Germany travel tips: Ultimate Guide for traveling in Germany for the first time

Traveling to a new country for the first time can be overwhelming and intimidating. Use these travel tips for first-time travelers to Germany to confidently navigate your way around with ease.

I lived in Germany as a child and today it’s my #1 favorite travel destination. This article is full of tips I’ve picked up along the way and mistakes that I’ve made, so that you don’t have to make those same mistakes!

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Germany for the first time!

about Germany

official name: Bundesrepublik Deutschland (or just Deutschland)

Germany travel tips: Ultimate Guide for traveling in Germany for the first time
Germany travel tips: Ultimate Guide for traveling in Germany for the first time

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own.

some of the things you are going to love about Germany

Delicious food, stunning scenery, the towering peaks of the Bavarian Alps, rolling hills, picturesque meadows with grazing cattle, dense forest, half-timbered Medieval villages, Roman ruins, things that are old and ancient, mighty rivers, hundreds of castles, and historic churches, cathedrals, and abbeys!

Schengen

Germany is a Schengen Country which consists of 27 European countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders so you can seamlessly cross borders into the neighboring countries of:

  • Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Poland

population

83.2 million (2021). The European Union’s most populous country. Three times the population of Texas, but with an area of only about half the size of Texas.

time zone /date / time

Time Zone: Germany is 6-9 hours ahead of the US, depending on your location. Germany participates in Daylight Savings Time. (Move the clock ahead the last Sunday in March, and back the last Sunday in October) Want to know what time it is in Germany now? Ask Google!

Date: In Germany the day comes first, then the month. Example: 3/12/23 is December 3, 2023.

Time: Germany uses what we refert to as military time. The clock starts at 00 so noon is 12, 1:00 pm is 1300, 2:00 pm is 1400 and so on and so forth. To calculate this easily in my head if I see 1600, I subtract 12 from the first two numbers (4:00) 2000 -12 is 8:00 pm and 2400 is 12:00 midnight

the metric system / commas and decimals / temperatures

They use the metric system in Germany. If you use the Imperial system of measurement it may take some getting used to but when you do, you’ll find it is easier.

Commas and decimal points are switched around. One Euro and 20 cents is denoted as 1,20. One thousand is 1.000.

Temperature conversion: Temperatures are denoted in Celsius. 28 C is 82 F 37.8 is 100 32 is 0 (freezing)

Germans (Deutsche), get to know them

When traveling abroad the #1 rule to a successful trip is, don’t expect it to be like home, because it’s not!

Germans have a reputation for being punctual and German punctuality is legendary. It’s considered rude to be late so try to avoid it. They are efficient, direct and respect rules, regulations and local laws. They aren’t big on small talk.

Yes, Germans also have a reputation for being rude but that just isn’t so. They are just more reserved and formal and may take some time to warm up to strangers. Look if you come from, say the southern United States, you are going to be in for a bit of a culture shock. Just follow their lead.

World War II, the Holocaust and Nazis (WARNING)

When visiting Germany be aware that The Holocaust and all things related to it are a touchy subject. Always be respectful and try to avoid talking about it unless THEY broach the subject with you. DO NOT joke about it, it’s not funny and it could get you in a lot of trouble. Giving the Nazi salute in Germany could result in a six-month prison sentence, while illegally displaying Nazi symbols in Germany can be punished by three years in jail.

smoking

Smoking is quite common in Germany. Although prohibited in most businesses and restaurants you sadly won’t be able to escape the smoke on the patio at restaurants.

Planning Your Trip, Germany travel Tips

First up is planning your trip! use these Germany travel tips for traveling in Germany:

Requirements for traveling to Germany from the U.S.

(other countries may have similar requirements. Check with your official Government website)

Passport: Be sure your passport is in order. The US Department of State says that A U.S. passport must be valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen area.

The Best Time to Visit Germany

Germany experiences four distinct seasons, each with its own unique charm and appeal.

Summer is peak season: Summer months (June to August) offer long days of daylight and are popular for outdoor activities, festivals, and sightseeing. However, this is also peak tourist season, which means higher prices and larger crowds.

Winter: Winter (December to February) can be cold and dark, but also has a snow-capped snow globe like charm and winter sports are popular this time of year. Prices are lower and crowds at main tourist attractions are sparse (outside of Christmas Market season, which is also high season in Germany), but many things are closed down for the winter. If you have never experienced German Christmas Markets, I highly recommend it!

Shoulder season: Both Spring (April to May) and fall (September to October) are considered shoulder seasons. These months offer mild weather, lower prices than the summer season, and fewer tourists and are the best time to visit Germany.

