With storybook culture dotted by soaring Bavarian medieval castles, fantastic natural scenery, hearty cuisine and the famous gastfreundschaft (hospitality), Germany has shed its troubled past and is coming into its own as the leading European powerhouse. Having hosted the 2006 World Cup, the country boasts delightful castles, an exciting and cosmopolitan capital, shallow beaches, dark forests and the world’s best beer, ja!
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Nightlife and history in Berlin, northern beaches, Black Forest, medieval castles, new neighborhoods in eastern Berlin, wine from the Rhine, German efficiency, punctuality, skinny dipping in artificial lakes, the Autobahn, comfy tourist infrastructure, Oktoberfest and Pilsner beer, wheat beer, dark beer, white beer…
What’s Not: Cool Hamburgers (people), pork knuckles, whining “everything was better before” East Germans, long winters, Neo-Nazis, many older Germans don’t speak English and Oktoberfest beer prices.
When to Go
Germany has four seasons and the weather is fairly consistent across the country.
Spring (March to May) has cold nights but fewer crowds.
Summer (June to August) has the most reliable weather, which at times is hot.
Autumn (September to November) is warm enough and the best time to visit.
Winter (December to February) has long, cold nights but is good for winter sports.
Getting There & Away
Frankfurt, Munich and to a lesser extent Berlin are major air hubs, and budget airlines connect many German cities. Trains are efficient, fast and comfortable, connecting over 50 cities. The excellent road network makes traveling by car and bus a breeze, while there are some scheduled ferry services to northern islands. Even smaller towns have well organized and punctual public transport services.
Health & Safety
Germany must be one of the safest countries in the world, but this can sometimes seem to go a bit too far with even trivial laws stringently enforced. Watch out for signs with prohibitions or you may find yourself digging into your travel budget. Since cleanliness is next to godliness, there are very few health concerns, but beware of tick-borne encephalitis in forests and rabies.
Food & Hospitality
Germans are very welcoming and friendly, if somewhat formal. Food can quickly become boring with lots of meat and potatoes, but the larger cities offer a good variety of international food, and you can wash it all down with some beer. Hotels come in all categories, while local bed and breakfasts are a good way to get in touch with real Germans. No matter what your budget, all lodgings are spick and span.
Ten days is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
Three or four days to see the capital’s highlights.
Two or three days to see Hamburg and the north.
Three or four days to visit Munich and the south.
Three or four days in the Rhine Valley, cruising and drinking wine.
Two or three days in Leipzig, the cultural capital.
Two or three days in Cologne for its colossal cathedral, colorful Christmas market and its outrageous Carnival.
Lübeck: is a picturesque medieval town in the north and a UNESO World Heritage site.
Rhine Valley: is Germany’s finest outdoor experience with lush hills, the Rhine River, fairytale castles and vineyards.
Frankfurt: is a financial hub but also has some superb galleries and museums.
Leipzig: for a taste of East Germany, history and lots of classical and other music.
Füssen: in Bavaria is for fans of fantasy castles, with mad King Ludwig’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle topping the list.
Spas and health treatments: Germany has over 300 spas and health resorts offering a wide range of traditional and modern treatments. Baden–Baden is the most famous spa town.
Hiking: is Germany’s favorite outdoor pastime with plenty of well-developed trails, particularly in the Hartz Mountains, the Rhine Valley and the Black Forest.
Biking: There are lots of excellent and well-posted city and countryside cycle paths, many of which are little used but pass through breathtaking backdrops.
Canoeing and windsurfing: Lake Konstanz in Bavaria is especially popular for water sports.
Skiing: in many beautiful downhill and cross-country venues, all well organized, as you would expect.
Beer drinking: is a national pastime. Go to a beer garden, sit down at a long table, order a stein, hook your neighbor’s arm and swing to the brass band in lederhosen.
Festivals & Events
Germans prepare meticulously for their festivals, and those who don’t enjoy them: beware!
December/January: Lübeck Ice Sculpture Festival with sparkling ice art in this traditional town.
March/April: Fasching, or Mardi Gras, is a tome of peculiar masks, speeches and compulsory merriment.
July: Love Parade in Berlin celebrates love and tolerance with pumping techno music.
October: Munich’s Oktoberfest: beer, music and pork knuckles.
December: Christmas markets in many towns with ginger cookies and mulled wine.