Bargaining

Gentle haggling is common at flea markets; in all other instances you’re expected to pay the stated price. In hotels, you may get a better rate if you're staying more than one night.

Dangers & Annoyances

Germany is a very safe country in which to live and travel, with crime rates that are quite low by international standards. Though theft and other crimes against travellers occur rarely, you should still take all the usual precautions:

  • Lock hotel rooms and cars, not leaving valuables unattended.
  • Keep an eye out for pickpockets in crowded places; don't take midnight strolls in city parks.
  • Many hostels provide lockers, but you need your own padlock.
  • Train stations tend to be magnets for people who might harass you or make you feel otherwise uncomfortable, especially at night.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots:

● Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (http://dfat.gov.au)

● British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk)

● Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.international.gc.ca)

● US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)

Solo Travellers

There are no particular problems or difficulties associated with travelling alone in Germany.

  • Germans are generally friendly but rather reserved and not likely to initiate a conversation with strangers. This shouldn’t stop you from approaching them, though, since most will quite happily respond and even be extra helpful once they find out you’re a traveller. And don’t let your lack of German deter you.
  • Young people especially speak at least some English and many are keen to practise it.

Travel in Cities

  • In big cities, especially Berlin, large-scale political protests and demonstrations are quite common. Despite a high police presence, these can turn rowdy or violent on rare occasions, so it’s best to stay away from them altogether.
  • Police are also very visible on game days of soccer matches to prevent clashes between fans of rival teams.
  • Always avoid groups of intoxicated hooligans, as many belong to neo-Nazi and skinhead organisations and are erratic, unpredictable and often violent. Although they do not target tourists, innocent bystanders they perceive as ‘foreign looking’ or as members of rival left-wing groups could potentially be harassed. If you do find yourself in a threatening situation, try not to provoke these aggressors, get away from the scene as fast as possible and notify the police.

Discount Cards

Concession discounts are widely available for seniors, children and students. In some cases, you may be asked to show ID or prove your age. Tourist offices in many cities sell Welcome Cards, which entitle visitors to discounts on museums, sights and tours, plus unlimited trips on local public transport. They can be good value if you plan on taking advantage of most of the benefits and don’t qualify for any of the standard discounts.

If you qualify for one of the following discount cards, you can reap additional benefits on travel, shopping, attractions or entertainment:

Camping Card International (www.campingcardinternational.com) Up to 25% savings in camping fees; cardholders have third-party liability insurance while on the campground.

International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org) The most popular discount card, but only for full-time students. Available at ISIC points (see website) and online. Cost vary by country and range from US$15 to US$30.

International Youth Travel Card (www.isic.org) Similar to ISIC but for non-students under 30 years of age. Available at ISIC points.

Embassies & Consulates

All foreign embassies are in Berlin, but many countries have consular offices in Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg or Düsseldorf. Check online or call the embassy to find out which consulate is closest to your location. For German missions around the world and foreign missions in Germany not listed here, go to www.auswaertiges-amt.de.

Emergency & Important Numbers

Germany's country code49
International access code00
Ambulance, fire brigade112
Police110

Entry & Exit Formalities

Entering Germany is usually a very straightforward procedure. If you’re arriving from any of the 25 other Schengen countries, such as the Netherlands, Poland, Austria or the Czech Republic, you no longer have to show your passport or go through customs in Germany, no matter which nationality you are. If you're coming in from non-Schengen countries, full border procedures apply.

Customs Regulations

Goods brought in and out of countries within the EU incur no additional taxes, provided duty has been paid somewhere within the EU and the goods are for personal use. Duty-free shopping is only available if you're leaving the EU.

Duty-free allowances (for anyone over 17) arriving from non-EU countries:

  • 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of loose tobacco or a proportional combination of these goods.
  • 1L of strong liquor or 2L of less than 22% alcohol by volume, plus 4L of wine, plus 16L of beer.
  • other goods up to the value of €300 if arriving by land, or €430 if arriving by sea or air (€175 for under 15 years).

Visas

Generally not required for tourist stays up to 90 days (or at all for EU nationals); some nationalities need a Schengen Visa.

