Five Cities That Are Great Bases for Exploring Germany by train

At face value having a holiday in any of the five cities that ShowMeTheJourney has singled out below, may seem a little bizarre, but few people would wonder why anyone would want to spend time exploring the likes of The Black Forest, the Rhine Gorge or Bavaria.

But what makes staying in these five cities so special is the ability to combine time amidst beautiful scenery, picture-postcard towns and fascinating museums in multiple locations.
The frequency of the trains and connections makes for easy days out and you can be spontaneous and react to the weather, or go where your mood wants to take you.

EXPLORING BY TRAIN FROM FROM FRANKFURT 
or from Cologne or from Munich or from Offenburg  or from Erfurt


People tend to go to Frankfurt for business rather pleasure, but the city’s location in the heart of Germany places it at the centre of a spider’s web of railway routes – hence its central station, Frankfurt (Main) hbf, being so enormous.
Holiday in Frankfurt and take day trips by train
So if you opt to stay somewhere with easy access to Frankfurt (Main) hbf, you’ll then have easy access to a choice of destinations, which make for a fabulous day trips by train.
And thanks to the cross-city local S-Bahn trains, multiple locations in central Frankfurt also  have easy and quick links to the main station.


Regional-Express (RE) trains, that depart from Frankfurt (Main) hbf at least hourly, provide direct links between the city and many of Germany’s most picturesque towns including Aschaffenburg, Darmstadt, Heidelberg, Marburg and Worms.
And by taking those trains, the tickets won’t be any more expensive if you book them last minute at the station, just before hopping on board.
Or if you use a Lander Ticket for Hessen, you can visit Aschaffenburg and Darmstadt on the same day.

Experience the stunning Rhine Gorge from Frankfurt
The Rhine Gorge by train is an easy day trip from Frankfurt

Being based in Frankfurt (Main) is a particularly good choice if you want to see some of those towns and ALSO spend another day of a holiday experiencing the stunning Rhine Gorge.

Direct Regio trains on line/route RE2 connect Frankfurt (Main) hbf hourly with Bingen (Rhein) where the station is a 10-15 min walk from the pier at which the K+D Rhine River Cruises can be boarded.
Or you can connect at Mainz Hbf into a local train to Bingen (Rhein) Stadt station, which is only a two min walk from the K+D Pier (the train on from Mainz will be heading to Koln-Dellbruck).


Or as an alternative to taking a cruise on the river, that train on from Mainz will travel beyond Bingen to call at two of the prettiest villages on the west bank of The Rhine River - St Goarhausen (St Goar) and Baccarach.
The railway is by the river bank, so the views of the gorge from the train are also fabulous.
The routing for a day trip to both of these villages is Frankfurt (Main) > Mainz > St Goar > Baccarach > Mainz > Frankfurt (Main) and all of those journeys can be taken by using
a Day Ticket (Quer-Duchs- Lands) ticket – which will be particularly good value if you will be travelling in a group.

Go by high speed train to other great cities
An ICE train has arrived in Frankfurt

If
you’re happy to travel longer distances then there are ICE trains which connect Frankfurt with the likes of Cologne, Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Wurzburg in two hours (ish) or less – though to save money on these journeys you’ll need to book ahead and commit to travelling by specific departures.

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EXPLORING BY TRAIN FROM KOLN/COLOGNE
 

Cologne’s main station,  Koln Hauptbahnhof is located closer to a city centre than virtually an yother station in Europe so it’s a super convenient location for exploring the best of north-west Germany by train.
Holiday in Cologne and take day trips by train
Regional (Regio) trains that depart at least hourly will take you from Cologne/Koln to numerous other must see destinations, including:
- Aachen
- Essen (for the Folkwang Museum)
- Wuppertal, the location of the fabulous suspended railway.
Take a ride on the Schwebebahn while on holiday in Cologne
These destinations (and more) can also be reached from Koln on slightly faster IC and ICE trains, but by taking the Regio trains, you can pay the same price when booking tickets last minute at the station, so there’ll be no need to save by booking in advance.


The Rhine Gorge by train from Cologne

A beautiful location that’s within easy reach of Koln/Cologne by a variety of train services is the stunning Rhine Gorge.
Daily IC trains, which usually depart from Koln Hbf at 09:17 and 11:17, call at with Bingen (Rhein) where the station is a 10-15 min walk from the pier at which the K+D Rhine River Cruises can be boarded for a ride back towards Koln.
Plus two of the prettiest villages on the west bank of The Rhine River -
St Goarhausen (St Goar) and Baccarach can be reached from Koln/Cologne on hourly direct Regio trains on route RB 26.
Take a train through the Rhine Valley when on holiday in Cologne
When heading south from Koln/Cologne on trains routed via Bonn, take a seat on the left for the spectacular river bank views, this may seem the wrong way round, but the trains on this route briefly head north on departure from Koln Hbf.


