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12 Places in Germany that I visited during my Erasmus

Those who lived abroad know well how a city or a country can brand us for ever. With good and not so good memories, it is always a step towards outside of our comfort zone. For me, Germany was that first step, and the first time I lived outside my Portugal, and the first time I had to learn how to be absolutely independent. Over 10 years passed since that adventure, and in those 10 years a lot happened, but Germany… Those memories are here very close to my heart, and to keep them here!

To celebrate those 10 years, my Erasmus friends (whom I met in Germany) and I were thinking about meeting again in Dresden, unfortunately that didn’t happen yet. I am always excited to see them again, some of them I haven’t met since we all left Germany. How much different are we now? It’s a fact that Facebook and other social networks help to keep the distances shorter, but how will it be to meet again face to face? I’m sure it will be amazing, and I am so eager to listen to many stories and share a few of my own as well!

And after this introduction, it seems that the gold of this article is quite clear now.

And ode to the places I visited in Germany!

Berlin

Oddly, Berlin was one of the last places I visited in Germany. I was living about 200 km south of Berlin, and still, I kept postponing a visit to the capital. At first, because I was of the opinion that I could visit Berlin easily than any other place, which I was right. Then, I kept postponing it so much that once I realized I was the only person of my group of friends who haven’t ever visited Berlin. So I had no one to go with me anymore… So I ended up visiting it on my own, almost a year after I arrived in Germany. And only because I would fly to Portugal directly from Berlin, so maybe I would end up not even visiting this city.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof - Berlin's main train station
Berlin Hauptbahnhof – Berlin’s main train station

It was a different experience than usual, I did couchsurfing alone, and if I am not mistaken even for the first time. And I got to visit a bit the city. I went a bit further away from the center, I also went to a few important sites though, but my natural stupidity, I ended up not asking for tips nor local information. In any case, the very short time I stayed in Berlin was enough to fall in love with the city. A few years later I went back, and I confirmed the first time enchantment.

What to do in Berlin?

Berlin is a capital filled with culture, history, diversity, life and very international. Only a boring person will be bored in Berlin, there are things to do for all tastes, with several green spaces for those who prefer a bit of more quietness.

I used to completely avoid city tours, though nowadays I highly recommend it. A free tour is an excellent way to visit a city from the perspective of someone who knows it really well, and at a quite low price.

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Visiting Berlin without seeing the wall should be considered a crime. It is a piece of recent history, and all around the city we are reminded of what happened there not so long ago. In fact, about 30 years ago… The first time I visited the city I only saw part of the wall in the city center, where almost everything was taken down. And honestly, when I left Berlin I really felt like I didn’t “live” that part of the city. The second time I went to Berlin, of course I had to put the wall on the top of my priorities.

Berlin is a city filled with culture and history, like I mentioned before, and there will be activities for all tastes. Those who prefer to visit museums, there’s a lot of options as well.

Where is Berlin?

I’d say most people know where the capital of Germany is. It is a well-known city, for good and bad reasons, and nowadays it is one of the most visited places in the whole country. It’s easy to get there, easy to go around the city, and generally really safe. But where it is exactly?

Right here! In the north of Germany, not too far from Poland.

Being the capital, obviously there are several options to get there. Either by air our land, Berlin is an extremely well connected city to the rest of the world, with two airports and another one being built.

Regensburg

I don’t know exactly why, but I have a really good opinion about this city, even though I was there just for a couple hours on both times I was there. It is a small town, with a cute historical center and a river side zone really pleasant.

Regensburg
Regensburg

The first time I went there was on an excursion to Salzburg, and that time it was a flash visit, if I am not mistaken, we only had two hours to see whatever we could. Basically running the whole time, but it was enough to want to go back with another 3 friends from Erasmus, all Portuguese. That second time we enjoyed the city in a more relaxed way, we had our own (rented) car. And if I am not mistaken, we even got a parking fine… Memories…

What to visit in Regensburg?

The cathedral is a mandatory stop, even for those who don’t have any religious affiliations. It is the most known building in the city, and maybe it can even be seen from almost any site in that small city. The cathedral shows up in first place in almost all lists about things to do in Regensburg.

Going around this small city is like traveling through history, the quantity of buildings from the medieval era is so significant that UNESCO listed Regensburg as a city of Outstanding Universal Value. So, this means that a visit to the historical center must be part of your plans!

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And if you like geography, how about a walk by the banks of the second biggest river in Europe? Yep, the Danube river passes through the city. Still really small, at the point the river only has an extension of a few kilometers. While walking around the river banks, don’t miss the opportunity to see the stone bridge and the museum. Which probably you will see it either way.

Where is Regensburg?

Regensburg is a city in the state of Bavaria, in southwest of Germany. It’s relatively easy to get there, even though it has no international airport, it is about 100 km from Munich and Nuremberg. And it is quite well connected by the german railway network. Either by ICE, fast train or by regional train you can reach the city easily.

Nuremberg

Unlike Regensburg, I only visited Nuremberg once, even though we passed very closed to the city when we went to Salzburg on our first trip. I visited this city during our big road trip in Erasmus!

Tower of the Castle of Nuremberg
Tower of the Castle of Nuremberg

Our experience in Nuremberg was really good. We stayed with a really young couple who had a three-store house, and were receiving people via couchsurfing. We were lucky to stay with them. And just that, was 50% of experience in Nuremberg, really positive to be fair!

And now that I am finally looking at my old photos, I noticed how back I was at taking photos…, almost every church and towers had their tip cropped… Framing? What’s that?

What to do in Nuremberg?

Before going into details about what to do in Nuremberg, let’s have a small history lesson. Why Nuremberg? In fact, what could Nuremberg have so special besides the medieval monuments, walls and the castle? Bavaria is well-known for the medieval era, and thankfully several of those old buildings are still being preserved today. Visiting all those small towns in this german state is almost like time traveling. But how about a more recent history?

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Nuremberg has a quite recent dark past. During the Nazi era Nuremberg was considered as the most german city of all Germany. It was used as a stage for several rallies for the Nazi party since the 20s. And due to that, it was also used the chose site to mark the end of the Nazi Germany, where the Nuremberg Trials took place.This is the part I actually regret not visiting, I knew quite well this part of history and I knew about the Documentation Center. But when we visited the city that wasn’t part of our plans. Why? I don’t actually remember, but I regret not visiting it.

How to get to Nuremberg?

Alike most of german cities, it is also quite easy to reach Nuremberg by train. Germany’s railway system is really good, and it is probably the best way to travel between cities.

Nuremberg also has an international airport, and a metro line that connects the airport to the city center in only 12 minutes.

Now the surprising part, you can also reach Nuremberg by boat! Yes, that’s another interesting fact about Germany, their river system is really well kept, and several of their rivers are navigable on almost all their extensions. That would be an interesting way to reach the city!

Munich

If there is a city that will fright any Erasmus student’s pocket, then that city is Munich. Really beautiful, well-known for the Oktoberfest, and with a lot of culture. But also quite expensive!

Munich from above
Munich from above

Once again, this city was also part of the same road trip, and once again we also did couchsurfing. This time we found a Portuguese host, and we were really well welcomed! He showed us part of the city, took us out to meet his friends, and he was also a great host in offering us staying and an excellent dinner! Way more than we could expect, on a scale 0 to 5, he for sure went beyond the 5 stars!

What to do in Munich?

It is another city in Bavaria with really a lot to see, and nothing better than starting by the Frauenkirche, even if you are not religious. As soon as you get inside the cathedral you can see a shape on the floor that resembles a footprint. It is called the Devil’s Footprint, and according to the tale, the devil asked the builder to build a church without windows. When he went there to laugh at the end result, he only realized that there is a window once he got inside and he saw it – due to an optical illusion, it is only possible to see the window from one place – the devil, enraged, left the church so fast that he left a trail of wind that still exists today. Of course these are just tales, but it is interesting to see how these stories exist.

