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Top 10 Things to Do in Germany

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Choosing to study in Germany can be a great decision, with a huge selection of leading German universities to choose from, and low or non-existent tuition fees. But of course, studying in Germany is more than just hanging about on campus; as a student, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the cultural experiences and natural settings out there to explore.

Germany is at the heart of modern Europe in many ways – geographically, economically, and as one of the leading political lights in the EU. It’s also a multicultural melting-pot, an international center for everything from arts and fashion to automotive design and beer festivals, and boasts a capital that over the last few decades has emerged as one of the trendiest cities in the world.

Add to this a history of great creatives and thinkers, including the likes of Goethe, Beethoven and Bach, as well as the recent tragedies of the 20th century, and you’ll certainly find no shortage of German artefacts and landscapes to get stuck into. Here are our top 10 things to do in Germany, just to get you started…

1. Explore Berlin

Location: Berlin

Top universities in Berlin: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (134th in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15); Freie Universität Berlin (150th); Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin, 192nd)

Germany’s capital city is unique. Study abroad here and you’ll never stop learning. Top historical sites to visit include the Berlin Wall, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Charlie’s Checkpoint and Potsdamer Platz. While the city holds a checkered history, scarred by the Second World War and the following period of division, Berlin’s history makes the city what it is today, a modern city of incredible diversity, openness and historic remembrance. There’s also much, much more to Berlin than historic sites. It has a vibrant film industry, a raging nightlife, great cuisine and an eclectic underground music scene. From the majestic Brandenburg Tor to the fashionable Alexanderplatz, Berlin is a capital city like no other.

See where Berlin ranks in the latest QS Best Student Cities >

2. Castle Neuschwanstein

Location: Füssen,Bavaria

Top universities in Bavaria: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52nd in the world); Technische Universität München (TU München, 54th); Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (285th); Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (341st); Universität Regensburg (395th); Universität Bayreuth (481-490)

This 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace is one of the most picturesque castles in the world. Commissioned by Germany’s “fairy-tale king” Ludwig ll of Bavaria, Castle Neuschwanstein holds a special place in German history. Upon the death of his grandfather, Germany’s slightly eccentric king began the task of rebuilding the palace, a favorite haunt from his childhood years.

Incorporating his love of opera, most notably that of composer Richard Wagner, Ludwig built himself a haven in which he was able to live out his idea of the Middle Ages. However, the palace wasn’t yet finished when Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances by the lake. Today, visiting Castle Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular things to do in Germany with more than 1.3 million visitors annually. It’s also widely known as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

3. Christmas markets

Location: Cities across Germany (e.g. Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt)

Top universities in Germany: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (49th in the world); Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52nd); Technische Universität München (TU München, 54th)

One of the best things of studying abroad in the Northern Hemisphere is the way Christmas brightens up the winter months, and Germany certainly knows how to make the most of the festive season. It won’t matter that the days are shorter and the temperatures colder; wrap up warm and head outside to explore the country’s famous Christmas markets (Weichnachtsmarkt), which are staged in almost every town and city around Germany and have become a popular event across Europe. Glut out on glühwein (warm red wine with fruit and spices) and apple fritters, and get all your Christmas shopping done in one hit!

4. Oktoberfest

Location: Munich, Bavaria

Top German universities in Munich: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52nd in the world); Technische Universität München (TU München, 54th)

Germany is one of the great brewing nations of the world, and taking time to indulge in some of the world’s finest beers is often at the top of lists of things to do in Germany. The most popular way to do this is by joining Munich’s Oktoberfest, which takes place from late September and lasts for two whole weeks, attracting approximately six million visitors to the Bavarian capital every year. Forget your books for a few days and get into the spirit of Oktoberfest – you’re likely to find a large part of the German student population doing the same, along with many of your lecturers too!

5. Summer fireworks festivals

Location: The River Rhine, running through Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Offenburg and Freiburg

Top universities on the Rhine: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (49th in the world); Universität Freiburg (121st); Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT, 127th); Universität Mannheim (328th)

During Germany’s summer months, from May to September, something special happens on the River Rhine. In the summer nights, the Rhine, one of Europe’s longest and most important rivers, is lit up by a dramatic blaze of fireworks, shedding light on the convoy of boats which makes its way up the river, as the public wander along the water’s edge to watch.

These spectacular riverside fireworks displays are known as the ‘Rhein in Flammen' (Rhine in Flames) and there are a number of dinner cruises which operate during the event, where you’ll often find the best views of the fireworks, set against a backdrop of castles, palaces, picturesque villages and a beautiful riverside landscape.

6. Wagner Opera Festival

Location: Bayreuth, Bavaria

Top universities in Bayreuth: Universität Bayreuth (481-490 in the world)

If you’re able to get tickets (waiting lists are long), the Wagner Opera Festival is one of the ultimate things to do in Germany for theatre and opera lovers alike. Head for the city of Bayreuth in north-east Bavaria to witness the famous festival, which takes place every year from late July to August.

Festival performances take place in Bayreuth Festspielhaus, a custom-built theatre that composer Richard Wagner himself helped to design. People wait five to ten years for tickets to the Wagner Opera Festival, but try your luck by turning up on the day. You may be able to secure a returned ticket – that’s if you haven’t got stuck in a traffic jam along with everyone else attempting to do the same!

