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Germany Travel Guide

Germany is a land of dreamy river valleys and fairytale towns. It’s inevitable that you’ll get romanced by the half-timbered houses, hilltop castles, wine taverns, and beer halls.

It’s a country that has a reputation for beer but has an equally marvelous wine culture.

We lived in Germany for one year. We fell in love with Cologne’s Karneval culture, Berlin’s edge, Baden-Baden’s healing waters, and the Moselle Valley’s wine.

We also learned firsthand about German bureaucracy, systemic inefficiencies, cultural norms, and unapologetic customer service. 
Recently, we returned to Germany to explore Upper Bavaria. In summer, we hiked extensively around Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A few months later, we returned to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in winter for the holidays.

Mittenwald, Bavaria, Germany

Germany Travel Map

Must-see cities, towns, river valleys, and hiking destinations in Germany.

GERMANY DESTINATIONS

Berlin

Cologne

Eifel

Ahr Valley

Upper Middle Rhine Valley

Moselle Valley

Franconia

Black Forest

Bavarian Alps

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Best Things to Do in Germany

Lake Eibsee Rock Viewpoint, Bavaria, Germany

Hike in the Bavarian Alps

The most thrilling place to hike in Germany is in Bavaria. The Bavarian Alps encompass several ranges which form part of the Northern Limestone Alps.

The resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a very practical base for hiking in the Alps. Check out these guides:

To string together the most sensational destinations in the Northern Alps, follow this 10-Day Bavarian Alps & Tyrolean Alps Road Trip.

If you’re planning a winter trip to the Bavarian Alps, read our Garmisch-Partenkirchen winter guide.

Spitzenhäuschen, Bernkastel-Kues, Moselle Valley

Drink Wine in the Moselle Valley

For anyone who equates Germany with Beer only, think again. Germany is also the land of wine.

The Moselle Valley (Mosel in German) is a region that surrounds the Moselle River and extends across north-eastern France, south-western Germany, and eastern Luxembourg.

This region is famous for its wine, especially its Riesling. In Germany, you can drive the Wine Road, Römische Weinstraße, which closely follows the Moselle River.

With vineyards and castle ruins on one side of the road and the River on the other, the Römische Weinstraße is easily one of the most romantic drives in Germany.

Along the route, you’ll pass through many wine-making villages filled with wine taverns (Weinstuben in German), wineries, and restaurants. We recommend driving slowly and stopping often. 

Where to Stay in the Moselle Valley: Trier, Bernkastel-Kues, Beilstein, and Cochem.

Read Next: Moselle Valley Travel Guide

Friedrichsbad, Black Forest, Germany
Copyright: CARASANA Bäderbetriebe GmbH

Bathe in Baden-Baden

Visiting a Therme is an essential thing to do in Germany. It’s not only relaxing, but it’s also a cultural experience that’s very valued by the German people.

The ultimate place to experience a thermal bathhouse is in the historic spa town that’s called “to bathe – to bathe,” or Baden-Baden.

It was the Romans who first discovered the healing waters of Baden-Baden and set up a wellness complex here for their soldiers and citizens. The foundations of the Roman bath ruins are still viewable in the city.

Today, Baden-Baden is home to two famous thermal spas: Friedrichsbad and Caracalla Spa.

Friedrichsbad was opened in 1877 and at the time was considered the most modern bathing establishment in Europe. The main attraction was and is the mineral thermal water rich in calcium and magnesium.

Learn more: Black Forest Travel Guide.

Rosenmontag Parade, Cologne Karneval

Celebrate Karneval in Cologne

Likely when you hear the word “Carnival” you think of places like Venice, New Orleans, and Rio de Janeiro. But, there’s another city you should add to that list. That city is Cologne.

Karneval in Cologne isn’t just a few days, it’s a whole season. The beloved 5th Season begins on November 11th each year at precisely 11:11 a.m. and it doesn’t end until midnight before Ash Wednesday.

Karneval is so important to the people of Cologne that we’d argue that you can’t understand Cologne until you’ve experienced Karneval.

