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Germany

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  • Castle Katz in the Rhine Valley
    Castle Katz in the Rhine Valley
  • Konigstein Fortress near Dresden
    Konigstein Fortress near Dresden
  • Rudesheim
    Rudesheim
  • Cochem, Germany
    Cochem, Germany

Still misunderstood by many, Germany stands as one of the most endlessly engaging countries on the continent. Anyone expecting a homogenous nation conforming to rigid Teutonic stereotypes is in for a shock. As a travel destination it’s somewhere with huge personality, notable for a clutch of truly lovable cities, culture served up in hefty portions and rural scenery so heart-melting you’ll be left bemused why some people still think of the place as lacking allure.

It’s the country’s urban highlights that tend to draw the attention first. Berlin is the very definition of a dynamic city, having forged a goodtime reputation for ground-breaking creativity while still keeping sight of its past. Elsewhere, the likes of Cologne, Munich and Hamburg – to mention three of many – provide the capital with able support. Not only are they rich in historical buildings and eyes-to-the-future nightlife, they also give firm dissent to the notion that Germany doesn’t do gastronomy. These days, you dine and drink well in Deutschland.   

The country occupies a prime position in the heart of the continent, both literally and figuratively. It’s home to the largest economy in Europe, has more inhabitants than anywhere in the EU and shares land borders with no less than nine other nations. It’s perhaps little surprise, then, that today’s Germany is far more diverse, far more cosmopolitan – and in many cases far more liberal – than elements of its past reputation would suggest. You’ll find a destination that well understands how to blend tradition and convention with modernism and self-confidence. There’s good reason why the tourist board now fills its marketing material with buzzwords like ‘youth’, ‘inspiration’ and ‘innovation’. 

For the uninitiated, it’s somewhere full of surprises. The brightest seams of the country’s history are full of reward, whether in the form of classical music, fine art or medieval architecture. Similarly, the humour associated with some of its more clichéd attractions – from oompah-soundtracked beer halls and vorsprung durch technik design to octogenarian-frequented spa towns – belies the fact that the reality often holds massive appeal.

The beauty of the German countryside, too, is a huge selling point. From the fabulous peaks of the Bavarian Alps and the pale cliffs of the Jasmund National Park to the castles of the Rhine and the moors of the Mecklenburg Lake District, there’s much to draw outdoor enthusiasts. Hikers, cyclists, boaters, motorists and skiers will all find plenty to enjoy.   

Germany’s history – particularly those chapters concerned with WWII and the Cold War – more or less ensures that some outsiders will still have misconceptions of the country and its people. A gloomy post-communist landscape of grey skies and greyer cities? A work-obsessed population who don’t know how to let their hair down? Menus of bratwurst, bratwurst and extra bratwurst? Dismantling notions like these is one of the great joys of travel in 21st-century Germany. Costs are manageable, overcrowded attractions are rare and – while it’s a sizeable country – getting from A to B is made straightforward by one of Europe’s most efficient public transport networks.

  • Capital:

    Berlin.

    Geography:

    Germany borders Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. The northwest has a coastline on the North Sea while the Baltic coastline in the northeast stretches from the Danish to the Polish border.

     

    The country is divided into 16 states (Bundesländer) and has an exceedingly varied landscape. In what was once known as West Germany, the Rhine, Bavaria and the Black Forest stand as the three most famous features, while in the east, the country is lake-studded with undulating lowlands. River basins extend over a large percentage of the region, and some of Europe’s most prominent rivers flow through the country. These include the Elbe, the Danube and the Rhine.

    The highest point in the country is the 2,962m (9,718ft) peak of Zugspitze Mountain in the Bavarian Alps. Cable cars run to the summit – it can also be climbed.

    Government:

    Federal Republic since 1949.

    Head Of State:

    President Joachim Gauck since 2012.

    Head Of Government:

    Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2005.

    Electricity:

    230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style round two-pin plugs are in use.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.

    Credit Cards:

    These are widely accepted in most shops, petrol stations, mid- to upmarket restaurants and hotels. All major credit cards are accepted, but it is advisable to carry cash as well. Cheques are very rarely used.

    ATMs:

    Cashpoints compatible with international banking networks are located in all towns and cities, as well as airports, major train stations and other spots. They charge a minimum fee for withdrawals.

    Travellers Cheques:

    To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars. Visitors are advised to have their traveller's cheques exchanged at bureaux de change (called Wechselstuben) as banks often refuse to change them and they are not accepted as payment in stores.

    Banking Hours:

    Generally Mon-Fri 0830-1300 and 1400-1600, Thurs 0830-1300 and 1430-1730 in main cities. Main branches do not close for lunch. Bureaux de change in airports and main railway stations are open 0600-2200.

    Currency Restrictions:

    There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.

    Currency Exchange:

    Foreign currencies and traveller's cheques can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, post offices, airports, railway stations, ports and major hotels at the official exchange rates.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 AUD = 0.71 EUR
    • 1 EUR = 1.00 EUR
    • 1 GBP = 1.28 EUR
    • 1 USD = 0.79 EUR

  • Best Time To Visit:

    As with most European countries, Germany is a year-round destination but not especially dependable weather-wise. In general terms though, it's temperate throughout the country with warm summers and cold winters - prolonged periods of frost or snow are rare. Rain falls throughout the year, with much of Germany experiencing its maximum rainfall over the high summer months. Unpredictability, then, is a major factor. The average January daytime temperature is 3°C (38°F) and in July is 22°C (72°F). Extremes commonly reach -10°C (5°F) in winter and 35°C (95°F) in the summer months.

    While Munich might be considerably further south than Berlin, the fact that the Bavarian capital sits at a much higher altitude means the two cities have broadly comparable summers. The highest annual temperatures tend to be in the southwest, where there’s almost a Mediterranean feel to the landscape at times. Unsurprisingly, this is where much of Germany’s wine is grown.

    May through to September are the most popular months in terms of tourist numbers, and certainly hold the most appeal for visitors aiming to spend significant periods of time outdoors. However, the spring and autumn shoulder seasons also hold real attraction for those who want the promise of decent(ish) weather without the tourist levels. The winter holidays are also a big draw in their way, due in no small part to their attendant Christmas markets. Peak season for ski areas is from December through to the end of March.

    Away from the mountains, January through to April will appeal to those who enjoy the benefits of uncrowded attractions, although be aware that cities like Berlin rarely witness "slow" periods at any time of year. Prices tend to be slightly higher over the summer months. One other thing to bear in mind is that hotel rates can increase when large trade shows are in town (potentially a problem in Frankfurt, for example).

    Required Clothing:

    European clothes according to season with light- to mediumweight in summer, medium- to heavyweights in winter. If you're intending to visit the mountains – and particularly if you're planning a long-distance hike – it's best to take waterproof gear and extra layers with you, no matter what the time of year.