10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

From making sure you know about your German hotel's 'rest day' to knowing the rules of the Radweg, here are US resident Phil Schaaf's tips for a cycling vacation in Germany.

Two cyclists in Bärnau, Bavaria.
Two cyclists enjoy a ride in Bärnau, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Oberpfälzer Wald | Thomas Kujat

When Santa Fe native and author Phil Shaaf set out on a cycling trip in western Germany, he praised the stunning sights and welcoming locals (including a football team).

Here are his recommendations for exploring Germany by bike. 

1. Train…for however long you plan to ride each day, prepare for it. Your legs and lungs need to be in shape, but so does your backside, i.e. your rump needs to to adjust to the amount of riding you plan to do, even if you are on an e-Bike. It’s all about saddle time.

2. Confirm your reservations before you arrive. Also, be sure to ask about the hotel’s ‘Ruhetag,’ or rest day, as the hotel will be closed that day. If you arrive on a Ruhetag, they will put your room key in a lock box and notify you via email or text of the code to access the box. 

On a related point, Hotels are not the only establishments that might have a Ruhetag. Many restaurants, especially in small towns, will close on certain days, usually Monday or Tuesday, so don’t be surprised if you reach a town and can’t find a place serving lunch. A good practice is to carry sufficient water and a pretzel or candy bar on every ride.

READ ALSO: Riding the Radweg: A guide to touring Germany by bike

A hotel in Hamburg.

A hotel in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ulrich Perrey

3. Ask your hotel in advance about bike storage. Most places have a good spot to put bikes, but it makes sense to be certain at the time you reserve a room. You might end up storing your bike in a courtyard or hallway, but whatever the hotel recommends should be safe and secure.

4. Have a GPS programme for your route. The signage is generally good, but have a backup directional system in place on your phone and/or watch. Finally, don’t wait until you get to Germany to test out your technology. It’s best to know how everything works before you arrive. 

5. Familiarise yourself with the signs used along the “Radweg” (bike path). Oftentimes, people on bikes share the path with those on foot, but there can also be separate trails for cyclists and pedestrians. Germans follow the rules, so you should do the same while riding there.

6. If you think you hear the ring of a bell, you are not imagining it. Someone is alerting you that they intend to pass on the left. The locals won’t overdo it, so it is usually one small ring.

READ ALSO: 13 ways to have fun in Berlin for free

7. Make sure to stop, take pictures and enjoy the scenery, but don’t park your bike on the Radweg, set it aside the path and take all the time you want.

A cyclist in Hamburg.

A cyclist by the water in Hamburg. Make sure to enjoy the sights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

8. “Radler” literally translates to “cyclist,” but it’s also a mixture of beer and lemon-lime soda. Very refreshing, Radlers are an enjoyable beverage on a break or at the end of the day. 

9. Most Germans speak English. It does help, however, to know a few words in order to read signs, interpret menus and to connect with the people you meet on your trip. At a minimum, have a translation app handy for those moments when you could use a turn of local phrase.

A bottle of Radler.

Make time to enjoy a Radler (either with or without alcohol). Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Gregor Tholl

10. Covid: hotels and many eating establishments require a vaccination card, have mask protocols and will ask you to comply with contact-tracing efforts via a QR code or filling out a form with pen and paper upon entry. The best practice, therefore, is to carry your vaccination card with you at all times and to comply with the local rules.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

Member comments

  1. Good tips, i’m sure on the “most Germans speak english” comment though. After 3 years i would say for sure ‘most’ don’t.

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9 things to know if you’re visiting Germany in December

From Christmas markets to local holidays, here's what you need to know when visiting Germany this December.

9 things to know if you're visiting Germany in December

If you’re travelling to (or around) Germany this December, here are a few key things to keep in mind, from Covid restrictions – or lack thereof – to the best Christmas cookies to scoff down guilt-free. 

No more Covid restrictions for travel to Germany

Unlike the past two holiday seasons, no negative coronavirus test or vaccine card is required to enter Germany by plane, train, bus or other overland transport. 

