Germany is a country rich in medieval architecture, infinite in stunning countryside landscape, complex in history, festive in Christmastime and flowing in beer- most obviously abundant during Oktoberfest. But no matter the time of year you visit, Germany is a powerhouse and has the cities to prove it; lined up in a row of beauties, making it hard to prioritize which ones to visit. Insider tip: visit them all if you can!
I have been to Germany four times and explored five different cities, each spot holding its own individuality while proudly embodying its German heritage.
I have experienced the beauty and bustle of Berlin, the economic buzz of Frankfurt, the romance of Heidelberg, the cultural creativity of Munich and the beer of Cologne which is geographically protected. Yep. Lager that by law can only be produced in Cologne. Germany has a lot to offer. And let’s not forget about the hundreds of small villages in between the top destinations that ooze Instagram worthy appeal. Castles floating atop a mix of incredible terrain and clouds make it feel like you are center stage in a Disney film.
With the vast scrolls of history lining the country, museums and architecture are common must-sees throughout the big cities. Although Germany is known for Oktoberfest, there are a handful of amazing festivals that pull in the worldwide crowds all year long including: Karneval, DFB Pokal Berlin, Walpurgisnacht and Unity Day.
The (often) less talked about magnificence of German rests outside of the city limits. Found in Bavaria, the Berchtesgaden National Park leaves visitors captivated with its see-through waters, deep fjords and layered pastures. Exploration within this park includes hiking, mountain biking and kayaking.
The Middle Rhine Valley is colorful in both sight and spirit, with artsy energy running the region. Vineyards sparkling in sun-doused rays (and Riesling) add to the appeal of the area while the authentically quaint towns make it hard to leave.
Steins, disco-techs and bratwurst are all notable takeaways from Deutschland you won’t want to pass up. You might even be able to even get away with all three at once, like I did!
Costs to visit Germany is very comparable to the United States and other European Nations and can truly sway in the direction that matches your budget.
THE BEST HOSTELS AND GUESTHOUSES IN GERMANY
Munich – Jugend- und Familienhotel Augustin – ($122 a night for a family room): This hotel fits right in to Munich’s distinctive and tasteful charm while showing off its modern vibe. Cleanliness and location are top notables, and the cloud-like beds, hotel garden and large lawn add a special touch to your stay. The restaurant and bar offer inexpensive drinks and tasty eats with a complimentary breakfast; and If you’re craving a beer you don’t have to wander far- St. Augustiner Brewery is attached to this steal of a hotel.
Frankfurt – The Flag Oskar M. – ($117 Business Single Studio): Classiness is in the air. Everything, and I mean everything, is modern, crisp and fresh. The Busines Single Studio is more like a mini apartment equipped with a kitchen, living room, private bathroom, free Wi-Fi and a balcony. But when it’s time to venture out of your dream loft, you won’t have to venture far. This hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Frankfurt’s Old Town District, so walking or biking is an uncomplicated way to see the surrounding area.
Berlin – Studio-Apartments with Balcony in Berlin Mitte – ($131 a night for the whole apartment): If you want to live like a local during you visit, this is the way to go. In fact, the chic décor and simple pops of color will have you living like a classy local. This Airbnb is clean, open and coated in natural sunlight, courtesy of the many floor to ceiling windows leading to the spacious balcony. High speed Wi-Fi, underfloor heating and private digital locks come with the studio stay. Located in the Nook Building, the unbeatable location to Berlin’s attractions includes a 2-minute walk to Hackescher Markt, a 15-minute walk to the TV Tower and a 10-minute drive to the Berlin Wall.
Heidelberg – Hotel Heidelberg Astoria– ($102 a night): What a jewel! This restored bed and breakfast is set in a traditional villa radiating old-fashioned charm. The rooms (less than ten of them) are clean, comfortable, welcoming and all about the freebies. Wi-Fi, parking, toiletries and a pair of comfy slippers are all included in your stay. The upscale neighborhood of Neuenheim is safe and cute, while the bed and breakfast is only a short distance from the city center and Heidelberg Castle (both a 25-minute walk) and mere steps away from the River Neckar. After a day of soaking up the romance of the city, you can grab a drink from the hotel bar and sip it on the picturesque terrace with an unreal backdrop.
