With a cultural heritage that reflects the human spectrum in its ingenuity, its splendor, and its turmoil, as well as a landscape that allows for uber-adventures via both the wilderness and nightlife, Germany is a prime travel destination. From the sandstone monoliths of the Bastei cliffs to the towering peaks of the Alps to the Rhine River and the diverse topography in between, you could spend your entire time plotting trysts with the outdoors. Then again, the aspects that we all consider synonymous with Germany need a little love too. The automobile industry of cities like Stuttgart and Munich. The sausage, brats, and pretzels the size of catchers mitts. The ubiquitous centers of social life, the beer gardens, with their hordes of German-based brews and brands often given center stage during the world's biggest festival, Munich's Oktoberfest. And let's not forget the German nightlife, which isn't all steins of beer and lederhosen. Unique Cabaret performances, local wine tastings, latex dance parties, huge rock clubs, and kitschy dive bars are just the tip of the iceberg.
With such dramatic turns in the last century of world history, it's no doubt that many of your adventures could be of the sobering and contemplative sort (just in Berlin alone!). But this would be a true disservice to a German history that is ripe with diversity, creativity and acceptance. Some of Earth's most picturesque castles grace the countryside, from Disney-template Neuschwanstein to Lichtenstein, which is built into the sheer cliffs of the Swabian Alps, and the strident towers of Hohenzollern near Stuttgart. Despite the WWII bombings that destroyed much of the architecture of major city centers, there are still the monuments, churches, town halls, and much more in pre-Roman cities like Trier, Worms, and Cologne and in a surprising collection of medieval old towns that include the likes of Rothenburg, Quedlinburg, Esslingen, Heidelberg, and Regensburg. Then again, ideal combinations of old and new continue to make Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, and Dresden some of the most popular destinations in Europe.
Lest we forget, there is a natural world out there waiting to be explored. Some would say it's best viewed at free fall while your cheeks flap from a none-too-relaxing wind massage; luckily, every corner of Germany is covered by over eighty total drops zones, including sixteen in Bavaria alone. Bungee jumping and base flying are also quite popular in locations like Berlin's Alexanderplatz, while mobile outfits like AJ Hackett and Bungee Junkee make festivals and events that much more exciting. Whitewater rafting, although not widespread, is a possibility in Bavaria, while other more adventurous activities like rock climbing, scuba diving (particularly in the Baltic Sea and the lakes of southern Germany), and the dozens of skiing and alpine hiking opportunities in the Alps at the border with Austria all will satiate the desires of more extreme adventurers. Browse our Germany adventure page for much more information, especially if you're one to squeeze in a half-day hiking trip or a leisurely traipse through an urban park.
After going through so much in the last century, Germany has really come into its own as a European center of tourism, politics, and economy in the last few decades. Which means there's no better time to go. Visit numerous times. Each of its sixteen states has nuances of culture and personality well worth experiencing, so even if you've just come for the beer or the cars or the Gothic castles or the monuments or the skydiving or the football or the latex, you'll have to keep coming back for the rest. Consult our included activities, pictures, videos, and more for even more on Germany.
No visa is required upon entering Germany if you are American, British, or part of a long list of industrialized countries as long as you are planning to stay less than 90 days and own a valid passport. This applies for both tourist and business travel. Go here if for any reason you think you may need a visa
Germany's currency is the Euro. The most updated exchange rates can be found here.
Germany's government is a multi-party parliamentary republic and representative democracy led by both a head-of-state whose purpose is more or less ceremonial (the President) and the Chancellor, who is the political leader. The main executive body is the cabinet, which is made up of Ministers chosen by the Chancellor, while two groups make up the legislative body: the Bundestag, the larger and more powerful parliament chosen directly by the people, and the Bundesrat, which consists of representatives of each regional state. The court system is separate from the government; it's highest body is the Federal Constitutional Court. The German government is considered one Europe's most stable, even in light of recent worldwide recessions, and has been considered a leader of the present-day European Union.