While Germany specifies that anyone coming from a virus-variant region faces restrictions such as quarantine and a test requirement, it currently does not list any countries that fall into this category.

Still a few nationwide rules

Until April 7th, 2023, Germany still has a few COVID rules in place. FFP2 masks are required in all long-distance public transport, with children ages 6-13 allowed to wear medical OP masks.

Those entering a hospital or care facility will need both an FFP2 mask and a COVID test. Anyone entering a doctor’s office or other medical practice is also required to don an FFP2 mask.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks in public transport?

Otherwise, each of Germany’s 16 states has its own rules. While most still require masks on local public transport, a handful of states have voiced plans to drop the requirement soon.

Local holidays 

While St. Nicholas Day on December 6th is not an official public holiday in Germany, it’s celebrated by almost all families and for some is a bigger gift-giving occasion than Christmas itself.

READ ALSO: Why is Nikolaustag celebrated before Christmas itself?

December 24th and 31st are not official holidays, but most local employees give at least half of the day off as a gesture of goodwill. 

Note that Germans open gifts on Christmas Eve (or Heiligabend, Holy Evening), usually after a special dinner with close family members. Then on the 25th, they gather for the first celebration day (Erster Feiertag) with extended family. 

December 26th, which falls on a Monday this year, is a day off.

Candles decorate a Christmas tree in a living room. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Christmas markets are on again

After two winters of being fully or partially closed due to Covid restrictions, Germany’s beloved Weihnachtsmärkte are now back in full swing. You will find them everywhere you go, from big cities to the tiniest of towns. 

READ ALSO: Seven unmissable Christmas markets that open this week in Germany

While each has its own regional twist, you can sample staple treats such as Glühwein, or mulled wine, Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread) and Stollen

Everything is more expensive

While it’s dipped slightly, inflation in Germany is still 10 percent, which has led to price increases for everything from daily groceries to energy bills and dining out.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: 10 ways to save money on your groceries in Germany

Even the Christmas markets are more expensive this year due to higher prices for the Glühwein mugs. This means some markets in Berlin are charging almost €5 for the Pfand (deposit) for that first glass of mulled wine.

The same applies to ski resorts with hotels, lift tickets and restaurants all costing more this year.

It’s not too warm to ski

While Austria and Switzerland are the best known in the German speaking-world for their ski resorts, there are still many options in Germany starting at the beginning of December, especially in the south of the country. Like nearly everything else, though, expect some hefty price increases. 

The top resorts in Germany include (but are not limited to) Arber, Alpsee-Grünten, Garmish-Partenkirchen, Winklmoosalm-Steinplatte, Oberstdorf, Winterberg and Oberjoch.

Advent countdown 

Starting December 1st, Germans count down the days till Christmas with either a homemade or store-bought Adventkalendar. Traditionally, children open a small door each day to receive a tiny piece of chocolate, but in recent years it’s been possible to find calendars offering all sorts of small goodies, from a daily new flavour of tea to different dog treats.

READ ALSO: How do Germans celebrate Christmas? 

Christmas treats 

German restaurants have special menus for all seasons and occasions, and the holiday season is no exception. Check for a special ‘Weihnachtskarte’ (Christmas menu) with Gänsebraten (roasted geese) usually featured as the main specialty. And everywhere you go you can sample a batch of Weihnachtskekse (Christmas cookies), in all shapes and sizes. Many are baked by local schools or charities, so you can alleviate some guilt in chowing down on Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) or Vanillekipferln (vanilla crescents).

Loud New Year’s Eve celebrations 

New Year’s Eve (or Silvester) is notorious in Germany for firecracker chaos. While people in Germany were banned for two years from setting them off due to coronavirus restrictions, fireworks should be back in full swing this year – especially in the centre of big cities. So watch where you step, or if you’re lucky, look out of your window with a glass of champagne and enjoy the countdown till 2023.