Further Information

  • EU nationals only need their passport or national identity card to enter, stay and work in Germany for three months. If you plan to stay longer, you must register with the authorities at the Bürgeramt (Citizens' Registration Office) within two weeks of your arrival.
  • Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland and the US only need a valid passport (no visa) if entering Germany as tourists for up to three months within a six-month period. Passports must be valid for another four months beyond the intended departure date. For stays exceeding 90 days, contact your nearest German embassy or consulate, and begin your visa application well in advance.
  • Nationals from other countries need a Schengen Visa, named for the 1995 Schengen Agreement that abolished international border controls between many European countries. Applications for a Schengen Visa must be filed with the embassy or consulate of the country that is your primary destination. It is valid for stays of up to 90 days. Legal residency in any Schengen country makes a visa unnecessary, regardless of your nationality.
  • For full details, see www.auswaertiges-amt.de and check with a German consulate in your country.

Etiquette

Germany is a fairly formal society; the following tips will help you avoid faux pas.

  • Greetings Shake hands and say 'Guten Morgen' (before noon), 'Guten Tag' (between noon and 6pm) or 'Guten Abend' (after 6pm). Use the formal 'Sie' (you) with strangers and only switch to the informal 'du' and first names if invited to do so. With friends and children, use first names and 'du'.
  • Asking for Help Germans use the same word, 'Entschuldigung', to say 'excuse me' (to attract attention) and 'sorry' (to apologise).
  • Eating & Drinking At the table, say 'Guten Appetit' before digging in. Germans hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. To signal that you have finished eating, lay your knife and fork parallel across your plate. If drinking wine, the proper toast is 'Zum Wohl', with beer it's 'Prost'.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Germany is a magnet for schwule (gay) and lesbische (lesbian) travellers, with the rainbow flag flying especially proudly in Berlin and Cologne. There are also sizeable communities in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich.

  • Legal stuff: Homosexuality has been legal since the late 1960s. Same-sex marriage is legal.
  • Attitudes tend to be more conservative in the countryside, among older people and in the eastern states.
  • As elsewhere, Germany's lesbian scene is less public than its male counterpart and is centred mainly on women's cafes and bars.
  • Gay pride marches are held throughout Germany in springtime; the largest, in Cologne and Berlin, draw hundreds of thousands of rainbow revellers and friends.

Publications

Blu (www.blu.fm) Free print and online magazine with searchable, up-to-the-minute location and event listings.

L-Mag (www.l-mag.de) Bimonthly magazine for lesbians. Available at newsagents.

Spartacus International Gay Guide (https://spartacus.gayguide.travel) Annual English-language travel guide for men. Available online, in bookstores and as an app.

Websites & Apps

German National Tourist Office (www.germany.travel/en/ms/lgbt/home/home.html?et_rp=1) Dedicated LGBT pages.

Spartacus World (www.spartacusworld.com) Hip hotel, style and event guide.

Patroc Gay Travel Guide (www.patroc.com) Travel information to 25 European destinations.

Insurance

  • Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
  • Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities, such as motorcycling, scuba diving and even trekking; read the fine print.
  • Check that the policy covers ambulance or an emergency flight home.
  • Before you leave, find out if your insurance plan makes payments directly to providers or reimburses you for health expenditures.
  • Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card sometimes provides limited travel accident insurance – ask your credit card company what it is prepared to cover.
  • If you have to make a claim, be sure to keep all necessary documents and bills.
  • Consider coverage for luggage theft or loss. If you already have a homeowner's or renter's policy, check what it will cover and only get supplemental insurance to protect against the rest.
  • If you have prepaid a large portion of your holiday, trip cancellation insurance is worthwhile.
  • Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you're already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

  • Some cafes and bars have wi-fi hot spots that let customers hook up for free, although you usually need to ask for a password.
  • Many hotels have an internet corner for their guests, often at no charge. Note that in some properties, wi-fi access may be limited to certain rooms and/or public areas; if you need in-room access be sure to specify at the time of booking.
  • Wi-fi is available for a fee on select ICE train routes, including Berlin to Cologne and Frankfurt to Munich and in DB Lounges (free in 1st class). Around 135 stations, including those in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt, offer 30 minutes of free wi-fi with registration via DeutscheTelekom.
  • Locate wi-fi hot spots at www.hotspot-locations.com.

