The question for many when trying to decide between Italy or Germany, is what separates these European holiday destinations from each other? Yet while both nations have similar climates and iconic cities, each has its own distinct histories, cultures, sights to visit, and cuisines that set them apart.
After spending a significant amount of time in each, we pit Italy vs Germany below. We compare both before looking at what each country has to offer, the food you can try, what natural attractions you can see in each, as well some amazing towns and cities you should visit.
Germany or Italy: Which is the better vacation destination?
Both Germany and Italy are known for their distinct cultures, unique cities and some stunning landscapes, so you’re guaranteed a great holiday whichever you choose.
However if you’re looking for holiday destination that will encompass a bit of sun, sea, and sand, then Italy will be the better choice. The Italian coastline has some stunning stretches of sand – some of the best in Europe – and with hundreds of islands there are still opportunities to find secluded pieces of paradise all to yourself.
This nation also has a rich history, and architectural gems from the Roman Empire are everywhere. Furthermore, cosmopolitan cities like Milan, Rome, Florence, and Venice are famous for their galleries, museums, and beauty. The food scene is phenomenal in Italy too, so if cuisine is top of your holiday list then Italy may be the better choice.
However Germany is a country that gives Italy a run for its money when it comes to holiday vacations. While this nation isn’t much of a beach destination – although Germany’s islands in the north do have some beautiful stretches of coastline – it still has lots to offer.
If anything, Germany is very much a nature lover’s paradise, and its landscape is arguably more beautiful than Italy. The region of Bavaria – in Germany’s south – is comprised of mountains, castles, and quaint villages that look like they belong in paintings. While the mysterious Black Forest region and mountain range have inspired stories and fairytales for generations.
In our opinion, Germany’s countless mountains, forests, and lakes make it one of the best destinations in Europe for hiking, biking, and camping. So if you’re looking for an active holiday then Germany will likely be the better choice than Italy.
Germany is also the unofficial home of beer, with the annual Oktoberfest drawing thousands of tourists every year. The traditional costumes, fantastic beers, food, and lively social gatherings at this event are well worth experiencing in your lifetime.
However in terms of expenses, we’ve found Italy to be slightly cheaper than Germany when it comes to accommodation and eating out. Although saying that, they’re both quite similar destinations cost wise.
Germany or Italy: Alluring natural wonders
While Germany isn’t known as a beach destination, there’s actually around 50 German islands off the north coast! These islands are pretty, have a slow relaxed pace of life and many are nature reserves due to their untouched landscape and unique flora and fauna.
The island of Sylt has become a trendy destination in its own right – head there for expansive sandy beaches, watersports, and fine dining. For a laid-back atmosphere and the perfect place for a peaceful cycle or walk, then the quaint island of Hiddensee would be the perfect spot.
Back on the mainland, but at the opposite end of the country, is the stunning region of Bavaria. The culture here is very distinctive from the rest of Germany, but what makes it so special are the alpine lakes, lush forests and dramatic mountains that make Bavaria Germany’s most beautiful area.
Make sure you visit Königssee, a lake in south Bavaria that is regarded by many as Germany’s most beautiful. This lake is surrounded by dramatic steep mountains on all sides, and is our favourite swimming spot in Europe. There’s some lovely hiking routes around Königssee too.
For another great hiking spot, head northwest to the Black Forest. This region has been the inspiration behind stories and legends for centuries, and is a draw for hikers from around the world. In fact the trails on offer are routinely voted as some of the most awe-inspiring hikes in the world.
One gorgeous hiking trail to try is the Belchensteig, a 15km circular route through the south of the Black Forest to the summit of Belchen Mountain. The third highest peak (1414m) in the Black Forest is also often described as one of Germany’s most beautiful climbs and has fantastic panoramic views from the top. (Related: Hiking in the Black Forest).
Don’t forget to visit the Triberg Waterfalls if you do pass by the Black Forest – this 163m tall set of waterfalls is a landmark in the region.
For something more unusual, visit the geyser in Andernach. Although geysers are more often associated with places like Iceland, this one in western Germany shoots water out of the ground every two hours, and up to 60 meters in height!
This geyser really sums up Germany too. This country is packed with natural wonders, surprises, and geographical landmarks.
Northern Italy has fantastic beaches, and the capital of seaside tourism in north Italy is Rimini on the Adriatic coast – famous for its fine sandy beaches and promenade of bars, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
Northern Italy also happens to have some of Europe’s most iconic and beautiful lakes. The stunning Como, Garda, Iseo and the highly underrated Orta lakes are all within easy traveling distance from Milan.
Further north are the hiking and winter sport paradises of the Italian Alps and the Dolomites – possibly Europe’s most easily recognisable mountain range.
The island of Sicily in the south has an attractive climate, historic cities such as Palermo and Catania, miles of fine sandy beaches, vineyards, Greek temples, Roman sites, and gorgeous baroque towns. (Related: Scilly or Sardinia: Which should you choose?)
Back on the mainland of Southern Italy is Cinque Terre – the postcard-perfect collection of ancient villages on the Liguria coastline. This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site receives 2.4 million visitors a year. Why? It’s gorgeous! From north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each with unique character and superb sea views. This is mostly a place for beaches, outdoor activities, and water sports.
The rocky mountainside of Aspromonte National Park in Calabria has the abandoned ghost town of Pentedattilo and a wild untouched landscape that is well worth visiting too.
Germany vs Italy: Fascinating cities and towns
It’s hard to compete with cities like Barcelona, but Germany’s capital of Berlin is iconic in its own way.
This city is probably the most diverse in Europe, and as a result of the mixing pot of cultures, religions, and nationalities here, a lively and exciting art, music, and food scene has popped up. Berlin has subsequently become Germany’s trendy city to live, and the district of Prenzlauer Berg is the place for chic cafes, indie shops and bars.
