The Budget Travel Guides series helps you save money and connect with places on your travels around the world. While Munich and Berlin are popular, this Germany travel guide will help you explore the rest of the country on a budget.
Germany often feels overlooked on the tourist trail through Europe. Many tourists in Germany visit Munich and Berlin but don’t explore the rich and regional differences in the wider land. However, Germany has a lot to offer.
A Germany travel guide for budget travelers
Germany isn’t a cheap country but it’s not so bad based on European standards. You can save money in Germany by planning ahead and doing things yourself.
Most of the higher costs come from service so anything you are able to do yourself, from self-service bakeries to hostels where you make your own bed to making your own food, will save you money.
With a little planning and self sufficiency, this Germany travel guide can help you enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer, even on a budget.
Germany Travel Tips – Transportation
The German train system is central to the country. One of the best Germany travel tips for getting around is to travel the country by train.
Many people complain that trains are expensive in Germany. For those that walk up to the machine an hour before the train and get a ticket, they can be. Save money on Germany’s trains by planning ahead.
A Germany travel tip for trip planning - German culture is all about planning and rewards those that do.
Buy train tickets a week in advance - If you buy a ticket at least 3 days ahead of time and are able to schedule which trains you will take, it is cheaper (sometimes up to half).
Buy train tickets months in advance - If you can book several months ahead, ask about Europa special prices. There are usually a few seats on each route that cost 29 euros. By planning ahead, you can save money on train tickets in Germany and throughout Europe.
Train tickets for small groups and day trips - If you have more time or are with a group that is traveling a short distance (like a day trip), check out the Land Tickets. Each state of Germany has slightly different prices and rules, but the Länder Tickets will usually let you on all regional (no fast trains) and bus transport in the state for a day at a fixed price.
In Baden Wurtemburg it is 21 Euros for the first person and only 4 each up to 5 people. For family travel, the Länder Tickets are a good deal. Downside is using the slower regional trains. There are programs for weekends and across the entire country as well.
Check out bahn.de. They have all their deals and schedules for trains across Europe.
Local Public Transport
In bigger cities, look for day or even mult-day passes for public transportation. Think about how many rides you need per day and do the math. The day passes are often much cheaper with the bonus of not having to stamp and keep track of a bunch of little bits of paper.
Mitfahrgelegenheit is the term for car-sharing in Germany. Their website(in German) allows drivers to post their destination and let you look for open seats (usually for the price of gas). It can be a hit or miss of whether you find a car going your way at the right time, but can be a cheap option if you are flexible.
While many have done it with very few horror stories of insane drivers, remember that you are driving with someone else on the autobahn. Trust your instincts before you get into a car.
Germany Travel tips – Lodging
Lodging in Germany is pretty standard for Europe. Hostels are probably your cheapest option, though in some cities even that isn’t a great savings. Apartment rentals are becoming popular. For a big city like Berlin, check one of the many apartment rental sites for prices and locations. Couchsurfing may be an option for solo travelers or couples.
Germany travel tip for lodging – With a great transportation system, pick a central location for lodging and take daytrips to surrounding sights. Pick an apartment for a longer stay in a well connected city and spend fewer nights in hotels traveling around Germany.
Germany Travel Tips – Food
Germany is the land of bread. Bakeries are on nearly every corner in the center of the city and still fairly common in residential areas. Train stations will have several and there are at least 2 chains of self-service bakeries that bake fresh. Bread is king in the German mind. This is also a great budget tip. For a couple of Euro you can get a sandwich with a few slices of meat or cheese and some veggies on a roll. And since bakeries are so common, you can make a quick circle looking in the cases to see what you want. Although many Germans speak fine English, buying something from a case can be as simple as pointing.
Even if Germany is the land of bread, it is known as the land of sausage. For the best sausage choices in any town head for the market. The markets are usually located near a cathedral or plaza in the center of town most mornings of the week. Find one of the carts grilling it up fresh. Each region will have their local type of sausage, so it is worth trying one of those. Bratwurst implies a smooth grind of meat and you can get several different types even at the same cart. Here is a Beginners Guide to Sausage for some more info and pictures.