Opening hours

Many sights and attractions are closed on Monday. In smaller towns many businesses close for a few hours midday. Most stores are closed on Sunday. Check opening hours well in advance to avoid possible disappointment.

budgeting

Compared to travel in North America, Germany is incredibly affordable to travel! I skip my way across Germany saying “wow, this is so cheap!”

If you are on a tight budget, or just like to save money, you’ll want to read my Traveling Germany on a Budget article.(How to get the best prices on accommodation, transportation, cheap food, experiences, and a whole lot more!)

How much money should I budget for a 3-day trip to Germany?
The amount of money needed for a 3-day trip to Germany depends on the traveler’s budget and travel style. On average, a budget traveler can expect to spend around €50-€80 per day on accommodation, food, and transportation. Mid-range travelers can expect to spend around €100-€150 per day, while luxury travelers can expect to spend €200 or more per day.

You may be interested in: Fly for free: We fly to Germany for free. Learn how you can too!

Germany travel tips on Choosing Destinations

Beautiful Deutschland! So much to see and do! But how do you choose???? Here are some ideas to get you started:

The best Germany travel guide:

Here’s what I do: I get a Rick Steves top Germany travel tips guide (the single best Europe travel Guides on the market!) and I read it cover to cover.

Rick Steves European travel guides collection best Europe Travel guides
My collection of Rick Steves European Travel Guides

Check out my Germany page

You’ll find articles on many of the best attractions in Germany on my Germany page.

booking tours and admission to attractions:

looking for ideas? simply enter your destination into Get Your Guide for tour and attraction ideas!

Big City options include:

  • Berlin, Germany’s capital city with its museums, art and vibrant music scene and German culture
  • Munich is Bavaria’s capital and known for being the home of Oktoberfest celebration and its beer halls, including the famed Hofbräuhaus.
  • Köln (Cologne) is a 2,000-year-old city with the twin-spired Cologne Cathedral is also known for its gilded medieval reliquary and sweeping river views.

Charming medieval towns with storybook cobbled lanes and half-timbered houses include:

Nuremberg, the best medieval towns in Germany
Nuremberg

Get a full list of the most beautiful Medieval Towns in Germany!

popular destinations in Germany include:

  • Romantic Road, A popular route for first-time visitors is the which connects several picturesque towns in southern Germany.
  • The Black Forest is a mountainous region in southwestern Germany that is known for its dense forests, picturesque villages, and scenic hiking trails, Cuckoo Clocks, Black Forest ham and cherry cake.
  • The Rhine River Valley. The Rhine Valley in Germany is so special that it’s been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Experience adorable historic villages, terraced vineyards, and dozens of castles! Take a river cruise on the Rhine River!

Looking for some quaint LESS popular destinations? Find out how to add hidden gems to your itinerary!

Rhine River Cruise Collage
Cruise the Rhine River

Germany’s most famous Castles:

  • Neuschwanstein Castle, is a fairytale-like castle in the Bavarian Alps and it is possibly one of Germany’s most recognizable attractions.
  • Burg Eltz is a 1,000-year-old fairy tale castle nestled in a forest, and is also one of Germany’s most recognizable.
Neuschwanstein castle Germany as seen from Mary's Bridge
Photo: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany’s most famous landmark
Bert Eltz Castle exterior, Germany. Castles inspiration from Toto's Travels
Photo: Burg Eltz Castle

Famous Landmarks:

Add some of Germany’s most famous Landmarks to your Itinerary! click the link for the full list.

famous landmarks of Germany map
famous landmarks of Germany map. follow this link to be directed to an interactive Google Map
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Germany Landmarks in Germany
Photo: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Free itineraries:

I have a couple of free itineraries that include Germany. If you don’t want to add other countries to your list, just use the Germany portion.

festivals and events

Germany is alive with various festivals and special events but there are two special events that are popular among tourists visiting Germany. You should take this into consideration when planning a trip.

Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is an annual festival held in Munich, Germany, that celebrates beer, food, and Bavarian culture. The festival runs for 16 days, from late September to early October, and attracts millions of visitors from around the world. Visitors can enjoy traditional Bavarian food and beer, as well as live music and carnival rides.

