Germany, situated at the heart of Europe, has been the fountainhead of many ideas, people, and movements throughout the ages. A trip through Germany leaves one with an overwhelming sense of history reconciled with imminent modernity. From the businesslike atmosphere of Frankfurt to the strip joints of Hamburg, feel the charming flamboyancy of Munich or walk through the historic treasures of Berlin, go back in time through castles of Heidelberg or go wine tasting in the vineyards of the Rhine Valley. Or simply relax in a mountainside inn in the Bavarian Alps and breathe in the crisp air and savor the scenery.
Germany is a Western European country with a landscape of forests, rivers, mountain ranges, and the North Sea beaches. It has over 2 millennia of history. Berlin, its capital, is home to art and nightlife scenes, the Brandenburg Gate, and many sites relating to WWII. Munich is known for its Oktoberfest and beer halls, including the 16th-century Hofbräuhaus. Frankfurt, with its skyscrapers, houses the European Central Bank.
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GERMANY QUICK FACTS
Currency: Euro (€)
Area: 357,022 km²
Population: 83,02 million (2019)
Electricity: 230V,50Hz (Europlug, Type F, & Schuko plugs)
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GERMANY PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 6 January, Epiphany (regional)
- 1 May, May Day
- 15 August, Assumption of the Virgin Mary (in predominantly Catholic areas)
- 3 October, Day of German Unity
- 31 October, Reformation Day (predominantly Evangelical areas only)
- 1 November, All Saints Day (predominantly Catholic areas only)
Also, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, and Corpus Christi (in predominantly Catholic areas).
FESTIVALS IN GERMANY
Hordes of revelers come to Munich for Oktoberfest (www.oktoberfest.de), usually running for the 15 days before the first Sunday in October. You should reserve your accommodation well ahead and go to the venues early in the day so you can grab a seat in one of the hangar-sized beer tents spread across the Theresienwiese grounds, about 1km southwest of the Hauptbahnhof. While there is no entrance fee, those €12 EUR 1L steins of beer will add up fast. Although its origins are in the marriage celebrations of Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810, there's nothing regal remaining about this beery debauchery: expect mobs, expect to make new, old, and drunken friends, expect decorum to diminish as night sets in and you'll have a blast.
BEST TIME TO VISIT GERMANY
German weather can be a real mixed bag at any time of year, thanks to the way in which continental and maritime air masses collide in this part of Europe. Summer temperatures rarely hit 30°C and temperatures tend to stay comfortable well into the evening, allowing beer gardens and outdoor cafés to bustle as darkness falls as late as October. Winter tends to be cold enough to be a very different season, unlike the UK, but not so savage that many activities have to halt entirely.
June to August - Warm summers cause Germans to shed their clothes; night never seems to come.
September - Radiant foliage and often-sunny skies invite outdoor pursuits; festivals galore.
December - It's icy, it's cold but lines are short and Alpine slopes and Christmas markets beckon.
Much of the country receives its maximum rainfall in midsummer, so although the weather in June, July, and August can be very warm, it can also be unpredictable. For more settled weather with sunshine and comfortable temperatures, late spring and early autumn – May, September and early October – are the best time to visit: the Germans don’t call the harvest season “Goldener Oktober” for nothing.
The ski season in the Alps runs between Christmas and the end of March. Germany’s climate straddles the maritime climates of the western European seaboard and the more extreme conditions found further east. The prevailing wind is from the west so that the mild climate of the Rhineland and the North Sea coast quite closely resembles that of the UK or Ireland. Winters are more severe further east while heading south the effects of steadily increasing altitude ensure Munich’s summers are no warmer than those of Berlin. The balmiest climate in Germany is found in the wine-growing southwest, where it’s not unusual to see lavender, Mediterranean pine, almond, and even lemon trees.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN GERMANY
The snow sports season in Germany starts in December and lasts until the end of March. The busiest period is from mid December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in the beginning of December and March.
