21 Things to Know Before Traveling to Germany: Tips & Advice for First-Timers

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Germany is a fabulous place to travel, but there are a few things you need to know before you arrive to make your trip as marvelous and smooth as possible. Also included are my best pieces of advice for traveling to Germany: tips to avoid getting yelled at by a teenager at three am when checking into your hostel, how to make sure your taxi driver doesn’t try to have you arrested, and how to save money by returning your recyclables when you go grocery shopping.

Wifi & Internet

 

Germany - Berlin - Cat and Laptop

 

Internet in Germany is pretty good (although if you’re used to traveling Eastern Europe then you’ll be disappointed). Like most of Western Europe, the internet speeds are decent but sometimes frustrating. I’d put the German internet I’ve used as better than Spain and France, way better than Greece, and far below the magical lightning speeds you can achieve in Bulgaria and Serbia. This is just based on my personal opinions from my experiences. Speedtest.net currently lists Germany mobile internet as #42 globally and their broadband as #25.

 

Free Wifi is available in many restaurants, cafes, and train stations. It’s not nearly universal, but I could generally find something when I needed it.

 

 

German Sim Cards

 

Germany - Dresden Neustadt - T Mobile

 

Getting a sim card in Germany was beyond frustrating. T-Mobile told me they only sell to people with EU passports. Vodaphone charged fifteen euros to activate. Medimax charged ten euros but gave you the option to self-activate. Which I tried to do, but the app to activate the sim card didn’t work and directed me to go to the post office to activate my sim card. At which point I gave up.

 

Bottom line, pay to have the sim activated or you literally won’t ever get it to work and it will be still sitting in your day bag by the time you get to Crete. Or maybe that’s just me.

 

Taxis & Uber

 

Germany - Dresden - Taxi

 

Taxis in Germany are pricey compared to what I’m used to in Eastern Europe, but they’re on par with taxis in the rest of Western Europe. I spent thirteen euros to get from the train to my hostel in Dresden, eleven euros to get to Dresden Neustadt, and fifteen euros in Berlin to get from the train to my friend’s apartment. Essentially, public transportation is so good in Germany that I only took taxis in emergencies, to get to my accommodations if it was already dark out, and one time when I was having a particularly bad day.

 

If you need a taxi, know that you won’t need to negotiate with them since they are going to turn the meter on. It’s a good common sense to check that the meter is turned on and running normally no matter where you travel, but I think Germany is probably the country where you are the least likely to run into a scam taxi in the world.

 

If you want to use a taxi app, Uber is available in Berlin and Munich, but it only orders you a taxi. Otherwise, you can use the MyTaxi app to order a cab.

 

If you want to use a credit card in a taxi and you’re not using an app with the credit card information stored, make sure you arrange ahead of time. Not every German taxi driver has a pos in their taxi. I learned this the hard way when I asked my hostel to order me a taxi that takes credit cards. This request was lost in translation, and it resulted in my taxi driver threatening to have me arrested and the worst Dresden tour experience of my entire trip.

 

 

Public Transportation

Germany - Dresden - Train

Part of the reason that taxis in Germany are so expensive is that the public transportation options are so good that locals don’t use taxis very often. Local trains and buses are plentiful and easy to use, especially in the larger cities.

 

Make sure you have the cash to buy your ticket. Some stations take credit cards, but not all do. After you purchase your ticket, you’ll need to validate it by punching it in the machine. Otherwise, you risk a large fine if you get caught riding without a validated ticket.

 

Check which zone you’ll be traveling to. For example, in Berlin, everything I saw was in Zone A/B, but the airport was Zone C. This is pretty common across the country, so double check if your destination is in the outermost zone and thus costs more. Otherwise, you also risk the dreaded fine. Plus being yelled at by German transit authorities is not the most pleasant way to spend your vacation time.

 

When buying your tickets, you can switch the machines to English. Just hit the little Union Jack/British flag.

