Welcome to the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide where we shall explore the many reasons why this fascinating country attracts around 70 million visitors each year. Consistently ranking among the world's top ten most popular destinations, Germany is one of those few destinations that really does offer something for everybody. From the stunning waterways and scenery of the south to the bustling, culturally rich cities in the north and east of the country. There is always something to explore and enjoy.
Top Places To Visit In Germany
Where to begin? Everywhere in Germany has something unique to offer but there are certainly some places which simply must be included in any travel guide. The Ultimate Germany Travel Guide recommends that everyone finds the time to visit the following:
It is an absolute must-see so try to allow for at least three full days (you could comfortably stay a week and not see everything!). One of the best tips for exploring this remarkable city is to take a walking or cycling tour on your first day. Not only will this help orientate visitors to the city but their knowledgable guides will explain many fascinating sites that are surprisingly easy to miss. Remember that Berlin is best when exploring its extraordinary cultural scene. Be sure to check out the astonishing variety of galleries and museums, and include a night out exploring the legendary nightlife.
Bavaria and Munich
Are rightly famed for the beer-fuelled Oktoberfest celebrations but be assured that there is far more to see than the bottom of a lager stein. The south of Germany offers incredible natural beauty which is easily accessible thanks to Germany's amazing public transport network. Try and see the Berchtesgaden National Park – especially if entering the country from Austria. Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Castles are perhaps the most iconic ‘fantasy' examples of such architecture in the world, perfectly offsetting the rich natural splendor. Historically minded visitors may wish to take the opportunity to explore the Dachau concentration camp memorial/museum.
Cologne, Aachen, Hamburg, Frankfurt
The list is almost endless when considering the sites to see in the other key destinations. If we detailed them all in the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide this article would be a thousand pages long! Our advice would be to decide which of these cities match your travel itinerary and personal interests. Each has its own merits and once again remember that German rail transport is fast and unnervingly reliable. You can quite realistically stopover for a couple of hours on your journey to see the main sites – for example, the epic Cologne gothic cathedral literally casts a shadow over the railway station.
Things To Do In Germany
Many visitors to Germany try and split their stay between ‘culture' and ‘nature' – which is all fine and well, but why not try and integrate them together? Traveling from the north/east of the country to the south is best done by taking a cruise down the River Rhine. Not only will it make a nice change to trains and planes, but for long stretches, the scenery is utterly breathtaking.
Mark our words – from the start you will be counting the number of ancient castles and watchtowers precariously hanging from the steep riverbanks, only to lose count as they become ever more incredible with each and every turn. The cruise will also stop frequently along the way, making it an ideal choice for those wishing to hike/explore more rural parts of the country.
Talking about exploring the countryside – why not take the time to enjoy the world-famous Black Forest? As the leading National Park routes are very well organized and graded in degrees of difficulty. Even the most casual walking route will lead explorers through bewitching hamlets, colorful forests and scented by the most beautiful flora and fauna anyone could ever wish for. The further south towards Austria and Switzerland you head, the more ‘alpine' the scenery (and more challenging the routes).
Wherever you go within Germany you can expect to be well catered for. We at the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide do suggest that you try and make use of local and more personalized services wherever possible. As with many European countries, some of the best and most specialized tour groups tend to be led by genuine experts or students from local universities. Those interested in really understanding the nuances in architecture, museums, and galleries would be well advised to use these – they are often far cheaper and much more memorable than official services.
Best Time To Visit Germany
Generally speaking, you can enjoy Germany at any time of the year but there are some caveats worth knowing. The high season runs over July and August so expect popular attractions to be very busy. Germany can become surprisingly hot during these months making queuing a particularly draining experience! On the plus side, everything will be especially festive and people will most certainly be in the mood for a party.
The winter season – November through March – is arguably the best for culture vultures with many of the largest cultural festivals spread over this period (especially opera). Germany is utterly beautiful during snowfall and there are few more atmospheric experiences than enjoying a warming cup of mulled wine while browsing for Christmas gifts. Of course, those into winter sports will be looking to enjoy some excellent skiing in Bavaria and throughout the southern regions.
All this taken into consideration, our opinion at the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide must be in favor of the mid-season months. Springtime and Autumn in Germany both enjoy pleasant temperatures and all the key attractions will be open and not too crowded. It is perfect for those planning on lots of walking – be that in cities or out in the countryside. Prices of accommodation and tickets for organized tours tend to be cheaper too.
Tourist Visa In Germany
U.S visitors (for both tourism and business) may ‘short-stay' for 90 days without requiring a visa. Just remember that your passport must be valid for at least three months before entry and include a minimum of two blank pages. No vaccinations are required for entry to the country.
Germany is a member of the Schengen agreement that allows for unrestricted access and transit from other European signatories. U.K visitors are advised to check their status following Brexit.
