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What do tourists want to see in Germany?

Frederike Müller, Anne TermècheNovember 1, 2016

Neuschwanstein Castle, built by Bavarian King Ludwig II, is a must for tourists from Asia when they visit Germany. But what other destinations top the list for foreign visitors?

Deutschland Architektur Schloß Neuschwanstein König Ludwig II. von Bayern
Image: picture-alliance/Bildagentur Huber

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Germany’s National Tourist Board (DZT) wanted to know just that. So it again asked foreign visitors to vote for their favorites via its phone app and its web page. More than 40,000 people from 66 different countries answered the question, "What is your personal highlight for a trip to Germany in 2016?” The result can hardly be seen to be representative of all the foreign visitors who clocked up some 80 million overnight stays in Germany last year. But it is interesting all the same.

Here are the most popular destinations according to the survey.

Famous Buildings

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Cologne, with its famous cathedral and Rhine promenade, remains a top destination, attracting over six million visitors annually. Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is both a house of worship and a tourist highlight. In 2016 there are no fewer than 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Germany - the first being Aachen Cathedral, which was awarded World Heritage status in 1978.

Ulm Minster

Viewing platforms are always popular city tourist destinations. One of the oldest and highest can be found on Ulm Minster in Baden-Württemberg. At 161.53 meters (530 ft) it is the tallest church in the world. 768 steps lead up to the viewing platform, which on clear days offers a fantastic view from the Gothic structure in the middle of the university city of Ulm as far as the Swabian hills to the north and the Alps to the south. The only thing the medieval builders forgot was to add an elevator!

Mannheim Palace

Length instead of height! That's what Mannheim Palace, another site popular with tourists from abroad, has to offer. Its ornate facades measure an impressive 440 meters! The palace was built between 1720 and 1760 as the residence for the Palatine Prince Electors of the House of Wittelsbach. In its time it was the second largest Baroque palace complex in Europe after Versailles in France. Unlike its French counterpart, Mannheim Palace was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War. The reconstruction work went on until 2007 - since then Mannheim Palace can be viewed in its renewed splendor.

Historical Towns

Webvideo Heidelberg

Beyond superlatives and world heritage sites, the traditional image of Germany already popular in the 19th century still attracts tourists. So many international visitors still lose their hearts to Heidelberg, especially its castle ruins and the old town center with its bridge over the River Neckar. One of the very first tourists from far abroad was the American writer Mark Twain. He immortalized Heidelberg in 1880 in his book "A Tramp Abroad." The locals remain proud of that fact to this day.

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Another favorite with visitors to Germany: Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In 2015, readers of the daily newspaper USA Today voted this fairytale town in northern Bavaria one of the most romantic in Europe, on the grounds that that, unlike in Paris or Rome, here the charm was not hype, but more of an insiders' tip. With thousands of tourists, especially from Asia, already crowding into the town's narrow medieval lanes, that insiders' tip can't be much of a secret, but Rothenburg still provides a bit of romantic "old Europe" for one and all.

Dresden's Old Town

Dresden in Saxony is less about romantic charm than the Baroque. Most of the important attractions are within walking distance and can be seen in the space of a day. 80 percent of the historical town center was destroyed in World War II, but has since been carefully reconstructed. That includes the Frauenkirche, reconsecrated in 2005, whose dome once again dominates the city's skyline. The DZT survey also showed that the Zwinger Palace with its museums ranks highly among foreign visitors to Germany. Where Augustus the Strong once hosted courtly festivities, art lovers now come to admire masterpieces like the famous Sistine Madonna by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, which can be found in the Old Masters Gallery.

Nature and Scenery

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Many tourists enjoy heading out of town to enjoy the countryside. Lake Constance offers the sense of being far away from it all, yet never more than a few minutes from a town, church or tourist attraction. The lake, with the flower island of Mainau and UNESCO World Heritage Site Reichenau Island, is one of the sunniest spots in southern Germany. Flowers, fruit and vegetables all grow in lush abundance here. The region where Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland meet is becoming increasingly popular with tourists from China and India.

Theme parks

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When Disney World opened back in 1971 in Florida, it also had an influence on amusement parks in Germany. The existing mix of fairground attractions, petting zoos and museums was supplemented with spectacular rides and theme parks. The largest one in Germany today is Europa Park in the south west of the country, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2016. Young visitors and families can take a trip through Europe here in just a single day, because the park is divided into 13 country-themed sections.

"Miniatur Wunderland" in Hamburg

Unexpectedly, this year the DZT vote pushed Hamburg's Miniatur Wunderland into first place. The world's largest model railway exhibition is in the city's warehouse district, the Speicherstadt. There trains run through nine themed sections in various countries, from the Grand Canyon in North America to Italy's seaside resorts. The main priorities are sophisticated technology and painstaking attention to detail, so you'll see a couple cuddling in a field of sunflowers, penguins waiting for a train and groups of tourists flocking to Neuschwanstein Castle - all in miniature.