Cologne- Zur Guten Quelle– ($108 double room with private bathroom): Family owned for more than 60 years by the Windecker’s, affordable elegance has been made a priority over the decades. The rooms are stacked with sophistication shown through the sleek fixtures and patterned wallpaper while the communal areas are pleasantly welcoming, especially the garden and restaurant. The cuisine in the eatery boasts traditional German fare and delicious cider made from the Windecker’s winery. Zur Guten Quelle’s location is perfection as it is walking distance from Cologne City Center yet not close enough to bring the hustle and bustle of city happenings.
THE AVERAGE COST OF ACCOMODATION IS $116 PER DAY
Getting to Germany is easy and frequent with many major airports sprinkled across the country. See the list below of flights from major airports:
- Round trip from London to Berlin- $155
- Round trip from Paris to Berlin – $146
- Round trip from New York to Berlin- $588
- Round trip from New York to Frankfurt- $608
- Round trip from London to Frankfurt- $133
- Round trip from Paris to Munich- $120
No matter where you land, transportation is accessible is many forms within small towns, large metropolitans and throughout the country. The modern infrastructure and easy-to-follow connections are enough to ease the anxiety of any newbie exploring the country. It did for me.
I was all about the public transportation during my time in Germany. Except for biking around in cities like Munich and Berlin, which was, let’s be honest, more fun (and cheaper!) than sitting on a bus or a train.
In fact, biking is arguably one of the most used form of transportation. Germany’s bike friendly vibe allows locals and visitors to get around in an easy and trendy fashion. Berlin on Bike offers rentals starting $12 per 24-hours and Pedal Helden in Munich has a great collection of city bikes for $22 per 8-hour rental.
Bus and Trams are easy to use and are reliable ways to see a city. However, each city runs its transportation slightly different, but prices are fairly consistent throughout the country. In Munich you can get Munich Card from Turbo Pass starting at $15.50 and includes 24-hour unlimited public transportation (bus, tram, regional trains and trams), reduced admission fees at various attractions and 70% off discounts. You can choose a single or a multi-day pass. I purchased a two-pass and found it very useful and thrifty.
The Frankfurt Card is comparable in price with a $13 price tag for an unlimited 24-hour pass with various discounts on museums, zoos and tours. If you have friends, you’re in luck! A single-day group pass goes for $27 (total) for up to 5 people.
S-Bahn, or Stadtschnellbahn which means ‘rapid train’ in German, is independently owned and operated in big cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. A single ticket from Berlin Railways is $3.50, a 24-hour pass is $10.50, and a 7-day pass is $43.
U-Bahn, or underground railways, are the fastest way to get from place to place within big metropolises. BVG is a wonderful routing and ticketing app, or website if you are on your browser, that allows you to plan and purchase tickets with ease. A one-way ticket in Berlin will set you back $3 but you can get a 24-hour unlimited pass for only $7. When purchasing, keep in mind that you get so much more for your money when you buy a multi-day pass.
When it’s time to leave one city to venture to the next, the process will likely be a smooth one. Intercity Express (ICE), Intercity (IC) and EuroCity (EC) all connect larger urban areas in a clean and safety environment. Trail Line is a great resource for filtering through operators to find the best and most reasonable ride. See below for some trusted routes from one popular destination to another:
- One-way from Munich to Berlin– $75
- One-way from Berlin to Frankfurt– $63
- One-way from Cologne to Munich– $61
- One-way from Munich to Frankfurt– $43
THE AVERAGE COST OF TRANSPORTATION IS $22 PER DAY
Germany’s traditional cuisine has been laced in their heritage from the beginning of time but the fare has taken on some modern techniques and new ingredients to make it what it is today. Many might describe German food as simple yet hearty, and they wouldn’t be far off, Germans love meaty and dense foods. Some of the most popular dishes include schnitzel, smoked pork, bratwurst, brezels (pretzels), Käsespätzle (their take on macaroni and cheese), Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) and beer.
Although you can find many options in restaurants and cafes that are moderate in price, the most inexpensive way to eat in Germany is by doing your own shopping at the grocery store. You can get a liter of milk for less than a dollar, a dozen eggs for $2 and loaf of bread for $1.50. And, If you drink alcohol, grocery stores are the way to go. Expect to pay $6 for a mid-range bottle of wine and $1 for a 12-ounce beer.
Of course, if you are looking to explore the culinary scene, not every meal should be prepared in your hotel room. German eats are too good to ignore. Keep in mind as you visit restaurants, hosts and hostesses do not typically seat patrons, you seat yourself and sometimes that means dining at the same table as strangers.