Maps

Most tourist offices distribute free (but often very basic) maps. For driving around Germany, however, you’ll need a detailed road map or atlas such as those published by Falk, RV Verlag or ADAC. Look for them at bookshops, tourist offices, newsagents and petrol stations. Find downloadable maps and driving directions at www.google.de/maps, www.stadtplandienst.de or www.viamichelin.de.

Media

Newspapers Major national newspapers include daily broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (www.faz.net), the Süddeutsche Zeitung (www.sueddeutsche.de) and weekly Die Zeit (www.zeit.de).

Magazines Popular news weeklies include Der Spiegel (www.spiegel.de) and Focus (www.focus.de).

Radio National radio stations include Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com). Regional stations feature a mixed format of news, talk and music.

Money

ATMs widely available in cities and towns, rarely in villages. Credit cards are not widely accepted.

Further Information

Germany is still largely a cash-based society and credit card use is not common. International hotel chains, high-end restaurants, department stores and fancy boutiques usually accept credit cards, but always make it a habit to enquire first, just to be on the safe side. Mastercard and Visa are more widely accepted than American Express and Diners Club. ATMs are ubiquitous in towns and cities but not usually in rural areas. Be wary of those not affiliated with major banks as they charge exorbitant transaction fees. ATMs do not recognise PINs with more than four digits.

ATMs & Debit Cards

  • The easiest and quickest way to obtain cash is by using your debit (bank) card at a Geldautomat (ATM) linked to international networks such as Cirrus, Plus, Star and Maestro.
  • ATMs are plentiful in towns and cities and usually accessible 24/7.
  • ATM cards often double as debit cards, and many shops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses accept them for payment. Most cards use the ‘chip and PIN’ system; instead of signing, you enter your PIN. If your card isn’t chip-and-PIN enabled, you may be able to sign the receipt, but ask first.
  • Deutsche Bahn ticket vending machines at train stations and local public transport may not accept non-chip-and-PIN cards.

Cash

Cash is king in Germany. Always carry some with you, and plan to pay cash almost everywhere. It's also a good idea to set aside a small amount of euros as an emergency stash.

Currency Denominations

The unit of currency in Germany is the euro (€). Euros come in seven notes (€5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500) and eight coins (€0.01, €0.02, €0.05, €0.10, €0.20, €0.50, €1 and €2).

Credit Cards

  • Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, but it’s best not to assume you’ll be able to use one – ask first. Sometimes a minimum purchase amount applies. Even so, a piece of plastic is vital in emergencies and also useful for phone or internet bookings. Visa and Mastercard are more commonly accepted than American Express or Diners Club.
  • Avoid getting cash advances on your credit card via ATMs, as fees are steep and you’ll be charged interest immediately (in other words, there’s no grace period as with purchases).
  • Report lost or stolen cards to the central number 116 116 or the following:

American Express 069-9797 1000

Mastercard 0800-819 1040

Visa 0800-811 8440

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1€0.65
CanadaC$1€0.65
Japan¥100€0.74
New ZealandNZ$1€0.60
UKUK£1€1.15
USUS$1€0.81

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Moneychanging

  • Commercial banks usually charge a stiff fee (€5 to €10) per foreign-currency transaction, no matter the amount, if they offer exchange services at all.
  • Wechselstuben (currency exchange offices) at airports, train stations and in bigger towns usually charge lower fees. Traveller-geared Reisebank (www.reisebank.de) branches are ubiquitous in Germany and are usually found at train stations. They keep longer hours than banks and are usually open on weekends.
  • Exchange facilities in rural areas are rare.

Tipping

  • Hotels €1 per bag is standard. It's nice to leave a little cash for the room cleaners (€1 or €2 per day).
  • Restaurants Bills always include Bedienung (service charge); most people add 5% or 10% unless service was truly abhorrent.
  • Bars About 5%, rounded to nearest euro. For drinks brought to your table, tip as for restaurants.
  • Taxis Tip about 10%, rounded to the nearest euro.
  • Toilet attendants Loose change.

Opening Hours

The following are typical opening hours; these may vary seasonally and between cities and villages. We've provided those applicable in high season. For specifics, see individual listings.

