Using Rail Passes in and to/from Germany

Using rail passes in Germany
Welcome to our guide to using InterRail and Eurail Passes which are valid for train travel in Germany.

Having used rail passes to travel more than 3500 of kilometres around Germany by train in the past two years, we've anticipated the questions you are most likely to have - we hope.

So either click on a question to jump straight to the info you need, or spend 10 mins (ish) reading all of our insights.

They should save you save you time, money and confusion!

Can I hop on any train operated by DB in Germany with a rail pass?

What if I DO want to reserve a seat (s) for a German train - and how much do they cost?

How do I book reservations using a ticket machine?

Anything in particular to be aware of if I want to avoid making reservations on trains in Germany?

Which INTERNATIONAL train services from and to Germany DON'T require reservations?

What if I do want to reserve a seat (s) on an INTERNATIONAL train when it's optional?

What international train services from/to Germany DO have compulsory reservations?

What are the reservation fees for these trains with compulsory reservations?

How can these reservations be booked?


USING RAIL PASSES FOR JOURNEYS WITHIN GERMANY:

The 'rules' for how rail passes can be used and booked on the international trains FROM/TO Germany can be different - hence the info dedicated for international trains further down the page.

Can I hop on any train in Germany operated by DB with a rail pass?

The short answer to this question is 'yes'!

Eurail and InterRail passes can be used for virtually any train journey within Germany operated by DB (Deutsche Bahn) - the national rail operator in Germany.

This is includes the full spectrum of DB services, from the high speed ICE trains to the local S-Bahn trains including the IC trains and the Regio trains.
Using rail passes on German trains
You don't HAVE to reserve before boarding any German train, though on busy trains spare seats AREN'T guaranteed.

So when travelling within Germany by EC, IC and ICE trains be wary of assuming seats will be available - all seats can be reserved including in 1st class.

The fact that seats reservations are now automatically included when booking 1st class tickets has resulted in spare seats in 1st class becoming harder to find if you board an EC, IC or ICE train with a 1st class rail pass - and haven' opted to reserve.

How likely are seats to be unavailable? Well on our 18 most recent journeys by ICE and IC trains with a 1st class pass, no seats were available twice - and 2nd class will always be busier.

On three other journeys we had to move seats because they had been reserved for later stages of our journey, but when we boarded they were the only seats available.

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What if I DO want to reserve a seat (s) - and how much do they cost?

Seats cannot  be reserved on MOST Regio trains - the exceptions are the Regio services in Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein and reservations for Regio trains in these regions can be booked at stations.

The price per reservation on IC and ICE trains is €5.90 1st class; €4.50 2nd class - if your journey involves more than one train the fee will be charged per end-to-end journey, so you won't be charged extra if your journey involves a change of train.

You can either book seat reservations online before you arrive in Germany, or book them at a station in Germany using a Reisezentrum travel desk or a ticket machine

Online - You can purchase seat reservations on the DB (German national railways) booking website here up to 6 months ahead of the travel date

At the station - You won't be charged a booking fee if you use a Reisezentrum travel desk

On balance booking reservations at the station is a better option - you can avoid being tied to specific trains before your travel dates.

In the fairly unlikely event of seats being unavailable on your first choice of train, alternative options will always be available.

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How do I book reservations using a ticket machine?

If you're at a station that doesn't have a Reisezentrum desk, or if the Reisezentrum desk is particularly busy, you can purchase rail pass reservations from DB ticket machines.

Though the steps you need to take aren't particularly obvious.

On some machines you will see this screen;

and if you do see this screen, then the steps to take are fairly obvious - click 'reserve seats without purchasing tickets' and the logical process is very similar to buying tickets.

However, on some ticket machines you will see this screen...

...and if you see this screen, click the 'offer categories'.

When you click the 'offer categories you will see...

...so click the 'Services and add-on tickets' button.

Do that and you will then see...

...click on the 'Reservations for day and night trains' and the process then becomes fairly logical.

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Anything in particular to be aware of if I want to avoid making reservations?

It can be worthwhile looking up a journey on the DB Bahn booking website, as though you were going to buy a ticket, because the journey option shows how busy a particular departure will be
How busy will an ICE train be
On this example the train to target would be the 12:30 departure and the train to avoid would be the 13:37 departure - three red passengers means a very busy train.

In general to avoid making particularly lengthy journeys on Friday and Sunday afternoons, especially in the summer - as that is when the express trains tend to be particularly busy.

Also avoid travelling on ICE trains away from major cities between 16:30 and 18:30.

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USING RAIL PASSES FOR JOURNEYS FROM AND TO GERMANY:

Which international train services from and to Germany DON'T require reservations?

You don't have to pay reservation fees on any train from/to Germany on which reservations aren't available - this includes the local and regional trains,

This also applies when reservations aren't COMPULSORY - which  includes these express trains from/to Germany:

(i) international ICE trains between Germany and Austria, Belgium*, The Netherlands and Switzerland.
Using rail passes on ICE trains
(ii) on the EC (EuroCity) trains between Germany and Austria and Czech Republic/Hungary and Switzerland (and between Germany and Denmark, but not between mid May and mid September

(iii) on the Railjets between Germany and Austria/Hungary

(iv) international IC trains between Germany and Austria, The Netherlands and Switzerland

*rail pass users should target the ICE trains and avoid the Thalys trains when travelling between Germany and Belgium.

But the advice is the same as for long distance train journeys within Germany - the availability of seats isn't guaranteed on these trains.

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What if I do want to reserve a seat (s) on an INTERNATIONAL train when it's optional?

The price per reservation on all of the train services when it is optional (all of the international services listed above) is  €5.90 1st class; €4.50 2nd class .

If your journey involves more than train within and/or to/from Germany you will only be charged once.