HIKING & CYCLING IN GERMANY
The best time for outdoor activities in Germany is from June to September. In most regions, May and October are also feasible, but the temperatures can be rather low and the days are also shorter.
BEACH OPTIONS IN GERMANY
While the south of Germany has its lakes, the north of Germany has a stunning sandy coast with the best beaches being: Utersum Beach at Fehr, Langeoog Beach, Lubmin Beach at Greifswald, Binz Beach at Rugen, Westerland Beach at Sylt, Ahlbeck Beach at Usedom, West Beach at Dar, Falkensteiner Ufer at Hamburg, Amrum Island beach and Timmendorfer Beach at Niendorf.
SURFING IN GERMANY
Germany's west-facing coast has a few opportunities for commited surfers, such as at Sylt, but conditions are unpredictable. Germany also has something called "River Surfing" on the Eisbach River.
KITESURF IN GERMANY
From April to October, these are some of the best spots for kitesurfing and other wind sports in Germany: St. Peter Ording, Fehmarn, Sylt, Norddeich, Lubeck Bay, Rugen & Norderney.
GERMANY TRAVEL COSTS
Although its 'value rank' states otherwise, Germany is not that crazy expensive to visit. Yes, there are plenty of expensive experiences (like river cruises), a vast supply of high-end cuisine throughout the country, and cities like Frankfurt, the capital of finance, will cost you a bundle to visit. But those are rather the exceptions than the rule. Germany is actually relatively 'cheap' for a Eurozone country and you’ll find surprising bargains throughout. Berlin, for example, is well short of the excesses of Paris and London and offers quality to match. There can, however, be large differences in prices between regions and cities – Cologne is noticeably cheaper than its near-neighbor Düsseldorf for example.
Assuming you intend to eat and drink in moderately priced places, use public transport and stay at hostels, the bare minimum living-cost you could get by on is around $58 USD a day - which would include a hostel bed, snacks, and an evening meal, plus a little for museums and entertainment. Overall a more realistic typical holiday budget is about twice that of the penny pincher at $125 USD per day.
GERMANY TRAVEL TIPS
Berlin - Get a crash course in 'Berlinology' by hopping on bus 100 or 200 at Zoologischer Garten or Alexanderplatz and letting the landmarks whoosh by for the price of a standard bus ticket (€2.70, day pass €7). Bus 100 goes via the Tiergarten, 200 via Potsdamer Platz. Without traffic and getting off, trips take about 30 minutes.
Discount Cards - Tourist offices in many cities sell Welcome Cards, which entitle visitors to discounts on museums, sights, and tours, plus unlimited trips on local public transport. They can be good value if you plan on taking advantage of most of the benefits and don’t qualify for any of the standard discounts.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF GERMANY
Berlin - Discover your inner party animal in Germany's capital; save sleep for somewhere else as there's no time for naps with the clubs, museums, and bars.
Munich - Experience Oktoberfest, a revelry of suds, or just soak up the vibe in a beer garden.
Bamberg - Go slow in one of Germany's alluring small towns like this gem, with winding lanes and smoked beer.
Cologne - Compare the soaring peaks of the Dom with the slinky glasses of this city's famous beer.
Black Forest - Go cuckoo in the Black Forest, discover its chilly crags, misty peaks, and endless trails.
Dresden - Get into the swing of this city, with a creative culture beyond the restorations.
Hamburg - Cruise around one of the world's great harbours, then follow the trail of the Beatles.
Trier - Discover the best-preserved Roman ruins north of the Alps in this delightful wine town on the Moselle.
Schloss Neuschwanstein - Dive into the mind of a loopy Bavarian monarch at this dreamy palace cradled by the Alps.
Nuremberg - Tap into this city's medieval roots, enjoy the famous local sausages, and ponder its haunting Nazi past.
Although not really enough to scratch the surface of Germany if you do nothing else: Drive down the Romantic Road, stop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Füssen, then spend the rest of your time in Munich.
Spend a couple of days in Berlin, head south to Dresden and Nuremberg or Bamberg for half a day each, and wrap up your trip in Munich and surrounds.
