There’s possibly no better feeling than filling up your gas tank, gathering a few of your closest friends, stocking up on the essentials, and going on a road trip. Road trips allow you to experience most, if not all, of the things an area has to offer – not just the tourist attractions. You can avoid the hassle and expense of booking plane tickets when you decide to self-drive to your next getaway. If you have yet to decide where you’ll road trip next, then why not go to Germany? – a place rich in culture and history, while still embracing its booming modernity.
Driving in Germany: A How-to
But before we talk about what the best places in Germany to brave the open road are, let’s first discuss the ins and outs of operating a motor vehicle in Deutschland. First and foremost, you’re going to need the proper documents. If you’re going to be driving in other European countries and not just Germany, it may be a good idea to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the American Automobile Association (AAA). This permit allows the owner to drive in over a hundred countries worldwide.
However, in case you only plan to stay in Germany, you could get away with not availing one. This is because most car rental companies in the country only require your US or Canadian passport to grant you access to a vehicle. If you have either of these, you’ll be fine to drive in Germany. What you should do though, is read up on German traffic laws and regulations, since a considerable amount of them differ from what you may be used to. For instance, driving on the Autobahn is completely different from driving down a boulevard back home.
Now that you have the needed paperwork to drive in Germany, you need to get yourself a car to take your road trip in. You’ll need to be at least 21 years old to rent a car in this country. In some cases, you might even need to be a little bit older. As we’ve said before, to rent or lease a car in Europe, you’ll need to present a valid driver’s license from your home country. You can rent a car at some places at 18 years old, but this is only for short-term leases. You may not get the most out of your trip, since the car will have to come from France first.
If you’re going road tripping in Germany for three weeks to a month, it’s advisable to get a short-term lease on a car instead of renting it out. If you lease a car, you’re also paying for insurance coverage on the vehicle. This may take longer to process though, as we’ve said, because even German auto leasing companies work on French soil. This is due to the fact that France has good laws for short-term leasing. This means that you’ll be getting a car made by a French manufacturer – think Renault or Peugeot. The cars come in different sizes, too.
The only downside to short-term leasing is that you’ll be charged a couple hundred dollars when you pick up your car from the airport in Germany. Your other option is to pick your vehicle up somewhere else. Try going to Geneva in Switzerland or to France first. This little detour will help you save around $400. We recommend you do this if you’re not really strapped for time. You could also pick your leased vehicle up at the German-French border located in Strasbourg, but again going out of the way like this may cost you precious time on your trip.
Parking is also quite different in Germany. You don’t really see a lot of parking meters in these parts. In fact, you don’t really see much of them across the majority of Europe. The best thing to do when parking is to look for a sign that says “parkscheine,” which translates to “parking tickets.” Near this sign is a machine that allows you to put coins in depending on how long you need to park. Prices depend on the time and day as well as the location of the parking area. Once you get a ticket, place it on your dashboard or anywhere it’s clearly visible.
Another way you can pay for your parking ticket is through an app on your smartphone such as Pango or EasyPark. This service is currently available in Berlin, Hamburg, and Cologne, among other German cities. Thankfully, the coverage of these apps is expanding, so who knows? By the time you’re reading this, at least one of them may already be available near you. The parking fee is charged directly to your phone account, so there’s no need to worry about bringing enough change to pay for parking. The best part is that these apps will send you a reminder a few minutes before your time allotment for parking runs out so you won’t get fined.
When you’re driving in Germany, you should also watch out for speed radars and special “environmental zones.” What Germany seemingly lacks in active traffic enforcement, they more than make up for with cameras and radars. These are incredibly high-tech and can capture your license plate even if you’re zooming through traffic. If you’re only passing through Germany on a road trip, but you get caught speeding, expect your ticket to be given to the rental company so they can charge you accordingly.
There are also places you can pass through only if you have a permit. Most of these places are environmental zones and you’ll be passing through many of them if you’re going on a road trip. It only takes around $15 to get a permit for a foreign vehicle to pass through these areas. Paying this one-time fee is definitely better than the $5 fines for driving without the correct permits adding up. Now that we’ve got those reminders out of the way, let’s take a look at what the best road trips in Germany are.
First off, we have the city of Munich. This place is the best to start your road trip in since this is where you’ll likely land if you fly going to Germany. If not, then you’ll land near it. If you’re going to drive, Munich is also one of the easiest locations to access in Germany through land. In Munich, you can visit the farmer’s market where you can sample delicacies such as Bratwurst and world-famous German beer. Make no mistake though, as Munich also houses historical attractions such as the Nymphenburg Palace and the Munich Residenz.