Explore Roman History by train from Cologne

Two other more distant destinations with easy rail links from Koln/Cologne are Trier and Xanten – the latter is home to the Roman Archaeological Park (change trains at Dusseldorf Hbf).

Or there is a choice of two routes when taking a train from Koln to the historic Roman
city of Trier, but travelling via Koblenz is not only faster, it also involves taking the beautiful route by the Moselle River.
A day trip by train from Cologne to Trier
Board the direct train which usually departs Koln Hbf at 09:21, head up to the upper deck, take a seat on the left and the views will be fabulous for virtually the entirety of the three hour journey.
The return direct train usually departs Trier at 16:35.

 

Or visit not one, but two railway museums

For railway fans, there are two must see museums that can be easily accessed from Koln by train.
Head to Bochum HBf and connect for the local S3 route in order to go to
the Bochum Eisenbahn Museum and / or visit the DB Museum in Koblenz which is an easy journey by train and local bus.

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EXPLORING BY TRAIN FROM MUNICH
 

If you will be happy to travel for 90 minutes each way in order to reach a fabulous destination, then München/Munich is a great location for exploring by train.

From the city’s main station, München Hbf, railways fan out in every direction across Bavaria, so by using a combination of a Bavarian Lander ticket and Regional (Regio) trains, which usually depart at least hourly, it’s possible to take multiple fabulous day trips at reasonable prices – particularly when two more people will be travelling together.
 

Easy access to other great cities

Another tick in the box for using München as a base for exploration is the variety of locations which can be easilly accesed on those straightforward train journeys.
Other fabulous cities that can be reached on Regio trains include
Augsburg, Regensburg and Nürnberg/Nuremberg – and for those with a fascination for railways, while in Nurnberg, a visit to the DB Museum is a must.
 

Head for Alpine destinations on trains from Munich
 

Big city day trips can be mixed with travelling to a multitude of locations amidst stunning scenery, because München is located just to the north of the Bavarian Alps.
As a result beautful
Berchtesgaden is an easy day trip, though a simple connection is required at Freilassing station.
Or head to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the main station is steps away from the terminus of the Zugspitzebahn rack railway, which ascends up to Zugspitzplatt, the highest station in Germany.

Travel to fairytale castles by train from.Munich.

Another very popular location set within an Alpine landscape is Neuschwanstein Castle, to reach it take the train to Füssen, and connect there for the short bus ride on routes/lines 73 or 78 to the ‘Hohenschwangau Neuschwanstein Castles, Schwangau’ stop.

Neuschwanstein is not the only fairy tale castle of King Ludwig II that can be experienced by taking a train from Munchen hbf, because his
Herrenchiemsee Palace can also be easily accessed by taking the train to Prien am Chiemsee and making the 10-15 min walk to the pier from where the boats head across the lake to the palace.
If you don’t want to see the palace then
Prien am Chiemsee is a charming lakeside resort town, particularly worth heading to on a sunny day.
 

A day or two in Austria by train from Munich
 

The trains calling at Prien am Chiemsee will be heading over the Austrian border on route to Salzburg as this stunning city can be accessed in less than two hours by train from München/Munich.
Though if you want to take the faster Railjet trains it will pay off to book ahead.

Innsbruck is another wonderful city in Austria which can be accessed in under two hours from München by train.

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EXPLORING BY TRAIN FROM OFFENBURG

Without wishing to offend the citizens of Offenburg, if the town wasn’t a railway junction, the suggestion to spend a holiday there would be a tad bizarre, but because it is a location where several railway lines meet, it is in fact an ideal base for exploring the beautiful Black Forest by train.
 

The primary railway route heading east from the Offenburg lives up to its name, of The Baden Black Forest Railway because it crosses the forest on route to Konstanz, on Lake Constance.
It is one of the most scenic railway routes in Germany, so it’s worth heading to the upper deck on the
Hourly Regional Express (RE) trains, and money saving Lander tickets are valid on these trains.
Exploring The Black Forest by train from Offenburg
The most popular tourist towns that The Baden Black Forest Railway passes through are Gengenbach, Hausach (location of The Black Forest Open Air Museum), Triberg (which has its famous waterfall) and Villingen.
At Biberach easy connections are available to The Harmersbach Valley Railway, the
Harmersbachtalbahn, and picturesque Zell am Harmersbach is the first station on from Biberach.

At Hausach station an easy connection is available to the The
Kinzig Valley Railway, which can take you to Freudenstadt, the location of Germany’s largest market square, the trains on this route also call at two other picture postcard villages, Wolfach and Schiltach.
This Kinzig Valley Railway also has hourly direct trains from Offenburg.


