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TOURISM

EXPLAINED: What are the Covid rules for tourism around Germany?

With the summer holidays underway in many places, we looked at what the latest rules are in some of Germany's most popular states for tourism so you can get an idea of what's going on across the country.

EXPLAINED: What are the Covid rules for tourism around Germany?
People enjoying the beach in Binz, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

From dancing outdoors to staying at hotels or attending events, people in Germany have been making the most of life after the Covid shutdown. 

German states have been easing a lot of Covid restrictions, although they are keeping en eye on the infection incidence rate and other factors. Here’s a look at some of the eased rules across popular German states you may live in or visit soon for a vacation. 

We’ve given an overview, but to find all the latest details make sure to visit the local government site of the area you’re heading to. There may also be some differences among districts within states. 

Note that contact restrictions across Germany do not apply to vaccinated people or people who’ve recovered from Covid-19. 

READ ALSO: Five lesser known summer destinations to visit this year

Baden-Württemberg: The southern state is following a reopening plan similar to most of the country that depends on the incidence rates in districts. 

The focus – like what’s happening across Germany’s states – is very much on the ‘3G rule’ – that is geimpft, genesen oder getested. So that means to unlock lots of activities, people need to show proof of full vaccination, recovery from Covid-19 or that they have tested negatively. 

When it comes to tourism – guesthouses, hotels, holiday homes and campsites in the southwest are receiving guests. On arrival, proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative rapid test is required. This is waived when there’s a 7-day incidence of less than 35 cases per 100,000 people.

Hotels are allowed to open saunas, baths and wellness areas for their overnight guests. Restaurants and cafés are also open. For incidences above 35, the number of people is limited, and proof of vaccination or equivalent is required.

Events such as theatre performances or concerts are also allowed. If the incidence is below 10, up to 1,500 people are allowed to gather outdoors, and up to 500 indoors. If the incidence is higher, stricter rules apply. The mask requirement remains in place.

Clubs will soon be able to open when there’s an incidence under 10 and with limited capacity, contact tracing and the 3G rule. However, BaWü says it is waiting for the results of pilot projects to see how this can work in practice.  

Bavaria: Hotels, guesthouses, holiday homes, campsites, mountain huts and youth hostels are allowed to open in districts and towns with a stable incidence of less than 100 over five days.

REVEALED: 10 of the best hiking day trips from Bavaria

Guests must bring a negative coronavirus rapid test no older than 24 hours, proof of vaccination or recovery when visiting a hotel. From an incidence of 50 cases per 100,000 people or above, further Covid tests are required every 48 hours, although fully vaccinated and recovered people are exempt from the obligation to test.

The bridge over the beautiful Sylvensteinstausee in Lenggries, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

If there’s a 7-day incidence of 50 or above, visitors to restaurants, swimming pools, amusement parks, theaters, cinemas, etc. also need an up-to-date negative coronavirus test – if they have not recovered or are fully vaccinated.

Cable cars and boats, restaurants, saunas, swimming pools and amusement parks are open. City and mountain tours are also possible. The general rule is: if the incidence remains below 50, guests do not have to take the test.

When it comes to contact restrictions – if the incidence is below 50, up to 10 people from any number of households can meet. If this number goes up, gatherings of a maximum of 10 people from three households are allowed (excluding children under 14).

Berlin: In the capital, overnight stays in hotels, guesthouses or holiday flats have been possible again since mid-June. Guests do not have to present a negative Covid test or proof of vaccination.

But people who want to be served indoors in pubs and restaurants must present a negative test result or proof of vaccination/recovery. Exceptions apply to hotel guests who dine or drink in the hotel restaurant. Outdoor restaurants have been open for a longer period of time, and there is not a testing requirement here.

READ ALSO: Why and where Germans are choosing to go on holiday by car this year

Berlin lifted its contact restrictions on Saturday July 10th. It means private meetings indoors are now unrestricted but people are still encouraged to get tested regularly, particularly before meeting up in large groups. Contact rules outdoors were already lifted. 

When it comes to masks, FFP2 coverings must still be worn on public transport but the cheaper medical masks are also now acceptable in shops, restaurants, education facilities, during church services, and in libraries and museums. 

Cinemas, theatres, opera houses and concert halls are also allowed to open with compulsory testing (or proof of vaccination/recovery) and a hygiene concept. Museums and memorials are also open; there are city tours and boat trips again. 

From July 10th, indoor events with up to 1,000 people are allowed. If there is adequate ventilation in the event space, the limit is 2,000.

For indoor events with 50 or more participants, you will still need to present a negative test result in order to gain entry. For outdoor events, the upper limit on attendees is 2,000 people, and a test is compulsory for events with more than 750 participants.

READ ALSO: Berlin to relax more Covid-19 rules

Brandenburg: Hotels and holiday flats are open again for tourist overnight stays – a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination or recovery is required. However, the obligation to test is waived if the 7-day incidence is stable at less than 20 – this currently applies to all districts and independent cities.

Visiting restaurants indoors is also possible without testing. In discos and clubs, testing is still compulsory. No more than one guest per ten square metres can be admitted. 

Tour groups in Schlepzig, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

Hamburg: Since June, tourists have been able to stay overnight in the Hanseatic city again. Like other places, there are strict hygiene regulations and you have to show a negative Covid test, vaccination proof or recovery to hotels and the like. At the moment there is no occupancy limit. 

Outdoor catering is allowed but indoor guests are only allowed if they have a negative test. Under the usual hygiene conditions, harbour and city tours are also permitted – in open vehicles even without a mask. Museums and libraries are open, as are zoos and botanical gardens, theatres, operas and cinemas. Only clubs remain closed at the minute like in many places across Germany. 