Oktoberfest Germany
Oktoberfest Germany

Christmas Markets
The winter months in Germany are quiet but each year between the end of November and the end of December Germany is simply magical. Adorable storybook medieval towns are the perfect backdrop for a winter wonderland complete with snow dusted Christmas trees and cobbled lanes.
Festive wooden huts, draped in greenery and warm sparkling Christmas lights, are filled with handcrafted Christmas ornaments and German Christmas gifts. Delightful smells of roasted nuts, gingerbread, mulled wine, and German sausage waft their way throughout the markets and delight the senses!

more: Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Guide

festively decorated wooden hut at a German Christmas Market
festively decorated wooden hut at a German Christmas Market

Tourist Information

Almost every little town has a Tourist Information (TI) Office. They provide helpful information on attractions, tours, events, nightlife, train and bus schedules, and more. They even helped us make a phone call once! If nothing else, stop in for a map of town. Look for this symbol:

tourist information sign
tourist information sign

The German Language

The official language of Germany is German (Deutsche) There are many different dialects of German that vary by region.

You don’t necessarily need to speak German before you travel to Germany. Most Germans, especially in tourist locations, speak English and you’ll be able to get by just fine. However, you should learn what I like to call the niceties. Please, thank you, hello, goodbye, etc.!

If you can at least show some effort, you will significantly increase your chances of getting a warm welcome from the locals in a foreign country.

A few important basic German phrases:

  • Good Day (as a greeting:) “Guten Tag,”
  • Hello: “Hallo”
  • Goodbye: “Tschüss”
  • Do you speak English?: “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”
  • Thank you: “Danke”
  • Please: “Bitte”

how to learn German

Want to learn more German? The methods that I like to use are:

  • Google Translate (I have an entire article on how to use it)
  • Duolingo (free and fun!)
  • Pimsleur Language Courses (not cheap but highly effective if you want to learn even more German)
  • Lingopie (let’s you watch your television programs with German subtitles!)

You may be interested in: I go into greater detail on these learning tools in: Learn a language for travel, the easy way!

Danke German Language "hello"
Learn to say “hello” in German!

Transportation when traveling in Germany

Public Transportation

Germany has an extensive public transportation network that includes buses, trams, subways (called U-Bahn), and trains. The public transportation system is reliable, clean, efficient, and easy to use.

ICE Trains are speedy but expensive, regional trains are slower but affordable, buses are the least expensive options on the list. To easily plan travel via public transportation, use the Deutsche Bahn website or app where you can purchase single trip tickets and discount tickets like the Eurail Pass. Or stop at the train ticket machine at the station.

Ride-hailing services

Check to see if UBER or Lyft is offering service. Taxi drivers offer fair rates in Germany.

Tips for using public transportation:

  • Don’t forget to validate your ticket (follow the locals), it’s not enough just to purchase the ticket, you must validate.
  • Consider purchasing a rail pass.
  • trains in Germany can be very punctual, so it is important to arrive at the station early to avoid missing your train.
  • get on the front of the bus and exit the rear
  • you may need to push a button to open the doors, and may need to alert the driver that your stop is approaching.

You may be interested in: public transportation for beginners

Driving in Germany

If you’re like me… especially if you want to explore the countryside and small towns.

Germans drive on the right side of the road.

renting a car:

I find that rates on rental cars in Germany are reasonable compared to other places that I travel to. If you plan to spend most of your time in the city, you don’t need a car. Overnight parking is expensive and even if you are staying overnight you may have to pay for it.

Rental Car basics:
Before renting a car:

  • travelers should ensure that they have a valid driver’s license
  • are familiar with the rules of the road in Germany
  • An International Driving Permit is not required as long as your drivers license is in English. However, some of the surrounding countries do require them so if you plan to cross borders you need to do your research.
  • It is also recommended to purchase additional travel insurance coverage (if it isn’t covered by your credit card) to avoid any unexpected expenses in case of an accident.
  • speed limits are strictly enforced

getting gas at gas stations:

You may find that your credit card doesn’t work at the gas pump, or that it requires a PIN number. Sometimes I have to use a debit card, sometimes a credit card, just depends on the pump.

accommodation tips

My favorite places to stay are charming bed-and-breakfasts called Gasthof, Gasthaus, or pensions. They offer most if not all the amenities of a hotel but with some personality! And almost always include a free German breakfast, delicious!

Here are a few things to keep in mind when overnighting in Germany:

  • German’s are environmentally conscious so use energy saving practices. Lights off when you leave, avoid excessively long showers and cranking the heat or air when you aren’t around, etc.)
  • First floor is different in Germany and other parts of Europe, the first floor is the first-floor ABOVE ground level. It seems we forget every time and have to do a bit of wandering before we figure it out.
  • Book in advance: Especially during peak travel seasons.

