Getting there & away
Passports must be valid for at least six months after the end of your trip. Citizens of most Western countries can enter Germany without a visa; other nationals may need a Schengen Visa.
Everybody loves a bargain and timing is key when it comes to snapping up cheap airfares. You can generally save a bundle by booking early, travelling midweek (Tuesday to Thursday) or in the off-season (October to March/April in the case of Germany). Early-morning or late-night flights may also be cheaper than those catering for the suit brigades. Some airlines offer lower fares if you stay over a Saturday.
Your best friend in ferreting out deals is the internet. Start by checking fares at online travel agencies such as Expedia (www.expedia.com), Opodo (www.opodo.com) or Zuji (www.zuji.com), then run the same flight request through meta-search engines such as SideStep (www.sidestep.com), Kayak (www.kayak.com), Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com), Qixo (www.qixo.com) or Farechase (www.farechase.com). These so-called aggregators find the lowest fares by combing the websites of major airlines, online consolidators, online travel agencies and low-cost carriers.
To get the skinny on which budget airlines currently serve German airports, consult www.whichbudget.com or www.skyscanner.net. For bookings on discount carriers go to the airline websites directly or try an online agency such as www.openjet.com. Phone reservations usually incur a ticket surcharge.
If you’re North America–based and flexible with regard to the airline and departure times or dates, you might be able to save a bundle through Priceline (www.priceline.com) and Hotwire (www.hotwire.com). You name the fare you’re willing to pay, then wait and see if any airline bites.
Many airlines now guarantee that you’ll find the lowest fare on their own websites, so check these out as well. A good way to learn about late-breaking bargain fares is by signing on to airlines’ free weekly email newsletters. Even the old-fashioned newspaper can yield deals, especially in times of fare wars. And don’t forget about travel agents, who can be especially helpful when planning complex itineraries. STA Travel and Flight Centre, both with worldwide branches, are recommended.
Germany’s main ferry ports are Kiel, Lübeck and Travemünde in Schleswig-Holstein, and Rostock and Sassnitz (on Rügen Island) in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. All have services to Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Return tickets are often cheaper than two one-way tickets. Prices fluctuate dramatically according to the season, the day and time of departure and, for overnight ferries, cabin amenities.
Scandlines (01805-116 688; www.scandlines.de) runs year-round ferries every two hours to/from Gedser, about 100km south of Copenhagen. The 1¾-hour trip costs €100 per car in high season. Walk-on passengers pay €10/5 per adult/child. It’s €13 for a bike and you.
Scandlines (01805-116 688; www.scandlines.de) operates a 45-minute ferry every half-hour for €56 for a regular car. Foot passengers pay €7/4 per adult/child in peak season one way or same-day return. It’s €11 if you bring a bicycle.
From March to October, Scandlines (01805-116 688; www.scandlines.de) operates daily ferries to/from this town on Bornholm Island. The trip takes 3¾ hours and costs from €81 per car, €21 per person (kids €10) and €27 with bike, all in peak season.
Finnlines (in Germany 0451-15070, in Finland 09-251 0200; www.finnlines.de) goes to Travemünde (near Lübeck) daily, year-round. On their new, faster boats the trip has been cut by 12 hours to 26 hours. Berths start at €134 and include food and some drinks. Bikes are €20, cars start at €100.
DFDS Lisco (0431-2097 6420; www.dfdslisco.com) operates this epic 34-hour journey twice weekly with berths starting at €91 and cars costing from €89; bikes are a flat €6.
Scandlines (01805-116 688; www.scandlines.de) offers this fairly new service, which costs from €80 per car and €85 per cabin berth in peak season. Bikes are €10. Kids pay half price. Ferries run daily and make the journey in 27 hours.
DFDS Lisco (0431-2097 6420; www.dfdslisco.com) makes daily 22-hour runs on this route. Passengers pay from €87 for a berth in a four-person cabin in peak season. Bikes are a flat €6, cars from €91.
DFDS Lisco (0431-2097 6420; www.dfdslisco.com) also operates ferries on this route twice weekly in either direction. Costs start at €81 per berth in peak season, plus €61 for a regular car and €6 per bike.
Color Line(0431-730 0300; www.colorline.de) makes this 20-hour journey almost daily. The fare, including a berth in the most basic two-bed cabin, is around €200, including car. Children, seniors and students pay half-price on select departures.
