Outside of high season, around holidays and during major trade shows it's generally not necessary to book accommodation in advance.

  • Hotels Range from mom-and-pop joints to restored castles and international chains.
  • Hostels Both indie hostels and those belonging to Hostelling International are plentiful.
  • Ferienwohnungen Furnished flats and holiday homes, particularly prevalent in rural areas. Inexpensive option for families and groups.
  • Gasthäuser/Gasthöfe Country inns, often in lovely locations, offer cultural immersion and a restaurant.
  • Pensionen The German version of B&Bs is prevalent in rural areas and offers good value.

Categories

Budget stays will generally have you checking in at hostels, Gasthöfe (country inns), Pensionen (B&Bs or small hotels), simple family hotels or properties found via the usual home-sharing services. Facilities may be shared. Midrange properties offer extra creature comforts, such as cable TV, wi-fi and private bathrooms. Overall, these constitute the best value for money. Top-end places come with luxurious amenities, perhaps scenic locations, special decor or historical ambience. Many also have pools, saunas and business centres.

Agritourism

Family-friendly farm holidays are a terrific (and inexpensive) back-to-nature choice. Kids get to run free and interact with barnyard animals. Accommodation ranges from bare-bones digs with shared facilities to fully furnished holiday apartments. Minimum stays are common, as is an Endreinigungsgebühr (final cleaning fee). Properties swing from organic, dairy and equestrian farms to wine estates. Note that places advertising Landurlaub (country holiday) no longer actively work their farms.

Camping

Camping grounds are generally well kept but many get jam-packed in summer. Book early or show up before noon to snap up a spot. The core camping season runs from May to September, but some sites are open year-round.

Given the remote location of many sites, having your own wheels is a definite asset. Camping on public land is not permitted. If you want to pitch a tent on private property, ask the landowner first.

Fees are broken down per person (between €3 and €10), tent (€6 to €16) and car or caravan (€3 to €20), plus additional fees for hot showers, resort tax and electricity. A Camping Card International (www.campingcardinternational.com) often yields discounts.

See www.germany.travel/camping for an excellent searchable database with detailed information on 750 sites, as well as a downloadable version of its Camping in Germany brochure.

Castles

If you’re the romantic type, consider a fairy-tale getaway in a castle, palace or country manor dripping with character and history. They're typically in the countryside, strategically perched atop a crag, perhaps overlooking a river or rolling hills. And it doesn't take a king's ransom to stay in one; even wallet-watchers can fancy themselves knight or damsel when staying in a castle converted into a youth hostel. More typically, though, properties are luxury affairs, blending mod cons with baronial ambience and old-fashioned trappings such as four-poster beds, antique armoires and heavy drapes. Sometimes your hosts are even descendants of the original castle builders – often some local baron, count or prince.

Chain Hotels

Hotel chains stretch from cookie-cutter anonymity to central five-star properties with historical flair and top-notch facilities (air-con, wi-fi, 24-hour check-in etc.). Most offer last-minute and/or weekend deals. Rivalling the big international chains are home-grown contenders such as Dorint (www.dorint.com), the luxury Kempinski (www.kempinski.com) group, city hotel chain Leonardo (www.leonardo-hotels.com) and Steigenberger (www.steigenberger.com), offering five-star luxury often in historic buildings.

Hostels

DJH Hostels

Germany’s 500 Hostelling International-affiliated Jugendherbergen (hostels) are run by the Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk (DJH; www.jugendherberge.de). Although open to all ages, they’re especially popular with school and youth groups, families and sports clubs.

Aside from gender-segregated dorms, most hostels have private rooms for families and couples, often with bathrooms. If space is tight, hostels may give priority to people under 27, except for those travelling as a family. People aged over 27 are charged an extra €4 per night.

If you don't have an HI membership card from your home country, buy an annual Hostelling International Card for €22.50 (€7 for those under 27), available at any DJH hostel.