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Another interesting place to visit is the river Eisbach, a man-made river where there is a permanent wave where one can surf. Yes, surf! When I went there, over 10 years ago, it was still forbidden to surf that wave, however since a few years ago they now organize events and surfing competitions. Since 2010 it is officially allowed to surf that wave, but highly recommended just for experienced surfer.

Munich is another city filled with life, and I recommend to visit in any time of the year. Just keep in mind the seasons of events, that will increase the prices a bit…

Where is Munich?

If it is easy to reach Nuremberg and Regensburg, then Munich is even easier. A big international airport, well-connected via railway, and of course, also great accesses by car and buses. Munich is located in the south of Germany, being the capital of the state of Bavaria. Quite close to Austria, and half way between Switzerland and Czechia.

Neuschwanstein Castle

I am sure you already saw photos of this castle. It is probably one of the most well-known castles/palaces in the whole world. But maybe, some of you didn’t even know that it actually exists. Confusing? Yep, probably you saw photos and you thought it was just a fictitious castle or a model for Disney. But no, this castle actually exists, and Disney got inspired by it for Disney Castle and not the other way around!

12 Places in Germany that I visited during my Erasmus
12 Places in Germany that I visited during my Erasmus

Neu means “new” in German, and in this case the castle got its name because it was built on the top of the ruins of another castle that used to exist in that area, which name was Schwanstein Castle. Another interesting fact about this castle (or palace), is that it was build as a retreat place and as an homage to the composer Wagner, of whom the king Ludwig II had a big admiration. Unfortunately Wagner died without never seeing the castle, as it was concluded after his death.

Visiting the castle is almost like being part of a fairy tale, but everything with such a “Disney” look, that it looks way too fake. The servants’ rooms put to shame our own “mid-class” homes, so you can have an idea how the rest of the palace looks like. And the views from up there? Dreaming! Every single cent paid for this visit is well-spent! It is an unreal palace and not so old, and it was barely used by the king.

What to do near Neuschwanstein?

Besides this castle, there are a few others quite close, one of them can even be seen from Neuschwanstein, the Hohenschwangau castle. Also a cute castle, and this was actually built on the top of the ruins of Schwanstein castle. Yes, this is all quite confusing!

Just by looking at the photos one thinks about going for some hikes, the area is amazing for that. And for those who want to take photos of Neuschwanstein from different points of view, I recommend a hike up a nearby hill. It was from where I took my photo.

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For those who prefer a bit less of Nature, you can also visit Füssen, a city that is right next to the castles. Or the small towns in the area. But honestly, considering the site, the best is really to take advantage of those views and Nature, you won’t get bored of walks!

Where is the Neuschwanstein castle?

The castle is really near the city of Füssen, in the south of Germany, right next to the border with Austria. To get there you can either go via Innsbruck, in Austria, or take a 2 hours train trip from Munich, in Germany. Once in Füssen, finding the castle is quite simple, with options of walking, for those who prefer to walk.

Erfurt

I did free camping for the first time in this city! I was a bit (really a lot) afraid, but I ended up giving up to it thanks to the persistence of a good friend. We didn’t have enough time to properly explore the city, in fact, we only had a full day. We wandered around the city center, we went to the tourism office and we asked for a map, and we took that as a starting point. We met with some other friends, and then we headed to the woods to try to find a spot for the night. We ended up in a groove not far from the center, you can even see it in the map below.

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What to do in Erfurt?

One of the main sites not to miss is the Erfurt Cathedral, gorgeous from outside and from inside! Also in the old town you can visit the almost millenary Synagogue, maybe the oldest in Europe in such a good state. For those who are interested in learning about the history of religions, I recommend a visit to the Monastery where Martin Luther took his first steps as a monk, the father of Protestant religion.

Abandoned house in the groove in Erfurt
Abandoned house in the groove in Erfurt

Where is Erfurt?

Erfurt is located right in the center of Germany, not too far from Dresden and Leipzig. To get there, the best way might be by train. Several ICE (fast intercities) pass there with direct connection to several main cities, like Frankfurt and Berlin. The city also has a small airport, with flights to several touristic places in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. But maybe by airplane isn’t that practical. Of course, there’s always the option by car from any other major city.

Weimar

And Weimar was part of the trip to Erfurt, where we also ended up doing free camping. However, a bit more extreme, during out quest to find the perfect place to camp we ended up staying next to a military zone inside a private property (probably it was even part of that same military zone). I slept really badly, with half of my body lying on the top of a trunk, but still an experience to never forget… Only in the next day we realized that maybe that place wasn’t the best to set camp…

What to do in Weimar?

When you are a student and you don’t have much money, touring often ends up being visiting those places you can get in for free. And while I was writing this article, over 10 years after these trips, I realize the amount of nice things I didn’t visit but I would probably enjoy them… In Weimar we walked around the city center and we went to a really nice park. We didn’t visit anything else, just trying to enjoy what the city had to offer.

Bridge at Weimar Park
Bridge at Weimar Park

While researching for tips of what to do in Weimar, I found references to the Kirms-Krackow House, one of the oldest in the city. And by the photos, it seems to be a worth-visiting place, and it is quite close to the Weimar Castle, another important sightseeing point, where you can also visit the museum.

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Where is Weimar?

Quite close to Erfurt, Weimar is also very at the heart of Germany. One of the best ways to get there is by train, with direct routes from Berlin, Leipzig and Erfurt by fast train, or regional train from other big cities like Dresden.

The nearest airport is in Erfurt, so, if you intend to visit Weimar, it would be a great idea to put both cities on the same plan. After all, they are so close to each other.

Meißen

Meißen (or Meissen) is one of those places that I almost ended up not visiting. And unfortunately I don’t have a single article mentioning that visit, maybe because it was also a quite short one.

Meißen
Meißen

Most of my Erasmus friends mentioned Meißen, and it was “just there“. And because it was “just there” I kept postponing it, to the point that I almost forgot. A bit alike Berlin, which also almost ended up being out of my list… And this city is just 25 km away from Dresden… Hardly it could be closer to someone living in Dresden…

What to do in Meißen?

Considering I visited this two mostly because of its cathedral, so it was just the cathedral that I visited (and the small museum). Even though I was struggling a bit with money back then, I remember that I paid to get inside the cathedral, and I remember that it wasn’t that much. I never liked paying to visit religious sites. But I remember that I did like what I saw, mostly from outside.

The cathedral lies by the bank of the river, and as soon as you arrive you can see that bit building at the top of a small hill. Just by that view I was glad to go there. I walked a bit around the old town, I ate, and then I ended up going back to Dresden. It was a really short visit, but it was something that had to be done…

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Where is Meißen?

Like I mentioned before, it is quite close to Dresden, just 25 km north of the city. And almost like any other place I mentioned so far, the best way to get there is by train. There are regional trains departing from Dresden, and in less than half and hour we are already there!

Moritzburg

On the other hand, Moritzburg was one of the first places I visited. In fact, that was my first mini-trip outside Dresden with my new group of friends. A small town just 15 kilometers outside Dresden. Besides the castle, which is in the middle of a lake, there isn’t much more to do in that small town. But if you visit it during Christmas time, I recommend a visit to the Christmas market. Not as great as the Dresden one, but being smaller also gives a better feeling of warmth.

Mortizburg Castle
Mortizburg Castle

Where is Moritzburg?

Like I mentioned before, Moritzburg is right next to Dresden, it is just a quick drive from the city. To get there you can take the bus, or take a steam train (which I wasn’t aware until recently). Half a day is enough to visit the castle and go around the area and the lake, it is always a nice option for a more rustic walk.