To The Three Lakes Railway

 

The Three Lakes Railway, the Dreiseenbahn takes its name from the three lakes that it passes; Titisee, Windgfällweiher and Schluchsee.
When you board the train at Titisee sit on the right (when facing the direction of travel) to see the views over these lakes.
During the journey they will be on left, but the train makes a 180 degree turn when it sets off on its journey.

 

Heading to Seebruggg, the location at the end of this line, on a day out from Offenburg initially involves taking a train from Offenburg to Freiburg (save money by avoiding the ICE trains).
Then from Freiburg take the train heading to Neustadt (Schwarz) and leave this train when it calls at Titisee, though typically you’ll have to wait in Titisee for around 30 mins to make the connection.

Feldberg-Bärental station is one stop from Titisee, it has bus connections to the car park at the base of the Feldberg, the highest mountain in Germany outside of the Alps.
 

On certain dates in the year steam trains operated by a heritage railway group  make trips back and forth along The Three Lakes line between Titisee and Seebrugg and the full length of The Höllentalbahn between Freiburg and Donaueschingen.

Day trips Through The Black Forest by train

The best of The Black Forest can be seen in two days by train from Offenburg, if you purchase a
Baden-Württemberg lander ticket(s) for each day of travel
All the journeys suggested below are by hourly Regional trains, on which the Lander tickets are valid.
Places in red are suggestions for locations in which to spend time between trains, the other stations are for changing trains only.
No individual journey takes more than 50 mins.

 

DAY ONE:

1. Offenburg to Triberg
2. Triberg to Donaueschingen
3. 
Donaueschingen to Neustadt (Schwarz)
4. Neustadt (Schwarz) to Titisee
5. 
Titisee to Seebrugg
6. Seebrugg to Titisee
7. Titisee to Freiburg
8. Freiburg to Offenburg
 

DAY TWO:

1. Offenburg to Rastatt
2. Rastatt to Gernsbach (by S-Bahn tram-train, Lander tickets valid)
3. Gernsbach to Freudenstadt Stadt (by S-Bahn tram-train, walk through the town centre to Freudenstadt Hbf)
4, Freudenstadt Hbf to Schiltach or Wolfach
5. Schiltach or Wolfach to Hausach (to visit the Open Air Museum at Vogtsbauernhof)
6. Hausach to Offenburg (option to break the journey at Gegenbach)
 

A ride on Germany’s longest cable car
Taking a ride on Germany's longest cable car by taking a train from Offenberg

Another easy day trip from Offenburg is to make the journey to the incredible Schauinslandbahn which can proudly claim to be Germany’s longest cable car ride.

The end-to-end journey from Offenburg involves:
(1) Taking a Regio train from to Freiburg – cheaper and  not much slower than taking the express ICE trains.
On arrival at Freiburg (Breisgau) hauptbahnhof, don’t head to the main exit, instead head up to the bridge across the station, which will be located beyond the rear of the train – the tram stops are up on the bridge.
(2) From Freiburg (Breisgau) Hbf take tram line 3 (direction Vauban) or Tram line 5 (direction Rieselfeld) to the Johanneskirche stop.
(3) Connect there to tram line 21 (direction Gunterstal) and take this tram to the terminus at Gunterstal.
(4) At the Gunterstal tram stop you can transfer to bus line 21 (direction Horben). Bus line 21 stops at the funicular base station – ‘Schauinslandbahn Talstation)

This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, all the connections run fairly frequently.

 

To France and /or Switzerland

An understatement is that Freiburg eclipses Offenburg in terms of being a popular holiday location, but not only does the main rail route through the Black Forest commence in Offenburg, its railway station also offers frequent local trains to Strasbourg, so one of the most fabulous cities in France can be reached in under 45 minutes from Offenburg.

A day out in Strasbourg by train from Offenburg
OR there are hourly Regio trains from Offenburg to Basel Bahnhof station, so a day out in the Swiss city is also within easy reach.

Though if your top 4 choice of days out by train in the area would be:
- a trip on the Three Lakes Railway;
- a ride on the Schauinslandbahn cable car;
- visiting Basel (or travelling further on into Switzerland);
- a day out to Strasbourg (with a change of train);
then Freiburg wins out over Offenburg as a holiday location.

To and from Offenburg by train

 

Two ICE routes call at Offenburg;
the (Amsterdam – Utrecht) - Koln – Frankfurt Airport – Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Basel route
and the Berlin – Kassel – Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Basel – Bern – Interlaken route.

A daily EC train connects Offenburg to Koblenz, enabling an exploration of the Black Forest to be easily combined with experiencing the Rhine Gorge.
The same EC train provides an additional connection to and from Interlaken, so a Black Forest and central Switzerland combination, also makes for an easy rail based holiday.

Thanks to the easy connections in Strasbourg to/from the local trains, Offenburg is also a straightforward journey from Paris
.

