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1st Time to Germany, Multiple Cities Berlin/Bavaria/Salzburg

Hi :)

I'm trying to get a solid idea of itinerary/city-to-city travel to figure out which airports to fly in/out of and what order to do things. What makes the most sense?

4 of us (late 20s) planning our first trip to Germany (of 10-12 days, flexible) in September 2017.
Wanting to hit the following with the least TIME/$ wasted. Do we need to rent a car? (prefer to get by on public transit if possible/efficient) Want the nice weather of early Sept. and to hit a day or two at Oktoberfest.

Our wish list is below. What order should we go in? Anything we should cut?
<<< NOTE: This is the original itinerary. I updated this draft in a later post below >>>

BERLIN: 2–3 days
- Reichstag
- Brandenburg Gate
- German History Museum
- Charlottenburg Palace??
- Wall Memorial (skipping Checkpoint Charlie)

*Idea: Hop-on-Hop-off bus + Spree boat tour?

COBURG: 0.5–1 day
- Veste Coburg
(Just stopping because my Grandma grew up there <3)
*could use this stop to cut the 6 hour travel from Berlin to Munich in half?

RHINE VALLEY: 0.5–1 day?
- just want to do a scenic river cruise between Koblenz and Mainz (that's the good part right?)
Maybe get off at Bacharach?
*could land in Frankfurt and start here?

MUNICH/BAVARIA: 3-4 days
- Oktoberfest (1-2 days) < - would be nice as the grand finale?
- Neuschwanstein Castle
- Zugspitze
- Marienplatz
- Residenz?

SALZBURG? 1-2 days?
- Berchtesgaden?
- Sound of Music Tour? (to see the scenery in a quick way)
- Lippizaner Stallions? (we love horses)
*maybe this is a day trip from Munich?

Help much appreciated! THANK YOU!

Posted by
6950 posts

My first thoughts are that you're wanting to visit some absolutely incredible cities, however the days allotted just allows hitting the highlights. I'd say Berlin and Munich are both 4 days cities.
Have you plotted this itinerary on a map? I think you'll find Koblenz and the Rhine River pretty far to the west. Bacharach is a good place to spend the night, but it's less than 1/2 mile long and not a destination. I'd suggest you should save this area (and Cologne) for your next trip.
Berlin and Munich are also incredible cities for young Bohemians--fun.

Posted by
18384 posts

RHINE VALLEY: 0.5–1 day?
- just want to do a scenic river cruise between Koblenz and Mainz (that's the good part right?)

Actually, Koblenz to Boppard can be bypassed as can Bingen to Mainz, IMO. At most, Bingen to Boppard, but Bacharach to St. Goar (in that direction) is the most important part.

Whatever you do, always do it down the river (NW), with the strong current, from Mainz to Koblenz.

Posted by
8180 posts

In Berlin and in Munich, do a walking tour (or 2) or a bike tour rather than a bus tour. You will get so much more out of your trip. If you aren't sure, read the reviews for the ho-ho buses on Trip Advisor. Most people find them to be a waste of money and boring.
There are themed tours or basic city tours that will cover all the highlights of the places you listed.
For Berlin, check out Insider Tours or Original Berlin tours. For Munich check out Radius Tours or Mikes' Bikes.

I think the Lippizans are at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, not in Salzburg.

If you are on the Rhine, do ride the ship north all the way from Bingen or Rüdesheim up to Boppard or at least St. Goar. If you don't, you miss half the castles. I don't understand someone coming all this way, spending all this money and only seeing a fraction of this river and a fraction of the castles. Put it this way, the train between Bacharach and St. Goar only takes 10 min. Why would you ride a ship that only goes that short of a distance? I really wish Rick would change that in his book. It shortchanges people. The ride is beautiful, peaceful, and worth your time and money.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you! You're right about the horses, got my notes mixed up ;) wishful thinking 🐴.

I wonder if a bike tour would fly with the people in my group... Berlin is a rather flat city, yes?

I've been looking at the hours of travel between all of the cities, and questioning whether I can fit the Rhine cruise in since Berlin and Munich are the Musts and I really don't want to cut Coburg for sentimental reasons. We weren't really planning to stay overnight anywhere around the Rhine Valley...but nearby Frankfurt is cheap to fly into/out of.

Thank you for the advice so far, open to any other thoughts/suggestions!

Posted by
5612 posts

"Wanting to hit the following with the least TIME/$ wasted."

