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Driving in Bavaria

My mother and I will be traveling to Germany next May. We will be staying in Garmisch and will be going to see Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee. We were thinking about driving to these locations, but since we have never driven in Germany (or any other foreign country) I wanted to know if it is a good idea to drive to these places. What are the positives/negatives of driving in Germany and what should we expect?

Thank you!

Summer

Posted by
495 posts

Easy to drive in Bavaria. Have a good map or GPS. Obey the speed limits. Just like driving in the US or better.

Posted by
2138 posts

The roads in Bavaria are good, and their secondary roads are better maintained than in many places in North America. You will need to familiarize yourself with European road signs. (This section of the forum is a good place to start: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation ). If you will also enter Austria you will need an International Drivers Permit (buy at your local Automobile Assiciation- AAA/CAA).

Parking is more difficult to find in some towns and most cities, and can be expensive. Don't assume your hotel will have on site parking.

Other than that, you'll likely find it not much different than driving at home. We lived near Garmisch for 3 years and drove all over with no problems.

Posted by
3257 posts

The roads are good, but if you drive on the autobahn be sure to follow the German Law. If you are in the left lane and a car going faster approaches you from behind, you MUST move over to the right. If that car hits yours, you are responsible.

German drivers a good at following the rules, but they are aggressive drivers. Make sure you wear your seat belt. You will be fined it you don't.

Posted by
523 posts

Three things that are noticeably different in Germany:

  1. Stay right except to pass is not just the law, but failing to follow this basic rule can be very dangerous. Cars traveling over 120 MPH come up much quicker than most American drivers are used to, and they expect you to move out of the way. Failure to do so can result in your getting a ticket (which may arrive at your home after you do.)

  2. Yellow traffic signals show on all 4 corners. On the ones that were red that means get ready to go, on the ones that were green they mean stop because the other lane is going to move. You never want to try and push thru a yellow.

  3. Traffic and parking signs are different than those used Stateside. Make sure you know what they mean, because passing in the wrong zone, or parking on the wrong side of the street will get you a ticket.

German drivers are very polite, provided you obey their traffic laws. However, if you don't know the laws it can be intimidating. Still, I love driving over there because it's the best way to see all the little, out of the way, places I enjoy.

Posted by
2249 posts

Definitely stay at or below the posted speed. There is no grace 5mph over the limit like in the states. I ditto the comment about not lingering in the fast lane.

Posted by
489 posts

I'll assume you are coming from the US? Brush-up on German signs and laws. Unless on a priority road (lean the sign) the right has the right of way. This is difficult for some as every intersection does not have a yield or stop sign. Be prepared for traffic circles. Not so many manned speed traps in Germany, but many speed cameras fixed and temporary, so stay within the speed limits. There are also cameras measuring the distance between vehicles on the autobahn, so do not tailgate (aggressive driver). 50 kph is the speed limit once you pass the yellow city sign on secondary roads and remains until you pass out of that city, then back to 100 kph unless signs mark otherwise. Almost no right on red in Germany unless marked with a green arrow sign. Know how to correctly herringbone on the Autobahns in Stau to allow emergency vehicles to pass. Many roads and most parking spots will be narrower than you are used to. An easy way to translate between Kilometers and Miles is to multiply Kilometers by .6, so 100 Kilometers equals 60 Miles. As mentioned at traffic lights the yellow light comes on before the green, and stay in the right lane on the Autobahn unless passing always checking behind for cars driving twice as fast as you. Sounds like a lot, but if you are prepared and a reasonably good driver no problem.

https://media.defense.gov/2010/Nov/16/2001921849/-1/-1/0/AEP190-34.pdf

Posted by
17378 posts

What are the positives/negatives of driving in Germany

When I traveled for business in Germany, people from our sales office would chauffeur me around by car, and I have driven in Germany, but today, on my own, I by far prefer to travel by train (or bus). I find the flight over and back to be a strain; I only endure it to in order to be able to experience things I can't experience in the United States, like eating authentic German food, trying to converse in German, and traveling on really good, efficient rail transportation. So one of the negative things I find about driving in Germany is that it is the same old thing that I do (have to do) in the US.

If I lived in Germany and already had a car to use it would be one thing, but I find renting a car in Germany to be more expensive than using public transportation. Before every trip I've taken in the past 10-15 years, after I've settled on an itinerary, I've compared the cost of a rental car (rental and gas) for my trip to the cost of train tickets and I've always found the cost of a car to be 2 or 3 times as expensive as using public transportation. If you take the time to learn how to use the rail system in Germany, and how to get good prices on tickets, it can be very economical.

