Are you planning a trip to Germany? No wonder. The country has a lot to offer, from castles and storybook villages to vibrant metropolises, like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg. And don’t leave out the sausages, pretzels, and beer!
Here’s the good news: In general, Germany is not a particularly pricey tourist destination in western Europe, especially when compared to countries like France or Italy. However, you can still find plenty of ways to save and avoid tourist traps and bad deals along the way. To help you plan a fun, budget-conscious trip, we’ve listed our 50 best budget tips for visiting Germany.
Budget Travel Germany: 50 tips to help you save
This is a “Cheapo Checklist.” We’ve included links through to more in-depth articles, where possible. Be sure to check out the comments at the end for additional tips, and please add your own in the comments at the end!
Before you hit book on your tickets to Germany, pull out your calendar and follow these tips to guide you through the best time of year to visit.
• “SHOULDER SEASON” SAVINGS: If you can, try to visit Germany in June or September. You’ll find better deals during these months and the weather is still usually very pleasant. If you’re coming for the winter holidays, New Year’s tends to be pricey and full. Instead, why not come in early December and enjoy the Christmas markets that Germany is rightfully famous for.
• KEEP AN EYE ON SCHOOL HOLIDAYS: Public school in Germany has five main school holidays: winter holidays, spring break, summer holidays, autumn holidays and Christmas holidays. Summer vacation is usually six weeks and the other school holidays range from a week to two weeks.
During school holidays prices are higher and the Autobahn is jam-packed, particularly at the beginning and end of the vacation period. The actual dates of school holidays are different in each state, so before you go, take a look at the school schedule for the area you plan to visit. A list of the school holidays in each German state can be found here.
• WATCH OUT FOR TRADE FAIRS AND EXHIBITIONS: Frankfurt, Hanover, and Leipzig are all big trade fair towns, so if you’re planning to visit any of these cities, be sure you check the trade fair schedule online. If you’re accidentally there during a major one, like the Frankfurt Book Fair, you’ll have trouble finding a hotel room and will pay far more if you do find one.
• AVOID OKTOBERFEST IN MUNICH. Oktoberfest is fun but it attracts huge crowds. Hotel prices in Munich at this time also go through the roof. To enjoy the Bavarian art of brewing paired with a soft pretzel or a Weisswurst with sweet mustard, you’d be better off visiting a beer garden in the summer when the weather is at its best. But the beer garden doesn’t have to be in Munich. Pretty much every town and village in Bavaria has at least one open in the warmer months, so take your pick.
Flying to Germany
Although flights are not super cheap from the US to Germany these days, there are deals out there if you know where to look. First off, sign up for these airline newsletters to get good deals to Europe.
• CHOOSE YOUR AIRPORT WISELY: If you’re flying from North America, you’re likely to find the best flight deals into Frankfurt, home to Germany’s largest international airport. However, Frankfurt is five hours away from Berlin and almost four hours away from Munich.
Since train tickets can be pricey and gas is expensive, it may be worth paying a little extra to fly closer to your destination. Be sure to also check out the airports of cities not too far away. For example, you might snag a deal on a flight to Hamburg, which is only two hours away from Berlin and well worth a visit on its own.
• OPEN JAW TICKETS SAVE TIME AND MONEY: Consider flying into one city and home through another. (For example, into Berlin and back home from Munich.) Since you don’t have to circle back to your point of arrival to fly home, “open jaw” tickets can help you save both money and time. Best of all, the flight tickets are often about the same price as simple round-trip tickets.
• TRY A LOW-COST AIRLINE: Consider low-cost airline options from the US to Germany, including Norwegian Airlines.
• “HUB IT” FOR SAVINGS: Not finding cheap airfare to Germany? Try “hubbing it,” by flying first to any cheap European destination (for example, finding a cheap flight to Dublin on Aer Lingus) and then catching a budget flight from there to Germany (for example, on Ryanair). If your schedule is a bit flexible, you could find some savings.
• AVOID TAXIS INTO BERLIN: Taxis from the airport into Berlin are usually not as expensive as they might be in other European cities. In most cases, you should be able to get where you need to go for under €40. However, that’s a lot when you compare it to the price of a simple public transportation ticket.
Both Tegel and Schönefeld Airport are centrally located, with great public transport connections that should easily get you to your destination. So unless you’ve got a big family or lots of luggage, consider hopping on the bus, which will take you straight to the city or a nearby U-Bahn or S-Bahn station.
Building an itinerary
Before you add every city in Germany to your “to-do” list, take a deep breath and come up with a plan that’s as fun as it is reasonable.