Oktoberfest - and Munich during Oktoberfest - might just be a huge waste for you. Prices skyrocket just because. It's also wasteful/costly to travel such long distances with your short time. If you actually travel all the miles you have in mind and include Munich and southern Bavaria, you need to minimize your time in Munich, IMO. David is right: "I'd say Berlin and Munich are both 4 days cities." But 4 nights in Munich doesn't make sense to me under the circumstances.

I notice you excluded Coburg from Bavaria - but it's in Bavaria. AND it's very close to one of Bavaria's very best cities, especially for beer fans - BAMBERG, an incredibly well-preserved old-world university-town with dozens of brew-pubs.

Forget about tourist-swamped Neuschwanstein - it's not a real castle like Coburg or the Rhine castles, but a late 19th-century palace with a fake castle exterior. And it's a good bit of trouble to get there from the other places you have in mind.

Here's a plan for your consideration that gets you to almost all your places. It substitutes time in Munich with a little time in Bavaria's real beer capital - but still gives you a day in Munich.

Days 1-4: Berlin - lv. around 4:30 pm on Day 4 for Bamberg (ar. around 9 pm.)

Day 5: Bamberg + day trip to Coburg for Veste Coburg (45 min. by direct train.)

Day 6: Bamberg to Garmisch and Zugspitze - (lv. around 8 am, ar. around noon. Drop bags, visit Zugspitze)

Day 7: Garmisch, (maybe the Partnachklamm?) + day trip by direct train to nearby Mittenwald. Bavarian evening at the Fraundorfer Inn in Garmisch

Day 8: MUNICH and Oktoberfest... (Lv. Garmisch around 8 am, ar. Munich around 9:30; stow bags in locker... Lv. Munich by 8 pm, ar. Salzburg around 10 pm.)

Day 9, 10: B'gaden day trip, Salzburg stuff. (Lv. Salzburg around 9 pm for overnight train journey to Mainz on the EuroNight train.)

Day 11: (ar. Mainz around 6 am; drop bags at hotel desk or in locker, get breakfast at the station.) Train to Bingen (25 min.) for cruise to St. Goar (1.5 hours of cruising, as Jo says, this is the best part. See MAP.) Tour Rheinfels Castle in St. Goar. Ferry across the Rhine to St. Goarshausen. Train 20 min's north to Braubach, tour Marksburg. Do not miss this intact medieval castle. Train back to Mainz for night.

Day 12: (Train from Mainz to FRA = 25 min's.) Fly out of FRA or spend another day in the area and a night in Mainz, and fly out on Day 13 - Mainz is great, Frankfurt is worthwhile, Speyer is interesting too. Note also that there are WINE FESTS in the Rhine towns every weekend (usually FRI - SUN) so you may want to return to St. Goar or whichever town may have a fest on your dates.

Posted by
5612 posts

"Do we need to rent a car?" Not for what I outlined above.

NOTE on Day 10 overnight train to Mainz: If that doesn't work for you or is too costly, it is possible instead to leave Salzburg at 5 pm and pull into Mainz just before midnight. There are several hotels right near Mainz' main station.

Train ticketing: Your 3 major legs (Berlin-Bamberg, Bamberg-Garmisch, Salzburg-Mainz) could be covered by two 3- or 4-day German Rail Twin Passes - figure about €150 each. Alternatively, pre-purchase saver fares for those specific legs up to 6 months in advance at the DB website.

The other trips within Bavaria (to Coburg, Garmisch-Munich-Salzburg, etc.) and along the Rhine can be covered by local group day passes - figure less than €10 each per day splitting one of those group passes. Even the Bamberg-Garmisch leg could be done by day pass (though it would add 1+ hours to your travel time in this case since high-speed trains can't be used with the day passes.)

Some of the ticketing decisions might rest on the specific days of the week you'll be traveling. The local day passes normally have a pre-9:00 restriction on weekdays. So if you want to leave earlier, it may be better to use a rail pass day or a saver fare. You can sort out your itinerary and worry about these smaller details at a later time - but the above should give you a ballpark idea of train costs.

One additional consideration: You might want to overnight in Berchtesgaden instead of Salzburg. If you do that you'll be eligible for a free transportation ticket for the B'gaden area; you'd need to pay only for a bus ride into Salzburg, which would be available for a discount:
http://www.berchtesgaden.de/en/free-of-charge-with-bus

So in this case, you'd sleep in B'gaden on Day 8, do B'gaden on Day 9 and overnight there again, then bus to Salzburg w/ your bags (stow in locker) for a day there on the morning of Day 10, and leave that pm for Mainz - that eliminates a return bus trip.

