The German rail system (Deutsche Bahn) is one of the best in Europe. Germany’s transportation infrastructure is incredibly extensive, with stations in almost every city and buses or subways to connect to smaller towns. In fact, many Germans do not own a car and use public transportation instead.
Trains are fast, efficient, comfortable and frequent. And like everything German…very punctual! Seriously, I was studying in Freiburg during an especially cold winter and trains were late because the doors were frozen shut. Only a few were de-iced for passengers. It was hysterical watching the Germans constantly checking their watches and complaining about the late trains! Honestly, having grown up there I was a bit annoyed myself. Can’t take the German out of this girl!
Be aware that current COVID regulations do require face masks while traveling by train in Germany, of course this could change at any time.
Types of Trains
Depending on where you are traveling, there are many types of trains to choose from. For faster, long distance travel between larger cities choose:
- IC (InterCity)
- ICE (InterCity Express)
- ICE Sprinter (fastest train, with service from Munich to Berlin in under 4 hours!
- EC (EuroCity) for trains between other cities in Europe.
However, to reach smaller towns, and the hinterlands, you will need to make some connections with these trains, most make many stops and take longer:
- IRE (Interreggio-Express)
- RB (Regionalbahn)
- RE (Regional-Express)
Depending on your budget, choose either 1st or 2nd class on high speed long distance trains. All seats have reclining seats, power sockets, a tray table, free wifi, quiet zones, and mobile phone zones. I always choose a quiet zone, I’m not interested in listening to someone’s phone conversation thank you very much.
Also, long distance trains have restaurants and bistros. Both classes offer a section of 4 seats facing each other with a table, great if you are traveling with family or friends and having a picnic! Luggage racks are available above the seats and larger luggage storage is available at both ends of each car.
1st class seats are larger, more comfortable, and have more leg room. Each row has three seats, as opposed to 4 seats to a row in 2nd class. You can book your preferred seat when you purchase your ticket. You also get a free newspaper (in German), food and beverage service at your seat, better and unlimited data wifi, and the aisles are wider with more luggage space. Another benefit to 1st class is access to the DB lounges in some of the larger train stations.
Book in Advance
Probably the best advice I can offer is to book in advance if possible, it can save you tons of money!
For fabulous discounts on fast trains, tickets can be purchased up to six months in advance. The closer to your departure date, the higher the price. And FYI, the same is true for train travel in most countries in Europe! So plan ahead.
Regional train tickets can be purchased at the station, using the DB navigator app, or online to avoid the long lines at ticket counters and machines.
Where to Buy Tickets
There are several websites to purchase tickets. I always use the Deutsche Bahn directly.
- www.Bahn.de is the official Deutsche Bahn website and is very easy to navigate.. Choose your language preference on top. You can get tons of information, research routes, and purchase tickets. To buy tickets you will need a credit card and will have the option to obtain an E-Ticket. Traveling to or from Germany to another country in Europe? No problem, you can buy your tickets on this website as well.
- Download the DBNavigator App available for iPhone and Android. You can look up routes, purchase tickets and have all your tickets with QR code in the app!
- RailEurope is the website of the official US distributor of German and European train tickets. It’s easy and hassle free, and E-Tickets are often offered as well. However, because there is a booking fee the prices are usually higher than purchasing tickets directly through the Deutsche Bahn website. So do some research first.
Getting Your Tickets
There are several ways to get your tickets once you purchase them online.
- Electronic Ticket (E-Ticket): Very easy and the most common. All tickets have a QR code which the conductor scans.
- Digital Ticket: You can download a PDF of your ticket and save it to your phone, tablet, or laptop, take a photo of it on your phone, or print it. I usually print it out as a backup.
- DB Navigator App: Have the E-Ticket loaded to the app on your smartphone! This is so convenient and what I use.
- Print at the station: You will be given a code to enter into the ticket machine at the station to print your ticket. The self service machines are available in English. Or, go to the customer service center and they can print a ticket.
