Despite being in Western Europe, Germany is a relatively cheap country to explore and even its capital Berlin is one of the most inexpensive metropolitan cities in Europe. And unlike stereotypes on the internet, Germany is much more than just beer, sausages, seriousness, castles, and wild techno parties. Germany is a country with vibrant international art and music scene, beautiful nature, stunning cathedrals, picturesque small towns and overlooked historic cities. This article will give you some great tips about budget travel in Germany that will make your euro go even further without taking out the fun. With that being said, let’s go through our Germany on a budget guide:
Finding a cheap flight to Germany
You will probably find the cheapest flights during the off-season, between November and March but you can also get some good deals in April and May too. If you’re flying from the US, you might consider flying to London or Dublin first, as flights to these cities are normally cheaper. After that, you can get a super cheap flight (20-30 euros) with Ryanair, Flybe or Wizz Air or you can also get a train (from London). If you’re flying directly to Germany consider Frankfurt (the largest national airport) and Berlin. The flight fares to these two airports are the lowest. While you’re there, also take a look at this great list of places to visit near Frankfurt.
Transportation in Germany
In Germany, it seems like the bus network and the national rail system are competing to provide a better service for passengers. This has resulted in a well-developed transportation network at an affordable price. And that’s certainly great news if you’re planning to travel around Germany for your vacation.
When it comes to buses, the two best budget options are Berlin Linien Bud and ADAC Postbus. The latter one is owned by the German postal service and is slightly cheaper. A trip from Berlin to Central Germany costs around 10 EUR and most busses have free Wi-Fi on board. However, buses in Germany generally cover only the major routes in the country. So, if you want to get out in the lush forests in the west or at some tiny village, you will need to use the German train system.
The trains in Germany cover every tiny town and village and if you want to get off-the-beaten-track, the train is the right way to do this. There are a few small towns which are exceptions, of course, but they are connected to the closest train station with extension bus services. If you’re traveling by train, it would be a good idea to book your tickets in advance to save a few euros. You can do that at the official German Railway website.
Before you book your train tickets, keep in mind that the cheapest way to use the German train system is NOT to book the route you want directly or to book last minute. If you know what route you want to take in advance, you can get big discounts on the ICE (express train service).
How to get discounts using the German Train System
If you are traveling within a particular state, you can buy a state ticket for only 22 euros. This will allow you to use all non-express, second-class trains in the state for 24 hours. A rule of thumb is that every train that’s white should be a non-express one. If you are planning to get some sightseeing done, this ability to be able to hop on and off the train across the state is awesome. Additionally, if you’re traveling with friends, they can actually use your day pass for an extra 4 EUR each. This will leave you with a lot more money you can spend on other activities. Finally, keep in mind that this is applicable for up to 4 passengers.
Even more, this same system is applicable nationwide. The Quer-durch-Lands ticket and the Schönes-Wochenende ticket allow you to take as many non-express trains as you need during the day. This way you can easily get from, let’s say Berlin to Munich if you don’t mind changing the train a few times along the way. Finally, note the differences between the two tickets. The Schönes-Wochenende ticket costs 44 EUR and your friends don’t have to pay extra. With the Quer-durch-Lands ticket, every friend has to pay 8 extra euros and it’s only valid during the weekdays. By the way, if you’re traveling to Germany with children, don’t worry. All kids below the age of 15 can travel for free on the ticket of their parents. Additionally, check out these tips on how to use the Deutsche Bahn
As you can see, if you have a couple of friends to travel with you when traveling to Germany, that can save you quite a while. But what about…
Solo budget travel in Germany
If you’re a solo traveler in Germany, don’t worry: you can still take advantage of the group discounts. Even I was traveling alone during my first trip to Germany when I discovered Mitfahrgelegenheit (meaning lift in English). Despite being impressed by Germans’ ability to complicate every word I embraced this wonderful app that every traveler should be aware of. It allows travelers to connect with other solo travelers that have Schönes-Wochenende tickets.
Update: I found out that this app doesn’t work anymore but there are some apps like Mitfahren that allows you to find people traveling the country that can offer you a lift for a low price.
Accommodation in Germany
Fortunately for budget travelers, Germany offers a plethora of budget accommodation options. You can check out Urlaub am Bauernhof, offering more than 2,000 listings for farm stay in rural areas across Germany. You can also work on a German farm for a while in exchange for a free accommodation via WWOOF. Alternatively, you can find hostels ranging between 10 and 20 euros per night, 30 to 45 euros for Airbnb accommodation and up to 60 euros for a private hotel room. Finally, in most big cities you’ll find some amazing budget hostels for young people like these party hostels in Berlin. However, keep in mind that everything is more expensive in the bigger cities and during the season, even dorm beds can go up to 30 euros per night. That’s why you should consider…
Traveling to Germany during the offseason
Just like every other place on Earth, Germany is cheaper in the offseason and there’s a large variation between prices depending on the time you decide to visit. Generally, the offseason in Germany is between the months of November and April but there are also a few other tips I could give you. You should keep an eye on the school holidays. In Germany, there are five main school holidays: winter, spring, summer, autumn, and Christmas Holidays. The summer holidays are, of course, the longest, lasting for six weeks. All other holidays range from a week to two weeks.
During the holidays, prices are higher but the holidays vary in different states. You can see a detailed list of the German school Holidays here. You should also keep an eye for trade fairs and exhibitions if you’re visiting the big cities. Cities like Frankfurt, Hannover, Leipzig, and Berlin are known as trade fair towns and if you’re planning to visit make sure to check if there are any big trade fairs during the time you wish to visit. If you happen to be in town during one of these fairs, you’ll find it difficult to get hotel accommodation and even if you do, you’ll end up paying much more than you would normally.
Related: Also check this list of unusual things to do in Berlin.
Finally, you surely heard about the famous Oktoberfest in Munich. It’s an amazing event that attracts a lot of tourists but during the festival, prices in Munich and the surrounding towns go over the roof. If you want to enjoy the Bavarian art of beer brewing, you can do so during the offseason months. Almost every town and village in Bavaria has beer gardens which are open during spring, summer, and even autumn.
Eating and Drinking
This might come as a surprise but you can actually get a meal from the street vendors for around 5-6 euros. Also, you can find traditional German (delicious) snacks like Kartoffelsalat, Bratwurst, and Currywurst, for around 3-5 EUR. Alternatively, Germany has a large Turkish minority, so you can count on finding delicious kebab, doner or Lahmacun. In Germany, you can get those even cheaper than German traditional food and oftentimes the only late night snack you can find is a Turkish doner kebab.
If you’re around the center area of a big city, you’ll find many restaurants that offer business lunch deals. During lunchtime, you can get a lot of food for less than it normally costs. Also, make sure to ask for “Leitungswasser”(tap water). If you don’t specifically ask for it, you will probably get a bottle of overpriced mineral water. Also, go easy on the tip as tipping and service are included in restaurant bills across Germany. A rule of thumb is to leave extra 5-10% of the bill if you’re satisfied with the service.
You can also find some amazing and cheap pastries in the bakeries. You can either grab lunch in a restaurant and get a dinner from one of the bakeries on the way, and vice versa. It’s a great additional way to save a few extra euros. You can also cook by yourself if you’re staying in an accommodation that has its own kitchen. In many places across the country, you will find farmer’s markets on Saturday. This is where you can find some fresh, inexpensive groceries to prepare your own meals.
Finally, if you want to try some of that famous German beer, try local beers. They’re cheaper than the internationally famous brands, and oftentimes- just as good.
Budget Activities in Germany
When you’re traveling anywhere, activities and attractions are the most expensive category when it comes to spending. If you’re looking for a guided tour or a cruise, that will cost you around 25-30 euros, which obviously isn’t cheap. However, Germany offers a plethora of free activities that you should definitely be aware of before visiting Germany.
Let’s start with free walking tours. This is a great way to learn your way around the city once you reach. Most cities have daily free walking tours and even some hostels offer it. In the end, you can leave (but don’t have to) a tip for the tour guide.
Furthermore, most museums in Germany have at least one day of the week in which you won’t have to pay admission. So, make sure to check this information before planning to visit any museum.
The city pass is a great way to save money while using public transport but there’s even a cheaper option: renting a bicycle. This also allows you to move around the city freely without being dependent on the public transport routes and without getting stuck in the traffic.
If you want to explore the outdoors, don’t go for guided tours. They are ridiculously overpriced. Go hiking yourself, or find a friend that could join you on Couchsurfing.
All cities in Germany have beautiful parks. Use this to get away from the crowded streets and restaurants and have a picnic while enjoying the nature. You will also find a lot of locals that do that.
If you ask me, the best things in Germany are free. Strolling through the streets of Old Munich, visiting the Hamburg Harbor, hiking the German Alps, exploring the Black Forest and visiting the Baltic coast. You can do all these things without paying a single euro.
Some other budget saving tips
Take one Day trips
Instead of visiting a new destination every day, consider staying in a bigger city and take several one-day trips. For example, if you’re visiting Munich, you can stay for 5 days, spend a couple of days in Munich, visit the Alps during the next day, take a trip to Nuremberg or even cross the border to visit Salzburg.
Don’t forget about the East
The country that was once known as East Germany hides some of the most underrated destinations in the country. Additionally, most of the eastern towns are quite cheaper than their western counterparts mainly because they went through 50 years of socialism. For example, Heidelberg is a major tourist attraction today because of its quaint architecture but Erfurt is just as beautiful. Munich and Frankfurt are amazing cities with a lot of fun activities but so are Leipzig and Jena and you will find some amazing things in Dresden too… The list can go on and on but you get the point…
Nordsee and Ostsee
The North Sea and the Baltic Sea is where Germans go for their vacations to get away from the tourist crowds in the summer. People from around the world visit Berlin and Munich but very few actually come to the coast. This is a great way to interact with locals, explore Germany off the beaten path and discover gorgeous hidden gems like Rugen Island. Finally, make sure to get a rain jacket even if you are visiting in the summer. The German coast is famous for its unpredictable weather.
So, that’s all, folks. As you could see, traveling to Germany on a friendly budget is a completely possible scenario with these budget travel options and some good planning. Do you think I missed to mention something that’s important about visiting Germany on a budget? Let me know in the comments!