Posted by
18384 posts

If you are on the Rhine, do ride the ship north all the way from
Bingen or Rüdesheim up to Boppard or at least St. Goar. If you don't,
you miss half the castles. I don't understand someone coming all this
way, spending all this money and only seeing a fraction of this river
and a fraction of the castles.

Admittedly, I went the wrong direction (St. Goar to Bacharach). I knew which way the Rhein flows, but I did not understand the strength of the current. Eight miles from St. Goar to Bacharach took 70 minutes (about 7 mph). I ended up looking at the same stretch of the river for a long time. After 70 minutes I was more than ready to get off. Going the other direction, with the current, at 12 mph, wouldn't be much better.

Put it this way, the train between Bacharach and St. Goar only takes
10 min. Why would you ride a ship that only goes that short of a
distance?

Given the same amount of time in the area, I'd rather spend less time on a ship and more time in the towns. You can actually see a lot of the river and castles from the train. I don't understand someone coming all this way, spending all this money and only seeing the river and the castles from the boat.

Posted by
13015 posts

Hi,

On your stay in Berlin: very easily done as regards to your "must see" list above. The Brandenburg Gate and the Ger, History Museum (DHM) are a few mins of each other. The Reichstag building is farther away, you can walk from the Brandenburg Gate, I've done it, at least once. Charlottenburg Palace (Schloß Charlottenburg) is one the other side of the city, west of the Brandenburg Gate. While you are in the area of the Brandenburg Gate seeing it from the eastern side, ie, Pariser Platz, see also the famous Adlon Hotel, famous for Berlin history in the 1920s, a bit further east from Pariser Platz. The original was damaged in the war.

Where are you staying? In which district? If your're staying in the western side, then you can take Bus #109. If you're in the eastern side, such as in Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, etc, take the S-Bahn to Bahnhof Zoo via Berlin Hbf, where you can the Bus 109. I would suggest seeing Charlottenburg as a morning activity. The boat tour on the Spree (Stadtrundfahrt) is a good way to see Berlin from another perspective. Expect it to be crowded.

Posted by
598 posts

Yes, you could spend more time in Berlin and Munich, but you can also make fit the highlights; you are young enough to think you will be back another time. In Berlin you should do the Berlin Mitte Food tour (https://www.berlinfoodtour.de/tours/berlin-mitte-food-tour/). It's a great way to experience the area, get a taste of some great food and beer, and learn a little about Berlin history as well. I think you would really enjoy it. I think the only thing you might need a car for is to quickly get to Coburn/Rhine Valley. Definitely do not want a car in Berlin, Munich or Salzburg in my opinion. Have fun!

Posted by
5612 posts

"...the only thing you might need a car for is to quickly get to Coburn/Rhine Valley."

The Rhine: You can't take the car with you on the cruise boat. Leaving your car in Bingen would mean backtracking to Bingen by train to fetch your car, then probably driving north to revisit the same segment you just cruised and then revisited by train. And a car within Mainz, if you stay there, is just a bother.

Posted by
8 posts

Have you plotted this itinerary on a map? I think you'll find Koblenz and the Rhine River pretty far to the west.

@David, thank you - yes I have been grappling with the geographic situation! I honestly think we are going to need to cut Rhine, Salzburg or gasp Berlin due to the distance constraints and time! Very back and forth on this. Perhaps I would get enough Rhine-like scenery and castles from the rest of my trip? And get the cruise element in there with a Spree cruise?

Bacharach to St. Goar (in that direction) is the most important part.
Whatever you do, always do it down the river (NW), with the strong current, from Mainz to Koblenz.

@Lee, thank you! My trip mates and I were just discussing whether the direction of the river made a difference! Thank you so much for clearing that up. If Rhine stays on the itinerary, we will definitely take this into account.

Posted by
8 posts

@Russ - thank you for the very detailed input! We aren't planning to do this backpacker style, so we'll likely only change hotels 1-2 times.

Oktoberfest - and Munich during Oktoberfest - might just be a huge waste for you.

This is one of the key reasons we (and probably every other tourist...) are making the trip. We are aware of the price hike but hopefully booking this far in advance will help with that a little.