Lastly, at least for the driver, driving means having to watch the road and not being able to fully enjoy the scenery. In a car, the seats are relatively small and confining, and you have to stop anytime someone wants to eat or use the bathroom.

I have never had a problem finding suitable accommodations within a short walk from a Bahnhof or easily accessible using public transportation or taxis.

Using a car to get places in Germany can, at times, be faster, but you have to offset that with the fact that, particularly for the one driving, you have much more freedom by rail vs car as to what to do with your time.

By the way, for your trip I might recommend staying in Oberammergau. From O'gau you have bus connections to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Linderhof, and the castles at Füssen, and a rail connection (through Munich) to Herrenchiemsee. For Oberammergau, I would recommend staying at Gästehaus Richter. It's nice, close to the rail/bus station, reasonably priced, and Frau Richter is a gracious hostess who speaks good English.

Posted by
4 posts

If you wave to another driver, be sure to use all of your fingers. Doing otherwise is punishable by a fine.

Posted by
24 posts

We have just returned from Bavaria. We picked up a rental car (automatic transmission) at the airport in Munich and drove in the Bavarian area. We bought the additional charge for driving in Austria - most scenic roads in that southernmost part of Bavaria will enter Austria briefly. As long as you don’t go far enough into Austria to hit major highways you are not required to have the additional Austria sticker. We stayed in Fussen at the Altstadt-Hotel Zum Hechten - an absolutely delightful place to stay. The staff are superior and the hotel provides guests with Fussen cards which allows for transportation (bus) to the castles for no extra charge. The bus is so much better than trying to park at the castles. The town of Fussen itself is a gem. I’d stay there again. We had no trouble with any of the driving and had a Michelin Bavaria map in addition to the GPS in the car. We stayed one night in Mittenwald (should have driven back to Fussen) after going to Oberammergau. Be prepared if you take one of the scenic routes from Mittenwald to Munich you may get the surprise we got. We drove on a private toll road complete with a person taking the toll (€4)! Now when have you ever been on a private toll road? It was well maintained and scenic. We enjoy having a car but never drive in cities.

Posted by
1654 posts

You are 2 people, traveling in a foreign country with foreign customs. Why would you want to drive?

Simple. For USA travelers, they automatically think "drive". It's part of the USA DNA. To every USA adult, being an adult means driving.

For many who have been to Germany, the USA obsession with driving is mysterious. Why drive, when you can take the train? It's more pleasant, easier, and less confusing than driving. You have no parking hassles. You get no speeding tickets. And almost every small town in Germany is on a rail line. Trains are very cheap as well. If you were 3+ in your party, renting a car might make sense. With 2, it's almost always cheaper to take the train. And ignore the time difference. The "drive time" in Rome2Rio and other sites is a low-ball estimate. You have to add parking time, time getting gas, time being confused by road signs (in cities in Europe, street signs are tiny words on the sides of buildings, and are often hard to even find much less read at driving speed).

Another factor is the vacation factor. Why not try something new and different in a foreign country? That's why you are there.

One thing that stop USA travelers from the train is a simple issue: "How will I figure out where I am going?" This is really not an issue. All train stations I have been in have a DB-info booth, with helpful English-speaking people who will not only tell you how to get there, but will tell you how to save money, and will show you how to buy tickets.

Posted by
15 posts

You have received lots of good information - and some biased recommendations. The trains in Europe are wonderful - but they do not provide the freedom, nor the pleasure of driving around Bavaria. I have taken the trains for work while in Europe and/or to go long distances - how wonderful it would be if we had this as a real option in the USA! I have also driven all over Germany and Europe find it to be easy and very, very efficient - as long as you keep the following 4 things in mind:

  1. Use your signals - we don't in the USA but everyone does and expects you to in Europe. Turning corners, switching lanes - always "indicate" what you are going to do!
  2. As others have said, don't "swim" around in the left lane. No one plays God in Europe and drives in the left lane and slows down traffic. You will either get run over or receive a ticket. Because of this, no one passes on the right - which is a big reason they don't have as many wrecks as we do!
  3. Learn how to navigate the roundabouts - and use your signal when you are exiting.
  4. Pay close attention to parking signs. Many, seemingly free, parking spots are not. Parking tickets are very expensive and are sent to your rental car company who then sends it to you. You always get it late and then have to pay the fine and penalties.

Enjoy Bavaria - it is beautiful and the people are gracious and fun-loving!

TravelDMP

Posted by
1 posts

There is a lot of good advice here. The main thing I’d like to add is what I enjoy about driving in Europe— the drivers are predictable and compliant. Sure, they drive fast. But they drive like they were taught, using turn signals, not flying over to an exit from the left lane of an expressway, etc. FOR SURE, stay out of the left lane on the Autobahn, unless the way is totally clear. The only road sign that we have in common is the stop sign— you have to learn their signage. BUT DO rent a car, and enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful land.

Posted by
3 posts

There is lots of good advice here. The main thing is don't over think it. I like the ability to go to out of the way places where most tourists don't go hence a car is the way to go.

It was touched on briefly in another post if you are on the autobahn and traffic stops or slows to a crawl move to the far right (or Left depending on your lane} this creates another lane down the middle for emergency vehicles. You can be ticketed if your don't.

Car rental insurance is very expensive. If you have an American Express card sign up for their insurance program then you will pay 19.95 or 24.95 depending on the plan you choose. This is a flat fee for up to about 40 days. If you have a minor fender bender don't expect the police to be called or show up. Years ago a bus hit my rental in a hotel parking lot, thinking like an American I said we need the police, Everyone standing around said what do we need the police for.

Also if you are a AAA member take your membership card, ADAC the German auto club will except your AAA membership. I once walked into one of their offices asking for a Swiss map. I just about needed a wheelbarrow to carry everything they gave me

As someone else mentioned parking can be tough, in most cities you will see directional signs with a blue letter P directing you to parking. The sign will have a digital read out with a number. That number is how many spaces are available at that moment. Learn to understand parking signs when you park on the street. I once was thrilled to score a space near a restaurant that my wife and I were going to. Later I mentioned to her that ours was the only car there. We had a ticket for parking after 6pm. Another parking item is to make sure the rental people include a blue dial with the letter P on it and a disk you can rotate showing time. Many places have limited time parking and you must put his on your dashboard showing what time you parked.

The main thing is don't be afraid go and have fun. If you get lost heck that is part of the fun. Also if you are a member of Rotary, Kawanis etc. try your best to do a meeting make up, it is great fun.

Gute Reise

Posted by
1239 posts

Paul must go only to larger train stations if they have DB offices. I’d say fewer than half the stations I was in this fall had offices.

Although I just use trains, there are several reasons to drive. Trains and buses don’t go everywhere and they don’t run continuously. There are many places that might be of interest for 15-30 minutes but have a train/bus every 2 hours or longer.

Posted by
43 posts

I love driving in Europe! Trains are great too, but sometimes to get to the real out of the way places, you need a car. Please do not drink & drive in Europe. Germany has some leeway (others like Czech have a ZERO tolerance) but it's not worth the risk. When parking in a new area, make sure you remember where you parked the car. I was in Freising sightseeing, forgot which of the many different public parking lots I was parked in, got back to the car just as the meter maid was two cars down from mine. I stopped at the tourist information center, the lady showed me a map of the city with the parking lots and I was able to figure out where I had parked.
Another place with several huge lots is at Neuschwanstein. So take your time and enjoy. We are going this year but we taking the train, who wants to drive in Germany in the winter?

Posted by
1 posts

We had one little hiccup- I reserved an automatic car in a small town. We showed up 20 minutes early to the appointed location in a small town and the gate was locked and not a soul to be found (it was a Sunday). Exactly at the appointed time, a car drove up and the gate was opened and we were asked to complete the paperwork. The hiccup was-they only had one manual transmission car- good thing my husband had driven manual transmissions. We were on our way! A good GPS is a must. The third time we went to Germany and went to pick up our car rental, we were over an hour late to our appointment and they had rented our car. We ended up with a much larger car than we wanted and not at the price we reserved at. Lesson learned- don’t be late! We laugh at these experiences now, and they made for some great stories, but you just have to be able to roll with the unexpected. We appreciate the punctuality of the Germans.

