Travelling by train in Germany


General information


Welcome to our guide how to save money, time and confusion when travelling in Germany by train.

Click the links below for instant access for the info you need.

Or take time out to discover all you need to know about making your German train travel experience as fabulous as possible!

THE TRAINS      l           THE STATIONS   


THE TICKETS
      l         USEFUL LINKS

Travelling by train in Germany can be an incredible experience.

It can boast some of the fastest and most fabulous trains in Europe, has impressive and efficiently mananged stations and offers a multitude of spectacular journeys.

The Top Five Things Worth Knowing about travelling by train in Germany:

1
. DB (Deutsche Bahn) is the German national rail operator, but it doesn't manage all of the train services in the country.

Regional (Regio) services in particular can be operated by other companies, but train tickets for these services are interchangeable.

Meaning that if you book a ticket at a station valid for a Regio train, then it can be used on any 'Regio' train to your destination, no matter which company is providing the service.

2. The cheapest type of discounted tickets for journeys by the express, ICE and IC services, are the 'Super Sparpreis' tickets.

They can be booked from 6 months ahead of your travel date - the further ahead you can book, the cheaper the prices will be.

3. If you book 1st class tickets for journeys by IC or ICE trains, seat reservations are complimentary, so are included with your booking.

However, they are an optional extra when booking 2nd class tickets 

Seat reservations are not available on Regio trains.

4. If you will be buying tickets at the last minute, looking up the train times on the DB website, before you set off for the station can be a good idea.

On most ICE routes the trains depart no more than hourly - and this also applies to some IC routes, and on most Regio routes too.

Though between some destinations the direct trains only depart every other hour - and some very long distance IC services only operate once per day.

5. Tickets whether booked online or at a station are restricted to whatever type of train SERVICE you have opted to travel by.

Meaning that if you have opted to travel by a Regio train service, you can't then decide to board an ICE or IC service instead.

Six Things that are good to know about German train services:

1. German train services are placed into these four categories:

(1) ICE services = express trains that spend some of their end-to-end journeys travelling on a high speed line.


ICE trains travel on high speed lines for most of the journey between these cities:

- Berlin and Hannover
- Hannover/Wolfsburg and Frankfurt (Main)/Wurzburg
- Leipzig/Halle and Erfurt
- Erfurt and Nurnberg*
- Nurnberg and Munchen/Munich
- Koln/Cologne and Frankfurt Flughafen/Airport*
- Mannheim and Stuttgart
- Karlsruhe and Offenburg

*Trains regularly travel at more than 285 km/h on these lines, but up to 270 km/h is the more usual speed on the other lines.

Note that there are no high speed lines between these cities:

- Koln/Cologne and Hamburg
- Koln/Cologne and Hannover
- Hamburg and Hannover
- Hamburg and Berlin
- Stuttgart and Munchen/Munich

but ICE trains still operate on those routes.

(2) IC services = more conventional express trains which are mainly used on long cross country routes, which don't involve travelling on the high speed lines.

Though IC trains can use the high speed lines for comparatively short sections of their journeys.

When there are no high speed lines between cities, the IC services share the route with ICE services.

(3) Regio services = A broad swathe of services come into the Regio trains category, but they can be summarised as providing these three types of service:

(i) Longer distance 'commuter' routes from/and to major cities including Berlin, Koln, Hamburg and Munchen.

Regio services often share these routes with IC and ICE trains and when they do so, they can be a cheaper, but slightly slower alternative, to taking those express trains.

(ii) The local and branch line services outside the major cities.

(iii) Journeys of up to three hours which link smaller towns to regional capitals.

On these routes some Regio services can be faster than others because they skip more stations.

So check the timetables (the yellow Abfarht sheets at stations) before boarding Regio trains - taking the next train to depart MAY not be the quickest option.

(4) S-Bahn services = local trains in urban areas of Germany.

Similar to the RER trains in Paris and Thameslink trains in London -  in Berlin, Frankfurt(Main), Hamburg and Munich/Munchen - the S-Bahn trains travel across the city centre, providing faster alternatives to the Metro.

