Colorful half-timbered houses in Miltenberg's medieval Old Town in Bavaria, Germany
Having recently returned from a geographical cure in Germany, I have a few must know tips and tricks for visiting Germany. I should have known these things before I left, of course, had I done my due diligence.
But a life crisis intervened, as they are wont to do at the most inopportune times. So I negligently failed to do my "tips" research for my geographical cure. Plus, I adore doing itinerary research and not so much practical tips research.
But for you, readers, I have now compiled the ultimate list of tips for visiting Germany. These are vital bits of information you should know before you step foot in the beautiful country and start dreaming of smoke beer, half-timbered UNESCO towns, and Mad King Ludwig's romantic castles. They are quirky things that might disorient even the most seasoned traveler.
If you want a tasty streudel, you'll need cash
Things To Know Before Visiting Germany
1. Cash Is Mandatory
In Germany, cash is king. This is the #1 rule for Germany. If you don't have cash, you could be deprived of things like smoke beer. Or bratwurst. Or apple strudel. Or, even worse, espresso.
Seriously, you'd think Germany was in the Middle Ages and not a cutting edge nation, with its obsession with cash. Be sure to have plenty. Many small shops, cafes, taxis, and eateries disdain the credit card.
adorable Landshut Germany, nowhere to pee but near the tourist office
2. The WC Problem: You Can't Pee for Free in Germany
Like most countries in Europe, Germany has a dearth of public bathrooms. And you can't go to the loo unless you have cash. In particular, you have to have coins. It costs .50 or 1 euro to pee in Germany. Even at McDonalds!
If you arrive at some bucolic UNESCO destination and find a dearth of bathrooms when nature calls, don't despair. Put "Tourist Information" in your cell GPS. That will take you to probably the only public bathroom in town. Otherwise, you'll have to make strategically timed stops at cafes, beer halls, or museums.
the autobahn in Germany, easy to drive and often no speed limits
3. Driving in Germany Is Easy
Driving in Germany is pretty damn easy, especially compared to my recent geographical cures in other European countries. The roads are good, people behave, and there aren't any tolls or special permits/stickers required to drive. You don't even need an international drivers license. It's the perfect place for a road trip through Bavaria or on the Romantic Road.
In Europe, the left lane is the "race car" lane. In Germany, you can be sure to see BMWs absolutely whizzing by as you drive conservatively in the right lane. But, alas, there are so many trucks and semis on the road in Germany, that you too may have to take to the race car lane to pass them. Don't worry, just get back in the right lane as soon as you can.
Some highways have no speed limit. Others do. Be sure to watch for speed traps heading into small towns.
a medieval street in Regensburg, where I got a ticket while parking well off the historical center
4. Parking Is a Little Less Easy in Germany
Parking is also relatively easy in Germany. Even when you drive into the adorable touristy towns, there are parking lots. However, you may choose to park on the outskirts of town instead and walk in. This is generally my preferred method.
Either way, you usually have to pay for parking. Unless you're in a seriously rural area. And what do you need? Usually cash.
If you're in a garage, keep your ticket with you and pay at the kiosk station before getting in your car to leave. If you're parking on the street, go the "automatic" parking stand. Put in your cash for X amount of time. Then take the ticket and display it in your car window.
Failure to do so will result in a 15 euro parking ticket. I know, I got one in Augsburg.
The tricky thing is that you may think you're parking in a perfectly legal area on the outskirts of town. But the street signs are in German. Use google translate to decipher them. I know, failure to do so got me another 15 euro parking ticket in Regensburg.
Take home lesson? It's always safest to park in a lot, if you can.
My little white car named Gretel, squeezed in a tight spot on a car elevator at my Air Bnb in Nuremberg
5. German Parking Garages Are More Difficult
As you may know, European parking garages aren't known for their roomy spaces. It's always close quarters in the parking garage. And you will definitely need a compact car. If you have an SUV, forget it.
