Northern Germany Road Trip Guide for Foodies
In this Northern Germany road trip guide for foodies I will provide all of the details to discover the northern part of the country, complete with hotels, restaurants (mainly fine-dining) and other activity recommendations. At the end of this post you will find a Northern Germany road trip map.
Have you ever considered Germany to be a foodie destination? Me neither. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that I’ve never been fond of traditional German food. I’m even embarrassed to say that on my first trip to Germany back in the mid-90s, I resorted to visiting McDonald’s one evening just to get a familiar break from the Bock and Weisswurst, sauerkraut, Rouladen and other traditional dishes.
In the mid-90s Germany was not that far removed from the Wall that divided Berlin from east and west, and most restaurants only served traditional German fare. In the past decade though, a culinary renaissance has taken place—Germany is now a forefront destination for foodies.
I was in Berlin for a travel conference and experienced some extraordinary meals. I keep hearing how the food scene in Germany had evolved, so with some time on my hands, I rented a car and set off on a Northern Germany road trip focused on fine dining. Why Northern Germany? Mainly because I had never been to this region of the country and I had mapped out a loop route from Berlin that I though would make the perfect week-long road trip.
Fine dining and fresh cuisine has been fueling tourism to many countries around the world, Germany is the latest to embrace the gastronomy craze. From Berlin, Lübeck, Hamburg to Bremen, Bremerhaven and beyond, here are my favorite restaurants, hotels and a few activities in this northern region of Germany.
This Northern Germany Road Trip starts in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and dates back to the 13th Century—it’s edgy, hip and fashionable. From the architecture to its politically charged history, Berlin is a fascinating place to explore.
While in Berlin I stayed at two different and distinct areas of the city. First was in Friedrichshain at Andel’s Vienna House. Next was in Kreuzberg at the Orania. Both locations had easy access to public transportation and provided plenty of restaurant, shopping and sightseeing choices.
BERLIN RESTAURANTS NOT TO MISS
- Skykitchen –Leather bound menus set the stage for a rich meal to come. Unlike many fine-dining restaurants, this one has a more casual contemporary flair with concrete floors; cozy intimate lighting that comes in many varieties/forms, just like the lights from the skyline. Each dish is masterfully presented and prepared. Skykitchen offers a meal that matches the stunning views.
- Nocti Vagus is Berlin’s first DarkRestaurant where patrons dine in utter darkness and are served by the visually impaired. I had no idea what to expect, other than the obvious. Even knowing that I would be dining in the dark, it still could not prepare me for the experience. I discovered that my senses where not heightened by the experience, but rather dulled. What I learned from dining in the dark is that we who enjoy the culinary arts, taste a great deal with our sight.
- Orania – Two open fireplaces, an exposed kitchen creating cosmopolitan cuisine, a relaxing lounge, and an inviting bar designing the latest mixology concoctions, blend perfectly to provide the ultimate dining experience.
BERLIN HOTEL RECOMMENDATIONS
- Andel’s Vienna House is a superb 4-star hotel with modern style and fresh charm. It’s a large high-rise hotel with over 500 rooms, 3 restaurants, spa, meeting space and more. It’s also home to Skykitchen that I mentioned above.
- Orania is a new boutique property located in an up-and-coming part of East Germany. The furniture is modern but not overly contemporary with a flare of Indian influences. Live music is available in the lobby lounge some nights, complete with a grand piano, which takes center stage.
After five days in Berlin, I was ready to start my Northern Germany road trip. I rented a car and set off for Lubeck. It wasn’t long before I was out of the Berlin city limits on the wide-open autobahn, traveling at breakneck speeds. Well, not really, I was in an economy car. There were however plenty of nice German and Italian cars passing me by like I was standing still though. As a road tripper I wished I could have been behind the wheel of one of those more powerful vehicles on stretches of highway with liberal speed limits.
As I drove down highway 24 heading north, I stopped several times to check out some of the rural villages. I found the cobblestone streets, old farmhouses and even some ruins left over from the war to be utterly intriguing. I also noticed an abundance of windmills and even some solar farms—clearly renewable energy is a priority in Germany.
