Visiting Frankfurt and the rest of Germany can be exciting, but sometimes it can be overwhelming or frustrating, especially if it is your first time in Europe. So here are a few tips that we hope will make your visit enjoyable, fun, and hopefully with fewer unpleasant surprises.
* EMERGENCIES – 112 Easy way to remember:
1 + 1 makes 2 and help will come to you.
* Stores are closed on Sundays and Holidays in all of Germany. There will be small grocery stores open in large train stations and airports, and souvenir stores may be open near tourist attractions. Bakeries may be open on Sundays in many cities. Many cities may have 3-5 Shopping Sundays per year and these are usually advertised. We post these dates on our blog for Frankfurt and the Rhine Main region. If you are in Frankfurt, the main train station has a decent grocery store called Rossman’s, on the lower level. It also has drugstore needs. The airport has a Rewe grocery store. They offer free parking if you purchase 30 € or more.
* If you need a pharmacy after hours, most neighborhoods will have one that is open on Sundays, holidays and at night. The list and address of which one is open and on which day will be on the door or front window of the Apotheke. They take turns. Once you get to the Apotheke, you would ring a bell, then someone comes to wait on you, usually through a sliding window in the door. Drugstores in Germany do not have pharmacies in them, as is common in the US. Many over the counter medications need a prescription here, or you must ask the pharmacist for them. To find the nearest Apotheke that will be open after-hours use this website and either type in the name of the town or zip code (Postleitzahl) or if it is a larger city, it is already listed and you just need to click on the name. In Frankfurt, the main train station and the airport have pharmacies open on Sundays.
Pharmacy Find, 24/7
* Museums and tourist attractions are usually open on Sundays, but most will be closed on Mondays. Not all of them of course, but best is to check the website of each attraction. These hours often change when an official holiday falls on a Sun. or Mon. Holidays like Christmas, New Years, Easter, and Pentecost are 4 holidays that will change these opening days. Best is to check individual websites.
* Some churches, or smaller tourist attractions may also be closed on Mondays, so best is to check their websites.
* Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes for sightseeing and walking tours. Flip-flops in the city, where there may be broken glass, doggie doo-doo, and cobblestones aren’t ideal. Ballet-slipper type shoes may mean sore feet and painful blisters. Any kind of high heels are going to be uncomfortable after a couple of hours of walking. Best is to wear shoes with some support and that you have broken in well.
* ATM’s are the best way to get euro. Using credit cards in Germany for small purchases won’t work, you will need cash. Money exchanges, often called Reise Banks, are a rip-off. They offer a very poor exchange rate and high fees. Travelers Checks are no longer accepted in Germany except at those same money exchanges. Banks will not take them.
* Cash is king in Germany. Many places do not take credit cards and for small purchases, you will want cash. The ticket machines for local transportation are also cash only unless you have an EC bank card.
* If you are staying overnight in Frankfurt and need to be at the airport early in the morning, staying in the city itself may be better than staying at many of the so called “airport” hotels. Unless you are at the Sheraton or the 2 Hiltons which are actually located in the airport, you may need more time to get from hotel to airport, than a train from the city would take. The trains take only 11 min. and there is one every 15 min. starting at 04:15 in the morning. Some of the “airport” hotels charge for their shuttles, more than a train ticket would cost. (see our post about taking the train from the airport into Frankfurt) and the shuttles may only run every 20-30 min. or just once per hour.
* There are many 3-star budget friendly hotels near the main train station, as well as more expensive 4-5 star hotels. Recommended hotels: Hamburger Hof, Bristol Hotel, Holiday Inn Express Hauptbahnhof, Ibis on the Friedensbruche, Excelsior Hotel, Hotel Monopol, Adina Apts., Hotel Nizza, Victoria Hotel, The Pure, Savigny Hotel, and Concorde Hotel. Using http://www.hrs.com will help you find hotels and is also a good way to find out if a big trade fair is in town, which will cause prices to go sky high and hotel rooms to become scarce. Before making your flight reservations, it is always good to check if a trade fair will be in town. Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Berlin, Leipzig, and Munich all have big trade fairs and conventions, as well as other major events that fill up the city and affect hotel prices.
* On escalators, the basic rule is to stand on the right hand side, so that people who are in a hurry to catch their train, etc. can pass on the left.
* While riding on the trains, buses or trams, do not put your feet up on the seat across from you. It makes the seat dirty and the conductor may scold you.
* Some times there are bike lanes on the sidewalk. If your sidewalk is 2 different colors, the part that is closest to the street is usually the bike lane. Watch out for them. The sidewalk is often marked with a sign showing the division.
* Many trains, buses, and trams do not have doors that open automatically. You will need to push a button or push a handle down. Watch others to see how they open the door. On some buses you need to push a stop button ahead of your stop, otherwise, the driver will just keep driving and not stop.
* In some cities (but not in Frankfurt) you must validate your ticket before riding public transportation. Watch others get on the train to see what they do. Only validate it once, on your first ride, if you are switching trains, buses, etc. or using an all day ticket. In Frankfurt, it is all on the honor system, so no validation is needed. Controllers may come around and check at random times. Not having a valid ticket means a 60 euro fine. They accept no excuses.