However, since Friday, July 2nd up to 250 people can dance outdoors, provided they have been tested, vaccinated or have recovered.

There are also new deadlines for the validity of coronavirus tests in Hamburg: PCR test results can now be up to 72 hours old, and rapid antigen tests up to 48 hours.

Up to 10 people from any number of households can now meet both indoors and outdoors. Private celebrations are also possible again. If there are more than 10 people, a distance and mask are required – as well as a the 3G requirement indoors.

Hesse

Hotels, holiday homes, youth hostels, campsites and the like are open under certain conditions. Guests must present a negative Covid test or proof of vaccination/recovery upon arrival.

Establishments with communal facilities are required to ask unvaccinated guests to test themselves once a week for longer stays. For indoor catering, a daily negative test must be presented, and guests and waiters must wear a medical mask. In outdoor dinging, masks are no longer compulsory.

Dancing in the outdoor area of clubs and discos is allowed again. Swimming pools can reopen, as can zoos, museums and amusement parks.

READ ALSO: German football fans get green light to return to stadiums next season

Lower Saxony

A new regulation came into force on Monday, June 21st which essentially follows a step-by-step plan.

In districts and cities with an incidence below 35, 10 people from up to 10 households are allowed to meet. Children under 14, and carers for people are not included in that rule. When there’s a 7-day incidence of less than 10, up to 25 people can meet indoors and up to 50 outdoors. 

Overnight stays are generally possible up to an incidence of 100 throughout the country. The only requirement is a negative Covid test or proof of vaccination/recovery. Restaurants and other similar facilities are also open. When the incidence is under 35 Covid cases per 100,000 people there is no requirement to provide a test for indoor or outdoor dining. 

Most tourism activities are open. You have to wear a mask at your seat on bus, boat or cable car journeys. 

Revellers of clubs and discos have to present a negative test or proof of vaccination or recovery. The mask requirement no longer applies to weekly markets or shop car parks (but it is still needed inside shops). 

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania: The holiday state in the north-east reopened its hotels, guesthouses and campsites to guests from other federal states since the beginning of June. However, they must present a negative Covid test on arrival, or show proof of being fully vaccinated or recovered. The long deserted Baltic Sea beaches are visibly filling up at the beginning of the holiday season. Restaurants have been open since the end of May.

Zoos and museums can be visited, while theatres and the classical music festival have already kicked off the summer season – with audience limits and mandatory masks. The presentation of negative Covid tests is no longer required when visiting restaurants or events.

North Rhine-Westphalia: From July 9th, people in most regions of North Rhine-Westphalia no longer face any contact restrictions and can enjoy major events like street festivals and sports tournaments with up to 25,000 attendees. But anyone going to these events has to show a negative coronavirus test or proof of recovery or vaccination. 

This phase – termed ‘Opening Stage Zero’ – applies to all regions of the state that have had a 7-day incidence of less than 10 new infections per 100,000 people.

Crowds dance at a music festival in Dortmund back in 2016. Dortmund is one of the North Rhine-Westphalian cities where social restrictions will be relaxed. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | André Hainke

The means that cities like Duisburg, Essen, Bonn, Paderborn, Münster, Dortmund and Bielefeld have relaxed rules. But other spots like Cologne and Dusseldorf – where the 7-day incidence remains above 10 but below 35 – remain in ‘Opening Stage 1’, where tighter restrictions are required. 

In areas with the lowest Covid rates contact details are no longer required in places such as restaurants, hotels and bars.

At big private events, masks and social distancing are now no longer required, but “recommended” – though attendees will have to show a negative test or proof of vaccination/recovery. 

However, masks will still have to be worn on public transport and in shops and taxis.

Tourism is generally open across NRW. Guests must show proof of vaccination or recovery or present a test upon arrival.

Rhineland-Palatinate: In Rhineland-Palatinate there have been further relaxations since July 2nd. For instance, employees in hotels and restaurants no longer have to wear masks if they have been tested on a daily basis.

Guests in restaurants or cafés no longer have to make reservations in advance indoors, and don’t have to show a negative test. Hotel guests only have to show this on arrival, but no longer every 48 hours.

Concerts, sporting events and public festivals are also possible again under certain conditions.

Clubs and discos are allowed to open again with hygiene plans; they will need appropriate ventilation systems, for example, and a maximum of 350 people will be allowed at the same time. Zoos, museums and outdoor swimming pools have already been open again for several weeks.

Schleswig-Holstein: Further relaxations have been in effect since June 28th. Concerts, theatre and cinema performances are allowed indoors with up to 1,250 people, and outdoors with up to 2,500.

Overnight guests must bring a negative Covid test that is no more than 48 hours old. 72 hours after arrival, one additional test is required. Outdoor catering has been allowed in the north for a long time, and now indoor catering is too. But guests must present a negative test (or proof of vaccination/recovery) except for overnight guests in the respective hotel.

Clubs and discos are also allowed to reopen: for a maximum of 125 people and with a hygiene concept, contact data collection, mask and test obligation.

Up to 10 people can meet privately indoors again with no restriction on number of households. Celebrations without fixed seats are allowed with up to 250 people inside, outside with 500 – with appropriate conditions. At private events, vaccinated and recovered people do not count.

Thuringia: The eastern state is also open to tourists. Tour buses and the like have been possible when there’s an incidence below 50 cases per 100,000 people. When the incidence is below 35 the testing obligation is dropped, but people still have to wear masks. Hotels and guesthouses are allowed to accommodate guests with an incidence below 35 – i.e. almost everywhere. The obligation to test and the occupancy limit of 60 percent have been dropped.

To find out the latest incidence in a district, city or federal state, check out the Robert Koch Institute dashboard here which shows the number of cases per 100,000 people over seven days on the left hand side.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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