Culture, history, gastronomy, countryside, urban life... Germany doesn't lack attractions from a touristic point of view. It is not surprising, therefore, that the country attracts a large number of visitors every year.
Why come to Germany? For many reasons, each one as good as the others. Let's start with the architecture: with 2000 years of history to go by, Germany is home to feats and creations of human minds and hands capable of transporting you back in time.
As is often the case, in Germany urban tourism is perhaps the most important. Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne receive a large number of visitors every year who come to discover the cities just as much for their architecture as for their distinctive cultural lives.
In practice there are rarely quiet periods in German cities, what with all of the concerts, festivals, and the big sporting events (such as the Berlin Marathon, to mention just one.) Add to this list all of the street festivals: Christmas markets (a German institution) major events such as Munich's beer festival, Oktoberfest, Christopher Street Day in Cologne, Berlin's carnival of cultures and the many other carnivals, including in Mainz and Cologne.
Along with culture, German cities don't lack for galleries and exhibition spaces. The territory contains more than 6250 permanent museums waiting to be discovered - covering everything including art, history, crafts, architecture, literature and natural history. Among the many institutions not to be missed are Berlin's famous Museum Island, Frankfurt's Städelsches Kunstinstitut, where both modern and older masterworks are exhibited, and Munich's Deutsches Museum, considered one of the most important technology museums in the world.
In addition to all of its urban treasures, Germany stands out too for its diverse landscape, and the weight placed on developing nature tourism.
As a result, the countryside is covered by a network of hiking trails which make up 190,000 km in total. Cyclists aren't ignored either, with 50,000 km of bicycle tracks.
Be it by foot, bicycle or car, by exploring the different corners of Germany you can discover the coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic, where you can find spas, or the Black Forest, Lake Constance, seaside resorts in the North and thermal springs in the South.
Hardcore nature lovers can enjoy 14 national parks, 101 nature parks and 15 nature reserves spread across Germany's landscape.
Across the country you can experience a wide variety of different types of plant and animal life. The region Allgäu, in Southern Germany, is undoubtedly one of the highlights, and is one of the most popular for those looking to appreciate local flora and fauna.
Surface area : 357000.0 km2
Population : 82000000 inhabitants
Time difference : Germany is 1 hour ahead of the UK.
Among the souvenirs to take back, think of cuckoo clocks of the Black Forest, Nuremberg toys and Meissen and Bavarian china. In eastern towns, art lovers will hunt for books and music of their dreams. Lastly, those who love the comfort of a good pair of shoes will head straight for Birkenstock.
There are no fixed opening hours for all German shops. They vary slightly from one region to the other. Small traders generally close at 6:30 pm during the week and at 2:00 pm on Saturday. Big shops and shoping centres open Monday to Friday, from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm and Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Give up your diet: German dishes are nourishing! Cooked pork meat, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, herring and cheeses are used often - not to mention the 300 kinds of bread and 1,200 different pastries. The German sausages are cooked in varying ways depending on the regions; they can be simply brushed with mustard, served with lentils, grilled or served with sauerkraut.
The variety of German dishes includes: Bavarian knoedels (stuffed breadcrumb balls cooked in stock), Frankfurt pretzels, Westphalian ham and salt-meadow lamb.
If none of this takes your fancy, there is a wide availability of foreign dishes from pizza to Turkish kebabs to Indian food, thanks to foreign workers who immigrated to Germany after the Second World War.
The best German wines are those from the Rhine, as illustrated by the Wine Road. Wine lovers should not miss the greatest wine festival in the world in Bad Dukheim in mid-September.
Germany is also famous for its beer. Throughout the country, there are over 1,200 brasseries selling 5,000 different beer brands. To enjoy one of these numerous beers, go to Hofbrauhaus in Munich, the biggest brasserie in town (with a capacity of more than 1,000 people).
Strong alcohol drinkers will have a taste of schnapps, a generic term which designates any type of strong alcoholic drink capable of warming you up and picking you up!
Germans love celebrating, shown by the famous Schunkeln of the beer festivals - a rhythmic swaying, arms up, arms down, round a table full of beer-filled glasses. Christmas is of course the most important festival.
From the first Sunday in Advent, large sites are animated by Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkte). The most famous are those in Nuremberg, Munich and Heidelberg. Close to small wooden huts in which sweets, toys and Christmas decorations are sold, you can have Platzchen or Lebkuchen (Christmas specialties) or warm up with a hot drink. An enchanting atmosphere is guaranteed!
German carnivals are well known (Fastnacht). They start every Ash Wednesday. Activities vary from one region to the other. The most important carnival takes place in Cologne, where over 7,000 people take part in the parade, distributing sweets and flowers to onlookers. The long Rosentag procession is the high point of the carnival, before Shrove Tuesday and the big ball that closes the festive week. In Mainz and Düsseldorf, carnivals are also times of spectacular festivities.
Germans are known for their rigour and discipline. Always be punctual, as this is an important quality in Germany.
Don't be too exuberant, nor overly informal. Even with friends, you don't kiss to greet each other - a handshake is the norm.
Take advantage of the numerous tourist routes suggested by the tourist office. In order to avoid being over charged, travel in months such as May and September. In any case, it is more or less essential to make reservations for accommodation - as early as possible.
Those with small budgets should avoid visiting towns when there are trade fairs organised as prices rocket!
To discover the true German spirit, it's best to go to one of the large events, such as Munich's beer festival, Oktoberfest. To be in Germany during the end-of-year festivities is truly enchanting. The Christmas markets spring up everywhere, taking visitors into a magical, festive world. Tradition takes over during this period.
Many people aren't familiar enough with German cuisine, but it is as inventive and flavourful as any other. Oh, and of course there is plenty of great beer in Germany! Even though it is Germany's national drink, unavoidably associated with the nation, they also know how to eat well.
All in all, you shouldn't hesitate to dive into Germany's gastronomic scene and discover the different foods and drinks on offer. Thanks to the country's historical variety and diversity, Germany offers a wide range of different culinary options.
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