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EXPLORING BY TRAIN FROM ERFURT
 

A holiday in Erfurt! Why?
Well for rail fans Erfurt is pretty much the ideal destination, because if taking a high speed ICE train to visit a railway attraction is your idea of perfect day out, then the city is a wonderful base location.

Erfurt is also pretty much an ideal spot for those with an interest in seeing beautiful cities, iconic 20th century architecture and social history, so as SMTJ has all those things, plus steam railways, on our list of interests, Erfurt had to be included in this guide!
 

Erfurt itself is something of a hidden gem when considering lists of Germany’s most beautiful cities, but what put it on the rail travel map in 2017 was the opening of the Erfurt-Nuremberg high speed railway, because as a consequence the city’s fabulous, reconstructed station became a key hub on the German rail network.
Making Erfurt an ideal base location for exploring by train.

It now takes less than an hour to travel from Erfurt to beautiful Bamberg by ICE, but steam train fans can connect in Bamberg for a train on to Neuenmarkt-Wisberg, because across the street from its station is the location of Germany’s national steam railway museum!

Also under an hour from Erfurt on an ICE train is magnificent Leipzig and from its fabulous main station it’s possible to take trains on to:
- the Doellnitzbahn steam railway, thanks to an easy connection at Oschatz station;
- the city of Dessau, the home of the Bauhaus design movement for art and architecture enthusiasts (connections for Dessau are also available at Lutherstadt-Wittenburg).
Leipzig is an easy day trip by train from Erfurt
A 1hr 20min journey by Germany’s fastest train will take you from Erfurt to fabulous Nurnberg, the city offers much to see and do, but for rail fans its main attraction is Germany’s national rail museum, which is right by the city’s main station.
The DB Museum also has a secondary location in the city of Halle and this happens to be at the end of the high speed line which travels north from Erfurt.

 

That high speed line has brought the beautiful city of Dresden to within a two hour train ride from Erfurt.
Public transport fans should take tram line/route 6 from Dresden-Neustadt station to its Schillerplatz stop and then walk across the charming bridge to Kornerplatz, because from there it’s possible to take a ride on, not one, but two fabulous railways!
For steam railway fans, a short hop by local trains from Dresden on line S1 to Radebeul Ost station enables an easy connection to the fabulous Lobnitzgrundbahn.


So for those with a passion for railways Erfurt offers easy access to three railway museums and two steam railways in eastern Saxony, but the icing on the cake for rail fans is that Erfurt also has direct trains to Nordhasuen, where an easy connection is available to the starting point of the fabulous Harz Mountain Railway.

For those for whom railway attractions have limited appeal, but visiting beautiful cities is on the must do list, what will be of interest are the string of fabulous locations, strung like jewels along the original main railway line which passes through Erfurt.
A train ride east of less than 15 minutes will transport you to fascinating Weimar, while brief trips by Regio trains heading west link Erfurt to both Gotha and Eisenach, so both of those beautiful cities can easily be combined on one day trip.

 

To and from Erfurt by train

No less than six ICE train routes now converge on Erfurt providing direct connections with multiple cities that have both international rail links and easy access by train to and from airports.
Every two hours Erfurt is also connected by ICE train to the station at Frankfurt Airport, with a journey time of around 2hr 40 mins.

Trains on these ICE routes call at Erfurt:
(1) Munich/Munchen – Nurnberg – Erfurt – Halle – Berlin (Sprinter service)
(2) Frankfurt (Main) – Erfurt – Halle – Berlin (Sprinter service)
(3) Weisbaden – Mainz (connect for Koblenz and Bingen) – Frankfurt Flughafen – Frankfurt (Main) – Erfurt – Leipzig – Dresden
(4) Wien/Vienna - Linz - Passau - Regensburg - Nurnberg - Erfurt - Leipzig - Berlin (daily service)
(5) Munich/Munchen – (Augsburg) - Nurnberg – Bamberg - Erfurt – Leipzig - Halle – Berlin – Hamburg
(6) (Munich/Munchen) – Augsburg – Ulm – Stuttgart – Mannheim (connect for Heidelberg) – Frankfurt (Main) - Erfurt – Leipzig - Halle – Berlin

As a consequence making epic day trips by train from Erfurt to Berlin and/or Munich is also easily done!


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The 22 locations that are great bases for taking day trips by train:

Basel   l   Bellinzona   l   Bologna

Cologne
   
l   Erfurt   l   Frankfurt

Gent
   l   Glasgow   l   Innsbruck

Leeds  
l   Machynlleth   l   Manchester

Marseille
   l   Milan   l   Munich

Olten
   l   Offenburg   l   Penzance

Reading
   l   Rotterdam   l   Stirling

Vicenza


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This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make.

As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.