2. International EuroCity (EC) services provided by other national rail operators are slotted into the regular German train timetables.

If you will be taking a train journey between Berlin and either Dresden or Hamburg, you could be travelling on a Czech or Hungarian train.

Or if you make a journey between north-west Germany and south-west Germany, you could find yourself boarding a Swiss train.

And these are just some examples of when this can occur.

3. The type of train service you will be travelling by is only a broad indicator of the type of on-board experience you will have.

Five different types of ICE trains are used on those services and there are broadly two different types of train used for the IC services - one of which is the new double deck Intercity2 trains.

A multitude of trains are used for the Regio services, though double-decked trains are more common on the longer distance routes.

4. If you book 1st class tickets for journeys by IC or ICE trains, seat reservations are complimentary, so are included with your booking.

However, when booking 2nd class tickets they are an optional extra and cost €4.50 - but if you don't add a reservation to your booking, seats may not be available for your entire journey,

So if  you will be using a rail pass on trains within Germany, seat reservations are optional in both 1st AND 2nd class on IC and ICE trains  - but the availability of seats isn't guaranteed if you haven't reserved

Seat reservations are not available on Regio trains.

5. 'Quiet' and 'Phone' seating areas/zones are available on all ICE trains and on most IC services

You can choose whether you wish to travel in these zones when booking 1st class tickets, or making a reservation for 2nd class.

6. Some form of on board catering will be available on all ICE and IC services and on the EC trains within Germany - but not on Regio services:

In summary:

Restaurant cars = some ICE trains and the EC trains,
Bar/bistro counter = all ICE trains, all EC trains, some IC trains
Trolley services of refreshments = some IC trains (the ones which don't have bar/bistro counters.
On demand at seat service in 1st class = all ICE trains

A more detailed overview is available on our GUIDE to using German trains.

OR for more info on a specific train click the orange 'Trains' button below.

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Using German Stations - Six Things that are good to know:


1. The main stations in Germany cities are named ‘Hauptbahnhofs’ and this is universal across the country.

The names of locations and people etc are not used for the names of hauptbahnhofs.

'Hauptbahnhof' is usually shortened to 'hbf' on timetables, departure screens and the DB website

2. In some cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Munchen/Munich, long distance trains can call at other stations in the city, before they arrive at the hauptbahnhof/hbf.

So avoid seeing the name of the city on the signage at a station and assuming you've arrived in the city centre.

In German cities anything but 'hbf' in a station name indicates that the station is NOT the main, city centre station.

3. All hauptbahnhofs house Reisezentrum (travel desks) at which tickets and reservations on most European international trains can be arranged - without paying booking fees.

Train services that can be booked at a Reisezentrum desks include trains that DON'T travel to/from Germany.

Reisezentrums can be a great resource if you're following a Eurail or InterRail pass itinerary.

You can avoid the booking fees payable on the Eurail and InterRail online reservation services - AND the booking fees payable when arranging reservations at stations in Belgium, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

4. You won't go hungry at a hauptbahnhof.

The largest German stations usually house 'food courts' with multiple dining options - though 'fine dining' restaurants are less common.

Numerous take-away outlets will sell food that is of better quality than you will find on any train.

5.  All hauptbahnhofs have coin operated left luggage lockers, which can be accessed during the stations opening hours

When depositing bags you must pay for an initial 24 hours - even if you will be only depositing a bag for a couple of hours.

Then on collection you pay the balance - the charge will rise per day, but keep in mind that you may have pay in excess of 20 euros in coins, you can't use cards or notes.

Change machines for converting notes into coins can be available, though in our experience they tend to be unreliable.

What we do is to collect coins during a trip and put them wherever we have stashed the key, which will open the locker.

6. The German word for platform/track is 'gleis'.

At non terminal stations the gleis will be divided into zones.

There will be information on the gleis showing in which zones each coach on the trains using that gleis will be located.