Pro tip: Many places in Western Europe don’t have a/c. If you think that may be an issue consider requesting an above-ground room so that you can sleep with the window open. Even on warm days it generally cools off nicely at night.

When you’re ready to book your accommodations use this link and I’ll get a small commission which helps me fund this website! Danke Schön! And thank you!

Booking.com

shopping

You’ll want to get familiar with opening hours (discussed earlier) because stores, small shops in particular, operate on limited hours in Germany.

Bring your own bag
European countries are, in general, very environmentally conscious. Plastic bags are frowned upon so bring your own tote bags or shopping bags. If you forget to bring one along you will be offered a bag but don’t be surprised if they charge a small fee for the bag.

You may be interested in: my article on the best German souvenirs!

Eating in Germany

If this is your first experience with German food, then you are in for a treat! Germany is famous for its beer, sausages, schnitzel, and pretzels. But the country has much more to offer in terms of food and drink.

Dining etiquette

  • It is customary to wait until everyone has been served before starting to eat.
  • It’s also considered impolite to rest your elbows on the table while eating.
  • When finished, place your knife and fork parallel to each other on the plate to indicate that you’re done.
  • Using a fork AND knife: If you look around, you’ll notice that everyone around you is using a knife and fork SIMULTANEOUSLY! Give it a try, it’s fun!

Service without a smile

In Germany servers are paid a living wage, which means they don’t have to perform like a trained monkey for your tips. Oftentimes their less than friendly demeanor is seen as rudeness, but it is not. So, try not to take it personally! Try out a bit of your German on them, it may soften their stiff exterior!

slow service?

It’s considered rude to bring the check before you request it since it may seem like they are rushing you. You aren’t being ignored. Just know you may need to ask for the bill.

tipping

That brings us to the matter of tipping. A 5-10% tip is generally sufficient for good service.

Before you tip check your bill because sometimes gratuity is automatically included. If you are paying with cash, you can ask them to round your bill up to the amount you wish to pay. For instance, if your bill is 13,30 and you could say “make it make it 15,00 please”

When paying with a credit card: If they run your card and you did not specify a tip amount, well it is too late. They don’t add that at the end like we do in the US. You need to let them know what you would like to pay BEFORE they run your card.

Sharing a table

It is common to share tables with strangers at busy restaurants. Just look for empty seats at an occupied table and say “ist heir noch frei?” (is here still available) Can’t pronounce it? Just say it in English and they’ll get the picture.

water

Water, it isn’t common to drink tap water in Germany and if you order water, it will likely be carbonated. If you want your water minus the “fizz” ask for still water.

German Food

Some popular dishes include:

  • Schnitzel: A thin, breaded and fried cutlet of meat, usually pork or veal.
  • Currywurst: A grilled or fried sausage served with a spiced ketchup sauce.
  • Spätzle: A soft egg noodle often served with cheese or gravy.
  • Sauerkraut: German kraut is sweeter than American, give it a try!

Read more: the very best German cuisine

German Schnitzel with fries
Schnitzel and Pommes!

Wine and German Beer

Germany is known for its beer, and for good reason. German breweries produce some of the best beer in the world.

Some popular beer styles include:

  • Pilsner: A light, crisp beer with a bitter finish.
  • Hefeweizen: A cloudy, wheat beer with a fruity aroma.
  • Dunkel: A dark, malty beer with a sweet flavor.

While beer is the most popular drink in Germany, the country also produces some excellent wine. Germany is known for its Riesling, a sweet white wine that pairs well with spicy foods.

health and safety tips

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you travel Germany:

health insurance coverage

It is also important to have health insurance that covers medical expenses in case of illness or injury. Some insurance companies don’t cover expenses incurred overseas. You’ll need to contact your health insurance provider to check coverage.

Even if your insurance covers basic medical expenses you may want to consider additional coverage. I have purchased additional coverage through IMG Global. Their policies are inexpensive and cover things like emergency medical evacuation, accidental death and dismemberment, natural disaster evacuation, lost luggage coverage and a whole lot more!

Safety Precautions

Germany is a relatively safe country, the incidence of violent crime is very low, but it is still important to take necessary precautions to avoid any potential dangers. Here are some tips:

  • Pickpockets are an issue, especially in big cities, crowded tourist hotspots, and transportation hubs like train stations. One of my favorite ways to combat pickpockets and theft is with a money belt. Just tuck it under your clothes to keep your valuables safe.
  • If you think you might fall asleep on a train or bus, be sure to secure your belongings by either wrapping the strap around your arm or leg.
  • Use crosswalks and don’t cross against lights. Jaywalking in Germany is against the law and you can face a fine of between €5 and €10 if you’re caught.
  • Basic rules for bigger cities apply: Stay in well-lit areas at night and avoid walking alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
  • Emergency and Medical help: Dial 112 for police or medical assistance.

