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Feeling the Wanderlust - our top walking trails in Germany

Feeling the Wanderlust – our top walking trails in Germany

The list of walking trails in Germany reads a bit like a menu of fine wines and yet, for some reason, German wines aren’t everyone’s immediate go-to when perusing the shelves for a soothing tonic. However, expert sommeliers and seasoned hikers both know that Germany has some of Europe’s finest full-bodied and earthy experiences tucked away. The likes of the Rheinsteig or the Moselle Trail are vintage classics, without a hefty price tag. The Malerweg has an elegance about it, so much so that it was enjoyed by some of the country’s great painters as inspiration for their masterpieces. And as you walk the Moselle Trail, you’re imbibing a viniculture that dates back two millenia. For a few intoxicating walking trails, follow our trail below. 

The Rheinsteig 

The Rheinsteig is one of our top walking holidays in Germany, a 320km walking trail that hovers above the great river, allowing you to enjoy its twists, turns, ravines and, vitally, Rieslings. It also links the cities of Bonn, Koblenz and Wiesbaden. One 65km section of it, known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its proliferation of castles, ancient towns and vineyards. This is the section that we feature on our walking holidays along the Rheinsteig. Such as our five day Rheinsteig holiday that starts in Rüdesheim, famous for its wine production, and finishes in Sankt Goarshausen, which is in close proximity to the iconic Lorelei, a 32m-high rock towering over the Rhine Gorge. 

Our longer eight day Rheinsteig walking holiday also starts in Rüdesheim but takes you further along the river to Koblenz, another elegant ancient city of cobblestones, castles and cable cars, as well as one important corner – as this is where the Rhine and Moselle meet and the land comes out into a famous promontory. One top tip – if you take your holiday in September, you can time it with the Rhein in Flammen festival, when both sides of the Rhine have firework displays from their castles and clifftops.

People who have already discovered Germany’s tracks and trails sometimes like to keep their secrets tucked well inside their rucksacks.

Moselle Wine Trail

Mosey along the Moselle Trail, one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Germany, for a slow travel idyll along the iconic, vine-bedecked river. One of our top solo travel holidays in Germany, and also one that is dog-friendly, this is a week of wineries and walking, taking in the prettiest of Palatinate villages and ancient trails, all culminating in the country’s Roman and oldest city of Trier. Moselle is probably the most famous classic Riesling in the world, making up for over 60% of the grapes grown in the valley. Other ones to look out for include Elbling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Kerner and Auxerrois. If you’re having a yearning for bubbles, you can also raise a glass of the local Sekt sparkling wine.

Malerweg Trail

Malerweg means ‘painters’ way’ and it’s named after the 18th century artists from the nearby Dresden Academy of Fine Arts who immortalised its landscapes in their work. This 115km walking trail leads you through the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in a region known romantically as Saxon Switzerland because it takes you through the Saxon region’s impressive mountain terrain. Walkers usually take on either the north or south section highlights, but nearly always come back to complete the trail. Or you can do it all in one go in eight days

The south section is from Krippen, just across the River Elbe from the spa town of Bad Schandau, and finishes in Pirna, famous for Sonnenstein Castle, but also for a collection of paintings by Canaletto. In between you have trails to the likes of Grosser Winterberg (the second-highest mountain in the region at 556m), a trek up the Pfaffenstein massif using a collection of steel stairs and ladders, and an array of riverfront spa towns. The north section is between Pirna, just 20mins from Dresden by train, and Bad Schandau, a medieval town located on the River Elbe. It also takes six days and highlights include Wolfsschlucht Gorge, Polenztal Valley and the famous Brand Viewpoint over the mountains. 

Bastei Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, along the Malerweg Trail.

Lechweg Trail, Austria and Germany 

This is one of the walking trails in Germany that crosses borders, following a long-distance 125km waymarked way along the alpine Lech River. Walk the complete Lechweg Trail in ten days between Lech am Arlberg in Austria’s Arlberg Mountains range and Füssen in Bavaria. The trails take you through Lechtal Nature Park in Tirol, which is a magical landscape of waterfalls, winding woodland trails, alpine foothills and villages. As well as being another favourite dog-friendly trip, it’s a luscious, cooling one in the height of summer. And it ticks lots of other travel boxes too, as it’s available for solo travellers and those who like to travel by rail. As well as the complete trail, you can opt for the Lechweg Trail highlights in eight days, or a Lechweg short break in six days. 

Altmühl Panorama Trail 

This trail, Altmühltal-Panoramaweg in German, takes you through Altmühltal Nature Park for 200km, following the Altmühl River as it winds its way from Gunzenhausen to Kelheim in Bavaria. The starting point on our walking holiday along the Altmühl Panorama Trail is a bit further down the trail in Treuchtlingen, another glorious thermal spa town right in the heart of the nature park. It’s also just 1h 15mins on the high-speed train from Munich. From here, you spend seven days walking as far as Beilngries, with an optional extra two days if you want to trek all the way to Kelheim. 

Overall, this trail takes you through forests and open heathlands peppered with juniper, along elevated ridges, cliffops and plateaus with views across the valley. As well as to landmarks such as the Solnhofer limestone slabs, famous for their prolific fossils and the Twelve Apostles dolomite rocks monuments. Do this trip in spring and early summer for a bouquet of wildflowers along the trails, including St. Bernhard’s lily, violet helleborine and mountain germander, or in autumn for the foliage lightshow. 

Beilngries in the Altmühl Valley is just one of many hamlets and havens along the eponymous trail.

Travelling in Germany by train

Germany has long been a leader in green living, and they put their money where their mouth is, especially when it comes to train services. You can travel fairly swiftly between the UK and Germany, using Eurostar via Paris, Lille or Brussels. Travel between London and Cologne, for example, takes just over four hours.

If you want to get a bargain ticket for train journeys in Germany, there are several ways to do so. First, get in early, with the national rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) releasing tickets six months in advance. They have two types of fares for their long-distance trains, as opposed to quick regional journeys. There are the more expensive Flexpreis tickets because, the clue’s in the name, they are valid on any train on a certain day. Or their cheaper Sparpreis tickets which have no flexibility at all. You can get some amazing bargains though.

 In addition, Germany has a very good value Deutschland Ticket which costs €49 for travel on all regional services over a month, so not on the speedy intercity ones. However, there are a few more caveats, which are best explained in the Man in Seat 61’s train guru guide. In addition, young people up to the age of 14 travel free with DB, when travelling with adults. 

We hope that this has helped you get a deeper understanding of some of the superb walking trails available in Germany. For more trail inspiration, you may enjoy our blogs on the Via Dinarica in the Balkans, The Fishermen’s Trail in Portugal, The Scåneleden Trail in Sweden and the Via Spluga in Italy and Switzerland.