The extra days will give you a little bit of time to tailor a tour beyond the highlights above. Art fans might want to add Cologne or Düsseldorf into their itinerary; romantics could consider Heidelberg, a Rhine cruise or a trip down the Romantic Road; while outdoorsy types are likely to be lured by Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Berchtesgaden or the Black Forest.
A city passionately feasting on the smorgasbord of life, never taking things – or itself – too seriously. Berlin's unique blend of glamour and grit is bound to mesmerize anyone keen to connect with its vibrant culture, superb museums, fabulous food, intense nightlife, and tangible history. When it comes to creativity, the sky’s the limit in Berlin, rising star as Europe's newest start-up capital. In the last 20 years, the city has become a giant lab of cultural experimentation thanks to an abundance of space, cheap rent, and a free-wheeling spirit that nurtures and encourages new ideas.
Key sights such as the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, and Museumsinsel cluster in the walkable historic city center – Mitte – which also cradles the Scheunenviertel, a maze-like hipster quarter around Hackescher Markt. Further north, residential Prenzlauer Berg has a lively café and restaurant scene, while to the south loom the contemporary high-rises of Potsdamer Platz. Further south, gritty but cool Kreuzberg and Neukölln are party central, as is student-flavored Friedrichshain east across the Spree River. Western Berlin's hub is Charlottenburg, with great shopping and a swish royal palace.
Proof that there is life after death, DRESDEN has become one of Germany's most visited cities, and for good reason. Restorations have returned its historic core to its 18th-century heyday when it was famous throughout Europe as 'Florence on the Elbe'. Scores of Italian artists, musicians, actors, and master craftsmen flocked to the court of Augustus the Strong, bestowing countless masterpieces upon the city. Although devastating bombing raids in 1945 leveled most of these treasures, Dresden is a survivor and many of the most important landmarks have since been rebuilt, including the elegant Frauenkirche. Today there's a constantly evolving arts and cultural scene and zinging pub and nightlife quarters, especially in the Outer Neustadt.
LEIPZIG is possibly Saxony's coolest city, a real playground for nomadic young creatives who have been displaced even by the fast-gentrifying German capital. But Leipzig is also a city of enormous history known as the Stadt der Helden (City of Heroes) for its leading role in the 1989 ‘Peaceful Revolution’ that helped bring the Cold War to an end. A trade-fair mecca since medieval times, the city is solidly in the sights of music lovers due to its intrinsic connection to the lives and work of Bach, Mendelssohn, and Wagner. Wandering around Leipzig is a pleasure in itself, with many of the blocks around the central Markt crisscrossed by historic shopping arcades, including the classic Mädlerpassage.
Historical epicenter of the German Enlightenment, WEIMAR is an essential stop for anyone with a passion for German history and culture. A proverbial assemblage of intellectual and creative giants lived and worked here: Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Cranach, Liszt, Nietzsche, Gropius, Herder, Feininger, Kandinsky, and the list goes on. In summer, Weimar’s many parks and gardens lend themselves to the quiet contemplation of the town's intellectual and cultural onslaught, or to take a break from it.
A little river courses through the Instagram-pretty ERFURT - a medieval pastiche of sweeping squares, time-worn alleyways, a house-lined bridge, and lofty church spires. Erfurt also boasts one of Germany's oldest universities, founded by rich merchants in 1392, where Martin Luther studied philosophy before becoming a monk at the local monastery. It's a refreshingly untouristed spot and well worth exploring.
From the cloud-shredding Alps to the fertile Danube plain, Bavaria (Bayern) is a place that keeps its clichéd promises. Storybook castles bequeathed by an oddball king poke through dark forest, cowbells tinkle in flower-filled meadows, the thwack of palm on Lederhosen accompanies the clump of frothy stein on timber, and medieval walled towns go about their time-warped business.
But there's so much more than the chocolate-box idyll. Learn about Bavaria’s state-of-the-art motor industry in Munich, discover its Nazi past in Nuremberg and Berchtesgaden, sip world-class wines in Würzburg or take a mindboggling train ride up Germany's highest mountains. Destinations are often described as possessing ‘something for everyone’. In Bavaria, this is no exaggeration.
