Germany - 1st time

My husband & I are considering a trip to Germany in 2014. We'd like to go approximately 2 weeks give or take an extra day or two. We thinking of renting a car but we're unsure of the best place to fly into. Any suggestions of towns/cities to visit for a first timer? Would you recommend renting a car? Any info would be helpful. Thanks in advance!

Posted by Susan
Columbus, USA
68 posts

Hi Danette! Germany is an awesome place. Lots to see and do and lots of beautiful scenes! For us it was the cheapest to fly into Frankfurt (FRA). But it really depends on what you want to do. We had a family reunion about two hours from Frankfurt and two hours from Munich so we had a choice. We also rented a car, mainly b/c of the reunion and also because we were trying to visit some out of the way family towns. However, the train system is awesome. When I was younger, I did all my traveling by train. I guess it depends on your travel style. (Although at the end of the day, it was really nice to put all the luggage into the car and not have to lug it around) If you do rent a car, do yourself a favor and rent a small one. The town streets are really narrow and tight. Also it helps if you can drive a manual. I know there are automatics, but I have heard finding a manual is easier.
As for towns and cities, it also depends on your travel style. If I had to give suggestions blindly not knowing anything, I would suggest the south. Not that the north is not equally great, but the Alps are just so breath taking. There is so much to see and do in Munich and the surrounding towns. We also really liked the area around Frankfurt as well. Then again, both of our families came from around there, so we might be a bit biased. Enjoy planning. If you are a visual planner like I am, try www.virtualtourist.com Susan

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

The train system is so top notch, I wouldn't recommend renting a car unless you want/need to drive around little towns in Bavaria. I would recommend looking into doing an Iceland stopover via Iceland Air (the stopover is free) - I believe Iceland Air flies only into Frankfurt from Minneapolis. You could either fly into the same city or multiple cities, depending on how you ultimately structure your trip. I mentioned Iceland Air only because it allows you to see two countries for one plane ticket, and for me it was more than worthwhile. As far as what to see, why don't you look at a guide book and see what interests you most? I would say that Berlin and Munich are not to be missed because they are large and interesting with lots of attractions, but there are countless other options depending on your interests.

Posted by Rob
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
370 posts

Why Germany? Answer that and maybe someone can help with where to go and what to see. I'm a fan of Munich and southern Baveria, but you may be more interested in Berlin. I rent a car, but most on here do not. Until you know where you are going and what you are doing, car rental or not is not an issue. Give us more to work with and you will be amazed at the responses!

Posted by stan
Kansas City, Missouri
219 posts

Danette Been there several times. Most of the interesting places to see are in the Rhine Valley, Black Forest (SW Germany) and Bavaria (SE Germany). Frankfurt is best place to fly into because most non-stop flights from US go there, and there is a convenient train station right in the airport. If you are not sure what interests you, start with the Rick Steves guidebook for Germany and see what he recommends. I think his descriptions and recommendations for Germany are right on the mark. No question driving in Germany is very stressful. If you've not rented a car or driven in Europe before, it is not the same! Not just navigation and different laws but parking. Most of the interesting sights are in areas in which parking and narrow streets or heavy traffic eat up your time and patience. Deutsche Bahn rail pass (NOT Eurail if you are only in Germany)is the way to go. First timers? Cologne, Heidelberg, Rothenburg, Munich, Garmisch. Berlin, Nuremburg, Passau, Berechtesgaden if you have time. If you go to Bavaria, you might consider going a bit further to Salzburg in Austria, which is prettier than any of the aforementioned places

