My husband and I, and our adult children, are planning to travel to Berlin in September 2022 for three days. From Berlin, we’d like to travel to a town or village (small and not too touristy) in Germany for three days where we can perhaps tour local historic sites, hike, drink beer, and generally explore and get to know the area and the people. It would be awesome to stumble upon a local festival or celebration, for instance. From that place, we then need to get to a major city from which we can fly to London to spend the remainder of our trip in England. (Or, based on schedules and air fares, we could do the England part first, and return to the US from Germany.) We’re very comfortable with traveling, and love public transportation but are fine with renting a car – whichever is the best way to minimize the time we spend getting from point A to point B. On the other hand, some of our favorite travel memories are from places we happened upon while getting from here to there! I’m getting overwhelmed with finding the town or village in Germany and would welcome any suggestions. Thank you very much!
we’d like to travel to a town or village (small and not too touristy)
in Germany for three days where we can perhaps tour local historic
sites, hike, drink beer, and generally explore and get to know the
area and the people. It would be awesome to stumble upon a local
festival or celebration, for instance.
There are numerous options all around the country, but for me, the old-world towns in the Rhine Valley would be at the top of the list. In September there are harvest festivals every weekend. Some of the country's most scenic hiking trails (Rheinsteig, Rheinburgenweg, for example) connect these towns and their castles, vineyards and other historic sights.
You'd be about an hour from FRA airport from these places.
As Russ said, there are lots of options. Getting there from Berlin will be at least a 5 hr. drive. You could also consider flying to Munich and training down to Garmisch. Such a lovely little town in the mountains, with loads of great hiking. Go to the top of the Zugspritz, hike around Lake Eibsee, Partnach Gorge is awesome, the views amazing. If you have a car, you can easily drive to the Etal Abbey, Linderhof Palace, Oberameergau, and Neuschwanstein Castle (Cinderella Castle) with an amazing drive through Austria along a lake. There are an abundance of day trips from Garmisch. Munich to Garmisch is about an hour's train ride so you could fly to London from Munich. Just a thought.
Look around Berlin for quaint towns. There is no need to spend a day traveling to the Rhein or Bavaria to see cute towns. Try Quedlinberg, Lübeck, Celle. This is the Half-Timbered route that features some of the most charming towns in Germany:
You might enjoy Potsdam too. Or venture into the Spree Wald.
JR's suggestion is indeed a lovely area to visit, and just like the Rhine Valley, it has very good public transport options.
One possible concern for you there will be the heavy influx of international visitors that takes place every 10 years for the Passion Play, which doesn't end until October 2; expect greater-than-average crowds and higher demand/prices for accommodations around the region.
From Berlin, both the Rhine and Garmisch are surprisingly close these days - the German Rail system can get you to Bingen am Rhein in about 5 hours, to Garmisch in about 6.
There is no need to spend a day traveling to the Rhein or Bavaria to
see cute towns. Try Quedlinberg, Lübeck, Celle.
These places, as well as the other towns on the Half-Timbered routes, are very nice too and worth checking out if you are thinking you wish to stay closer to Berlin to fly out. However, each one is still pretty close to 3 train hours from Berlin - so round-trip from Berlin then back to Berlin, you would still be looking at about the same amount of ground travel time as you would for the Rhine Valley with a flight out of FRA airport.
I'd mention that some September festivals focus on wine, including new-wine that can't be held long-term or shipped. So it's an interesting flavor you don't often find. (And lower alcohol.) But you said beer is the family priority.
I wonder if you would distinguish German-tourist towns from foreign-tourist towns. For example, after seeing the UNESCO WHS of Gartenreich Dessau Wörlitz (a huge place, mostly outdoors), we walked into "town". This was mainly a street of mostly outdoor (I mean before Covid) biergarten terraces. It was nearly deserted the day we were there, but it's clearly a crowd-magnet at other times of year. And it had a certain charm, as a lunch during a visit to a large site. It's relatively close to Berlin, but I don't think I would want to sleep there.
I'd say that about Quedlinburg as well, because it's off the beaten track, if not unknown. We accidentally were there during Pifferling season (chantarelle mushrooms), so the restaurant with a view of the red-roofed town had a Pifferling-menu. We were there late in the day, so it was almost deserted. But pay attention to closing hour for the very famous church treasury.
