Top 4 Things to Do in Heidelberg

Knowing Heidelberg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany, my original idea was to try and find some off the beaten path things to see and do while I was there. But the best things about Heidelberg are the touristy things so I’m going to throw my initial idea out the window and instead share the top 4 things to do and see in Heidelberg.

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg’s main attraction is the sandstone castle which overlooks the old town (altstadt). It is featured in just about every photo you see of the city and my favourite view is from the banks of the Neckar River.

Heidelberg Castle from the river.

Of course it’s worth going up to have a closer look and the easiest way to get there is to take the two minute funicular ride half way up the hill. There is a second funicular dating from 1907 which will take you further up the hillside but unfortunately that isn’t included in regular castle/funicular ticket.

Heidelberg Castle Closeup

Once there you can explore the Gothic-Renaissance courtyard or check out the pharmacy museum. I skipped that and went straight for the terrace to see the views over Heidelberg and the river.

Heidelberg Altstadt and River Neckar

Old Town Squares

Back down in the altstadt, there are plenty of cute streets and squares to explore. Most are packed with shops, cafes and tourists but there are still plenty of quiet places to relax. The main square Marktplatz is not particularly quiet but it’s a fun place to sit for a drink and to people watch. For a small fee you can climb the church spire in the Gothic church on the square for more views of the city.

Heidelberg Marktplatz Main Square

If you walk back down to the old town after having visited the castle you’ll walk straight into Kornmarkt. It’s much quieter than Marktplatz and Heidelberg’s other main square Karlsplatz as there aren’t any cafes to sit in but there are plenty of benches where you can sit and enjoy the view.

Kornmarkt in Heidelberg

River Neckar

Taking a stroll along the River Neckar is a great idea if you want to get away from the crowds at Heidelberg Castle. If the weather is good head to the riverside park on the northern side of the river near the Theodor Heuss Bridge for a picnic. This is where the locals like to hang out when the sun makes an occasional appearance. Just watch out for the hundreds of ducks who also like to hang out there.

Heidelberg's Riverside Park

Alte Brucke

The Old Bridge (Alte Brucke) is Heidelberg’s most visited bridge which you can get a close up look of as you walk along the Neckar.

Alte Brucke in Heidelberg

The stone bridge dates from the 18th century and there’s a pretty medieval bridge gate on the old town side of the bridge.

Heidelberg Old Bridge Gate

Plus One Quirky Thing

I did come across one unusual sight while in Heidelberg, the Bridge Monkey. 

Bridge Monkey of Heidelberg

He’s holding up a mirror which is supposed to bring you wealth if you touch it. Of course I didn’t discover that until later so it looks like I will remain poor. If you touch the monkey’s fingers you will return to Heidelberg one day and if you touch the mice you’ll have lots of kids. Luckily I didn’t even see the mice!

Where to Stay in Heidelberg

I stayed at the Hip Hotel in Heidelberg which is a cute little boutique hotel right in the old town. It’s on the main pedestrian shopping street but you can drive down there to drop off your bags (at least I did!). I particularly loved the champagne breakfast they put on. Who doesn’t love champagne for breakfast??

Champagne at the Hip Hotel in Heidelberg

When to Visit

Heidelberg is popular tourist destination all year round. You might want to avoid visiting in July and August as these are peak tourist times but any other time of the year should be relatively fine. If you’re staying for a few days and plan on visiting a number of attractions then you might want to pick up the Heidelberg Card from the tourist office. That gives you free use of public transport, use of the funicular and entrance to Heidelberg castle as well as discounts at a number of museums. But if you’re only going to be in Heidelberg for a day or you just want to visit the castle then it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Heidelberg is located in one of the most beautiful regions in Germany. While in the area you could also visit Wiesbaden, the very cute Bacharach or Schwäbisch Hall.

Trier’s Old Town Festival

I didn’t know what to expect when I headed to Trier for their Altstadtfest (Old Town Festival) but it turns out it’s made up of mostly drinking, eating and listening to music. One can’t ask for much more from a festival really.

Of course we started with a little wine tasting. I wasn’t sure which wine to go with but one of the locals took us through the German menu and after a bit of an interrogation regarding our wine preferences he selected wines for us to try. He was spot on with his recommendations and I loved my semi-sweet wine from the local Mosel region.

Mosel Wine in Trier

The festival has plenty of places to stop for local wine and beer and not surprisingly these were the most popular stalls. Even in the early afternoon the locals were crowding around, drinking up and chatting amongst themselves.

Drinking up at Trier's Old Town Festival

I was planning on sticking to wine during the festival but it was hard to walk by these beautiful fruit punch bowls without trying at least one. Most were spiked with vodka and were very refreshing!

Vodka laced fruit punch.

