Directions in German: Essential Words and Phrases

What if you’re in a new German city and have to *gasp* ask for directions?

Whether you’re planning on going abroad or just learning German online from home, knowing how to get and give directions in German will help you with your overall fluency.

And you never know when direction-specific vocab will pop up in everyday conversation!

This guide to directions in German will make sure you know your links (left) from your rechts (right).


Directional Adverbs in German: Wo vs. Wohin

There’s one part of directional speak in German that we have to clear up first.

In German, there are multiple words for “where”:

Wo "Where"Indicates a specific place Wo sind wir?
Where are we?
Wohin Combines "where" and "to"Indicates a direction or motion towards a place Wohin gehen wir?
Where are we going?

Basically, to give wo that extra sense of destination, you just need to add on –hin to the end to create wohin.  It’s not too tricky, but getting it right is important.

This also happens with another word: da and dort, which are another pair of German words for “there”: 

Da "There"Usually indicates a place relatively close to the speaker. Da ist er!
There he is!
Dort "There"Usually indicates a place further away from speaker, usually considerable distance. Sie hat ein Haus dort.
She has a house there.
Dahin Combines "there" and "to"Indicates movement or direction towards a place, usually one a bit closer to the speaker. Leg das Buch bitte dahin. Please put the book down there.
Dorthin Combines "there" and "to"Indicates movement or direction towards a place, usually one further away from the speaker. Du fährst nach Berlin? Kannst du mich dorthin mitnehmen? You're driving to Berlin? Can you take me there with you?

Luckily, da and dort this difference in da and dort isn’t so strict in modern German, so you’ll often hear them used interchangeably, with a preference for da in more informal contexts. 

Be careful not to get caught out with da, however, as colloquially it can also mean “here” or “there” when talking about someone’s presence somewhere:

Der Zug ist schon da. (The train is already here.) 

Ist deine Mutter gerade da? (Is your mom there right now?) 

Useful German Direction Words and Phrases

Now that you know about wohin, dahin and dorthin, you should be able to knock up your own direction sentences and questions.

Let’s look at the basics:

die Richtungen directions

Wie komme ich dahin? How do I get there?

Here’s an example of dahin in action, meaning “there” plus movement.

Below are some more useful vocabulary words and phrases:

Wie komme ich zum Bahnhof? — How do I get to the train station? 

die Stadtmitte the city center

der Dom — the cathedral

das Hotel — the hotel

links left

rechts right

gerade aus straight on

Gehen Sie immer gerade aus Keep on going straight ahead

über die Brücke gehen to go over the bridge

um die Ecke round the corner

gegenüber von opposite from

in Richtung der Kirche in the direction of the church

entlang along

Gehen Sie diese Straße entlang Go down / along this street

der Stadtplan city map

der Nord north

der Ost east

der West west

der Süd south

nach Norden / Osten / Westen / Süden to the north / east / west / south

bis zur (before a feminine noun) / bis zum (before a masculine or neuter noun) up to

bis zur Ampel up to the traffic lights

bis zum Kino up to the cinema

You can see these phrases in action on FluentU, along with other practical German vocabulary used in conversations.

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Movement and the Accusative in German

When it comes to directions, there’ll usually be movement in the sentences used.

One important thing to remember is that certain prepositions can change the definite or indefinite articles. Some prepositions in German will take the dative case if there’s no movement in the sentence; if there’s movement, they’ll take the accusative.

These are the prepositions in question:

German PrepositionEnglish
an at / on / to
auf at / on / to / upon
hinter behind
in in / into
neben beside / near / next to
über about / above / over /across
unter under / among
vor in front of / before
zwischen between

The examples below should clarify things a bit more.

Ich gehe in den Supermarkt.
I’m going into the supermarket. 

In this example, I’m moving into the supermarket, so der Supermarket needs to be in the accusative. This means der Supermarkt becomes den Supermarkt. 

Ich stehe vor dem Supermarkt.
I’m standing in front of the supermarket. 

However, with this one, I’m standing in front of the supermarket and there’s no movement or direction indicated in the sentence. So we need the dative case and den Supermarkt switches to dem Supermarkt.

Here’s another example:

Ich lege das Buch auf das Bett.
I place the book on the bed.

As the book is being put down—a clear sign of movement—we need the accusative case.

Das Buch liegt auf dem Bett.
The book is lying on the bed.

Here the book is lying still on the bed, so we need the dative.

Useful Online Resources to Help with Directions in German!

Now that we’ve gone over the basic grammar and vocab you need to talk about directions, it’s time to start practicing.

One of the best ways to practice your German directions is to get out and about on the streets. However, not all of us will be heading over to Germany anytime soon, so here are a few websites that will be really useful:

  • Google Maps…the German version: Set your Google Maps to German and plot out a route. You can then open up the details of the route and follow the directions given.
  • This is another example of a website that can calculate routes in German. There’s also extra information on places the roads pass, including restaurants, hotels and sightseeing locations.
  • has created this cute video, which goes through the basics of how to approach strangers in German and which questions you should be asking when directions are what you need.
  • BBC Languages has a really useful video that focuses on directions in German. You can see some of Munich’s sites while watching, too!
  • should be bookmarked by all language learners, whatever their level! Just look at all these worksheets related to German directions. They’ll help you test yourself so you can gauge what level you’re at.

So now you don’t have to be scared about ever being lost in a German-speaking country again. And hopefully you understand all the grammar and why you need to say things the way you need to say them.

You’re ready to successfully communicate with someone about directions and to ask how to get from A to B…

Hey, maybe you’ll even choose the locals over Google Maps!

And One More Thing...

Want to know the key to learning German effectively?

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