Currency In Germany
Germany uses the Euro (€). At the time of writing this Ultimate Germany Travel Guide (2019), the exchange rate is quite steady and currently stands at €1 = $1.11. Cash is easily accessible from most ATMs but visitors may wish to check with their banking services provider to ensure that their accounts are open overseas. As ever – check exchange rates for the best deals and consider using credit cards with a low-cost exchange commission.
Tipping In Germany
Generally speaking, visitors are only expected to leave modest tips and remember that every bill already includes VAT (and sometimes even service). Rounding up sensibly to about 10% is the norm. You may wish to consider leaving some small change behind for cleaning staff when leaving your hotel.
Budget For Travelling In Germany
Germany is a fantastic destination for visitors with any budget – and also one of the easiest to estimate daily expenses. Haggling over prices is pretty rare although you may be able to arrange for special reductions on accommodation in some cases, assuming you are staying longer than usual and/or the hotel is not in a prime location. Remember that prices are significantly lower outside of the peak season months.
You can also make excellent savings by using discount cards that provide access or reduced entry charges to multiple attractions. The best-known example of this is probably the Berlin Welcome Card – a must-have for anyone visiting the city. Look out for reduced cost train tickets – these are often booked in advance (sometimes only a day or two) and for specific services only.
Here are a couple of daily cost projections based on our experiences at the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide. These are based upon a ‘typical' day in a major city and do not include travel expenses between cities.
Hostels and campsites can be found for no more than €20/day – but we are aware that popular central hostels fill up fast. So book well in advance. You can eat well and for little money throughout Germany providing you are able to make your own meals and/or happy to eat ‘street food' from stalls. €10/day is perfectly achievable. In regards to admission, there are plenty of museums and galleries that work on a donations only basis without a flat cover fee. Combine this with a pass as outlined above and expect to pay around €10-15/day on average. Entertainment will vary too – a pint of beer in one place may cost five times less than one elsewhere!
Hotels will vary considerably depending on their location. Compared to other European countries, there tends to be little noticeable difference in quality between 3 and 4 stars. Assuming you will use your hotel just for sleeping, try and keep the costs down as much as possible by shopping around for options. Public transport is excellent in larger cities and the difference in one extra subway stop can mean 20-30% cheaper prices for a few extra minutes traveling.
A good quality restaurant meal supplemented with cafe breakfast and casual lunches will cost about €70-100/day. Admission charges are the same as above although you may wish to spend them on tours and special excursions. Walking tours are cheap and can last for several hours – not bad for about €10 or so. Excursions involving a day trip and coach travel may head towards €80-100 or so.
Accommodations at ‘destination' hotels and resorts can be extremely expensive. Top-quality five-star hotels can be found for €200-400/night depending on the season. Make use of the perks these hotels offer such as airport transfers, concierge service, and the ubiquitous health spas as they are almost always included in the room price.
Germany may not be famous for world-class dining but there is no shortage of top-end restaurants to choose between in larger cities. Prices will be similar to what you'd pay in a major U.S city such as New York or San Francisco. Entertainment costs can be enormous should you intend on visiting the opera and theatre – with tickets in very high demand during their peak season (January-March).
Language In Germany
German of course! There are quite distinctive regional accents that can throw even experienced linguists. On the flip side, most adults will speak some English and not object to doing so. Should you need to ask for detailed directions or travel advice then the best option is to speak to younger people, most of whom will be near fluent. All aspects of the tourist industry from hotels to restaurants and attractions will make provision for English speakers. Many attractions offer bilingual displays and signage.
Religion In Germany
Germany promotes freedom of faith and while the country is predominantly Christian – split almost 50/50 between Protestantism and Catholicism – there are many other active smaller religions. Take note to understand that religious observation is very much a private matter and not something anywhere close to being as overt as in the United States. About one-third of people do not identify with any religion.
Practical Tips For Germany Travelers
No Ultimate Germany Travel Guide would be complete without some practical, tried and tested advice for those opting to visit for the first time. We'll cover some of these in more detail shortly but here are some quick tips that ought to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
* The war(s). Germany is nowadays perhaps the most anti-extremist country on the planet. Displaying the Nazi era flags or making corresponding gestures/salutes – even in jest – are punishable by imprisonment. People do get arrested and jailed for this every year – including tourists. The same applies to any form of antisemitism or religious intolerance.
Germany has long moved on from those misguided years and is now a fully rehabilitated member of the international community. Something you will notice in some of the major cities – especially Berlin – are the signs of war damage that have been left deliberately as a permanent reminder of what extremism can lead toward. By no means is the war a taboo topic for most people nowadays, providing the topic is addressed with sensitivity and appropriate intent.
