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Germany Destination Guide—Tips and Highlights

With medieval castles, baroque churches, and picturesque villages, Germany boasts a vibrant historical legacy. Germany exemplifies natural beauty, culture, history and art. Here’s a destination guide for your trip to Germany.

Top Highlights of Germany

With over 2 millennia of history, Germany is one of the world’s most dominant economic powers, whose cultural influence has shaped the European landscape. One of the top attractions of Germany is the Bavarian countryside, home to the 19th-century fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle. The Bavarian region also houses Germany’s most popular auto touring route, the Romantic Road, weaving through spa towns like Baden-Baden, and well-preserved medieval towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Two of Germany’s most outstanding cathedrals are located roughly an hour away from each other. One of Europe’s largest cathedrals, the Cologne Cathedral is a stunning example of High Gothic architecture. It is also Germany’s most visited landmark. Built by Emperor Charlemagne, the Aachen cathedral served as the seat of coronation for 31 German kings and 12 queens. It is known for its exquisite mosaics decorated with gold leaf and precious stones.
Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is easily one of Germany’s top destinations. Located in Berlin, it is home to some of Germany’s oldest museums such as the Pergamon and the Neues Museum. Visitors can admire unique treasures including the bust of Queen Nefertiti, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, as well as the world’s largest collection of Etruscan art.

Geographical Landscape

Being Europe’s seventh largest country, Germany’s geography is extremely variegated and diverse. Towards the north lies the North European Plain, characterized by flat, low lying areas filled with bogs, rivers and streams. It is now used predominantly for agriculture.
The coastline along the North Sea is full of marshes, wetlands, mudflats and islands. But Germany’s largest island Rugen is found off the Baltic Sea coastline. The area is a lot hillier than the North Sea coastline and has many steep and jagged cliffs.
During the last Ice Age, the glaciers retreated extensively, leaving behind dry and sandy terrain and a great number of small lakes. Lying south of Berlin, this topography rises to form giant landforms such as the volcanic Harz Mountains, the forested Rothaargebirge Mountains, and the Rhine River Valley.
The Rhine River is Germany’s longest river. At the southwestern border of the Rhine River with France lies the Black Forest. The river Danube rises in the Black Forest, travels across central Europe, and ends in the Black Sea.
Along the southern border with Austria, the highest mountains of Germany are found, the Bavarian Alps. Germany’s highest point, Zugspitze, is also found here.

Things To Know Before Visiting Germany

Best Time to Visit

While May through September is peak tourist season, the best time to visit Germany for those seeking the outdoors and less crowds is April and October. Winter is also popular for its beautiful Christmas markets and alpine skiing adventures.

Weather

Germany has a temperate seasonal climate characterized by warm summers and mild winters. Rainfall occurs throughout the year, more prominently in the summers.

Languages Spoken

The official language of Germany is German, but most locals study English as their foreign language of choice. French is also a common second foreign language.

Currency

Germany’s official currency is the euro. Germany is one of the most cash-intensive countries in the world. From parking and gas stations to museums and restaurants, cash is the preferred and sometimes the only mode of payment.

Electricity

The electrical sockets in Germany are of type F. The standard voltage is 230 V, while the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If traveling from the US, visitors will need a combined power plug adapter and a voltage converter.

Traveling around

Germany is known for its extensive and efficient public transportation. The high-speed trains can cost a bit, and it is recommended to book in advance or opt for the slower, intercity trains. Visitors have to both pay and validate their tickets. There is €60 fine for not doing so. Note that while there is no security personnel or gate at train station entrances, there are ticket checkers in plain clothes.
The widespread train network means that visitors can explore the other wonders of Germany. While big cities like Berlin and Munich attract the most crowds, Germany is a country of many treasures. With a valid EU driver’s license or International Driving License, visitors can also choose to rent a car and hit the beautiful countryside and historic towns.

Visitor Facilities

Like many countries in Europe, toilets in Germany are pay-to-use. Pay toilets average around 0.50 to 1 euros. It is also not uncommon to find attendants of the opposite gender in the toilets.

Opening Hours

Germany has some of the strictest laws in Europe regarding opening hours. While eateries like cafes and restaurants are open throughout the week, other places like stores, supermarkets and pharmacies are closed on Sunday. This concept of making ‘taking a day off’ a legal requirement is dear to the Germans, who call it ‘Ruhetag’ (resting day).

Respect the Rules

Germans are known for following the rules. Behavior which is common in other countries (example: jaywalking, cutting in line, arriving late, etc.) will earn tourists disapproving looks and nods.

Food

Germany is the ideal destination to try unique cuisines. German dishes are traditionally heavy in meats, sugar and breads. Local favorites include schnitzel (breaded and fried veal), weisswurst (white sausage), apfelstrudel (apple strudel), currywurst (grilled sausage), spargel (white asparagus), and Schwarzwälder kirschtorte (Black Forest cake).

Oktoberfest

Held every year in Munich, Oktoberfest is the world’s most popular beer festival. The huge beer halls, most famous of which is the Hofbräuhaus, attract tourists from all over the world. Men and women are dressed in Bavarian Lederhosen and Dirndl, and there is live music, parades, and traditional German cuisine.

