Mistakes first timers make when visiting Germany

Germany is my absolute favorite travel destination and for good reason! What’s not to love? Delicious German cuisine, rich history, vibrant German Culture and tradition, astonishing natural beauty, and Germans! To know them is to love them!

If this is your first-time visiting Germany then you are in for a treat. I haven’t met anyone yet who visited and didn’t love it!

What not to do when visiting Germany for the first time

When visiting a foreign country for the first time you want to do a little research so you can avoid as many mistakes and faux pas as possible. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common mistakes that people make when visiting Germany for the first time and offer the best tips on how to avoid them.

Mistakes first timers make when visiting Germany
First timers make plenty of mistakes when visiting Germany. Learn how to avoid them!

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what NOT to do in Germany: Things to know before visiting Germany for the first time

Money Matters Mistakes

Not having cash for the restrooms

This one’s first because, well, it’s important! It is quite common to be charged for use of restrooms, although not usually in airports, train stations, or popular attractions. It isn’t usually much but you will want to have cash on hand before you venture out too far. Before you leave the airport or train station stop at the ATM for some cash and then maybe stop for a coffee or soft drink to get change.

exchanging for Euros before leaving home

There really is no need to exchange your home currency for Euros before your Germany trip, that’s the hard way. The best way? Most travel experts agree, getting cash at an ATM is easy and is often much less expensive than ordering Euros from home.

  • Ideally, you’ll want to bring at least one debit and one credit card that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.
  • Use reputable ATMs such as those at the airport and train station. Bank ATMs are a good option, preferably during opening hours so if they eat your card, you’ll have the opportunity to retrieve it.
  • I like to make as few withdrawals as possible to cut down on withdrawal fees. Use your debit card to get cash from the ATM. DO NOT use a credit card, cash advance fees are astronomical.
  • Don’t forget to refuse the Dynamic Currency Conversion (you want the transaction in Euros, not your home currency. They will charge you to convert it.)
  • Know the PIN number for our cards.

Not carrying any cash

While credit cards are widely accepted in Germany, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you. Many smaller shops and restaurants may not accept credit cards, so it’s important to have some euros on hand. I found this to be especially accurate at the Christmas markets in Germany.

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

Forgetting to place a travel notice with your cards

Be sure to inform your cards of your travel plans before leaving your home country. Failure to do so can result in the bank flagging your transactions as suspicious, leading to your credit or debit cards being frozen.

Trying to bargain

Prices are typically fixed, and bargaining is not a common practice in Germany. Attempting to negotiate prices can be seen as rude or disrespectful.

Social faux pas

It’s important to do a little research and be familiar with German customs / local customs and etiquette.

Assuming everyone speaks English and engaging in “small talk”

It’s a mistake to assume that everyone speaks English, a common misconception about Germans. I find that younger adults are eager to use their English language skills. So, if you really need help, try asking a young adult. Also, Germans aren’t big on small talk so it’s best to avoid it.

In major cities and tourist areas you should have no trouble getting by in English. Any effort to communicate with the locals in German, the official language of Germany, is usually appreciated so plan to learn, at the very least, what I like to call the niceties… “please” “thank you” “hello” “goodbye.” A really great place to learn some basics is on Duolingo. It really is the easiest way and it’s free!

Want to learn more German? Tips for learning a language for travel

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

being too familiar

Germans are known for being formal. When communicating with people you don’t know, address them as Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs. Miss) and their last name, or by their appropriate title. Germans tend to value their personal space, and may feel uncomfortable with close physical contact, such as hugging or standing too close. Hand shaking is fine when meeting someone and when saying goodbye. Making eye contact is expected when speaking with a German person. It shows that you are being sincere and approachable.

arriving late

German punctuality is legendary. They place a high value on it and being on time shows that you respect others’ time. It’s important to arrive promptly at a given time.

arriving late is a mistake people make when visiting Germany
It’s best to be on time when visiting Germany!

loud public displays and sensitive topics

It’s considered impolite to make loud noises or engage in loud conversation in public places. Additionally, Germans find it inappropriate to discuss personal or political matters in public spaces and avoid engaging in heated debates or arguments.