The daily overnight ferry that’s run by Stena Line (0431-9099; www.stenaline.com) takes 13½ hours and costs €50 for foot passengers (only €25 for children, students and seniors). Taking your car will cost €165 in peak season, and single berths in four-bed cabins start from €21.
Skan-Link (in Germany 04502-805 20, in Sweden 040-176 800; www.nordoe-link.com) makes the trip in nine hours. Passenger fees are €25 for adults and €12.50 for children who are aged six to 12. Cars start at €100, while bicycles cost a mere €5.
This Scandlines (01805-116 688; www.scandlines.de) service runs up to thrice daily, takes between 5¾ and 6½ hours and in peak season costs €140 per car and all passengers. Foot passengers pay €24 (kids €12) or €25 if you bring a bike.
TT-Line (040-360 1442; www.ttline.de) makes the same crossing in about 5½ hours. A car with passengers starts at €112. Adult walk-ons pay €30; children, seniors and students cost €15.
Scandlines (01805-116 688; www.scandlines.de)operates a quick ferry to Sweden, popular with day-trippers. There are five departures daily and the trip takes 3¾ hours. Peak season fares are €115 for regular cars, €15/7.50 for adult/child foot passengers and €21 for you and a bike.
TT-Line (040-360 1442; www.ttline.de) operates up to five ferries daily on this route, which takes seven hours and costs €30 for adult foot passengers and €15 for students, seniors and children. Cars, including all passengers, start at €112. Bicycles are €5.
Finnlines (0451-150 7443; www.tre.de) operates the 60-hour TransRussiaExpress, via Sassnitz. It is essentially a cargo vessel offering passenger services, not a regular ferry. Fares start at €292 per adult, €146 per child; cars cost from €150.
There are no longer any direct ferry services between Germany and the UK, but you can just as easily go via the Netherlands, Belgium or France and drive or train it from there. Check the ferries’ websites for fare details.
The Romanshorn-Friedrichshafen car ferry provides the quickest way across Lake Constance between Switzerland and Germany. It’s operated year-round by Schweizerische Bodensee-Schiffahrtsgesellschaft (in Switzerland 071-466 7888; www.sbsag.ch), takes 40 minutes and costs €6.60 per person. Bicycles are €4.20, cars start at €25.50.
Germany is bordered anticlockwise by Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland. The Schengen Agreement abolished passport and customs formalities between Germany and all bordering countries except Poland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
Riding the bus to Germany is slower and less comfortable yet generally cheaper than taking the train. However, fares often can’t beat cheap flights offered by the budget airlines. Still, buses have their use if you missed out on those super-low air fares, you’re travelling at short notice, or you live in an area poorly served by air or train.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) is the umbrella organisation of 32 European coach operators whose route network serves 500 destinations in 30 countries, including most major German cities. Its website has links to each company’s site with detailed fare and route information, contact numbers and, in most cases, an online booking system. Children between the ages of four and 12 pay half price and there’s a 10% discount for teens, students and seniors. In Germany, Eurolines is represented by Deutsche Touring (069-790 350; www.deutsche-touring.com).
If Germany is part of your European-wide itinerary, a Eurolines Pass (www.eurolines-pass.com) may be a ticket to savings. It offers unlimited travel between 40 cities within a 15- or 30-day day period. From mid-June to mid-September, the cost is €329/439 (15/30 days) for those over 26 and €279/359 for travellers over 26. Lower prices apply during the rest of the year; the website has full details. The pass is available online and from travel agents.
Berlin-based BerlinLinienBus (030-861 9331; www.berlinlinienbus.de) is a similar organisation with some 55 national and Europe-wide companies serving 350 destination all over the continent. There is some overlap between services provided by BerlinLinienBus and Eurolines.
Backpacker-geared Busabout (in UK 020-7950 1661; www.busabout.com) is a hop-on, hop-off ser-vice that runs coaches along three interlocking European loops between May and October. Germany is part of the northern loop, which includes stops in Berlin, Dresden, Munich and Stuttgart. Loops can be combined. In Munich, for instance, the northern loop intersects with the southern loop to Italy.
For other options or to buy a pass, check the website. Passes are also available from such travel agencies as STA Travel and Flight Centre.
In many cities, buses drop off and pick up at centrally located hostels.
When bringing your car to Germany, all you need is a valid driving licence, your car registration certificate and proof of insurance. Foreign cars must display a nationality sticker unless they have official Euro-plates (number plates that include their country’s Euro symbol). You also need to carry a warning (hazard) triangle and first-aid kit.
