There's no way around it: it's peak winter season in Germany, where the days are short, and the temperatures are cold—the coldest of the year. Average temperatures in the nation's capital, Berlin, typically reach daily highs of 37°F (3°C) while lows are just below freezing at 28°F (-2°C). There are variations depending on where you travel. The northern coastline near the seas can be milder, while the eastern and southern regions can get colder. And the southwest can offer some surprisingly temperate microclimates.
No matter where you are, you can expect to see a little (or a lot of) snow, as well as other forms of precipitation like rain, ice, or sleet. This is not the time to skimp on warm clothing and gear. Bring a thick winter coat, gloves, a hat to stave off the elements when you're out and about exploring, and a waterproof jacket and umbrella for wet days. You may even want to consider thermal underwear when exploring the cities on foot. Then, if you're lucky, you'll have bright blue skies and sunshine (they do happen!) on your trip.
Crowds & Costs
Don't let the thermostat deter you. January travelers in Germany will be rewarded with the year's lowest rates after the Christmas markets have closed and long before the summer crowds arrive. Those who take on the cold weather with enthusiasm will be rewarded with a more authentic experience and a real insight into how locals live in the off-season. Book early to get the best prices on flights, hotels, and activities. Keep in mind that some sites and accommodations may be closed for winter. Ski resorts tend to be more affordable than in Switzerland and France, so there are deals to be had.
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.
Where to Go
You'll likely end up in one of Germany's major city hubs to start or end your trip. January is a great time to participate in the cultural attractions while the urban locals get back into their post-holiday routines. Cities like Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, and Frankfurt each have their attractions and distinct vibes, with enough history, art, and architecture to spend a few days or more. An excellent place to start is flying into the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport and exploring Germany's most visited city when the crowds are low.
Beyond the cities, there is plenty to do in Germany's countryside, and train travel is a great way to avoid driving in potentially snowy conditions. Munich is a perfect jumping-off point for the Bavarian Alps. This is where you can explore the city for a few days and then take a train to the ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which hosted the Olympics in 1936. You can also head to the southern Bavarian ski resort of Oberstdorf, connecting several peaks near the border of Austria. Photographers will want to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle on a train route that passes snow-covered alpine villages.
Another option is to spend a few days in Frankfurt and then take the train south to the spa town of Baden-Baden for thermal baths or further south in the Black Forest for a range of activities. A good hub here is Freiburg, a university town with medieval architecture. Another easy train trip from Frankfurt is the city of Cologne, with more thermal baths, as well as medieval history and architecture dating back 2,000 years.
What to Do
Bundle up and explore the many cities. In Hamburg, you could spend a whole day wandering the canals and bridges with a camera. When you need a break from walking, take a harbor boat tour (year-round) and learn about the biggest port in Germany—truly a center for international trade. Many cities offer ice skating rinks in January, like Dresden at the courtyard of the Palais Taschenberg. If in Berlin, you can visit the capital's famous landmarks without the crowds, like the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenberg Gate, the Jewish Museum of Berlin, and the five museums on Museum Island.
You won't be hard-pressed to find something to do in the mountains. The ski season in the alps runs from Christmas through March, with countless resorts offering downhill ski runs and cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, curling, plus horse-drawn carriages and tours of castles, glaciers, and limestone gorges. Visitors can also take cable car rides offering scenic views. A good one to consider is the gondola to a viewing platform of Zugspitze mountain, the highest peak in Germany.
Events in January
International Ski Jumping, Garmisch-Partenkirchen. If you happen to be in this Bavarian ski town on the first day of the year, this ski jumping tournament is one of Europe's major winter sporting events.
Three Kings Day (or Epiphany), nationwide. On January 6, this public holiday is when locals take down their Christmas trees. Look for child carol singers dressed as kings collecting donations for charity.
Karneval (or Fastnet or Fasching), nationwide. This lead-up to Lent starts early in parts of Germany, with pagan events in Cologne, Düsseldorf, and the Black Forest in late January.