 

 

Getting Between Cities

 

Germany - Dresden to Berlin - Flixbus

 

The great thing about traveling in Germany is how many different, cool cities you can explore that are within just a few hours of each other. Even better, the intercity transportation is easy to use and goes frequently, making Germany one of the friendliest day trip countries I’ve ever been to.

 

My personal preference for the trips I used was to travel by FlixBus, which was cheaper than the trains when traveling from Berlin to Dresden and Dresden to Berlin. However, you can price bus companies, trains, and even check carpooling options on BlaBlaCar

 

Another option is to rent a car. I rented a car in Dresden so that I could visit multiple cities in a single day. In this situation, the public transit was more economical, but it would have taken up simply too much time.

 

Packing for Germany

 

Germany - Berlin - Suitcase and Day Bag packing to leave

 

I have an entire Germany packing list, but here are five things you absolutely need to bring with you to Germany:

 

 

  • The Lonely Planet Germany guidebook for your trip. I’ve been looking for a hard copy here since I don’t like getting stuff delivered to me in Bulgaria, and I can’t find one. Definitely get your guidebook ahead of time.
  • Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS system, and general travel genie.
  • A Camera since Germany in fall is super photogenic. I used a mix of my Nikon D810 and my  Samsung8 smartphone.
  • A Full Sized Travel Towel for anyone taking advantage of Germany’s plethora of good hostels or shared accommodations. This is the best travel towel in the world, and you’ll need it if you are staying in hostels or anywhere that requires you to bring your own towel.
  • Travel Insurance Policy information, because things happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be doing any hiking, road tripping, or outdoor activities in Germany.

 

I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them.  It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities. Even in the big cities like Berlin, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.

 

 

 

Food & Dietary Restrictions

 

Germany - Berlin - Beer Tour Bar Bvarian Pretzel

 

If you’re going to be in larger cities, you’ll be able to easily eat within any dietary restrictions. Berlin is packed with Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants and friendly menus. While allergies are marked on many menus (and many places have English menus), it’s always a good idea to have important allergies and restrictions written out on a card that can be taken to the kitchen in case of any misunderstandings.

 

I’ve traveled with friends who have life-threatening allergies, and the waitstaff visibly changes demeanor when presented with an official-looking card that explains the allergy and the seriousness of it.

 

 

Groceries

 

Germany - Berlin - Grocery Store

 

Because I was staying in an apartment for almost a month on my last trip, I saved a ton of money on food by shopping at local Berlin grocery stores. Grocery prices in Germany are very low compared to the overall cost of living.

 

Make sure to bring your own shopping bags or prepare to pay a small fee for bags.

 

 

Recycling

 

Germany - Berlin - Street Art Tour Spaeti Spati

 

Germany is recycling obsessed, to a level I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. The country uses an incentive system, called the Pfandsystem, to help ensure bottles are returned to be recycled. You can save money by bringing your own bottles back to the grocery store for a credit that you can use at the register. I saved about fifteen euros by doing this with my plastic bottles throughout my time in Berlin.

 

If you aren’t going to return your bottles yourself, especially if you don’t think you’ll get enough glass bottles to turn in at once, then leave your bottles outside next to trash cans instead of putting them in the bins. Locals in need of cash and with time to spare, like the homeless, students, and the retired, will come by and collect them to turn them in. This way your bottle still ends up getting recycled.

 

 

Driving in Germany

 

Germany - Dresden - Driving Car Rental

I love driving in foreign countries, and I found driving around Saxony to be delightful. A few things to know before setting off though. First, watch out for speed traps in small towns. I got a speeding ticket that cost me about $35 USD when I transitioned into a small town and the speed limit dropped dramatically. This was snapped on a camera rather than by a local policeman.

 

Second, don’t even think about drinking and driving. The Blood Alcohol Limit here is .05, lower than the .08 and .1 many North Americans are used to. This is about two small beers for an averaged size man. Couple that with stronger drinks than back home, and it’s a recipe for a DUI for North Americans traveling here for the first time.

