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  • Writer's pictureNancy Schmidt

Ten Things to Know Before Traveling to Germany

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Are you planning a trip to Deutschland soon or have it on your bucket list? Then, this post is for you! We love Germany and have spent many months exploring different regions. During our travels, we have picked up a few tips we want to share with you so you can get the most out of your experience. Be sure to bookmark this & return to it as needed.


Here we go...

1. Carry Some Cash

Although most businesses in Germany accept credit cards, many smaller shops or little towns do not. It is always a good idea to have some Euros on hand just in case. You get the best exchange rate from the local ATMs -- called a Geldautomat. They can be found along most shopping streets, train stations, grocery stores, etc.

2. Learn Basic German Phrases

While many Germans speak English, we were surprised by how many did not. It is polite to learn a few basic German phrases: "hello" (hallo), "thank you" (danke), and "excuse me" (entschuldigung). Putting in the effort to speak their language shows them you are interested in their culture enough to try.

Bonus Tip: Do not forget to download your Google Translate app and the language you need so you can access it offline at anytime. The Google Lens feature allows you to translate words on signs or packaging and the Conversations option is amazing if you need to have a detailed conversation (like we did when talking to the vet). Just speak into it and it does all the work! Amazing!

3. Know Their Traffic Laws

On the Autobahn there are sections with no speed limits, but keep watch for signs indicating changing speeds. Passing on the right is illegal. Pedestrians always have the right of way. Do not turn right on a red light unless there is a sign allowing it. It is illegal to park facing the opposite direction of traffic, but you might be able to park a bit on a sidewalk - again, watch for the signs.

Bonus Tip: Even though there are no tolls or vignette stickers needed in Germany for cars, you will need vignette stickers if popping into Austria or Switzerland. You can get them online or in gas station stores before crossing the border. You can also get them at the border but it tends to get very crowded there. Fines can be steep.

4. Respect Their Culture

Germans tend to be very punctual and organized so be on time. They also tend to be quieter in public so just be aware of volume levels. Don't be worried if people do not smile very much - they are still very helpful and nice - they just aren't big smilers. Germans also have a strong recycling culture so be sure to handle your trash and compost accordingly.

Bonus Tip: You can bring glass and plastic bottles to the grocery store for recycling and get some money back. Look for machines like the one above. The kids loved doing this!

5. Use Public Transportation

Parking is really hard to find in bigger cities like Munich, and the car parking garages can be spendy, but not to worry -- Germany has an excellent public transportation system including buses, trains, and trams. It's inexpensive, convenient, and mostly always on time. When we went to Munich for Oktoberfest, we found a station right outside the city, parked our car there, and headed into the festival on the train. It is easy to get your tickets at a kiosk.

Bonus Tip: If you are traveling to Germany and will be there for a bit, it may benefit you to buy a Deutschlandticket for just 49 euro a month. You can use it for all local and regional public transportation as much as you want within the month. Please note that it does not apply to long distance trains and the price may change, but for now -- it is a pretty awesome option for travelers on a budget. Much cheaper than a car or pricey Uber rides.

6. Don't Jaywalk

It is considered illegal and can result in a fine. Always use crosswalks and wait for the green pedestrian signal to cross.

7. Respect Personal Space

Germans value personal space, so avoid standing too close to strangers or touching someone without permission.

8. Be Aware of Store Hours

Many stores in Germany close early on Saturdays and are closed all day on Sundays, so plan your shopping accordingly. Also, be sure to check museum hours - many will have a day or two during the week when they are closed. Hours may be even more limited in the off seasons and in the smaller towns - we learned that the hard way ;)

Bonus Tip: Grocery stores do not provide bags so you need to bring your own or purchase them at the store and reuse them. Paper or plastic cost 10-50 euro cents and cloth bags are usually 1-2 euro. One of our favorite grocery stores was Edeka - they are everywhere!

9. Windows & Doors Operate Differently

When you first open windows in Europe, please be careful not to break them. We witnessed many people trying to forcefully open up their windows. Here is the secret: The handles turn to different positions - usually down, middle, and up - which allows the windows (and some doors) to swing completely open, open just up at the top at an angle, or lock in place. :)

10. Know Basic Restaurant Etiquette

When you first arrive at a restaurant, it is usual for people to seat themselves. One exception would be if you are staying at a hotel with a breakfast (which by the way are usually amazing!), be sure to check in with the staff first. They may need to set your table. Also, it is not typical for wait staff to continually check on you, so be comfortable speaking up if you need their attention or would like the check. You can raise your hand to get the check and say, "Die Rechnung, bitte" Also, tipping about 10-15% is customary but not compulsory. There is not a place to add it to the check as you might in the U.S. You can ask that it be added before the check is run or you can pay the tip in cash.

Here are a few more pictures of some the amazing things we did while in Germany - it really was a wonderful and easy country to travel to and explore (and it is, so far, the kids favorite country). Can you guess why?

I hope this information helps you prepare to get sidetracked in Germany - the land of fairytales and the best beer in the world! Keep a look out for other posts all about our experience in Germany. It was all about Medieval castles, Wandering (hiking), and Oktoberfest!

Happy Traveling,

Nancy and fam

The kids made a short, cute video about some difference they noticed in Germany - check it out here and be sure to comment and sign up for our list below so you don't miss upcoming posts. You can also follow us on our adventures getting Sidetracked around the world on Insta or Facebook! Hope to see you there.

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