How to travel in Germany—an essential guide for tourists on the sights, weather and more
A handy guide for tourists visiting Germany: Facts, sights, transportation and everything you need to know.
Are you planning a trip to Germany and wondering what you need to know? We've got you covered! This short guide answers some of the main questions tourists ask before visiting Germany. Here's what we'll discuss:
Basic facts about Germany, top sights, how to get around, where to stay, safety issues, how to pay and tip, cuisine, drinks and culture.
Basic knowledge about Germany
When traveling to Germany, knowing a few basic facts about the country is helpful.
Where is Germany located?
Germany is in the center of Europe and is divided into 16 federal states, including the city-states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen. The largest states are Bavaria, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg.
How big is Germany?
It is approximately 360,000 square kilometers (137,847 square miles) in size. The population is around 84 million people.
Which cities are the largest?
Berlin is the capital of Germany and the largest city, with almost 4 million inhabitants. The next largest is Hamburg in the north, followed by Munich in the south and Cologne in the west.
Which languages are spoken?
German is the national language. Depending on the region, there are different dialects, some of which are difficult to understand. Danish and Frisian are also spoken in the north, while Sorbian is spoken in parts of Brandenburg and Saxony. Many Germans also speak English well.
What is the weather like?
Generally, Germany has a moderate climate. In summer you can walk around in shorts and a T-shirt — although some days it can get really hot. In spring and fall, be prepared to wear trousers, sweaters and light jackets. In winter, temperatures can dip below freezing, and it can snow.
Germany's landscape is very diverse. If you head north, you can take a beach vacation on the Baltic or North Sea. In the country's center, you'll find many forests, lakes, rivers and nature preserves. The Alps are in the south and are perfect for hiking and skiing in the winter.
What must you see in Germany?
Germany has many castles, fortresses, ruins and charming half-timbered houses. Brick buildings characterize the harbor cities of the north.
Which sights are particularly well-known?
Here is a short list, though not exhaustive:
Berlin: Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag building, television tower, Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral Hamburg: Elbphilharmonie, Speicherstadt district, Town Hall, Harbor Munich: Marienplatz square, Munich Residenz, Nymphenburg Palace, English Garden Cologne: Cologne Cathedral Palaces: Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen, Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Heidelberg Castle, Hohenzollern Castle in the Swabian Alb
Which events and festivals should not be missed?
The largest folk festival in the world takes place in Munich each fall: Oktoberfest — you can immerse yourself in Bavarian tradition here.
The Christmas period is a great time to visit — you can see the country's charming Christmas markets.
And in February, many cities celebrate Carnival, also known regionally as Fasching or Fastnacht. Thousands of people wear costumes and celebrate on the streets or in clubs and bars.
The biggest public festival in the north is Kiel Week, which takes place in summer. It is one of the largest sailing events in the world and dates back to the end of the 19th century.
Other well-known festivals include Hamburger Dom (spring, summer and winter), Hafengeburtstag in Hamburg (May), Schützenfest in Hanover (June/July), Rheinkirmes in Düsseldorf (July), Maschseefest in Hanover (July/August), Cranger Kirmes in Herne (August), Cannstatter Volksfest (Wasen) in Stuttgart (September/October) and Bremer Freimarkt (October)
What's the best way to get to all these places?
Germany is so big that it can take the better part of a day to drive from north to south, so you can also take a flight if you're short on time. Train, bus or car rental all work for shorter distances.
What should you consider when driving in Germany?
In Germany, people drive on the right side of the road. And as you may have heard, often there's no speed limit on the autobahn — Germany's highway. But in urban areas, speed limits are 50 kilometers per hour (about 30 miles per hour)or 30 kilometers per hour. On country roads, the speed limit is 100 km/h, and on highways, it is often 120 km/h — unless there's no limit at all.
How does the rail system in Germany work?
There are different types of trains. The ICE and IC high-speed trains connect the major cities and travel at speeds of up to 300 and 200 km/h. There are also local trains such as the Regional-Express, the Interregio-Express, the Regionalbahn and the S-Bahn, which also take you to your destination, albeit at slower speeds.
The German ticketing system is based on trust. There are no track access restrictions, although inspectors on trains carry out spot checks and give fines to anyone not holding a ticket.