You can book seat reservations online before you arrive in Germany, on the DB (German national railways) booking website here up to 6 months ahead of the travel date

Or book them at a station in Germany using a Reisezentrum travel desk - you won't be charged a booking fee.

We particularly recommend booking reservations for journeys that involve a making a connection between trains OUTSIDE of Germany at Reisezentrum travel desk - only reservations for trains within, and from/to Germany can be booked online on DB.

Paying these optional reservations fees will ensure a stress-free journey.

In our experience we particularly recommend reservations for 2nd class pass users, if you DON'T want to take the first and last trains of the day on THESE routes (especially between June and September).

(i) Berlin Praha/Prague/Prag

(i) Berlin Amsterdam

(iii) The ICE trains to/from The Netherlands.

(iv) The EC trains to/from Denmark (reservations are compulsory between September and May)

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What international train services from/to Germany DO have compulsory reservations?

Reservation fees have to be paid in advance of boarding, on trains that DO have compulsory reservation and this includes:

(i) DB-SNCF trains to/from France
 

(ii) EC trains to/from Croatia, Italy (see note below), Poland and Slovenia - (and the trains to/from Denmarkbut only between June 12th and Sept 4th).

(iii) Thalys trains (target the ICE trains for journeys between Germany and Belgium)
Using rail passes on trains from Germany
(iv) All overnight trains from/to Germany.

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What are the reservation fees for these trains with compulsory reservations?

Example reservation fees for DAYTIME trains:

(i) Paris Frankfurt/Stuttgart/Munich (DB – SNCF) = €30 1st; €13 2nd; Can be booked online on DB here up to 4 months ahead of the travel date

(ii) Brussels Cologne (Thalys) = €25* 1st; €15 2nd (no compulsory fess on the alternative ICE trains)

(iii) Paris Cologne (Thalys) = €35* 1st; €25 2nd  - can be booked on B-Europe here up to 4 months ahead of the travel date

(iv) Marseille Karlsruhe/Frankfurt (DB - SNCF) = €30 1st; €13 2nd; Can be booked online on DB here up to 4 months ahead of the travel date

(v) Warszawa ↔ Berlin (EC) = €4 1st and 2nd; Can be booked online on DB here up to 60 days ahead of the travel date

(vi) Munich ↔  Verona/Bologna/Venice (EC) = €13 1st; €9 2nd

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Example reservation fees for the OBB Nightjet trains between Germany and Austria/Switzerland:

Seat: =  €14

Berth in 6-bed couchette = €34
Beth in 4-bed couchette = €44

Bed in standard 3-bed sleeping cabin = €54
Bed in standard 2-bed sleeping cabin = €74
Bed in standard 1-bed sleeping cabin = €114

Bed in deluxe 3-bed sleeping cabin = €74*
Bed in deluxe 2-bed sleeping cabin = €94*
Bed in deluxe 1-bed sleeping cabin = €134*

*=1st class pass required for booking.

1st class pass holders can also pay the same fees as 2nd class pass holders, for the seats, couchettes and standard 2nd sleeping cabins.

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How can these reservations for the trains be booked?

Online (day trains only*):

The usual option is to book them online using the links above - though if your end-2-end journey involves making a connection between trains OUTSIDE of Germany the best option is to book these journeys at the station - at Reisezentrum travel desks.

The two main international daytime services, for which DB doesn't sell seat reservations online, are the Thalys trains, reservations for these trains can be booked on B-Europe AND the DB-SNCF services between Paris and Frankfurt (Main), Stuttgart and Munchen/Munich

Reservations for these trains are no longer sold online by DB, so  the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:

(i) Book at a station in France at a 'SNCF boutique'

(ii) Book at the Reisezentrum travel desks in Germany

(ii) Use the InterRail reservation service or the Eurail reservation service (though you will be charged a booking fee per reservation).

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Also avoid booking rail pass reservations for the EC trains to Italy online on DB-Bahn - the reservation fee for these trains online does NOT include the 'supplement' for journeys to/from Italy.

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*DB also  no longer sells rail pass reservations on the overnight sleeper trains from and to Germany online.

If you want to reserve a seat, a berth in a couchette, or a bed in a sleeping cabin on these trains before you arrive in Germany, the best option is to pay a booking fee and use the Eurail or InterRail reservation services.

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At the station:

You can book reservations for the majority of international day and night trains at a major German station - a hauptbahnhof.

All hauptbahnhofs house Reisezentrum travel desks and they are a fantastic resource for all rail pass uses.
 

They don’t charge booking fees for any rail pass reservation and they can arrange reservations on any train service within and to/from Germany – AND most trains that DON'T travel through Germany.
 

So if you will be travelling through Germany before travelling on to Eastern Europe, you’ll find it a generally easier process to book reservations for these trains in Germany.

(though booking reservations on Polish EIP trains in Poland is now a cheaper option).

If you’ll also be taking international trains from Switzerland on which reservations are compulsory, later on your itinerary, you can avoid the fairly expensive booking fees charged at stations in Switzerland.

If you'll be taking an EC train to Italy you should also use the Reisezentrum desks.

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OUR OTHER GUIDES FOR USING EURAIL & INTERRAIL PASSES;

Our introduction to using Eurail and InterRail Passes:

Which DAYTIME train services require reservations for rail pass users AND which don't:

How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in most European countries -  including on which trains you do and don't have to reserve:

What are the routes taken by international trains in Europe:

Our money saving tips for Eurail and InterRail Pass Holidays:

How to Get The Most of Using Rail Passes and Minimize The Stress:

Tips for PLANNING  your own journey around Europe - make your trip as easy as possible:

Fabulous Itineraries - Save the bother of working out which trains you need to take and where: