My husband and I were fortunate to live in Germany for three years. During our time living there we tried to see as much of the country as we could. We ventured to castles, rivers, festivals, and museums. Most of it was spent in the western regions of Germany, but we did see a little Bavarian areas as well (along with 9 other countries, but those posts will have to wait for now!).
I’m no travel expert, but living there for three years allowed me to observe some things I know travelers (especially Americans) could benefit from knowing prior to arriving in Germany. A trip is always more fun when you feel prepared and comfortable, I promise.
Here are my 10 tips for traveling in Germany:
1.) Always have cash AND coins available. You may find yourself in need of a bathroom and most all (decent) bathrooms require a small fee. The fee is worth it because the bathrooms are kept very clean and well-stocked.
2.) Dress in layers. It may be cloudy and misty I the morning and yet the sun will be peaking out by lunchtime. You’ll want to be prepared.
3.) You don’t need to tip your waiter/waitress, it’s not expected but you can. Also, don’t be offended if your waitress seems to not check on you repeatedly, this is an American thing. I always tried to get eye contact and then raise my hand a little when I needed something.
4.) Castles are beautiful but wear proper footwear when visiting them! Most are in ruins, which sometimes have tricky walkways, you don’t want to be stuck up a hill in painful shoes. Even the castles in working order still require a hike to reach them and cobblestone is not nice on shoes (or feet). You’ll want to be hydrated, fed, and dressed right to attend most of the medium to large castles. Some of our favorites were Neuschwanstein, Burg Eltz, Heidelberg Castle and Reichsburg Castle in Cochem.
5.) Beverages: Its not common for them to put ice in your beverage, and if you ask for ice they’ll likely hear “eis” which is ice cream. This will create a confusing dialogue if you don’t speak German. Most don’t do free refills. If you ask for water be sure to specify no bubbles, because Germans love bubbly water! I don’t though, so I always had to specify.
6.) If you’re attending a festival such as Oktoberfest (or one of the many similar ones throughout the country) pace yourself because there’s likely to be a limited number of bathrooms and a lot of people in line!
7.) Dogs are allowed many places, this is the cultural norm. We loved it and took our dogs everywhere. If you have allergies, it’s best to come prepared.
8.) Stores are not open Sunday. People are resting and spending time at home or with family so don’t expect to get shopping done on a Sunday; plan accordingly.
9.) German breakfast is very different from American breakfast. They have deli meats baked goods, boiled eggs, cheese, and sometimes fruit and toast. You won’t find waffles and breakfast sandwiches unless you’re at a chain like McDonalds. But they do have waffles topped with fruit and whipped cream at dessert cafes.
10.) If you’re trying to decide on the best time of year to see Germany, my vote is for Christmas time. Nothing beats the Christmas markets they put on all throughout the country. You’ll have the opportunity to buy amazing handmade gifts and decor, try out delicious foods, drink gluhwein and mingle with locals; it’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience! But if you have to come during summer, you’ll get amazing photographs of castles, rivers, and wine valleys if you go to the Rhine region. You will be happy either way.