The ultimate gay Germany itinerary: 2 weeks including gay Austria

Liberal, diverse and just the right amount of festive, Germany is a top pick for European travellers seeking Christmas cheer one day and kinky hijinks the next. Road trip your way through forested towns and over mystic mountains laying a few breadcrumbs along the way so as not to get lost in the Grimm fairy tale magic of it all. Aside from rural escapes into the medieval town of Rothenburg or the remote skiing resorts of the Bavarian Alps, Germany has much in the way of cosmopolitanism, fronted by the wild capital of Berlin and closely followed by musical-minded Salzburg and lederhosen-loving Munich. Take two weeks and we’ll show you the very best of gay Germany, with a little Austria for good measure.

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Gay Germany

The pinnacle for many Euro-tripping gay travellers, Germany is renowned for fiercely progressive attitudes and laws that allow everyone to live in any way they choose. Alongside this liberal ethos, Germany’s population is richly diverse and its culture just as dynamic. In Germany, you can find some of the best gay venues anywhere in the world, with calendars packed full of annual events such as Gay Pride in springtime and other niche LGBTQ festivals throughout the year.

In Berlin and Cologne, the gay scene is particularly stand out, proffering broad communities of rainbow-flag-flying locals where internationals are warmly welcomed. Likewise, within the smaller cities of Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich, the gay scene remains sizable and open to all. Same-sex marriage is legal across the nation though you may find more conservative attitudes the further east you go, particularly in rural towns.

Photo: Chris Parmiter

Frankfurt | Photo: Igor Flek

When to visit Germany

Those wishing to see Germany’s natural world at its most colourful should plan their trip to coincide with the spring, summer and autumn months when the weather is balmy and the blossom is out. The months from May through to September are especially good for hikers looking to explore the Central German Highlands, or for camping vacations on the shores of the North or Baltic Sea. Cultural city breaks are also best in the warm spring and summer months, allowing for blue skies and alfresco lunches on the regular.

Winter in Germany may not be for everyone, but those who don’t mind wrapping up warm will be rewarded with a country blanketed in snow, from the Alps down to each festively decorated town and city. Stay in any one of the nation’s famed ski resorts to enjoy a range of winter sports, including skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing, moving down towards the twinkling Christmas markets that light up most towns in the lead up to St Nicholas Day.

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Those that are confident enough to undertake a road trip will win total freedom to discover Germany’s lesser-known gems, passing medieval villages on the ‘Romantic Road’ or dramatic mountain scenery on the Alpenstrasse road towards Bavaria.

Getting around Germany

Germans are often characterised as efficient and straightforward, and this sentiment certainly rings true for the nation’s transport. Regular flights operate both domestically and internationally across Europe, though there are also many on-land options such as the regular and high-speed rail (Deutsche Bahn, InterCity Express or cross-border Eurocity rail). Save money by booking trains in advance or invest in the 15-day German Rail Pass valid over a one-month period. Other scenic routes across the country include riverboat, bus, bike and car. If you intend to remain largely in the city, renting a car may not be the best way to go as parking can be limited and expensive, fuel and insurance being two other considerable costs to consider. Instead, get to grips with the public transport system within urban hubs, travelling by train between cities with increased ease.

To best explore the countryside, however, self-drive trips are a top consideration. Travel with a large group to cut your costs further, braving the lawless Autobahn superhighway or the somewhat calmer two-lane Bundesstrassen before tackling the winding rural roads. Those that are confident enough to undertake a road trip will win total freedom to discover Germany’s lesser-known gems, passing medieval villages on the ‘Romantic Road’ from Wurzburg and Fussen or dramatic mountain scenery on the Alpenstrasse road towards Bavaria. Those considering the Alpenstrasse should buy the driving pass known as the ‘Austrian Vignette’ in order to pass through the border tolls whenever needed with the least amount of stress.

Füssen | Photo: Luis Fernando Felipe Alves

Day 1: Frankfurt

Whatever your means of getting here, your first day in Germany is likely to be in the city, with Frankfurt being a top choice as the country’s most important transport hub, connected to every continent and major city in the world. Once you arrive, waste no time in acquainting yourself with the city’s unique history, taking in the 14th-century Kaiserdom where German kings and emperors were once crowned and the Imperial Cathedral built in the same era. Within the heart of the city, it’s the Romerberg that gets all the attention, a picturesque public square built in the time of the Holy Roman Empire and dominated by the Romer building – the seat of government for over six centuries. Other cultural spots include the entirety of the old town (Altstadt), in proximity to world-class museums, art galleries and laid-back cafés all within quaint yet stylish surroundings.