• SLOW DOWN FOR SAVINGS (AND SANITY): To get more out of your vacation, especially if you’re not in the country for very long, it’s best to choose a region to focus on and come back some other time to see the rest.
For example, nearly every tourist visiting Germany says they want to visit “that castle,” meaning Neuschwanstein, made famous by Walt Disney. But if you’re planning to spend your vacation in Berlin, Neuschwanstein is nearly seven hours away (and speaking of Neuschwanstein, Germany has at least 20,000 castles to choose from, and most are not nearly as crowded or expensive as the famous Neuschwanstein!)
• THINK “DAY TRIPS”: Rather than driving to a new destination every day, consider spending two or three nights in each spot and taking day trips. For example, if you’re in Munich, you can easily drive into the Alps, hop up to Nuremberg or cross over into Austria for a visit to Mozart’s hometown, Salzburg.
• GO EAST: Sure, Munich is beautiful and Heidelberg is quaint, but both these cities are also on the pricey side. In many cases, you’ll find better deals in former East Germany rather than the former West.
For example, Erfurt is every bit as quaint as Heidelberg, and the historic Jena and Weimar are both nearby. Berlin is less expensive than Munich, but so is Leipzig, a city with a vibrant arts scene which easily rivals Berlin’s, but provides a more laid back atmosphere than you’ll get in Germany’s capital city.
• CHECK OUT THE NORDSEE AND THE OSTSEE: In the summer, many Germans head off to the Nordsee (North Sea) or Ostsee (Baltic Sea) coast to spend their holidays. Berlin and Munich are always swarming with tourists from around the world, but most of them never make it up to the coast.
If you want to see how Germans like to spend their summer vacation, as well as go off the beaten path, head up to the coast and islands, like Rugen. Although you can still find good deals in the high season, be sure to book far in advance because places fill up fast. And be sure to pack a rain jacket and a sweater or two, even if you’re there in August. The weather on the German coast is famously unpredictable.
Trains and transportation
We love the high-speed trains in Germany, but you can also take regional rail or opt for a budget bus line and even rideshare options.
• BOOK ICE TICKETS IN ADVANCE: If you plan to take the ICE, Germany’s high-speed train, book those tickets as far in advance as possible for the best rates and to take advantage of sale fares. The closer you get to the travel date, the more expensive the seats.
• CONSIDER A GERMAN RAIL PASS: A single-country German Rail Pass is a good choice for many travelers in Germany. This pass gives you four day’s travel anywhere within the country as well as a few select routes outside of Germany, such as Salzburg.
• BOOK TICKETS THROUGH THE RAILWAY: Book your ICE tickets like the locals, through Deutsche Bahn’s official website. There’s no need to go through a third-party retailer or agency back in the United States. Book tickets directly for the lowest prices, and print off your tickets at home before leaving for Germany.
• BUY REGIONAL TRAIN TICKETS AT THE STATION: Taking slower, regional trains? Unlike the ICE, there’s no need to book those tickets in advance online. Just buy them at the train station. You can also purchase special deals such as the regional day ticket, the weekend ticket and regional day tickets.
• KIDS TRAVEL FREE: Some savings are already there for you to enjoy: Children 15 and under travel free on the ticket of their parents or grandparents.
• GET TO KNOW SOME LOCALS WITH A RIDESHARE: Ridesharing is an inexpensive way to travel in Germany, and a great way to get to know some locals. To see who might be heading towards your destination, take a look at BlaBlaCar.
• BUSES CAN BE CHEAPER THAN TRAINS: Take a look at Flixbus for super cheap fares for travel around Germany — and just about everywhere else in Europe. Perk: Flixbus coaches are equipped with free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets. Sample fare: €9 for Hamburg-Berlin; €22 for Frankfurt-Zurich.
Rental cars and driving
Before you hop in your rental car for a cruise down the Autobahn, take a quick look at our tips for driving safely and saving on your car reservation. You can also search for dates and compare car rates at European rental agencies.
• BOOK CARS EARLY FOR DEALS: As with train tickets, booking early is a safe bet for finding the best car rental prices.
• CANCEL IF YOU FIND A BETTER DEAL: Nearly all car rentals are flexible and able to be canceled. So, did you find something cheaper after you booked it? Cancel and rebook!
• WATCH THE START DATE: Your car reservation shouldn’t necessarily start on the first day of your trip. It should start on the first day you’re leaving the city you fly into! Pick up your car when you’re ready to drive off from Berlin, not when you arrive.
• BE SMART ABOUT AUTO INSURANCE: Does your car insurance or credit company cover overseas car insurance? Call before taking off to double-check. You’ll be getting the hard sell from the rental car agency, so know in advance. You might also want to consider travel insurance for your trip.