Posted by
15 posts

I did not read all the lengthy responses above but after renting cars many times, I find it is pretty straightforward. Make sure you know exactly where the drop off point is for your car. European lots and rental return areas even for Hertz and Avis are not well marked like in the US. It might be an underground or surface parking garage in a train station which does not show up on GPS. Be aware some rental agency offices are closed between 12 noon and 2pm. Have at least a copy of your passport on your phone, some ask for it , others don't. They do need your actual drivers license though. An international driver's license is unnecessary. Major credit cards will cover the CDW insurance (Collision Damage Waiver) but none as far as I am aware of cover liability for injury to yourself or others. Check out your individual card carrier's specific rules and coverages.

Take your own phone and pay the daily charge for the data and forget the GPS in the rental car. Every GPS is different, unless you are linguistically and computer savvy, it will take some doing to get the GPS settings to your liking. I have had many rental agents sit in the car to try to change the settings to English and that is sometimes difficult and a pain. You are already used to your own nav system and it eliminates another variable. You can get one of those clips that attaches your phone to one of the car's air vents. Get the smallest car you need, easier to navigate tiny village lanes, easier to park and fun to drive especially if you get a 5 speed manual. Just drove Munich/SalzburgHallstatt/Innsbruck/Fussen. Roads are great, uncrowded and well paved.

Posted by
16 posts

Hello tcugirl98, and welcome to Germany! I've lived in Germany for 6 years, and agree with the majority of the comments above regarding autobahn driving and staying within the posted speed limits and out of the fastlane. I would simply add a few pointers:
1. A good, updated GPS is absolutely essential. If you use one on your cell phone and don't mind the extra data fees, fine. But even after 6 years I still use the Garmin I purchased stateside before moving here. It's set to English, but also to kilometers. It's like having an old friend give me directions, and takes a little bit of the edge off getting where I need to go.
2. You will find fewer police on the roads, but far more traffic cameras, and they often blend into the scenery until you see the 'flash', so when travelling through towns be extra careful to follow the speed limit AND any time of day notices, that show a reduced speed during school hours or at night.
3. Speaking of might time driving, it can be tricky here because Germany doesn't line the roads with lights like in the states. This can be a bit unnerving if you don't know where you are, or if the weather is bad. Have your car rental company show you how to direct your headlights up or down, it's done differently here in EU than in the states. Also, headlights here are brighter than in the US, so be sure yours aren't tilted too high.
4. Free parking really doesn't exist here. You may see a stretch of road with no cars parked, but if you look closely the parking sign will say 'Bewohner 1' or similar, meaning you have to have a parking sticker with that on your dash or you'll get a ticket. Be sure to look around for the parking meters, they aren't always central to the car parking. I prefer lots, or 'tiefgarage' with controlled in/out access. Most of those will accept a credit card, as opposed to street parking where you'll have to have lots of change and a limited time. Germany is a mostly cash society, so be sure you carry plenty and don't think you can use your credit or debit card everywhere.
5. You won't find too many roadside gas stations or stops between bigger cities. So if you need facilities, gas, a snack or just to stretch your legs don't put it off when you see one. Most truckers are not allowed to drive on Sunday, so you will find lots of good facilities that cater to drivers who have to even spend the day there. Expect to pay at bathrooms (they are fantastically maintained, and you'll receive a coupon to use at the counter)
5. Finally, pay EXTRA attention to crosswalks that are striped. 'Zebrastripe' cross walks are not only at intersections, and PEDESTRIANS have the right of way. They will often step right in front of you, assuming you know this, so be sure to stop when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk marked in this way!
TIP: if you're going to Neuschwanstein just for the day and then returning to your same hotel), I'd take a bus tour. They will have closer parking, and a planned/reserved entry time for their guests. If you just drive down you may end up waiting hours for your entry time. Your hotel should have suggestions on bus companies with English drivers/tour guides. It's one of the few times I would say it's worth doing it.

Posted by
118 posts

The key to your post is "since we have never driven in Germany....".

My several business trips to Germany last year, I discovered that a) traffic is pretty crazy/busy, especially in and around cities" and b) there are trains and taxis everywhere.....and especially at airports, which is sorely missing in the US. Nothing like getting off the plane in Frankfurt, strolling to the train station, buying a ticket to Aachen via the machine (easy, and beats that long DB line), and watching the beautiful countryside, and having a coffee or a beer. Get to Aachen, stroll out to the taxi stand, and zip right to my hotel.

While I'm sure parts of Bavaria would be more challenging to visit without a car, if you're hitting major tourist attractions, transportation should not be an issue. Finally, as someone else mentioned, the drivers lose out because they have to drive.