Stretching from the Alps to the Baltic and North Seas, Germany makes for inspiring, fascinating and invigorating travel. Spend one day exploring half-timbered medieval towns and spectacular baroque palaces in Bavaria, and the next immersing yourself in fast-paced cosmopolitan cities. Metropolises such as Berlin provide a world of variety, with renowned historic attractions Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin wall right next to the top techno clubs on earth. Art and design explode in continual evolution, with Weimar providing the mecca for fans of Goethe, Schiller, and the Bauhaus Movement, and forward-thinking galleries dotted all over the country. Nature lovers have a paradise to explore, including pristine Alpine pistes, huge glimmering lakes, and thousands of miles of dense forest dotted with curative thermal springs. Culinary enthusiasts will delight in Germany's world-famous beer, sausage, and 'stollen'.
Banking and Currency
Germany uses the European monetary unit, the euro (€). Euro bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500; coins are worth 1 cent of a euro, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro, and 2 euros. Local merchants may refuse to accept €200 and €500 bills due to the prevalence of counterfeit bills.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.
Foreign currencies and traveller's cheques can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, post offices, airports, railway stations, ports and major hotels at the official exchange rates.
Banking hours are generally Mon-Fri 08h30-13h00 and 14h00-16h00, Thurs 08h30-13h00 and 14h30-17h30 in main cities. Main branches do not close for lunch. Bureaux de change in airports and main railway stations are open 06h00-22h00.
Shopping in Germany is still very cash-based and you'll need to have a supply of Euro notes and coins on you all the time. The banking system in Germany is a little different to the ones in English-speaking countries. Most purchases are made with cash. Checks (cheques) are virtually unknown and credit cards are mainly used for special transactions such as car hire.
Travelers should bear this in mind and plan to carry some cash with them. Your hotel will very likely accept credit cards, but most shops and restaurants which don't specifically cater to tourists won't. Fortunately ATMs are ubiquitous in Germany but most are contained inside the bank itself, and outside of opening hours you'll have to insert your card into a slot in the door to gain access. It's very rare to find a "hole-in-the-wall" type of ATM directly on the street. Most ATMs accept credit cards such as Mastercard, American Express, Visa, Diners' Club International as well as normal debit cards with Plus and Cirrus marks.
Virtually all ATMs will allow you to withdraw cash from a foreign bank or financial institution, either by credit card or using a bank card which is compatible with the Plus, Maestro and / or Cirrus networks. Fees may be applied; ask your bank or credit card issuer for details.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Internal services are operated by Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com), Air Berlin (www.airberlin.com), Germanwings (www.germanwings.com) and several other regional airlines. Frankfurt is the main air travel hub, and all other German airports can be reached in an hour or less from here. Given the breadth and general efficiency of the public transport network, however, internal flights should not be seen as essential. Their main benefit is to save time.
Germany's cities and larger towns have efficient public-transport systems. Bigger cities integrate buses, trams, U-Bahn (underground, subway) trains and S-Bahn (suburban) trains into a single network.
Fares are determined by zones or time travelled, sometimes by both. A multi-ticket strip (Streifenkarte or 4-Fahrtenkarte) or day pass (Tageskarte) generally offers better value than a single-ride ticket. Normally, tickets must be stamped upon boarding in order to be valid. Fines are levied if you’re caught without a valid ticket.
Germans love to cycle, be it for errands, commuting, fitness or pleasure. Many cities have dedicated bicycle lanes, which must be used unless obstructed. There’s no helmet law, not even for children, although using one is recommended, for obvious reasons. Bicycles must be equipped with a white light at the front, a red one at the back and yellow reflectors on the wheels and pedals.
Buses are a ubiquitous form of public transport and practically all towns have their own comprehensive network. Buses run at regular intervals, with restricted services in the evenings and at weekends. Some cities operate night buses along popular routes to get night owls safely home.