• WATCH YOUR SPEED: When driving around Germany, pay attention to the posted speed limits, as well as to the “speed camera” signs. Yes, you have to pay speeding tickets on rental cars!
• KNOW THE RULES OF THE AUTOBAHN: Many tourists have dreamed of barreling down the Autobahn at break-neck speeds, but it’s important to know a few basic rules, like not passing on the right. Contrary to popular belief, there is also sometimes a speed limit on the Autobahn (For example: near cities or construction sites). Tickets can be expensive, so watch for signs. Check out our top tips for driving on the German Autobahn.
• PARKING IS HARD TO FIND IN THE CITY CENTER: If possible, try to avoid parking in the center of German cities. Parking can be hard to find and be expensive. In some cities, you can find parking in a parking garage, but more often you will need to pay for a Parkscheine, which can be purchased from a large gray box located somewhere near the parking areas marked with a blue square and a white “P.” Make sure to have some coins on you, because these boxes don’t usually accept bills or credit cards.
• LEARN A FEW BASIC TRAFFIC SIGNS: Traffic signs in Germany can be baffling for those who didn’t grow up there. Many have lines and shapes and colors that make no sense at all if you don’t know how to read them. If you plan to do a lot of driving during your trip to Germany, you might want to learn a few first by taking a look at the information provided by ADAC, the German AAA. Check out this guide to signage.
Hotels and accommodation
Germany has one of the lowest price points for hotels in Europe. The average rate still averages to under $100 per night! Hotels are our specialty. Check out the best budget hotels in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, and Munich. Looking for other cities? Search for great rates at over 47,000 hotels across Germany.
• BOOK EARLY FOR POPULAR HOTELS: The best (and most affordable) accommodation options tend to go first, so try to book as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re traveling in the high season.
• ROLL THE DICE WITH LAST-MINUTE BOOKINGS: Flexible with your hotel options? If you’re willing to gamble a bit, you can often find great deals at the very last minute. This is especially true if traveling during the low season or to less touristy destinations. Here are tips on when to book for the best hotel deal.
• RENT A FLAT: Hotels are not your only option, of course. Renting an apartment or staying with locals (through homestays) can offer much more room, kitchens, laundry facilities — and even save cash.
• CONSIDER A HOSTEL: Although hostels sometimes have a party reputation, you can find some good deals at quieter places, especially in Berlin. If dormitories aren’t quite your thing, many offer inexpensive private rooms. Discover the best hostels in Berlin.
Free and cheap things to do
Germany is an easy place to find entertainment and culture on the cheap, whether you love art, going to the movies or just wandering around a city.
• SPEAK WITH PROFESSIONALS: Get guidance from the source! Stop by the tourist information center first thing when you arrive in a city. Pick up maps and find out about museums, events, walking tours, day trips and more. You’ll find them in the heart of every city on the tourist radar: For example, in Berlin, there are six, including one at both airports. In Munich and Heidelberg there is one in the city center and one at the main train station.
• SOME OF THE BEST STUFF IS FREE: There’s no ticket necessary to explore city streets or hang out in the park, of course. However, don’t forget that some attractions are free, too. Ask at the tourist information center for free activities, free (or discounted) museum admission, and free walking tours. In Berlin, for example, there is plenty of free music and several free museums, while Munich also has plenty of free things to do.
• AVOID THE MULTIPLEX IN BERLIN: In Berlin, Sony CineStar Multiplex on Potsdamer Platz plays movies in English, but prices for admission and snacks are much higher than in the smaller movie theaters in town.
Instead, check out a Yorck Kinogruppe movie theater. This small cinema chain plays many films in OmU (Original mit Untertiteln, which means in the original language with German subtitles). Prices for both tickets and snacks are lower and the atmosphere is more charming. However, they tend towards art-house fare, so if more in the mood for a Hollywood blockbuster, you’ll have to head to Sony CineStar.
• CHECK OUT THE BOX OFFICE: If you’d like to check out an opera or a play, it’s worth dropping by an hour before the performance starts. If any tickets are remaining for the performance, you can often purchase them at a heavily discounted price at the Abendkasse (box office).
• CULTURE JUNKIE? CONSIDER A PASS: If you’re staying for a few days in a city and want to hit up a lot of museums and attractions, consider buying a tourist sightseeing card or pass. These passes often include free (or highly discounted) admission to popular museums, public transit access, and other discounts. Some popular passes include the Berlin Museum Pass, the KölnCard for Cologne, and the Munich CityTourCard.