Money Matters

Germany uses the Euro, and the coins are called cents.

Euros European Currency of the European Union
Euros. Currency of the European Union

Exchange rage

The exchange rate for Euros to dollars is close to 1:1, but often in favor of the Euro.
Check the exchange rate here: Google Finance

Cash and how to get it

Most but not all places accept credit cards. It’s a good idea to always have some cash on hand.

Pay toilets at Public Restrooms: You often must to pay to pee! Normally it’s around 50 to 80 cents but you’ll want to be sure to have some money on you at all times in case you need to use the bathroom! Many of the toilets at popular tourist attractions are free.

A great place to get cash is at the ATM (Geldautomat.) I try to withdraw enough cash upon arrival to get me through the entire trip. (I use a credit card for purchases whenever possible.) This reduces the amount of ATM fees. NOTE: there is a daily withdrawal limit on your card. You will need to factor in the exchange rate. For instance, my first time using an ATM I knew that my daily withdrawal limit was $300, so I unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw 300 euros from my account. Eventually I realized that 300 euros was actually about $308 dollars, and so over my daily withdrawal limit.

Safe places to use an ATM are at the airport upon arrival or outside of a bank during business hours. That way if the machine snatches your card, you have a good chance of recovering it. These ATM’s also have reasonable fees and favorable exchange rates. Be sure to use your Debit Cards and NOT a credit card. Credit cards consider this kind of transaction a cash advance and the fees are often astronomical.

Credit Cards

Most places in tourist areas accept credit cards. You’ll want to be sure to use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Our American Airlines and Chase Preferred cards don’t charge these fees. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Europe. You’ll have a difficult time finding a place that accepts American Express or Discover.

You’ll want to be sure you have a chip enabled card. Don’t forget to alert your credit card provider and bank of your travel plans. When using a card, always ask to pay in Euros, you’ll pay more if they convert the purchase to dollars.

VAT refunds

You can get a refund for sales tax on goods. I don’t do a ton of shopping in Germany so it doesn’t seem worth the effort to me but it may be something you want to look into.

Check here for more information on recovering the Value Added Tax.

Staying connected when you travel Germany

Different ways to stay connected in Germany include:

  • Use your own cell phone: ask your provider for details, this option may be expensive
  • Apps like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger
  • Purchasing a European Sim Card or eSIM for your exciting phone
  • Purchasing an inexpensive phone in Germany
  • Wi-Fi Calling.

I go into these options in Greater detail in my Traveling Germany on a Budget article.

Packing Tips for Germany

Here are my top tips for packing for a trip to Germany:

  • Pack light: It is especially important to pack light if you plan to travel via public transportation. It can get cumbersome lifting large luggage in and out of trains and buses, and those wonderful cobble streets can be a pain with a large suitcase! Also, many quaint accommodations don’t have an elevator, you may be hauling your stuff up a lot of stairs!
  • Pro tip: I like to bring a packable duffel like this if I plan to do a lot of shopping. If my purchases surpass my luggage space, no problem! I can free up space by putting clothes in the duffel!
  • Earplugs: My must have travel item is Mac’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs! These work and when you’re traveling you NEED a good night’s sleep!
  • toiletries: It is less common for hotels and other accommodations to provide toiletries like they do in the US so be sure to pack your own or plan to buy full size replacements when you get there.
  • Rain gear: don’t let it rain on your parade! Bring your rain gear (umbrella, raincoat, or poncho etc.) and plan to get out and go, rain or shine!
  • Top sheet, if you sleep hot like I do consider bringing a sheet along. They don’t use top sheets in Germany.

electronics

Germany uses the European standard plug, so travelers from outside of Europe should bring a universal adapter. This one that Rick Steves sells is highly effective and CHEAP!

Continental Europe adapter plug
Continental Europe adapter plug

It’s also important to note that the voltage in Germany is 230V, so make sure to check if your electronics are compatible with this voltage (it should say somewhere on the appliance) otherwise they may get ruined. If your hair straightener for instance does not denote 230v somewhere on the appliance you will need to either purchase one that supporters 230 or purchase a converter (this is different than the plug adapter)

Whew! That’s a lot but you should be ready for your Germany trip now. Gute Reise!



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