Germany travel tip to save money on food - Cooking your own food in a hostel or apartment kitchen is a great way to save money. Aldi and Lidl are the cheaper end of the grocery store chains. If you want fresh fruits and vegetables, the markets are your best bet with cheap and local produce.
In Germany, beer is as important as food. Since you are charged for all drinks (including water), a few beers will not break your budget. Like sausages, every town will have a local brewery and thus a local beer. Some of the bigger cities will have several. Each pub usually will have a sign outside to show what brewery they are affiliated with and what beer they will have on tap.
Hofbräuhaus Munich is one of the most well known beer gardens in Munich, though Augustiner just as nice. Not to mention the corner pub at home has their beer as well. For Cologne, Kölsch is the beer to hunt down. Also check out this article on German words surrounding beer to prepare yourself.
Germany Travel Tips – Activities
Germany is quite regional with different types of activities in each area. Here are some common activities you can find across the country. Using a big city as a base, many of these activities can be part of a day trip.
At one point in history, Germany was not a country but a patchwork of little princedoms fighting with each other. This meant a lot of castles being built for protection and control. The most famous is the Neuschwannstein on the Austrian border near Munich. This is the fairytale looking castle on the top of a hill that you see on a lot of postcards. The other great place to see many castles is the Rhein river north of Frankfurt from Bingen to Koblenz.
Despite urbanization, there are still a lot of rural areas in Germany. Hiking is a very common hobby and there are many hiking trails in Germany. Germans like nature and it shows in the number of parks. These are still quite accessible often with marked trails.
Germany travel tip for hiking - Ask the local tourism office about hiking trails in each region or area. Here is a look at the Saar Hunsrueck Steig.
Beer gardens are common across the country in the warmer months. Sunny days will see a beer garden full of people enjoying the warmth and the beer. Long tables are common and it is normal to sit next to others.
Germany travel tip for winter - Christmas markets are a favorite for many locals and tourists. Four weeks before Christmas (around Thanksgiving for American expats) town squares get filled with stalls, food, crafts, trinkets, and mulled wine. This is a really magical time to go to Germany. Here is a look around Frankfurt Christmas Market.
Oktoberfest is seasonal and very well known. If you feel the need to have an oversized drink with thousands of your closest (sometimes sitting on your lap) friends, feel free.
Germany travel tip for Oktoberfest - Book a long time ahead for lodging or plan to stay outside of Munich and just go in for the day.
There are other festivals throughout the summer that are just as fun. Frankfurt has an Appelwine Festival and Berlin has a beer festival of its own, both in August. If you want a beer fest in September with smaller crowds, check out Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest.
Germany Travel Tips – Connecting with locals
Germans have the reputation of being closed off and sometimes rude. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. Germans are social and friendly, though quite “efficient” about picking who to be social with. Instead of starting in with small talk, they often go right into looking for common interests. Sports, local beer, even common situations like the weather can be common interests and seem like small talk. Many Germans may use it to decide if you are interesting enough to talk to.
Germans tend to travel a lot, so ask them where they have been on holiday. Remember Italy and Spain are so close they are not considered exotic destinations to the Europeans in the same way as to Americans.
Germany travel tip for connecting with locals - Beer gardens can be great places for conversations. Germans are also big sports fans so sports and travel can be a great way to connect.
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Planning ahead is one of the key Germany travel tips for saving money.
Germany is well designed for day trips. Pick a city with a well connected train station, rent an apartment for a week, and head out to surrounding places on day trips. The country is quite regional with different architecture, food, and customs. The north is very different from the south and the industrial cities are quite different than the countryside.
While Berlin and Munich are worth a visit, take some time and explore all the places that Germany has to offer.
What are your Germany travel tips for eating, activities, lodging, or getting around?
Andrew Couch is an American expat in Germany, a software developer and an avid blogger. He writes about expat life and Germany on Grounded Traveler and detail oriented travel with his wife on Ctrl-Alt-Travel. He is also the author of a book on web foundations for non-geeks. Follow him on either of the blogs or on twitter.