The eating side of things was a little less enjoyable for me as almost everything was deep fried and meaty. You can’t beat a good Hungarian langos though.

Vegetarian Hungarian Langos

There was lots of international food available including Mexican, Thai and Japanese. I did try some German specialties including these deep fried mushrooms. Good in theory, not so good in practice.

Deep Fried Mushrooms Smothered in Sauce

I finally hit the jackpot with a vegetarian flammkuchen. Flammkuchen is kind of like German pizza. You see it a lot around the west of Germany but it’s originally from the Alsace region of France. It’s delicious. Don’t pass it up if you have the chance to try it.

German Flammkuchen

If you’re a meat lover, you won’t be disappointed as after the beer and wine stalls the meat stations were the most well stocked. Piles of sausages and steaks were being grilled over hot coals and thrown between chunky bread rolls. Meat and bread were big at the Altstadtfest.

Meat cooked over hot coals.

The entertainment at the festival was mostly music. There was jazz, church choirs and lots more in between.

Trier Music Festival

Church Choir in Trier

Sightseeing in Trier

If you’re not in Trier during the festival there’s plenty to see anyway. Trier was a great Roman city back in the day and there are loads of Roman ruins scattered around the city. My favourite is the Porta Nigra gate to the city. At one point there were four of these gates but this is the only one which remains.

Trier's Porta Nigra taken from the Mercure Hotel

The second most important Roman site in Trier is the Imperial Baths. The Romans were geniuses when it came to water and they created a complex system of hot and cold baths plus steam and relaxation rooms. There are no natural hot springs in Trier but they still managed to bring the water in and heat it to the exact temperature required.

Roman Baths in Trier

There is also a huge Roman amphitheatre which is still used today although no longer for killing wild animals and gladiators. Much prettier is the Roman bridge which dates from the 2nd century and is still used by traffic today without any structural problems.

Roman Bridge in Trier

Not from Roman times but there are a couple of historic cranes located on the banks of the Moselle. One is from medieval times and the other from the 18th century. The engine used to work the cranes was powered only by manpower. Not a fun job I’d imagine.

Treadwheel Crane in Trier

In between the Porta Nigra and the Imperial Baths is the beautiful garden of the Palace of Trier which is a nice spot to take a break from the festival and sightseeing.

Palace of Trier Gardens and Basilica

Where to Stay

I stayed in Trier compliments of Trier Tourism and Mercure Hotel Trier Porta Nigra. The hotel is located directly opposite the stunning Porta Nigra and I snapped the above photo of it from Mercure’s breakfast room. It’s not a bad view to eat breakfast to.

When to Visit

The Old Town Festival is held during June or it’s worth visiting Trier in December when the Christmas markets are on. Trier Tourism has a list of events on their website but the city’s Roman monuments and other sights can be visited all year round.

Bacharach on the Rhine

While looking for a place to stay in between visits to Trier and Heidelberg, we stumbled across one of the most perfect German villages I’ve ever seen. Bacharach on the Rhine is made up almost exclusively of medieval timber framed houses with the oldest dating from 1368.

Bacharach on the Rhine in Germany

Sometimes when visiting Germany I get a bit bored with seeing this kind of architecture everywhere but Bacharach is so quaint and adorable I loved every minute I spent there. Each house is so well preserved and maintained it really is like stepping back in time.

Bacharach Timber Framed Houses

Bacharach is situated on the Rhine Gorge not far from Wiesbaden and Frankfurt and it would be an easy day trip from either city or it’s a great place to visit if you’re passing through like I was. The Rhine Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular wine growing region.

Vineyards on the Rhine Gorge near Bacharach

White wine is the predominant wine produced here with most of those being Riesling but we also tried a decent red and a very nice sparkling wine. There are a number of small shops in the centre where you can taste the local wine. Most of them stocked wines from the local Mittelrhein wine region and I’d definitely recommend the Jost Riesling.

Before going crazy wine tasting you might want to take the steep walk up the hill to see the 12th century Stahleck Castle. The castle has had various uses over the years including as an internment camp for German youth before being shipped off to concentration camps during the war. It’s currently used as a hostel.

Stahleck Castle Hostel in Bacharach

On the way up to Stahleck Castle you’ll pass the ruins of a Gothic chapel.

Wernerkapelle Gothic Chapel in Bacharach

Next to the chapel is a viewing platform where you get the best views over the Rhine Gorge and the rest of the town.

Saint Peter’s Evangelical Church

Bacharach is a small town of only 2000 people so there isn’t a lot to do but stroll the cobblestone streets and enjoy the local food and wine.

Bacharach

Where to Eat

There are lots of places to eat around town but I’d recommend getting away from the main square and trying some more wine and German food at Weingut Karl Heidrich wine bar.