Banks 9am–4pm Monday to Friday, extended hours usually Tuesday and Thursday, some open Saturday

Bars 6pm–1am

Cafes 8am–8pm

Clubs 11pm to early morning

Post offices 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, 9am–1pm Saturday

Restaurants 11am–11pm (food service often stops at 9pm in rural areas)

Major stores and supermarkets 9.30am–8pm Monday to Saturday (shorter hours outside city centres)

Photography

Germany is a photographer’s dream. A good general reference guide is Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography.

  • Germans tend to be deferential around photographers and will make a point of not walking in front of your camera, even if you want them to.
  • No one seems to mind being photographed in the context of an overall scene, but if you want a close-up shot, you should ask first.
  • Many museums, palaces and some churches charge a separate 'photography fee' (usually €2 or €3) if you want to take (non-commercial) pictures.

Post

Sending letters up to 20g to destinations within Germany costs €0.70; it's €0.90 to anywhere else in the world. For letters up to 50g, the rates are €0.85 and €1.50, respectively. For other rates, see www.deutschepost.de.

Mail within Germany takes one to two days for delivery; to other European countries or the USA it takes three to five days, and to Australia five to seven days.

Public Holidays

Germany observes three secular and eight religious public holidays. Banks, shops, post offices and public services close on these days. States with predominantly Catholic populations, such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, also celebrate Epiphany (6 January), Corpus Christi (10 days after Pentecost), Assumption Day (15 August) and All Saints’ Day (1 November). Reformation Day (31 October) is only observed in eastern Germany (but not in Berlin).

The following are gesetzliche Feiertage (public holidays):

Neujahrstag (New Year’s Day) 1 January

Ostern (Easter) March/April; Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday

Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) Forty days after Easter

Maifeiertag/Tag der Arbeit (Labour Day) 1 May

Pfingsten (Whit/Pentecost Sunday & Monday) Fifty days after Easter

Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity) 3 October

Weihnachtstag (Christmas Day) 25 December

Zweiter Weihnachtstag (Boxing Day) 26 December

School Holidays

Each state sets its own school holidays but, in general, German children have six weeks off in summer and two weeks each around Christmas, Easter and October. Traffic is worse at the beginning of school holidays in population-rich states such as North Rhine–Westphalia and can become a nightmare if several states let out their schools at the same time.

Germans are big fans of miniholidays around public holidays, which are especially common in spring, when many holidays fall on a Thursday or Monday. On those 'long weekends' you can expect heavy crowds on the roads, in the towns and everywhere else. Lodging is at a premium at these times.

Smoking

  • Germany was one of the last countries in Europe to legislate smoking. However, there is no nationwide law, with regulations left to each of the 16 states, creating a rather confusing patchwork of anti-smoking laws.
  • Generally, smoking is a no-no in schools, hospitals, airports, train stations and other public facilities. But when it comes to bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants, every state does it just a little differently.
  • Since 2011, Bavaria bans smoking practically everywhere, even in Oktoberfest tents. However, in most other states, lighting up is allowed in designated smoking rooms in restaurants and clubs.
  • One-room establishments smaller than 75 sq m may allow smoking, provided they serve no food and only admit patrons over 18. The venue must be clearly designated as a Raucherbar (smokers' bar).

Taxes & Refunds

Value added tax (VAT), called Mehrwertsteuer, is 19% for regular goods and 7% for food and books. If your permanent residence is outside the European Union, you can have a large portion of the VAT refunded, provided you shop at a store displaying the ‘Tax-Free for Tourists’ sign and obtain a tax-free form for your purchase from the sales clerk.

Telephone

German phone numbers consist of an area code, starting with 0, and the local number. Area codes are between three and six digits long; local numbers are between three and nine digits. If dialling from a landline within the same city, you don’t need to dial the area code. You must dial it if using a mobile.

Calling Germany from abroad Dial your country’s international access code, then 49 (Germany’s country code), then the area code (dropping the initial 0) and the local number.

Calling internationally from Germany Dial 00 (the international access code), then the country code, the area code (without the zero if there is one) and the local number.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones operate on GSM 900/1800. If you have a European or Australian phone, save money by slipping in a German SIM card.

