Hidden Gems in Germany for the active traveller

Even though Germany might not be your first hiking destination, it has a beautiful collection of mountain ranges for anyone that wants to enjoy an active trip or just take in the stunning views around every corner. The hiking trails are well maintained, marked and the mountain ranges have websites with detailed information regarding terrain, difficulty levels and accommodation. The German public transport network is extensive and reliable, making all these spots accessible even if you’re not travelling by car. Here are a few of my absolute favourite spots for hiking in Germany:
Harz
This is a mountain range in northern Germany that has the highest elevations in the region. Located half way between Hannover and Leipzig, the larger towns like Werningerode and Goslar are well accessible by public transport. The high rainfall in this area gives rise to very diverse flora and the region is littered with rivers and lakes. The lakes where swimming is allowed, are specifically marked and a popular destination for summer barbeques. The highest peak in the region is the Brocken at 1141 m above sea level with hiking trails leading up to it ranging from 5 km to 20+ km. The area is also well frequented in the winter for its ski slopes for experienced skiers as well as for beginners.
Things to try:
  • Brockenbahn: This a steam locomotive from the 1800s offers a convenient, unique and quaint way to get up to the top of the Brocken
  • Megazipline: This 1000 m long ride lets you coast 120 m above ground.
  • Harzer cheese: This type of cheese characteristic to the Harzer region has a very distinctive strong smell and overpowering taste. With it’s very low fat and high protein content this hard cheese is used in special diets. The taste is….let’s say, acquired
Elbe Sandstone Mountains
This mountain range, also known as Saxon Switzerland, is located in the eastern state of Saxony, near the Czech border and is less than half an hour away from Dresden. The river Elbe cuts through the sandstone creating a unique rocky terrain along both sides of the river ranging up to about 500 m above sea level. A short cruise down the Elbe and back allows you to enjoy the views from the water. The Malerweg (painter’s path) trail is one of the most popular trails in the area, aptly named, since it features many historical landscape paintings inspired by the scenery in this area. The 8 legs of this 112 km trail, that I backpacked, was easily my favourite holiday of all time. The rocky paths test your footwork and stamina; the long quiet trails are a glorious respite from everyday life and the sandstone mountains offer insanely picturesque views, no matter where you are.
Things to try:
  • The Bastei cliff: This jagged collection of rocks with a sandstone bridge is a popular spot along the Elbe. While the view is absolutely worth it, be prepared for a flock of tourists photo-bombing your scenic pictures.
  • The Koenigstein Fortress: This 400 year-old fortress is Europe’s largest hilltop fortification. Once considered unconquerable, this building is now a popular tourist destination.
  • Sunset on the Lilienstein: This unique table mountain with a 360° of the surrounding area is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset (make sure you start the steep walk up the mountain on time).
 
Siebengebirge
The Seven Mountains (sieben = seven) is a hill range in western Germany. Less than an hour away from Cologne and Bonn, it features romantic, sloping vineyards along the river Rhine. A boat trip will take you all the way to Koblenz, while you enjoy the surrounding hills that are littered with magnificent castles. Among the 40 odd hills ranging up to about 500 m above sea level, are trails for hikers, mountain bikers, cake-eaters, wine-drinkers and many more. The Oelberg is the highest peak in the region and offers the best views.
Things to try:
  • Burg Drachenfels: This ruined castle was built in the 1100s and is the subject of many legends. If you don’t want to walk up, a 5-minute ride on a 19th century rack railway will get you there.
  • Café Profittlich: This antique café is the best place for a traditional German lunch and a piece of the famous Herrentorte.
  • Wine tasting: Take a tour of a local winery. Or sit down in one of the many little cafés for a Kölsch, a Lager-style beer originating in Cologne.
 
Berchtesgaden
Last, and most definitely not the least, this spectacularly scenic little town is nestled in the Berchtesgadener Alps in the southeastern state of Bavaria, close to the Austrian border. Like most German towns, public transport will get you here easily. It’s a 30-minute drive from Salzburg and 2 hours away from Munich.  The region is home to some of the highest mountains in Germany. While the trails leading up to the higher peaks, like the Watzmann (2713 m), are for more experienced hikers and are traversable only in the summer, there are numerous easier hikes with equally stunning views. A walk around the Hintersee, for example, lets you walk around the lake in an hour between towering, snow-covered mountains, crystal clear water and clouds.
Things to try:
  • Daytrip to Salzburg
  • Eagle’s Nest: This former Third Reich-era building turned restaurant offers a stunning panoramic view from the top of the Kehlstein (1834 m).
  • Kaiserschmarrn: This sweet dessert, made from shredded pancake served with fruit compote, is popular in this area and is even served as a whole meal.
BIO:
The writer of this guest blog is Irene, a smart, intelligent, confident, strong friend of mine. Irene grew up in different cities in South India and Switzerland and has always had trouble answering the question “where are you from”. Now, having lived in Germany for over 7 years, she’s happy that most people are content with the answer – India. An engineer by profession, when she isn’t researching, trying to cook healthy food or on endless FaceTime calls with family and friends all over the world, she’s trying to find a mountain to climb.
Travel tips
  1. Try to pick up a few words in the local language before you travel: please, excuse me, thank you, is this vegetarian. If people like you, they’re way more likely to help you. Even if they first laugh at your pronunciation.
  2. Say hi and flash a smile to everyone, whether it’s a fellow passenger on the train, a fellow hiker on a trail or the waiter at a local café. Germans love a polite tourist.
  3. Always have physical cash with you. In Germany, unfortunately, cash is still king. Although most stores and restaurants have cashless payment options, in some of the smaller cafés this might not be possible.

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