Independent Hostels

Independent hostels cater primarily for individual travellers and attract a mixed, international crowd. They're most prevalent in big cities such as Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg, but there are now dozens in smaller towns throughout the country.

Hostels range from classic backpacker pads with large dorms and a communal spirit to more glam 'flashpacker' properties that can rival budget hotels. Many have private quarters with bathrooms and/or apartments with kitchens. Dorms tend to be mixed, although some hostels offer women-only units. Indie hostels have no curfew and staff tend to be savvy, multilingual and keen to help with tips and advice. Some charge a linen fee of around €3 per stay.

Hotels

You'll find a hotel to suit every mood, moment and budget in Germany, including small family-run places; good old-fashioned Gasthöfe (inns) in the countryside, full of history and creaking charm; five-star spa hotels; and boutique city sleeps geared towards lifestyle-savvy travellers.

Cheaper rooms may have shared facilities (WC und Dusche auf der Etage). Increasingly, city hotels are not including breakfast in their room rates, so always check for the price of Frühstück first.

Pensions, Inns & Private Rooms

The German equivalent of B&Bs, Pensionen are small and informal and an excellent low-cost alternative to hotels. Gasthöfe/Gasthäuser (inns) are similar, but usually have restaurants serving regional and German food to a local clientele. Privatzimmer are guest rooms in private homes, though privacy seekers may find these places a bit too intimate.

Amenities, room size and decor vary. The cheapest rooms may have shared facilities. What they lack in amenities, though, they often make up for in charm and authenticity, with friendly hosts who take a personal interest in ensuring that you enjoy your stay.

Some tourist offices keep lists of available rooms; you can also look around for ‘Zimmer Frei’ (rooms available) signs in house or shop windows. They’re usually quite cheap, with per-person rates generally topping out at €30, including breakfast.

Rental Accommodation

Renting a furnished flat is a hugely popular – and economical – option. The benefit of space, privacy and independence makes them especially attractive to families, self-caterers and small groups. Peer-to-peer rental communities such as Airbnb or its German competitors Wimdu and 9flats have made enormous inroads.

Local tourist offices have lists of holiday flats (Ferienwohnungen or Ferien-Appartements) or holiday homes (Ferienhäuser). Pensionen, inns, hotels and even farmhouses also rent out apartments.

Stays under a week usually incur a surcharge, and there’s almost always a ‘cleaning fee’ of €20 or €30 added to the total.

You could also consider a home exchange, where you swap homes and live like a local for free; see www.homeexchange.com for more on how it's done.

Long-Term Rentals

If you’re staying in a German city for a month or longer, consider renting a room or a flat through a Mitwohnzentrale (flat-sharing agency). Rates vary by agency, city and type of accommodation, but the final tally is likely to be less than what you’d pay for a similar standard in a hotel. Many Mitwohnzentralen now also arrange short-term stays, although prices are higher.

Home Company (www.home-company.de) is a nationwide network of agencies; its website has all the details. Self caterers with some German skills could also try www.zwischenmiete.de.

Costs

Accommodation costs vary wildly between regions, and between cities and rural areas. What gets you a romantic suite in a countryside inn in the Bavarian Forest may only be worth a two-star room in Munich. City hotels geared to the suit brigade often lure leisure travellers with lower rates on weekends. Seasonal variations are common in holiday regions, less so in the cities.

Reservations

Most tourist offices and properties now have an online booking function with a best-price guarantee. If you've arrived in town and don't have reservations or online access, swing by the tourist office, where staff can assist you in finding last-minute lodgings. After hours, vacancies with contact details and addresses may be posted in the window or in a display case.

The Basics

Standards are generally high and even basic accommodation will likely be clean and comfortable. Reservations are a good idea between June and September, and around major public holidays, festivals, cultural events and trade shows.

Which Floor?

In Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, 'ground floor' refers to the floor at street level. The 1st floor (what would be called the 2nd floor in the US) is the floor above that. Lonely Planet follows German usage.