If you've rented an Air Bnb that includes parking, you'll likely have an even tighter squeeze. I am routinely horror struck by the European Air Bnb garages I've parked in. I've even been stuck on claustrophobic "car elevators" twice.
If you're using Air Bnb, know your spot will be tight and budget some time to get in and out of the damn garage. I've been traveling solo when confronted with this situation and was none too pleased. It's partly just lack of practice on my part. In my last Air Bnb in Nuremberg, I was puffed up with conceit when I squeezed into a tiny space on a car elevator without sweating or cursing.
the Wurzbug Residenz, or imperial palace -- no pictures inside and guards to enforce that policy
6. No Photos, Dear German Tourist
Good grief. What is it with Germany? None of their castles or palaces will let you take pictures inside, even without a flash. And this policy is usually strictly enforced with chastising guards hovering in the most magnificent rooms.
The only glitzy place where snaps where allowed (that I visited) was the Residenz Museum in Munich, a museum which I highly recommend. If you're at Neuschwanstein Castle or the like, forget it. If you try to sneak in a snap on the sly, you'll likely be scolded by a dour museum guard or your tour guide.
You can take pictures in art museums, but not at Germany's architectural wonders. A puzzling dichotomy to me, and one which makes me cranky.
the perfectly preserved medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber -- despite being mostly pedestrianized you could easily get run over by a bike
7. Cycling: Death in the Bike Lane
Nearly every town or city in Germany has bike lanes. Don't walk in them or you risk getting run over. Even if you're not mindlessly strolling in a designated bike lane, you could still get run over. Stay alert, even in pedestrian zones.
Germans seem to take their cycling seriously. I saw them biking in rain or shine or cold. Mostly without helmets, I would note.
the Antiquarium room at the Munich Residenz, open on Sunday for me
8. Sundays: Fugetaboutit in Germany
The Germans also take their Sundays seriously. Everything is closed. It's stunningly quiet. Even in Germany's big cities.
Don't plan a shopping spree on Sunday. Don't even plan to eat out that day necessarily, except in a tourist restaurant. The only thing you can indisputably count on to be open on Sundays in Germany is the museums. They're all closed Monday, but open on Sunday. So spend your Sundays museum hopping.
a pretty salad that I had at the Italian restaurant Limoni in Munich
9. Germans Love Italian Food
Germans love Italian food. Well, who doesn't really?
As a result, if you don't want sausage, schnitzel, or stuffed onions, you have another option. In particular, Munich is known as the "northernmost Italian city." And Munich has a plethora of great Italian restaurants. My favorite was Limoni, in a trendy neighborhood off the main squares.
10. Tipping? A Mystery
I honestly don't know what to make of tipping in Germany. Is it included, a common practice, or does it vary in some peculiar way? All of the above, it seemed to me. I've read, after the fact, that 5-10% is expected.
At a few places, I asked if tip was included. I was told "no" and then got a shocked expression when I added the customary 15% US tip. It seems that "rounding up" is the better course of action.
11. Taxis Are Expensive
Taxis aren't cheap in Germany. And taxi drivers seem over the moon excited about getting a tip. Probably because most Germans and tourists use public transportation. I only took taxis in Munich, because my hotel was so off center and I was in a hurry and it was raining.
Be forewarned, if you take a taxi, you need cash. The ubiquitous four letter word of Germany.
a dry Reisling from Germany
12. The Wine's Not That Bad in Germany
I know, I know, everybody goes to Germany to drink beer or attend Oktoberfest. I'm just not a beer drinker. And didn't wear my Oktoberfest lederhosen when I was there.
But I was unexpectedly surprised by the wines. There were different, to be sure. But I always thought that Reislings were sweet and taught to be wary of them. But they aren't all sweet. Some are relatively dry and full of flavor.
I made this same assumption about Grunrventliner when I was in Vienna as well. I was likewise proven wrong. Full disclosure, Gruneventeliner is better than any German wine that I tasted.