During the 5th season, it’s very common to see people in costume, hear Karneval Lieder (songs), and see Karneval Corps troops gathered in public spaces. The main festivities to attend and see are Weiberfastnacht (Shrove Thursday) and the official parade on Rosenmontag (Carnival Monday). Parade participants are dressed spectacularly and throw out tons of candy (Kamelle) and flowers (Strüßjer) to spectators.

Our favorite Karneval tradition is the Nubbelverbrennung. The burning of the Nubbel is the final celebration that marks the end of the carnival days in Cologne. Everywhere around the city, people gather to burn the Nubbel, a symbolic straw figure that represents all sins committed during the season. After the burning, participants link arms and sing Karneval Lieder for the last time.

Cologne Travel Guides: Cologne in Winter and Cologne Day Trips

Red Wine Trail, Ahr Valley

Hike the Red Wine Trail in the Ahr Valley

We want to share with you a secret. There’s a small region in Western Germany called the Ahr Valley (Ahrtal in German) that is only visited by locals and wine lovers.

We explored Germany’s largest red wine growing region by hiking the Red Wine Trail (Rotweinwanderweg in German). It’s a 35-kilometer point-to-point hiking trail, signed with a red grape motif.

The objective of this hike is to savor the local wine and walk from one winemaking village to another. The region is well known for its Spätburgunder (pinot noir), Portugieser, Dornfelder, and Frühburgunder red wines. They also produce some exceptional blanc de noir white wines.

Read Next: Ahr Valley Travel Guide

NS Documentation Center in Munich, Germany

Visit an NS (National Socialism) Documentation Center

NS Documentation Centers are learning centers and places of remembrance that investigate, chronicle and expose the causes, context, and consequences of National Socialism in Germany.

These centers are incredibly thorough. Information is presented both visually and aurally (via audio guide).

NS centers occupy former Nazi buildings. The Nuremberg center is in the unfinished Nazi Congress Hall, designed to hold 50,000 people. The Cologne center is in the El-De Building which was the headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo (secret state police).

By occupying former Nazi buildings, these centers hope to keep the crimes, devastation, and terror of the Third Reich in public memory.

We visited the NS Documentation Centers in Nuremberg, Munich and Cologne. Each center has a unique focus. The Nuremberg NS-DC focuses on Nazi propaganda. It shows how the Nazis used architecture, party rallies, and mass events to stage “Volksgemeinschaft,” the people’s community, for their propaganda.

The Cologne NS-DC thoroughly investigates the way National Socialism developed in Cologne, reveals the role the Cologne Gestapo played in the Third Reich and identifies which minorities and groups of people were persecuted, abused, and murdered in World War II. The Munich NS-DC focuses on how the city contributed to the rise of Nazism, how democracy failed, and how citizens have worked to combat the erasure of National Socialism and WWII from public memory. 

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Visit Berlin, Europe’s Coolest City

Berlin isn’t a pretty city. But, that’s not the point. It’s expressive and edgy as well as wounded and honest. Berlin doesn’t shy away from its past. It takes its history of unimaginable crime and division and presents it for all to see.

The Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), with its 2,711 grave-like concrete slabs, is just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate, the most well-known landmark of Berlin.

Berlin’s museums are a great starting place to unraveling and deconstructing WWII as well as the country’s division between East (DDR, German Democratic Republic) and West (Federal Republic of Germany) in the Cold War era.

We highly recommend the exhibition Daily Life in the GDR Museum in der Kulturbrauerei. And for those who love art, Berlin boasts over 400 galleries. Art matters to this city – and you’ll sense that when you visit.

Unlike most European capital cities, Berlin doesn’t have a heart-beating center. The geographical city center is almost lifeless. However, you will find life and plenty of hearts beating in Berlin’s many neighborhoods.

Altes Rathaus in Bamberg, Germany

Drink Smoked Beer in Bamberg

Straddling several rivers, Bamberg is a disarmingly good-looking city in Franconia, the northern region of Bavaria. The entire Altstadt is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When you’re done admiring the colorful buildings, the Altes Rathaus, the Neue Residenz, and Bamberger Dom, the first order of business is visiting a brewery, or tavern.

