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Germany travel guide: Everything you need to know before you go

The world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle (Getty Images)
The world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle (Getty Images)

Germany today is about so much more than bratwursts and lederhosen. Half-timbered medieval towns and cosmopolitan cities, world-class museums and traditional folk festivals, craft beer and Michelin-starred restaurants – Germany is as varied as it was when the country was a patchwork of independent states. Explore its hip capital Berlin, listen to classical music where it was composed, try top-notch regional wines and go on scenic drives past green meadows, dense forests and picturesque villages until you reach the horizon.

Current travel restrictions and entry requirements

From June 2022, all Covid-19-related restrictions for entry into Germany have been lifted so you can travel there for all purposes, including tourism and visits, regardless of vaccination status and with no need to test.

The 16 federal states can enforce different local Covid rules, so check before you travel. On a national level, masks are compulsory in nursing care facilities, hospitals and other healthcare institutions, as well as on public transport. You are also required to wear a mask on long-distance passenger transport and on airplanes.

Best time to go

The best time to go is between April and October, with June through August being the peak season for visitors. In February, Cologne celebrates carnival with street parties and parades. Late April or early May might attract fewer crowds but you can see the trees bloom, beer gardens open and the locals revelling in the arrival of spring. Summers are usually hot, but not overpoweringly so. September marks the beginning of the Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest beer festival. There’s a chance of snow from late November but that might just be the icing on the cake for travellers visiting in December for the enchanting Christmas markets.

Top regions and cities

Bavaria

Bavaria wows visitors with its picture-perfect scenic beauty. The area is known for its pristine countryside, wealth of culture and a host of traditions. Medieval castles, magnificent palaces, Baroque churches and Bavaria's urban hubs provide the backdrop for traditional events and opera festivals. Regensburg, the world heritage city on the Danube with its famous bridge and patrician towers, is a gem, not to mention the Zugspitze, the tallest peak in Germany. Bavarian king Ludwig II architecture is to be marvelled at in the Allgäu region, where the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein is located. The best way to explore the diversity of the countryside is on the many popular tourist routes, such as the Romantic Road, the Castle Road and the German Alpine Road.

Berlin

Since German reunification, no other city in Europe has seen more changes than Berlin which has become a hub for architecture, culture, entertainment, nightlife and shopping. Stroll down impressive boulevards once created by order of the Prussian kings. Admire treasures from ancient Egypt like the bust of Nefertiti to the Greek Pergamon Altar and sculptures by Donatello on the Museum Island where the buildings themselves are museum objects. Experience the Cold War legacy of the city, above all, in the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and in the iconic TV Tower. Then explore the districts, the heartlands of a new vibrant scene – with Neukölln, Prenzlauer Berg und Kreuzberg home to theatres and flea markets, hip cafés and innovative fusion restaurants inspired by flavours from around the world.

The Black Forest

With its thatched roof houses, the famous cake named after it, cuckoo clocks and red pom-pom bollenhut hats, Germany’s largest forest is well known beyond its borders. The name comes from the dark, densely packed fir trees on the upper slopes. The wild beauty of watery gorges, deep valleys and exhilarating mountain views is unparalleled. The region is home to more than 30 spas and health resorts, inviting you to unwind and relax. Don’t miss the spa town of Baden-Baden with Germany’s oldest casino and the view from the magnificent Freiburg cathedral. For foodies, there is an exceptional culinary offering from the Black Forest Ham to the Alpirsbach Brewery, smoked trout, kirsch and Sekt (sparkling wine) which the Kaiserstuhl region is known for.

Rhineland-Palatinate

Vineyards, castles, legends and boat trips: In the centre of Germany lies a destination steeped in history. Roman monuments dating back to 16 BC can be marvelled at in romantic Trier. Germany's oldest city was once an imperial residence and is now a World Heritage Site thanks to its many well-preserved buildings from different eras. Nature and culture fans are drawn to the city of Worms, nestled between the Rhine, Moselle and vineyards. The quintessential table white wine of Liebfraumilch otherwise known as ‘Blue Nun’ has its origin here, as does the Nibelungenlied about the dragon slayer Siegfried. Take a boat trip on the Neckar River to Heidelberg and its famous castle ruins or cycle along the German Wine Route through the largest Riesling growing region.