If you’re looking for Alpine clichés, they’re all here, but MUNICH also has plenty of unexpected cards down its frock. Munich’s walkable center retains a small-town air but holds some world-class sights, especially art galleries and museums. Throw in its royal Bavarian heritage, an entire suburb of Olympic legacy, and a kitbag of dark tourism, and it's clear why southern Germany’s metropolis is such a favourite among those who seek out the past but like to hit the town once they’re done. Munich’s major sights cluster around the Altstadt, with the main museum district just north of the Residenz. However, it will take another day or two to explore bohemian Schwabing, the sprawling Englischer Garten, and trendy Haidhausen to the east. Northwest of the Altstadt you’ll find cosmopolitan Neuhausen, the Olympiapark, and Schloss Nymphenburg.
A paradise for skiers and hikers, GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN is adorned with a fabled setting a snowball’s throw from Germany's highest peak, the 2962m-high Zugspitze. Garmisch has a more cosmopolitan feel, while Partenkirchen retains an old-world Alpine village vibe but the towns were merged for the 1936 Winter Olympics. On good days, views from Zugspitze - Germany’s rooftop - extend into four countries. A top attraction around Garmisch is the narrow and dramatically beautiful 700m-long Partnachklamm gorge with walls rising up to 80m. The trail hewn into the rock is especially spectacular in winter when you can walk beneath curtains of icicles and frozen waterfalls.
BERCHTESGADEN and the surrounding countryside (the Berchtesgadener Land) is almost supernaturally beautiful. Framed by six formidable mountain ranges and home to Germany's second-highest mountain, the Watzmann (2713m), its dreamy, fir-lined valleys are filled with gurgling streams and peaceful Alpine villages. Alas, Berchtesgaden's history is also indelibly tainted by the Nazi period. The area is easily visited on a day trip from Salzburg but you will need your own transport if you want to see all the main sights in one day.
Stretching 400km from the vineyards of Würzburg to the foot of the Alps, the ROMANTIC ROAD (Romantische Strasse) is by far the most popular of Germany’s themed holiday routes. It passes through more than two dozen cities and towns, including Rothenburg ob der Tauber and also takes in Schloss Neuschwanstein, the country's most famous palace. Frankfurt and Munich are the most popular gateways for exploring the Romantic Road. The ideal way to travel is by car, although many travellers prefer to take the Romantic Road Coach - which runs daily in each direction between Frankfurt and Füssen.
NUREMBERG (Nürnberg) woos visitors with its wonderfully restored medieval Altstadt, its grand castle, and, in December, its magical Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market). The town played a key role during the Nazi years. It was here that the fanatical party rallies were held, the boycott of Jewish businesses began and the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws were enacted. After WWII the city was chosen as the site of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Nuremberg's city center is best explored on foot but the Nazi-related sights are a tram ride away. Beginning around late November every year, central squares across Germany are transformed into Christmas markets where you will find folks stamping about between the wooden stalls, perusing seasonal trinkets, and warming themselves with Glühwein and grilled sausages.
Off the major tourist routes, BAMBERG is one of Germany's most delightful and authentic towns. It has a throng of beautifully preserved historic buildings, palaces, and churches in its UNESCO-recognised Altstadt, a lively student population, and its own style of beer.
In a scene-stealing locale on the wide Danube River, REGENSBURG has relics of historic periods reaching back to the Romans, yet doesn't get the tourist crowds you'll find in other equally attractive German cities. Though big on the historical wow factor, today's Regensburg is a laid-back and unpretentious student town with a distinct Italianate flair.
STUTTGART & THE BLACK FOREST
The high-tech urbanite pleasures of Stuttgart, one of the engines of the German economy, form an appealing contrast to the historic charms of Heidelberg, home to the country's oldest university and a romantic ruined castle. Beyond lies the myth-shrouded Black Forest (Schwarzwald ), a pretty land of misty hills, thick forest, and cute villages with youthful and vibrant Freiburg as its only major town.
