing boats line the quay and sell fresh seafood sandwiches called fischbrötchen at lunchtime, and several boats offer sailing cruises.

8. Annaberg-Buchholz, Saxony

Life-sized wood carvings in the Miners Church, Annaberg | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Annaberg-Buchholz celebrates Christmas all year-round deep in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) area. Indeed, as is the case with other towns in the Erzgebirge area, it is the heart of the economy, replacing the vast mines whose empty tunnels still burrow through the hills.

Woodcarving had always been a local hobby, and miners began selling their carvings when the mines closed, especially the local traditional candle arches to be displayed in windows. These, brightly painted nutcrackers, spinning candle carousels and wood-turned angels, became popular across Germany and beyond at Christmas markets, but in Annaberg shops you can find them all year round.

The extensive Manufaktur der Träume (maker of dreams) museum not only displays examples of all the local Christmas carvings and wooden toys but shows how they are made. Particularly interesting are the large dioramas set to motion by water-driven cog wheels and pulleys, miniatures of the hydraulics used in the mines. More than 1,500 colorful turned wood decorations and toys fill this Christmas wonderland.

More examples of woodcarvers’ art decorate local churches with magnificent carved altars, pulpits, paneling, ceilings, and lifelike statues. Look for the carved pulpit in the impressive Annankirche and the large lifelike figures of local characters in the Miners Church.

9. Marburg, Hess

A waterfall in the village of Marburg

As you ascend through the maze of the narrow, winding streets of Marburg, it’s easy to believe that when they were university students here, the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were influenced by their environment. The sense of walking through one of the stories of the Grimms is heightened by landmarks on the Fairytale Trail in the area. (Tip: you can ride and walk down a free glass elevator to the top.) But Marburg has more to offer visitors than a setting for a storybook of steep cobbled streets and half-wooded buildings.

One of Germany’s oldest pure Gothic cathedrals is Elisabethkirche, and its stained-glass windows telling the story of the life of St. Elisabeth are impressive.

The shrine to the saint is a masterpiece of 13th-century gold work.

An imposing 13th-century castle, Landgrafenschloss, rises above the town and holds the Museum of Art and Cultural History. Origins of the hilltop fortress reach back to 1000 AD, making it one of Germany’s earliest hill forts.

10. Gengenbach, Baden-Württemberg

Gengenbach | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

On the western edge of the Black Forest, the impressive 13th-century Kinzigturm tower gate, still retaining its huge portcullis, marks the entrance to the riverside area. Into the Marktplatz, dominated by the Renaissance-style Town Hall, a street of half-timbered houses leads. When its windows transform into a giant Advent calendar, the building is best known for its position in the Christmas market.

Some of the best examples of half-timbered houses in Germany are in the beautifully restored 17th-century buildings along Engelgasse (Angel Alley) and the surrounding streets. The timbering patterns vary from house to house, and for additional floor space on some, the upper floors overhang the street.

The Engelgasse leads to the ancient city walls and the Swedenturm, part of the original defenses.

The Fastnacht Brunnen is a magnificent contemporary fountain, known as Fasnacht, with bronze jesters and fanciful figures portraying characters in the carnival of the region. In the Fools Museum Niggelturm, housed in a historical tower, you can see more of these, as well as hand-carved masks and costumes used during the pre-Lenten festivities. While celebrated elsewhere in Germany, in this area, Fasnacht hijinks hit their highlight.

For views of the town and surrounding orchards, ascend to the peak of the 136-meter tower.

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