Drive the German Fairy Tale Route (Deutsche Märchenstraße), stretching 600km from Hanau in central Germany to Bremen in the north and dotted with attractions linked with the Brothers Grimm, from locations where they lived and worked to regions connected with their fairytales, such as The Town Musicians of Bremen. The town of Hamelin, of Pied Piper fame, hosts the annual Mystica Hamelon each March, with medieval stalls, taverns, music, fire shows and folk dressed as pirates, elves and trolls.
Discover northern Germany. Explore Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) with its North Sea coasts. Cross the Wadden Sea by horse-drawn carriage from Cuxhaven, or walk the mudflats, looking for the legendary lugworms. Then head inland for the theme-park delights of Heide Park Resort (with its own hotel; see Best Places to Stay), Wolfsburg for its Autostadt Volkswagen car museum and Phaeno Science Center, Erlebnis Zoo in Hanover, the Universum Bremen science museum in the city of the same name, Vogelpark Walsrode bird park with its flying displays, Dinosaur Park Münchehagen and the Snow Dome Bispingen. Many attractions are in the Lüneburger Heide (Lüneburg heathlands). You can also go hiking, mountain-biking and canoeing in the Harz Mountains National Park.
Explore Schleswig-Holstein – perfect for action-packed coastal holidays and for discovering cities with a fascinating sea-faring history. Just off the North Sea coast, check out the large islands of Sylt, Föhr, Amrum and Pellworm, or the tiny but populated Halligen islets.
Stop over in Hamburg, with the largest model railway in the world (the Miniature Wonderland) and the mighty Planten un Blomen park with its water light-shows by the lake every night in summer, its pony rides, its summer roller rink and winter ice rink, and its free family events including puppet theatre, circus and an annual children's festival.
Enjoy the Baltic Sea coast in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – a little less rugged, with white beaches and pleasant water temperatures until September; watersports include windsurfing, water-skiing, parasailing, kitesurfing, diving and sailing. Pilot your own houseboat on the Mecklenburg lakes, and have a gander at dreamy Schwerin Castle.
Leaving behind northern Germany, head for Berlin, a great city-break destination with teens in particular – an über-cool city but one that also packs a real historical punch. It’s a great place to bring kids studying history for GCSE or A-level, and there's plenty to do in the surrounding Brandenburg region too.
Make a beeline for Bavaria, one of the most popular German family holiday destinations. Kids love discovering the animals and plants in the National Parks, having a day out at Legoland Germany, touring Bavaria Filmstadt (a working studio with film set tours, a stunt show and a 4D motion simulator) and outdoor activities aplenty. Don’t miss the glory that is Neuschwanstein Castle, said to have inspired Disney in his design for Cinderella’s castle. In Munich, tour the BMW Museum, the Deutsches Museum – the world's biggest museum of science and technology – and the innovative Hellabrunn Zoo.
From the Bavarian city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg), take the German Toy Route stretching 300km to Erfurt in central Germany. It begins with Nuremberg’s own Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum). Nuremberg is also famous for its atmospheric Christmas market.
Discover unspoiled nature in the Bavarian Forest National Park, part of the largest protected wilderness in Europe, with more than 300km of well-signposted hiking routes, nearly 200km of bicycle routes, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and winter walking trails. Take part in a huge range of outdoor activities based on and around the forests, rivers and lakes of the region, including treetop adventure parks, swimming, kayaking and archery.
In Upper Bavaria, enjoy the delights of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Alpine skiing, snowboarding, river-rafting, mountain-biking, hang-gliding, tennis and golf are all on offer here, and there’s also the award-winning Siegsdorfer Naturkunde- und Mammut-Museum (Natural History & Mammoth Museum) with Europe’s largest, best-preserved mammoth skeleton.
Make a jaunt into Baden-Württemberg in the border triangle of Germany with France and Switzerland – a great place for low-key, relatively inexpensive family holidays, especially if you love the great outdoors. This is home to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) with its half-timbered houses, gorgeous hiking paths and first-class ski areas (try the ski resort of Enzklösterle, also home to the longest, fastest high-grade steel toboggan run in Germany in summer), and to part of Lake Constance (the Bodensee), shimmering beneath the impressive panorama of the Alps. You can swim or do watersports on the lake or fly over it in a Zeppelin.
Sail, hike, fish, cycle and do archery in Baden-Württemberg, and visit castles galore, vineyards, orchards and forests where you can let your imagination and the children run free. If all that fresh air gets too much, you can turn to Germany’s biggest theme park, Europa-Park, for help, or explore Freiburg, Heidelberg with its extraordinary castle, Tübingen, the Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim and magnificent hilltop Hohenzollern Castle. This is a great place for family road trips, with scenic roads including the 'Fantastic Road’ (Fantastische Strasse), 'German Clock Road' (Deutsche Uhrenstraße) and 'Castle Road’ (Burgenstraße). The regional capital, historic, vibrant Stuttgart, is home to Porsche and Mercedes Benz car museums, the Carl-Zeiss Planetarium and Germany’s only zoological-botanical garden, Wilhelma.
Still in Baden-Württemberg, head for Hockenheim, host to the German Grand Prix, and its Motor Sports Museum, with enough toys to keep big and small car fanatics alike happy.
Go off the tourist radar into west Germany. North Rhine-Westphalia is home to the Sommerrodelbahn Ibbenbüren, a summer toboggan park and fairytale forest in the Teutoberg Forest, to the Phantasialand theme park and to Cologne with its chocolate museum, the Schokoladenmuseum Lindt. The neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate is best known for its jaw-dropping Burg Eltz castle.