7. Drive the Romantic Road

Location: Würzburg to Füssen

Top universities in Bavaria: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52nd in the world); Technische Universität München (TU München, 54th); Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (285th); Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (341st); Universität Regensburg (395th); Universität Bayreuth (481-490)

Stretching from Würzburg in the north of Bavaria to Füssen in the south, the 300-plus kilometers of Germany’s Romantic Road is another of the most famous things to do in Germany. A historic and scenic trade route, the Romantic Road takes visitors past medieval walled towns, alongside vineyards, past palaces and castles, and through quaint villages, all providing an excellent insight into the region's history, art and culture. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, hiking trails, German cuisine or a few ski slopes, you’re likely to find it all along the Romantic Road!

8. Baked Fish Festival (Backfischfest)

Location: Worms, Western Germany

Top universities in western Germany: Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (147th in the world; 9th in Germany);Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (177th in the world; 11th in Germany); Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz; Universität Frankfurt am Main (217th in the world; 14th in Germany)

Don’t be put off by the name – of either the festival or the city. Head to the city of Worms in Rhineland-Palatinate (Western Germany) in late August to celebrate the traditional Baked Fish Festival (Backfischfest) – the biggest wine, food and folk festival on the banks of the Rhine. Dedicated to the Fishermen’s Guild, Germany’s oldest such organization, the Backfischfest includes activities such as a lantern procession, a tug o’ war competition, jousting, and the traditional housewives’ afternoon.

9. The Cologne Karneval

Location: Cologne (and around Germany)

Top universities in Cologne: Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (147th in the world; 9th in Germany);Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (177th in the world; 11th in Germany); Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (249th in the world; 16= in Germany);  Universität zu Köln (305th in the world; 23rd in Germany); Ruhr-Universität Bochum (388th in the world; 28th in Germany); Universität Düsseldorf (411-420 in the world; 32nd in Germany); Technische Universität Dortmund (TU Dortmund, 491-500 in the world; 36= in Germany); Universität Bielefeld (501-550 in the world; 38= in Germany)

Each year, at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th of November (the time and date of the truce that ended fighting in World War I in 1918), carnival season is declared open – and there is no better place to join in the revelry than in Cologne (Köln). In one of Germany’s most popular student cities, the streets come alive during ‘Karneval’, with processions, concerts and colorful costumes.

Traditionally coinciding with Easter celebrations, the week-long street festival is timed to fall between Fat Thursday and Ash Wednesday in the Lent calendar and has thus become almost as important a date in the party calendar as Oktoberfest. One of the top things to do in Germany at Eastertime, the Cologne Karneval is just one of many similar festivals happening up and down the country.

10. Experience the bustling maritime city of Hamburg

Location: Hamburg

Top universities in Hamburg: Universität Hamburg (192nd; 12= in Germany)

Not only is it Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg is also the country’s wealthiest city. Its identity is bound up in a maritime history which has successfully secured Hamburg’s place as the world’s third-busiest port (behind London and New York). Perhaps not quite as well-known as German cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, Hamburg is certainly well worth a visit, if only to take in the completely different feel it has. There are the buildings shaped like ocean liners, the artificial river beaches, gothic warehouses and fish markets. Visit Hamburg and find out why almost 1.8 million people call this German city home!

More things to do in Germany:

  • Why not challenge yourself to run the Berlin Marathon?
  • Visit Trier, the oldest city in Germany.
  • Sample currywurst – a German street-food specialty!
  • Take a break from studies for some “kaffee und kuchen” (coffee & cake).
  • Visit Frankfurt, the birthplace of influential writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

To discover the top universities in Germany by state, visit this article. For general information about planning for international study in Germany, please see our Study in Germany: FAQ.

This article was originally published in November 2010 and was updated on March 24th 2015.

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I've been a stay at home mom for 5 years, graduated in business and worked in the field, always wanted to study a master's degree in Germany, am I dreaming too much if I try to get a scholarship to do it bringing along husband and kids? anyone out there with same experience as mine?

I am willing to do masters in Germany , but the thing is that i am having 61
% in graduatiion , can I get the seat in free universities in Germany

Hi there, entry requirements vary hugely depending on the university, so the only sure-fire way to check if you fit the requirements is to research each university (via their website) to look for entry requirements for international students under program details of your course. All public universities are free at undergraduate level, but many free schools only offer programs in German. Find out more with our Study in Germany FAQ, and our articles on Studying in Germany in English and How Much Does it Cost to Study in Germany? Good luck! Laura

I'm willing to do my undergraduate from Germany in economics. Currently, I've completed my A'levels and have done German Language course till B2 level from Goethe Institut. I've heard that if I want to do my undergraduate in German language, I need to have a foreign language subject in A'levels, could someone please let me know regarding this? Thanks.

Iam willing to study in germany.i want to persue my master's degree in automotive engineering. So, please suggest me some universities.

Hi Prasanna,

There are many German universities within the QS World University Rankings, but to find out the best schools for engineering subjects you should look at the subject rankings. This page shows the top universities in Germany for Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering - https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2014/engineering-mechanical - which you can use to discover which of the leading universities in Germany fit your requirements.

If you can't find information on a specific university on TopUniversities.com, take a look at each school's official website by conducting a Google search.

Thankyou and good luck,