23 July 2020

Your Guide to Traveling Around Germany with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in Germany?

Home to hip cities, fascinating history and architecture, medieval villages, and many natural attractions, Germany is one of the richest and most rewarding travel destinations in Europe. While most visitors tend to stick to just one or two German destinations, getting a rental car will give you a chance to see as much of the country as you want to — just think of visiting Berlin, Munich, and the Black Forest on the same trip. A great network of highways means that traveling long distances is not overwhelming and no place is too far from anywhere else.

When should you go to Germany?

Bordered by two different seas in the north and mountains in the south, Germany has a temperate climate with four rather distinct seasons. Although not as warm as neighboring France, Germany experiences warm summers and has even had some heat waves over the last decade. Its winters are quite cold and even the lowland and coastal regions of the country usually get a decent amount of snow.

The capital, Berlin, has its best weather from early May until late September. Although it's not uncommon for temperatures to reach 30 °C (86 °F) or higher, Berlin is pleasantly warm rather than excruciatingly hot on most summer days (and if the temperatures do get too high for you, there are a number of lakes and public swimming pools for cooling off). June is the month that probably gets the largest number of visitors, but it is also the rainiest month of the year.

Winters in Berlin are usually cool and very cloudy, but rarely get extremely cold. On the whole, Berlin is a bit sunnier and gets a bit less rain than London, Amsterdam or Paris. Of course, if you don't mind the cold, plan to spend most of your time in Berlin seeing things indoors, or just love that autumn ambiance, visiting during the colder part of the year can actually be preferable as many things like accommodation and rental cars will be cheaper and the crowds of other tourists will be smaller (this applies to all of the other big German cities as well).

Located near the North Sea, Germany's second city, Hamburg, has a distinctly oceanic climate. Although the city is less than a four-hour drive from Berlin, Hamburg is usually at least a couple of degrees cooler during the summer months and its annual precipitation is noticeably higher. The increased humidity also means that when it gets cold in winter, it can feel very cold. Most travelers say that the best time to visit is between June and September.

Located in the south of the country, Munich lies at a considerably higher altitude than Hamburg or Berlin. Although its summers do get very warm, the heat is somewhat moderated by the surrounding mountains. Munich is at its rainiest from May to August. Winters in Munich are quite cold, but a lot drier than on the coast. If you don't mind the occasional rain shower, the city can be very nice to visit during the summer months — otherwise, September is probably the best time to visit.

Now that you've decided when to travel to Germany, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!

Where should you pick up a car in Germany?

Most visitors to Germany prefer to pick up and drop off a rental car at the airport. There are more than 20 international airports in Germany and most of Germany's sixteen states or Bundesländer have at least one. The busiest airports in Germany are Frankfurt Airport, Munich Airport, Düsseldorf Airport, and Berlin Tegel Airport, all offering flights not only to and from other places in Europe, but also destinations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Many low-cost carriers like Ryanair, easyJet, Vueling, Wizz Air, and Eurowings fly to and from Germany.

It is also possible to pick up or drop off a car at other locations like some train stations, international hotels, and car rental company offices in cities. Many of the largest cities have multiple pick-up and drop-off locations.

It is possible to pick up a rental car at one location and drop it off at another. While most car rental companies charge an extra fee for this service, it gives you the possibility to travel all across the country without the need to return to the place where you picked up the car. International one-way rentals are also permitted by some car rental companies, so it's quite popular to travel with a rental car between destinations like Hamburg and Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Paris, Berlin and Warsaw, and Munich and Salzburg.

How easy is it to travel around Germany independently?

Modern, developed, and friendly to tourists, Germany is a very easy country to explore on your own. Although it doesn't get as many foreign visitors as France or Italy, it is nonetheless one of the most visited countries in Europe, getting nearly 40 million tourists (or close to half of its own population) every year.

One thing about Germany that many foreign travelers find rather peculiar is that despite being modern in most ways, many shops, restaurants, and other services only take cash and do not accept credit cards. Even some gas stations are known to only accept cash. While it's not a big issue in the cities as ATMs are plentiful, it's probably a good idea to always have some cash on you when traveling in the more rural parts of the country.

