10 Significant World War II Sites to Visit in Germany

If you’re a World War II aficionado or history buff in general, there’s no other trip quite like seeing the sights left behind by the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. Some were bombed into obsolescence, others were destroyed to cover over the reminder of the atrocities of war, but many significant spots remain accessible to the public today. Here are 10 historically significant WWII sites to see in Germany:

1. Vorbunker/Führerbunker -Berlin

Vorbunker and Führerbunker were once the places where Adolf Hitler took shelter and eventually lived. The elaborate underground concrete bunker complex was designed to be a temporary air-raid shelter for Hitler, his family and his guards. While the site has been redeveloped into the current residential housing that stands today, this remains an important place of WWII significance as it was in the Führerbunker that Hitler committed suicide. Today a commemorative sign can be seen explaining the layout and significance of the bunker complex.

"Place Of Hitler Bunker 2007" by I, Zvucini. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Place Of Hitler Bunker 2007” by I, Zvucini. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

2. Dachau Memorial and Museum -Dachau

Dachau was the first of many Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany and was designed to hold political prisoners from Germany and Austria as well as Jewish prisoners. It was also open the longest, from March 1933 to April 1945 spanning nearly all 12 years of the Nazi regime. Today the site of the former concentration camp is home to a memorial as well as a museum and can be visited by the public.

Dachau

3. Nazi Party Rally Grounds -Nuremberg

The rally grounds of the Nazi party covered about 11 square kilometers in Nuremberg’s southeast and were the site of six Nazi rallies between 1933-1938. While not all of the historic buildings remain, many are preserved and can be visited by the public as the entire site is now a memorial.

STRINGER Image / Shutterstock.com
STRINGER Image / Shutterstock.com

4. Holocaust Memorial -Berlin

This 4.7 acre site in Berlin was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold and serves as a tribute to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The site is covered with 2,711 concrete slabs known as ‘stelae’ and includes a Place of Information on the site’s eastern edge which lists the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.

Noppasin / Shutterstock.com
Noppasin / Shutterstock.com

5. St. Nicholas’ Church -Hamburg

This Gothic Revival church was once the tallest building in the world from 1874-1876 and played an important role in WWII. During the extensive air raids on the city of Hamburg, the church tower served as a goal and visual orientation marker for the Allied Air Forces. Unfortunately, on July 28, 1943 the church was severely damaged by bombing and was reduced to the only remaining tower which can still be seen today.

jorisvo / Shutterstock.com
jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

6. Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest) – Obersalzberg

The Kehlsteinhaus or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ as it’s known in English speaking countries is a Third Reich-area complex that was given to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday as a retreat to entertain friends and guests. The Kehlsteinhaus sits on a rocky outcrop known as Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden.  Today the Eagle’s Next can still be visited by the public as it houses a restaurant, beer garden and tourist site.

Kehlsteinhaus Eagle's Nest

7. Colditz Castle -Colditz

Colditz is a Renaissance castle located in Germany’s Saxony state. During WWII the castle was converted and used as a high security prisoner-of-war camp for officers who were particularly dangerous or were regarded as escape risks. The German’s believed the castle’s location on a rocky outcrop above the River Mulde made it an excellent spot for a high security prison, however Colditz POW camp had one of the highest records of successful escape attempts during WWII.

Colditz Castle

8. Mittelbau-Dora Memorial -Nordhausen

Mittelbau-Dora was a WWII Nazi concentration camp located near Nordhausen in the German state of Thuringia. This camp was notorious for its extreme cruelty towards prisoners and roughly 1 in 3 of the 60,000 prisoners sent here did not survive. Today the site is home to a memorial and history museum and serves as a place of mourning and commemoration of the victims of this concentration camp.

Photo by: Buchewald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation

Photo by: Buchewald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation

9. Soviet War Memorial -Berlin

The Soviet War Memorial is located in Berlin’s Treptower Park and was build to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who fell during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. The main feature of the memorial is a 12-m tall statue of a Soviet soldier with a sword holding a German child, standing over a broken swastika. The central area before the monument is lined with 16 stone sarcophagi, one for each of the 16 Soviet Republics. Each of the sarcophagi are adorned with carvings of military scenes and quotations from Joseph Stalin in both Russian and German languages.

