Germany's winter season is not for the faint of heart. February is one of the coldest months of the year, though there is usually a slight improvement from January. Average temperatures in the nation's capital, Berlin, typically reach daily highs of 39°F (4°C) while lows are just below freezing at 30°F (-1°C). The skies tend to be gray this time of year, with a few days of sunshine per month.
As Germany is one of the biggest countries in Europe, there are variations depending on where you travel. The northern coastline along the North and Baltic seas can be milder, wetter, and windier. At the same time, the eastern and southern regions can get colder and snowier, especially in the higher altitudes. Those who head to the southwest might experience a microclimate with a glimpse of early spring. Cologne, for instance, is one of the warmest cities in Germany, with an average daily high of 45°F (6°C) and an average low just above freezing at 34°F (1°C).
Wherever you decide to go, expect some snow or other precipitation in the form of rain, freezing rain, and/or sleet. Bring a proper winter coat, gloves, and a hat to ward off the elements when you're out exploring, as well as a waterproof/windproof jacket for wet and windy days. You may want to consider donning thermal underwear for a day of hitting the streets in the colder cities, like Munich or Berlin.
Crowds & Costs
When the temperatures plummet, so do the crowds and prices. Welcome to the off-season in Germany, when plucky travelers are rewarded with some of the best rates of the year for flights, hotels, rental cars, and activities. Keep in mind that some rural sights and accommodations may be closed for the winter months. For instance, Germany's wine regions tend to shut down, so save your grape tours for later in the year.
Ski resorts, for their part, are wide open and ready for action. Visitors will likely find that hitting the slopes is more affordable than in neighboring countries. Plan your alpine adventures during the mid-week when the locals are back to work for even more savings. This is a great time to have the pistes all to yourself.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Where to Go
Kick off your trip in one of Germany's major cities and get to know the cultural attractions and distinct neighborhoods. It can be hard to choose between Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, and Frankfurt—each has its advantages and enough activities to keep you busy for a few days. For instance, history buffs can fly into the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport and spend a week exploring museums, WWII sites, and the hip dining and nightlife scene. Consider choosing a hotel near the subway station if you plan to use public transportation often.
Germany's southern Bavarian Alps are spectacularly beautiful when snow-covered and train travel is a slick option for those who want to avoid driving in potentially unruly weather. Spend a few days in Munich and then take a train (under two hours) to some of Germany's best castles and ski resorts, including Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which hosted the Olympics in 1936. From here, you can take a train to Füssen and then a short bus to Neuschwanstein Castle to tour the former abode of Ludwig II, the former King of Bavaria.
Home of the busiest airport in Germany, Frankfurt is a train ride away from the Black Forest with more pretty landscapes, especially after a dusting of snow. Stop in the spa town of Baden-Baden along the picturesque Oos River at the French border for thermal baths where you can soak your muscles after a long flight. Another easy train trip from Frankfurt is the city of Cologne, with medieval history and architecture from Roman times, plus a chic spa called Claudius Therme that offers a variety of heated pools, saunas, and spa treatments.
What to Do
When visiting the cities, big or small, plot out your days carefully so that they can include a mix of indoor and outdoor activities to stay warm. In Hamburg, you could spend a few days wandering the canals and bridges with a camera while warming up in museums, like Hamburg's art gallery, Hamburger Kunsthalle, one of the best places in Germany to see Renaissance art. In the evening, enjoy a concert performance at the Elbphilharmonie, an architectural marvel with curved glass panels designed by Herzog & de Meuron.
Stretch your legs at one of Berlin's seasonal ice skating rinks in February, like Lankwitz, which offers a disco theme every Saturday. While here, drive around the city in a Trabi, an iconic car made in East Germany during the communist era. Then there are the many museums, including the UNESCO-listed Pergamon for its life-size reconstructions of the city's historic places. You can also visit the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building that was bombed during WWII and rebuilt with its symbolic glass dome. If the weather is decent, head next door and walk around the neighboring Tiergarten.
You can learn a new winter sport in Munich at the city's longest curling rink (equipment for rent). You can also go swimming in one of Munich's many indoor and outdoor public heated pools—many of which have saunas. Also, stay warm in the indoor botanical garden with palm trees, butterflies, orchids, and exotic cacti. There are several day trips by train from Munich to small cities with historical and architectural significance like Stuttgart and Nuremberg.
In the nearby Bavarian Alps, it's peak ski season with resorts offering downhill ski runs, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and tours of glaciers and gorges. Travelers who prefer to enjoy the scenery from a safe distance can choose horse-drawn carriages and cable car rides, including one to a viewing point of Germany's highest peak: Zugspitze. To the west, the vast Black Forest offers winter activities from cross-country skiing to hiking, depending on the snow levels.
Events in February
Karneval or Fasching, various locations. This February holiday is a pre-Lent celebration with street parades, revelry, pranks, and costume balls leading up to the Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before Ash Wednesday. Cologne has the most celebrated Karneval festivities, along with Düsseldorf and Munich, while the Black Forest has more traditional events.
International Film Festival, Berlin. Often called the Berlinale, this late-February event is one of the world's premier film festivals attracting a mix of international and German projects. Look for screenings at movie theaters around Potsdamer Platz.