I personally question sleeping in a place that requires (even with Germany's excellent service) a train ride to visit anything else. I will admit, we stayed in the small city of Andernach, for a one-time BUGA garden show in Koblenz, which we liked but couldn't bear to stay in. I doubt there were many foreign tourists in Andernach, but we could see big (old) boarding houses across the river. There was a tiny old-town section, but we had to train everywhere. It did work well for our Rhine-dayboat trip from Bingen to Boppard. Andernach has one "attraction", a sort of geyser-by-boat outing.
I wonder if a Mosel town, with bicycling, might suit you. We slept at a luxury place in Mulheim, which didn't have much else. Wine tastings required appointments, even in that small town.
I am not an expert on this final topic, maybe Russ would comment - when we've met even younger Germans on small-ship cruises, or in Biergartens, they are uniformly overwhelmed by American familiarity, and willingness to strike up extensive conversations with strangers. I wonder if your plans to "meet the locals" are a bit too hopeful?
This is a lot of reading, but you might find something of value in my trip report:
Edit: I don't agree with the reasoning in the next post, but I avoided suggesting B-K because it's perhaps the most popular, i.e. touristy town in that part of the Mosel. Even Traben-Trarbach is less touristy, and it's touristy (but also, nice.) I found Mulheim too dull to stay in without a car, but we had one. Years ago, the most important winery in B-K had a sign, in several language on its doorpost. Summary: "Here's a list of retail stores you can buy our stuff. No appointment here? Get lost."
Regarding Garmish, Russ makes a good point about the Passion Play and availabilities and crowds in the area. Going with his suggestions and others for the Rhine/Moselle Valley, another little town in the Moselle Valley we enjoyed was Bernkastle Kues which is just a couple of hours away from Frankfurt. Lovely area and the Moselle wine festival is Sept. 2.
Freising near Munich for beer and hiking. They have the Volksfest in September which many locals consider the "Oktoberfest warmup." It's home to the oldest brewery in the world, and you can walk/hike along the river. It's got a downtown square, church, a ruin, a university campus, and is the starting/ending point of the Hops Road. The entire route is pretty and probably worth doing. There are likely other festivals (Covid willing).
The other is Lüneburg, south of Hamburg. You are at the gateway to the Lüneburg Heath, which blooms in September, and it has a beautiful old town. Since it's heath blooming time, I'd imagine it's good festival time (Covid willing), and obviously great hiking. It's not super small, but it is intimate and very pretty.
Both are close to major airports--Freising is right by the Munich airport, and Lüneburg is not far from the Hamburg airport--so getting to the UK should not be a problem. For both, a car rental to explore the surrounding areas is a great option but not required--perhaps more necessary for Freising / Hops Road, but for the city of Freising itself not so much. Freising is hillier, so if walking up hills is a problem, keep that in mind. But their beer is better.
I thought about this some. In my area is the town of Amberg. It still has a good part of the old town wall. There are a lot of options for things to do and hike. Many restaurants and cafe. Several breweries in and around Amberg. I don't see any Fest in September, but an hour train ride will get you to Nürnberg or Regensburg. I enjoyed the flat bottom boat ride on the Vils River. Maybe too far away from Berlin and a major airport?
My advice after extensive travel in Germany is to stay close to Berlin for the extra days.
I'm not real familiar with the area around Berlin. As a child of the cold war, eastern Germany was just a black area on the map; you didn't go there. I've been in east Germany twice since the fall of the wall - one to the Brocken and once to the Sächsische Schweiz area and Dresden. Although I felt a little uncomfortable being the the land of a former enemy, I have to admit I enjoyed it, particularly five days near Bad Schandau, in a Privatzimmer.
I don't think proximity to a major airport is that important since you plan on going on to the UK, not flying back to the US. There are plenty of smaller airports in Germany with non- or one-stop flights to the UK.