As well as being an economic powerhouse, Frankfurt boasts cosmopolitan attitudes and evermore diversity among glittering architecture and an impressive cityscape to rival any modern American city. Nicknamed ‘Mainhattan’ for this very reason, Frankfurt offers a vibrant nightlife and an established gay scene centred on the city’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’ on Alte Gasse in the downtown area. It’s here you’ll find the city’s cluster of queer venues, bars and clubs, where partygoers can get lost for days at a time! At Pride especially you’re unlikely to want to leave, indulging in any number of dive bars and fetish clubs, with a fair amount of techno music thrown in. After the queer disco ends, explore a little further from the main triangle for the city’s gay saunas and cruising spots. In between all the partying, ensure to get some blissful rest with a stay at the best hotels in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt | Photo: Sebastian Pociecha

Day 2: Baden-Baden

Allow the train to whisk you away with ease or take the scenic road to the Black Forest town of Baden-Baden, a well-to-do spot frequented by royalty and world leaders. Everyone from Obama to Queen Victoria has had a spell in Baden, bathing in the town’s curative thermal baths and wandering the manicured gardens on the edge of the Oos River. With France not far across the border, Baden has a distinct Gallic edge most evident among its open-air cafés and stylish boutique stores.

A fashionable spa town since Roman times, Baden remains a perfect place for pampering, within luxury Belle Époque hotels or art nouveau villas on the hillsides overlooking the town centre. As well as spa time, Baden is a great base for exploring the surrounding Black Forest National Park, on guided walks or adventure day trips before returning to town for a little gamble at the palatial casino.

Baden-Baden | Photo: Heidelbergerin

Day 3: explore the Black Forest

If you’ve not done so already, from Baden you’re sure to want to enter into the mystical mountain woodlands surrounding, becoming the main character in your very own Brothers Grimm tale. Though you might not find any gingerbread houses, the Black Forest holds much magic, such as log cabins, castle ruins and impressive cuckoo clocks set to surprise on the hour. As well as natural valleys, meadows and waterfalls among the evergreens, the Black Forest is also a place to experience cultural traditions, from the towns and villages that line the Rhine all the way to Lake Constance.

Photo: Chewy

The Black Forest | Photo: Sandra Ahn Mode

Day 4 & 5: The Bavarian Alps

From one set of glorious mountains to the next, day four takes us to the Austrian border up to the lofty peaks of the Bavarian Alps. The most famed mountains in Germany, home of yodelling schools and the picture-perfect Neuschwanstein Castle, the Bavarian Alps can easily provide weeks of cultural pursuits, with an added side of adventure. With just a couple of days to explore the region, however, consider starting in the town of Füssen at the southern tip of the Romantic Road, at the foot of the mountains. From here you’re within reach of the best castles – Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau to name but two – as well as all manner of gentle hiking trails amid stunning alpine scenery.

From Füssen, get some skis fitted and make your way to the area around Schneefernerhaus for some of the best skiing in all of Europe on Germany’s highest ski slope. Besides skiing, the resorts here can also link guests to picturesque hiking opportunities, tobogganing and hot-air balloon rides across Bavaria.

Day 6 & 7: Salzburg

Next on our itinerary for Germany is the city of Salzburg, one-time home of Mozart on the Salzach River. A historic city with many tales to tell, Salzburg wears the domes and spires of centuries past, all protected by the impressive Hohensalzburg Fortress up on the mountains surrounding. Follow in the footsteps of the prince-archbishop and The Sound of Music’s Maria into the UNESCO World Heritage old town where lies the baroque cathedral, summer palace of Hellbrunn and the Stiegl-Brauwelt brewery. Other more contemporary attractions include the Museum of Modern Art and the Sound of Music tour which visits the town’s most iconic movie spots. As well as allowing for Julie Andrews themed photos, gay Salzburg is surprisingly cosmopolitan with a lively party scene made all the better thanks to the high number of international tourists. HOSI is one such organisation hosting regular events and city tours, with the handful of gay bars and clubs also serving as popular meeting points.

Salzburg, Austria | Photo: Dimitry Anikin

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Walk between Munich’s museums and galleries in Kunstareal, taking in the living culture of Gemütlichkeit – an untranslatable notion of warmth, well-being and relaxation – before touring any of the six city breweries to see how Munich earns its title as the beer capital of the world

Day 8 & 9: Munich 

Another liberal city begins our second week in Germany, this time allowing us to sample Germany’s best beer halls and street cafes among charming heritage establishments. Boasting a royal Bavarian history, Munich is sure to win you over with lederhosen-clad locals wielding large tankards of beer, but more than that, the city also serves up a vibrant culture that embraces both modernity and tradition in equal measure. There’s no better place to see this in action than within the Glockenbachviertel neighbourhood where hipster bars and the city’s gay scene lies on quaint 18th-century plazas and within grand four-storey terraces. Walk between Munich’s museums and galleries in Kunstareal, taking in the living culture of Gemütlichkeit – an untranslatable notion of warmth, well-being and relaxation – before touring any of the six city breweries to see how Munich earns its title as the beer capital of the world.

Once touring become tiresome, end the day in any number of beer gardens to revel in the music of the local oompah band before moving back to Glockenbachviertel for a queer party to remember. Well-established since the 1960s, Munich gay life is active all year round but peaks during Pride Festival and once again during Gay Oktoberfest, the raunchier version of the famed international beer festival. Learn more about what to do in the city with our Munich travel guide.

Munich | Photo: Periklis Lolis

Munich | Photo: Mateo Krossler

Day 10: Rothenburg 

Taking a moment to catch our breath, we travel to the riverside town of Rothenburg, its buildings preserved in medieval splendour upon the teetering clifftops edging the water. Though somewhat busy in peak season thanks to its thriving tourist industry, Rothenburg at low season remains just as charming, allowing for strolls through narrow streets lined with timbered houses and towers of times gone by. The imperial town is said to be one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe and a must-see for those travelling the Romantic Road. Choose a heritage hotel overlooking the steep banks of the River Tauber, many of which have changed little since the 16th century.

Other attractions to find surrounding the fairy-tale centre of Plönlein, include the 13th-century town hall, the Council Tavern clock and any number of old churches, with the Castle Gardens an additional top spot for views across town. Align your visit with Christmas for that festive feeling, when Rothenburg’s streets come alive with the glittering lights of one of the country’s best Christmas markets.

Rothenburg | Photo: Roman Kraft

Day 11: Nuremberg

The second-largest city in Bavaria and the undeclared capital of the Holy Roman Empire is the city of Nürnberg (or Nuremberg), a fine place for architecture, history and dark Bavarian beer. Before you indulge in Nürnberg’s biggest export, however, take to the streets to explore the city’s unique and somewhat coloured past, its working-class centre once the stage for Nazi party rallies and the first boycotts of Jewish businesses. Though Nuremberg had a hand in enacting a number of fascist laws during WWII and was thereafter flattened by heavy bombing from allied forces, the city – along with the castle and the churches of the Aldstadt – was later painstakingly reconstructed in original stone, and has since redeemed itself as the site of the Nuremberg Trials, the war crimes tribunal.

From then to now, Nuremberg has evolved into a heritage city with a keen love of arts and culture, boasting vast royal castles and important landmarks all within its medieval city walls. In particular, you’ll want to visit the prized Imperial Castle, dating back to the 11th century with features such as the Palas quarters chapel, Castle Gardens and the Sinwell Tower which offers panoramic views over the city. For the best revelries in Gay Nürnberg, visit during the two-week Old Town Festival or International Organ Week when folk music takes over the entire Old Town.

Nürnberg | Photo: BluefishJapan

Day 12: Dresden

The Baroque city of Dresden is really quite an impressive site, based as it is on the banks of the Elbe River, strewn with grandiose spires, church cupolas and artful towers rebuilt to perfection following WWII. Take in the entire historical centre on foot, passing landmarks such as the Zwinger Palace, a 19th-century complex bearing various pavilions and courtyards amongst which you’ll find a number of museums and galleries detailing court life and hosting royal collections. More fine heritage architecture can be found in the frescoes and domes of the Lady Church and the guarded chambers of Grünes Gewölbe, though the more modern sections of the city are also worthy of a walkthrough, where local cuisine and leisurely river views take a front seat. Within the centre of gay Dresden, don’t miss the Theaterplatz, a buzzing market square showcasing Italian high Renaissance design side-by-side with the rather more classical styles of Semper Opera House.

Dresden | Photo: Anna Schroeder

Dresden | Photo: Tim Hufner

Days 13 & 14: Berlin and fly home

Ending on the highest note of them all, we make our way to the capital to mark our exit with a bang. Enter Berlin with an open mind and you’ll still leave with your eyebrows raised and no doubt a few stories to tell. By day, satisfy your anarchic tendencies with a climb onto the roof of Berlin Cathedral, strolling Unter den Linden for coffee or avant-garde cocktails or taking in the capital’s best museums and galleries, such as the East Side Gallery, which showcases the historic Berlin Wall murals. When night falls, whether you’re looking for the freedom of a dark room or a kinky fetish lounge, Berlin can surely satisfy, though you might want to set your safe word beforehand.

Berlin’s openness is no secret and well as discovering its weird and wonderful gay subcultures, you’ll also find more familiar gay nightlife in the neighbourhood of Schöneberg or at any step along the city’s Queer Walking Tour, which also passes a number of cultural spots, such as world’s first queer museum and various queer bookshops. Gay Pride – otherwise known as the Christopher Street Day Parade – isn’t the only queer festival vying for your attention, however, as Berlin leather fetish weeks (there are two!) and LGBT Park Festival are also worthy celebrations. Besides Schöneberg, other alternative gay areas in Berlin include Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neuköln, though the entire city is typically gay-friendly terrain. Discover the very best of Berlin with our full Berlin travel guide.

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Dresden | Photo: Felix Mittermeier 1

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