Destinations Europe

Germany Destination Guide—Tips and Highlights

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Passau, Germany

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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