Germany Vacations & Travel Tips
When to Go
Germany is a fine destination year-round, but most people visit between May and September when sunny skies are most likely and much of life moves outdoors. Beer gardens and cafes bustle at all hours; outdoor events and festivals enliven cities and villages; and hiking, cycling and swimming (in lakes or pools) are popular pursuits - at least as long as the weather plays along. Remember that rain is a possibility in any month. The flipside of summer travel is, of course, larger crowds at museums and other attractions and traffic jams at places such as Lake Constance. Accommodation needn't be hard to come by unless you're drawn to beach and mountain resorts popular with German holiday-makers.
The shoulder seasons (from March to May and from October to early November) bring fewer tourists, lower accommodation prices and often surprisingly pleasant weather. In April and May, when flowers and fruit trees are in bloom, it can be mild and sunny. Indian summers that stretch well into autumn are not uncommon.
With the exception of winter sports, activities between November and early March are likely to focus more on culture and city life. In these months, skies tend to be gloomy and the mercury often drops below freezing. On the plus side, there are fewer visitors and shorter queues (except in the winter resorts). Just pack the right clothes and keep in mind that there are only six to eight hours of daylight. In December the sun (if there is any) sets around 15:30.
Germany is not prey to dramatic climatic extremes, although there are regional differences. The most reliably good weather is from May to October, with high summer a good bet for mid 20°C (low 70°F) shorts-and-t-shirt conditions, even in the north. Autumn is a good time to visit Germany. As the tourist scrum disperses and the forests turn golden, it's not too stifling to be active but still warm enough to leave you thirsty for a few well-deserved steins. Winter is frosty and wet, especially in the south, with snow rarely settling for long except in the high country.
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The main arrival/departure points for flights in Germany are Frankfurt-am-Main, Munich and Düsseldorf. Frankfurt is Europe's busiest airport after Heathrow. An airport departure tax is included in ticket prices. Thanks to the spread of low-cost airlines, it is now often cheaper to fly to Germany from around Europe than to take the train. While train travel is often more expensive than catching a bus, it's generally faster, more comfortable (particularly for overnight travel) and more efficient. Germany is served by an excellent highway system connected to the rest of Western Europe. Roads from Eastern Europe are being upgraded but some border crossings are a little slow, especially from Poland. To enter Germany with a car or motorbike, you must have third-party insurance. Ferries run between Germany's northern coast and Scandinavia and the UK.
Getting around Germany is easy. Domestic air travel is extensive but unless you're in an awful hurry, you might as well save your money - the German train network is wonderful. The eastern and western train systems have now been fully merged. Numerous fares and ticket passes, including Eurailpass and GermanRail Pass are available. There is usually a surcharge for the InterCity Express (ICE) trains but it's worth it to travel 300km/h (190mph) through the German countryside. Forget about buses until you're in train-unfriendly terrain.
German roads are excellent, and motorized transport can be a great way to tour the country, although most towns have problems with car-parking. The national and (in)famous motorway network known as autobahnen can be wonderful - or it can be a nightmare: speed-of-light Porsches and BMWs looming monster-size and impatient in your rear-view mirror are one factor, soul-destroying traffic jams are another. Technically there is no general speed limit on the autobahnen, but, in an effort to increase safety and curb noise pollution, many segments have speed limits ranging from 100km/hr (62mph) to 130km/hr (80mph). On other parts of the autobahn system, high performance sports cars will pass you in excess of 250 kmh (155mph). Be careful!
Bicycle touring in Germany is very popular. There are often separate cycling routes in the cities, towns and in the countryside, but cycling on the autobahnen is strictly verboten. Helmets are recommended, but not mandatory.
Most German towns have efficient public transport systems. Bigger cities, such as Berlin and Munich, integrate buses, trams and rail into a single network.
Most EU citizens only need their national identity card or passport to enter, stay and work in Germany. Americans, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Poles, Swiss, Japanese and Israelis just need a valid passport (no visa) to enter Germany as tourists. Passports should be valid for at least another four months from the planned date of departure from Germany.
Nationals from most other countries need a so-called Schengen visa. Applications for this visa must be filed with the embassy or consulate of the country that is your primary destination in Europe. It is valid for up to 90 days.
Please contact the German consulate for up-to-date information on travel document requirements.
Health and Safety
Germany is a very safe country in which to live and travel, with crime rates that are quite low by international standards. Theft and other crimes against travelers occur rarely. Of course, you should still take all the usual sensible precautions, such as locking hotel rooms and cars, not leaving valuables unattended, keeping an eye out for pickpockets in crowded places and not taking midnight strolls in city parks. Many hostels provide lockers, but you need your own padlock. Train stations tend to be magnets for the destitute and drug dependent who might harass you or make you feel otherwise uncomfortable, especially if you are in the area at night.
In big cities, especially Berlin, large-scale political protests and demonstrations are quite common. Despite a high police presence, these can turn rowdy or violent on rare occasions, so it's best to stay away from them altogether. Police are also very visible on game days of soccer matches to prevent clashes between fans of rival teams. Always avoid groups of intoxicated hooligans, as many belong to neo-Nazi and skinhead organizations and are erratic, unpredictable and often violent. Although they do not target tourists, innocent bystanders they perceive as 'foreign looking' or as members of rivalling left-wing groups could potentially be harassed. If you do find yourself in a threatening situation, try not to provoke these aggressors, get away from the scene as fast as possible and notify the police.