As a country, Germany has arguably had the most important contributions to driving culture. It is the home of the car — Karl Benz is widely credited with inventing the automobile in Mannheim back in 1885. Some of the world’s most storied and successful brands are German, including the largest automotive manufacturer, Volkswagen Group. The country’s central role in motorsports is undeniable, and its distinguished manufacturing legacy only reinforces the ongoing German influence on the future of cars.
Fittingly, then, Germany is full of wondrous and exciting automotive destinations. The manufacturer museums, factories, and race circuits just scrape the surface of what Deutschland has to offer. So we have compiled eight of the many worthy attractions that enthusiasts should look up while in Germany. But these places are for more than just car geeks — the automobile informs global culture in a way that even people who “aren’t into cars” can appreciate. When in Germany, be sure to check out these Mecca-level automotive attractions.
Racing’s most hallowed circuit should be at the top of any gearhead’s bucket list and is a no-brainer destination during a visit to Germany. Whether you’re attending a race event or just trying to catch a glimpse of a camouflaged test car, the legendary Nordschleife is always worth the pilgrimage — just try to go in the less-rainy season from March to November. To experience the track safely, sit shotgun on a hot taxi lap while one of the ‘Ring’s own professional drivers hurls you around its storied corners. Or you can take on the “Green Hell” yourself during a public driving session to test your nerve and abilities. Bring your own car if you’re feeling very brave, or rent directly from the Nurburgring once you get there.
For motorsports fans, the race schedule is packed during the season. The Nurburgring’s GP Track hosts F1’s German Grand Prix every other year, but the madness of the 24 Hours Nurburgring in May is the annual highlight. Besides the on-track action, you can also peruse the Nurburgring Motorsport Museum, do some go-karting (though not on the ‘Ring), or take backstage tours of the race paddocks.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum celebrates the legacy of the inventor of the horseless carriage in a manner both car nerds and laypeople alike will enjoy. From the earliest cars to the concepts of the future, over 160 vehicles tell the story of the automobile with a broad and insightful perspective that places cars in the context of world history. The beautifully designed museum building at Daimler AG’s headquarters (a recent Turo investor) complex in Stuttgart houses the exhibits, shops, restaurants, and event spaces for a vast array of Mercedes-Benz-themed experiences. When in Stuttgart, make time to visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum to enrich yourself with the history of what is perhaps the most influential brand in the automotive world.
The German Autobahn has earned a somewhat mythical reputation for high-speed lawlessness and open-road freedom. Though driving the famous German highways is a one-of-a-kind experience, the reality of the Bundesautobahn is much different than the legend. Only about 60 percent of Germany’s collective highway system allows for unrestricted speeds, though an advisory speed limit of 130 kph (81 mph) is posted for most of those sections. Various speed limits are imposed in urban areas and for specific vehicle types, and traffic often clogs much of the highway network these days.
That said, you can and will find open sections where you can legally to drive as fast as your car will go, and these are the roads that earn the Autobahn its mystique. When driving on the Autobahn, you must drive like a German, and Germans abide by strict written and unwritten rules to keep their highways safe. Most importantly, the left lane really is the fast lane on the Autobahn, because it’s illegal to overtake on the right. And fast lane means fast. Unless you’re really hauling, stay to the right. Flashed high beams in your rearview mirror says “move over, please,” and always use your turn signal. Done correctly, a high-speed cruise on the Autobahn is a wonderfully unique experience that is mandatory for gearheads visiting the Fatherland.
Motorworld Stuttgart and V8 Hotel
Motorworld Stuttgart is a like Disneyland for car enthusiasts. It is a magical place occupying a former airport where vintage collector cars are bought and sold, serviced and restored, or put on display by private owners. There are exhibition rooms packed with rare automobiles, upscale restaurants and clubs, and free admission for all. Motorworld also hosts authorized dealers for the likes of McLaren, Bentley, and Lamborghini for well-heeled visitors in the market for an exotic.
The V8 Hotel at Motorworld takes a love of cars to the next level. The V8 Hotel has 26 individual rooms with unique car-themed decorations for nearly every automotive taste where you can sleep in beds made from cars. Incredibly nerdy, yes, but incredibly wonderful for it. And the lobby doubles as a museum, with dozens of display cars that are regularly rotated out. If you’re looking for a place to eat, sleep, and breathe cars, a stay at the V8 Hotel at Motorworld is what you need.
If Porsche is your preferred flavor of brat, then the Porsche Museum beckons to you with open arms and screaming flat-sixes. Reopened in 2009, the museum is located by the Porsche factory, which is also in Stuttgart. The gorgeous metal here will have grown men giggling like tweens at a middle school dance — diehard Porsche fans can be a fervent bunch. Iconic vehicles from every era of Porsche’s rich heritage fill the display rooms, and interactive exhibits keep the experience fresh for the younger crowd. A solid enthusiast’s weekend in Stuttgart requires a morning spent at the Porsche Museum, so don’t leave it off your itinerary.
Look, a car museum not located in Stuttgart! BMW Group’s global headquarters, manufacturing plant, and museum are in Munich, about a two-hour drive from Stuttgart. BMW “Welt” has exhibitions on every facet of the brand’s operations, from BMW Motorcycles to Mini to Rolls-Royce, and the neighboring BMW Museum highlights the history of the Bimmer identity. There are guided tours, track driving experiences, kids programs, and for some reason, a gastronomy museum. As with the other manufacturers’ facilities, vast event spaces and top-notch eats make BMW World a fascinating meeting place for business or a getaway with the boys.
Autostadt is German for “Automobile City,” which is accurate in a very German sort of way — it’s located in Wolfsburg, Volkswagen’s factory town. Autostadt is Volkswagen’s version of the theme-park-museum-event space attraction that all the German automakers have at their respective headquarters, and it may be the grandest of them all. The VW Museum is state-of-the-art, the on-site hotel is a Ritz-Carlton, and the vibe on the precisely manicured grounds is of a futuristic sci-fi movie city.
Fully-roboticized glass-walled car towers house 20 stories of new vehicles before they are handed over to customers, which you can see while riding the automated glass sled through the tower shafts. There are various driving experiences to educate drivers on navigating rough terrain, wet conditions, and utilizing VW’s newest safety software features. Oh, and you can tour the world’s largest car factory too. To see and do everything at Autostadt takes at least a full day, so plan accordingly.
Frankfurt Motor Show
The International Motor Show Germany is the largest auto show in the world. The show alternates annually between displaying passenger vehicles in Frankfurt and commercial vehicles in Hanover; the Frankfurt show on odd-numbered years is the main event so the show is often referred to as the “Frankfurt Motor Show” or just simply “Frankfurt.” Every other mid-September, the show hosts over 1,000 exhibit vehicles and one million attendees from around the world. Every manufacturer participates and many reserve their sexiest and highest-profile debuts for Frankfurt. The scale is immense and the buzz there is tangible, so if you’re going to an auto show in Europe, Frankfurt is the place to be.