Soviet War Memorial -Berlin

10. Besseringen B-Werk -Merzig

The Besseringen B-Werk is the only completely preserved fortification bunker located in the Siegfried Line; a 630 kilometer defensive system built between 19 and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps. 32 bunkers in the Seigfried Line were built to construction standards or thickness ‘B’ hence the term B-Werk. Post-war, the site was used as a rubbish dump but it was restored and opened in 2005 as a museum which can be visited by the public today.

"Besseringen Eingangshof" by AllX - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Besseringen Eingangshof” by AllXOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Like this? Check out 15 Must See World War II Sites in Europe

The 11 Most Beautiful and Underrated Destinations in Western Europe

The upwards trend in European tourism shows a definitive increase in Western European tourism—the less visited half of the continent. Throughout the west, particularly the UK, France, Germany, and Spain, there have been more visitors over the last five years than ever before. It’s no wonder really, with the many amazing historical towns and villages, ancient castles, palaces, and forts, thriving backcountry, natural wonders, and so many other attractions. From Scotland’s islands to Portugal’s architecture and Italy’s renowned Riviera, Western Europe is rich with things to do and see.

11. Jungfrau Region, Switzerland

Switzerland’s Jungfrau Region is calculated by magnificent mountains, endless outdoor pursuits, and some of the most interesting resort towns on this side of Liechtenstein. Just an hour and a half south of Zurich and 45 minutes from Bern, Jungfrau is where intrepid travelers head for enterprising vacations. Area attractions include the Kleine Scheidegg watershed at the Eiger North Face foothills. It offers an out-of-this-world cable ride soaring from Grindelwald-First, spanning more than 2,600 feet to Schynige Platte, an area reached by 19th century cog wheel train from Interlaken, the starting point for hiking along the mountain pass. This isn’t a destination for idleness, or even half-hearted exploration. Jungfrau demands a lot from visitors who can move at a relatively quick pace—it’s not a place to stay still. It begs to be explored with enthusiasm and key attractions require some ambition, but it all pays off in spades.

Jungfrau Region, Switzerland

10. Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

The ebony-hued, interlocking basalt columns spanning the Causeway Coast in Ireland gave credence to legendary tales of a centuries-old route trekked by giants between Scotland and Ireland. Though the tales still run rampant between Irish generations, we can all acknowledge it’s one intensely cool natural marvel. More than 40,000 columns are located in this rich, seafront Northern Irish area which most agree was caused by a volcanic eruption centuries ago. Arriving to the coast is pretty exciting in itself, with a long, curving drive along the highway dotted with residential homes, shops, pubs, and striking natural sights—if you can take your eyes off the water and the road ahead. The vivid drives, cozy, small-town feel, extra friendly locals, and incredible hikes along the extensive cliff-top paths are endearing traits that make this area of Northern Ireland one-of-a-kind.

Giant's Causeway, Ireland

9. Cordoba, Spain

Travel styles vary from person to person but most get on board with marveling at architectural wonders, relishing savory food, delving into old bodegas, and enjoying easy tours of interesting places. Cordoba is magnified by Mezquita, an example of seasoned and worldly Islamic culture, and a site overlooking the city’s heart and drawing onlookers into its fabulously embowed interior. Arteries running throughout the Jewish Quarter (Juderia) reach away from the Mosque like central nerves but with finales upon extremely pleasant plazas. The center of town is the heart and soul of Cordoba, and where almost everyone will wander around, whether for a few hours or every day. Restaurants, bars, and shops are the center of social life here, where the strident vibe is magnetic. In fascinating contrast, west of town is Medinat al-Zahra, an Islamic ruin that piques the imagination with its gravity.

Cordoba, Spain

8. Bruges, Belgium

The medieval city of Bruges is a nostalgic reminder of Venice with long, narrow canals, awarding it the moniker “Venice of the North.” Exploring is akin to life in a fairytale—not only are the canals lovely but the buildings that compliment waterways are just as sublime, creating a picture-perfect scene you won’t want to step out of. Paint in some cobblestone lanes, historic churches, buzzing market squares, and whitewashed houses and you might never want to venture out of town. This loveliness doesn’t come without a price; the floodgates open for tourists each year—word  has been out for some time about the beauty of Bruges. With that in mind, most trek in during daylight hours and leave by sundown. To get your piece of Bruges, stay overnight and you’re privy to the emptiness and beautiful floodlights at dusk, giving an unequivocal air to the area.

Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com
Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com

7. Sintra, Portugal

Perfectly tucked between the sea and mountains, Sintra is one of Portugal’s most naturally blessed cities and a destination most deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage site designation. Gleaming palaces, alluring gardens, and misty woodlands are each part of the appeal of Sintra, which is historically rich and filled with natural beauty. No wonder the Celts chose Sintra to exalt their god; the Moors constructed a dizzying castle, and the royals of 18th century Portugal luxuriated in its verdant hills and dreamy backdrop. Cultural attractions dot Sintra and the culinary landscape is beyond compare. The number of ancient fortifications and magnificent residences draw tourists in droves during the summer months. It’s worth contending with crowds in the thick of things, but there’s plenty of merit in seeing it outside of peak tourist season too.

Sintra, Portugal

6. Porto Santo, Portugal

While most island-lovers head to Portugal’s Madeira Island, there’s a little island northwest of it deserving of a lot of attention. Porto Santo is a small, Portuguese island—an ideal place to get your fill of blue skies, white sand beaches, and crystal water. In simple terms, Porto Santo is a slice of land hugged by 40+ kilometers of sand and flanked by a few resorts and hotels. There aren’t as many beautiful island destinations with so few visitors with such incredible scenery. There’s not too much in the way of attractions, which is music to an island-lovers’ ears. The small town square has some shops and a smattering of bars and restaurants. Along the beach, there are eateries and outdoor areas ideal for meals and cocktails. Otherwise, put your feet up, close your eyes, and prepare to daydream your time away.

Porto Santo, Portugal

5. Marsaxlokk, Malta

Marsaxlokk is a busy trading port established by Phoenicians in 900 BC, when they first arrived on Malta. It’s a tiny dot in the Mediterranean Sea, below Italy’s “boot,” seemingly kicked out into the vast ocean. Fish drives the economy so of course the port is the most important aspect of life where the daily grind is arduous and busy with fishermen supplying the entire island with fresh seafood. Whether you’re a seafood aficionado or just love fresh fish, visit the port when a huge market spills out each week, presenting an incredible variety of fresh food. This seaside town exemplifies a rare side of Malta, devoid of contemporary buildings to deter from its original appeal. The boat designs are said to be based on Phoenician blueprints, adding a captivating charm to their unique look. Stay awhile and enjoy life in the middle of the Mediterranean.

In Green / Shutterstock.com
In Green / Shutterstock.com

4. Portree, Scotland

Within the Isle of Skye in Scotland is Portree, the biggest island town and a thriving cultural hub and port with a small population. As with any port town, the harbor is the central point of activity, presenting a tight knit network of seafood restaurants and numerous pubs all with incredible waterfront views. The region is wild and unruly and best explored from Portree, a base where unwinding from adventurous excursions is easy and extra pleasant. Portree is near many of the island’s best outdoor attractions including the incredible Quiraing pinnacles, famous Kilt Rock, and northern Trotternish Ridge. Films, theater shows, and concerts are put on at Aros Center while the water plays host to boat cruises, swimming, and fishing. Take in some salty air and bed down at any of the town’s higher end hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, private apartment rentals, or even the nearby campground.

Portree, Scotland

3. Loire Valley, France

Historical tales of the Loire Valley in France paint a picture of opulence and indulgence. The royals, along with their large courts, used the valley as a stronghold, constructed magnificent fortifications, and built their grand residences throughout the wide, outstretched valley that today is strewn with some of the most impressive and lavish fortresses and castles in the country. Loire Valley is ripe with rural, dramatic, and architectural wealth. Skyscraping turrets, lush vineyards, and time-honored towns are all a part of a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site exemplifying 10 centuries of France’s history throughout a storybook landscape. If you’re looking for the finest example of history and architecture in the Loire Valley, look no farther than the mammoth and beautiful Chateau de Chambord, the valley’s most distinct attraction. The best modern highlights, besides award-winning wines, are the historical landmarks left behind by centuries of hedonistic aristocracies.

Loire Valley, France

2. Ronda, Spain

Within the Malaga region and set inside a tapering gorge is Ronda, once inhabited by some of history’s greatest people; the Arabs, Celts, Romans, and Phoenicians were taken with Ronda, pioneering the region with progressive philosophies and architecture. The historic district exemplifies the age of Arabs, with a fascinating medieval design dotting the southern reaches of Guadalevin river. More contemporary Ronda rose to its peak during the 16th century. The city is sprawled across Guadelevin’s north point, joined to the south by several magnificent bridges. Ronda will make you feel small (everything seems to vault skyward) but this Andalusian city is also empowering, a reminder of humankind’s powerful capabilities. Revel in incredible panoramas of El Tajo gorge from Puente Nuevo, explore maintained Arab bathhouses, and enjoy a meal while exploring Duquesa de Parcent Square, a modern center filled with ancient indications.