13. Grocery Stores
Somer are better than others of course. None are as good as the open air markets. And some only take CASH. I couldn't believe that one grocery store I patronized had to seek out a manager when I tried to pay with my Visa card. I handed over my precious euros instead just to leave the store without further ado.
Also, you'll have to bag your own groceries, as they come shooting at you lightening fast down the conveyer belt. And there is precious little counter space to do so. So hopefully, you're not shopping for a week.
The other thing is that you have to supply your own bags. Or pay for them. Germany takes "being green" seriously.
the Hauptmarkt in Nuremberg -- great place to get groceries or a bratwurst
14. Weird German Square Shaped Pillows
Just so you know, I know it seems trivial, but Germans use square shaped pillows. And they're usually loosely stuffed.
I confronted them in my Air Bnbs. They seem rather ungainly for the human head and have to be mushed up or folded into a retangular pillow. I confess to preferring the US's rectangular version.
a rare second when there wasn't torrential rain on our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle
15. Weather: Temperature Swings in Germany
The weather in Germany is unpredictable. You can't rely on it. Most people visit between April and September or for the vaunted Christmas markets. I was there in October and was a bit taken aback by the "fall" weather.
It was incredibly chilly and rainy. And the rain didn't let up. Then, boom, it was hot and sunny. The 30 degree temperature swings were a little disconcerting and made packing and clothing decisions more difficult.
Anyway, always wear layers and have a raincoat and umbrella on hand. I used my umbrella in Germany more than on any prior vacation, including visiting Paris in February.
16. Backpacks: You've Gotta Store Them in Germany
Germans think that backpacks are weapons. Even my small PacSafe was viewed as dangerous. I'm not sure what the Germans are thinking? Will you smash your backpack into valuable art? Into another tourist?
Perhaps, but I got frowny disapproving looks even when I walked into a practically empty museum with one. And an admonitory finger, pointing to the locker or "garde" room. And guess what? That locker will cost 1 euro too.
the bed in my cool loft Air Bnb in Nuremberg Germany, a nice comforter but no top sheet.
17. No Top Sheets On The Beds
Like many European countries, Germans don't use top sheets on their beds. There's just a comforter. Why do I note this custom? Because I like it cold when I sleep and a comforter is usually too hot for me.
the romantic Neuschwanstein castle -- which can only be accessed at the exact time printed on your ticket
18. German Are Punctual and Can Be Frosty
Germans are crazy punctual. This means you should always get to your tour, restaurant reservation, bus, or train early. Otherwise, you'll be mercilessly left behind. This is particularly true if you're visiting Neuschwanstein Castle. If your ticket says 11:55 am, that is the one and only time you can enter.
There's no buffer like in the US, where excuses like "there's traffic" or "I'm running late" are so common. Personally, I really dislike lateness, so am simpatico with this German rule.
Consisted with their punctiliousness, Germans also have a bit of a frosty demeanor. They don't do small talk. And don't expect gushing customer service. Formal courtesy is more the norm.
an incredibly quaint cafe in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (that I would highly recommend) where I ordered still water and got sparkling water
19. Germans Love Sparkling Water
Be prepared. You'll usually get sparkling water in Germany. In fact, that may be all that's on offer in a shop or cafe. 78% of German water consumption is of the sparkling variety.
And buying water in a store can be confusing. For example, "natural" water, which one might expect to be still, is actually fizzy. Even something labeled "extra still" will be mildly fizzy water. This is a bummer for people like my husband who despise fizzy water.
20. Speaking English
In the big cities, Germans will generally speak some English, especially in places serving tourists. But remember that you’re in a foreign country, so you shouldn’t automatically expect people to speak your language. Brush up on some basic German phrases.
Except at tourist restaurants, menus generally aren't in English. Have google translate at the ready or be prepared to order something mysterious.
If you liked these tips and want to be informed on your next trip to Germany, pin it for later.