One hour from: Hamburg

Away with the fairies - visit the land of make-believe

After a tour of fairytale country, from the castle at Schwerin to Bremen and the Brothers Grimm, refresh yourself with the famous local beer.

After a tour of fairytale country, from the castle at Schwerin to Bremen and the Brothers Grimm, refresh yourself with the famous local beer.

Schwerin

Founded in 1160, Schwerin is one of Germany's oldest and most stunning cities, the crowning glory of which is its fabulous castle, complete with glittering golden towers. Set on an island in Schwerin Lake, this neo-Gothic pile is connected to the town by a causeway. Wander round the renovated orangerie and gorgeous gardens before marvelling at the magnificent interiors.

By car: take the B4, followed by the A255, then the A1, followed by the A241; journey time approx one hour. By train: frequent service via Bad Kleinen; approx one hour.

Lubek

Lubek's Old Town is not only a Unesco World Heritage site, with more than 1,000 historical buildings, but also a lively bustling city full of excellent shops, restaurants and bars. It is set on an island, circled by the canalised River Trave. The main entrance is the landmark Holsten Gate, dating from 1464, with its round twin towers. Don't miss the mighty Dom, Lubeck's oldest church and the Günter Grass-House.

By car: take the B4, followed by the A255, then the A1, followed by the B206; approx 40 mins. By train: frequent hourly service; approx 45 mins.

Kiel

More than 80 per cent of Kiel was bombed during the Second World War, because it was one of the main U-boat bases. And although little is left of historical interest today, its prime and picturesque location on the Kiel Firth makes it worth a day trip. This sailing hotspot is also a gateway to Scandinavia, so expect to see colossal ferries on the canal, which feeds out into the Baltic. Feeling active? Hire a bike and go for a spin along the canal side.

By car: take the A7, followed by the A215, then the B76; approx one hour. By train: frequent hourly service; journey time approx one hour.

Bremen

Made famous by The Town Musicians of Bremen by the Brothers Grimm, this historic city on the banks of the Weser dates back some 1,200 years and is also famous as home of Beck's Brewery. Top sights include the elegant Market Square, the colossal St Petri Cathedral and the bronze sculpture of the donkey, dog, cat and rooster featured in the fairytale. Feeling thirsty? Tour Beck's and sample the brew.

By car: take the A255, followed by the A1, then the A27; approx 50 mins. By train: frequent service; approx one hour.

Wismar

This vibrant port boasts Germany's largest medieval square and some beautifully built replicas of 19th-century buildings destroyed towards the end of the Second World War. Only one of its three churches is left intact – St Nikolaikirche dates from the 14th century and has a fascinating font. St Georgenkirche's gigantic red shell is undergoing restoration for use as an exhibition space. Wismar is also the gateway to the unspoilt Poel Island, where you can take time out to relax on the deserted beaches, rent bicycles and go horse riding.

By car: follow directions to Schwerin, then take the B106; one hour plus. By train: frequent service via Bad Kleinen; approx one hour.

Bremerhaven

With its Banana Terminal, Automobile Terminal, not to mention one of the largest container terminals in the world, Bremerhaven is seafaring central. Check out the German Maritime Museum, the Museum Harbour and even board a U-boat. Definitely not for landlubbers.

By car: take the A1 followed by the A27; approx one hour plus. By train: frequent service via Bremen; approx one hour plus.

Rostock

This major Baltic port and former Hanseatic trading centre boasts a bustling old town, centred around the university, which dates from the early 1500s. Major attractions include the 13th century Marienkirche with its unique 12m high astrological clock (which is still hand wound every morning), the bright pink Baroque Neuer Market and some pretty 16th century gabled burghers' houses. If you are into seafaring there is a fine Maritime Museum and for refuelling, there are plenty of lively cafés and bars around Universitatsplazt.

By car: follow the road to Lubeck, then take the B105; approx one hour plus. By train: frequent service; approx one hour plus.

Travelscene (020 8424 9648; www.travelscene.co.uk) offers a three-night b&b break at the four-star Hotel Maritim for £245 per person, based on two sharing, including return scheduled flights from Stansted. Europcar (0870 607 5000; www.europcar.com) offers weekend car hire in Hamburg from £65.

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