Ronda, Spain

1. Manarola, Italy

Across the bay from Monaco is Manarola, Italy, a little seaside town and the stuff of Old World dreams. Set between Nice and Genoa, there’s plenty around to get your fill of city life, but when looking for downtime, and a backdrop of vibrant architecture on the waterfront, Manarola is the place to be. From the water is a resplendent scene: a cluster of tall stone buildings in a rainbow of colors, set high across grassy cliffs and flanked by rugged shoreline. Manarola is part of the Italian Riviera called Cinque Terre where a series of five small coastal towns are connected via rustic hiking trails with ample vistas. Manarola is second in size within the streak of towns, it is also the oldest, and is marked by 14th century San Lorenzo church. Social centers include the town square and the busy little harbor and vineyards dot the entire area.

Manarola, Italy

15 Must See World War II Sites in Europe

For those who are constantly glued to the World War II documentaries on the History Channel and have read countless books and articles about Allied tactics and strategic movements on the European fronts, a visit to Europe is the next step in your historical education. Personally seeing and physically standing on the many sites that were significant to that time will provide an unparalleled perspective and insight into the facts you already know about the war, as well as offer new information that is sometimes hard to come by from secondary sources. So for all the history buffs out there, here are 15 sites significant to the Second World War that, ranging from inspirational to overwhelming, are worth visiting in Europe:

15. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Germany

This work camp just outside of Berlin is found about three km from the location of the first ever Nazi concentration camp known as Oranienburg (now destroyed). The camp became the center of Nazi operations and is now a museum detailing the life of the inhabitants, both officers and detainees in a number of exhibits. Visitors can also see the special exhibition dedicated to the Oranienburg camp found in the museum’s permanent exhibit, and walk the ground of the camp for an incomparable lesson in the severity of the Nazi aggression.

Sachenhausen Concentration Camp, Germany

14. Arnhem Bridge, Netherlands

This bridge became well known after the strategic operation known as Operation Market Garden, whereby the Arnhem Bridge was the last in a string of strategic points targeted for takeover by the Allied forces. Successful up until that point, the Allies were unable to capture the bridge in the September 1944 Battle of Arnhem, an event that later became the subject of several books and the Hollywood film “A Bridge Too Far.” Surviving the September battle, the bridge was destroyed by Allied troops in October of the same year to help curb the transport of German supplies. In 1949 the bridge was rebuilt in the same style, and in 1977, renamed “The John Frostburg” in honor of the British commander that defended it in the September battle.

Arnhem Bridge, Netherlands

13. Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, Krakow, Poland

As many who have read the Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s List” or seen the Spielberg movie of the same name know, Oskar Schindler was a Nazi Party member who saved hundreds of Jewish lives through political bribery and Jewish employment at his enamel and munitions factories. The administrative building of the enamel factory still stands today, and houses the Krakow Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, which is mainly devoted to the Party member and the lives of “his Jews.” This museum is must-see for anyone who wants to learn more about the life of a man now largely regarded as a hero.

Agnes Kantaruk / Shutterstock.com
Agnes Kantaruk / Shutterstock.com

12. Humboldthain Flak Tower, Germany

Originally constructed as a solution to air-strike vulnerability, German Flak Towers were domineering concrete complexes that sheltered anti-aircraft guns and protected ammunition from falling bombs. The towers operated in pairs, one a gun tower (Gefechsturm or G tower) and the other a command tower (Leitturn or L tower). Their heavily reinforced structure also served as bomb shelters for civilians as well as an extremely effective defensive center, with a radar dish that could detect bombers from over 50 miles away, eight 128-mm cannons with a firing capacity of 48 shells per minute and a number of other smaller cannons scattered around the tower. Many of the towers have since been destroyed or converted, but the one remaining in Berlin is open to visitors.

Photo by: itineri.de via Flickr

11. Vel D’Hiv Monument, France

Though the actual building of the Velodrome d’Hiver (indoor cycling track) was destroyed and replaced by government buildings, visitors can still stand on the spot, commemorated by a plaque, where in July of 1942, Jewish families in France were rounded up by the French police and forcibly herded into the Velodrome. It is there that over 13,000 citizens waited in deplorable conditions (without food, water or washroom facilities) for days before being dispersed among various concentration camps. A memorial to the victims was erected in the city in 1993, with the French Government issuing a public apology at a memorial service at the site in 1995.