Weingut Karl Heidrich Wine Bar

You also get a great view of the castle from there.

Wine Bar in Bacharach Germany

While Bacharach is an easy day trip from nearby towns, I think it’s worth staying overnight to appreciate the town and the great food and wine you’ll find there.

Beach Bar on the Spree

Last week I headed to Berlin to see Pearl Jam in concert at O2 World in Berlin. The concert hall is not far from the Ostbahnhof train station and to get there you can walk along the River Spree and check out the East Side Gallery as you go.

East Side Gallery Near Ostbahnhof

I’ve never been to the East Side Gallery before and it was interesting to see the artwork which was created in 1990 not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some of the 106 pieces of art are in poor condition but others have been restored. The weather and vandalism have been a problem but hopefully the rest will be restored in the future.

East Side Gallery Artwork in Berlin

The concert itself was brilliant of course and it was totally worth the road trip to Berlin from Paris. On the way to the concert I also noticed they have set up some beach bars along the river. We went back the following day and got to enjoy a brief period of sunshine while we sipped on an Aperol Spritz or three. It was so relaxing sitting on beach chairs on the sand, almost like being at a real beach. Almost… It’s not exactly like Tenerife in July but it wasn’t bad.

Berlin Beach Bar on the Spree

I know Paris has Paris Plage but this was so much more relaxed than anything I’ve ever seen in Paris or in France. It’s one of the reasons I’d love to move to Berlin, there’s just so many new and different things going on all the time. I’d definitely recommend checking out one of these beach bars if you’re in Berlin, it’s a cool place to hang out, especially if you’re with a group of friends.

Beach Bar Near Ostbahnhof in Berlin

I’d also recommend the German summer drink of choice, an Aperol Spritz. It’s really delicious! It’s made with a bitter orange flavoured spirit and Prosecco. Another popular drink is a Hugo which is made with Elderflower syrup, mint leaves and Prosecco. It’s refreshing but I prefer the Aperol Spritz.

Hugo and Aperol Spritz Cocktails

Berlin is such an amazing city, I can’t wait to go back later this year for a longer trip.

Berlin at Night

We didn’t have the best luck with the weather during our week in Berlin. There were thunderstorms almost every day which was kind of odd for the middle of summer but on our final night the skies cleared a little and I got to take a few night shots of Berlin’s famous landmarks.

Wedding Photo at Brandenburg Gate

Reichstag Building at Dusk

Berliner Dom & Berlin's TV Tower

5 Tips for Visiting Cologne

I have totally changed my about Cologne. When I first visited in 2007 I thought it was the most boring of German cities. There aren’t many tourist attractions and there are better places in Germany to go shopping so I wrote it off. I did go back though, either passing through to go elsewhere or as a quick getaway from Paris, and little by little it grew on me. Here are my top 5 tips to make a trip to Cologne worthwhile.

Have a Beer by the Rhine

For me, Cologne is all about chilling out and sitting in one of the beer gardens by the Rhine is a great place to do that. There are plenty to choose from and they are always packed with tourists and locals alike. Ständige Vertretung has one of the best locations and if you’re lucky you’ll get some free entertainment from one of the local buskers.

Ständige Vertretung in Cologne

Get the Best View of Cologne

Looking back towards Cologne from the right bank (the Deutz area) you’ll get one of the best views of the city including that of the Dom which dominates the skyline.

Cologne's Skyling and the River Rhine

Cologne Dom and Hohenzollern Bridge

If you cross the River Rhine on the Deutz Bridge you’ll get a close up view of Cologne’s pretty altstadt (old town).

Cologne Altstadt from the Deutz Bridge

Add a Lovelock to the Hohenzollern Bridge

On your way back from the right bank, cross over the Hohenzollern Bridge and check out the 1000s of lovelocks which have accumulated in recent years. I’m not a huge fan of the lovelocks on the Pont des Arts in Paris but they seem to fit Cologne for some reason. Add your own if you like.

Lovelocks on the Hohenzollern Bridge

Visit Cologne’s Festivals

Cologne’s annual Christmas market and Carnival festival are known around the world and are great events to visit in the city. There are smaller events too like the Cologne Lights show and Cologne Pride, both held in July.

Christmas and Carnival: Cologne's Major Festivals

Eat!

There are plenty of opportunities to try German specialities in Cologne and the best place for that would be one of the pubs around Heumarkt or try Cafe Wahlen for traditional coffee and cake. There’s a great choice of international cuisine too including Cuban and Mexican or if you prefer more contemporary meals head to the area around Ehrenstraße. If the weather is not too good you could always take refuge in the chocolate museum.

Pub Food in Cologne

Those are some of my favourite things to do in Cologne. What would you recommend?