Occasionally, buses are supplemented by trams (Strassenbahn), which are usually faster because they travel on their own tracks, largely independent of other traffic. In city centres they sometimes run underground. Bus and tram drivers generally sell single tickets and day passes only.
Metropolitan areas, such as Berlin and Munich, have a system of suburban trains called the S-Bahn. They are faster and cover a wider area than buses or trams but tend to be less frequent. S-Bahn lines are often linked to the national rail network and sometimes connect urban centres. Rail passes are generally valid on these services. Specific S-Bahn lines are abbreviated with ‘S’ followed by the number (eg S1, S7).
Taxis are expensive and, given the excellent public-transport systems, not recommended unless you’re in a real hurry. (They can actually be slower than trains or trams if you’re stuck in traffic.)
Underground (subway) trains are known as U-Bahn in Germany and are the fastest form of travel in big cities. Route maps are posted in all stations, and at many you’ll be able to pick up a printed copy from the stationmaster or ticket office. The frequency of trains usually fluctuates with demand, meaning there are more trains during commuter rush hours than in the middle of the day.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Standards of hygiene, in relation to food health and safety in Germany,are generally high in hotels, restaurants, pubs and nightspots. Restaurants are subject to food safety control legislation, which is implemented by local government.
Tap water in Germany has a higher quality control standard and more frequent tests of the tap water than bottled water. The upper level of contaminants in tap water in Germany is lower than the permissible levels in bottled water.
Meat and potatoes: these ingredients are staples in almost every meal. While not world famous for its haute cuisine, German food is hearty and filling. Sausages, sausages, and more sausages. There are many must-eat meats in Germany, ranging from the Frankfurter, the Thüringer, the Nüremberger and the Weisswurst, to the bockwurst and currywurst, to name but a few.
Visitors should note that most restaurants in Germany close around or before midnight, which means last call is taken around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.
Tips are generally not included so visitors should look to pay an average of 10% on top of the check/bill.
Climate and Weather
Germany's climate is almost as varied as its country but it is mostly temperate. Extreme temperature lows and highs are rare. Winter temperatures vary from west to east, with around freezing temperatures in the west and well below freezing in the east of Germany. Summer temperatures are typically between 20°C and 30°C, with more rainfall during the summer months.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Light- to mediumweight clothing is recommended in summer while medium- to heavyweight clothing is advised in winter. If you’re intending to visit the mountains – and particularly if you’re planning a long-distance hike – it’s best to take waterproof gear and extra layers with you, no matter what the time of year.
Germans dress quite formally and stylishly. Smart casual clothing will be appropriate for sightseeing and for eating out. In many German towns there are cobbled streets, so it's best to avoid high heels.
Frequent changes of weather make forecasting difficult. To be on the safe side, be sure to bring a sweater and wet weather clothing with you no matter the season.
Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Germany. With the widespread availability of Wi-Fi in traditional cafes and restaurants, the distinction between an Internet and a regular cafe is blurring, but an Internet cafe offers computer terminals, while most traditional cafes offer only wireless Internet access for your own laptop or smartphone.
Web cafe access rates can vary considerably, but range from free (for paying customers) to as little as 50 eurocents per half hour to three euros per hour, depending on the location and the services offered. In large cities, there is an Internet cafe on almost every corner in high-traffic areas. Many serve food and drink, while others are just a room full of computers with a snack or beverage vending machine.
Wi-Fi (called W-LAN in German, pron. VAY-lahn) internet access in Germany and Europe is increasingly widespread. Most German business hotels offer Ethernet or Wi-Fi high-speed internet access for either an hourly or a daily charge. Smaller hotels and pensions can be more problematic. Sometimes there are problems even getting a dial-up connection (hard-wiring, different jacks, etc.) It’s wise to ask before booking if you will need internet access from your hotel.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Germany (Deutschland) are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E" and "Type F" Schuko. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all three types.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Germany (Deutschland) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If you appliance is not compatible with 220-240 volt electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.