Photo by: Leonieke Aalders via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Leonieke Aalders via Wikimedia Commons

10. Oradour-Sur-Glane, France

This small village in western France is memorialized as the site of one of the largest Nazi massacres on French soil. On June 10, 1944 SS officers stormed the village and killed the vast majority of residents, some 642 men, women and children, before largely destroying the area. Though officially rebuilt a few km north, the French government ordered the original site to be untouched and to stand testament to the horrors committed there. Visitors can walk through the ruins of the ghost town and pay their respects at the onsite memorial.

Oradour-Sur-Glane, France

9. Umschlagplatz, Warsaw, Poland

During German occupation, the German-named Umschlagplatz (“reloading point”) was the Square in Warsaw used to round up Polish Jews and organize their deportation from the Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp. People waited in hordes for hours until enough detainees were rounded up to fill the train cars, with any signs of resistance resulting in instant death. Today, the site of the former Square is home to a memorial constructed in the image of train cars, erected to pay tribute to the countless lives doomed (and lost) on these very premises.

Dariusz Leszczynski / Shutterstock.com
Dariusz Leszczynski / Shutterstock.com

8. Warsaw Ghetto, Poland

In the beautiful Polish city of Warsaw, there still stands a testament to the largest and deadliest Nazi-created Ghetto in Europe. By the deadline of October 15, 1940, the city’s large Jewish population was forcibly required to move into an 18 km area which enclosed 73 of the city’s 1800 streets, and was divided into the “small” and “large” ghettos linked by a wooden bridge. At highest capacity, the Ghetto housed about 380,000 people, translating to about eight residents per room. Today, the site is commemorated by “The Footbridge of Memory” which denotes the location of the original bridge between the two Ghettos, several monument and memorials. The area also still contains chunks of the original separating wall as well as decrepit residential buildings which have stood untouched for the past seven decades.

Anastasia Petrova / Shutterstock.com
Anastasia Petrova / Shutterstock.com

7. The Wolf’s Lair, Poland

This major complex hidden among a dense Masurian forest was Hitler’s first headquarters on the Eastern Front, and became his most frequently inhabited hideout (he spent about half the war here). Originally built for the impending invasion of the Soviet Union, the property became a sort of small town consisting of shelters, barracks, two airfields as well as a power and rail station. Despite being heavily reinforced and highly secure, this was also the site of the infamous July 1944 assassination attempt of Hitler by Claus Von Stauffenberg. The premises were vacated and destroyed by German officials in January of 1945 and remained untouched by the Polish Government until the fall of Communism. Today, the site is in ruins but has become a popular tourist attraction with a handful of hotels and restaurants now available in the remote area.

Wolf's Lair, Poland

6. Bletchley Park, England

Featured in the film “The Imitation Game,” Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire was Britain’s central site for code breaking during the Second World War. As the location of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), it became the largest and most successful institution in penetrating secret Axis communications, most famously of the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. Analysis now suggests that the efforts conducted on these premises shortened the war by about 2 years, and the school is now an educational and historic attraction commemorating the accomplishments of the institution.

Photo by: Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons

5. Fuhrerbunker, Berlin

Now largely destroyed, this bunker was located under the former Reich Chancellery building in the heart of the city, and is the site where Hitler spent the last few weeks of the war, married Eva Braun and committed suicide in April of 1945. Located 11.5 feet below ground level, the bunker was a system of 30 small rooms protected by 13 foot thick concrete walls with an exit point in the Reich Chancellery gardens. Today, the site looks inconspicuous enough as a quiet residential neighborhood, and is largely unmarked save the small plaque and information board that denotes the location and provides a schematic diagram of the bunker.

Photo by: Cezary p at pl. via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Cezary p at pl. via Wikimedia Commons

4. Cabinet War Rooms, England

Partially restored and opened as a museum to the public in 1985, the Cabinet War Rooms were originally a secret complex under the basement of the Treasury. The bomb blitz of December 1940 forced the complex to be reinforced as a bomb bunker, becoming the main strategic headquarters for the War Cabinet (consisting of Prime Minister Churchill and several Conservative and Labor Party ministers). Today visitors can descend below the streets of Westminster and check out the various rooms of the complex as they would have existed during the war, and of especial significance, the Map Room, which remains exactly as it was when the premises were closed and vacated in August of 1945.