Further Information

  • German mobile numbers begin with a four-digit prefix, such as 0151, 0157, 0170, 0178.
  • Mobile (cell) phones are called 'Handys' and work on GSM 900/1800. If your home country uses a different standard, you’ll need a multiband GSM phone while in Germany.
  • Data roaming charges were scrapped in the EU as of 2017, but callers from other countries should check costs with their provider.
  • If you have an unlocked phone that works in Germany, you may be able to save money by buying a prepaid, rechargeable local SIM card for €10 (including calling time).
  • The cheapest and least complicated of these are sold at discount supermarkets, such as Aldi, Netto and Lidl. Telecommunications stores (eg Deutsche Telekom, O₂ and Vodafone) also sell SIMs. Top-up cards are widely available in kiosks and supermarkets.
  • If you want to purchase an inexpensive unlocked phone, try the electronics chains Media Markt and Saturn. Prices start at €20.
  • Calls made to a mobile phone are more expensive than those to a landline, but incoming calls are free.
  • The use of mobile phones while driving is verboten (forbidden), unless you're using a headset.

Time

Central European Time (GMT/UTC plus one hour)

Further Information

Clocks in Germany are set to Central European Time (GMT/UTC plus one hour). Daylight saving time kicks in at 2am on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October. Use of the 24-hour clock (eg 6.30pm is 18.30) is the norm. As daylight saving times vary across regions, the following time differences are indicative only.

Auckland

Noon in Berlin

11pm

Cape Town

Noon in Berlin

1pm

London

Noon in Berlin

11am

New York

Noon in Berlin

6am

San Francisco

Noon in Berlin

3am

Sydney

Noon in Berlin

9pm

Tokyo

Noon in Berlin

8pm

Toilets

  • German toilets are sit-down affairs. Men are expected to sit down when peeing.
  • Free-standing 24-hour self-cleaning toilet pods have become quite common. The cost is €0.50 and you have 15 minutes. Most are wheelchair-accessible.
  • Toilets in malls, clubs, beer gardens etc often have an attendant who expects a tip of between €0.20 and €0.50.
  • Toilets in airports are usually free, but in main train stations they are often maintained by private companies like McClean, which charge as much as €1.50 for the privilege.
  • Along autobahns, rest stops with facilities are spaced about 20km to 30km apart.

Tourist Information

  • German National Tourist Office (www.germany.travel) Should be your first port of call for travel in Germany.
  • Berlin Tourist Office Useful tourist office on arrival at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof.

Travel with Children

Travelling to Germany with tots can be child’s play, especially if you keep a light schedule and involve them in trip planning. Plus, kids are a great excuse if you secretly yearn to ride roller coasters or dip into the fairy-tale landscapes of the Brothers Grimm.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Stuttgart & the Black Forest

Fairy-tale forest trails, farmstays and outdoor activities galore. Zip across to Lake Constance for kayaking, swimming and cycling, Triberg for its whopping cuckoo clocks and Europa-Park to race around Europe in miniature.

  • Munich & Bavaria

Storybook Germany, with its Christmas-card mountain scenery and high-on-a-hill Schloss Neuschwanstein, the blueprint for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. Find diversions aplenty in Munich and sight-packed Nuremberg – one of Germany's most engaging cities for kiddies.

  • Central Germany

Hike in the mythical Harz Mountains and the Thuringian Forest and enjoy happy-ever-after moments along the 600km Fairy-Tale Road, taking in castles, hamlets and other stops that inspired the tales of Brothers Grimm.

  • Northern Germany

Go for the puppet theatre in Lübeck, pearly white beaches and candy-striped lighthouses on the Baltic and North Sea coasts. Müritz National Park is fabulous for paddle-and-camp trips, and Sylt for boat trips to seal colonies.

Germany for Kids

Travelling to Germany with kids in tow? You're in for a treat. Kids will already have seen in bedtime picture books many of the things that make the country so special: enchanting palaces and legend-shrouded castles lifted high by mountaintops; medieval towns and half-timbered villages that take you back several centuries; islands and meandering rivers; and deep, dark forests that fire little imaginations. This is the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm and their unforgettable fairy tales. Follow the Fairy-Tale Road to see Sleeping Beauty's castle and dance to the tune of the Pied Piper in the town of Hamelin.

Cities also have much to keep the little ones amused, with interactive museums, imaginative playgrounds, puppet shows, outdoor pools and zoos.