There are no special requirements for crossing the border into Germany. Under the Schengen Agreement there are no longer any passport controls for cars coming from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Denmark and Austria. Controls do exist, if arriving from Poland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, but these are a mere formality.
Coming from the UK, the fastest way to the continent is aboard the high-speed Eurotunnel (in UK 08705-353 535, in Germany 01805-000 248; www.eurotunnel.com). These shuttle trains whisk cars, motorbikes, bicycles and coaches from Folkestone in England through the Channel Tunnel to Coquelles (near Calais, in France) in about 35 minutes. From there, you can be in Germany in about three hours.
Shuttles run daily around the clock with up to three departures hourly during peak periods. Fares are calculated per vehicle, including passengers, and depend on such factors as time of day, season and length of stay. Expect to pay between £70 and £145 for a standard one-way ticket. The website and travel agents have full details.
Lonely Planet does not recommend hitching, but travellers intending to hitch shouldn’t have too many problems getting to and from Germany via the main autobahns and highways.
Aside from hitching, the cheapest way to get to, away from or around Germany is as a paying passenger in a private car. In Germany, such rides are arranged by Mitfahrzentralen (ride-share agencies) found in many cities. Most belong to umbrella networks like ADM (194 40; www.mitfahrzentralen.de) or Citynetz (01805-194 444; www.citynetz-mitfahrzentrale.de).
Fares comprise a fee to the agency and a per-kilometre charge to the driver. Expect to pay about €16 (one way) going from Hamburg to Berlin, €33 from Berlin to Amsterdam and €15 from Prague to Berlin.
Another way to find rides is by consulting online bulletin boards such as www.hitchhikers.de, www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de and www.mitfahrzentrale.de (all in German). Prices may be even lower, but you will have to get in touch with the driver yourself.
Long-distance trains connecting major German cities with those in other countries are called EuroCity (EC) trains. Seat reservations are highly recommended, especially during the peak summer season and around major holidays.
For overnight travel on a Nachtzug (night train, NZ), you can choose between Schlafwagen (sleepers), which are comfortable compartments for up to three people; Liegewagen (couchettes), which sleep four to six people; and Sitzwagen (seat carriage), which have roomy reclining seats. If you have a rail pass, you only pay a supplement for either. Women can ask for a berth in a single-sex couchette when booking, but book early. For full details, contact Deutsche Bahn’s (DB) night train specialists (in Germany 01805-141 514; www.nachtzugreise.de).
Eurailpasses (www.eurail.com)are convenient and good value if you’re covering lots of territory in a limited time. They’re valid for unlimited travel on national railways (and some private lines) in 18 European countries and also cover many ferries, eg from Finland to Germany, as well as KD Line’s river cruises on the Rhine and Moselle. Available only to nonresidents of Europe, they should be bought before leaving your home country, although a limited number of outlets, listed on their website, also sell them in Europe.
The standard Eurailpass provides unlimited 1st-class travel and costs US$605/785 for 15/21 days and US$975/1378/1703 for one/two/three months of travel. If you’re under 26, you qualify for the Eurailpass Youth and prices drop to US$394/510/634/896/1108.
A variety of other options, such as group passes and flexi passes, are available as well. Children under age four travel free; those between ages four and 11 pay half price.
In the US, Canada and the UK, an excellent resource for all sorts of rail passes and regular train tickets is Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com), a major agency specialising in train travel around Europe. In Australia, passes are sold by Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.com.au); in New Zealand try www.railplus.com.au.
Linking the UK with continental Europe, the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) needs only two hours and 20 minutes to travel from London to Brussels, where you can change to regular or other high-speed trains, such as the French Thalys or the ICE (InterCity Express) train, to destinations in Germany.
Eurostar fares depend on such factors as class, time of day and season. Children, rail-pass holders and those aged between 12 and 25 and over 60 qualify for discounts. For the latest fare information, including promotions and special packages, check the website or contact Rail Europe
Residents of Europe can get an InterRail Global Pass (www.interrailnet.com) for travel in 30 countries except the one they live in. Similarly, single country passes are also available, for any destination aside from country of residence. These passes, worthwhile only if you plan to really clock up the kilometres, must be validated at a train-station ticket window before you begin your first journey. The best deals are available to people under 26.
Entering Germany is usually a very straightforward procedure. If you’re arriving in Germany from any of the 25 Schengen countries, such as the Netherlands or Austria, you no longer have to show your passport or go through customs in Germany, no matter which nationality you are.
Frankfurt International Airport (FRA; 01805-372 4636; www.frankfurt-airport.de) is the main gateway for transcontinental flights, although Düsseldorf (DUS; 0211-4210; www.duesseldorf-international.de) and Munich (MUC; 089-975 00; www.munich-airport.de)also receive their share of overseas air traffic. Berlin has two international airports, Tegel (TXL; 0180-500 0186; www.berlin-airport.de) and Schönefeld (SXF; 0180-500 0186; www.berlin-airport.de). There are also sizeable airports in Hamburg (HAM; 040-507 50; www.ham.airport.de), Cologne/Bonn (CGN; 02203-404 001; www.airport-cgn.de) and Stuttgart (STR; 01805-948 444; www.stuttgart-airport.com), and smaller ones in such cities as Bremen, Dresden, Erfurt, Hanover, Leipzig, Münster-Osnabrück and Nuremberg.
Some of the budget airlines – Ryanair in particular – keep their fares low by flying to remote airports, which may be little more than recycled military airstrips. The biggest of these is Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN; 06543-509 200; www.hahn-airport.de), which is actually near the Moselle River, about 110km northwest of Frankfurt proper.
The main airline serving Germany is the national flagship carrier and Star Alliance member Lufthansa (LH; 01805-838 426; www.lufthansa.de), which operates a vast network of domestic and international flights and has one of the world’s best safety records. Of the many other national and discount carriers also serving Germany, the main ones are listed here along with their telephone numbers in Germany for reservations, flight changes and information. For contact information in your home country, see the airlines’ websites.
Low-budget airlines rule the skies these days with some fares as low as a taxi ride. UK-based Ryanair and easyJet as well as German airlines Air Berlin, Germanwings and HLX offer the most flights to Germany.
Aeroflot (SU; 0180-375 5555; www.aeroflot.com)
Air Canada (AC; 01805-0247 226; www.aircanada.ca)
Air France (AF; 01805-830 830; www.airfrance.com)
Air Lingus (EI; 01805-975 900; www.airlingus.com)
Alitalia (AZ; 01805-074 747; www.alitalia.com)
American Airlines (AA; 0180-324 2324; www.aa.com)
British Airways (BA; 01805-266 522; www.britishairways.com)
Cathay Pacific Airways (CX; 069-710 080; www.cathaypacific.com)
Continental Air Lines (CO; 0180-321 2610; www.continental.com)
Delta Air Lines (DL; 01803-337 880; www.delta.com)
Iberia (IB; 01803-000 613; www.iberia.com)
LOT (LO; 01803-000 336; www.lot.com)
LTU (LT; 0211-941 8888; www.ltu.de)
Malev Hungarian Airlines (MA; 069-238 5800; www.malev.hu)
Olympic Airlines (OA; 069-970 670; www.olympic-airways.com)
Qantas Airways (QF; 01805-250 620; www.qantas.com.au)
Scandinavian Airlines/SAS (SK; 01805-117 002; www.scandinavian.net)
Singapore Airlines (SQ; 069-719 5200; www.singaporeair.com)
Swiss (LX; 01803-000 337; www.swiss.com)
Turkish Airlines (TK; 089-9759 2710; www.turkishairlines.com)
United Airlines (UA; 069-5007 0387; www.united.com)
US Airways (US; 01803-000 609; www.usairways.com)
Air Berlin (AB; 01805-737 800; www.air-berlin.com)
Centralwings (CO; 0180-454 545; www.centralwings.com) A subsidiary of LOT Polish Airlines.
Cirrus (C9; 0180-444 4888; www.cirrus-world.de)
easyJet (EZY; in Germany 0900-1100 161; www.easyjet.com)
Germania Express (ST; 01805-737 100; www.gexx.com)
Germanwings (4U; 0900-191 9100; www.germanwings.com)
Hapagfly (HF; 01805-787 510; www.hapagfly.com)
HLX (X3; 01805-093 509; www.hlx.com)
Jet2 (LS; in UK 0871 226 1737; www.jet2.com)
OLT (OL; 01805-658 659; www.olt.de)
Ryanair (FR; 0900-116 0500; www.ryanair.com)
Virgin Express (TV; 01805-133 212; www.virgin-express.com)
Coming from Australia or New Zealand, round-the-world (RTW) tickets may work out cheaper than regular return fares, especially if you’re planning on visiting other countries besides Germany. They’re of most value for trips that combine Germany with Asia or North America.
