In 2017 I once again embarked with my son on an EF Tour organized through Wilmington College, this time to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. I’ve shared in past blogs about my Irish heritage, being raised Irish Catholic with a mother whose maiden name is Sweeney. Read about that trip in my EF Tour review of Ireland. But I’m also German, my father a Seidel (which loosely translated means “mug of beer”) who was raised Methodist. This time, I wanted to explore the Bavarian region, the area from which the Seidels mostly came. I wanted to see those early Protestant churches, a legacy of Martin Luther, see the Alps and, of course, sample some of that famous German beer. I wanted to zoom down the Audobon and visit the original Haufbrau Haus. Since this trip also included Switzerland and an optional excursion to Austria, I eagerly signed up. What follows is my EF Tour review of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
Our tour director Stephan, was born and raised in Berlin, and was helpful, friendly and FUNNY. He made sure we were on time to all our stops, prepared and yes, that we all had our passports and our luggage each time we changed hotels. As friendly as he was, he was also elusive to the camera, so I don’t have a single photo of him. Nevertheless, here are my highlights from the tour he directed.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
As it is with all EF Tours, after a full night of flying you hit the ground and start touring. We landed in the modern city of Frankfurt, Germany and immediately boarded our bus, stopping first at the beautifully restored medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the region of Bavaria, Germany, now a destination for tourists from around the world. Going back to at least the year 950, the town has seen and endured a storied past, including being a haven for Nazi ideologists. Because of its involvement with the Nazi party, it was eventually bombed, destroying many of the historic structures. The local commander gave up the town, preventing it from being destroyed completely. It’s now part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany. Much of what you see today has been restored by donations from locals.
Johnathan and I had fun exploring the town, we walked the Rothenburg medieval wall around the city, and climbed to the top of the clock tower, the highest structure, but not without first signing our name on the wall in the stairwell.
How long is the Rothenberg Wall?
The Rothenberg Wall is approximately two miles, so if you want to walk the entire permitter of the city, be sure to allow for enough time!
Our Itinerary in Rothenburg, Germany Included:
- Walking tour of Rothenburg
- Free time to explore
- Hotel accommodations and dinner that evening
Rothenburg, Germany Tour Review
Lodging: Good! Our hotel in Rothenburg was family-owned, tucked into the little town beside another structure that served as their dining area, which they lovingly cooked in the kitchen nearby. We enjoyed a traditional German dinner of Schnitzel with noodles before falling gratefully into our beds that night. None of us could keep our eyes open after the long day of traveling.
Food: Ok. As with most traditional German and Dutch foods, the meals consist mainly of meat and potatoes and are mostly flavorless. EF Tours typically provides one dinner as a group per city, and our dinner in Rothenburg would be the first of many pork, potatoes, and bread meals. Each hotel typically has a nice, but light, breakfast that’s included as well. My favorite part of those breakfasts? The fantastic coffees you can serve yourself from the cappuccino and latte machines. I can’t get enough of those.
Excursions and Itinerary: Great! We had adequate free time to explore Rothenburg, almost too much time!
Pace: Easy, with plenty of time to explore on our own.
Munich, Germany Tour Review
From Rothenburg we headed to Munich, stopping first in Nuremberg for a few hours before heading to the city to check into our hotel there. This restored medieval city was also home to the famous Nuremberg trials after WWII. As you enter the city there’s a piece of the Berlin Wall standing in remembrance of the political division that divided Germany for decades. We toured the castle and had lunch in a cafe before departing for Munich.
Our EF Tour Itinerary in Munich, Germany Included:
- Lunch stop in Nuremberg
- Tour of Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site
- Visit to the BMW showroom
- Stop at the Zepplinfield
- Free time in our own to explore
- Walking tour of the city
Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site
Our first stop the next morning, after checking into our hotel, was the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Dachau was the first camp of its kind, and a model for those, like Auschwitz, that came after, serving as a “school of violence” for the SS troops. 41,500 innocent people were murdered here. On April 29, 1945, American troops liberated the survivors. A photo of that liberation is displayed in the visitor center.
It is difficult to walk these grounds, and I did so in complete silence, thankful that Stephan had brought us there early in the morning before the throngs of middle school students arrived, which they did as we were leaving.
After Dachau, and in direct contrast, was a stop at the beautiful and extravagant BMW showroom. We all picked out one for ourselves and then left with nothing. We decided as a group on lunch at the famous Hofbrauhaus and we weren’t disappointed. My son and I explored and did some shopping, stopping, as is our tradition, at H&M for an outfit to bring home as a memory of the trip.
Munich, Germany Tour Lodging and Itinerary Review
Lodging: Ok. Our hotel was modern and comfortable, and my room and bathroom were clean, updated and convenient. Unfortunately, we were treated quite poorly by the hotel staff, refused service at their bar/restaurant in the evening and asked to leave. I believe they confused us with a high school group also staying at the hotel. Stephan tried to intervene but was not successful, so instead, we ventured down the road to a cute little pub and had wine and great conversation there.
Food: Good! Breakfast in the hotel was lovely and the staff treated us well in the morning, realizing their mistake. One dinner was also included in Munich.
Excursions and Itinerary: Great! We had plenty of time on our own to explore on our own and were thankful to Stephan for the impromptu stops at both Nuremberg and Zepplinfield, which were not officially on the itinerary.
Pace: Moderate. Much of our time in Munich was on our own outside of the visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which thankfully allowed plenty of time.
Salzburg, Austria Excursion
From Munich, we joined a smaller group taking an optional day excursion to Salzburg, Austria. We started our day with a tour of a salt mine, then had the rest of the day to explore the beautiful city that’s the birthplace of Mozart and the location of the Sound of Music. We might have had a little fun in the fountain where they filmed Do Ra Mi. Then Stephan graciously indulged us by playing the Sound of Music movie on the bus ride back to Munich. It was a great day.
Our Itinerary in Salzburg, Austria Included
- Coach transportation
- Salt mine tour
- Walking tour of Salzburg
- Time on our own to explore
The following day we checked out of our Munich hotel and headed for Switzerland, stopping first to tour the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle, commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and built in honor of Richard Wagner. The king lived there until his death in 1886, sleeping only 11 nights in the castle.
To get to the castle you can take a shuttle, a horse and carriage or walk up the mountain from the ticket gate. If you’re pressed for time I recommend taking the shuttle, as the steep walk up the hill will take at least 30 minutes, leaving you as breathless as the sight of the castle when you see it, perched there atop the mountain.
After leaving Neuschwanstein Castle, we made a quick stop in Liechtenstein, Europe’s fourth-smallest country, spanning just over 62 square miles. By now we were well into the Alps, and the views from both the bus and the area were already spectacular, but nothing could prepare me for our next day in Lucerne, Switzerland.
We arrived in Lucerne, Switzerland late that night, and though we couldn’t see much I could hear the lake lapping on the shore nearby. A few of us headed to a local restaurant and enjoyed some wine on their patio. Despite the chilly March alpine air, we were comfortable as a fire was blazing and they provided sheepskins for each of us to keep warm.
It had been a long day and we were ready to return to our hotel for the night. Our hotel was older and probably had not been remodeled since at least the 1970s, but my room was clean and adequate.
There was a window above my bed, but it was completely dark, so I had no idea what I’d awake to the next morning.
This was the view from my room.
That morning we embarked on another optional excursion, a cable car ride up Mount Rigi, followed by a train ride back down the mountain and a boat ride across Lake Lucerne. We were not disappointed.
The other option was to take the coach to Lucerne directly to explore the area on your own, then meet up with our group in the afternoon for the guided portion of the visit. While it would have been great to have more time to explore the city, the trip up the mountain and across the lake was unforgettable.
Our Lucerne, Switzerland Tour included:
- Hotel accommodations overnight
- Breakfast and Dinner
- Optional excursion up Mount Rigi and a lake cruise
- Walking tour of Lucerne
- Free time on our own
Mount Rigi and Lake Lucerne Excursion
Lucerne, Switzerland Tour Review
Lodging: Good. The hotel was older, in need of a remodel but my room was clean and the views were spectacular.
Food: Poor. For dinner, we had spaghetti with ketchup. Stephan explained to the wait staff that, just because Americans like ketchup does not mean we eat it on pasta. They apologized profusely and promised us excellent food the next day, which ended up being leftover appetizers from a wedding the night before.
Excursions and Itinerary: Outstanding. I will never forget the breathtaking beauty of the view from atop Mount Rigi or the ride across the lake.
Pace: Fast, but we got to see so much that it didn’t matter.
From Lucerne we boarded our coach for the trip back to Munich, stopping in the Black Forest at a cuckoo clock shop for lunch and having some, of course, black forest cake.
Our final stop was in Heidelburg, Germany where we toured the castle and grounds and explored the wine cellar before checking into our final hotel for the trip. Heidelberg sports the longest shopping district in Europe, so of course, Johnathan and I found an H&M.
That night we’d have our last dinner together before boarding our flight home the next morning.
If you go with EF Tours to Germany and Switzerland
This trip packs in a lot in a short 9 days. There are multiple hotel changes and a lot of traveling. But it’s worth it. Even now when I look back at the photos I can’t believe we saw so much in such a short time!
Be prepared to do a lot of walking. The tour is fast-paced and covers a ton of ground. You’ll need good shoes to keep up, preferably more than one pair. I get along well with a sturdy pair of boots with good support and a pair of walking shoes.
Bring your camera. The sightseeing is astonishingly beautiful. The trip covers an exciting array of medieval cities, WWII sites, and beautiful countryside. It was beyond my expectations and I would go again if given the opportunity to see these beautiful countries.
Auf Wiedersehen and see you on the next trip!