Germany is the type of country that rarely lingers at the top of an adventurer's to-do list, especially when more intoxicating destinations like Austria and Switzerland lie right next door. And we understand: travelers come with their dreams of sloshing beer mugs and group sing-alongs and nary a thought of mountain treks dancing in their heads. To make matters worse, most of central Germany, where humankind has yet to blot out the natural world or confine it to minute spaces of cultivation, is generally flat and covered in forests and streams. The only border with the ocean is to the north and even here there isn't much for scuba diving or water sports. With all of this rough news, we wouldn't blame you for cancelling that plane ticket, despite your obvious passion for lederhosen and huge pretzels.
Before you go that far, let us stop you, Embark reader. We've got a confession to make. We've pulled the old bait and switch. It is true that if you only traveled to central states like Thuringia and Hess, you may be hard-pressed for excitement. But as you move toward the borders with countries like France, Austria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Belgium, and Poland, the adventures become more daring, more rewarding, and more awe-inspiring. Lucky for Germany that it isn't a few hundred square miles smaller.
And there actually are still adventures worth having in the heart of Germany, especially if vistas of grasslands and low-lying mountains intrigue you. This part of the country, which fully encompasses the aforementioned states of Thuringia and Hess, is the least populated and could be a great getaway if you're tired of metropolitan cities. You'll encounter mountain systems like the Rhön and Harz Mountains, both of which have innumerable hiking trails for the so inclined. The Rhön are big for gliding (engine-less planes) and the Harz are great mountain biking territory. Another national park near the center of Germany is Kellerwald-Edersee, also in Hess, which again provides a lot of hiking through forest and stream, as well a chance to encroach on the banks of Lake Edersee. There are also many smaller nature reserves and preserved lands here, but if you're looking for something spectacular then head toward the borders.
A large part of Germany's northern border consists of the Baltic Sea and the Wadden Sea, some of which provides unique coastal cliffs, migratory bird nesting, and the intrigue of both resort and nearly unmanned islands. The imposing chalk cliffs of Jasmund National Park (the tallest being Königsstuhl at 118 meters) are a must while in the north; it's located on the island of Rügen, which is also a popular vacation destination for its sandy beaches. The smaller island of Usedom has also shed some of its secret appeal (sadly) and has become more popular for its great summer-time beaches and spa lifestyle. We suggest thumbing your nose at the pension-funders and bike the promenade between the three main villages. On the other side of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, there are the much less frequented North Frisian Islands. Although the rare tourist traffic consists of the day cruise variety (-shudder-), you'll find enough tranquility on car-free islands like Heligoland and the sand-duned stretches of Amrum to appease your spirit.
Near the Czech Republic to the east are a few areas that worth exploring as much for their significance to Bavarian culture as for the adventures that await. The Erzgebirge Mountains, although not exceedingly huge, are home to mining towns that preserve their medieval roots, as well as plenty of quality skiing resorts like Oberwiesenthal. A second area of interest is the Bavarian Forest, which covers over 60 peaks over 1,000 meters tall. Located near both Austria and the Czech Republic, this area is huge for skiing, hiking, biking, and much more. If you're truly serious about seeing every inch of the region, take the 660 km Goldsteig hiking track. The final area of interest in this region is the Saxon Switzerland National Park, home to the amazing Bastei cliffs and other rock formations unique to the region.
Southern Germany may have the most momentous natural formations due to the limestone Alps that pour over the border from Austria. This is where you'll find Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany at 2,962 meters (9,718 feet), as well as the Karwendel Nature Reserve, which provides epic views of the Alps with much less effort on your part. The views over Lake Chiemsee in this region are incredible, while biking and hiking trails abound with the frequency of beer commercials during football games. Also of interest, located just to the east and tucked into a corner of the map near Austria is Berchtesgaden National Park, of which activities like rock climbing and hiking are ever-popular. It also happens to be near the town where Hitler holed up at the end of WWII, so, as the proverb goes, you could satiate two birds with one destination.
Lastly, Germany's western border is no slouch on the adventure front. The Rhineland makes up over half of this part of the country and is a very famous tourist destination, particularly for its southern wine region and the cruises that take in the crumbling cliffs and innumerable castles along the banks of the Rhine River. A great way to take in some of these sights would be to hike your way through the Palatinate Forest park (check out this video). Then again, the Eifel National Park near Cologne is a medley of beech forest and lakes with plenty of space to find yourself in seclusion.
We've said enough. Maybe too much. You've now ordered a one-way plane ticket and are planning to never return to the cubicle life. we don't blame you. Now follow your curiosity to our activity pages or our Germany videos or even start up an itinerary. Turn your inspiration into action and Embark.