Tourist offices can point you to children’s attractions, child-care facilities and English-speaking paediatricians. If you need a babysitter, ask staff at your hotel for a referral.

Breastfeeding in public is practised, although most women are discreet about it. Restaurants are rarely equipped with nappy-change facilities, but some fast-food places have a fold-down change table in the women's toilet.

Children's Discounts

Many museums, monuments and attractions are free to anyone under 18 years, but the cut-off age varies. In general, you can assume kids under five don't pay at all. Most places also offer family tickets.

Children qualify for discounts on public transport and tours, where they usually pay half price, sometimes less. Some hotels, including many international chains, have discounted rates for kids or don't charge extra if they're under a certain age (varying from three to 16) and stay in their parents' room without extra bedding. The Kurtaxe (tourist tax) you pay in most resorts gets you a Gästekarte (guest card) for free local transport and entry to museums, pools and attractions.

Dining Out

As long as they're not running wild, children are generally welcome in German restaurants, especially in informal cafes, bistros, pizzerias or Gaststätten (inns). High chairs are common and the server may even bring a damp cloth at the end of your meal to wipe sticky little fingers.

Many less formal restaurants offer a limited Kindermenü (children's menu) or Kinderteller (children's meals). Dishes generally loved by children include Schnitzel mit Pommes (schnitzel with fries), Bratwurst (sausage), Nudeln mit Tomatensosse (pasta with tomato sauce), Spätzle (egg-based mini-dumpling-like noodles) or the German version of mac 'n' cheese, Käsespätzle. Maultaschen, a spin on ravioli, may also go down well. Pizzerias are cheap, ubiquitous and most will be happy to customise pizzas.

Germany is fabulous snack territory. Larger malls have food courts, while self-service cafeterias are often found in department stores; farmers markets also have food stalls. The most popular snacks on the run are bratwurst-in-a-bun and doner kebabs (sliced meat in a pita pocket with salad and sauce). And there's no shortage of international fast food chains. Note that you have to pay extra for ketchup.

Baby food, infant formulas, soy and cow’s milk and nappies (diapers) are widely available in supermarkets and chemists (drugstores).

Drinks

Tap water is clean and fine to drink, although most cafes and restaurants are either reluctant to serve it or will refuse to. In that case, order a Mineralwasser (mineral water), either mit Sprudel (fizzy) or ohne Sprudel (flat). Mixing juices and fizzy mineral water (Schorle) is refreshing and popular.

Museums

Germany is full of child-friendly museums that play to young imaginations or impart knowledge in interactive and engaging ways. Kid-oriented audioguides (in German and English) are becoming more widely available. Staff also run tot-geared activities, although these are usually in German.

Outdoor Activities

Germany's great outdoors yields an endless variety of activities. Tourist offices can recommend well-marked walking trails suitable for families, including those pushing strollers, or can hook you up with a local guide. Ask about kid-geared activities such as geocaching, animal-spotting safaris and nature walks.

Water babies will love frolicking on Germany's beaches, which are clean and usually devoid of big surf and dangerous undercurrents. Water temperatures rarely exceed 21°C (70°F), though lakes tend to be a bit warmer. Many have an inexpensive Strandbad (lido) with change rooms, playgrounds, splash zones, slides, ping-pong tables, restaurants or boat rentals. Kayaking is active fun for children from the age of seven, and short excursions or multi-day paddle-and-camp trips are available.

Cycling is big in Germany, with safe, well-signposted routes running along lakes and coastlines, through forests and up into the hills. The vast majority of bike rental outlets have children's bikes and can recommend kid-friendly tours.

All ski resorts have ski schools with English-speaking instructors that initiate kids in the art of the snow plough in group or private lessons. Families with kids under 10 may find smaller resorts in the Bavarian Forest or Black Forest easier to navigate and better value than bigger Alpine resorts such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen. All of them, of course, have plenty of off-piste fun as well: snowshoeing, sledding, walking and ice skating.

Theme Parks

There's plenty of fun and thrills in theme parks. The country's biggest is Europa-Park near Freiburg, which has gentle rides for young children, white-knuckle roller coasters for teens and its own mousy mascot, the Euromaus. For fishy encounters, seek out one of the country's eight SeaLife aquariums with touch tanks, fish feedings and activities. The Legoland amusement park in Ulm has shows, rides and a miniature world built from millions of Lego bricks, while Ravensburger Spieleland is like a board game come to life; there's also an indoor one in Berlin. Older kids may be drawn to movie-themed parks, such as Filmpark Babelsberg in Potsdam, for stunt shows, behind-the-scenes tours and potential actor-sightings.

Children's Highlights

Amusement Parks

  • Europa-Park Huge Europe-themed amusement park with whizzy rides and a mouse mascot.
  • Märchengarten Low-key fairy-tale-themed park for tots in Ludwigsburg.
  • Steinwasen Park Forest park near Freiburg with rides, Alpine animals and a hanging bridge.
  • Ravensburger Spieleland Board-game-inspired park with giant rubber-duck races and speed cow milking.
  • Feenweltchen A magical world of elves, fairies and sprites attached to a colourful grotto in Saalfeld.
  • Playmobil Tots love the life-sized versions of these famous German toys in Nurmeberg.

Energy Burners

  • Black Forest Go down to these seemingly never-ending woods for hiking, cycling, skiing, sledding and snowshoeing.
  • Spreewald Navigate the channels and canals of this Unesco Biosphere Reserve by canoe, kayak or punt.
  • Sylt This wave-lashed island in the North Sea is ideal for surfing, windsurfing or horse riding.
  • Bavarian Alps Strike out on foot for those Heidi moments, or take to the slopes in winter.
  • Lake Constance A family magnet, where you can walk, pedal, kayak or boat it over to Switzerland and Austria.
  • Rügen Sheltered Baltic Sea beaches and family rambles along limestone cliffs and through enchanting beech forests.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Also see If You Like… Train Journeys for fun narrow-gauge train rides.

Planning

For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.

Accommodation

Many hotels have family rooms with three or four beds, large doubles with a sofa-bed or adjoining rooms with a connecting door. Practically all can provide cots, though sometimes a small extra charge applies. In some properties, smaller children (generally those under 12 years) stay free or are given a discount.

Farmstays (Urlaub auf dem Bauernhof) are popular with families and offer a low-key, inexpensive experience. Meanwhile, Heuhotels (hay hotels) offer the option of literally sleeping in a barn on a bed of hay: see www.heuhotels.de for details. Camping is also huge; in summer the most popular sites book out far in advance.

Hostelling International–affiliated hostels (DJH hostels) have family rooms and activities, but independent hostels tend to have more of a party vibe and don't always welcome children.

Getting Around

Children under 12 years or smaller than 1.5m (59 inches) must ride in the back seat in cars (taxis included) and use a car seat or booster that's appropriate for their weight. Only children older than 12 years and over 1.5m tall may ride in front. Car seats are occasionally provided free by rental companies but must be reserved.

The train is a great way to get around Germany. Children under 15 years travel free if accompanied by at least one parent or grandparent. The only proviso is that names of children aged between six and 14 must be registered on your ticket at the time of purchase. Children under six always travel free and without a ticket.

The superfast ICE trains have compartments for families with small children (Kleinkindabteil) that are equipped with tables, stroller storage, an electrical outlet (for warming bottles) and, sometimes, a change table. Book these early.

Seat reservations for families (Familienreservierung) cost a flat €9 for two adults and up to three children.

Useful Websites

  • German National Tourist Office (www.germany.travel) Popular family sights and destinations.
  • Familotel (www.familotel.com) Family-friendly hotels that are sure-fire kid-pleasers.
  • Urlaub auf dem Bauernhof (www.bauernhofurlaub.de) More than 5000 farmstay properties throughout Germany.

