Despite being Germany's fourth largest city, Cologne is far less visited than Berlin and Munich, and retains much of its quintessential German character.
Cologne is perhaps most renowned for its art scene, and hosts a number of varied art festivals and trade shows throughout the year. There are literally hundreds of art galleries strewn across the city centre that range from small, independent ones to the Museum Ludwig – home to one of the most impressive collections of European Modern Art on the continent.
The city itself is filled with monuments and landmarks of inherent beauty. The Gothic Cologne is well worth a visit; soaring over 150 metres high, it is the third tallest church in the world, and is even more striking inside than it is from afar. However, there are a number of other, alternative things to see and do. A great way to appreciate the city is by crossing one of its bridges from the Old Town to enjoy the stunning view across the river.
One truly unique attraction is the Unsichtbar, a bar and restaurant filled with darkness. While the idea may seem odd at first, eating in the dark really heightens the diner's senses of smell and taste allowing for a more delectable ‘foodie' experience within one of the most interesting, and relatively inexpensive restaurants, in the city.
Those who prefer being outdoors can walk along the riverbank towards the Severinsbrucke. The riverside nature reserve next-door a great place to relax after a busy day's sightseeing.
Located on the opposite side of the country to Cologne is Dresden. The city was once considered to the architectural and cultural gem of the nation until heavy Allied bombing destroyed many of its wonders toward the end of WWII. Dresden has come a long way since with many of its lost marvels, including magnificent Gothic structures such as the Katholische Hofkirche and the Dresdner Frauenkirche, fully reconstructed. At the same time, many modern pieces of architecture have sprung up across the city in the latter half of the 20th century, giving its visitors an eclectic mix of new and old styles to explore.
Dresden's streets are always filled with unique works of street art, but similarly to most other German cities, it also hosts a number of colourful and fun-filled festivals throughout the year, serving as another great way for visitors to immerse themselves into the country's culture and heritage. The Dresden film festival is well worth a visit and takes place in the city centre in the middle of April each year, attracting filmmakers from across Germany showcasing all types of productions.
Another inexpensive way to experience the local way of life and fervour is to visit Dresden's 3-day Saxonian Wine Festival, where there are plenty of free samples of locally produced wine as well as a lot of fun and merriment.
Visitors heading to Dresden in the summer should check out the riverbank in the early evenings where there are often free open-air concerts and, occasionally, a huge movie screen offering ‘outdoor cinema'.
Hannover is another great location, and one that is rarely fully appreciated by travellers. Many flock to the famous Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, the New Town Hall, or Hannover Zoo. However, while these are all fantastic sights, there are a number of interesting places to see in the Old Town, which remains unknown to most visitors.
Once you're done exploring the city's hidden gems, why not take a wander round the Eilenride? The 650-hectare forest is a great place to relax and is all the more astounding when you consider that it is located in the heart of the city.
Another quirky place to visit in Hannover is the European Cheese Centre in the city's Anderten district. It's something that you really have to stumble across to find, unless you've previously been told about it, but is an excellent place to visit for cheese fans who can sample various cheeses from across Europe in this unique centre.
As well as the renowned Oktoberfest, Hannover, the city plays host to a number a of smaller, more intimate festivals, such as the Wine Festival and the Gourmet Festival, that are definitely worth experiencing.
Flying into Stuttgart is a magical experience. It is without a doubt a perfect destination for a romantic break. Apart from appreciating its magnificent architecture, there are a multitude of activities to do in and around the city.
You can't go to Stuttgart and not visit the extraordinary Mercedes-Benz museum that's a little over ten minutes from the city centre. The museum is also a working factory employing over 40,000 staff where visitors can acquire a real taste for the workings of the automotive industry in the 21st century, as well as knowledge of the story behind the famous car manufacturer.
The Black Forest (Schwarzwald in German) lies just outside the city and is definitely worthy of a full day's hike through the magnificent woodland. For more outdoor activities, the city also boasts various recreation centres.
Stuttgart's best festival has to be the Summer Festival known as ‘Summerfest'. Taking place in Palace Square over three days in early August, it boasts everything imaginable including live music among other forms of entertainment as well as plenty of beer and local cuisine.
Düsseldorf is another great German city that's just waiting to be explored. Flying there couldn't be easier and there are plenty of cheap deals on direct flights to Düsseldorf International Airport from UK destinations. For domestic flights, (Inlandsflüge) please be sure to visit Cheapflug.de.
The city is perhaps most famous for its shopping malls and high fashion retailers; however, there are many small and quaint independent stores down its side streets where there's many a bargain to be found.
A great way to view Düsseldorf is by taking a trip up the fairly cheap Rhine Tower, located beside the media harbour on the Eastern side of the river. The site offers fantastic panoramic views out across the city, especially at night.
Those keen to do something different while away can take part in the Düsseldorf Marathon. All are welcome and those who'd rather observe can enjoy excellent vantage points from which to cheer the participants on.
The nightlife is also renowned here. Travel down to the ‘longest bar in the world' at night – with over 250 pubs, bars and restaurants in one square kilometre. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding vibrant yet inexpensive locales for food and drink.
So there you have it, the perfect excuse to explore some of Germany's alternative city break destinations, even if you're on a budget.