Forget about tourist-swamped Neuschwanstein

We know this isn't the "real" castle on our list, but we'll be getting our dose authenticity in Coburg, and also want the great views and Disney-esque charm (despite touristy-ness) of N.stein. We may consider staying somewhere close to Zupsitze too.

tour Marksburg. Do not miss this intact medieval castle.

I'll have to look into this! I hadn't heard of this one yet.

figure less than €10 each per day splitting one of those group passes.

This is a great tip. I haven't delved too deeply into train tickets yet.

Thank you!

Posted by
8 posts

Where are you staying? In which district?

Oh I wish we were far enough along in our trip planning to answer this :) I'd take a recommendation!

The boat tour on the Spree (Stadtrundfahrt) is a good way to see Berlin from another perspective. Expect it to be crowded.

@Fred, Will it be crowded even in September? I am liking the sound of a Spree tour, would that be in place of a bike/walking/ho-ho bus tour do you think? I know they sometimes come as a combo package but not sure if we need both.

In Berlin you should do the Berlin Mitte Food tour (https://www.berlinfoodtour.de/tours/berlin-mitte-food-tour/). It's a great way to experience the area, get a taste of some great food and beer, and learn a little about Berlin history as well.

@padams, I love this suggestion! I did not know a food tour was a thing. : )

Posted by
8 posts

Latest question I am grappling with:
If I have to cut something to simplify amount of travel, should it be the Rhine, Salzburg, or Berlin?

Berlin feels like a must for the history, monuments, and museums, but is it?
It's a geographic outlier, as well as the Rhine.

Posted by
5612 posts

"We aren't planning to do this backpacker style, so we'll likely only change hotels 1-2 times."

That is inconceivable, given the distances between your original 5 proposed destinations. What you first laid out calls for 4 changes at a minimum. 4 changes IMO wouldn't mean you're a "backpacker" - it's what tour groups, high-end or low-end, do all the time - they squeeze distant places into a small time frame, which is what you first proposed:
"Wanting to hit the following with the least TIME/$ wasted..."

"If I have to cut something to simplify amount of travel, should it be the Rhine, Salzburg, or Berlin?"

4+ changes would never have been my choice for my own trip. If you're thinking you should cut, I'm certainly on the same page.

Berlin feels like a must for the history, monuments, and museums, but is it?"

Depends what's important to you, where/how you prefer to spend your time. You won't come home deficient, no matter what you choose to leave out. Munich and Berlin are both full of museums, etc. But your comments indicate you can't leave out Munich, so Berlin could go without losing the stuff you get in a big city (Munich has a WW II Documentation Center if WW II is a pull for you.) Seems like if you leave out only one place, you're still stuck with at least 4 different base towns.

Posted by
8180 posts

I'd drop Salzburg, but for sure keep Berlin. I'd keep Berlin over Munich any day. More museums, more WW2 stuff, more fascinating city. Berlin is cheaper too. You have 2 different concentration camps, one of which was just for women and in my opinion, both of them have better presented exhibits than Dachau.

Visit Potsdam for magnificent palaces and a charming, beautiful town.

Posted by
13015 posts

On having to drop a place, given those choices, I would agree on dropping Salzburg. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't think of going to Germany without including Berlin.

Posted by
21319 posts

I loved Berlin and spent six full days there in 2015 without having time for Potsdam, the German History Museum, a walking tour or a boat trip. I overdosed on World War II and Cold War sites, plus several art museums. To me, Berlin is a brilliant destination if you're interested in such things, and it is an extremely lively city awash in young people, so very attractive to young visitors.

However, Berlin's architecture (remember, I missed Potsdam) is heavily post-war and not what we think of as stereotypically German. And it is very spread out, so time is needed to move from one sight to the next. Whether it is suitable for a first trip to Germany that needs to include the Oktoberfest and is limited to no more than 12 days, only you can decide. It would be very reasonable to think that Berlin needs more time than you can give it on this trip and should wait for a later vacation.

If you do go to Berlin, I wouldn't skip the walking tour. I've loved all that I have taken because you always learn something about current life in the city as well as a bit of historical background. The ability to interact with the guide (and other tourists, who may have interesting questions) gives you something you won't get from a boat tour, though I enjoy the latter as well.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks @Ms .Jo, @Fred, @acraven and everyone for the insights!

After careful consideration, we'll be cutting Rhine/Cologne and saving it for next time. Keeping Berlin! My sister and I are art people/interested in history, etc. but the other two on our trip are less so -- we'll need to balance the types of attractions we do in Berlin. But I feel good about this choice. :)

Berlin and Munich will for sure be home bases. Coburg and Salzburg may be day trips OR overnight stops. This seems doable, right? esp. if we are leaning more towards 12 days.

UPDATED DRAFT ITINERARY (still very open to public comment ;] )

BERLIN: 4 days
- Reichstag
- Brandenburg Gate
- German History Museum
- Wall Memorial (skipping Checkpoint Charlie)
- Charlottenburg Palace MAYBE
- Spree boat tour / walking or bike tour?

--Train ride--

BAVARIA

COBURG: 2 nights
- Veste Coburg

--Train ride--

MUNICH: 4 days
- Oktoberfest (1 or 2 days??)
- Neuschwanstein Castle
- Zugspitze
- Marienplatz
- Residenz Museum, Treasury

Day trip to SALZBURG?
- Sound of Music Tour? (to see the scenery in a quick way)

Again THANK YOU for all of the input!

Questions
1. Do you think we could accomplish both Zugspitze and Neuschwanstein in one day?
2. What should we do for cell phones? In London, we purchased local SIM cards and paid $35 for one month of service rather than pay $10/day on Verizon's international plan. Should we do something comparable in Germany, and if so what vendor/could we do it in advance online somehow?

Posted by
13015 posts

Hi,

Sorry, forgot to answer your question on the Spree tour. I don't know what the crowds will be like if you take a Spree "Stadtrundfahrt" (boat tour)) in Sept, no 1. I've never been to Berlin in Sept., no. 2 I was basing my assumption re. the crowds on what I have seen in the summer months.

Posted by
21319 posts

We need one of our Germany specialists to point you toward an easy-to-reach town full of half-timbered buildings. I'm sure there's somewhere more convenient than Rothenburg.

Point your co-travelers to a list of Berlin's museums and let each choose. You don't all need to stick together all the time, do you? I think the Pergamon would appeal to a lot of people who don't like art-as-in-paintings. It's chock full of the antiquities collected by early German archaeologists, including the monumental Ishtar Gate. However, it's one of the Museuminseln spots, and in my experience (August 2015) there can be waits of an hour or more to get in those museums. The city pass (whatever they call it) doesn't allow you to bypass the line.

If you have a Cold War junkie in the group, he or she should consider a visit to the House at Checkpoint Charlie (much info on escape attempts; can be mobbed; late afternoon might be a good time), the Palace of Tears (border crossing used by West Germans making family visits to east Berlin), and/or the Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (former Stasi prison, a bit of a tram ride, then a walk). All have good English-language explanatory material.

Posted by
13015 posts

@ aszerp...If you land in Frankfurt in the morning and want to see the half timbered houses (Fachwerkhäuser) that afternoon, that is very doable. No need to go to Rothenburg od Tauber for that. I suggest going northwards to Marburg an der Lahn, a very scenic university town with the half timbered houses and more, well worth your time. Going to Marburg from Frankfurt Hbf. as a day trip is very doable.

Posted by
8180 posts

If you do a walking tour in Berlin, one of the good ones, it will cover many of the sites on your list. Same thing for Munich. It is the most efficient way to make use of a short visit.

This is the Half-Timbered route that runs through Germany. If you want to see these near Frankfurt, you can visit the neighborhood of Frankfurt Höchst, or head out about an hour or less to Marburg, Limburg, Idstein, Gelnhausen, Büdingen, or Seligenstadt.
http://www.deutsche-fachwerkstrasse.de/uk/cont.php3?s=11

Posted by
8 posts

Great point about everyone not needing to stick together! I need to keep that in mind.

After reading feedback elsewhere, I think I've ruled out doing the HOHO bus for Berlin. Can anyone recommend a good Spree tour and/or Berlin walking or bike tour? Is a 3 hour boat tour going to be a much better option than a 1 hour tour?

Also - Is the train the best way to get to Schloss Charlottenburg from Berlin?

Thanks all!

Posted by
21319 posts

I spent so much time in Betlin's museums and at WWII and Cold War sites that I didn't have for a trip on the river. After a long ride on a Swiss lake boat many years ago, I decided that a shorter trip is usually better for me. Three hours is a very long time on a slow-moving boat. There'd better be some really interrsting things to see along the extra stretch of the river covered by the longer ride. And remember that (assuming this is the typical sort of out-and-back trip), you will be seeing everything twice.