Official airline RTW tickets are usually put together by a combination of airlines or an entire alliance and permit you to fly to a specified number of stops and/or a maximum mileage, so long as you don’t backtrack. Tickets are usually valid for one year. Some airlines ‘black out’ a few heavily travelled routes.
For more details and tickets, check out these websites:
Air Brokers (www.airbrokers.com)
Air Treks (www.airtreks.com)
Circle the Planet (www.circletheplanet.com)
Just Fares (www.justfares.com)
Many airlines compete for business between Australia and New Zealand and Europe, with fares starting at about A$2100/1300 in high/low season. The dominant carriers are Qantas, British Airways and Singapore Airlines. Depending on the airline, you’ll fly via Asia or the Middle East, with possible stopovers in such cities as Singapore or Bahrain, or across Canada or the US, with possible stopovers in Honolulu, Los Angeles or Vancouver. Definitely look into a round-the-world (RTW) ticket, which may work out cheaper than regular return fares.
Lufthansa and Air Canada fly to Frankfurt and Munich from all major Canadian airports, with prices starting at C$1250/850 in high/low season. Some flights may involve a stopover. Travel Cuts (800-667-2887; www.travelcuts.com) is Canada’s national student travel agency. For online bookings try www.expedia.ca and www.travelocity.ca.
Air Berlin, easyJet, Germanwings, HLX and Ryanair are the dominant discount carriers with flights to all major and minor German airports from throughout Europe. Smaller airlines servicing less busy routes from Scandinavia include Snowflake and Norwegian Air Shuttle. From Eastern Europe, Centralwings and Sky Europe are among carriers with flights to Germany. One-way fares to Berlin can be as low as €99 from Madrid or Barcelona, €39 from Milan or €59 from Rome. Check www.whichbudget.com for which airlines fly where.
National carriers such as Air France, Alitalia, Iberia, SAS and, of course, Lufthansa offer numerous flights to all major German airports.
Recommended travel agencies:
About a dozen airlines fly to some 22 destinations in Germany from practically every airport in the UK and Ireland. Lufthansa and British Airways are the main national carriers, but naturally prices are a lot lower on the dominant discount carriers Ryanair, easyJet, Air Berlin and Germanwings. Their extensive route network has made travelling even to smaller, regional destinations such as Dortmund, Nuremberg and Münster very inexpensive. Rock-bottom fares start as low as £20 one way, including airport taxes.
Recommended travel agencies:
Ebookers (0870 010 7000; www.ebookers.com)
Flight Centre (0870 890 8099; www.flightcentre.co.uk)
Quest Travel (0870 442 3542; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0870 160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0870 890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
The US–Germany route is busier than ever and competition means that good deals are often available. All major US carriers as well as Lufthansa operate flights from nearly every big US city to Germany. In addition, German carriers LTU and Condor operate seasonal (ie summer) service from select US cities. (Condor flies from Anchorage and Fairbanks, for instance.) Good fares are often available from Asia-based airlines, such as Air India and Singapore Airlines, that stop in the US en route to their final destination.
Most flights land in Frankfurt, but Düsseldorf and Munich are also seeing more incoming traffic and even Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin are now served directly from New York. There’s even a direct flight from Atlanta to Stuttgart. But even if you land in Frankfurt – and it’s not your final destination – it’s a snap to catch a connecting domestic flight or to continue your travels on Germany’s ever-efficient train system.
Airfares rise and fall in a cyclical pattern. The lowest fares are available from early November to mid-December and then again from mid-January to Easter, gradually rising in the following months. Peak months are July and August, after which prices start to drop again. Fares start at around US$600/450 return in high/low season from New York, US$850/550 from Chicago and US$1000/700 from Los Angeles.
If you’re flexible with your travel dates, flying stand-by may save you a bundle. Fares offered through Air Hitch (877-247-4482, 212-736-0505; www.air-hitch.org) can be as low as US$155 one way from east coast cities and US$240 from the west coast in peak season.
STA Travel (800-781-4040; www.statravel.com) and FlightCentre (866-967-5351; www.flightcentre.us) are both reliable budget travel agencies offering online bookings and bricks-and-mortar branches throughout the country. To scour the web for cheap fares, try the following:
Cheap Air (www.cheapair.com)
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)
Lowest Fare (www.lowestfare.com)