5 Travel Tips for Sightseeing in Germany4:09 PM
#1. Take the Train
The German railway system is not only reliable and easy to navigate, it is also an incredibly reasonable way to travel. Renting a car could cost you a hefty fee and gas prices are unbelievably high (they charge by liter, not by gallon so don't be fooled by a sign advertising one euro fifty.) Though driving the autobahn is straightforward enough, most German towns are a winding, narrow mess that could make even the most sturdy of stomachs a bit queasy.
The German railway system runs through every major city as well as many of the smaller villages. If your destination isn't on the railway, you can buy a ticket that will also cover any additional bus transportation. The system has two major trains. One is the Regional Express or "RE" and the other is the fast train, or "ICE." Fast trains live up to their name, but are a bit more pricey. Many tourists opt for the Interrail Pass in which you can take public transportation in a few different European countries of your choice. After a bit of research, I found the Interrail Pass to be much more costly than simply buying a local ticket on the day of your departure. Germany also has a brilliant system of "Bundesland tickets." For example, if you are traveling within Bavaria on a certain day, you can get a "Bavaria Ticket" in which up to five people (even total strangers) can ride on the same ticket to anywhere within Bavaria for only about 30 Euros.
#2. Learn Simple German Phrases
Although nearly all Germans speak at least a bit of English, many are terrified to use it with a native speaker. If you are in desperate need of communicating with someone, your best shot might be to speak with a teenager or young adult. If you are in the Eastern part of Germany, you will also find fewer German speakers as Russian was the secondary language learned until the fall of communism. A general rule is the smaller the town, the less likely you will find an English speaker among the locals. You will be surprised at how many German phrases you can pick up because of their striking similarities to English! Some you might want to practice, however are how to ask for directions to the train, bus, or hotel. Also be prepared to understand their response! In many restaurants, you will be in luck as they often have an English menu. (The word for menu is "Carte." If you ask for a "Menu" they will give you a combo of some sort.) The English menu is unfortunately much more limited than a German one, and is often on some very dodgy, food stained scrap paper, but it can beat ordering a gigantic plate of sausage when all you wanted was a side salad.
#3. Cities Worth Seeing
Although some travelers would advise getting off the beaten path, many places are busy because they are worth seeing! For example, the Castle Neuschwanstein commonly known as Cinderella's Castle, receives around 6,000 visitors every day! Be that as it may, I found this tribute to Wagner's operatic brilliance, and mad King Ludwig's insanity well worth the time spent traveling. Another tourist town is Nuremberg, home of the infamous war trials as well as the famous artist, Albrecht Durer; much of the city is a tribute to the latter. Personally, I found Munich to be overrated and more touristy than German, while Dresden gave fascinating insights into the country's war torn history, as well as what life was like in the GDR. Obviously Hamburg and Berlin are also must sees, but as I haven't visited either yet, I can hardly comment with any authority.
Riverboat cruises, Biergarten's with overhanging lights, and numerous castles and palaces are all scattered across the elegant German countryside. Allow yourself room to stop off at a local village that enchants you from the window of a train. Take time to wander about an ancient cathedral. Try the sidewalk ice cream vendor even at the most unseasonable time of year. The Germans do adore their ice cream! Stop in every bakery possible for some of the most delectable pastries and breads imaginable. I can promise you, there ain't nothing like them in America!
#5. Consider Going During the Off Season
Most of the tourist hordes start showing up mid May and don't leave until late August. Plane tickets reflect this in their pricing. While summer is, of course, a lovely season for outdoor activities, spring and autumn offer their own varieties of blooming flowers mixed with clinging alpine snow, or brilliant shades of leaves in mysterious forests. Even winter can be a fantastic time to plan a European visit, as German Christmas markets are known for their beautiful figurines, falling snow, and tasty treats. Plus, there is the added bonus of far fewer annoying tourists ;).
German Hitchhiking Possibilities (This site is only in German, and is mainly helpful when you're on the ground in the country.)
German Hostels - Hostels are a great way to save money. There are choices of single rooms, double rooms, and so forth. Be forewarned, many are mixed gender.
Neuschwanstein - "Cinderella's Castle"
Castle Hohenschwangau - directly neighboring Neuschwanstein. Great for a day trip to see both!
Nuremberg Christmas Market
Photo cred: Angie Ralston, Carina Joas, and Rachel Leigh