Not respecting quiet hours (Ruhezeit)

Nothing will get you on your “temporary neighbor’s” bad side quicker than making noise during quiet time! Being quiet during Ruhezeit isn’t just a request, it’s a legal obligation! Ruhezeit is all day on Sundays and weeknights after 10pm till around 6 or 7 am on weekdays. (local laws may differ slightly)

Examples of noises that tourists should avoid include running the washing machine, loud music, and loud gatherings and parties.

Ruhezeit is quiet time in Germany
It’s important to observe Ruhezeit (quiet time) in Germany

wishing someone a happy birthday too early!

It’s bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday before their birthday!

Showing up empty handed to a German home

It’s traditional to bring a small gift when visiting German friends.

being shocked by the nudity!

Germans are perfectly comfortable with public nudity. You may see a woman sunbathing topless at the beach in summer, or a grandpa changing out of his swim shorts at the indoor thermal pool right there in front of everyone (seen it!) Headed to the sauna? expect to see naked people!

making off color remarks or rude gestures relating to World War II

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.

Eating and drinking in Germany mistakes

Not trying the food!

Germany is known for its delicious sausages, sauerkraut, and beer. Yes, you can get burgers and pizza but don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional dishes such as Schnitzel, Currywurst, and Spätzle. Part of the joy of travel is new dining experiences!

New to German Food? Tasty German food you MUST TRY!

spatzel and schnitzel best german food
Spätzle and Schnitzel

Not paying attention to restaurant opening times

It is common for restaurants to close between lunch and dinner, and on certain days of the week. Pay attention to opening times to avoid missing a meal!

Closed! Geschlossen means closed in German!  Be sure to observe closing times when visiting Germany
Closed! Geschlossen means closed in German! Be sure to observe closing times when visiting Germany

assuming that wait staff are rude and ignoring you

One complaint that I often hear is that the wait staff was rude, and patrons were left ignored for a long time. Here’s the deal. If you want the check/bill you are going to need to ask for it. It is considered rude to ask if you want the bill, as if they are rushing you out the door.

forgetting your table manners

You’ll want to use your table manners when dining in Germany, you know the basics! Germans rarely eat anything with their hands. It’s also important to finish everything on your plate, as leaving good food behind is considered rude, and a food-related sin. Can’t finish it all? Ask for a to go box.

Here’s how they use their knife and fork in Europe:

thinking you have to drink bottled water

Tap water in Germany is safe to drink, so there is no valid reason to buy bottled water unless you simply prefer the taste. We save our plastic bottles and refill them with tap water. German’s don’t drink a lot of tap water. You can order “still wasser” but don’t be surprised if they bring you a battle of water. IF you plan to buy bottled water and you don’t want it carbonated, be sure to choose “ohne” (without.)

asking for ice in your drink

Use of ice in beverages is very uncommon in Germany, it’s definitely something I miss while traveling in Germany. However, cold beverages are served sufficiently cold.

monopolizing a table when the restaurant is busy

Shared tables are quite common in Europe. If you have a table with empty seats and the restaurant is busy don’t be surprised if someone asks if they can sit down. Having trouble finding a seat? It’s totally fine to ask if the seats are taken. You can say “ist hier noch frei?” or “ist hier schon besetzt?” It is not compulsory that you make conversation with your seatmates. A simple hello and “Guten Appetit” will suffice.

Tipping

Germans are not aggressive tippers like Americans. It is, however, customary to leave a small 5-10% tip. Service charges are often included in the bill, so it’s always a good idea to check before leaving an additional tip. If using a card, you need to ask them to add the tip BEFORE they run the card. It isn’t possible to add it on later like it is in the United States.

Public Transportation Mistakes

Not using the Deutsche Bahn (DB) website and app

The Deutsche Bahn website and app are fantastic and invaluable tools for traveling by public transportation in Germany. Use it to check schedules, purchase train tickets directly, get information and alerts about your trips, real time information on your upcoming stops and arrival times.

Riding without a ticket

German trains aren’t very heavily “patrolled” and it may be tempting to try and ride without a ticket but don’t. It isn’t worth the hefty fine (due on the spot) that you’ll pay if you get caught.

Relying on train schedules

I am the first person to shout from the rooftops about German efficiency. Unfortunately, this world-famous efficiency does not extend to train travel. Trains are often delayed or canceled, and strikes are common. It’s good to have a backup plan. I like to purchase flex tickets so if you need to, simply jump on the next train.

