How to Plan a Trip to Germany

by  Andrew Eames | Updated on Oct 25, 2023
iStock/Kirk Fisher

Germany may be best known as Europe’s economic powerhouse, but its reputation as a tourism destination is fast catching up. Visitors are devouring the history and variety of cities like Berlin and Munich, rich in culture and arts. And they’re exploring the diversity of Germany’s landscapes, from famous rivers to deep forests and celebrated mountain ranges. Meanwhile, Germany’s hotels and restaurants are invariably good value, its transport infrastructure is superb, and almost everyone speaks excellent English. 

Where to Go in Germany


Germany may be a step away from the Mediterranean, but beachgoers nevertheless have a choice of northern shores, one on the Baltic to the east, and one on the North Sea to the west, plus a plethora of lovely lakes such as Lake Constance down in the sunny south. There's also a selection of mighty rivers, like the Danube, Elbe, Rhine, and Moselle, the latter two lined with vineyards. 

It has three mountainous regions: the Harz, in the middle, is wreathed in legend and has a spectacular mountain-climbing steam railway. The picturesque Black Forest to the southwest is a slice of Heidi-like hill country, with half-timbered villages, scenic drives, and plenty of Black Forest gateau wherever you go. And, of course, the Alps in the deep south, with high-level hiking and ski resorts, and with cable cars at hand to do the hard yards, summer and winter.

Many visitors head for the natural and cultural attractions of the southern state of Bavaria, Munich being its charming capital, but it is definitely also worth getting a taste of northern cities such as Hamburg, with its revitalized docklands, and, of course, the once-divided Berlin, much energized since the reunification.

As a whole, the former East is less visited than the West, as well as harder to reach, but there are some big attractions there too, particularly the sumptuous city of Dresden, on the banks of the Elbe, with all its palaces, art galleries, and concert halls. And beyond it in the furthest eastern corner is the small town of Görlitz, so perfectly preserved that it is regularly used as a film set for the likes of “The Book Thief” and “Grand Hotel Budapest.”

The Best Time to Visit Germany


As with any European destination, when to visit depends on what you want to do. For river cruising, alpine hiking, and meandering amongst vineyards, the time to visit is mid-summer. For scenic driving and visiting forest-surrounded castles such as Neuschwanstein and the Wartburg, spring or autumn are superb. For concerts and art exhibitions in cities, winter schedules are inevitably busier. For party-goers, the nirvana is Munich’s Oktoberfest, the world’s largest folk festival and a boisterous carnival of beer drinking, eating, dancing, and singing which occupies a huge meadow on the edge of downtown at the back end of September (despite the name). Finally, December is a brilliant time for anyone with a soft spot for festive celebrations, as virtually every major city has its Christmas markets, with Cologne, Nuremberg, and Dresden leading the way.

How to Get Around Germany

Gateway airports are Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, all of which have extensive rental car facilities. The nation that invented the motorcar is a world leader in road building, too, and some of its highways are speed limit-free. It promotes themed driving routes such as the Romantic Road, which runs up the spine of Bavaria ticking off walled and half-timbered towns en route. And if that doesn’t appeal, then there’s the Fairytale Road, the Castles Road, and many more. Meanwhile, the national rail network stops at virtually every lamppost, with an extensive inter-city high-speed service, too. There’s a range of rail passes, of which the current best deal is the Deutschland Ticket, €49 for a month of unlimited travel on all but inter-city expresses, and the Bavaria Card, a regional day pass that allows for unlimited family travel within the nation’s biggest and most-visited state.

What to See and Do in Germany

iStock/Eddy Galeotti

The re-uniting of East and West Berlin has created Europe’s most popular city break. There are landmark galleries and museums in Berlin, of course, but so much recent history makes the last outposts of the Berlin Wall, the original crossing point Checkpoint Charlie, and the graffiti art in the Wall’s East West Gallery top of everyone’s list. 

Other favorite cities include Hamburg, whose reborn docklands now host a model railway called Miniatur Wunderland which, remarkably, is Germany’s single-biggest tourist attraction, plus the Elbphilharmonie, a bold, glass-walled concert hall built in the shape of a wave on top of an old brick warehouse. 

Many of Germany’s top cities are located on rivers, which are still used for transport, both of freight and passengers. In fact, there are more river cruising options here than anywhere else in Europe. For example, there’s the Rhine with its Gorge and its castles — though it is, in places, surprisingly treacherous and said to be where the mythical Rhine Maidens lure unsuspecting captains onto the Lorelei rocks. Its tributary, the Moselle, is a gentler version, with steep walls of vineyards. Then there’s the Elbe with its paddle steamers and the Danube with its monasteries and its famous cycle paths. Some of the Danube cruises continue on through several other countries to reach the Black Sea.

In the south, Germany is brought to a crunching halt by the Alps. Here, there’s skiing in winter and cycling and hiking in summer. Resorts like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Ruhpolding, and Oberstaufen are wedged into Alpine valleys with networks of trails leading up through glossy meadows filled with summer cattle, and with cheese and butter (and beer!) sold in pathside kiosks. Also here, in the foothills, are extravagant castles (there are reportedly over 20,000 castles in the country) such as the salvo of turrets that is Neuschwanstein, which served as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland. King Ludwig II, the creator of this fantasy, sprinkled southern Bavaria with several other palatial flights of fancy, all within easy reach of each other.

Where to Stay in Germany

A handful of ultra-luxurious hotels stand out. Berlin’s Adlon Kempinski by the Brandenburg Gate, Hamburg’s Four Seasons by the Alster Lake, Schloss Elmau with its spas and concerts in the foothills of the Alps, and the Bareiss in the Black Forest with its Michelin stars. Otherwise, Germany does particularly well in the “lean luxury” category: These are personable modern designer properties with excellent service at a very competitive price. In particular the widespread Ruby group, the many Amano hotels in Berlin, the colorful cultural 25 Hours Hotels in most big cities, and the trendy Me And All properties in less mainstream places like Düsseldorf, Ulm, and Hanover.

What Currency Does Germany Use?

Germany is a member of the European Union and the country uses the euro as currency.

Andrew Eames is a travel writer and author who runs a website about Germany. His most recent book, “Blue River Black Sea,” traces the course of the Danube from its source in the Black Forest.

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