So if you have a reserved seat, or want to travel in a specific part of the train, then you can wait in the corresponding zone.

You can usually only find out the specific zone info when you are on the platform/track/gleis.

TRAINS FROM BERLIN   


TRAINS FROM HAMBURG


TRAINS FROM FRANKFURT   


TRAINS FROM KOLN


TRAINS FROM MUNCHEN


More information, including how to find your train, is available on our Using Stations in Germany GUIDE.

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German Train Tickets for journeys WITHIN Germany - 10 things that are good to know:

1. Tickets for journeys by S-Bahn and nearly all Regio trains aren't discounted so they cost the same if you buy them last minute at the station.

2. Because they're not generally discounted, tickets for the majority of journeys by Regio trains also cannot be booked online.

3. When you book tickets at a station it will be train service specific.

Because tickets for journeys by Regio trains are cheaper, they can't be used to travel on an IC or ICE train.

So once you have booked tickets for a journey by Regio train, you can't then just hop on any next train to your destination - you can only take a Regio train.

4. Limited numbers of discounted tickets will be available for journeys by IC, ICE and international express trains.

So you can save if you book tickets online for journeys by these express trains, in comparison to the price you would pay if you booked last minute at the station.

5. You can now book online on DB Bahn for journeys within Germany by IC or ICE trains up to 6 months ahead of your travel date.

6. On the majority of ICE and IC journeys within Germany the cheapest 'Super Sparpreis'  ticket price is now €19.90 AND on the shorter international routes the cheapest international ‘EuropaSparpreis’ tickets are also €19.90.

Whether this price will be available when you book depends on how quickly the €19.90 fares sell out.

On many routes these €19.90 fares can be hard to find if you're not booking at least 3 months ahead.

7. Super Sparpreis and Sparpreis tickets are train specific, you must travel on the train you have selected - and this applies if you haven’t reserved.

8. The availability of the cheapest tickets is limited, the further ahead you book, the more likely it is that they will still be available.

They will sell out fastest on the most popular departures, so trains leaving at different times on the same day can have different ticket prices.

Therefore if you can be flexible re: your departure times then it’s usually worthwhile searching through ‘earlier/later’ departures to find the cheapest fares – or use the ‘Saver Fare’ facility on the DB website.

You might save more than €40 by taking trains that are departing earlier or later in the day.

9. Often making a change of train can save money in comparison to taking the direct ICE trains

The connections are usually designed to make the changing of trains as simple as possible.


On many routes taken by ICE trains, the timetable is set up so that in one hour there will be a direct ICE train between cities.

Then in the alternate hours, a 5 – 10 min connection between ICE trains is required to complete a journey.

However IC and ICE trains AREN'T exceptionally punctual, so allowing a minimum of 30mins to make a connection between long distance trains can be the best option.

10. If your journey involves making a connection between two trains at a Hauptbahnhof - and you miss the connection due to a late arrival of a train - tickets and reservations can be re-arranged for a subsequent train free of charge at a Reisezentrum.

More detailed information is available by clicking the clickng the green 'Tickets & Passes' button below.

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Taking trains from and to Germany: -

A list of routes taken by trains from and to Germany is available HERE.

Two other things that are good to know about buying tickets and making reservations on these international trains.

1. Making reservations is OPTIONAL on some international train services/routes, including:

(i) ICE trains to/from Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands and Switzerland.

(ii) EC trains to/from Denmark (outside summer months), Hungary, Switzerland and The Czech Republic.

(iii) IC trains to/from The Netherlands and Switzerland

(iv) Railjet trains to/from Austria and Hungary

However, reservations are automatically included when booking 1st class tickets.

2. However in contrast reservations ARE compulsory on -
 

(i) DB-SNCF trains to/from France

(ii) EC trains to/from Croatia, Denmark (summer only), Italy, Poland and Slovenia,

(iii) All overnight trains from/to Germany.

These compulsory international train reservations are automatically INCLUDED when booking 1st AND 2nd class tickets online or at stations

However, rail pass users have to book reservations before boarding these trains.

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