There’s a cool story about Bamberg’s stunning Altes Rathaus. The legend goes that the bishop of Bamberg did not grant the citizens any land for the construction of a town hall. So, the townsfolk created an artificial island in the river Regntiz. There they built the town hall that they so badly wanted.

Bamberg makes liquid bacon, or smoked beer (Rauchbier in German). Here are a few places to enjoy Bamberg’s liquid gold: Klosterbräu, Schlenkerla (they have the smokiest beer), Brauerei Fässla.

As you wander through Bamberg, keep an eye out for the 6 pointed Brewer’s Star, which you might think is the Jewish Star of David (at least we did).

The star is usually displayed outside Breweries and has its roots in alchemy. It symbolizes the balance of the masculine, the feminine, and the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber (“Red Fort on the River Tauber”) is the quintessential storybook town in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It’s located on the Romantic Road, south of Würzburg and North of Dinkelsbühl.

Wandering through the streets of the impeccably-preserved medieval town is like walking into a Disney fairy tale movie. The colorful town is surrounded by a massive stone wall with 42 towers.

The town wall is walkable. You can access it from several points of entry, throughout the city.

One thing not to miss is the intricately carved altars in the Lutheran Church of St. Jakobs. The church houses the Altar of the Virgin Mary (1520), The High Altar (1466), and The Altar of the Holy Blood (1499-1505).

The latter is a masterpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider in terms of its detail and humanism.

It was commissioned by the Rothenburg Council to provide a respectable setting for a relic containing a capsule of holy blood.

Liebfrauenkirche, Oberwesel, Upper Middle Rhine Valley

Tour the Romantic Rhine Valley

The Romantic Rhine Valley, aka the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (Oberes-Mittelrheintal in German), is the region along the River Rhine that stretches for 65-km between the city of Koblenz and the towns of Bingen and Rüdesheim am Rhein.

This region is celebrated for its wine-making towns, steep vineyards, and hill-top castles.

Whether you cruise, hike, cycle or drive along the spellbinding Rhine River, you’ll feel transported to another time.

Where to Stay in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley: Bacharach, Sankt Goar, or Oberwesel.

Neumarkt Christmas Market, Cologne

Warm up with Glühwein at a Christmas Market

Germany really dresses up for Christmas. The streets are decked with lights and wreaths. Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte or Christkindlmärkte in German) emerge in town squares and public gathering spaces, starting in late November.

And, the air smells like mulled wine (Glühwein in German), raclette, and candied nuts. It’s festive, it’s fun and most of all, it’s for everyone. Winter in Germany lasts forever, but during the festive Christmas season, you don’t even mind your numb toes.

Christmas markets are open to the public. There’s no entry cost. Some have specific themes. And, there are multiple stalls selling different goodies. 

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavarian Alps, Germany

What to Eat and Drink in Germany


Dining in Germany

In most restaurants, you can sit wherever there is an open table. You don’t need to wait for someone to seat you.

Tap water is never served automatically. If you ask for tap water (Leitungswasser), the waiter/waitress won’t be pleased. Instead, buy a bottle of water and specify whether you want “mit sprudel” (with gas) or “stilles wasser” (without gas).


German Gastronomy

German cuisine is meat-heavy and served in large proportions. The main dishes are usually accompanied by potatoes, salad, and/or sauerkraut. When deciding what to order, opt for seasonal ingredients. For example, in autumn, order something with pumpkin. In spring, order something with white asparagus.

Frikadellen are pan-fried meatballs of minced meat. Eat with bread and mustard.

Zwiebelrostbraten is roast beef topped with roasted onions. It’s often served with a side of Spätzle (egg noodles).

Sauerbraten, Rhineland cuisine, translates as “sour roast.” Sauerbraten is made by marinating a beef roast in a sour-sweet marinade for 2 to 3 days before browning it. Next, the meat simmers in the marinade for several hours, which makes it very tender.

Reibekuchen, Rhineland cuisine, translates as “grated cakes.” It’s essentially a deeply fried potato pancake made with potatoes, onions, and eggs. It’s popular to eat these on the street at Christmas markets, fairs, and sports events.  They’re delicious, but don’t overdo it. You’ll die.

Nürnberger Bratwurst, Franconian cuisine, is a small sausage made with garlic, pepper and marjoram. If you order it in a restaurant, you’ll typically get 6 small sausages with Sauerkraut.


German Beverages

Schorle is a nonalcoholic beverage made with mineral water and juice. You can order Apfelschorle (made with apple juice), Johannisbeer-Schorle (made with black currant juice), or any other juice that’s available.

Eiskaffee is vanilla ice cream served in a tall glass of coffee, topped off with whipped cream. In summer, you’ll see people drinking these in every Eiscafé (café that serves ice cream) and Gelateria.

Drink Riesling from the Moselle Valley and Middle Rhine. Drink Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) from the Ahr Valley. Drink Bacchus from Franconia.

Lake Eibsee, Bavaria, Germany

Getting around Germany


Bus

One really cheap way to travel throughout Germany and to neighboring countries is via a Flixbus. These comfortable buses are punctual, clean, and provide wifi. It might take a bit longer than a train, but it will save you a lot of money.


Car

Renting a car is necessary if you want to explore Germany’s tourist routes: German Alpine Road, Fairy Tale Road, Romantic Road, Roman Wine Road (Römische Weinstraße), etc.

Check out our 10-day Bavarian Alps road trip.

We recommend using the Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals in Germany. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.

Tip: If you can only drive automatic transmission cars, as opposed to manual transmission cars (stick shift), book your car rental as early as possible.

Check car rental rates here

Another way of getting around is via Bla Bla Car, a private carpooling platform. The website allows you to arrange rides to other cities. You set the price with the driver and decide on the pick-up and drop-off locations, prior to the ride. Money is transferred via the platform.

Read these driving in Germany tips before you start your road trip.


Train

ICE trains are the fastest, most expensive, and not surprisingly, the most comfortable trains in Germany. There are also tons of regional trains (RE), which are slower, but also significantly cheaper.


Bicycle

If you want to explore Germany on bike, check out these self-guided cycling tours:

8-Day Cycling Tour | Munich to Venice on a Touring Bike – Active

13-Day Cycling Tour | Munich to Venice on a Touring Bike – Relaxed

11-Day Cycling Tour | Breweries of Bavaria Bicycle Tour

8-Day Cycling Tour | Across the Alps on a Touring Bicycle: Garmisch to Lake Garda

Oberammergau, Upper Bavaria, Germany

Germany Facts 

Official Name | Bundesrepublik Deutschland (The Federal Republic of Germany)

Capital | Berlin 

Government | Federal Parliamentary Republic

Regions | Germany is composed of 16 constituent states, called Bundesländer:

(1) Baden-Württemberg, (2) Bremen, (3) Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, (4) Saxony (Sachsen), (5) Bavaria (Bayern), (6) Hamburg, (7) North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), (8) Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), (9) Berlin, (10) Hesse (Hessen), (11) Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), (12) Schleswig-Holstein, (13) Brandenburg, (14) Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), (15) Saarland, and (16) Thuringia (Thüringen).

Population | 82 Million

Language | German. English is usually the second language taught in German school, so most Germans have a basic knowledge of the language. 

Currency | Euro

Payment Culture | Cash is the preferred method of payment in Germany and often the only payment method available at restaurants and eateries. Compared to other European countries, Germany has a relatively low level of credit card usage. Small businesses often allow you to pay with EC (EuroCheque) cards, but not with regular credit cards.

Tipping Etiquette | In cafés and restaurants, round up to the nearest 1-2 Euros on small bills, and 2-5 Euros on large bills. Tip in cash.

Water Quality | It’s safe to drink tap water throughout Germany.

Something Interesting | Munich’s Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world. 

German Saying | Krummes Holz gibt auch gerades Feuer. Translation: Crooked logs also make straight fires.

Linderhof Palace, Bavaria, Germany

Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati