Germany uses the international rating system of stars for hotels, from modest one-stars to five-star ultra luxury. In one- and two-star hotels, you will find smaller rooms and some shared baths. From three stars up, hotels will have a restaurant on the premises, luggage service, private baths and a reception desk open at least 12 hours. At four- and five-star hotels, you'll enjoy room service and plenty of amenities such as robes and washcloths.
German lodging standards are very high, and you can generally expect clean and comfortable rooms with breakfast included in rates. Better hotels may serve a lavish buffet that includes eggs, meats, yogurt, fruit and cheeses. Many hotels in all price ranges now have Wi-Fi, though sometimes a fee may be charged.
Europeans still tend to smoke more cigarettes than Americans do, so if you are sensitive to the smell of smoke, it is worth requesting a no-smoking room or floor when you reserve. Be aware that in a climate where air-conditioning is seldom necessary, many older hotels may not have it. If you are planning a summer trip, be sure to ask.
Keep a copy of your reservation confirmation with you to be sure the promised rate is honored. Always check hotel sites directly for specials and deals, such as low weekend rates in cities when business travelers go home. During major events like Munich's Oktoberfest or the Frankfurt Book Fair, rooms are scarce and rates can double or triple.
Photos: 12 Best Germany Experiences
While star ratings tell you about amenities, they do not measure charm, and many older European hotels have great appeal. Among the most enjoyable places to stay in Germany are the aptly named Romantik Hotels, found in cities as well as in smaller towns. The hotels in this group are all located in historic buildings and are owner-managed. See RomantikHotels.com.
Another romantic experience is to choose a schlosshotel, or castle converted into a hotel. Germany has more of these special accommodations than anywhere else in Europe. You can find many of them listed at CastlesandPalaceHotels.com.
Note: Some older hotels may not have elevators, so if stairs are a problem, you may want to request a room on the ground floor.
Away from the City
The German countryside has so much beauty and so many attractions that it is well worthwhile to plan time away from the cities. This will give you the chance to experience delightful places to stay such as gasthofe or gasthauser, atmospheric country inns that also serve good local food. The booking service Hotel-Agentur.de has many country inns among its listings.
For a different experience, spend time in the countryside at a bauernhof, a farm that offers rooms for travelers. These are great fun for families, especially for city dwellers. You can also stay amidst scenic vineyards at a winzerhof, a guesthouse at a winery. Landtourismus.de is an excellent source for these lodgings. Bavaria alone has more than 1,000 farmstay listings along with its own association and Web site to help find them: Bauernhof-Urlaub.com. These Web sites are in German, but you need only click the British flag at the top for an English translation.
Homestays and Farmstays
Ever since Roman times, visitors have been coming to Germany to "take the waters" in health spas featuring hot mineral springs said to have wonderful healing properties. "Bad" means bath, and hotels in cities such as Bad Reichenhall, Wiesbaden, Bad Hamburg and very chic Baden Baden share access to the spa waters. Many of these cities have diversions such as casinos as well. Hotels vary from modest to super-luxurious. Check listings in each town to make your choice.
On a Budget
When you are looking for a well-priced hotel in Germany, booking services like Expedia.com and Hotels.com offer good values in all price categories. Another good source is BestWestern.com. The chain's listings in Europe are not motels as they are in the U.S., but rather smaller hotels that have been inspected and are reliable. If you are willing to stay outside the city center and take public transportation to get around, you can often find lower rates in better hotels. Just be sure that quick connections are near the hotel.
Germany has its full share of economical bed and breakfast choices, as well. B&B's, also known as pensions, may be small hotels but most often are private homes with live-in hosts. They are a far more personal experience than staying in a hotel. The best way to find listings is by contacting local tourist offices in the areas you plan to visit. You will also find listings at international online services such as BBOnline.com, BnBFinder.com or BedandBreakfast.com.
At the lower end of the scale are zimmer, meaning simply "rooms," in private houses, offered by families that have a spare room or two. These can be especially handy if you are looking for an overnight when touring by car. Watch for signs reading zimmer frei (room available) or check with the local tourist office for locations.
Apartment and Villa Rentals
Apartment and home rentals provide more spacious quarters and can be less expensive than booking multiple hotel rooms when you are traveling with family or a group of friends. Agencies specializing in these properties have listings ranging from studios in the city to villas in the country. Among the sources to try are Interhome.com, TripAdvisor.com/VacationRentals and HomeAway.com. Some bed and breakfast services also feature apartment listings.
A reputable agency should have inspected the properties it lists. If at all possible, speak to someone at the agency who actually has toured the lodging you are considering, and ask for references from people who have rented it before. Be sure that someone will be on call to help in an emergency, like a lost key or a problem with the plumbing. Get more info in Booking a Vacation Rental: What You Need to Know.
For a stay of a week or more, you could consider a house swap. A German family might be delighted to trade their home or apartment for yours, saving each of you a lot of money. Specialized agencies such as HomeExchange.com or Intervac.com have listings all over the world, including many in Germany. As with rentals, references from others who have stayed in the property will be invaluable.
Home Exchange: A How-To Guide
Germany was a pioneer in the idea of youth hostels and has more than 500 properties that are among Europe's most modern. While they still offer the bunk rooms popular with thrifty students, many hostels today have private double rooms and family rooms that appeal to budget-conscious older travelers. Modest rates in Germany average about $21 per person for age 27 and under, including breakfast. Older guests pay a small surcharge, while children get lower rates.
The best hostels book up fast, so it is a good idea to reserve well in advance. Listings can be found at the German Youth Hostel Association Web site, Jugendherberge.de/en. Many of their member properties also are affiliated with Hostelling International, an organization covering some 70 countries. Hostelling International membership allows you to stay worldwide at discounted rates. See HIHostels.com for details.
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--written by Eleanor Berman