Chances are that if you are visiting Germany, you'll be basing yourself in a big city and will be able to communicate in English when necessary. Germans start learning English when they are young and many people you meet will have a conversational grasp of the language; you'll find that people who deal with tourists on a regular basis or are highly educated know enough to explore the in's and out's of international politics if you've got the time. Signs are in German and authentic social situations (that off-the-beaten-path restaurant/town/mountain refuge?) may call for basic German phrases. Then again, why not try speaking German whenever you can? Attempting the language is a big step in giving yourself a chance to truly get to know a culture. Here's a bit more about speaking English in Germany from an expat.
Crime and Safety:
As a visitor to Germany, it is doubtful that you'll be affected by crime, no matter the city you are in. Rural towns tend to be much safer, while among the larger cities, Munich tends to be the safest statistically. Violent crimes are not prevalent in Germany as a whole, even in more metropolitan areas like Berlin, although petty crimes like petty larceny and pickpocketing are a common shortcoming in any urban environment. If you're looking to avoid trouble, it's best to keep an eye out for the type of hooligans that get a little too wild at football games or during Oktoberfest while taking the usual precautions when you're in public settings. If you do find yourself in a dangerous or unsafe situation, the emergency number is 110; otherwise, common sense will tell you to stay out of neighborhoods you don't know or haven't researched, to keep your belongings secured, and to travel with a friend or more (especially at night). some quick tips for traveling to Germany may be found here.
Modes of Transportation:
Germany owns a highly developed, modern system of transportation on the local, regional, and national levels. The Autobahn is a vast collection of highways (many areas of which do not have an enforced speed limit) that connect all corners of the country, while domestic flights and passenger rail are available between major cities. ICE (Intercity-Express) trains are a quick way to travel between metropolitan areas; you may take a one-way trip between Berlin and Munich via economy class for under $200 USD. The ICE also connects to Paris, Brussels, and other international cities in the case that you're looking to explore beyond the German borders. Then again, it's quite possible to fly with flight providers like airberlin or Lufthansa for much less depending on when and where you're going. At a local level, your choices will be quite varied, with overwhelming majority of localities providing at least bus service, while medium to large cities will have a consistent subway or light rail system that will make your movement between destinations quick and painless; signs are in German, but English is widely spoken, so getting directions will usually be pretty easy.
Generally, Germany has a temperate climate, with largely warm summers and cool winters, rarely reaching extremes in temperature. The north gets a bit more oceanic in climate, with even less variation in temperature, while many of the higher elevations invariably maintain lower temperatures and higher precipitation. No matter what part of Germany you find yourself in, you'll be able to enjoy seasonal variations like the changing of the leaves in the fall, the blooming of flowers in the spring, and beer gardens full of drinking and socializing in the summer. Rainfall is consistent (although not overwhelming) throughout the year, although tends to be somewhat more frequent during the summer.
Eating and Tipping:
Like many countries, Germany has its a unique tipping etiquette that varies with the type of service personnel you encounter. When eating out, a tip of anywhere from 5-15% is considered appropriate, despite the fact that a service charge (Bedienung) is often included in the bill. In some restaurants you may not get a bill but just a total from the waiter. Give them your tip here or, if you aren't quick with your numbers (or you have trouble communicating with the server), you may tip the server personally before you leave. If you're just buying a drink, then it's suggested you round up; otherwise, you don't need to tip other services like tour guides or taxis.
Public eating in Germany differs from what you may experience where you are from. First off, eating out is a social activity, meaning that you may possibly be sharing a table with people you don't know. It's a great opportunity to make new friends. Also, you'll find that a lot of places don't take credit cards, all are non-smoking by law, and that you'll need to seat yourself upon arriving. If you're looking for a quick bite, cafes are great for sandwiches, while there will be food stands in popular areas that serve classic German sausages, basic snacks or even Turkish Döners. If you're feeling up to attempting a meal transaction in German, take a look here, while you may find further information on eating out in Germany here.
Germany and beer have a love affair that is well-documented over the ages. Home to some of the oldest breweries on Earth, you'd be hard-pressed to find a society whose drink of choice has so deeply intertwined itself in the lives of its people. Lunch breaks are spent tipping steins of Weizenbier in a beer garden, families will gather to listen to oompa music and share mugs of Kölsch in centuries-old beer halls, and revelers will mob the tents at some of the biggest beer festivals anywhere. The drinking age is 17, but in Germany beer is a way of life. The types of beer are countless, at least when referring to the space we have available, but anything from pilseners to wheat beers (the famous Hefeweizen) to dark beers (the more alcoholic Doppelbock) are staples of German drinking. There are innumerable breweries in operation and per capita consumption rate among its citizens, while the most popular beers in the country (Oettinger, Krombacher, Bitburger) are unheard of by the majority of Americans. If you are traveling to Germany, beer will undoubtedly be a part of the agenda because it is such a inextricable part of the culture; then again, there are also thirteen wine regions that have made names for themselves. Pinot Noirs and Reislings are some of the most popular styles that come largely from western Germany's Rhineland, although there is a primary focus on white wines. Surprisingly, Germany is one of the top ten producers of wine in the world. You may access a number of links to beer-related information here, while a breakdown of German beer is available here.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
Because we can't seem to get over the connection between German society and its relationship with beer, our interesting fact follows suit. A tradition that is found more often than not in rural Germany is the "kidnapping of the bride." Prior to the wedding, the groom's friends kidnap the bride and "hide" her at one of the local pubs, while it is the groom's duty to go from establishment to establishment until he finds her. Depending on which version you've heard, the tradition is that the groom must pay the kidnappers' tabs and/or buy drinks for anyone he asks to help him in finding his wife-to-be.
Peak season:June through October
The biggest fair in the world, Oktoberfest is a beer drinker's dream come true. For two and half weeks at the end of September and the beginning of October, Munich is the site of over 30 beer tents, a deluge of authentic cuisines, rides, and games that bring in over 5 million people a year. You'll see Germans in traditional costume (think lederhosen) and goat-hair tufted Bavarian hats, as well as the Bierleichen (beer corpses, although not usually literally so) who've imbibed far too much. Please refer to the official website for further details about Oktoberfest, a central component to any German adventure.
The Cannstatter Volksfest
Known to many travelers as yet another excellent reason to celebrate beer drinking while in Germany, the Cannstatter Volksfest is a huge autumnal festival. Held in the Bad Cannstatt district in Stuttgart, it began as an agricultural festival, a tradition that still remains at its heart to this day. The festival has roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, food vendors, an Alpine village, a symbolic wooden fruit column, and (most notably) 7 beer halls set up by various breweries that hold anywhere from 2000-5000 occupants. If you aren't feeling the huge scale of Oktoberfest, the Volkfest is a great alternative.
Berlin Film Festival
Held every year in February, the Berlin Film Festival is the most well-attended public festival of its kind on Earth. It is a great place for media professionals, young film-makers, cinephiles, and anyone else curious about film to congregate and view the over 400 films on display. Films are split into different sections and are shown throughout the city, with competition premieres being shown at the Berlinale Palast. This festival is a fine opportunity to see a line-up of international movie stars and plenty of quality films before they are released to the general public. For further details, consult the official site.
Running for over 600 years in the Rhineland city of Bad Dürkheim, the Wurstmarkt (literally sausage market) is actually known as the largest wine festival anywhere in the world. For two weekends in the middle of September, you may join local growers from lush, regional vineyards to enjoy wines to please any palate. The festival's greatest symbol is its 44 million gallon wine barrel, but it also has plenty of rides, vendors, and fireworks.
Rhine in Flames
Rhine in Flames consists of 5 different pyrotechnic events set against the backdrop of various locations along the Rhine River Valley. There is the procession that culminates at Koblenz, where a massive fleet of ships travels in a brilliant spectacle of lights and fireworks past the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress set seemingly ablaze. Another event is the Night of the Loreley, the final night of the Rhine in Flames season in September, which takes its name from the mythical temptress that lured sailors to their rocky deaths. Here, a resplendent fireworks display is set off from the Katz and Rheinfels castles along the water, an event in conjunction with a local wine festival in the towns of St. Goar and St. Goarshausen.