One thing that's often discussed in the media is the perceived difference in the quality of life between former Eastern Germany and Western Germany. While it is true that, on average, the west remains richer and more developed, the eastern part of Germany is an integral part of the country and just as easy and fun to explore. Some of the highlights are the city of Leipzig, which combines a fascinating past and culture with a newfound entrepreneurial swagger, and the Baltic coast beaches, especially near Rügen and Usedom, which are secretly some of the nicest and most picturesque places in the country.

How safe is it to travel around Germany in a rental car?

Germany is overall a very safe country, both for locals and visitors. Its crime rates are among the lowest in the world and its police are trustworthy. The countrywide emergency number in Germany, like elsewhere in the EU, is 112.

Petty crime like pickpocketing and tourist scams are not unheard of, especially near famous tourist attractions in the big cities like Berlin and Munich. Always keep a close eye on your belongings and do not hesitate to ask for help if you need it!

Germany has some of the best roads in the world, and even the secondary motorways in rural areas of the country are usually in great shape. The driving culture is overall quite relaxed and polite, and while you do get to see the occasional reckless driver, these are very rare occurrences. Traffic jams do occur in big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, and Frankfurt, especially during the morning and evening rush hours — try to plan your driving times around them.

Driving in the German Alps can take some time getting used to, especially if you haven't driven at a higher altitude before, but most German mountain roads are in very good condition. During winter, having snow chains might be a requirement for driving in the mountains — if you visit during the winter months, ask your rental car provider about the availability of snow chains in advance.

There are no enforced speed limits on some motorways that are part of the German Autobahn system, as well as on some two-lane expressways (or Kraftfahrstraßen) that have a physical barrier between the lanes. Do keep in mind, though, that if you're traveling at the speed of more than 130 km/h (81 mph) and are involved in a collision, you can still be held liable for the accident even if you did not cause it. Furthermore, some rental car companies' insurance doesn't cover you in Germany if you had an accident while traveling at a speed above 130 km/h (81 mph). Therefore, not exceeding this speed might keep you on the safe side, even if it is not enforced by the law.

While there are no speed limits on some of the motorways of the Autobahn system, they are in place on many other motorways. Speed cameras are in use in Germany on those roads and using any radar detector, even that of a mobile app, is forbidden by law.

What languages are spoken in Germany?

The official and everyday language of Germany is, of course, German. Different varieties and dialects of German are spoken across the country, but everybody understands Standard German.

The level of knowledge of English is quite high in Germany, albeit perhaps slightly lower than in the neighboring Netherlands or Scandinavia. English is better understood among younger urban populations and people working in the service and tourist industries, but even in the rural parts of the country, you'll probably find at least some people who speak it. At the same time, even in the big cities you're also likely to meet some people who don't speak any English, so learning at least some basic German wouldn't hurt.

Germany is home to large diasporas of speakers of languages like Turkish, Italian, and Spanish, so they can also come in handy. Many Germans also learn French in school and have at least a basic understanding of the language.
What is German culture like?
While some old stereotypes portray Germans as either stiff or too blunt, the people of Germany are actually one of the main reasons to visit the country! Most are very kind, honest, and hospitable, especially once they've gotten to know you a little bit better.

Overall, German society is quite modern and open-minded, although, like anywhere else, people living in the countryside and small towns are a bit more conservative than urbanites. Orderliness and respect for anyone's personal space are very important in German culture.

Most Germans are Christians, mainly Protestants in the northern part of the country and Catholics in the south. Overall, religion doesn't play an especially large role in German society, with most people fairly open-minded about other views. Many people identify as agnostics or atheists. About 2%-5% of Germany's inhabitants are Muslims, mainly of Turkish origin. Many German Muslims are fully westernized while others remain more traditional.

Political beliefs and religious views are normally considered a personal matter in Germany. Making generalized, sweeping statements and being overly vocal about your convictions in public are generally frowned upon. Trying to discuss issues like history, current politics, or the refugee crisis with strangers is usually not the best idea.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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