Best under-the-radar destinations

Baltic Sea

Seaside resorts, idyllic fishing villages, forests and red brick architecture: the Baltic Sea is yet to be discovered by international visitors. Cyclists will find a paradise of paths through flat land, where there is a tailwind, many bathing opportunities and hardly any traffic. Hikers can look forward to the long-distance Baltic Sea Hiking Trail, which leads through the coastal landscape - chalk cliffs, dunes, nature reserves, fields, meadows and forests. The Hanseatic city of Wismar glows with its red brick medieval town houses, the city wall and the late Gothic princely court.

North Sea

With its unique coastal landscape and the Unesco-protected Wadden Sea, the North Sea coastal region is perfect for beach and nature lovers. The sea retreats with the tides to reveal large areas of mud flats, the Watt, with its own sensitive ecosystem including seals and abundant birdlife. While the main North Sea islands like Sylt and Föhr are developed from tourism, you can still find traditional villages with fisher folk and farmers living off the land in East Frisia. Here, the pace of life is very slow, and most islands are car-free.

Saxony

Saxony can look back on a thousand years of cultural history, be it the treasures of stately Dresden like the Green Vault, Europe’s oldest porcelain manufactory in Meissen, or the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. The state is also home to Saxony Switzerland, a rocky national park with some 1,000 climbing peaks, and the most north-easterly wine-growing region in Germany. If you love Christmas, head to the Ore Mountains, world-famous for its wooden creation of beautiful nutcrackers, incense burners in the shape of smoking men, Christmas pyramids and candle arches.

Best things to do

Try white asparagus

Nothing epitomises the arrival of spring to a German like the white stalks of Spargel. Lovingly called the “vegetable of kings”, “edible ivory” or simply “white gold”, it turns the whole country asparagus-crazy from mid-April to 24 June. Try it with melted butter, boiled potatoes and a couple of slices of smoked or cured ham, or accompanying a schnitzel in Frankfurt.

Visit a beer garden

Indoor brewery pubs and outdoor beer gardens are a quintessential part of German life. There’s no better way to connect with the locals than sitting together on shared benches and bantering over a cold beer. This centuries-old tradition reaches its peak annually during the Oktoberfest in Munich and in smaller versions in many towns and cities.

Drive on the Romantic Road

It is easy to fall in love with the country’s oldest and most famous touring route with its picturesque towns, Baroque palaces and medieval castles. Rent a car, preferably a luxurious one “Made in Germany”, and drive 400km past the sumptuous Würzburg Residence, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns, and the gemlike Wieskirche, a Rococo church standing in its own alpine meadow.

Getting around

Germany’s transport network is very efficient and extensive, so all areas of the country are easily accessible by road, train and air. Domestic flights link all major cities in little more than an hour. The autobahns, the German motorway system, are a fast way to get around by car; however, the environmentally friendly high speed trains are the most comfortable, and often fastest, way of travelling. Regional trains connect to more rural areas. In recent years, long distance bus services like FlixBus have become a popular alternative with money savvy travellers.

How to get there

The cheapest way to travel to Germany is by flying with easyJet into Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin or Munich, plus the seasonal airport of Friedrichshafen (December to March). Ryanair offers additional destinations; however, while tickets may be cheap, some airports like Frankfurt/Hahn are in rural locations so it might take some extra time to reach your final destination. Ferries from the UK to Germany no longer run but you can travel via France, Belgium or Holland and drive across. Going by high speed train is possible with Eurostar to Brussels, then by ICE train to Cologne or Frankfurt. You can also change in Paris for trains to various German destinations.

Money-saving tip

Travelling by train is very affordable if you plan ahead and/or travel in a group. For the cheapest fares book online (bahn.com) more than three months in advance. An ICE train ticket between Hamburg and Munich could cost you as little as £16. The Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket is valid on regional trains for 24 hours for up to five travellers and costs £36.

FAQs

What’s the weather like?

Germany's climate is temperate, not so different from that of Britain, but with more pronounced seasons. The winters are cold and cloudy, the summers hot. Rain occurs fairly regularly throughout the year. The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn often have the best weather.

What time zone is it in?

Germany is one hour ahead of the UK (GMT+1).

What currency do I need?

Euros.

What language is spoken?

The national language is German but the younger generation and those living in big cities understand English well. On the other hand, the older generation from the former GDR, where Russian was taught at school, and people in rural areas might not understand a word you’re saying, so it’s always good to know a few words in German and to greet with a friendly “Guten Tag”.