Rügen

Rügen is the largest island in Germany, and you can find it right at the very north of the country, just about one kilometer away from the mainland. In fact, it is so close to the mainland that it has a bridge connecting the island to the rest of the country. I visited this island during my last month in Germany, as part of my trip to Berlin. The trip from Berlin was using a car sharing system, but not hitchhiking like one might think, but using a website for sharing trips, which works (or used to work) really well!

If I am not mistaken, the driver dropped me in Bergen auf Rügen, where then I met with my friend. And from there we went to Sassnitz, where we ended up setting camp in the middle of a National Park! Another free camping experience, and this time at the sound of ocean waves. I must say, this was an incredible experience!

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What to do in Rügen?

Rügen is a big touristic destination for the germans, and it was even more popular during the Nazi Germany. And once you get there you will understand why, it is a really beautiful island with a lot to visit and do. Starting by the Jasmund National Park, with the cliffs of chalk and the well-known Königsstuhl.

The beaches between Sassnitz and Binz are really beautiful, you can even camp there (legally), and that’s what we ended up doing on our second night. From Binz to Putbus you can do the trip via steam train, one of the oldest railway lines in the island. In Putbus I recommend a visit to the “circule of Putbus“, a section of the town where several streets converge to.

Steam train in Rügen
Steam train in Rügen

Already out of the island, but still part of the same trip, I recommend a visit to the city of Stralsund, where we spent a really nice afternoon. Going up the church tower should be mandatory for those who visit the city, that view is unreal!

Where is Rügen?

Like I mentioned before, it is right in the north of Germany, kissed by the Baltic Sea. To get there isn’t that easy, either by car or by train to Stralsund, and from there another train to Sassnitz. There is also the option by ferry, there are several routes connecting to Sassnitz. But to visit the island, I really recommend to have a car, we took the train and buses, and that limited us quite a lot.

Saxon Switzerland

I left this part of Germany for last because it is one of my favorites, a par with Dresden (next one). I visited the National Park three times, but I crossed it a few more. One of the best advantages of being an university student in Dresden is that for about 150€ you get a student card that is also a public transportation pass. Which gives us access to all the campuses of the University, even those outside the city… Well, as a matter of a fact, one of them is right close to the Saxon Switzerland, which means, the pass range gets there! In fact, we can even go to the border without having to pay more for that!

Elbe Valley at Saxon Switzerland
Elbe Valley at Saxon Switzerland

The first time I visited the park was with an Erasmus excursion, I had no idea what to expect and I ended up loving it. Of course, as a hillbilly, I would fall in love with that park. I hiked through the mountain, which took a full day. Up and down hill several times, stairs, rocks, a bit of everything. A pick-nick halfway, and we ended up with a really nice hot mulled wine by the Elbe River, ready to go back to Dresden. It was a full day, and I slept like a baby once I got home! If you love Nature, and you are planning to visit Dresden, don’t leave this National Park out of your plans!

What to do in Saxon Switzerland?

Thankfully it is a place where there isn’t lack of things to do! Not just the National Park, but also the surroundings. Keep in mind that the whole National Park’s area is in two countries, part of it in Germany and part in Czechia, where they call it Bohemian Switzerland. Yep, that’s the name there!

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The second time I visited the park was with the goal of visiting the Bastei bridge, the views from up there to the Elbe Valley are unreal! And seeing a train pass down there gives the perspective of how high we are! And talking about heights, how about visiting the Königstein castle? Unfortunately I didn’t visit it, but I hope to do it so eventually!

For those who enjoy some sports and physical activity, I recommend to do the Elbe cycleway to the park, and/or a hike through the park like I did. But if you are more into a more relaxed way, you can always take one of the touristic river cruises in Dresden and go down the Elbe river to the border, it is also an experience worth doing. You won’t lack of things to do around the National Park, just keep your mind open for experiences!

Where is the Saxon Switzerland?

The National Park is right at the border with Czechia, in the state of Saxony. To get there, either via Prague and by train – but if you do this, you will also have the chance of visiting the park from the Czechia side – or from Dresden, also by train with the option of a river cruize.

The fast international trains don’t stop in any of the stops in the park, but if you take a regional train the trip isn’t that long either.

Dresden

I left my favorite city for last in this list, and it is my favorite for obvious reasons, it was where I spent most of my time during Erasmus. Loads of parties, activities and much more. It was also where I met many new friends! A shame that most of the articles I wrote back then weren’t about traveling, but mostly about my daily life as an Erasmus student. I ended up retiring those articles considering they were not suitable for the current theme of this blog…

For those who don’t know, Dresden is the capital of Saxony, a state in the East of Germany bordering with Poland and Czechia. The city has many monuments and full with history, some of those monuments quite recent. Recent monuments? Yes, during the Second World War the city center was bombed which destroyed most of the old city.

After the war, several years later, they decided to rebuild the Frauenkirche, therefore the shades of the new stones are quite different from the buildings that survived the bombing. Not because they are different, but simply because those are newer stones, which didn’t got dark yet.

Dresden Altstadt
Dresden Altstadt

Obviously, the city has several neighborhoods, but the two most central ones are known as “New city” (Neustadt) and “Old city” (Altstadt). Due to the war and the 2002 floods, which affected most of the old part of the city, nowadays the “Old city” is more remodeled, while the “New city” has a more older look or less maintained.

What to do in Dresden?

Don’t think that just because Dresden isn’t a big city that one day is enough. No, it is not enough! In fact, the central part might be possible to visit in one or two days, but if you want to enjoy the city properly you will need a few more days.

Besides the areas I mentioned before, Altstadt and Neustadt, there is a lot more to see and do. I also recommend to get a bit away from the city center and explore the area of Pillnitz. In the map below you can see that area, right at the south side of the city, at the banks of the river. To get there you can take the tram number 2, then cross the river by ferry which takes a few minutes to cross the river. There you will find one of the many palaces in the area, a perfect place to have a few pick-nicks. When you get there, pay close attention to the flood marks that hit that area, and then look around… You will see that almost everything around is flat… Now imagine the “sea” that was there, considering the level of the floods.

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For those who like ti cycle, I also cycled through Dresden Heide (the groove) and I had a lot of fun getting lost in those trails. Besides Nature, there isn’t much more to do there, but if you like Nature then you will enjoy cycling through the groove. If you are more into “urban Nature“, then I recommend the Großer Garten, the Big Garden. At the center of the garden there is a palace… Yep, in this part of Germany palaces were a big trend as well… And next to the Großer Garten I recommend a visit to Volkswagen’s Transparent Factory. It is worthy visit, I really liked to see how they manufacture the cars with a tidiness and cleanliness almost surgical.

Großer Garten's Palace
Großer Garten’s Palace

A zone not so much visited, but with its own beauty and unique characteristics, the University of Dresden. With modern and old builds, with special highlight to the Faculty of Computer Science, where I studied.

A suggestion from me to you, just go to Neustadt area a bit before the sunset, and then turn towards Altstadt. The sunset over the castle and the church is gorgeous. Of course, there’s always the weather factor, with rain might not be that nice to see…

Where is Dresden?

Dresden is the capital of Saxony, you can find it between Berlin and Prague in East Germany. To get there is quite simple, even if there are no direct flights from Portugal, Dresden airport is well-served by destinations and main hubs, even to several main airports in Germany. Then, to the city center, just a short trip by train.

And regarding trains, being a main city, it is easy to guess that it is also well-connected by fast national and international trains, in fact, it even has two main stations. One in Neustadt and another one in Altstadt. If you have the chance, don’t miss this city!

How about you? Have you been to any of these places yet? Leave a comment and share your experience!

By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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