What you need to know before traveling to Germany

Officially known as the Federal Republic of Germany, the nation is the largest in Central Europe and boasts one of the most influential cultures and economies on the planet. The country is split into 16 states that make up the federation, with each one corresponding to regions that boast their own unique and distinctive cultural backgrounds. Around the world, Germany is known for precision engineering and the production of high-tech consumer goods. You'll find a diverse cultural experience awaiting you when you travel to Germany.

  • Key facts
    The federal capital and largest city in Germany is Berlin. The capital city is located in Eastern Germany and is a sprawling, modern metropolis that is popular for its elegant clubs, high-end shops, and impressive restaurants. Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany, and also owns the title of richest city in the country. Located along the Reeperbahn River, Hamburg is well known for its liberal culture, beautiful harbor district, and lively casinos.
    Although Germany consists of 16 states, it is more easily divided and viewed as five regions. Northern Germany, anchored by Hamburg, boasts wind-swept hills and North Sea/Baltic Sea coastal retreats. Western Germany is home to the nation's wine country. Central Germany is the heartbeat of the nation, anchored by the financial capital of Frankfurt. Southern Germany, home to the city of Munich, is a commonly associated with the nation's beer culture and hosts the annual Oktoberfest celebration.
    Germany is a member of the European Union, and as such it uses the Euro (€) as its common currency.
    The nation's official language is German, known as Hochdeutsch (High German). All native speakers understand the language, and most Germans have a basic understanding of English as it is taught in school.
  • Weather & when to go
    As you prepare for your visit to Germany, you'll need to know what to pack and when to travel. Each season has its own charm in Germany, but spring is quite possibly the best time to visit. The long, cold winter is coming to an end, but the peak summer travel season hasn't arrived. You'll find ample outdoor activities in spring, such as traditional Easter celebrations and fairs, and prices that are more affordable than summer.
    Average spring temperatures across Germany peak around 57 F (14 C). Summer is the peak travel season in Germany. The nation enjoys long, sunny days, open-air festivals, and ample outdoor activities. The average high during the summer months ranges from 68 F to 75 F (20 to 24 C).
    Fall's main attraction in Germany is the annual Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Bavaria. However, local wine festivals are a major attraction as well during the fall. The average temperature ranges from a high of 57 F (14 C) in September to 39 F (4 C) in November. Winter is less popular in Germany, but the nation's Christmas markets are a popular draw during the cold, wet winter weather. Average highs in winter hover around 37 F (3 C), with precipitation increasing in December and January.
  • Getting around
    As you plan your visit to Germany, keep in mind that the federal capital of Berlin is not the best option for international and intercontinental arrivals. Frankfurt International is the main hub in Germany, and is actually one of Europe's four major hub airports. Other important airports are located in Munich and Dusseldorf.
    Once you've arrived in Germany, travel between cities is most efficient by rail. Germany's Deutsche Bahn rail line connects Germany with neighboring countries, and is connected to the EuroCity line that runs between nations. The InterCityExpress is a high-speed rail line that connects many of Germany's major cities. For example, you can travel from Munich in the far south of the country to Hamburg along the northern coast in 6 hours. The drive takes 8 hours.
    Regional transportation is available by rail and car as well. Rental cars are often preferred over regional rail lines and bus because the cost is significantly lower in most cases. Carpools are also a popular choice in Germany, and Mitfahrgelegenheit and Mitfahrzentrale are two popular services that help connect riders looking to carpool.
  • Know before you go
    As with any vacation you plan, there are important things to learn about before you get off the plane or train so you hit the ground running:

    • As long as you are over 18, you can legally purchase and smoke cigarettes in public. However, in 2007 the federal states began banning smoking in public places. These rules vary from state to state, so check before you light up.

    • The legal drinking age in Germany is 18 for spirits and 16 for beer and wine.

    • The nationwide emergency number is 112. This covers fire, police, and rescue services and is staffed by English-speaking operators.

    • Be aware that prostitution is legal in Germany, with Berlin and Hamburg well known for brothels.

    • Private health insurance and foreign insurance plans are not widely accepted by local hospitals, so check your coverage before leaving. German healthcare is quite expensive.

    • Apotheke (Pharmacies) are marked in all towns with a big, red "A."

    • Most importantly, insulting others in public is prohibited under German law. Watch your tongue, because you can be prosecuted for that behavior and face jail time and/or a heavy fine.

  • Travel tips & recommendations

    • Germans value punctuality and manners. Do not put your elbows on the table in high-end German restaurants (in particular), and be sure to show up on time for appointments you make.

    • In addition to the national emergency number, you can dial 110 for police services. Germany is generally safe, but take precautions and do not walk alone at night.

    • Visit a brauhaus (German small brewery) to taste local beers that are sold direct to customers.

    • Bakeries and butchers sell some of the best grab-and-go meals in Germany.

    • Opening hours vary from state to state, but Sundays and national holidays are closed days for German shops.

    • Public holidays are determined largely by individual federal states, but German Unity Day (annually on October 3) is recognized nationally.

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