Posted by Russ
Paradise
1759 posts

I've done a lot of driving in Germany but at this point much more train travel - trains tend to be much more relaxing, cheaper, and no doubt safer. For a 2-week trip, it's unlikely you'll a destination that's not served by train - there are 5,500 train stations in Germany! Once you have an itinerary in mind, get some advice here for the best ways of getting from place to place. "Any suggestions of towns/cities to visit for a first timer?" It depends a lot on your interests, but the Rhine/Mosel region, not far from Frankfurt, has a nice mix - great scenery, old-world villages, modern cities, Roman ruins and historical museums, wineries, castles galore, WW II history, great cathedrals, river cruises, even an outstanding open-air museum (see 2nd link below.) Fairly complete area travel guide put out by Hahn airport Bad Sobernheim Open Air Museum Middle Rhine villages and more: http://www.welterbe-mittelrheintal.de/index.php?id=274&L=3 You might spend 4-7 days in this area, then move on to somewhere else.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Hello Danette. Two weeks is plenty of time for travelling in Germany, in the south and in the north. You could fly from an airport in the U.S.A. to the airport of Munich in Germany. And fly from an airport of Berlin to an airport in the U.S.A. In Germany, you will not need to rent a car. Travel in railroad trains in Germany.

Posted by Catherine
Springfield
18 posts

We just returned from Germany and were astonished at how much road work there was on the autobahn. Karlsruhe to Munich took, give or take, forever and a day. Approaching Nuremberg was very bad as well. Construction detours in southern Munich gave our Garmin fits. The car was most useful in the Bavarian countryside. The autobahn is not scary thanks to the fact that most people actually use the passing lane for passing only (a concept I'd love to see enforced in the US). But the pervasive construction/lane closures, coupled with tremendous traffic, can add hours to your travel time. I suggest using the train most of time and renting a car for day trips as needed.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

"We just returned from Germany and were astonished at how much road work there was on the autobahn. Karlsruhe to Munich took, give or take, forever and a day." That would be the infamous A8. I feel your pain. The key is to avoid Karlruhe, Pforzheim, and above all Stuttgart during commuting hours, which isn't always easy. But even that's not a guarantee of smooth sailing.

Posted by Russ
Paradise
1759 posts

Catherine suggests, "I suggest using the train most of time and renting a car for day trips as needed." A "car as needed for day trips" is probably going to be a rare need, which is a good thing for your pocketbook. A couple visiting the Rhine/Mosel area, for example, will find that a 3-day railpass covering 2-5 people (like the one below) offers unlimited local travel and will get them to lots of towns and destinations of interest - Cochem, Burg Eltz, Koblenz, Linz, Remagen, Braubach, Boppard, St. Goar, Oberwesel and others - at a cost of 42.40€. So wherever you end up, before you rent a car for ???€ and pay $8/gal., check into the local and regional day pass offers: VRM 3-day mini-group ticket

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

BTW, Danette hasn't indicated yet which way she's leaning, so it's a little premature to rule a rental car in or out.

Posted by Nestor
Fairfax
44 posts

If it is the 2 of you then using the rail system will be probably be your best option with more peace of mind. In our last trip we did 7 stops that included Rothenburg and there were 4 of us so it was cheaper to rent. Berlin, Rothenburg, Fussen and Salzburg were our favorites. Enjoy.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

For 2 weeks I wouldn't rent a car unless you want to visit areas where getting there is easier with one. Go to Gemut.com for tons of info on driving in Europe, especially in Germany. As to where to visit, Munich with a side trip to Dachau, Nuremberg, Rothenburg, Berchtesgaden, a boat ride on the Rhine, there are so many options as others have said. The RS Germany guide should really help you decide where to go. His TV programs on Germany will also help. They are available in a number of ways that I can't get to on my Kindle right now, so I can't provide the links. Being from MN, I'm sure you are considering the weather in your trip planning.

Posted by Martin
Germany
208 posts

>"Danette Been there several times. Most of the interesting places to see are in the Rhine Valley, Black Forest (SW Germany) and Bavaria (SE Germany)." Looks like you should visit the country again. I seriously don't know why the North with the preserved towns of the Hanseatic League and the posh 19th century resorts, the towns of Central Germany with literally thousands of half-timbered houses, or Eastern Germany with the fast cultural heritage ranging from Luther, Bach, Goethe, Schiller or the Bauhaus to the riches of the Saxon kings, should be less interesting than Western and Southern Germany. With a car and two weeks available I would probably start in the North to see the towns along the Baltic coast (many of them World Heritage Sites (WHS)), then stop in the Harz mountains to see some towns there (again WHS), move on to Franconia with a quick stop in Thuringia (Erfurt and Wartburg castle (WHS)) to see Bamberg (WHS) and Rothenburg ob der Tauber and end the trip in Upper Bavaria (Munich + castles). This trip offers you a much more comprehensive experience of Germany than just the usual romantic Rhine, Romantic Road, romantic castles itinerary.

