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First Trip Out Of U.S.- Itinerary Help

Hello everyone,

My husband and I are planning our first overseas trip. We have chosen to visit a few different towns and cities in Germany. His dream is to visit the Nurburgring track and mine is to visit the Dachau camp. We have a rough itinerary but it does seem a little overdone. I'm hoping to maybe get some validation or help with transportation and travel times between towns.

From the research I've done, it doesn't seem like the town of nurburg is very accessible except by car. That being said here is our itinerary:

-Fly out of Atlanta to Cologne, rent a car to Nurburg

-Stay overnight in Nurburg, leave in the afternoon for one of the towns along Romantic Road

-Stay overnight in one of the Romantic Road towns, leave in the afternoon for Munich

-Spend 2 or so days in Munich (including day trip to Dachau)

-Take a train to Berlin, spend 3 or so days, fly back to ATL

What could be better? Anything we could do differently to get the most out of our time? Is renting a car in a foreign country as daunting as it seems?

Thank you for any and all help.

Posted by
1524 posts

Tyler - The itinerary looks good. You can visit Rothenburg Germany on the romantic road after leaving Nurburg and stay overnight there then head to Munich.

If you are nervous of driving in a large city like Cologne, you could take the train from Cologne to Koblenz, which is a small and very manageable city, in the right vicinity for the Nürburgring, only 60 kms or so away. Take then a kiwi bus to Nurburging from Koblenz.

Posted by
1079 posts

Hi. To allay your fears... renting a car in Europe / Germany is simple; fears are overblown. Just rent at Cologne airport; easy freeway access from airport. Yes, a little research is good to decide what insurance to use (I use free insurance from credit card; others have different approaches). But basically same easy process as renting in US: go online and shop / reserve a car; pickup and drop just as you would in US. As long as you pick up and drop in the same country, there should be no or only small extra charge to pickup in one place and drop somewhere else. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
1493 posts

Specifically Dachau or just a concentration camp memorial? Close to Berlin you will find memorial Sachsenhausen, on the way is Bergen-Belsen (close to Celle).

Instead of Romantic Road I suggest Harz mountains on the way between Cologne and Berlin with old towns of Goslar and Quedlinburg. Also on the way you will also find Marienburg castle and the palaces in Potsdam (close to Berlin).

In Berlin you could also reserve a slot for your husband in a high-end race simulator at Erlebniswerk.

Some basic information about traveling to and in Germany.

Posted by
7737 posts

Rent your car through based in Portland, Maine. They will stand behind you if you have any problems with the rental. You can call them if you need something explained. You pay a lot more for an automatic transmission rather than manual one in Europe. Print out European road signs and study them before you leave. Enjoy your first trip abroad!

Posted by
268 posts

No one has commented on the flight yet; I believe you should consider the destination airport as part of the optimization problem. I am saying this because Cologne airport, to my knowledge, has no direct flights to the US. If you get a good connection, that is fine; but I'd definitely play around with a flight search engine to see if flying to Frankfurt instead of Cologne (or to Munich, and adapting the itinerary to start in Munich) could be more convenient overall. Düsseldorf is also nearby (with a much bigger airport than Cologne, and direct flights to Atlanta).

Posted by
31471 posts

As this is your first trip outside the U.S., I would highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. That provides a lot of good information on how to travel well in Europe. Also have a look at guidebooks on Germany to plan sightseeing, hotels, local transportation etc. You should be able to find the books at your local library or larger bookstores.

Posted by
2987 posts

Good information about flights - flying to Cologne is unnecessary. Get a direct flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt or Duesseldorf.

I also think Berlin is a rushed outlier on this trip. I love Berlin, but I'd stick to the Rhine (Nurburgring), Franconia (Romantic Road area) and Munich for this trip. You want to have as few one-night stays as possible.

Posted by
4684 posts

There's detailed English-language visitor suggestions for the Nurburgring here. Note that most car hire companies will not be happy about you driving one of their vehicles on the circuit.

Posted by
1662 posts

With only seven nights, I'd also recommend cutting out Berlin (and I loved Berlin). Too much moving around and if you've never flown overseas, renting a car and driving on arrival is not the best idea if you don't know how you cope with jet lag. Make sure to get an international driving permit (better safe than sorry) and get GPS in the car, and double check that it is set in English before you drive off. If you can't drive a manual transmission, be sure you reserve an automatic.

Posted by
823 posts

I have visited a lot of the Romantic Road (Wurzburg, Rothenburg o.b.T, Dinklesbuhl, Nordlingen..all the way down to Hohenschwangau (home of Neuschwangau - the castle Walt Disney patterned is logo after). If fact, I was just there and spent two nights in Dinklesbuhl and two nights in Schwangau.

