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Driving in Germany

Dear Fellow Travelers,

My husband and I are planning on visiting Germany 12/8/2019 - 12/18/2019 give or take. We are with the airlines so dates are give and take by a few days and we are unable to make concrete plans until we get on the plane. We are concentrating on more of the southern portion of Germany. My question is, is it better to rent a car or take trains?

Thanks so much for your input.


Posted by
2449 posts

Depends on if you will be visiting cities and towns with train service or not. A car will be a great inconvenience in cities and some towns where parking can be an expensive problem. Germany has very good coverage by train and bus. You might want to only rent a car for a day or 2 if you'll be in very rural areas without frequent public transportation.

Posted by
17648 posts

Most places that tourist want to see in southern Germany are served by train (or bus). Before committing to a rental car, check out the train and bus connections on the Bahn schedule page. I've spent month traveling in southern Germany, to a lot of non-touristy places, and never needed to rent a car to get there.

Posted by
1378 posts

Our public transport infrastructure is very good - especially around and in cities / towns. Having a car is not a plus in cities like Munich, Stuttgart, Nuremberg.

If you decide to rent a car ...

  • winter tyres are mandatory by law. Take care that they are included.
  • take care that you have valid driving permission (not license only).
  • have in mind that driving conditions can rapidly change during the day in winter.

Have a safe journey.

Posted by
129 posts

We rented a car and drove all over Germany. It was very easy to drive there and the only place we didn't need it was Munich. Germans are excellent drivers and, with our Garmin with international maps, we had no problems getting around. We love the train systems in Europe and have used them in Italy, Vienna, Prague and Budapest but in Germany we really enjoyed just kicking back and driving through little towns we would not have seen on a train.

Posted by
4968 posts

We are concentrating on more of the southern portion of Germany. My question is, is it better to rent a car or take trains?

"Southern Germany" is not something you can focus on with 10 days - it's just too large and you can't see it all or even drive it all - so I would encourage you to concentrate on specific places, things, and experiences that are important to you.

You ask a rather big question.

Driving isn't difficult in Germany, generally speaking, with the exception of the Autobahn, where you'd better have your wits about you as well as a solid understanding of the driving culture in your head. But for a short visit, driving comes with a lot of drawbacks, especially in winter. A car is useless for the time you will spend in cities of size, which are built around public transport and pedestrians rather than cars - and in December, it's the cities where you will find the most interesting things to see and do as a rule. A trip based on driving around the somewhat bleak countryside from small town to small town, places where the streets are rolled up at dusk (which comes early in December!) may not be very rewarding.

Other considerations:

  • Driving = rental contracts, possible fender-benders and door-dings, insurance concerns, radar-controlled speed zones, difficult parking-fee automats... there are lots of upset rental customers on forum posts like this one who have shared their unhappy surprises and concerns about shady agency practices. Not so with trains.

  • Any spontaneous sampling of German beer and wine - or the special adult drinks you can get at the Christmas markets - will dictate your driving schedule. Not so with the train (where you can take your drink with you, if you like.)

And if you do have some specific small towns in mind, please don't swallow the idea that you need a car to get there, because you probably do not. Germany's train system is extensive. Let's say you book a stay in Nuremberg. Can you get to smaller towns by train? Here's a rail map of the immediate area around Nuremberg. Zoom in and you'll find dozens and dozens of smaller places very close by and accessible... and others just a little further out:

These too:
Bad Windsheim

What about cost? Any day trip you take locally as a couple will cost you €20-32 per day for nearly unlimited use of local trains:

Posted by
3928 posts

If you enjoy driving then Germany is a great place to drive. I've driven in Munich, a large 7 seater minivan, with no problems and the drives to the lakes and Salzburg were very enjoyable. I've also driven around the Black Forest area which was a joy and when we visited Strasbourg we parked in a park and ride lot and took the tram into the centre, very easy.

However my recent visit to Berlin was with friends and it made no sense to rent a car, instead we made use of those great (but expensive!) electric scooters that you can hire by the minute.