* LGBT visitors should not anticipate any specific issues. The Berlin pride parade is one of the country's biggest attractions and the vast majority of people are entirely tolerant and respectful providing the same attitude is reciprocated.
* While many people do speak English it is best to at least attempt to speak a word or two of German. ‘Entschuldigung' (excuse me) used before asking a stranger ‘do you speak English?' is polite. For all its progressive policies Germany is still a socially formal country so be polite to strangers, hold doors open for people and expect to hear plenty of ‘bitte'. A common joke which bears a degree of truth is that Germans are more stereotypically British than the British!
Health & Safety In Germany
Germany is a generally safe country to visit. Providing you take into account your personal safety as you would in any other country you should enjoy a hassle-free visit. Street crime is rare outside of small parts of the major cities but keep an eye out for pickpockets and confidence tricksters in tourist hotspots.
The German emergency services number is 110 and operators will speak English or pass you immediately to a colleague who does.
Medical treatment is a slightly trickier issue and will depend on where you are arriving from. German healthcare is one of the best in the world and anyone requiring treatment will be in excellent hands. Non-EU citizens should ensure that they have adequate insurance coverage and carry copies of any prescriptions and necessary health information. Those who are from countries signed up to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – including the UK – should carry their card at all times.
Be careful about traveling into Germany with any codeine-based medications. It is sensible to check in advance if you need to make special arrangements. Note that not all medications will be available in Germany should you lose them or need to stock up. The Ultimate Germany Travel Guide recommends that you check with your physician before traveling should you believe there could be any problems with accessing medications well before you travel.
Tap water is drinkable in Germany – so cut down your costs by replenishing bottles from a sink or water fountain.
Transportation In Germany
This is without question the best way to get around Germany. They are fast, incredibly efficient and connect to pretty much anywhere you may wish to visit. There are several different kinds of operator and ticket prices. These will vary considerably depending on the time of travel and the distance involved. Note that tickets may be bought as little as ten minutes before the departure time but not all German stations have extensive ticket booths or machines. E-tickets are more commonly used providing you download the suitable app. Instructions for using ticketing booths are almost always available in English.
Rail travel cards are still very popular in German (and much of other parts of Europe) and a great way for budget-conscious travelers to pack in the miles. Some of these will even cover intercity routes and tramways. However, be aware that passes can be quite complicated and offer limitations/surcharges on some services. As mentioned previously, Germany is one of those countries that rewards those who take the time to research and make travel arrangements in advance. Groups should look towards Lander Tickets which offer amazing discounts for multiple additional passengers. They also cover Weekend Tickets offering unlimited travel and other seasonal specials. If used effectively these tickets can easily save 60-70% or even more on the individual ticket cost.
This is an option but only really necessary or much faster if you are traveling from one end of the country to another. Ticket prices will again vary considerably with some routes being very expensive indeed. It is no surprise that most Germans choose to travel using the train – and it is a great way of seeing the country too. Just be sure to reserve seats wherever possible as most services will be quite busy.
It is less common than in the States but may suit some visitors, especially those planning on exploring more isolated spots away from the main tourist hubs. There are plenty of international franchises throughout the country offering high-quality vehicles at reasonable prices. The majority of overseas driving licenses will be valid in Germany although those with convictions for driving offenses may wish to make sure they are valid. Insurance will also be necessary so shop around for the best quotes (sometimes found via health insurance).
Accommodations In Germany
One key advantage, visitors to Germany will enjoy, is the enormous variety of accommodations on offer. From the cheapest hospitals to exclusive mountainside spa retreats, you really can choose to stay wherever your heart – and bank balance – can take you. Remember that alongside the ‘traditional' accommodation options there is also no end of online options when it comes to Airbnb and so forth.
The only universal factor to really consider here is a simple fact. The most popular – and indeed most famous – accommodations will book out very fast indeed and tend to offer little in the way of discounts or group booking leeway. All accommodations must meet local standards (German enforcement of accommodation quality is world-class) and you are unlikely to end up in terrible hovel.
The biggest consideration is one mentioned briefly above – try and be flexible when it comes to travel distance from your hotel to the city attractions. Unlike many U.S cities where sites of interest are often quite close together, many German attractions will be spread over a wider distance. Consider how much time you wish to spend in certain locations well before you travel and book as early in advance as you can. On the off chance that you have stayed somewhere before be sure to mention this also as there is a good chance of receiving at least a free room upgrade.
Almost all accommodations, even the most basic hostels, will offer some kind of breakfast included in the price.
Responsible Tourism In Germany
Earlier in this Ultimate Germany Travel Guide, we mentioned how important it is to be responsible around the wartime issues. But what about other ecological and ethical considerations? ‘Sanfter Turismus' (gentle tourism) is a big deal in German hospitality and a key political policy that has gained considerable traction in recent years. You are most likely to notice this when exploring the national parks and areas of outstanding beauty, although the core aspects apply wherever you visit.