 

Third, I found that most of the places I wanted to visit, like parks and other tourist spots, had a parking fee of a couple of euros that could only be paid in cash.

 

Another thing to note: Germans drive on the righthand side of the road, like the rest of continental Europe and North America. The best thing about driving in Germany? No highway tolls!

 

 

Renting a Car

Germany - Dresden - Driving Car Rental

The process of renting a car here was stress-free. The deposit, which can vary dramatically from country to country, was about seven hundred euros. They dropped this to six hundred euros for me as a favor (not sure what I did to deserve the favor, but it was appreciated). The deposit was back on my card four business days after I returned the car. To rent the car, I only needed my credit card, the deposit, my passport, and my US driver’s license.

 

 

Safety

 

Germany - Dresden - Train Station

 

First-time travelers to Germany might have heard about terrorism incidents and wonder if Germany is safe to travel to. While tourists almost always feel safer than locals, I have never felt like I was in any danger in Germany. In fact, Germany is ranked as the sixteenth safest country in the world, ahead of Ireland, Sweden, and the UK. For reference, the USA is ranked fifty-seventh.

 

You should always exercise basic caution when you travel. Pickpockets operate in the cities, especially in busy places, transportation hubs, and tourist sites. My Germany packing list includes an awesome day bag that has great anti-theft features to help ease my mind when I travel to big cities.

 

 

Solo Female Travel

 

Germany - Berlin - Beer Tour Stephanie

 

Safearound.com lists the dangers for women traveling to Germany as low, and that’s true in my own experience as well. I felt very safe walking around in Berlin and Dresden, even when I was alone at night. Catcalling was non-existent, especially compared to when I’m traveling solo in Latin America and the US.

 

There are two areas to be aware of as a solo female traveler in Germany. First, I drank more in Germany than I typically do. Between the pub crawls, beer tours, and general deliciousness of German beer, I found myself tipsy way more often than I generally am when I travel solo. This is something to think about when you book your accommodations. The closer you are to public transit, the less this will pose a problem. You might also want to budget in the money for taking a taxi home if you need to avoid public transit if you have one too many.

 

The second issue is that I found that there were times when I was alone in smaller train stations at night, where there was only one or two other male passengers waiting and no one else. While I always felt safe, I stayed extra vigilant and positioned myself so I could exit the station if I needed to. Just keep your wits about you. Unfortunately, things happen to women everywhere. The bottom line is that Germany is safer for solo female travelers than many countries, but the world still isn’t safe enough for us to let our guard down.

 

Using English

Germany - Berlin - Street Art Tour

I studied German in high school for four years, but I speak like three words. I don’t find this to be an issue most of the time; however, see the information about taxis above to know how annoying a misunderstanding can be while in Germany.

 

While English is spoken widely, especially by folks working in the tourism and service industries, you will still want to have Google Translate downloaded on your phone to avoid almost getting hauled off to a German jail over ten euros.

 

Money

 

Germany - Dresden - Zwinger Stephanie

 

 

Germany uses Euros, and it can be a hard place to travel without some Euro bills and coins on you at all times. The first couple weeks of my last trip to Germany I only had a credit card. This could have been a disaster since so many places only take cash. To get around this, I booked my tours and accommodations online, and I avoided places that were cash-only.

 

You’ll need cash for many public transit options, bars, small shops, parking, and many tourist attractions. Credit cards are accepted in many places, but they definitely aren’t universal yet.

 

The cheapest way to get cash in Europe is to take money out at the ATM. You will get the best conversion rates this way. Just make sure you have a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees. I like Charles Schwab for this. You also want to make sure that your credit cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees, as those little 3% dings really add up!

 

Tipping

Germany - Berlin - Beer Tour

Tipping in Germany is different than the US and some parts of Europe. According to a recent study, Germans tip on average 5-10%, while servers generally expect to receive closer to 10%. Check to make sure you haven’t been charged a service fee automatically. If not, then tip in this range.