Of course, the Berlin Wall remains a major draw for tourists visiting the city, and a trip to the barrier that used to divide Germany is well worth it. Visiting the wall is free, but you can take guided tours for just a few euros – well worth it for history buffs.
In Bavaria, beautiful Regensburg is known for its stunning 300m long 13th century stone bridge and the medieval buildings that surround it. Much of the old city remains intact – unlike many other German cities due to the bombing raids in WW2 – and a stroll down the riverside in the city is very special. The traditional beer gardens that line the river are a hotspot for tourists and locals alike, and serve up generous sized portions of food alongside ice cold Bavarian beer.
Further west is Heidelberg, a cobblestoned lined city that is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country. The city has been the home of philosophers and writers for centuries, and inspired many – like Mark Twain – to pen some of their greatest work. The red sandstone Heidelberg Castle looms above the city and is worth visiting for the view of the city alone.
Back in Bavaria and you will find countless towns with houses made from timber, and streets from stone, that look like they’ve been plucked straight from a movie set. Rothenburg is one of our favourites, and indeed parts of the town were used for scenes from Harry Potter due to the perfectly preserved ancient walls and buildings here.
However, the crown for most special German town has to go to Nördlingen, a town encrusted with diamonds!
An asteroid strike millions of years ago compressed stone near the town and produced rock studded with impact diamonds. That stone was used in the construction of Nördlingen’s Old Town, and the result is a settlement that shimmers in the light. Cimb the tower of St. George’s Church – manned by a very friendly tower watchman – and see the town in it’s full glory from above.
City breaks to Italy are popular throughout Europe due to the cosmopolitan feel, and perfect mix between old and modern.
Bologna is a gorgeous medieval city in north Italy that has thrived with a steady flow of students that has kept this city a vibrant place to visit. Food lovers can delight in the city’s food festivals like Eataly and a slew of food markets where you can learn more about its cuisine. This is also an excellent choice for art, music and Italian film enthusiasts who are all catered for inside Bologna’s galleries and museums.
Face the tourists and head to Venice, but take your time strolling its hidden side streets, canals, piazzas and local shops and cafes. Discover a treasure trove of history in its museums, visit St Mark’s Cathedral and Venice’s ornate churches, the exquisite old theatre Teatro La Fenice and the sprawling art museum Gallerie dell ’Accademia. Or take a boat to see the colorful island of Burano.
In the heel of Italy’s boot is the region of Puglia which is home to the charming city of Lecce. Its streets are perfect for wandering to discover its hidden piazzas, beautifully detailed buildings and churches including the baroque Santa Croce. The city’s main square is Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the site of a Roman amphitheater and in the evening join in with the local tradition of strolling down the evening passeggiata before dinner. Day trips include the lovely seaside towns of Otranto and Gallipoli for moreish local flavors.
The cosmopolitan city of Milan is not known for being incredibly ‘Italian’, as it lacks the cobbled streets and ochre buildings that Italy is best known for, but it has a wealth of culture to discover. The main sights include the majestic Sforza Castle, the incredibly detailed Duomo where you can climb up onto the roof and the ornate Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – a shopping center with beautiful mosaics and designer stores. Outside of this, the canal area offers chic eateries, all-you-can-eat sushi, street art galore and vintage shops plus bars to enjoy the city’s lively aperitif culture.
Italy or Germany: Tempting cuisines
The traditional food of Germany and Italy is a cocktail of the various groups that have inhabited these nations.
When it comes to German cuisine, expect carb and meat heavy dishes. What else from a nation that produces so many beers!
Bratwurst is a traditional food, and is a sausage made from pork and spices. To go full German, pair it with sauerkraut – fermented raw cabbage.
In Bavaria expect lots of roast meats and schnitzel – meat which is breaded and fried (usually in fat). It’s common for schnitzel to come with spätzle, which is a pasta-like side dish made with eggs.
Beer is synonymous with Germany. One of the best beers in the country is Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. It’s made in an old abbey and the brewery that brews this beer claims to be the oldest in the world as it was formed in 1040!
The eight provinces of Northern Italy all offer unique culinary traditions, influenced by neighboring countries such as France, Austria, and Slovenia.
In the Aosta Valley try Fontina cheese, with its milky and sweet flavors. In Emilia-Romagna you’ll come across piadini sandwiches, a flatbread stuffed with cheeses, hams, or salad.
Of course, the north is most famous for prosciutto di Parma (from Parma); balsamic vinegar (from Modena and Reggio); and Parmigiano Reggiano.
In Venice, sample, Risotto al Neri di Seppi, risotto flavored with cuttlefish and colored with its black ink.
South Italy is the birthplace of pizza! Go to Naples for an authentic classic Margherita pizza and fried pizza calzone style.
The Amalfi coast offers fresh seafood while you sip your Limoncello lemon liqueur – which also tastes good in cake form!
On Sicily, sample Nero d’Avola red wine, a native grape to the island and don’t leave without trying the wonderful couscous of Trapani or the pastries of Noto.
Germany or Italy: Which is the better choice?
Both Germany and Italy will provide an unforgettable holiday, but they’re also very different destinations.
If you’re looking for a holiday that encompasses sun, sea, sand, and relaxation, alongside some great day trips, then Italy could be the better choice than Germany. Italy has great beaches and iconic cities – like Milan, Rome and Florence – as well as diverse regions like Sardinia and the Dolomites.
However, if you’re wanting a holiday that is more nature focused, with many opportunities for hiking and enjoying spectacular landscapes, then Germany may be a better choice than Italy. As well as being a country packed with mountains, lakes and waterfalls, Germany also has many lovely towns and villages that look like they’ve been plucked from a fairytale.
Recommended for your trip to Germany or Italy
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