Posted by Frank
Oxford, MS, United States
26 posts

Just a tip. Sometimes it's possible to fly in to one or another German city really cheaply. My daughter and I are flying over in a couple of weeks, and got round-trip tickets from New York to Duseldorf for $750. We're having to make our own way to New York, and with a companion ticket that cost $160 each. So we got round-trip tickets for just over $900 each, which is good for summer. In 2007 we flew round trip to Cologne for $260 each. That ship has sailed, but my point is when you search for fares plus in lots of different German cities. Wherever you land you can take a train, and if booked in advance they are cheap.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11274 posts

An awful lot of Germany is easily accessible by train. Over multiple trips since 2000, I've spent about four months there and never needed a car. The first thing I would recommend is to get some guidebooks and figure out where you want to go, places that interest you. Then use the German Rail (Bahn) website to find rail connections. (Hint: make sure you use correct spelling as there are often stations in Germany with similar names.) Only rent a car if you want to go somewhere not accessible by public transportation. There are lots of very good rail fare packages - Länder-Tickets for shorter trips in a single state using regional trains and Savings Fares for longer trips using express train. For many place not accessible by train, there are regional buses from the nearest station. These are shown on the Bahn websites.

Posted by Bob
Rosemount, MN, USA
56 posts

We're flying to Frankfurt in a few weeks via Icelandair and are spending 3 days in Iceland along the way. I highly recommend stopping in Iceland if only for a few days. It depends on what/where you want to go/see that will dictate your transportation needs. On our trip this summer we are renting a car and visiting several places between Frankfurt and Paris. I also prefer to drive. I like the freedom. I also enjoy driving in Germany. Slow traffic stays to the right. Trucks stay to the right. Wish that would happen here. If you are having prolonged stays in only a couple cities then take the train. In 2006 we flew into Cologne and drove clockwise around Germany staying in Berlin, Rothenburg, Munich, Hohenschwangau (Neushwanstein), Lucerne (Switz), Heidelberg and back to Cologne. Having a car allowed us to make stops along the way. We could start and end our day on our timetable. We also didn't have to carry luggage all over the place. Good luck and I hope you enjoy the planning phase of the trip as much as I do.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2695 posts

Hi, I personally do not recommend using a rental car unless your itinerary includes going out to seeing villages outside of the cities. Trains and buses will do it. As suggested above, those cultural and historical cities in North, Central and Eastern Germany are ones I absolutely agree with and suggest visiting, regardless if you are first timer or not. The Black Forest, SW Germany, the Middle Rhine area, and Bavaria are the American comfort zone. Other parts of the country are worthy of your time than just staying in that comfort zone. Seeing these areas don't and won't give a comprehensive view of Germany.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11274 posts

I've spent over 4 months in Germany in 9 trips since 2000. I've seen everything I wanted to see, most of which is off the beaten track, and I never needed a car. The Germans know where people want to go and have already provided public transportation to it. A few years ago, I was planning a two week trip to Germany with some friends who had never been to Germany, to see what I considered the highlights. We were going to fly into Munich, spend four nights there, including a day trip to Salzburg, then go to Oberammergau for two nights, seeing Linderhof the day we arrived and visiting Neuschwanstein the next day by bus. After Oberammergau, we were going by train to Rothenburg for two nights, then to Braubach, on the Rhein, via 4 hours in Würzburg. For the long trip from Rothenburg to Braubach, we would use an Express train and advance purchase, Savings Fare tickets. We would spend five night in Braubach, seeing the Marksburg and making day trips to Bernkastel (ground zero for Riesling wines), Köln, and St. Goar/Bacharach. We would then fly out of Frankfurt back to the US. I had figured out the cost of transportation for five people, using the price of Länder tickets at the time. I've gone back and updated it for two people at today's prices and exchange rate. The total cost of all public transportation for 2 people for 14 days, including a Savings Fare ticket, a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket, Bayern and Rheinland-Pfalz tickets, and day tickets for Munich and Rhein-Mosel-Verkehrverbund is $415. According to ViaMichelin, just fuel for a compact car for that trip would be $300. That does not include anything for transportation for two days in Munich. You don't want to drive there. Public transportation for those two days would cost $35 more (included in the $415, so really it's $380).