Of course, there’s beer (and lots of it), but Germany also has a variety of cuisines, from classic German to international flavors. Eating out can be affordable, and there are plenty of places to grab cheap snacks.
• AVOID YOUR HOTEL’S MINIBAR: That stocked minibar in your hotel room will cost you. Instead, head straight to the nearest grocery store for basics, like water, fruit, picnic supplies, and toiletries. In Germany, look for supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl.
• FEAST AT LUNCH: If you’re in the city center, many restaurants offer business lunch deals which get you a lot of food for less dough. However, if you’re in a very touristy part of town, seek out places on side streets rather than the main drag to avoid getting had by a tourist trap.
• HIT UP THE BAKERIES: In Berlin, dinner prices don’t necessarily go any higher than lunch prices at most restaurants. A good tip: Pick up a sandwich on the go for lunch at one of the scores of bakeries you’ll pass, then go out for dinner in a less touristy neighborhood. Here are 5 bakery treats to try in Munich.
• CHECK OUT FARMER’S MARKETS ON SATURDAYS: In many places in Germany, Saturday is still the traditional market day, and sometimes Wednesday too. You’ll usually find these markets on the main squares in towns and every neighborhood in cities. These farmer’s markets are nice for a stroll and fresh produce as well as a tasty, inexpensive lunch.
• BE SURE TO ASK FOR “LEITUNGSWASSER”: Unless you specifically ask, it’s not common to get tap water automatically delivered to your table during a meal. If you’d like to have some, be sure to ask for Leitungswasser (tap water), otherwise, the waiter will likely bring you pricey mineral water.
• BEER IS NICELY PRICED: Germany is famous for its beer, and it’s always the least expensive alcoholic beverage on the menu. Different regions have different brewing traditions, so try different local brews while you travel around. But don’t forget to sample a glass of German wine, especially if you’re in the Rhine valley, which is famous for delicious Rieslings.
• GO EASY ON THE TIP: Know when to tip in Germany. For small stuff (coffee, beer at the bar, etc.) no tip is necessary. In general, you should tip 10% in restaurants — hand the waiter or waitress the tip directly when paying the bill, don’t leave it on the table. Taxi drivers and tour guides should also be tipped around the same amount.
• WINTER AND SUMMER SALES: Take advantage of the city-wide annual sales (“Schlussverkauf”) that are held throughout Germany in January and July. These events stretch for weeks in the winter and heat of summer, and nearly every retailer gets in on the action.
• FLEA MARKETS: Both Berlin and Munich are well known for their flea markets, which take place all over the city on the weekend. You can find everything here from clothes to vintage toys to DDR memorabilia (in Berlin). Flea markets tend to have their own special flair and sometimes are only held on Saturdays, so be sure to do your research to find out which ones you’re interested in.
Staying in touch
It’s easier than you think to call and email friends and family back home when you’re in Germany. You don’t even need a special calling plan from your carrier!
• SIM SAVINGS: Planning to use your smartphone? We recommend buying a SIM card if you have an unlocked smartphone handy. Calls, emails, and the web will be much, much cheaper. Even if you don’t own an unlocked phone, you can purchase one cheaply in Germany or before you leave. Here’s how it works.
• CALL YOUR CARRIER: Not planning to make a lot of calls with your phone? At least call your carrier before leaving home to know how much calls, text, and emails will cost you. Consider getting a special international package to avoid surprises (like AT&T’s “Passport” package). Plus, be sure to set up your phone to avoid data drains.
• GET ONLINE FOR FREE: Use free Wi-Fi whenever possible. Many cafes and international chains (like McDonald’s and Starbucks) offer free Wi-Fi in Germany, as well as municipal buildings, libraries, parks, and some museums. The BVG, Berlin’s public transportation system also now offers free Wi-Fi. Ask at the tourist information center about free Wi-Fi hotspots in town.
Banks and money
Don’t forget to bring your favorite credit card with you to earn points. Try to get one without any fees!
• USE ATMS: To get the best deal on getting money in Germany, avoid all currency exchange counters and sketchy looking ATMs. Instead, use official bank ATMs to get the best exchange rates.
• CALL YOUR BANK BEFORE LEAVING: First, tell your bank and credit card company that you’ll be traveling (to ensure that your card will work abroad). Ask how much you’ll be charged for ATM withdrawals and purchases. You may find that one of your cards has no foreign surcharge.
Want to read more? Check out our top-rated budget hotels in Berlin and Munich, or search hotels in hundreds of cities throughout Germany.
Do you have additional ways to save money on your trip to Germany? Share with us in the comments section below!
The post Germany Budget Travel Guide: 50 Ways to save on your trip appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.
Source: Euro Cheapo