Not researching transportation discount tickets and passes

If you plan to do a lot of travel by train and bus you may save money by purchasing a discount pass. These passes are valid for all modes of public transportation and can save you a lot of money in the long run. Research your options on the DB website or app.

Not validating your ticket when required

Many train and bus tickets require validation. Make sure to validate your ticket before boarding, as fines for riding without a valid ticket can be steep. Look for a machine to validate the ticket, ask a transit employee, or watch and see what the locals are doing.

entering the bus/train from the wrong direction

Enter from the front of the train/bus, exit from the back, and be sure to wait for others to exit before boarding.

Mistakes when driving in Germany

I really enjoy driving in Germany. With a car I can access scenic rural areas and small towns. It’s my belief that these places are where you discover the best of Deutschland! Here are some things to keep in mind when on a road trip in Germany:

Driving in Germany without knowing the rules of the road

Naturally, Germany has its own set of road rules and road safety regulations. I use flash cards to brush up on road signs and road rules before driving in Germany.

Speed limits are strictly enforced, often by cameras. If you are caught speeding by a camera and think you are off the hook because you’re leaving the country soon you would be mistaken. You will likely receive a fine via your mailbox. If you ignore the fine you may run the risk of not being welcomed back into the country again.

Don’t enter an environmental zone without an environmental pass
Many of the larger cities in Germany have environmental zones that require you have permission to drive there. There is a column barrier in the middle of the road that lowers to allow those with permission to pass. DO NOT try and follow that car through. You may find your car high-centered on that column!

avoid making mistakes while driving in Germany by researching road rules and learning the meaning of road signs
Don’t try to drive in Germany without learning road rules and the meaning of road signs or else you may have an “oops!”

Parking mistakes

If you park in a spot that has a time limit, use the parking disc found in your rental car. (check the glovebox, center console, drivers door) Round up to the next ½ hour after arrival and place it in your windshield. If you park in a pay lot, remember to pay at the machine before you leave.

Maximum Parking sign in Germany, parking disc required.
Parking sign in Germany, 1.5 hour limit, parking disc required
parking disc Germany
A parking disc similar to this should be located somewhere in your rental.

Mistakes when renting a Car

  • Forgetting to bring your driver’s license (US and Canadian Citizens can drive in Germany for up to 6 months on their license)
  • Failing to obtain an International Driving Permit when required. Check your Country’s embassy German website page for more information.
  • Not having reliable GPS. If necessary add it to your rental.
  • Failing to inform the rental car company that you intend to cross country borders. Some countries in eastern Europe may be prohibited by the company.

misconceptions about the autobahn

Many seem to think that the autobahn is all out freedom to speed, like a Mario Andretti dream if he dreamed in straight lines. My impression of the autobahn, it’s a congested nightmare with unending construction. My suggestion: either avoid it or plan plenty of extra time into your schedule for delays.

German speed limit sign, mistakes people make when traveling in Germany
German speed limit sign

Planning and Packing mistakes

Not being familiar with the legalities of your visit and having your travel documents in order

  • passport: In order to enter Germany, you must have two valid pages on your passport and the passport must be valid for “three months beyond planned date of departure from the Schengen area including transit (strictly enforced).” – US Department of State.
  • Know how long you can stay: Without a visa, you can stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days.
  • Check to see if the government of Germany requires you to have a visa at the German Government website. You may need to get started on the Visa Application Process. (US and Canadian citizens are not required to have a Visa) Non US citizens can check with Germany Visa.org website for more information.
  • Check to see if you need to complete a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) electronic travel authorization before entering the EU or Schengen area. For more details check the Travel Europe website or their FAQ page.
plan your dream trip in 6 simple steps
Don’t forget your passport!

Overpacking

One of the most common mistakes that first-time visitors make is overpacking. You’re likely going to be away longer than a long weekend but plan to do laundry and pack light. This is especially important if you will be traveling by public transit. Hefting a heavy suitcase on and off of buses and trains can be taxing. Cobblestone streets make wheeling your luggage a challenge.

overpacked suitcase, overpacking is a common travel mistake
overpacking is a common travel mistake

Not being familiar with German holidays

During German holidays and festivals businesses may be closed and crowds may be at an all-time high. It’s important to check holidays in your trip planning process. However, festivals can be a lot of fun! Seasonal favorites include spending Oktoberfest in a rowdy beer garden in Munich and experiencing the magic of Christmas at German Christmas markets which often begin the first weekend in December. The most straightforward place for a list of German holidays for the next year is on Rick Steves’ website.

forgetting your adaptor

If you plan to bring electronics you will probably need a travel plug adaptor. If your electronics support 230v you won’t need a converter. The best place to buy travel adaptors is on Rick Steves’ website. They are inexpensive and work well.

