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10 must-see UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany

Shannon Chaffers
Shannon Chaffers
10 must-see UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany
The Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier, as pictured on April 4th, 2023. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Harald Tittel

Germany is home to 51 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the third-most in the world. Here are our top picks of the ones worth visiting, whether in the form of ice caves or a cathedral.


The World Heritage List was created in 1972 with the intention of recognizing and conserving significant historical, cultural, and scientific sites across the globe.

While there are debates about the extent to which it has done so successfully, there’s no doubt that the places themselves are unique, and Germany’s contributions are testament to that fact. To see for yourself, read on to discover the ten of the country’s most interesting sites.

Cologne Cathedral

When the Cologne Cathedral was completed in 1880 it marked the end of a centuries-long project, which began in 1248. 

In addition to its remarkable Gothic architecture and stunning stained glass windows, the site made it onto the World Heritage list in 1996 because it houses the gilded shrine of the Three Wise Men, which has made it an important pilgrimage site for nearly 900 years.

Large enough to hold over 20,000 people, and with two mammoth spires that pierce the Cologne skyline (their towering height once made it the world’s tallest building) you simply cannot miss it.

Rays of sunlight penetrate the north tower at the Cologne Cathedral.

Rays of sunlight penetrate the north tower at the Cologne Cathedral. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura

The caves in southwest Germany’s Swabian Alps, which prehistoric humans made home some 40,000 years ago, are a little harder to spot but no less interesting. Excavations that began in the 1860s have found six caves which contained some of the oldest works of art (carved figurines) and musical instruments (flutes made from animal bones) ever discovered.  

Dating back 43,000 to 33,000 years ago, the carved figurines include Ice Age era animals like cave lions and mammoths, half-human half-animal figures, and human figures. You can see one of the most famous figurines, the “Lion Man,” on display in the Ulm Museum

The Swabian Alps. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

Roman Monuments, the Cathedral and Church of Our Lady in Trier

Fast forward a few thousands of years and you get to 16 BC, the year when Romans established Augusta Treverorum, Germany’s oldest town. Now known as Trier, the Romans’ influence on the settlement near the Luxembourg border can still be seen today through the Cathedral of St. Peter, the Roman Bridge (Germany’s oldest) and Roman imperial baths.

And the town’s relatively recent history is still impressive by German standards: the nearby Church of our Lady, built in the 13th century, is Germany’s oldest Gothic church.

The Great Spa Towns of Europe

As Trier demonstrates, the ancient Romans loved their baths, a tradition that has since become popular across Europe. Indeed, three of Germany’s spa towns join eight other cities across Europe to make up the “Great Spa Towns of Europe” World Heritage site, which was added just two years ago. Germany’s contributions include Baden-Baden, Bad Ems, and Bad Kissingen. 


These towns, famous for their mineral water baths, enjoyed their heydays in the 18th and 19th centuries when they served as popular resorts for Europe’s wealthy elite. Nowadays, you can visit the spas for a relaxing vacation, and explore the signs of former luxury, like the Baden-Baden casino, or the Häckers Grand Hotel in Bad Ems.

READ ALSO: Remembering the time Brits turned the sleepy spa town Baden-Baden into Europe's party capital

Water Management System of Augsburg

Speaking of water, Augsburg’s world famous water management system earned it UNESCO recognition in 2019. The system developed over the course of 800 years, and now features an aqueduct, numerous water towers, elaborate fountains, canals, and more than 500 bridges located throughout the city. The system provides a fascinating insight behind the engineering the town’s residents undertook to produce clean water.  

Especially noteworthy is the Waterworks at Rotes Tor. For nearly 500 years, the complex complete with a viaduct, three water towers, and two houses for fountain masters supplied the Bavarian city with drinking water. 

Collegiate Church, Castle and Old Town of Quedlinburg


The 'Stiftsburg' in Quedlinburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Elmar Egner M.A. | Elmar Egner M.A.

The village of Quedlinburg in Saxony, Germany provides a taste of more conventional medieval architecture. An important trading town in the Middle Ages, Quedlinburg’s development spawned over 1300 well preserved timber-framed houses. 

Other architectural gems include the Romanesque Collegiate Church of St. Servatius, part of the impressive Quedlinburg Castle complex. 

READ ALSO: 10 must-see UNESCO World Heritage sites in eastern Germany

Bauhaus and its Sites 

The famous Bauhaus-style staircase at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

When it comes to early 20th century architecture, Germany’s claim to fame is the influential Bauhaus movement, whose unique techniques and styles revolutionized modern architecture. The origins of the movement are on display through buildings in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau, where you can observe the style as it was first conceived. 

The movement has since spread across Germany (and the world), as demonstrated by the next item on the list.


READ ALSO: From Bauhaus to Botany: Discovering German culture in Weimar

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex

The evolution and decline of Germany’s coal industry is on display in the northwest city of Essen. For 135 years, the Zollverein Coal Mine operated as the world’s largest coal mining facility. It received a Bauhaus-influenced makeover after World War I, giving it a unique facade that has attracted visitors since it was decommissioned in 1986. 

Now, the complex serves as both a museum and recreational area; it’s  quite the backdrop for rollerblading or ice skating.

Lübeck Old Town

Spring flowers at the medieval gates of Lübeck

Spring flowers at the medieval gates of Lübeck's 'Altstadt'. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Axel Heimken

Lübeck may fly under the radar given its powerhouse neighbor Hamburg, but this Hanseatic town was once a center of international trade. Evidence of these glory times lie in the medieval old town. Complete with many Gothic churches and green spaces interspersed throughout, it has been on the World Heritage list since 1987.

READ ALSO: Travel: Why Lübeck is still 'the queen' of northern Germany


Wadden Sea

If you travel further west from Lübeck you’ll arrive at Germany’s North Sea coastline and the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea. This area, which also extends to the Netherlands and Denmark, serves as a unique habitat for various species of plants and wildlife. In addition to being a key spot for ecological and geological research, it also has important cultural significance, as it is home to the Frisians, a protected ethnic minority group in Germany.


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