Germany stands at the heart of Europe and at the centre of the continent's history. From Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire to Bismarck, the German Reich, Nazism and the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has been fundamental in shaping Europe.
The country's turbulent history has left its mark on the capital, Berlin. The knocking down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West transformed the city and it is now a vibrant, atmospheric place, although bleak reminders of the past, such as sections of the Wall and a watchtower remain as testament to the past. Look out too for the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Jewish Museum, as well as countless markets, bars, restaurants and places that pulse with life.
Holidays in Germany outside the major cities tend to focus on the castles of the Rhine Valley, which overlook the scenic River Rhine and the charming towns and vineyards that line its banks; Cologne, home to Germany's largest cathedral, a number of mainly Romanesque churches and a thriving arts and culture scene is the main centre here. Elsewhere, the lakes and peaks of the Black Forest, especially the historic towns around Lake Constance, are popular with walkers, skiers and wild swimmers.
Culturally unique, Bavaria, with the city of Munich at its centre, is known for its beautiful forest and charming walled towns; the picturesque Romantic Road, from Wurzberg to Fussen, takes in the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein and many of the main attractions in the region. The world-famous Oktoberfest, which happens in September, fulfils all the stereotypes with beer-quaffing, sausage-eating, oompah bands and men in lederhosen.
The North Sea and Baltic coasts are littered with sand dunes that support lots of birdlife. The island of Sylt, in the Frisian Islands, is particularly charming and characterised by its striped blue and white beach baskets.