I vividly remember my first trip to Germany, exactly four years ago. I had won a pair of flight tickets to Europe, taken a two-month sabbatical from my corporate job, and arrived in Munich with a friend – anticipating Germany to be uptight, and not half as fun as Italy or France. I was so wrong!
On that first trip, I guzzled the finest beer in the country’s oldest biergartens, savored the wry humor of locals, climbed the stunning limestone mountains of Saxon Switzerland, and fell in love with the quirky city of Dresden, once the seat of east Germany’s cold history. I’ve been back twice to revel in the snowy Christmas Markets of Cologne and Rothenburg, attend a travel conference in the port city of Hamburg, soak in the spring colours of Berlin and discover the fascinating lake region of Spreewald.
Here are some travel tips to experience one of my favourite countries in Europe:
What’s the best time to visit Germany?
I loved the onset of summer in early June, with long days and sunsets past 9 pm, just a little hot and not yet buzzing with tourists. Although temperatures fell below -10 degrees celsius in winter, I have fond memories of sipping copious amounts of gluhwein and watching the snowflakes dance above the festive Christmas markets. But my favorite time is spring – late April, when neighbourhoods in cities and the rural countryside are exploding with vibrant colours, the sun is wonderfully warm, and everyone is out on the streets after the harsh winter.
How to get a Schengen visa for Germany?
My passport is choc-a-bloc with Schengen visas issued by the German embassy, and as much as I hate applying for one every time, I appreciate that it never takes longer than 2-4 days, although the official processing time is 15 days. The applications are to be submitted via VFS Germany – including confirmed flight tickets and accommodations (use booking.com to find a hotel with no reservation or cancellation charges), travel insurance and bank statements. Besides the necessary documents, it helps to include a cover letter, CV and copies of past visas.
Which airlines to fly to Germany from India?
When I was invited to try Lufthansa’s new Premium Economy (midway between business and economy class) on my recent trip to Germany, I was a little skeptical; I’ve tried it on other airlines and found it more or less similar to economy class. I was genuinely surprised that on Lufthansa, it had more leg space than I needed to fully stretch my feet. I could recline my seat comfortably without infringing on the passenger behind me, and choose from a wider movie selection spanning Bollywood to Iraqi movies that kept me glued to the bigger-than-usual screen. After more than a month away from India, I satisfied my food cravings with a homely meal of rajma and mixed vegetables, served with real cutlery, and could choose from a range of appetizers and desserts. Thanks to the fast Wifi and personal charging points, I caught up on work and had much fun tweeting from 30,000 feet! In short, it won me over in the value for money – travel time – comfort mix, with a direct 7-hour flight from Delhi to Frankfurt.
Even on economy class, the A380 is spacious with a 2-4-2 seating and I hear you can find cheaper prices on Lufthansa’s website than Goibibo / Makemytrip. Give it a try yourself.
Do you need to know German to travel there?
Other than the touristy bits, most people I met in Germany spoke little English – so like elsewhere in Europe, it’s good to know some basic German greetings and phrases. Danke schön (thank you) and tschüs (goodbye) go a long way. In Berlin, I managed to get my clothes stuck in a laundry machine at a neighbourhood laundromat and couldn’t follow the all-German instructions, nor had a local sim to use Google translate. An elderly gentleman with a stern demeanor observed my plight, and for a second, I thought he was going to scold me! Instead, he laughed with me, helped me get the clothes out, and explained to me (twice!) how it works. I’ve realized that Germans are some of the most good-humoured people in Western Europe – and even though language is a challenge, it’s not a barrier.
Is Germany good for solo travellers?
ABSOLUTELY! On my most recent trip, I had plans to hit Italy and Slovenia right after the travel conference in Hamburg, but I had to submit my passport at the South African embassy in Berlin and couldn’t travel out of the country without it. It turned out to be a blissful week; I cycled through the forests and meadows of Spreewald, struck up conversations with local farmers, and stayed with Airbnb hosts who whisked me to their favorite spots on the countryside! Germany is safe, efficient, friendly and has something for every kind of solo traveller – so don’t hesitate to go alone, but do your research and trust your gut as always.
How much should you budget for your Germany trip?
With the Euro almost equivalent to the US dollar, traveling in Germany is cheaper these days! On average, I budget 50 Euros a night for experiential, value for money accommodation; that can score me a nice B&B (with a shared bathroom) in a big city like Berlin, and a sweet studio with my own kitchen and living area in a smaller town or village; 20-25 Euros for two meals with beer at a neighborhood café; 25-30 Euros on average on activities and transport, which works out to roughly 100 Euros a night.
How to find unique accommodations in Germany?
I try to mix up my accommodation experiences to get a bit of everything – unique neighborhoods, local hosts and value-for-money indulgence. Booking.com and Airbnb (use my referral link to get 25$ off your first booking) are my go-to sources to identify and book accommodations, and Germany has been no exception. On my most recent trip, I used the former to score a charming attic apartment in Lubbenau, with a living area stacked with books, a cosy bedroom, a kitchenette and a grand bathroom, surrounded by a Japanese-style garden, hosted by a jovial old couple, in a pretty neighborhood with quaint homes and cherry blossoms – for 60 Euros a night! I never wanted to leave. I pour in a fair bit of research identifying these places and reading reviews on multiple sites. It’s the only way to ensure that besides a nice accommodation, I’ll also be able to explore the local way of life in a way Google can’t tell me.
How to find vegetarian food and good beer in Germany?
Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that saying ich bin vegetarier (I am vegetarian) isn’t as effective as asking for food ohne fisch und fleisch (without fish and meat). Though German cuisine is largely meat based, try the vegetarian flammkuchen (a kind of flat German pizza) and spatzle (German pasta with cheese) for a local flavor. Most small bakeries and neighborhood cafes have atleast a couple of delightful vegetarian options. I was off eggs on my most recent trip, and had my most memorable meals at vegan cafes, found on happycow.
Good beer? That’s everywhere in Germany! If you don’t like beer or want something lighter, try Radler (a combination of draught beer and lemonade / sprite) or Spezi (a homemade, non-alcoholic coke-based drink).
Read: A Veggie Lover’s Europe
Should you get a Eurail pass for Germany?
I’m no track basher, but I LOVE taking the train in Europe. It’s a great way to slow down a little, soak in the sleepy countryside life, meet locals and fellow travellers, and find some creative inspiration. It’s possible to find cheap flights on long routes, but having a Eurail pass can give you the flexibility to hop on and off trains impulsively and make the journey your destination. If you’re bound by time and budget, assess how long you’re staying and how often you plan to travel, and compare that with individual train fares / flights to decide if a Eurail pass makes sense; remember you need to buy one before you enter Europe.
Where to go in Germany?
It really depends on your interests. Love history – go to Berlin. Love beer – go to Munich for old biergartens and Cologne for its Kolsch beer. Love small historical villages – go to Rothenburg ob Tauber. Love wine – go to the Rhine valley. Love alternative cities – go to Dresden. Love mountains – go to Saxon Switzerland.
If you love the countryside, Germany still has secrets waiting to be unearthed, like Spreewald, 1.5 hours by train from Berlin, where many villages are accessible only by water and forests! I’ll write about this incredible region soon.
Incredible Ways to Experience the World of German Wines (includes sleeping in a wine barrel!)
Got tips or unanswered questions about Germany?
My trips to Germany were partly self-funded and partly hosted. A big thank you to the German National Tourist Board, Lufthansa and Eurail for making parts of these trips possible.