Cabinet War Rooms, England

3. Auschwitz- Birkenau, Poland

Originally built in 1940 as a detention center for political prisoners, Auschwitz-Birkenau became the Nazi’s most gruesome legacy—the largest death camp and the primary site for the “Final Solution.” Located on the site of a former military base just outside of Krakow, Poland, the complex was regarded as the ideal location to carry out Nazi atrocities because of its proximity to the rail lines used to transport prisoners. Liberated on January 27, 1945 by the Soviet Army, estimates suggest that upwards of 1.1 million deaths were carried out on the property. Today, Auschwitz is a harrowing museum complex not for the faint of heart. While undeniably an important site to see, visitors are urged to check out the museum website (http://visit.auschwitz.org/ ) to familiarize themselves with the rules, entry pass guidelines and capacity restrictions before their visit.

Auschwitz Birkenau, Berlin

2. Musee de la Reddition, France

This red brick schoolhouse just northwest of the Reims train station is the historic site where, in the early morning of May 7, 1945 high officers from the German army met with officers of the Allied forces and signed the declaration of unconditional surrender, ending the second world war in Europe. Now known as the Lycee Roosevelt, the property was being used as the headquarters of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the room where the signature took place, the map room, remains perfectly preserved behind a glass panel and comprises the museum now called the Musee de la Reddition.

Photo by: Gerald Garitan via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Gerald Garitan via Wikimedia Commons

1. Normandy, France

It is on this stretch of beaches on the Normandy coast where the infamous D-Day Landings of June 6, 1944 took place, changing the course of the war to favor the Allies. The five beaches—Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah—were where the forces of the French, British, Canadian and American armies successfully landed and commenced an operation that changed the tide of WWII in Europe. Today, visitors can pay their respects to the sacrifices made by these troops at the various memorials found on the beaches, at the military cemeteries of each army and learn more about the operation and strategy at the various museums and information centers.

Normandy, France

Like this? Check out 10 Significant World War II Sites to Visit in Germany

The 10 Coolest Train Rides in the World

In the 21st century, train travel has been displaced by other modes of transport, like air travel and automobiles. But many travelers laud the experience of train travel; it’s often faster than a car and, unlike air travel, it allows you to see the landscape as you roll along toward your destination. Reflecting this, many train operations now offer luxury tours for travelers who want to ride in style without missing an opportunity for exploration. Combining amazing scenery, national treasures and elegance, here are 10 of the coolest train rides around the world.

10. Maharajas Express -India

Travel through India on this amazing train journey. Five different routes are offered, departing from either Mumbai or Delhi. Choose from a four day journey or an eight day grand tour of some of the most famous and majestic places on the Indian subcontinent. Partake in Hindu rituals at the ghats of the Ganges or witness a polo match played not on horses, but on the backs of elephants. From ancient civilizations to the Taj Mahal, you’ll see palaces and museums, national parks and beaches on the Heritage of India tour. On the Indian Splendor tour, you’ll have a chance to explore an abandoned kingdom and a dinosaur fossil park. Departures are limited, usually once per month between October and April, so if you want to travel on the Maharajas Express, you’ll want to plan in advance.

Photo by: Maharajas' Express
Photo by: Maharajas’ Express

9. Grand Canyon -USA

Train travel is almost synonymous with the American West; train service was the glue that held the nation together until the mid-20th century. The Grand Canyon Railway captures the Old West feel with its stops at historic train depots and the El Tovar hotel, which was built in 1905. The railway has a number of unique passenger cars, including the dome cars that are peculiar to American railways. Two of the luxury parlor cars feature open-air platforms for observation. Trains depart the Williams depot daily and arrive at the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park two hours and 15 minutes later. The trains return to Williams around 3:30 in the afternoon. Along the 65-mile journey, the train passes through diverse terrain of the high Sonoran desert and mountainous areas, and passengers might sight any number of animals, including pronghorns, and a variety of plants.

Grand Canyon Railway

8. The Ghan -Australia

Connecting Darwin at the northern tip of the Australian continent and Adelaide on the southern coast, The Ghan makes one of the most fascinating trips in the world. The Great Southern Rail-operated train travels almost 3,000 kilometers over the span of 54 hours, with a four hour stop over in Alice Springs. The train originally ran between Adelaide and Alice Springs, beginning operations in the late 1890s; it wasn’t until 2004 that Darwin was connected. The reasons are obvious: the route runs through vast swaths of the rugged Australian Outback. With the new train in operation, getting to Darwin and seeing the Outback has never been easier, although delays and track trouble still plague the line. Stops at Katherine and Alice Springs allow time for optional tours. The Ghan generally runs once a week, although two services operate weekly between June and September.

The Ghan, Australia

7. Blue Train -South Africa

The South African Blue Train is world-renowned for its luxury service, boasting butlers, two lounge cars, an observation car and private carriages with gold-tinted picture windows. The train takes passengers nearly 1,000 miles between Pretoria and Cape Town. Originally, the service was meant to connect passengers from Johannesburg to England-bound ships in Cape Town. There was a time when four routes were offered, but all have been discontinued except the route between Pretoria and Cape Town. The train makes at least one stop in either direction, allowing guests to explore the Open Mine Museum at Kimberley Station or enjoy a glass of sherry at Matjiesfontein. The journey takes passengers between inland and coastal areas, showcasing the spectacular scenery of the South African landscape. Passengers will journey across scrubland, through mountain foothills and across rivers in the height of luxury. Bring formal wear for your dinner engagement.

Blue Train, South Africa

6. Trans-Siberian -Russia

Not just a single line, the Trans-Siberian Railway is rather a collection of lines that traverse the huge expanse of the Siberian hinterland, connecting European Russia with the Russian Far East, the Sea of Japan and branching into Mongolia, China and North Korea. It is the longest railway in the world, spanning 5,772 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok, and is still being expanded. Even before its completion in 1916, it had become a hotspot for travelers, who then wrote about their experiences. The journey from Moscow takes about six days and crosses seven time zones before dropping passengers on the Pacific Coast. The line is still incredibly important for the transportation of goods and people between Moscow and the Russian Far East, and its historical importance cannot be underscored enough. The journey might not be the most luxurious, but it is certainly a fascinating view of Russia.

TransSiberian Railway

5. Royal Scotsman -UK

If you look at many top-10 lists for rail travel, you’re almost bound to run into the Royal Scotsman, a luxury liner that offers charter tours of the Scottish Highlands in the UK. With a variety of tour options, ranging from two nights in the Highlands to the seven night Grand Tour of Britain, the journey makes plenty of time for stops at local attractions, such as castle ruins, whisky distilleries and iconic natural wonders. Some journeys even include outdoor pursuits like shooting clay pigeons. As you travel, the observation car provides spectacular views of the glens, lochs and villages that make up the Highland vistas. Dining makes use of the best local ingredients and experiences are mixed between formal and informal. Combining luxury with an amazing tour of the Scottish landscape like you’ve never seen before, it’s little wonder the Royal Scotsman ranks highly on so many travelers’ bucket lists!

Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr
Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr

4. Glacier Express -Switzerland

While the Glacier Express isn’t a very quick trip—in fact, it has a reputation for being the slowest express train in the world—you probably won’t mind as you pass through the Alps between St. Moritz and Zermatt in Switzerland. The 7.5-hour journey takes passengers across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass. Large portions of the railway use a rack-and-pinion system for ascending through the steep Alpine inclines—up to 6, 670 feet at its zenith! Running east-west almost across the length of the country, the train travels through a number of important sites: the Albula/Bernina section of the trip are part of a World Heritage Site and the train journeys through the Rhine Gorge and up to the Matterhorn in Zermatt. Since the 1980s, the trains have run year-round, which means this spectacular trip can be enjoyed by travelers no matter the season.

Glacier Express, Switzerland

3. Eastern & Oriental Express -Thailand to Singapore

The Oriental Express is an actual train service, journeying through the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and, since 2007, Laos. The tour starts in Singapore and stops in Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth and Kanchanaburi before arriving in Bangkok. A guided tour of the River Kwai and a tour of Georgetown, near Penang, are included on the most popular route, although there are nine routes to choose from. The Singapore-Bangkok route takes three days to complete. The journey has been awarded a place on the Society of International Railway Travelers’ “Top 25 Trains” list, earning points for service, dining, beauty and off-train experiences. The service is operated by Belmond, a renowned name in luxury train travel, and is considered one of the best ways to explore Southeast Asia. In 2015, two new “signature journeys” were introduced.

Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr
Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr

2. Hiram Bingham -Peru

Hop aboard this luxury liner and ride the rails between the city of Cusco and the ancient Inca capital of Machu Picchu. This ride consistently makes the top-10 lists for travelers visiting Peru, and not only because it heads up to the sacred Inca city. Part of the Orient Express, the train operates in both directions and is named after the discoverer of Machu Picchu. Combine slithering through the soaring Andes in the Incan outback with fine dining and a relaxing four hour trip. Guests have brunch on the trip to Aguas Caliente, and dinner if they catch the late train back to Cusco. A local band provides live entertainment during the trip and guests can sample the Peruvian drink pisco as the train rumbles alongside the Urubamba River, which flows from the Sacred Valley. The observation car features an open deck for passengers to better enjoy the view!

Hiram Bingham, Peru

1. Rocky Mountaineer -Canada

The Rocky Mountaineer isn’t one route, but four routes running between Alberta and British Columbia in Western Canada. Formed in 1990, the company operates the busiest privately owned passenger rail service in North America, with more than one million passengers having boarded the train since its inception. The Rocky Mountaineer is a perennial favorite among train travel enthusiasts, having been named the “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” seven times and the Society of American Travel Writers’ top train ride in 2009. All four routes run through the rugged Canadian Rockies, some of them following historic routes such as the Canadian Pacific. In 2013, it was announced that a three day trip from Seattle would be offered. All trains operate during the day, with some overnight stops, between May and September. The “Journey through the Clouds” takes passengers over the Canadian National railway through the Rockies, between Vancouver and Jasper.

Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com
Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Cuba Vacation: 10 Things to Know Before You Take Off

A glorious combination of unspoiled beaches, lively dance clubs, and cultural history await the fortunate travelers to Cuba’s sunny shores.

However, before packing your suitcase and jetting off to this lovely island country, here are ten things you need to know before you go…

1. Power Conversion

All of the outlets on the island of Cuba, including hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts use 2 pronged 220V outlets. That means your typical North American plug (with three prongs) will not fit into most Cuban outlets. You can, however, purchase a plug adapter. Just be careful to check the power outage before plugging in as appliances—such as hair dryers or laptops—may fry the 220V outlets and your laptop.

power outlet

2. Pan Handling

You will see a number of locals begging for money or panhandling in Cuba by posing for pictures, drawing caricatures, or making and selling handicrafts in return for money from tourists. So don’t just assume what you’re being given or offered doesn’t come with a price tag.

cuban city
Evgenia Bolyukh / Shutterstock.com

3. Lack of Condiments

Many tourists return from Cuba with the idea that everything was great—except for the food! That’s because the flavor can be a bit lacking if you’re used to condiments like ketchup, hot sauce, pepper,  jams, cinnamon, and peanut butter. Many of these just aren’t available in Cuba, but you can bring your own.

condoments

4. Bringing Donations

The majority of locals in Cuba working at your hotel—such as your housekeeper, bartender, waiter, and hotel desk staff—make very little money for hygienic or personal care items. That’s why many tourists bring along extra toothbrushes, mouthwashes, toothpastes, floss, panty hose, etc., to leave for them as gifts. Believe me; locals are incredibly grateful for these items.

donations

5. Currencies

Yes, there is more than one official currency in the country of Cuba. While Cuban locals use the Cuban Peso—tourists are given the Cuban Convertible Peso and are unable to use the Cuban Peso. So it’s essential that you have the right currency.

cuban money

6. Tipping is Socially Accepted

Like many places in North America, it’s common and polite practice to tip your wait staff, tour guides, hotel staff, or bartenders for good service in Cuba by leaving a few Cuban Convertible Pesos.

tip

7. Internet Regulations

If you plan to use the internet in Cuba, you may be disappointed as it is highly regulated and rather expensive. Plus you require a special permit to access the internet, and even then, usage is closely monitored.

internet vacation

8. Cuban Time

In Cuba, it’s common that things are a little bit slower pace. After all, you’re on vacation! However, some tourists are upset when buses or tour guides don’t arrive exactly on time. Let’s just say the island country runs on “Cuban time” or relaxed time.

cuba bus
Kamira / Shutterstock.com

9. Drinking Water

Cuba is a very clean and hygienic country. However, drinking tap water is not highly recommended and might leave you with a nasty case of diarrhea or upset stomach. Opt for bottled water just to ensure your trip is enjoyable.

bottled water

10. Departure Tax

After an enjoyable visit to Cuba, you will be asked to pay a $25 tourist departure tax upon departure. Airports only take cash so be sure you keep $25 in your wallet.

departure tax