What To Pack

Babies & Toddlers

  • Front or back sling; cobbled streets don't make for smooth stroller rides and some museums don't allow them
  • Change mat, hand-wash gel, wet wipes (changing facilities are limited)
  • Kids' car seats; rental companies have them but they need to be reserved early

Six to 12 Years

  • Binoculars for young explorers to zoom in on wildlife and palace facades
  • A copy of Grimms' Fairy Tales

Teens

  • Smartphone or tablet with Germany-related apps
  • German phrasebook

Feature: Top Five Germany Reads

  • The Robber Hotzenplotz (Otfried Preussler, 1963) A rambunctious picture book about a thief, set in a small town in southern Germany.
  • Candy Bombers (Robert Elmer, 2006) Tale of two teenagers struggling to survive in post-WWII Berlin (suitable for kids aged nine and up).
  • Momo (Michael Ende, 1973) A tale about the concept of time, involving an orphan girl who lives in a ruined amphitheatre at the edge of an unnamed city.
  • The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (Jacob Grimm & Wilhelm Grimm, 1812 & 1815) This classic contains 156 of the Grimm's folk and fairy tales – from Rapunzel to Hansel and Gretel and The Frog King.
  • The Neverending Story (Michael Ende, 1979) German novel about a boy who reads a magical book that plunges him into a fantasy world.

Travellers with Disabilities

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

  • Germany is fairly progressive when it comes to barrier-free travel. Access ramps and/or lifts are available in many public buildings, including train stations, museums, concert halls and cinemas. In historical towns, though, cobblestone streets make getting around difficult.
  • Trains, trams, underground trains and buses are increasingly accessible. Some stations also have grooved platform borders to assist blind passengers in navigating. Seeing-eye dogs are allowed on all forms of public transport. For the hearing impaired, upcoming station names are often displayed electronically on public transport.
  • Newer hotels have lifts and rooms with extra-wide doors and spacious bathrooms.
  • Some car rental agencies offer hand-controlled vehicles and vans with wheelchair lifts at no charge, but you must reserve them well in advance. In parking lots and garages, look for designated spots marked with a wheelchair symbol.
  • Many local and regional tourist offices have special brochures (usually in German) for people with disabilities.

Useful Resources

Deutsche Bahn Mobility Service Centre (01806-996 633, ext 9 for English; www.bahn.com) Train access information and route planning assistance. The website has useful information in English (search for 'barrier-free travel').

German National Tourist Office (www.germany.travel) Search for 'barrier free' for helpful info on accessible travel in Germany, including details on sights and attractions, bookings and transport.

Volunteering

Websites such as www.goabroad.com and www.transitionsabroad.com throw up a wide spectrum of opportunities for volunteering in Germany. Helping out on a family farm in the Alps, restoring a medieval castle in eastern Germany, helping kids or the elderly in Dresden, or teaching English to the long-term unemployed in Berlin are just some of the experiences awaiting those keen to volunteer their time and skills.

Here's a small selection of volunteer organisations:

Conversation Corps (www.geovisions.org) Volunteer 15 hours a week to teach a German family English in exchange for room and board.

Volunteers for Peace (www.vfp.org) USA-based nonprofit offers a potpourri of opportunities, from construction to farm work or social work.

WWOOF (www.wwoof.de) Help out on a small organic farm harvesting, tending animals, bringing in the hay or gardening.

Weights & Measures

Weights & Measures The metric system is used.

Women Travellers

Germany is a very safe destination for female solo travellers, and you should be able to get around with ease.

Work

  • Non-EU citizens cannot work legally in Germany without a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) and a work permit (Arbeitserlaubnis).
  • EU citizens don’t need a work permit. Since regulations change from time to time, it’s best to contact the German embassy in your country for the latest information.
  • If you’re not in the market for a full-time job but simply need some cash to replenish your travel budget, options include babysitting, English tutoring, operating tours and bartending. You won’t get rich, but neither will you need a high skill level, much training, or fluent German.
  • Start by placing a classified ad in a local newspaper or listings guide. Other places to advertise include noticeboards at universities, photocopy shops and supermarkets.
  • Au pair work is relatively easy to find and can be done legally even by non-EU citizens. Fluent German is not expected, although you should have some basic language skills.
  • For the full story, get Lonely Planet’s The Big Trip, or the latest edition of The Au Pair and Nanny’s Guide to Working Abroad by Susan Griffith and Sharon Legg. The website www.au-pair-agenturen.de (in German) has links to numerous agencies in Germany.
  • Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong between the ages of 18 and 30 may apply for a Working Holiday Visa, which entitles them to work in Germany for up to 90 days in a 12-month period. A similar scheme is available for Canadians up to age 35. Contact the German embassy in your country for details.
  • Also check out the ‘Living & Working Abroad’ thread on the Thorn Tree forum at www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree.