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While Germany is well-known for its hearty food and beer, fairy-tale castles, and gorgeously preserved medieval towns, the country offers so much more than clichés. In addition to some of Europe’s most distinctive cities—Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg, to name a few—Germany features diverse natural sce…nery (scenic coastlines, mystical forests, soaring Alps), a heavyweight cultural legacy (including contributions from some of the world’s most famous philosophers and musicians), cutting-edge architecture, and celebrated contemporary art.
What to know before you go to Germany
Summer is the ideal time to visit Germany. The country’s sunlit landscapes—crisscrossed with rivers, peppered with forests and lakes, and dotted with charismatic castles—are in full bloom, and its cities transform into outdoor playgrounds. Still, summer can bring crowds and expensive prices, so spring and autumn are attractive alternatives, helped along by a slew of major events like Munich’s famous Oktoberfest. Winter holds its own charms, especially for ski and snowboard fans, as well as for those who wish to visit Germany’s Christmas markets, which run from late November until December 23, or the Berlin International Film Festival in February.
There are over 40 airports spread across Germany, providing easy and convenient access to the country’s 16 federal states. Frankfurt am Main and Munich are the largest airports, followed by Düsseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Cologne Bonn. Once you’ve arrived in Germany, public transportation is generally excellent, with high-speed trains connecting all major cities as well as destinations across Europe. Some regions, like the Black Forest and Schleswig-Holstein, are more easily explored by car, but even there you can find buses and trains to get around.
Traditional German food is quite substantial—meat dishes like lamb, pork, and beef are popular, along with plenty of fish, rich sauces, and generous sides including potatoes, dumplings, and cabbage. Sausages are ubiquitous, and each region tends to have its own specialty. Be sure to try Rheinischer Sauerbraten (pot roast) in the North Rhine, spätzle (cheesy noodles) in the south, and quirky dishes like Handkäs mit Musik (pungent cheese topped with white onions) around Hesse. Contemporary German cuisine, on the other hand, often consists of lighter, updated versions of classics, and all the big cities offer a diverse range of international food.
Beer, of course, is a trademark of Germany, including the mixed drink Radler (beer with lemonade or any variation of juice), which is popular during the summer. In winter, sipping a steaming mug of Glühwein (mulled wine with spices) is recommended.
Germany is often referred to as Das Land der Dichter und Denker (The Country of Poets and Thinkers), which gives more than a clue as to its intellectual and cultural prowess. Famed for its contributions to everything from philosophy and literature to music and art, the country has produced many luminaries known worldwide by their surnames alone: Goethe, Bach, Hegel, Beuys, Hesse, Wagner, Mozart, among them. Germany’s contemporary cultural scene is just as dynamic, as evidenced by an annual calendar of events like the world-renowned Berlin International Film Festival and the Documenta art exhibition in Kassel.
Vibrant urban culture vies with romantic landscapes throughout Germany. The major cities, especially Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and Munich, should not be missed, but smaller towns like Bayreuth, Weimar, Nuremburg, Dresden, Bamberg, and Lübeck are also attractive for their impressive architecture and charming atmospheres. Soaring cathedrals and grand palaces can be found across the country, while natural areas like the Black Forest, the Bavarian Alps, and the Baltic and North Sea coastlines provide an alluring mix of recreation and relaxation.
Americans and other non-E.U. citizens need a valid passport to visit Germany for less than 90 days, and a travel visa to stay longer. The local language is German, though the more urban the destination, the more English is spoken, especially among the younger generation. The currency is the euro, the voltage is 230 volts, and the socket type is F (round plugs with two round prongs).
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Paul Sullivan has lived in Berlin since 2008. In addition to running his local website, Slow Travel Berlin, he writes regularly on Berlin and Germany for international publications like The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Sunday Times, and the BBC, and has worked on Berlin and Germany guidebooks for publishers such as Fodors, DK, Rough Guides, Wallpaper, and more.