- Snail Mail: You can also have your ticket mailed to you, but that takes forever and I don’t trust the USPS!
Types of Tickets
There are various types of tickets and fares available for trains in Germany, and it can get confusing. If you purchase them on Bahn.de, or the DB Navigator app, you will be offered all types of fares, especially if you book in advance.
Certain fares include a City Ticket. The City Ticket is available in 126 cities for use on public transportation (subway & buses) upon departure and arrival, if you are traveling more than 100 kilometers. It is a great way to get to and from your hotel to the train station!
The image above displays advance fares for a 2nd class ticket from Munich to Berlin using the bahn.de website. I entered a date six months in advance to show the best rates per person.
- Super Sparpreis (Super Saver Fare): The best deal starting at € 19.90! It does not include a City-Ticket, no cancellations or refunds, and no lounge access (even for 1st class). Tickets are valid on local RE, RB and S train connections as well. The ticket is train specific, for travel on the reserved ticket only.
- Sparpreis (Saver Fare): Starting at € 29.90, this fare is a great deal. It includes a City Ticket and can be used on any train including RB, RE, and S. It is train specific to the booked trains. Refunds and cancellations are permitted before the day of travel for a fee of € 10.
- Flexpreis (Flexible Fare): This is the most expensive fare at € 153. It is the most flexible, not train specific so you can travel on any train to your destination, and no cancellation fee if cancelled before the day of validity. Refunds are also possible in the form of a voucher. It also includes a City Ticket.
As you can see in the image above, the Super Saver and Saver prices for the same train and date in 1st class are only € 10 more! So go ahead and treat yourself to 1st class…you deserve it!
Other Types of Tickets
Additionally, if you are traveling in a group of six or more people, there is a Group Saver fare from € 19.90 per person. Included are seat reservations and cancellation is possible before the day of validity.
Länder Tickets are tickets valid in specific states of Germany, for example the Bavaria Ticket. If you are only traveling within a state these offer some fabulous discounts.
Finally, two people traveling together can save with the German Rail Twin Pass. Offered in both 1st and 2nd class, the second ticket will be at a 50% discount. However, the pass is issued on both names, so you must travel together.
Eurail Pass or Not?
If you are 28 or younger and plan to do a lot of train travel, the Eurail Pass is a great way to go. Just be sure to plan ahead and check the prices on bahn.de before buying a Eurail pass. Purchasing your tickets individually may be a better deal.
Unfortunately, travelers over 28 are required to purchase a 1st class Eurail Pass. Most of the time, it is much cheaper to book your tickets individually instead.
Tips for Train Travel
- Go to the correct train station! Some cities have more than one, so be sure you know which one you are departing from.
- Be sure to arrive at the station at least 20 minutes early and check the departures board to find the platform (Gleis) your train will depart from. Allow more time if you need to print or purchase tickets. Don’t worry if your train is not listed on the board, they usually don’t post too far in advance. Keep checking the board though, because occasionally platforms will change!
- Check the map of the train at the platform for which car to board (train cars have numbers) if you have a seat reservation. If you don’t have a seat reservation, just hop on in the correct class of travel as your fare and find a vacant seat. Reserved seats have a card in the slot above it.
- Store your smaller bags in the luggage rack above you seat or underneath the seat. Large luggage can be stowed in the luggage storage area at both ends of each car. I always lock mine and keep an eye on it by getting a seat facing the storage compartment.
- Pack a picnic and some wine, or at the very least some snacks and water. Food and drinks are available for purchase at stations, and there is usually a bistro or restaurant onboard.
- The conductor will come around at some point to check your ticket.
- Sit back, relax and enjoy the passing countryside.
- If your travel requires a connection in another city, know when to get off. Once you depart, check the board for the correct platform of your connecting train and head straight there. You will have enough time, but don’t dilly dally around! If you’re lucky it’s just across the platform.
I hope this guide helps you plan your train adventure in Germany! For some fun things to see in Germany check out Ultimate Munich Food Shopping Experience and Fairytale Bavarian Castles. Comment or leave a question below.