Continental Europe adapter plug
Continental Europe adapter plug

Over planning your itinerary

Something else I always see are overly aggressive itineraries. I totally get it, you’re excited and want to see everything. I’m a bit of a blitz traveler myself but when you slow down is when you really get to know the local culture, the wonderful people, and see the magical hidden corners of this wonderful country. The best cities to add to your itinerary have plenty of interesting things to do without having to spend your time traveling. Go there!

extra reading: How to find Hidden Gems in Europe

safety and self-protection mistakes

falling for Common Scams

The “friendship bracelet” scam: A person will approach you on the street and offer to make you a bracelet, claiming that it’s a gift. Once the bracelet is on your wrist, they will demand payment for it and can become aggressive if you refuse to pay.

The “broken camera” scam: Someone will approach you and ask you to take a photo of them with their camera. When you hand the camera back, they will claim that it’s broken and demand that you pay for the repairs. If you think you are being scammed, try to contact the local Police (Polizei.) This will often make scammers back off.

Not Securing your belongings from thieves and pickpockets

Violent crime is low in Germany. The biggest issue that tourists deal with is thieves and pickpockets. Don’t leave anything visible in your car that would tempt a thief to break a window. Don’t let your luggage or other belongings out of your site when riding trains and buses. Pickpockets are a concern in crowded areas, particularly in bigger cities and on public transportation. Consider using a money belt to secure your travel documents, cards, and cash under your clothes.

Health coverage mistakes

Check with your health insurance to be sure you are covered overseas. Germany has a universal healthcare system, but visitors are not eligible for free medical treatments. If your coverage does not extend to Germany, you can purchase affordable policies through IMG.

staying in Germany mistakes

Booking Last Minute

Booking accommodation at the last minute is another common mistake that visitors make. Waiting until the last minute to book a hotel, hostel, or vacation rental can lead to limited options and higher prices. My favorite Germany travel tip, book early to secure accommodation and then check back to see if prices go down. If they do rebook at a lower price!

failing to be environmentally conscientious

Germans are very environmentally conscious. Try to avoid overly long showers, turn off lights when you leave, and if you plan to be gone all day consider turning the air conditioning up, or the heat down.

Not knowing that the 2nd floor is the 1st floor!

In North America the first floor is the ground floor, the floor you enter from street level. In Germany this is called the ground floor, the floor above is the 1st floor! It’s best to get a grasp on that one before you go off in search of your hotel room!

Miscellaneous Travel Mistakes

Not being familiar with your cell phone plan

Check with your carrier to see what coverage you’ll have in Europe. You don’t want to get hit with high dollar roaming charges. Don’t have an international plan? Consider an eSIM or SIM card for your phone. Additionally, if you have free Wi-fi you can communicate on social media (Facebook messenger) or WhatsApp.

taking a stroll in the bike lane

The bike lane is for bikes, and you don’t want to get run down from behind! If the path is a shared bike and pedestrian path be sure to stay on your side!

not being familiar with the 24-hour clock

Germany uses the 24-hour clock. Here in the United States, it is often referred to as military time. It’s pretty simple, if you are past noon just add 12 to the number. For instance, if it’s 1:00 pm the time in European countries is 13:00. 8:00 pm? It’s 20:00!

shopping mistakes

  • Not knowing when the shops and stores will be closed: Visitors should also be aware that many shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays, and often on Monday.
  • Not bringing your own bags: Germans are very environmentally conscious so bring your own bags when you shop at the grocery store.

frequently asked questions

Do I need to speak German if I’m visiting Germany for the first time?
No, you don’t! However, if you plan to stray from popular tourist destinations it’s a good idea to download the Google Translate App.

What are the things I should keep in mind while travelling to Germany?
If you are new to travel in Germany, a few things you might want to keep in mind are money related issues like how to get cash and use your cards, acceptable social behavior, dining etiquette, the ins and outs of transportation, and how to protect yourself from thieves, scammers and pick pockets.

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