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Bavaria: Take a road trip through the German region that has everything

Germany has plenty of flashy tourist attractions, if you're into that type of thing. There's modern Berlin, Gothic Cologne, the painstakingly recreated Dresden and the Old City in Heidelberg, just to name a few.

And then there's Bavaria. Straddling the borders with Austria and the Czech Republic, Bavaria remained independent of Germany until 1871. A trip to the 20,000-square-mile area can include everything from cities (Munich, Nuremberg) to castles (Neuschwanstein) to stunningly beautiful wildlife (the Alps, the Bavarian forest) to historical sites dating back to medieval times and up to the dark days of World War II.

There are flights from JFK and Newark to Munich and Nuremberge. A car is recommended to get around, especially since a road trip is the best way to take in the small towns.

Castles

Bavaria's greenery (although it pays a heavy price
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Bavaria's greenery (although it pays a heavy price for such greenery: In the spring and summer, you can expect to see a lot of rain) gives it a fairytale look, even without the castles. But there are castles, just about everywhere you look. No trip is complete without a trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein, located about an hour from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the famous castle that inspired Walt Disney. "Mad" King Ludwig II's fascination with medieval castles led him to build the grand Schloss Neuschwanstein, although very few details of Schloss Neuschwanstein are actually realistic to medieval times. Given the huge expense and his lack of family, Neuschwanstein opened to the public for tours just seven weeks after his death, and now draws around 1.4 million visitors a year. If you aren't exhausted from the climb up the mountain and the guided tour of Neuschwanstein, a walk around the bend to the Marienbrücke, located over the Pollät gorge will give the perfect Instagram opportunity--but make sure crowded, rickety bridges are your thing. No seriously. There's also the less crowded (but also less majestic) Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig grew up. The two castles which share a ticket office and parking lots at the base of the mountain. For more information, go to http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/idea/index.htm.

World War II history

Bavaria was the home of some of Nazis'
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Bavaria was the home of some of Nazis' most enthusiastic supporters: Hitler built his mountain retreat, Berghof in Hallbech, just north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the infamous Nuremberg laws against Jews were proclaimed in the city. Even for those who think they know all there is to know about the Holocaust, a visit to the concentration camps at Dachau or Flossenbürg will be shocking. Dachau, the first concentration camp, opened in March 1933, less than 20 miles from Munich. Today, Dachau is a somber memorial and museum to horrors of the camp where 200,000 people imprisoned there and the 41,5000 killed. For more information, go to https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html. Children under 12 must be accompanied by adults. Dachau was not the only concentration camp in the region: In nearby Flossenbürg, by the Czech border, there is a memorial to the concentration camp there, which opened in 1938 for the purpose of extracting granite from the nearby quarry. Flossenbürg had nearly nearly 100,000 prisoners, at first only criminals, "asocials" and homosexuals, but later the camp grew to imprison political prisoners from all over the Third Reich and eventually Jews sent on death marches from other camps. Although only the guard towers and the crematorium remained after 1946, a haunting permanent exhibition opened at the camp in 2010 to honor and remember the victims of Flossenbürg and its 90 subcamps in Bavaria. For more information, go to http://www.gedenkstaette-flossenbuerg.de/en/home/ Children under 12 must be accompanied by adults.

Bavarian forest

Located near the Czech and Austrian borders, the
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Located near the Czech and Austrian borders, the Bavarian Forest looks like something out of a storybook. The Bavarian Forest region is about 90 miles long and 30 miles wide. Recognizing its significance, the Bavarian Forest National Park became the first national park in Germany in 1970. At the Falkenstein Visitors' Center, there are trails and animals that can come right up to you. There are several dedicated hiking trails, including the Lusen Hiking Area, the Großer Falkenstein and the Rachel Hiking Area, near the park's only glacial lake, Lake Rachelsee. For a peak into what an unpopulated Germany would look like, the Bavarian Forest is a must. For more information, go to http://www.nationalpark-bayerischer-wald.de/english/index.htm.

The German Alps

Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze, is located near
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze, is located near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort in southern Bavaria. In the winter, the mountains are perfect for skiing and the lengthy rainy season makes the mountains perfectly green in the spring and summer. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, ritzy resort town at the base of the Alps, made headlines as the site of the G7--and it served as the backdrop of a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama went viral. The two towns were united in 1935 by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Winter Olympics, and despite being frequently shortened to "Garmisch," Partenkirchen has its cobble-stone street charms.

Nuremberg

Nuremberg, one of the most important cities in
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Nuremberg, one of the most important cities in the medieval Holy Roman Empire, is one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Built up by Hitler and the site where the infamous Nuremberg laws against Jews were announced, Nuremberg was heavily bombed in World War II and 90% of its Old Town was ruined. The city has rebuilt what it can, including the Imperial Castle, which dates back to at least 1050. The Gothic and Romanesque sections survived World War II and the castle has since been rebuilt and opened a permanent exhibition in 2013. It now serves as a history museum and offers panoramic views of Nuremberg. For more information, go to: http://www.kaiserburg-nuernberg.de/englisch/castle/. At the base of the Imperial Castle is artist Albrecht Dürer's house, who lived there from 1509 to 1528. Largely forgotten until the 19th century when renewed interest turned the house into a Dürer shrine. It was majorly damaged in World War II, and redesigned museum opened in 1971. For more information, go to: http://museums.nuremberg.de/duerer-house/topics/house.html. Sankt Sebaldus Kirche, the Frauenkirche and St. Lorenz are the three major churches in the city, all of which date back to the Middle Ages. For more recent history, Nuremberg is also home to the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, once built for Nazi rallies but now has eerie permanent exhibition called "Fascination and Terror" dedicated to the Nazi rule. For more information, go to: http://museums.nuremberg.de/documentation-centre/index.html. Given its importance in building up the Nazis and their reign of terror, Nuremberg was chosen for the war crime trials of major Nazis after World War II. Courtroom 600 holds guided tours for visitors to see where the SS were brought to justice. For more information, go to: http://www.memorium-nuremberg.de/. For those who are not as interested in history, Nuremberg also is home to the great Christmas markets (or Christkindlesmarkt) held in the Hauptmarkt, the large market square that is also home to the daily Nuremberg market.

Bayreuth

Located in northern Bavaria, Bayreuth is reminiscent of
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Located in northern Bavaria, Bayreuth is reminiscent of Austria's fascination with culture and classical music. Bayreuth was home the German composers Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. Liszt died in Bayreuth in 1886, and the Franz Liszt Museum is in the house where he died. The Richard Wagner Museum is also located in his old villa, and the annual Bayreuth Festival is held in Festival Hall and is dedicated to Wagner's works. The city's Margravial Opera House, dating to 1748, is also a museum. Bayreuth is also home to three palaces, the New Palace, Ermeitage, or Old Palace, and the Fantaisie Palace and Garden Museum. Bayreuth's cobblestone streets and walkable tour squares make it a must stop for visitors to Bavaria.

Playmobil FunPark

Nuremberg has a long history of toy creations,
Photo Credit: Flickr / wm_archiv

Nuremberg has a long history of toy creations, and even has a Toy Museum. But there's nothing quite like the Playmobil FunPark, located just outside Nuremberg near the headquarters in Zimdorf. German inventor Hans Beck, who first showed the toys at the 1971 International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, created Playmobil toys. The rest is history. The theme park is basically playing in a giant set of Playmobil toys. There's a police station, a knights' castle, a pirate ship and an outdoor water park. Oh and a beer garden for adults (and kids, since let's face it, this is Bavaria). For more information: http://www.playmobil-funpark.de/en

Munich

Munich is an entity unto itself. Germany's third-largest
Photo Credit: Flickr / weyes

Munich is an entity unto itself. Germany's third-largest city, dates back to at least the 1100s, when it was first mentioned in documents. After being heavily bombed in World War II, the city was completely rebuilt during the U.S. occupation and eventually held the 1972 Olympics. (Olympic Park, located just north of the city, is available for tours. For more information, go to http://www.olympiapark.de/en/home/tours-sightseeing/.) Munich's main square is Marienplatz, which includes two of the city's main tourist sites, the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady) and Neues Rathaus (New City Hall). For visitors during the Christmas season, Marienplatz also hosts Christmas market. For those looking for castles, there's Schloss Nymphenburg, which was first constructed in 1664, but underwent massive renovations as early as 1680. Although open for tours (and drawing around 300,000 visitors annually), Nymphenburg is still the summer residence for the Bavarian royal family. Munich is the home of the BMW, with factory tours (more information: http://www.bmw-welt.com/en/visitor_information/guided_tours/plant.html) and even a BMW museum (more information: http://www.bmw-welt.com/en/visitor_information/guided_tours/museum.html). To eat, Munich specializes in German food (ie, schnitzel for everyone!) and beer halls (see above).

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg is one of Bavaria's most charming cities.
Photo Credit: Flickr / philia17

Rothenburg is one of Bavaria's most charming cities. The city dates back to about 950 AD and, according to local legend, was spared heavy bombing heavily during World War II because U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy knew the city's beauty from his mother and instead sent soldiers in to negotiate the surrender. The town had once been the heart of Jewish culture, although there have been periods of anti-Semitism in the city's history and all Jews were expelled before the Kristallnacht in 1938. For a walking tour of Rothenburg's Jewish history, go to http://www.tourismus.rothenburg.de/index.php?id=577. Rothenburg's Rathausturm (Town Hall Tower) dates back to Gothic days, and you can view the whole city from the top of the 220 steps. Rothenburg's Marktplatz is the heart of the storybook town, and is dominated by the Rathaus (Town Hall), which has parts that date back to 1250. For more information on Rothenburg, go to http://www.tourismus.rothenburg.de/index.php?id=470.

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