 

You’ll need to leave the tip in cash, as it’s rarely an option to tip on your credit card.

 

 

Expect Everything You Want to Do to Be Closed on Sundays

 

Germany - Berlin - Berlin Cathedral - Pixabay

Things shut down in Germany on Sundays. While you can typically find a spaeti open in Berlin, you may have a hard time finding things you need in other cities. If you’re looking for ideas to avoid boredom in Germany on a Sunday, I highly recommend this list. Luckily for tourists, most museums operate under the globally approved “museums are to be closed on Mondays rule,” meaning Sundays are a great day to hit up some of Germany’s world-class museums.

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

Germany - Berlin - Potsdammerplatz Christmas Market Selfie Stephanie

Germany uses type F plugs, the same as the rest of continental Europe. You can also typically use a type C and E plug when needed. The voltage is 230V.

 

If you are traveling from North America, your appliances like laptops, cell phone chargers, and camera chargers will typically handle 110V-220V. This means you can plug them into a German socket with just an outlet converter. I like to travel with two Universal Outlet Adapters with USB Ports in Europe.

 

If you want to bring a smaller appliance like a hair dryer or a curling iron, you’ll need a voltage converter that actually changes the voltage to your appliance. Otherwise, your appliance will fry. I don’t bother with voltage converters after one fried a hair dryer anyways. I would personally not buy an expensive voltage converter. If you absolutely need a hair dryer or other small appliance and you don’t think your hotel will supply it, it’s cheaper to buy a European version once you’re here.

 

 

Pharmacies

 

Germany - Stolpen - Town

German pharmacies, Apotheke, are where you need to go for any medical need since even something as minor as Tylenol won’t be available in a general grocery store. According to How To Germany:

 

There are thousands of Apotheken in Germany and German law requires that an Apotheke be owned and operated by a pharmacist. An individual pharmacist is only allowed to own up to three locations. Consequently, there are not any large drugstore chains that are found throughout countries like the USA. In fact, a “drug store” in Germany (Drogerie) sells toiletries and other consumer items, but not medicines.

Note that hours at pharmacies are pretty restricted. There’s no such thing as a twenty-four-hour chemist here. They typically aren’t open on Sundays, holidays, during the evenings, or even on Saturday afternoons. That’s why you should bring your medications with you and any OTC meds you regularly use, like painkillers or ant-acids.

 

 

Contracts & Fine Print

Germany - Dresden - Hostel

The stereotype that Germany and Germans love rules is a stereotype. It’s definitely not universal. However, Germany is the only country where a teenager has yelled at me to read contracts better at 3 am when checking into a hostel because I refused to pay a fee that actually wasn’t in my contract. I won that fight, but only because I knew exactly what my agreement said ahead of time.

 

So read the fine print of any agreements before signing, especially for tours, accommodations, etc. The companies will expect you to know the rules, regulations, and stipulations in anything you sign, and they will more than likely enforce anything considered enforceable.

 

 

Smoking

 

Germany - Dresden Neustadt - Cinema

There are federal smoking laws, but each of Germany’s sixteen states also has a say in the smoking laws enforced locally. That’s why most places in Germany do not allow smoking in restaurants or bars, but you will occasionally find small restaurants with smoking sections and entire smoking bars. It feels a little retrograde, but smoking is more popular in Germany is actually places third in Europe for smokers per capita.

 

 

More Germany Travel Resources

Here are my posts about traveling to Germany to help you plan your trip.

 

General Germany Travel Resources

 

Berlin Travel Resources

 

Dresden Travel Resources

 

 

Pin This Article for Your Trip to Germany

 

21 Things to Know Before Traveling to Germany: Tips, Tricks, & Advice

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One Comment

  1. This summer I am going to visit Germany with my friends. And very much in time I came across your article. Now when traveling, we will follow your notes! Before leaving, you will definitely need to prepare a common essay format. I am closing the last session and can be free the whole summer. Oh, how many countries I still have to visit.

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