Tourist fun in northwestern Germany
January 26, 2009 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Family members who will be visiting me in Amsterdam in April have requested that we spend a day in Germany. What cool stuff can we do in northwestern Germany, fairly close to the Dutch border?

I'd like to keep the train trip under three hours each way (and I would love to keep the tickets under €50 per person, round trip). They don't want to travel by air or stay overnight.

* Level of touristyness can be high or low.
* Museums are fine, although history is preferred to art.
* Old buildings/castles/churches are a big plus.
* Natural beauty is a plus.
* Everyone is able-bodied, but highly physical activities like hiking or horseback riding are probably out.
* They're non-drinkers, so no beer gardens/wineries.
* We're totally limited to public transportation.

(I thought of Cologne, but it's kind of at the upper end of my travel time and cost desires.)
posted by transporter accident amy to Travel & Transportation around Germany (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Avoid Duesseldorf; it's close but ugly. Supposedly good for shopping, but the Kö is really just Prada-style shops, better stay in Amsterdam for that (or Paris, if you can stretch the travel requirements).

The really beautiful parts of Germany are more south, unfortunately. The natural beauty, old buildings, old european feeling are best met by Maastricht, IMHO, which feels like a different country than Amsterdam, although still in the Netherlands.
posted by dhoe at 10:14 AM on January 26, 2009

The fast train from Amsterdam to Cologne only takes 2 hours and 40 minutes - I'd recommend going for that. Pretty pastoral scenery along the way, and lots of history in Cologne.

If you prefer staying closer to the border, IMHO border towns are fairly similar on both sides, so the main difference would be language.

What about staying in Holland and going down to Arnhem? The WWII history of that town has been very well preserved, is certainly is worth an inexpensive day trip, and just over an hour's journey from Amsterdam.
posted by pammeke at 10:19 AM on January 26, 2009

We went to a town called Lingen, pop. 52,000, just across the Dutch border. We spent the day there just absorbing German culture. I think there is a museum and art gallery. It has train service from Holland. It's definitely off the beaten path.
posted by Xurando at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2009

I would second the train to Cologne. If I am not mistaken, the cathedral is right next to the train station.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2009

-Oh sorry, I didn't see your last line about Cologne -
posted by R. Mutt at 10:51 AM on January 26, 2009

Aachen is beautiful and very close to the border...
posted by ob at 11:05 AM on January 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Go to Xanten and see the reconstructed Roman city and the accompanying museum.

The museum alone is great, the park is awesome and pretty unique in northern Europe as it's one of the few, if not the only, places where a Roman city was not built over by the modern city, and thus can be excavated whole.

Plus, the nearby (walking distance) modern city has a very nice medieval center with café etc., and a cathedral to boot (not as huge as Cologne, of course).

It's 100km closer to you than Düsseldorf or Cologne and also a lot cheaper.

By train, you'd go by train to Kleve, or via Arnhem to Rees or Wesel and take a bus from there. Or go to Duisburg, and change trains to Xanten - this is the longer distance, but might be quicker due to not taking a bus stopping at every corner.

Nature is very much like most parts of the Netherlands (which I like, probably a matter of taste...)

Level of touristyness of the city depends on day of the week and whether it's a holiday in the Netherlands or not ;) The park itself is so huge you will have plenty of space even when it's full.
posted by uncle harold at 11:26 AM on January 26, 2009

Even with your note about Cologne, I still would make the trip to see the cathedral. I don't think it's possible to understand its size and beauty without seeing it in person. It'd be a shame to be only a couple hours away and pass it up. Making a list of things to see in Northwest Germany and leaving out the Cologne Cathedral seems silly.
posted by cotterpin at 12:07 PM on January 26, 2009

Aachen is beautiful and very close to the border...

True, and indeed it is about five km from the point where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands all adjoin one another. when I frst went to Aachen, it was after a train trip from Paris by way of Belgium, and I mentioned to my hosts that I had never before crossed two national borders by land the same day. They loaded me into the car and took me to the park where there three countries meet. The marking of the shared point is a stone about the size of a fire hydrant; I did a number of circuits around it so that I can honestly say I once crossed fifty or so land borders in a single day.

And I second the note on Cologne and its gorgeous cathedral.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:22 PM on January 26, 2009

And now for something completely different: Helgoland

Fun day cruise to/from the island, lots nature, interesting and unique history. Fresh air, too. No auto required (or allowed).
posted by webhund at 1:22 PM on January 26, 2009

And last, but not least, there is Münster. It's not a big city, but it's chock full of history. The peace after the 30 years war was signed there. Lots of old churches, too. (Cologne as the bigger cathedral and Aachen has the better sweets (Lebkkuchen/gingerbread) though).
posted by mmkhd at 4:33 PM on January 26, 2009

burg eltz and seconding aachen.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2009

Aachen. Especially the old cathedral and Carolus Thermen / Spa World.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:59 PM on January 26, 2009

Yes, Aachen is very lovely. There is a lot of history there. And you can get delicious Aachenerprinten (spice cookies)!
posted by apricot at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2009

Thanks, all. It looks like Cologne has won; I found cheaper train tickets and the travel time has been approved by the family. However, I am definitely planning weekend trips for myself to Aachen, Xanten, and Münster as soon as possible.
posted by transporter accident amy at 11:57 PM on March 4, 2009

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