Don't be afraid to drive in Germany - just be prepared and do your research. There are several very good web sites covering Germany driving laws and etiquette (signage, customs, etc.). Some things to be aware of:

  • An International Drivers Permit is a requirement. You will be fined is stopped without one.
  • Fixed and mobile radar cameras are everywhere.
  • The autobahn is not speed limit free everywhere and even in "limit free zones" you may find yourself with speed restrictions due to traffic, weather, etc.
  • The standard autobahn lane is two feet narrower than out highway lanes.
  • Traffic can be bad - REAL bad. Watch out for the dreaded stau (traffic jam). We passed a 7km truck stau on the A6 around Heilbronn two weeks ago.
  • Gas was running the equivalent of $7.60 a gallon for regular on the autobahns - cheaper in the towns (and diesel is cheaper).
  • You will pay for parking nearly everywhere - even a lot of hotels. Carry lots of 1 and 2 € coins.
  • You will pay to use the toilet all most everywhere. Catty lots of 50 € cent coins And you'll only use a "free" public toilet once...
  • Get car insurance through a travel insurance company if you have doubts about your credit card coverage.
  • The BAC limit in Germany is only .05 - enough said?

The good news is, driving, once you know the rules of the road, is easy.

The drive down the Rhine is almost unmatched. The Romantic Road has a lot of hidden gems (Landsberg am Lech). If you're into castles - Hohenschwangau is a must stop.

If big cities intimidate you, the town of Dachau is very quaint and the memorial is within walking distance from just about any part of the old town (Altstadt). It is also within easy and fast commuting distance to Munich via the S-bahn.

Finally, no - renting a car in a Germany is not daunting. I rented a Ford Escape with Nav from Hertz this month and it came with a free WIFI hotspot (for Hertz Gold Members). Look over the car REAL good at pickup time. Annotate every little nick, door ding, and windshield chip. And return the car clean. You'll be fine.

Posted by
31471 posts

"Quit already about the International Driving Permit and you will get fined it you don't have one. Not true never has been true."

I'm not sure whether an IDP is compulsory for Germany, but it is definitely compulsory for driving in Italy. I believe an IDP is also required in Austria and Portugal and highly recommended in France. Whether anyone has been fined or not is not the issue..... it IS the law.

Posted by
54 posts

I agree with CL. I would cut out Berlin. It is cool and fun (my son lived there for awhile) , but as suggested I would stick to the Harz Mountains ( Quedlinberg, Goslar) or the Romantic Highway (Rothenberg, Dinkelsbuhl). Much more beautiful countryside and towns. Don't be afraid to rent a car. We've done it out of Frankfurt and Berlin and neither was a big deal, especially if you are travelling in the country. There are a lot of cool, quaint, interesting towns in Germany. Do some research and try to hit as many of those as possible. You won't be disappointed!


Posted by
3304 posts

-Fly out of Atlanta to Cologne

Which airline flies from Atlanta directly to Cologne?

Posted by
18312 posts

Don't be afraid to rent a car.

I would basically agree, but also don't believe the myth that driving in Europe is no more difficult for an American than driving in the US. Traffic signs in Europe are different than what we are used to in the US. Get a copy of international symbols and learn them. Know the difference, for example, between the signs for a passing zone and for a no passing zone. It could be worth your life.

Unfortunately, not all traffic information is by internationally recognized signs. I was once riding a bus in Germany when we came to an intersection, and there was a big sign there giving, in German, special instructions for using the intersection. I can imagine some American driver, who didn't understand German, sitting at the intersection, with honking cars backed up behind him while he tries to find a translation of the intersection instructions on his iPhone.

And don't be afraid to use public transportation.

Public transportation in Gemany is very efficient. Germany has the most extensive rail network in Europe, and it is augmented by a very dense system of buses. I've spent ~150 nights in Germany, 85% which were in small towns with less the 40,000 population, and never needed a car to get to where I wanted to go. It might take a little effort to learn to use train schedules on the German Bahn website, but it is really not much different from using plane schedules over here. And, although a trip by rail might entail more changes than a trip by air, changes in a train station are far less difficult than at an airport.

I think Americans tend to shy away from using public transportation in Germany because we don't have an effective system in the US and are unfamiliar with how one works, but try it. In the US you have to have a car to travel, but Europe is not like the US. It will be a new and fun experience to use effective public transportation, and don't we go to Europe for the unique experiences if offers. Public transportation in Europe is cost effective. For most of my recent trips to Europe, I have priced out my transportation using public means vs a rental car, and a rental car has always shown itself to be far more expensive.