The policy basically amounts to reducing the impact that visitors have on the local environment. Despite tourism being an increasingly important part of the German economy, you will notice considerably fewer ‘gift shacks' and similar trashier aspects of tourist culture. Littering, for example, carries considerable fines throughout the country and is severely enforced. In some parts of the country, you may be liable to a ‘tourist tax' such as Kulturförderabgabe (culture tax) and Bettensteuer (bed tax). Much as these can sound exploitative – and could have certainly been worded better – they are legal and sometimes not added to initial quotes. It is sensible to ask first when making a booking and not advisable to argue about it.
Another factor which also catches quite a few people by surprise while visiting the larger beer festivals is that public intoxication is seriously frowned upon. Even the nightspots of Berlin and Hamburg will not serve alcohol to those already intoxicated – as they face a huge fine for doing so.
Drivers should also be wary of low emission zones when traveling through certain rural parts of the country and some larger cities. Most rentals will have these permits included in the price – but check first as the fines can again be quite hefty.
Overall, Germany is going to be extremely welcoming for visitors who are respectful and behave appropriately. Just be sure to act with appropriate consideration at all times, and your stay will be much more rewarding.
Germany Food To Try
So what does the Ultimate German Travel Guide suggest for enjoying fine German cuisine? Well, for most people the good news is that the German food scene is extremely diverse and no longer the preserve of beer and sausages! Although any visit would not be complete without at least trying out a spicy bratwurst and a stein of pilsner. No matter where you go there should be a good variety of foods to try with no shortage of choice for vegetarians or vegans.
It may be surprising to learn that Germany is the home of sausages, with around 1500 varieties at a conservative estimate. Alongside the classic Bratwurst (minced pork and spices) you could try the Blutwurst (blood sausage), Leburwurst (liver sausage) or currywurst (with Indian spices). The keen-eyed traveler will notice that the availability of specialty sausages depends very much on geographical locations – there are huge lists of rules to determine the ‘authenticity' of certain varieties.
You are unlikely to ever visit a country that can make so much from the common karfoffel (potato). It is a staple with almost every meal and is served in every conceivable manner – ideally alongside in-season asparagus. Reibekuchen pancakes are a personal favorite!
Your hotel will likely serve hard, dark brot (bread) with breakfast. While it may take a little time to get used to, the classic German variety is perfect for any season. Weissbrot (white bread) may be available but – in the experience of this Ultimate German Travel Guide correspondent – the locals will look approvingly at anyone who enjoys Schwartzbrot (black bread made to a sour recipe).
Germany Packing List
You can find pretty much anything you need in Germany so there are few essentials you may forget to pack that cannot be replaced. Make sure you have medication (and if necessary prescription copies) with you, and again make copies of your travel documents – physical to carry/leave with baggage and ideally also saved to the cloud.
The seasons can be slightly unpredictable in Germany. In the summertime, it is sensible to pack at least a light waterproof that may be required more frequently than anticipated. In the winter you will need reliable warm clothing, especially when in the south and east of the country.
Clothes You Should Wear In Germany
As hinted at a couple of times in the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide, some people will respond better to you when you are well presented at appropriate times. Although in a broad sense day-to-day wear is very similar to that in the USA and the rest of the western world, it is good practice to look smart when attending cultural sites and when eating out at more formal restaurants.
Another thing you may have picked up on during the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide is that we're quite fond of walking the cities. Good footwear is essential for this so be sure to pack your comfiest sneakers. If heading outdoors into the parks, then hiking boots are a necessity for most trails.
Interesting & Important Facts About Germany
Something most visitors to Germany will acknowledge is that there is an enormous amount to learn during the course of their visit. While much of the country will feel quite familiar – for instance, wi-fi is almost everywhere and coffee seems to be available every ten paces – there are certainly some peculiarities that you will pick up on. A good number of these will challenge any preconceived notions – for instance, why are Berliners so stylish and cool yet also extremely punctual? How come they speak English with American accents in some places, but British in others? There is plenty to discover about this incredible country so here's a selection from the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide to get you started!
1) Germany consumes 800 million currywurst every year.
2) It is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn.
3) There are no tuition fees in Germany – even for non-German students.
4) Germans are obsessive about recycling.
5) Sunday store closures are almost universal (this one catches almost every visitor by surprise).
6) Cash is used in over 80% of all transactions – not everywhere accepts card payments.
7) Despite being one third covered in forest, Germany has one of the highest population densities in Europe.
8) Berlin is nine times larger than Paris.
We hope you enjoyed reading the Ultimate Germany Travel Guide – Prost! and good travels!
After Germany, where to next?
Check out The Ultimate Netherlands Travel Guide