First timers to Germany are often surprised at how beautiful the country is. Without getting over-political, history textbooks often portray a land of grimy industrialisation and decimated cities. That was then, this is now. Discover amazing rural landscapes, magnificent architecture, breathtakingly beautiful cities with historic centres and a love of the outdoor life when you tour Germany. You'll find a country that's clean and proud of its natural surroundings.
As for Austria, well its mountain beauty generally blows the first-time visitor away. For the Alps dominate much of the country, with the exception of the agricultural plains to the north and around its capital, Vienna. And, if you look on a map, you'll find that the capital is considerably further east than you might think!
Top five things to do in Germany and Austria
Travel along the Grossglockner High Road in Austria. It costs a few pounds, but it really is worth every penny for the views, the wildflowers and the sense of ‘proper’ driving. Make a day of it.
Why not follow one of Germany's 150 signposted tourist routes if you're unsure where to go first? There's anything from football to clocks, ancient volcanoes to fairytales. Some will allow you to tour a region, others will take you and your motorhome right across the country.
Germany has a love of hiking, with thousands of miles of well-maintained footpaths and signposted hiking routes. Some of the finest are, naturally, in the Black Mountains and the Alps, but don’t rule out those further east, such as the 66 Lakes Trail around Berlin, or the Rennsteig Trail, Germany's oldest long-distance walking route.
Follow one of the big rivers, such as the Danube or the Rhine. One of the prettiest is the Mosel, particularly in the autumn when the vines are turning riotous orange.
Austria is the land of music, quite literally. Whether your taste is for a Sound of Music trail in Salzburg, a classical waltz in Vienna or a yodel in the Tyrolean mountains – you’ll find what you’re looking for.
When to visit Germany and Austria
The seasons often play a big part in the events and festivities of both Germany and Austria. The New Year is kicked off in Austria with a month of carnivals and balls in Vienna, while Germany hosts the Berlin International Film Festival in February. You’ll find big celebrations in both countries at Easter (with Passion Plays particularly in Germany) and, in rural outposts, May Day festivals. In Austria, Corpus Christi processions are at the beginning of June.
Austria also hosts major summer festivals throughout the country, including the most famous, the Salzburg Festival, a music and drama celebration that has now been running for almost 100 years. Come the autumn, both countries look forward to the annual wine harvest and accompanying festivals. Germany also turns its attentions to the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf at the beginning of September, the biggest motorhome and caravan exhibition in Europe.
Munich’s famous Oktoberfest beer festival takes place for 16 days at the beginning of October, while other areas of Germany celebrate the harvest with traditional folk festivals.
One of the most attractive times to visit both countries, however, is during November and December when the Christkindelmarkts and Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets) are taking place. You’ll find such markets in virtually every town and many villages, with particularly impressive offerings in Nuremburg, Stuttgart and Koblenz (Germany), Salzburg, Vienna and Innsbruck (Austria).
And, of course, don’t forget the skiing season, between December and April every winter! If you’re not taking to the slopes yourself, you’ll find major annual World Cup competitions at Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) and Kitzbühel (Austria).
Cheap overnight stops
When it comes to budget accommodation for motorhomes, Germany and Austria are dream destinations. Germany utilises a stellplätze system, which are used extensively by German motorhome owners in preference to campsites. These stellplätze can be found in most towns and cities across Germany, plus numerous other locations including villages, lakesides or high up in the mountains. While there are several thousand stellplätze in Germany, the same system applies to Austria, though there are fewer in number.
Open to all motorhomes, many stellplätze are free to use though there may be a small charge involved (typically between €5 and €8 for 24 hours). However, you’ll regularly find electric hook-ups on site (keep a handful of 50-cents and €1 coins to feed meters) and most provide essential facilities for emptying waste water and cassette toilets, filling up with fresh water and dumping rubbish.
A useful guide to have is the annual Bord Atlas (written in German), which provides maps and details of every stellplätz – Book One covers Germany while Book Two incorporates Austria.
Aside from stellplätze, Austria’s laws allow motorhomes to stay for up to three nights on roadsides, car parks and lay-bys, providing it does not contravene local regulations.
Motorhome access and information
Germany in particular is, arguably, the most motorhome friendly country in Europe, though in both countries, height barriers are scarce and you’ll find specific motorhome parking, including overnight stops (see our separate section) in most villages, towns and cities.
It is essential, however, to ensure that you have the correct documents and equipment in your ‘van. Make sure that you have passports, driving licences (the minimum age in both countries is 18 years), vehicle registration and insurance documents. In Austria, it is compulsory to have a warning triangle, a visibility warning vest (accessible as you leave the vehicle) and a first aid kit. In Germany, while not compulsory for visiting motorists, it is advised that you carry all these items along with replacement bulbs. Headlamp converters may also be necessary.
In both countries, all vehicles must be adapted to winter road conditions using either winter tyres or all-season (mud and snow) tyres. In Austria this is specifically between 1 November and 15 April plus any other times when snow, ice or slush is on the road. Snow chains on the driving wheels will only be allowed as an alternative where the road is fully covered by snow and/or ice and the road surface will not be damaged by the chains.
There are no automatic tolls on German motorways, but it is obligatory to purchase a ‘Vignette’ sticker for Austrian motorways and main roads. This can be purchased for up to 10 days, two months or a year. Vignettes are available at all major border crossings and at petrol stations. However, all motorhomes above 3.5 tonnes must have a small device – called a GO-BOX - attached to the windscreen. (If your vehicle is close to the weight limit you should carry proof of the maximum permitted laden weight). If your registration documents don’t clearly state this, you will need to produce alternative certification, for example, from a weighbridge. The GO-BOX uses the high frequency range to communicate with toll points, making it possible to effect an automatic toll deduction without slowing down or stopping. It can be obtained for a one-off fee of €5 at sales centres in Austria and neighbouring countries, or online. Based upon the distance travelled, this toll can add a significant amount onto the cost of a trip to Austria for ‘vans more than 3.5 tonnes.
There are also additional tolls on specific tunnels, bridges and sections of road (such as the Grossglockner Alpine Road) within Austria. These affect all vehicles. But it is also worth noting that there are low emission zones located in most major cities across Germany, which may affect your motorhome. There are too many to list here, but do check online to see whether your campervan is likely to be affected – you can also search by country and city.
How to get to Germany and Austria
There are no direct ferries from the UK to Germany so options are to use the Dover-Calais (France), Dover-Dunkirk (France) or Harwich-Hook of Holland (Netherlands) routes from southern England. From northern Britain, use Hull to Rotterdam (Netherlands) or Newcastle to Amsterdam (Netherlands). You’ll find your onward journey to Germany or Austria a breeze using the tremendous network of motorways, with places to stop every few miles, whether a full service station or a basic picnic area and somewhere to stretch your legs.