Once you’ve picked your rental car up somewhere around Munich, take a one-and-a-half-hour drive to the city of Nuremberg. This will take you to one of Germany’s most famous castles – the aptly named Nuremberg Castle. If you’re a person of culture, then you’ll also appreciate paying a visit to the Germansisches National Museum where you’ll be able to see thousands upon thousands of exhibits, which document Germany’s eventful past. If you’re travelling with kids, they’ll likely enjoy going to the German National Railways Museum.
A short drive of around 60 miles will take you to Stuttgart. This city is known for being a hub for automobile manufacturing. Once you arrive in Stuttgart, you can go visit the museums for Porsche and Mercedes-Benz – two of the world’s most popular luxury car brands. Despite serving as the home for some of the world’s leading names in manufacturing, Stuttgart still has its fair share of breathtaking parks and green spaces. Examples of these include the Ludwisgburg Residential Palace as well as the Wilhelma zoo and botanical gardens.
Upon driving a bit further, you’ll find your way to Heidelberg – a town known for being one of the most romantic in Germany thanks to its wine production and towering castles. If you want to go sightseeing or picture taking, you can go to Heidelberg Castle or the Konigstuhl Funicular. If you want to visit a place that’s a little more off the beaten path, then the Student Jail or the Studentenkarzer might pique your interest. Same goes for the German Pharmacy Museum, which is actually one of the most famous tourist destinations in all of Heidelberg.
Less then an hour’s drive away is Mannheim, which was once a small village but is now a booming city in the heart of Germany. Some of the places you can see here include the greenhouses of Luisenpark and the small zoo in Herzogenriedpark. If you want to learn some history, Mannheim is also famed for its museums. You can visit the Museum of Technology or the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum. Animal lovers out there might also take an interest in visiting the city’s cat museum. If you want to see a show, then the SAP Arena and the National Therater Mannheim are easily accessible.
The sixth destination on this list is Darmstadt, which is also just a short drive away. If ever you find yourself here on a road trip, make sure that you visit the Künstlerkolonie Mathildenhöhe – arguably Darmstadt’s most wondrous attraction. There are art exhibits there as well as a beautiful chapel, all surrounded by parks and greenery. Another must see here is the Castle Frankenstein, which has stood since the 10th century. Many believe this was the castle that inspired the plot and setting surrounding Doctor Frankenstein and his monster.
Freiburg is just a couple miles away from the previous destination on this list. When you arrive at Freiburg, have a meal at one of the city’s many amazing cafes featuring the best of German cuisine. Afterwards, pay a visit to the local cathedral and cathedral market. Once you’re done with that, you can go sightseeing in places such as Castle Mountain and Little Venice. You could also learn more about Freiburg and the rest of Germany as well by visiting the Augustunermuseum and the Historical Merchants Hall. If you’re beat after doing all those touristy things, you can enjoy some of the best of Germany’s nightlife by going to the city’s bars and theaters.
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The neighboring city of Augsburg is the next destination on our German road trip. This city is one of the largest in Germany. First, we have the Fuggerei. What makes this unique is that rent has not been raised since the 16th century. The St. Anna Kirche, which is regarded as the first German Renaissance church, is also located here. Augsburg also has plenty of museums and historic sites. For the former we have the Maximilianmuseum, which houses Elias Holl’s original works. For the latter, there’s the Rathaus and the Dom Mariä Heimsuchung.
Our second to last destination is Mainz. In this German city, churches are the main tourist draw. Here you can see the St, Stephens Church and the Mainz Cathedral. St. Augustine’s Church is also set up here, together with shrines for St. Peter and St. Ignazkirche. If those don’t interest you, maybe you can visit Die Mainzer Zitadelle instead. This is one of Germany’s oldest fortresses. If you want something a bit more exciting, try heading over – no pun intended – to the Opel Arena where you can watch the city’s team play in the highest division of German football.
Finally, we arrive in Frankfurt. This is one of the places in Germany that seems to always be flooded with tourists, and for good reason. For starters, we have the Staedel Museum and the Dialog Museum. The former is over two centuries old and houses some of the country’s most important artworks, while the latter is where you go to view more contemporary works. If you want to shop the best of German style and fashion, make your way to Hayashi. While you’re there, take a peek at the German Stick Exchange too. If you’re hungry after all of that shopping and sightseeing, you can dine in the city’s best such as the Freitagsküche and Gang & Gäbe.
So that’s our itinerary for the best German road trip. Remember that not everything worth doing in these cities is listed in this guide, so make a habit of asking locals about what you should do on their turf. You might even discover something amazing that’s not in any travel guide.