Germany boasts a wide range of natural beauty, from the sweeping shores of the Baltic Sea in the north to the snow-capped peaks of the Bavarian Alps in the south. Three of Europe’s major rivers flow through the country, long making it a thoroughfare for trade: the Rhine, Danube and Elbe. The state of Bavaria, comprising the nation’s southeast region, has a culture and a breathtaking setting all its own. Its capital, Munich, sits at the foot of the Alps, which rise to the Austrian border. Hulking mountains pierce the sky here, overlooking green, flower-filled meadows and pristine forests.
The most populous country in the European Union, Germany plays a central role in the continent’s economy. It is a parliamentary, democratic republic and its capital is Berlin.
German is Germany’s official language. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints.
Life in Germany
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m, and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. On the first Saturday of the month, stores are open until 4:00 p.m., and stores are closed on Sunday. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday to Friday and to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants and cafés, lunch is served from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Tipping: If service is not included at a restaurant or café, it is customary to leave 10 to 15 percent of the total. If service is included (you will know this from the word “Bedienung” on your bill or your menu) it is proper to round up to the nearest euro. For taxi drivers you can also round up. For luggage assistance, one euro per bag is typical.
German public holidays: To assist in travel planning, it may be helpful to be aware of Germany public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events. Here’s a site with a list of public holidays, and here’s a site with further cultural information.
German food is wholesome and varied, and while it can live up to its reputation for heartiness, it is based on seasonal produce and ingredients and has extensive regional variation. Germans are meat eaters, with emphasis on cooked sausages, sauerbraten (pot roast), game such as venison and fowl, and breaded veal or pork cutlets—wienerschnitzel. But both fresh- and salt-water fish can also be found on many menus. Soups, either creamy vegetable purees or broths with noodles and dumplings, are also common. Salads may consist of a variety of vegetables, often with a thick creamy dressing, and you’ll also find sautéed vegetables, potatoes, and of course cabbage in the form of sauerkraut.
Germany bakeries and markets are a good source for tempting baked goods: a large variety of breads and rolls, whole meal or white, are ubiquitous. Delicious cakes may contain a variety of fruits and berries, such as the decadent schwarzwälder kirschtorte (cherry, chocolate, and cream Black Forest Cake).
Germany is best known for its high-quality beer, predominantly pilsner. Weiss beer, or wheat beer, and other regional brews are also available. Germany also produces wine in the upper and middle Rhine River region and in the Moselle Valley. Well-known whites are Riesling or Silvaner, and reds are Spätburgunder and Dornfelder.
Germany has a temperate climate with some regional variation, mainly based on elevation, with few extreme fluctuations in temperature. Rain can fall year-round, although precipitation is heavier in the fall and winter. Summer temperatures can range from the mid-60s to low 70s, with warmer or cooler periods. Temperatures in the mountains are cooler, especially at higher elevations and especially in the morning and evening.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
Germany uses the euro (EUR). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 EUR. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter Germany. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in Germany. Plugs have either two round pins and a hole, or just two round pins. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Germany’s country code is “+49.” Cell phone coverage throughout Germany is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Germany is in the Central European Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 6 hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at germany.travel/en/.
The majority of international flights arrive at Frankfurt’s international airport (frankfurt-airport.com) or Munich’s international airport (www.munich-airport.de/en/consumer/index.jsp), with short connecting flights to most other cities in Germany on an extensive domestic air network.
- International Airports in Germany
- Baden-Baden/Karlsruhe – Baden Airpark
- Berlin – Berlin Tegel Airport
- Berlin – Berlin Schönefeld Airport
- Bremen Airport
- Cologne/Bonn Airport
- Dortmund Airport
- Düsseldorf Airport
- Frankfurt Airport
- Frankfurt-Hahn Airport
- Friedrichshafen Airport
- Hamburg Airport
- Hanover – Langenhagen Airport
- Leipzig – Leipzig/Halle Airport
- Lübeck Airport
- Memmingen Airport
- Munich Airport
- Nuremberg Airport
- Stuttgart Airport
- Weeze Airport
Germany’s national train company is Deutsche Bahn. You may book your train travel directly with them. The rail network often conveniently connects with airports and, depending on your airline, you may be able to check your luggage to your final railway destination. Check with your travel agent, airline, or DB Rail for more information (bahn.de/i/view/USA/en/index.shtml).
Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
In addition to rail and airlines, Germany also has an extensive bus network that, for some towns and cities, may be more convenient and affordable than rail, see eurolines.de/en/.
Most major car rental agencies are available at airports and train stations. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). For more information contact Country Walkers, or go to germany.travel/en/travel-information/along-the-way/along-the-way.html.