A basic breakfast costs between $6 and $10 and might include a cappuccino ($4.50) and a croissant ($1.50). Lunch is the biggest hot meal of the day and normally consists of three courses: a soup, a main dish and a dessert. Each dish is typically bought a la carte, so you have the option to pick and choose depending on your budget and your growling stomach. Tomato cream soup is $5, pork and potatoes runs at $14 while a piece of cake is $5.
Dinner is the lightest fare and is usually made up of sandwiches, breads with cheese, cold cuts, desserts and yogurts and averages $12.
When it’s time to drink, Germany knows how to get it done. Known for overflowing steins, bars and restaurants don’t limit their offering to only beer. Expect to pay $8 for a cocktail, $5.75 for a glass of wine and $5.75 for a bottled beer. I found beer on tap ran substantially cheaper at $2.50 a pint in pubs throughout the country.
And finally, don’t forget to tip! Rules about tipping in various European destinations are fuzzy, but in Germany good service should be reflected with a 15% tip at the end of the meal.
EATING OUT AVERAGE PRICE PER DAY: $46
SHOPPING AT THE GROCERY STORE AVERAGE COST PER DAY: $11
COMBINATION OF BOTH: $29
Germany is a playground for a range of activities depending on the time of year you go; but one thing is for certain, the beauty in sightseeing is year-round.
Castles are native treasures in Germany which makes it easy to feel like you’re floating through a fairytale as you encounter each stunning fortress on your sightseeing journey. The Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria is jaw dropping while Heidelberg Palace is probably where Cinderella lived at some point. It’s truly gorgeous and unforgettable- especially during the Heidelberg Castle Festival. The fortress is transformed into a stage beneath the summer stars, lending its magic to the performers through theater and orchestras. Tickets range from $16 to $59, depending on the performance of choice and your seat location.
If you are a lover of Christmastime, plan your trip during the month of December and even a bit into January- the official Christmas season in Germany ends on January 6. Christmas markets pop up all over the country in honor of the holiday, offering sweet treats, hot cider, beer gardens, gifts, games and rides. It’s free to roam the markets but it’s likely you will spend some dough. It’s a challenge to not let the Christmas spirit get ahold of your wallet at these festive gatherings.
This list of must-dos wouldn’t be complete without the mention of Oktoberfest. Despite the name, the fest actually kicks off in September of every year and takes over Munich for 16 days. Six million people come for the festivities during the two-week span to celebrate the German tradition with music, games, rides, Bavarian eats and an all-around great time. The cost to attend Oktoberfest if free but beware: a single beer can cost up to $17.
If you aren’t able to make it during Oktoberfest, don’t fret, the legendary Hofbraeuhaus Munich is open year-round. Self-proclaimed as the “the most famous tavern in the world” the establishment doesn’t disappoint. Overflowing steins, gigantic (and shared!) wooden tables and traditional German songs in this oversized restaurant make it impossible to do anything but clink the stranger’s stein sitting next you. Spilt beer is a thing there but it’s totally worth it.
The Berlin Wall is one of the nation’s biggest attractions but don’t expect to find much of it left. Although full of a tangible past, the wall itself has morphed into a canvas for artists and taggers, alike. However, for all the history buffs don’t write it off just yet, the seeping history is worth a visit- and it’s free. The East Side Gallery is the largest remaining segment of the wall and is accessible for tourists to stroll along and take in the significance that once was. But if you prefer to leave Berlin with a history lesson, opt for a tour for a reasonable fee ($18).
Below is a list of various activities that Germany has to offer:
- Berlin Half-Day Walking Tour– $18
- Königssee and Berchtesgaden Saltmine Day Trip from Munich– $67
- Nostalgic Rhine Cruise from Koblenz to Rudesheim– $41
- Boppard Icewine and 30 minutes Wine Tasting– $17
- Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Castle Day Trip from Munich– $64
Germany is a country that is beautiful throughout, with cities full of personality and a countryside full of heritage, making it easy to get your money’s worth simply by exploring the various regions and the deep history. As always, your experience (and budget) is what you make it.
THE AVERAGE COST OF ACTIVITIES IS $41 PER DAY
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TRAVEL IN GERMANY?
Accommodation: $116 per day
Transportation: $22 per day
Food: $29 per day
Activities: $41 per day
Total amount spent per day: $208
[Photo of market stall via: By Marbury/Shutterstock]