Christmas Markets

Dating back to the Late Middle Ages, Christmas markets radiate the festive spirit of the holiday season. The beautifully decorated stalls are lined with local handicrafts and woodwork such as the famous nutcracker. Visitors can also savor German beer, as well as the delicious aromas of baked goods like stollen (fruit bread) and lebkuchen (gingerbread). There are more than 150 markets in Germany alone, but the Christkindlesmarkt of Nuremberg and the Striezelmarkt in Dresden are the most popular.
Germany is a country whose roots travel far beyond the Middle Ages. The landscape is steeped in history, as reflected in its many museums, monuments, and squares. It is also a country of natural beauty as can be witnessed in the green valleys of the Rhine River and the majestic snowy caps of the Alps. It is also a country of wonderful cultural traditions, as can be savored in locally brewed beer, delicious cuisine, and handcrafted woodwork, textiles, and pottery. All of this together makes Germany one of the top destinations in the world.

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Don’t Leave Germany Without Doing These 3 Things

Without a doubt, Germany is a great place to visit. The country has something to offer for every age and every type of traveler. Germany, in fact, remains one of the most popular international destinations for U.S. travelers. Many Americans have ancestors who were from Germany, and many others served or know someone who served in a U.S. Army Base in the south. In countless families, the stories of Lederhosen and Bratwurst are legendary. So why not experience these traditions firsthand?
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Time is limited, and the country simply offers too many much to see everything there is to see. The white cliffs of Ruegen and Schloss Neuschwanstein sound nice, but also happen to be almost 1,000 miles away from each other. This is why planning your itinerary should be your first step. History buffs will look for very different destinations than hikers or beach lovers. Regardless of where you fall on the traveler scale, do not leave Germany without doing these three things.

Have a Drink at the Hofbräuhaus

What’s the first thing you think of when you consider Germany? Beer tends to be a common answer. The drink is so embedded in German culture that it’s difficult to disconnect one from the other. In most countries, beer is an alcoholic beverage used to get a buzz. In Germany, it’s almost a food, designed to be enjoyed the way a nice steak or Schnitzel would be. It’s difficult to leave Germany without having partaken in this experience at least once. And if you really want the full German experience, you have to visit the original Hofbräuhaus in Munich.
By now, branch restaurants of the same brand have sprung up all over the world. But while they’re surprisingly authentic, they have nothing against the original. Still owned by the Bavarian State, it opened in 1589 as the private brewery of the Bavarian Royalty. Its beer was and still is brewed according to the German purity law.
The food is authentic, the beer is great, but it’s the experience that makes this a must-stop during your Germany vacation. Live traditional Volksmusik plays every night, and despite its worldwide fame, the place still exudes authentic charm. That might be because, in spite of the countless annual tourists, an at least equal number of locals still enjoy their beer, food, and company as they have for hundreds of years.

Travel the Fairy Tale Route

You probably know most German fairy tales, from Hansel and Gretel to Rumpelstiltskin. They serve as the inspiration for countless Disney stories and have become as famous in the United States as in their country of origin. But did you know that you can still visit the locations that became their inspiration?
The 400-mile-long Fairy Tale Route is more than a single destination. It’s an attraction you might want to plan for in advance and devote a significant chunk of your itinerary to. Still, it’s perfect for any visitor who wants to explore the mythical tales of German folklore. Along the way, you’ll learn about the country, its varied landscapes, and more.
Destinations along this route vary widely. Families with children might enjoy the Red Riding Hood House, while history buffs will recognize Sleeping Beauty’s castle as a historical beauty from the early 14th century. Ancient forests and mountaintops will convince even those who’ve never heard of Grimm’s Tales that this route is a must-visit during your Germany trip. As for the educational component, a Snow White Museum in Bad Wildungen and a German Fairy Tale Museum in Bad Oeynhausen are perfect to understand the historical and cultural backgrounds behind some of your most favorite childhood stories.

Enjoy a Watt Wanderung

As you travel down the Fairy Tale Route, you might begin to realize that Germany offers some of the world’s most unique natural wonders. Perhaps chief among them is the Wadden Sea, an area in the North Sea where the water retreats so far during low tide that miles of sea ground become walkable.
Naturally, this phenomenon—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is great to visit for anyone who isn’t used to it. It’s the perfect highlight of a trip to the North Sea, where you can enjoy white beaches with mild waves on islands like Foehr or Sylt. During high tide, you get your typical beach experience. At low light, the unforgettable part of this stop begins.
Countless spots across the North Sea offer guided tours, known locally as Wattwanderung. Here, a trained expert takes visitors to help them explore the intricacies of the Wadden Sea. That means digging out watt worms and crabs for the children and exploring the sea ground in other ways for the adults. In fact, some of the largest and most well-known Wattwanderungen don’t just go out for a bit, but actually allow you to hike through the sea ground from one North Sea island to another. The water, when timing it just right, never gets above your knees. During high tide, it will once again become deep enough for large ships to drive through. It’s an experience, unlike anything you can get anywhere in the world.

Making the Most out of Your German Vacation

Of course, these are just a few of the many destinations available for and popular among tourists in Germany. In reality, you will be able to easily find an attraction you will love, no matter where you visit.
Chances are you’ve heard about attractions like Neuschwanstein, the Berlin Wall, and the Brandenburg Gate. You might even be aware of some of the most beautiful cities to visit, from Mainz to Hamburg. But without a doubt, the best way to visit Germany is to truly experience it.
The country is old but proud. Traditions in Southern Germany very much differ from the North. This means you can customize your vacation to fit exactly what you’re looking for, including adding these 3 stops to your itinerary. Drinking a beer at the Hofbräuhaus, traveling the Fairy Tale Route, and taking part in a Wattwanderung, will allow you to begin to understand the German people better than a day trip to a typical tourist attraction ever could.
Traveling to Germany has the potential to make memories that last a lifetime. Especially if you know what destinations to visit, you can plan a vacation that you will never forget, and always long to repeat.