STUTTGART residents enjoy an enviable quality of life that's to no small degree rooted in its fabled car companies – Porsche and Mercedes – which show off their pedigree in two excellent museums. Hemmed in by vine-covered hills the city also has plenty in store for fans of European art. Königsstrasse, a long, pedestrianized shopping strip, links the Hauptbahnhof to the city center with the Schloss and the art museums. The Mercedes-Benz Museum is about 5km northeast and the Porsche Museum 7km north of here.
Germany’s oldest and most famous university town, HEIDELBERG is renowned for its lovely Altstadt, its plethora of pubs, and its evocative half-ruined castle. Towering over the Altstadt, Heidelberg’s ruined Renaissance castle cuts a romantic figure, especially across the Neckar River when illuminated at night.
The BLACK FOREST (Schwarzwald) gets its name from its dark canopy of evergreens. Winding backroads will take you through misty vales, fairy-tale woodlands, and villages that radiate earthy authenticity. It's not exactly nature wild and remote, expect pastoral and picturesque.
Many of the Black Forest's most impressive sights are in the triangle delimited by the lively university city of Freiburg (a sunny, cheerful university town), 15km east of the Rhine in the southwest; Triberg, (World cuckoo-clock capital, Black Forest–cake pilgrimage site and home to Germany's highest waterfall); and the charming river-valley city of St Blasien in the southeast.
FRANKFURT & THE RHINELAND
Defined by the mighty Rhine, fine wines, medieval castles, and romantic villages, Germany's heartland speaks to the imagination. Even Frankfurt, which may seem all buttoned-up and serious business, reveals itself as a laid-back metropolis with fabulous museums and booming nightlife.
Unashamedly high-rise, FRANKFURT-AM-MAIN is a true capital of finance and business and hosts some of Europe's key trade fairs. But despite its business demeanor, Frankfurt consistently ranks high among Germany's most liveable cities thanks to its rich collection of museums, expansive parks and greenery, a lively student scene, and excellent public transport. In general, accommodation rates drop over weekends and can easily triple if there's a big trade show in town.
Between Bingen and Koblenz, the RHINE cuts deeply through the Rhenish slate mountains. Forested hillsides cradle craggy cliffs and nearly vertical terraced vineyards. Idyllic villages appear around each bend, their neat half-timbered houses and church steeples seemingly plucked from the world of fairy tales. High above the river, busy with barge traffic, are the famous medieval castles, some ruined, some restored, all vestiges from a mysterious past. Although Koblenz and Mainz are logical starting points, the area can also be explored on a long day trip from Frankfurt. Romantic Rhine Valley villages have plenty more charmers that deserve at least a quick spin but if you are stuck on pick just one at random, have a look at:
Boppard - Roman ruins and a cable car to the stunning Vierseenblick viewpoint (left bank).
Oberwesel - Famous for its 3km-long medieval town wall punctuated by 16 guard towers (left bank).
Assmannshausen - A relatively untouristed village known for its red wines, sweeping views, and good hikes (right bank).
Rüdesheim - Day-tripper-deluged but handy launchpad for the mighty Niederwalddenkmal monument and Eberbach Monastery (right bank).
Like a vine right before harvest, the MOSELLE VALLEY hangs heavy with visitor fruit. Castles and towns with half-timbered buildings are built along the sinuous river below steep, rocky cliffs planted with vineyards. It's one of Germany's most evocative regions, with stunning views revealed at every river bend. Unlike the Romantic Rhine, it’s spanned by plenty of bridges. The most scenic section unravels between Bernkastel-Kues and Cochem, 50km apart and linked by the B421.
COLOGNE (Köln) offers lots of attractions, led by its famous cathedral whose filigree twin spires dominate the skyline. The city’s museum landscape is especially strong when it comes to art but also has something in store for fans of chocolate, sports, and Roman history. Its people are well known for their joie de vivre and it’s easy to have a good time right along with them year-round in the beer halls of the Altstadt. Cologne’s geographical and spiritual heart – and its single-biggest tourist draw – is the magnificent Kölner Dom. With its soaring twin spires, this is the Mt Everest of cathedrals, jam-packed with art and treasures.
DUSSELDORF dazzles with exciting architecture, a punchy nightlife, and an art scene to rival many a metropolis. It’s a posh and modern city whose economy is dominated by banking, advertising, fashion, and telecommunications. However, a couple of hours of partying in the boisterous pubs of the Altstadt, the historical quarter along the Rhine, is all you need to realize that locals have no problem letting their hair down once they slip out of their designer brand jackets.
AACHEN makes for an excellent day trip from Cologne or Düsseldorf as well as a worthy overnight stop. The Romans nursed their war wounds and stiff joints in the steaming waters of Aachen’s mineral springs, but it was Charlemagne who put the city firmly on the European map. His legacy lives on in the stunning Dom, which in 1978 became Germany’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the new Centre Charlemagne. The magnificent cathedral is not only the burial place of Charlemagne, it’s where more than 30 German kings were crowned and where pilgrims have flocked since the 12th century. Pilgrims are drawn as much by the cult surrounding of Charlemagne as by his prized relics: Christ’s loincloth from when he was crucified, Mary’s cloak, the clothes used for John the Baptist when he was beheaded and swaddling clothes from when Jesus was an infant. These are displayed once every seven years and draw 100,000 or more of the faithful.
HAMBURG & THE NORTH
Germany's windswept and maritime-flavored north is dominated by Hamburg, a metropolis shaped by water and commerce since the Middle Ages. Bremen is a fabulous stop with a fairy-tale character, and not only because of the famous Brothers' Grimm fairy tale starring a certain donkey, dog, cat, and rooster. Those with a sweet tooth should not miss a side trip to Lübeck, renowned for its superb marzipan.
HAMBURG'S historic label, ‘The gateway to the world’, might sound like a bold claim, but Germany’s second-largest city and the biggest port has never been shy of making big claims. Hamburg has engaged in business with the world ever since it joined the Hanseatic League back in the Middle Ages and its maritime spirit infuses the entire city; from architecture to menus to the cry of gulls, you always know you're near the water. The city has given rise to vibrant neighborhoods awash with multicultural eateries, as well as the splendidly seedy Reeperbahn red-light district. Hamburg nurtured the early promise of the Beatles, and today its distinctive live- and electronic-music scene thrives in unique harbourside venues.
Compact and charming LUBECK makes for a great day trip from Hamburg. Looking like a pair of witches' hats, the pointed towers of its landmark Holstentor (Holsten Gate) form the gateway to its historic center that sits on an island embraced by the arms of the Trave River. The UNESCO-recognised web of cobbled lanes flanked by gabled merchants' homes and spired churches is an enduring reminder of Lübeck's role as the one-time capital of the medieval Hanseatic League trading power. Today it enjoys fame as Germany's marzipan capital.
This little city of BREMEN is big on charm, from the fairy-tale character statue to a jaw-dropping expressionist laneway and impressive town hall. On top of that, the Weser riverside promenade is a relaxing, bistro and beer garden–lined refuge, and the lively student district ('Das Viertel') along Ostertorsteinweg is filled with indie boutiques, cafes, art-house cinemas, and alt-flavored cultural venues. Bremen's key historic sights cluster around Markt and can easily be explored on foot.
LGBTQ IN GERMANY
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Germany have evolved significantly over the course of the last decades. Same-sex marriage in Germany has been legal since 1 October 2017, after the Bundestag passed legislation giving same-sex couples full marital and adoption rights on 30 June 2017. Prior to that, registered partnerships were available to same-sex couples, having been legalised in 2001.
Germany has frequently been seen as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world with Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich in particular having an open and vibrant LGBT scene. The most popular annual Gay Pride Parade is in Cologne, but there are also annual festivals in the cities of Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Berlin and Hamburg.