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

I strongly disagree with the car haters that often try to put people off. Germany is an easy country to drive, the road infrastructure is good, once you get used to the signage there is no major issues driving. Among other big European countries, it is the one where driving in big cities is the easiest (compared to France, Italy, Spain). Renting a car can be useful to get you out of the reach of trains. That is one of its major advantages.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

Agree with Andre... driving in Germany works really well, and you have the flexibility and freedom to be on your own schedule and not have to watch the clock to catch a train. Also, gotta love those roadside picnics and 'off the beaten path' places you can find.... a stop alongside the road with the poppy fields and the mountains in the background...priceless.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

To start I used Michelin Map 718 National and The Green Guide for references. I read trip ideas on this forum, Fodor's, and Trip Advisor. I posted questions here and received good advice. From Lee's advice & knowledge we made a final itinerary which required no car rental. This was a result of the places we used as a base, the pace we wanted, and the number of days we had for the trip. Once you have your itinerary you'll know if you need or want a car. I wouldn't hesitate to rent one. To give you an understanding of the public transportation, here is our Germany 14 days travel using an open-jaw flight, Germany's trains and buses. Fly over night from BOS to FRA, 1 night Rhine, St. Goar 3 nights: Train to St. Goar with one change in Mainz. Time average 1:33 hours. Day trip excursions on the Rhine by a KD boat(we hopped on and off); Day trip to Remagen and to Cologne by Train with one change in Koblenz. RT taxi to save time when visiting the Remagen Bridge and the Peace Museum. Bayern, Rothenburg ob-der-Tauber 2 nights: Train and bus. Bayern, Munich 3 nights: Visited Dachua Concentration Camp en route to Munich. Bus and Train to Dachau, RT Bus to Dachau with luggage stored in a train locker, Train to Munich. Bayern, Berchtesgaden 4 nights: Train there. Local bus for day trip to Eagle's Nest and Salt Mines on the return; Regional morning bus for day trip to Salzburg. Local bus to Berchtesgaden National Park and shuttle bus for afternoon Konigsee Lake excursions. Fly home from MUC 1 day: Train to Munich, City Train to Airport. Fly to BOS. *On the way to either St. Goar or Rothenburg a good brief stop is Mainz, home of the Gutenberg-Museum and Gutenberg Bible. For various reasons we didn't go. Happy planning and travels!

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

PS We chose St. Goar so we could easily explore the town and the Rheinfels Castle. We did this all on our arrival day. Great experience and a good way to overcome jet lag! The town is small and quiet. This gave us two full days on the Rhine for other things. Transportation was the best we've experienced anywhere. Every place is an easy connection to the next place. People are friendly and helpful. On weekends some trains may have the after effects of the soccer match parties (empty beer bottles and junk food wrappings). On our second trip we still didn't use a car. But for our next trip to the North and to explore central Germany fully, we'll be using a car sometimes. We went in 2008 at the beginning of May. Weather on the Rhine was like summer, Munich was like winter, and Berchtesgaden places were like Spring/Summer. In 2010 we went to Schweinfurt and Berlin at end of May into the beginning of June. Weather was Spring/Summer. Itinerary: Frankfurt is where most flights come to with some going to Munich. Try to travel in a circle or some pattern of a line. You can use an open jaw flight which normally cost less or a round trip which save you from backtracking.