A Little Berlin Inspiration

Little Big Berlin from pilpop on Vimeo.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Germany so I thought I would share this cute tilt-shift video of Berlin I saw earlier today on Travel Dudes. The fantastic music is Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.

Crossing The Berlin Wall

Imagine getting a new job, moving into a new apartment and spending just one last night in your old apartment only to wake up in the morning to find you have been barricaded in by a barbed wire fence with no way in or out. You have no access to your job or belongings. No access to your new life. Trapped behind the Berlin Wall. This is what happened to Günter Litfin on the 13th August 1961, the day the Berlin Wall went up. Eleven days later he attempted to cross into West Berlin by swimming across the River Spree. He was shot by East Berlin border guards and drowned.

Günter Litfin - The first person to be shot crossing the Berlin Wall

However, Günter Litfin wasn’t the first casualty of the Berlin Wall. There was one death before his, that of Ida Siekmann who jumped out of her East Berlin apartment window. She landed in West Berlin but died shortly after. It was attempts like hers which lead to the demolition of apartments lining the wall and the creation of the ‘death strip’, a strip of vacant land in front of the wall guarded by East Berlin border guards.

Berlin Wall Death Strip

Also demolished was the Church of Reconciliation in the Mitte district of Berlin. After the fall of the wall, the church was replaced with the Chapel of Reconciliation and is part of the Berlin Wall Memorial near former ghost station Berlin Nordbahnhof.

Chapel of Reconciliation & The Berlin Wall Memorial

Stations like Berlin Nordbahnhof became ghost stations as they were bordered up by the East Berlin authorities. You could take the S-Bahn in West Berlin and ride through the closed East Berlin stations, where the doors never opened, and then get out at the other side back in West Berlin.

Berlin's Ghost Stations

One of the few legal East/West Berlin crossing points was at the Friedrichstrasse train station in a specially built building known as the Palace of Tears, named for the tearful farewells of those unable to cross the border. The Palace of Tears is now a museum where you can see the border crossing and find out about life in divided Germany or watch a propaganda video!

Palace of Tears Berlin

We finished the tour at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of East Berlin and the site of the famous footage from the 9th November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. 

Brandenburg Gate in former East Berlin

Here is a video of the tour I was on with our very passionate guide, Julian. The sound isn’t that great but I do make a very brief appearance so it’s worth watching. 😉

The city tours offered by Context Travel (my tour was complimentary) are based on an interesting concept where they have historians and academics give unique walking seminars in small groups. They are designed for, in their words, ‘intellectually curious’ travellers and their 3 hour tours give an in-depth view of a unique aspect of the city. I’ve never been on a tour like this before and it was fascinating to learn so many details about the Berlin Wall which I never would have discovered otherwise. I’m looking forward to taking part in two more Context tours next month, one is an evening tour of Rome and the other a drawing class and visit of Castel Sant’Angelo.

Going Retro: The Trabant

Trabant in Berlin

The East German Trabant or Trabi is not something you see everyday, at least not in my part of the world but I have spotted them every now and then in Germany. They were produced in East Germany from the 50s until the fall of the Berlin Wall and are easily recognisable as the design never really changed much in all the years of production.

Trabants are adorable cars and a bit of a collectors item nowadays even though they have been rated as one of the worst cars ever! There are more than 32,000 still on the road so hopefully I’ll spot a few more next time I’m in Germany.

The cars shown above are part of a tour you can take in Berlin where you drive around in your Trabant and see the sights of the city. What a great idea!

7 Great Things About Dresden

Germany is such a diverse country and each time I visit a new region I’m surprised with what I discover. While each region shares a similar culture, history and cuisine, they are different enough to make each place unique and interesting. Some cities are more unique than others and Dresden stands out to me as somewhere like no other in Germany.

I was in Dresden in December and was expecting bitterly cold temperatures and snow but instead the weather was sunny and mild. It was unusual for that time of the year but it gave me the opportunity to spend hours each day walking and exploring the city. Here are 7 great things I discovered about Dresden while I was there.

1. Dresden has been completely rebuilt

The Allied bombardment of Dresden in the final days of WWII completely destroyed the city and killed at least 25,000 civilians. That was followed by decades of communist rule so I wasn’t expecting too much in terms of architecture. Fortunately though, much of the old town has been rebuilt in its original style and structures like the beautiful Frauenkirche stand once again.

Frauenkirche Dresden

2. The Balcony of Europe

Brühl’s Terrace is an elevated area along the Elbe known as the Balcony of Europe. It’s a great place to walk and admire the scenery and the paddle steamers located below.

Brühl's Terrace

3. Meissen Porcelain

While porcelain gets a bit of a bad rap for being old fashioned, the famous Meissen porcelain is now being produced in more modern designs. Unfortunately it’s a little out of my budget but the incredible porcelain painting on the side of the Furstenzug is completely free to admire.

Furstenzug Porcelain Painting

4. Food at the Christmas Markets

Dresden has the oldest Christmas market in the world and in my experience the best Christmas market food. I was travelling solo in Dresden so it was nice to be able to snack on fresh and healthy (sometimes) street food instead of having to eat alone in a restaurant.

Dresden Street Food

5. The Stunning City Skyline

The rebuilding of the city is best appreciated in the stunning city skyline. The New Synagogue, Frauenkirche, Hofkirche and the Semperoper are all located along the Elbe and make for a beautiful sight, especially when lit up at night. This view is from my room at the Hotel Am Terrassenufer which you can read more about here.

Dresden City Skyline

6. The New Green Vault

Dresden has some fascinating museums but the one which really blew my mind was the New Green Vault at the Residenzschloss. There you can see a cherry pit which is said to have 185 faces carved on it. I can’t imagine why someone would do that but kudos to them. There are gold and ivory statues with the Royal Household at Delhi being one of the most elaborate.

Royal Household at Delhi

Image: Wikipedia

You can also get a close up look at the Dresden Green Diamond which is 41 carats (!) and flawless. It is green in colour because it was exposed to natural radiation.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to take photos in the museum so it’s difficult to show how amazing it is but I think it’s worth visiting Dresden for this museum alone. I have never seen anything like the intricate and elaborate statues and ornaments found there.

7. Coffee and Cake

The afternoon tradition of stopping for coffee and cake is well respected in Dresden. I enjoyed a cake break at the famous Grand Cafe Coselpalais, just next to the Frauenkirche. The baroque style building was rebuilt and completed in 2000 and they are once again serving traditional food and desserts on beautiful Meissen porcelain tableware.

Grand Cafe Coselpalais

I spent most of my time walking around Dresden but also did a hop on hop off bus tour which was great for seeing sights a bit further out of the centre and to keep warm when it started to get a little chilly.

It seems like each time I visit a new city in Germany, that city becomes my favourite. Cologne, Munich and Berlin have all been my favourite German cities at one time or another but now it’s most definitely Dresden, a city which deserves more attention than it gets.

Munich in Winter

Spring and summer are great times to visit Munich as the warmer and dryer weather means you can enjoy the many beer gardens and parks dotted around the city or even do a little river surfing. September too sees floods of visitors arrive in the city for the annual Oktoberfest but what about in the winter months?

My three days in Munich last month were extremely hectic so the city definitely doesn’t quieten down in the colder months. If anything I’d say December is a very busy time with all the Christmas markets, the Tollwood Festival and everyone out Christmas shopping. It’s a great time to visit because there is no chance you’ll be bored and you can avoid the cooler weather by heading indoors to visit any of the many museums and art galleries.

Tollwood Winter Festival

The Tollwood Winter Festival is more than just a Christmas market. It has more of an international flavour and there is entertainment like circus acts and a special New Year’s celebration. There are themed tents depending on what you want to do and these are the best places to keep warm on a wintry day.

Christmas Markets

The main Christmas market in Marienplatz is a nice place to wander around but you might want to avoid visiting on the weekends when it can get very, very crowded. A better option would be to stick to the smaller markets which still have a lot to offer but you don’t have to worry about pushing your way through the crowds. I particularly liked the small market off Odeonsplatz and the medieval style Christmas market at Wittelsbacherplatz.

Wittelsbacherplatz Christmas Market

From Wittelsbacherplatz you could cross the road to enjoy coffee and cake at the historic Cafe Luitpold.

Cafe Luitpold

Museum Quarter

Not far from the main train station you’ll find many of Munich’s most well known museums and art galleries conveniently located within a few minutes walk of each other. For €12 you can get a day pass to the 3 Pinakotheken (Alte, Neue and Moderne) and the Museum Brandhorst.

The Alte Pinakothek (Old Masters Gallery) is particularly well known for it works by Rubens including the The Dying Seneca where philosopher Seneca is forced to commit ‘suicide’.

The Dying Seneca - Alte Pinakothek Munich

At the Neue Pinakothek (New Picture Gallery) there are a huge number of popular works by Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and my favourite that day, Woman in Red Dress by Edvard Munch.

Woman in Red Dress Edvard Munch

I particularly liked the Pinakothek der Moderne (Modern Art Museum) for its design museum which includes computer design through the decades (Apple is well represented) and a great section on furniture and product design.

Pinakothek der Moderne Design

Shopping

Munich has always been one of my favourite places to go shopping. You’ve got all the popular chain stores along pedestrian street Kaufinger Straße, more upmarket shops at Theatinerstraße and Fünf Höfe and window shopping only (for me) at Maximilianstraße. Smaller and cheaper shops are found in Sendlinger Straße and Schwabing. One of my favourite shops is Manufactum which has an odd mix of gourmet food, clothing, office and gardening products. I don’t quite get it but it’s fun to walk around.

Eating

Normally I would recommend going to Viktualienmarkt to pick up picnic supplies but obviously that’s not a good idea in the middle of winter. Instead, I’d suggest heading next door to the recently opened Schrannenhalle which is an indoor market where you can pick up gourmet food to go or sit and eat at the informal tables. This has quickly become one of my favourite foodie places in Munich.

Schrannenhalle Munich

Across from Schrannenhalle is one of my favourite cafes of all time, Cafe Frischhut. It’s a Munich institution and not to be missed.

There are a million other places to eat in Munich so I might have to go back just to research the best places to eat. If you’re feeling particularly touristy you could always eat at Hofbrauhaus but once was more than enough for me.

Where to Stay

On this trip to Munich I stayed at the Schiller5 Hotel. The location is perfect as it’s walking distance to the main train station, Marienplatz, the Tollwood Festival and the museum area. The hotel itself is very modern, spotlessly clean and with large apartment rooms (with kitchen) so if you want to shop at Schrannenhalle and eat in your room you can. 🙂 Read my full review of Schiller5 here.

Munich in Winter

I don’t think there is ever a bad time to visit Munich. It’s a big city where there is always something going on and always something new to see. Hopefully this year will be the year I finally get to go to Oktoberfest but if not I will happily return any time.

Going Solo in Nuremberg

All I knew about Nuremberg before heading there is that they have one of the most visited Christmas markets in Europe and of course for the Nuremberg Trials. I’ve already written about their traditional Christmas market as well as the famous Nuremberg bratwurst but the city has much more to offer than that.

I usually travel with my husband but while he was off spending time with his family I decided to make a quick trip to Nuremberg. This was my first solo trip for quite some time so to keep busy I got myself a Nuremberg City Card and set about visiting all the cultural sights.

The most popular attraction in Nuremberg is the Imperial Castle and this is the perfect place to start a visit to the city as you get a great overview of the city from high up on the hill.

Nuremberg in December

You can visit the castle grounds during the day for free and visit the museum to see the medieval armour and weapons. I would only recommend visiting the castle museum if you are interested in weaponry as there isn’t much else to see. There are guided tours of the castle but they are only available in German.

Imperial Castle

From the castle you can head down to Albrecht Durer’s House. Albrecht Durer was well known around Europe during his lifetime and remains Nuremberg’s most famous artist. His works are on display in many Old Masters galleries around the world. You can visit Durer’s half-timbered house if you’re curious to see how Durer and the upper classes lived in the 16th century. You won’t see any of his famous artwork there though.

Albrecht Durer House

Continuing downhill along Albrecht Durer Street you’ll eventually reach Weissgerbergasse where you’ll find adorable narrow timber-framed houses. This was my favourite part of Nuremberg but I feel a bit sorry for the residents who had to deal with the constant stream of tourists photographing their pretty houses.

Weissgerbergasse Nuremberg

Crossing over the historic chain bridge (which looks remarkably new) you’ll spot the 15th century Wine Store which is now a student residence. I wonder how they feel to be living in one of the city’s most historic buildings.

Wine Store Half Timbered House

I was half-timber housed out at that point so headed back to the main square (Hauptmarkt) to hang out at the Christmas market. It was there I saw the most impressive sight for me in Nuremberg, the very unusual Beautiful Fountain. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a fountain like it. It was quite spooky looking.

Beautiful Fountain Nuremberg

I was hoping to visit the new Nuremberg Trials Memorium and the Nazi Party Rally Grounds but with only one full day in Nuremberg I just didn’t have time. I did manage a quick visit to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum to see some of Albrecht Durer’s paintings. I would have liked to have spent more time here but this summer there is going to be a special Durer exhibition so that might be a good time to return.

Albrecht Durer Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Where to Eat

I must admit I’m not very good at the solo eating thing. I don’t mind going to cafes alone, I actually quite enjoy that and I go to the movies alone all the time but there is something about eating solo in restaurants that make me feel uncomfortable. I was lucky that I visited Nuremberg while the Christmas markets were on so for the most part I snacked on street food from the markets and picked up sushi takeaway. This was only a short solo trip so that wasn’t much of a problem but if I was travelling for longer periods I would probably have to get up the courage to eat in a restaurant alone.

Where to Stay

On this trip I stayed at the NH Nuremberg City Hotel courtesy of Nuremberg Tourism. This modern hotel is located across from the train station and is a short walk to the Old Town, perfect for visiting the city’s main sights and the Christmas market. Read my full review of NH Nuremberg City here. It’s worth staying here for the breakfast alone.

Even though I was  a little nervous about travelling alone, the people in Nuremberg were particularly warm and friendly and I met a number of people as I wandered around the city. There are many events and festivals on during the year but I think December is a great time to visit as they have one of the most unique and traditional Christmas markets in Europe.

Tollwood Winter Festival

The Tollwood Winter Festival is promoted as an ‘alternative’ festival in Munich but judging by the crowds I’d say it’s actually pretty mainstream. Along with having a huge Christmas market, there are all kinds of events and activities and a special New Year’s Eve celebration.

Tollwood Winter Festival 

Most of the stalls around the grounds are similar to what you find at the many other Christmas markets around Munich. There’s lots of handmade ornaments, cooking utensils, clothing and of course plenty of mulled wine, bratwurst and international specialities like the Hungarian langos.

Hangarian Langos in Munich 

Once I’d had my fill of wine, food and snowy weather, I headed inside some of the tents. The first one I came across was very artsy, there was even a woman chiselling away at a hunk of wood producing her art in our presence.

Tollwood Artist

I couldn’t quite make out what these tins are for. Plants in a tin? Four leaf clover gifts? Why?

Four Leaf Clover in a Tin

There was an international food hall and not the crappy shopping centre kind but one with food stalls with actual decent food. Thai, Japanese, Turkish and a few other cuisines were represented. The other tents had entertainment like circus performances and acrobatic shows.

The festival is held at Theresienwiese which is where the annual Oktoberfest takes place. While you are there you may as well head over to check out the gigantic Bavaria statue which represents Bavaria’s strength and glory.

Bavaria Statue Munich 

Where to Stay

If you plan on spending a few days in Munich to visit the festival and the rest of the city, I recommend staying in a hotel near the train stain stain. This location is easy walking distance to the festival grounds as well as the Old Town and the museum quarter. On this trip I stayed at the very modern Schiller5 Hotel and would definitely recommend staying there.

Tollwood Festival

If you weren’t able to make the Tollwood Winter Festival this year, there is a summer version held in July which should be well worth a visit.

Germany’s Most Famous Christmas Market

There are a number of cities which claim to have the most famous Christmas market in Germany but in the end Nuremberg’s market seems to come out on top. It may not officially be the oldest, that title goes to Dresden, but it’s definitely the most traditional and one of the largest.

My focus on this trip was the food and there is definitely plenty of it to choose from. The number one item of choice for most people is the Nuremberg bratwurst. These are short, thin sausages eaten with a locally made bread. You usually get 3 in a bun but if you eat at a restaurant you might get 8-15!

nuremberg-christmas-market-6

Next up is the Lebkuchen which is usually translated as being gingerbread but it’s quite different to the gingerbread I know. Traditional Lebkuchen is made with nuts and no or little flour. It’s quite soft and almost like a cake rather than a biscuit.

nuremberg-christmas-market-7

Not to be forgotten is the all important mulled wine. I must admit I don’t get the attraction of mulled wine. I generally find it undrinkable but others love it. A slightly more palatable version is feuerzangenbowle which is made with melted sugar and rum. It’s quite potent for cheap drunks like me. After 5pm the markets were full with friends and family meeting up to chat over mulled wine.

My favourite food at the Nuremberg Christmas market would have to be the kartoffelpuffers which are kind of like hash browns. They are typically served with applesauce but I had cranberry sauce hoping it would be like what you find in Austria. It wasn’t. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these are vegetarian as they are cooked in a fairly significant amount of lard (pig fat).

nuremberg-christmas-market-8

Also quite nice were the stollenstern which are kind of like Italian panettone but with cranberries (or other fruit).

nuremberg-christmas-market-10

These biscuit ornaments are very cute.

nuremberg-christmas-market-11

I went to the Nuremberg with my eyes firmly set on the food side of the market but there is plenty of other stalls of interest. In Nuremberg, all the stands must have locally made products so you won’t find any imported plastic toys or tacky souvenir stands (I’m looking at you Paris). Instead you have hand made products like Nuremberg’s famous plum men and no, you can’t eat them. 😉

nuremberg-christmas-market-1

Christmas baubles and manger type decorations seem to be popular with shoppers but I particularly liked these angels designed for the top of the Christmas tree and which are also the symbol of the Nuremberg market.

nuremberg-christmas-market-2

A fun option for kids and families is to go on a horse carriage ride around the market and old town. The beautiful horses wear special horseshoes so they don’t get sore from walking on the cobblestones.

nuremberg-christmas-market-3

The other highlight of the market is getting to see the famous Nuremberg Christmas Angel. The Christmas Angel opens the market each year and then spends the rest of the Christmas period bringing a little Christmas cheer to the city. I got to meet her and of course I had to ask her about her favourite Christmas market food. She didn’t seem to have a favourite but she did mention she definitely doesn’t like the famous Nuremberg bratwurst. Quel scandale!

nuremberg-christmas-angel

Where to Stay in Nuremberg

I stayed in Nuremberg as a guest of Nuremberg Tourism and NH Nuremberg City. The NH Nuremberg City hotel is just down the road from the train station and a 15 minute walk from the Christmas markets. I was travelling by train so the location was ideal for me. The hotel itself is top quality and the breakfast was amazing. You can read my full review of NH Nuremberg City here.

Being Germany’s most famous city for Christmas markets, hotels do fill up quickly in December so I suggest booking well in advance or planning your stay for during the week instead of the weekend.

Nuremberg at Christmas

I love that this market is traditional and they don’t sell any cheap or tacky items. Even the stalls themselves are made in the traditional way and all the greenery which decorates them is real, not plastic. I had read that some people didn’t like this market because it’s too crowded but I didn’t have any problems at all. Visit during the day on weekdays and you’ll be fine.

It’s great that all the stands here are local but if you want a more international feel there is the Partners Christmas market in the smaller square next the Hauptmarkt with stalls from Romania, Italy, Montenegro, the United States and elsewhere. There is also a dedicated children’s market.

I only had a day and a half here and while that was enough to see the market I would have liked to have stayed longer to see more of the city and in particular to visit the museums dedicated to Nuremberg’s involvement in WWII. As usual, there is never enough time to see everything.

Dresden at Night

I just arrived in Dresden and was surprised to see what a beautiful city it is. I love the architecture and can’t wait to explore more of the city tomorrow. Here are a few photos from my first night in Dresden.

dresden-at-night-2

dresden-at-night-5

dresden-at-night-3

dresden-at-night-1

dresden-at-night-6

Polar Bear Knut Dies

Knut

I was very sad to hear that 4 year old Knut died yesterday (19th March) at Berlin Zoo. He was such a cutie and we went a few years ago just to see him.

The celebrity bear died suddenly in his compound at the Berlin Zoo on Saturday afternoon, bear keeper Heiner Kloes told The Associated Press. He waded into the water in his enclosure before having a short spasm and then dying in front of hundreds of zoo visitors.

Rejected by his mother at birth on December 5, 2006, along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days, Knut first attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours. Doerflein cuddled and played with him at daily public appearances to the delight of thousands of people who came to watch.

No longer a cub, Knut grew rapidly, weighing a hulking 440-pounds (200-kilograms) by age two, and trading in white fluff for yellowish fur. Doerflein, the zookeeper who raised him, died in 2008 of a heart attack, earning front page headlines in German newspapaper as “Knut’s daddy.”

Between 600 and 700 people were at his compound when Knut died, zoo officials said. One visitor said she watched Knut lying on the surface of the water motionless with only his back showing for ten minutes until zookeepers came and fenced off the compound.

Via @BreakingNews and GrandForksHerald

Some photos I took of 1 year old Knut in 2008:

Knut Berlin Zoo

Knut Died 19th March 2011

Knut Playing in 2008

Google Street View Comes to Germany

Brandenburg Gate Street View

I love Google street view. It makes my life so much easier when I have to go somewhere new or when I’m trying to spy on people. 😉

France was the first country in Europe to get the street view option on Google Maps in 2008. Many other European countries have been added since then but Germany was slow to get it due to privacy issues. Germany’s 20 largest cities, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, and Dusseldorf now have street view available.

What does this mean for travellers? It makes planning so much easier because you can check street directions to your hotel or wherever you are visiting in advance. Of course you can do this with a regular map but it’s so much easier to get your bearings with street view. You can pick out landmarks to be sure you’re heading in the right direction.

You can also check out the neighbourhood of where you’re going, so you can avoid picking a hotel in what looks to be in a dodgy area or you can pick somewhere where you know there are cafes or internet shops etc around.

At the end of the day though, it’s just fun to go on a virtual visit of a city using Google street view.

PJNEAGSRWVGJ

Cologne

While initially Cologne wasn’t one of my favourite German cities, that has changed and I now love it and visit every year. It’s only 3 hours and 15 minutes on the TGV from Paris, making it the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Cologne is a very modern city, modern as in most of the architecture is from the 50s and 60s. So it’s not necessarily a pretty city but it’s great for shopping, the people are really friendly, the food is lecker, and it’s super cheap.

Cologne 038

Cologne 033

Cologne 057

Cologne 028

Cologne 018

Cologne 061

Cologne 062

Cologne 011

Cologne 009

Cologne 053