* While visiting a church, avoid drinking and eating. Put your water bottle in your bag or finish your coffee before entering. Men, take off your hats. Turn your phone to silent. If you have a camera that makes noise with every photo, see if you can turn this function off. If there are signs that say no photos, or no flash, they mean it. If there are small side chapels, these are often occupied by people praying or lighting candles, so best is to wait until they are finished before entering.
* On the 24th of Dec. everything in Germany pretty much shuts down by 14:00. Most of the Christmas markets will have ended on the 22nd or 23rd, though there are a few that may be open the morning of the 24th and may also be open on the 25th or after Christmas, but not very many. If you want to have a dinner on the 24th, make reservations at a large hotel, as all restaurants will be closed. This includes fast food places. Public transportation runs, but on a slower holiday schedule. The 25th and 26th are official holidays. Eating out is popular on these days, but many restaurants may be closed. Museums may or may not be open, so check their websites.
* Fireworks are legal to purchase the 3 days before New Year’s Eve. You can buy them almost everywhere. Some kids can’t wait to set them off, so be prepared to be startled. At midnight on NYE, you will get a fantastic display, not matter where you are. Big cities, it goes on and on and on, all done by private citizens. Open plazas and the river banks are the most popular places to set off fireworks.
* Vacation time is staggered through-out Germany, with each state or land, beginning and stopping at different times. This includes summer, winter, spring and fall school vacations & holidays. Check this website to see if there is a vacation happening in the area where you will be taking your own vacation.
* Drinking age for Germany is quite low. For beer and wine it is 16, and for all other alcoholic drinks it is 18.
* The smoking age is 18, as is the driving age. In Hessen, most small bars are smoking bars, and no one under 18 is allowed to enter. Some restaurants may have smoking sections, but they have to be completely closed off from the rest of the seating area. Outside seating is usually always the smoking area.
* In restaurants you usually do not have to wait to be seated, just find a table you like and sit down. When you are finished and want the check, you need to ask the server, as they will not bring it to you until they do.
* Tipping is a volunteer act, though anywhere from 5-10% is normally expected. The bigger the city, the bigger the tip, due to cost of living. If your service was poor, no need to tip at all, but do make sure the management knows about the bad service. Tips are given directly to the server, not left on the table. Easiest is to round up. Your bill was 37 euro, so you give the server 40 euro and say thanks. If your bill was 34 euro you could give them a 50 euro bill and say 37 or 38, and they give you back the correct change. If you see a service charge on the bottom of your bill, the server does not get this amount, this goes straight to the owner or company. MwSt. is the tax or VAT and will be separated out from your total bill, but is not added on at the end. It is automatically included in all prices.
* Learn the phrase, “do you speak English” in German: “Sprechen Sie English?” Though many people in Germany do speak English, especially here in Frankfurt, if you just start speaking without first asking if they speak English, it throws people off a bit. This lets them prepare to hear what you are saying, or to find someone who may speak better than they do. Plus, it is polite.
* Taxes are always included in the price of things, there are no additional taxes added at the register. Your receipt though will show the tax separated out from the total.
* When toasting people while out at a fest, a dinner, or a pub, it is very important to look each person in the eye while doing so. To do otherwise is considered quite rude. The most common phrase is “Prost”.
* If sidewalks are 2 different colors, the side closest to the street is going to be the bicycle path, and it is best not to walk on this side. Most bike paths are marked.
* When museums are on your list of things to do, then we recommend buying a 2 day pass here in Frankfurt. For one person, it is 21 € and for a family, 32 €. Available at all of the museums and at the tourist info, this is a great deal, as some of the museums charge up to 14 € on a weekend.
Museum Day Ticket
* Most hotels will use duvets, rather than flat sheets and blankets. The duvet covers are changed just like they would do with sheets, so they are very clean and hygienic. Each person usually has their own duvet, rather than a large blanket covering the bed that would be shared by 2 people. If it should be hot in the rooms, ask the hotel for an extra duvet cover that you can use for a sheet.
* Hotels do not usually offer washcloths. It may be best to bring your own.
* Arriving at the airport or train station in Germany and need a taxi? No need to arrange a special service, as there are always taxis available at all hours of the day and night. They are always very clean, and the drivers are polite. If you need a larger van-type taxi, they will pull up out of line. Scamming people is pretty much unheard of here with taxis, so sit back and enjoy your ride to your hotel. If you need a taxi with a car seat, just ask the driver and if they don’t have one they will find a taxi that does. It is also wise to ask if they take credit cards. Here in Frankfurt most of them do, but in smaller towns they may not.
* When using the ticket machines for trains, type in all your requests first and only put the card into the machine when it asks for payment, not before.
This is a nice blog with some travel recommendations for Germany (and a few other countries) that you might find interesting: Go-Eat-Do Blog
Please let us know if you have more tips for travelers to Frankfurt and Germany and we will add them on here.