Which ticket is right for me, and how do I book?
You can buy tickets online, via the Deutsche Bahn app, at ticket machines or ticket counters. If you book early, you can get cheaper tickets, but the tickets cannot be changed. If, however, you cannot catch the train you've booked due to previous train delays or the train is canceled then you can use it on another train. However, if it's your fault you missed the train, the ticket expires. Flex tickets, which are quite expensive, allow you to choose any train connection on a given day.
Various railcards give you discounts, but these are not useful for short visits since you must sign up for an annual subscription. However, if you are in the country for longer than a few days, you can buy the Deutschlandticket. This is also a subscription, but can be canceled monthly and costs only €49 ($53) per month. This ticket allows you to use all local public transportation throughout Germany.
Larger cities are often divided into zones like A, B and C. When you buy a ticket, check in advance which zone your destination is in since ticket prices differ accordingly. Most stations have maps that show the different zones in relation to stops so you can easily find what you need.
What alternatives are there to car, train and plane?
Plenty! It's relatively inexpensive to travel with long-distance buses. In cities, you can choose from city buses, streetcars, subway trains or trams. Many places also offer rental bikes or e-scooters that you can book via various apps. You can also choose to book taxis in large cities with apps. This can help you to know the price in advance and not to be overcharged, since the price is preset in the app. Keep in mind that taking a taxi in Germany can be expensive.
What accommodation options are there?
Well-known international hotel chains such as Hilton, Holiday Inn or Maritim can be found in Germany, especially in larger cities. There are also many smaller, privately run hotels and guesthouses. Hostels and vacation apartments are also available, as well as inexpensive accommodation with locals via platforms like Airbnb.
Germans love camping! There are many campsites in Germany where you can spend your vacation close to nature for a reasonable price. It's important to know that smaller hotels may not have someone working at reception 24/7. If you arrive late at night, check the website beforehand or call to let them know when you'll arrive so you're not left standing in front of a locked door.
How safe is Germany?
Germany is generally safe. Nevertheless, storms, floods or even riots can occasionally occur, such as on May 1, Labor Day. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings since theft can happen.
Payment and tipping
How do you pay in Germany?
Germans love to pay with cash! The currency is the euro, and it's best to always keep some cash on you. Many restaurants and bars don't accept credit cards.
How much and when do you tip?
Whether you pay with card or cash, you usually tip around 10% in restaurants in Germany. Servers will tell you the amount, and you will then tell them the total price, including the tip, you would like to pay. For example, if you have a bill of €46 ($49), you would tell the waitress to round up and charge €50 ($54).
Food and drink
What is typical German cuisine?
German food varies depending on where you are. In the north, near the sea, you'll find plenty of fish, while the south has many hearty dishes from Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg, such as roast pork, pork knuckle, dumplings or spaetzle (pasta that is similar to noodles). Bakeries in Germany have a large selection to choose from, including many different types of bread, rolls and small sandwiches.
What do people like to drink in Germany?
Germans are fond of beer and wine and make it, too! There are 13 wine-growing regions in Germany. These areas make great destinations for day trips. Regarding non-alcoholic drinks, coffee and tea are popular, as well as the famous German Apfelschorle — apple juice mixed with sparkling water. Germans generally love mixed drinks — beer is sometimes drunk with soft drinks (Radler) and wine is mixed with sparkling water, too (Weinschorle).
When you discover a new country, it's an advantage if you know and understand the characteristics of local people to avoid misunderstandings.
What is important to Germans?
It's not just a stereotype — Germans generally like punctuality. They usually let each other know if they will be five minutes late.Germans aren't really fans of small talk and tend to keep quiet on public transport. Don't feel offended by this. They don't mean any harm!
Taking care of the environment is very important to Germans — waste is separated, and bottles and cans are recycled. Don't be surprised if a bottle seems more expensive than you expected — you're also paying a deposit. Once you return the empty bottle, you'll get the deposit back.
Germans are relaxed when it comes to nudism. There are nudist beaches by the sea or lakes, and saunas are also textile-free. This can be quite disconcerting for some visitors to Germany.
Now that you're a Germany pro, have fun traveling and getting to know the country!