- Distance: Berlin to Lubeck is 175 miles (282km)
- Time: With stops, budget 4 to 5 hours (under 3 hours with no stops)
Northern Germany Road Trip continues to Lübeck
With several stops it took me more than four hours to reach Lubeck. I had reservations at Lübecker Krönchen, which ended up being a stupendous choice. The Inn is a beautifully restored castle where each room has been uniquely themed with comfort in mind. The owners/innkeepers, Annett and Peter, have gone to painstaking efforts to restore this property to all her glory. The couple is also the most consummate of hosts.
What I learned about Lübeck is that it is surrounded by two rivers, making the historic part of town a natural moat. Unlike many other areas of Germany, Lübeck survived the war relatively unscathed, more than 80% of the buildings are original. It’s a fascinating place to explore, but don’t try doing it by car, parking is a nightmare. I would recommend parking on the other side of the river and taking transportation to the historic center. There are a few parking lots (car parks) on the island, but during busier times of the year, they fill up quickly.
LUBECK RESTAURANTS NOT TO MISS
- Miera is a fantastic little Italian bistro located down a narrow cobblestone street. Intimate dining and remarkable food make this a lovely and romantic restaurant in the heart of Lübeck.
- Niederegger Stammhaus is a beautiful candy shop with an upstairs café overlooking the famous Rathaus steps. They also have a lovely terrace to enjoy on those nice days. Niederegger Stammhous is well known for its marzipan and makes a nice place to take a break after walking around the enchanting city of Lübeck.
- Schiffergesellschaft – This is a Lübeck institution, a landmark restaurant where you will find more traditional German food along with many great seafood options. Part of the dining experience at Schiffergesellschaft is being immersed within the long maritime history of this restaurant, which dates back hundreds of years. There is also many artifacts and period detail throughout this expansive restaurant.
- Junge Die Backerel – This is a large chain restaurant with locations throughout Germany, it’s a nice cafe for a light lunch, a quick snack, or even a cup of coffee.
- Distance: Lübeck to Luneburg is 75 miles (120km)
- Time: 1:15 drive. Spend 1-2 hours exploring Lüneburg
Northern Germany Road Trip pit stop to Lüneburg
Lüneburg is a bit out of the way, but so worth a stop. Don’t miss Lüneburg’s most beautiful square, Am Sande, which is where medieval merchants laid out their wares. Am Sande is framed by a host of tall ornate brick houses, which at the time, showed off Lüneburg’s wealth and status. Somehow, centuries later, these buildings look like they were just recently constructed. The oldest house actually dates to around 1400.
- Distance: Luneburg to Hamburg is 35 miles (56km)
- Time: 45 minutes
Northern Germany Road Trip next stop is to Hamburg
Unlike Lübeck, Hamburg was heavily damage during the war. Many buildings survived, but for the most part, Hamburg is a new city. Strolling the streets of Hamburg, I was enamored by the creative and unique architecture. It seemed that ever building was completely different from the next—it’s like a holy grail city for architecture enthusiasts.
While in Hamburg I stayed at what has probably become one of the most recognizable buildings in the city—the Westin Hamburg, also known as the Elbphilharmonie, which is a performing arts theater ensconced within the middle of the hotel in a very exclusive architectural implementation of private and public space.
Hamburg is Germany’s 2nd largest city and has more bridges than any other European destination. While Hamburg is a port city, it’s not polluted or “industrial” feeling, like you might expect, but rather it is a vibrant part of the country just waiting to be explored.
One of the best ways to see Hamburg is on a walking tour and a harbor cruise, both will provide different perspectives of the city along with some fascinating history.
RESTAURANTS IN HAMBURG NOT TO MISS
- VLET – The food at VELT is outstanding and can best be described as a modern interpretation of German cuisine, which is inspired by the coastal region of Hamburg. Located less than half a mile walk from the Westin, VELT is anchored within a hip warehouse district and looks brand new, but has actually been serving guests for a decade now. The space retains its warehouse look and feel with an all-brick wall as an accent, with wooden timbers hanging from the ceiling that are back-lit to accentuated the brick wall. Huge steel beams support the room and frame out the space.
- Bianc is one of the finest all-around dining experiences I’ve had in recent memory. Bianc takes contemporary fine dining to a level that will make experienced foodies rejoice. Every element of the gastronomic journey is paved with intense thought and creativity. At Bianc you can select from the menu, or, the prix fixe. I opted to go with the 20-course prix fixe, which was nothing short of spectacular! Click the following link to read about my entire experience at Bianc Restaurant in Hamburg.
- Carls Brasserie – Located a stone’s throw from the Westin Hamburg, this outstanding restaurant boasts fantastic port views, vibrant atmosphere, with delicious traditional French brasserie food.
- Kaffeemuseum Burg – Fantastic coffee shop and museum to grab a cup-of-joe or a snack. See the coffee beans being roasted along with coffee memorabilia while relaxing in the spacious old warehouse.
HAMBURG HOTEL RECOMMENDATION
- Westin Hamburg – The glacier-inspired Westin Hamburg hotel is fast becoming one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. This hotel is not just a place to stay, but rather an experience that showcases a sophisticated ensemble of architecture, service, comfort and style, leaving the guest yearning for an encore. Click the following link to read my write up on the Westin Hamburg.
- Distance: Hamburg to Bremen is 76 miles (123km)
- Time: 1:20
Northern Germany Road Trip pit spot in Bremen
Bremen is known for its role in maritime trade, represented by Hanseatic buildings on the Market Square. The ornate and Gothic town hall has a Renaissance facade, and nearby, the Roland statue symbolizes free trade. St. Peter’s Cathedral features medieval crypts and twin spires and her church bells echo through the labyrinth of paths jetting out in all directions. The area near the city center of Bremen is called Marktplatz—this is where I spent most of my time as I only had half a day to explore this enchanting city (I would recommend spending more time here if you can). Narrow cobblestone walkways lead to fascinating shops and cafes.
RESTAURANT IN BREMEN NOT TO MISS
In the Marktplatz, underneath the Town Hall is the Bremen Ratskeller, a wine cellar and restaurant that has been serving guests since 1405. This is a fascinating place to visit and a great place to get some traditional German fare. In one direction of the venue there is a large room that seems to be a bit farther underground. In the other direction is the largest space where several massive old wine barrels are on display, along with dozens and dozens of tables for patrons. Along one side of the room is a series of six small alcoves with doors. These are private dining areas that seat 6-8 people are are called Priölke. These are highly coveted and difficult to reserve.
As legend has it, during the time when merchants would negotiate deals with suppliers in the Priölke’s, there were often disagreements on price—occasionally, a fight would ensue. To eliminate future skirmishes, the establishment instituted a policy whereby if there were only two people in the room negotiating price, the doors had to stay open. If there were three or more (one as a witness), then the doors could be closed. What is interesting is that some six hundred years later, that policy is still in place. So, if a couple thinks they are going to Bremen Ratskeller for an intimate meal in one of these alcove rooms and decides to shut the doors, the server will immediately come by and open it back up. If you’re with the in-laws, shutting the doors is just fine.
RECOMMENDED LODGING IN BREMEN
While I did not stay the night in Bremen, I did have a cocktail at the Radisson Blu, which looks like a wonderful hotel property, and, it’s in a fantastic part of town, just walking distance to everything.
- Distance: Bremen to Bremerhaven is 40 miles (64km)
- Time: 45 minutes driving time
Northern Germany Road Trip continues to Bremerhaven
Bremerhaven is a port city on Germany’s North Sea coast, about 40 miles north of Bremen. If you stay at the Liberty Hotel where I did, you’ll find many activities within walking distance—it’s like a major pedestrian zone. From the seaside zoo, maritime museum to plenty of indoor activities during the colder winter months. One of the main attractions in Bremerhaven, which is located right next door to the Liberty, is the German Emigration Museum (Deutsches Auswandererhaus). The German Emigration Center is dedicated to the history of those who left Bremerhaven for the New World and is a fascinating place to visit.
RESTAURANT IN BREMERHAVEN NOT TO MISS
- Natusch Fischerihafen Restaurant – Not as old as the Bremen Ratskeller, but a Bremerhaven institution nonetheless, is the family owned Natusch Fischerihafen Restaurant, a fine-dining establishment that has been going strong for three generations—it opened in 1949. The restaurant embraces the ship-building heritage of Bremerhaven, both the interior and exterior resemble an old ship. The inside bow extends to an outside patio. Natusch reminds me a bit of an old classic Chicago fine-dining restaurant, with more traditionally prepared dishes without all of the pizzazz of today’s modern interpretations.
- Das Mediterraneo – This is a large slice of Italy in an indoor piazza. It’s like a Mediterranean holiday right on the North Sea coast. There are over 40 specialty shops and numerous restaurants with fair weather guarantee. When the sun is shining outside, the large terraces invite you to relax and bath in the sun.
RECOMMENDED HOTEL IN BREMERHAVEN
Liberty Hotel – This is a wonderful boutique hotel, perfectly positioned to give guests access to many of the Bremerhaven highlight attractions, which are within walking distance of the hotel. The Liberty just opened in February, 2018 to great fanfare for its distinct architecture and location. This 4-star hotel is modern with an elegant ambience. The rooms are cozy, well appointed and quiet…many with balconies and seaside views.
- Distance: Bramerhaven to Celle is 69 miles (111km)
- Time: 1:20 driving time
Northern Germany Road Trip pit stop to Celle
The lavishly restored half-timbered houses in Celle is the greatest ensemble in all of Europe. From the picturesque backdrop of the 700-year-old royal residence, to the Hoppener Haus, one of the most magnificent half-timbered houses in the city, makes a stop to Celle really worth a visit. There is also a colorful mix of museums, theaters, music festivals, concerts, galleries and city festivals that showcase the culture of Celle.
- Distance: Celle to Brunswick is 34 Miles (54km)
- Time: 55 minutes driving (1-2 hours to explore)
Final stop on this Northern Germany Road Trip is to Brunswick (Braunschweig)
Along my Northern Germany road trip several people asked why I was going to Brunswick? I got the feeling that Brunswick was not much of a tourist destination, and that may be the case, but that didn’t stop me. There were two reasons I selected Brunswick. First, it was about the halfway point from Bremerhaven to Berlin, where I would be departing. Second, I saw photos of the extraordinarily colorful and creative “Happy Houses” that I had to see in person for myself.
I found Brunswick to be a delightful destination, with fascinating facades, and magnificent monuments surrounding the city. Despite the widespread bombing suffered during the Second World War, many of Braunschweig’s monuments were fully restored.
I visited Brunswick on a Sunday when most shops and restaurants were closed, which meant there were not many people around. I loved having the area seemingly to myself.
A rich history has led to centuries of unique construction; from Baroque ornamentation to the modern, such as the colorful Happy Rizzi House. The photos I saw online of the Happy Houses were impressive, but seeing them up close, I was able to see so much detail. The artist/creator/builders have build a scene that I have no doubt will begin attracting lots of Instagramers to the area.
RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATION IN BRUNSWICK
- Petite Creperi – One of the few places open on Sunday. A charming little bistro with fantastic crepes, teas and coffee. Perfect for a light lunch or mid-afternoon snack.
HOTEL RECOMMENDATION IN BRUNSWICK
- Vienna House Easy is a bit outside of the downtown area of Brunswick and offers a more modest version of the Vienna House in Berlin, but pretty cool nonetheless. My room was modest with a hip flair and quite spacious. The cool part of the hotel are the amenities. The hotel has a vibe a bit like a hostel with communal feel and energy. There is a large common area at the center of three wings that take guest to their rooms. In one area of the hotel there is a spa with dry and steam saunas. Another area has a sports center with squash courts, badminton, Kegel (German style bowling), gym and other activities. Then, there is an American-style pub to tip back a few with fellow guests. The Vienna House Easy in Brunswick was a really fun place to stay.
- Distance: Brunswick to Berlin is 150 miles (238km)
- Time: 2:30 hours driving time with no stops
If you are considering doing a Northern Germany road trip, I hope this guide will be helpful. If you have any questions at all, please leave a question below in the comments section. If you’ve been to any of these areas and have suggestions, please also leave a comment.