Like I said, try to find small towns near Berlin. As an alternative, I would suggest three other areas not too far from Berlin. 1) you can get to Hamburg in a few hours on an ICE, and there are non-stop flights from there to London. 2) There is an EC from Berlin to Prague that stops in Dresden after about 2 hours. If you like cities (I don't), there seems to be a lot to see in Dresden. I like the area east of there - the Sächsische Schweiz national park with its unique rock formations, the Bastei Bridge in the middle of one of these rock formations, and the very impressive fortress, Königstein.
For Hamburg or Dresden, you can get there with long distance trains of the Bahn, for which there are advance purchase discount tickets available pretty cheap.
Lastly, 3) is the the Harz Mountains and towns around it (Wernigerode, Quedlinburg). It's a little harder to get to from Berlin, by slower regional trains, and the closest airport, Hannover, is farther away than the airports for Hamburg or Dresden. However, of the three areas, I have spent more time in the Harz and the towns on the flat north of it (Bad Harzburg, Wernigerode) and found that area more to my liking. I didn't see Quedlinburg, but it is suppose to have a lot of Fachwerk buildings.
There are a lot to do in Berlin. 3 days are probably not enough. Spending another 3 days would also mean you can make best use of a weekly transport ticket of Berlin public transport. Potsdam is definitely somewhere nearby which offers a different vibe.
If you would like to explore other regions, Harz region is probably the closest which can offer hike as Berlin is pretty flat.
Otherwise, I think Hamburg is another metropolitan region worth exploring. Luebeck is a city 30 mins away from Hamburg. Hamburg offers regular and very affordable flights to the UK. Further north to Hamburg is the Schleswig Holstein region, which include many coastal cities, such as Kiel and Flensburg.
Thank you so much for the terrific list of ideas, links and insights. I’ve been researching all these suggestions to figure out a plan. There are so many great ideas here. I’ve decided to avoid the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area due to the proximity to the Passion Play, which will still be going on. Other than that, no firm decisions yet. I’m assuming the Moselle area has biergartens despite the focus on wine around there? Thanks again!
Yes, you will not have any trouble finding beer along the Mosel.
Mosel restaurants may not have a Biergarten per se, but you shouldn't have trouble finding outdoor venues like this one at La Baia, near the Mosel bridge in Cochem. Königsbacher Brewery, (see patio umbrella) which was around for decades before it became became "Koblenzer" Brewery several years ago, is prominent locally - and it has its own Biergarten at their facility in Koblenz-Stolzenfels, right next to the River Rhine, not too far from where the Mosel meets the Rhine.
Bitburger bier is brewed in Bitburg just north of Trier, very near the Mosel. Everybody will be selling it.
The best areas outside of Berlin in Germany are Bavaria in the SE and the Rhine Valley in the SW.
Lots of great places in the Munich area and in the Alpine region near the Austrian border.
For historic villages, do the Romantic Road which includes Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Dinkelsbuhl, Donauwurth and more preserved medieval villages.
HowlinMad made a great suggestion for Freising Volksfest: September 2nd to 11th, 2022
The HerbstFest in Rosenheim goes from August 27 - Sept 11. "The world goes to Munich, but the locals gather in Rosenheim"; more in the Chimsee area between Munich and Salzburg, but accessible by train
Munich Oktoberfest should start around Sept 16 for 2 weeks+. Big city, big festival, but great museums, and walks through the Englisher Garden (with stops at the Chinese Tower and Seehaus biergartens).
The Stuttgart Volksfest starts/ends a week later: 23 September to 9 October 2022.
I equate the beer festivals as really more like a US County Fair. It is a family affair. Carnival rides, carnival games, carnival food. Craft booths. But in the middle of the fair grounds happen to be beer tents that hold several thousand party goers. Share an open table (watch out for reserved tables). I have been to the spring fests in both Munich and Stuttgart (I prefer Stuttgart's fest - more local - less drunk touristy). You will meet/interact with locals. One beer, One water, consider getting up to move around and maybe switch tents.
In Stuttgart, I explored museums and city sights during the day and the festival (by public transport) at night. One day, I took the S-Bahn out a few stops and enjoyed an all day wine trail (with lunch in a gorgeous little village with a nice winestube and wine museum along with the Kaiser's hilltop memorial to his queen).
Have fun exploring your options.