Travelling by train in Germany


General information


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

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

THE TRAINS   THE STATIONS   THE TICKETS

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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 managed stationsand offers a multitude of spectacular journeys.

Taking A Train in Germany - Seven Things that are good to know:

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

Regional services in particular can be operated by other companies, but train tickets are interchangeable.

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

2. German train services are placed in these categories:

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


(ii) IC trains = more conventional express trains which either avoid the high speed lines completely, or travel on them for comparatively short distances.

(iii) Regio trains = local trains outside the major cities AND longer distance regional trains which link towns and cities.

The longer distance Regio trains can take routes not followed by the express trains, or call at more stations than the express trains - on routes which they share.

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

3. 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.

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

Seat reservations are not available on Regio trains

4. When buying tickets at a station confirm which train you will be travelling by.

Tickets for journeys by Regio trains are cheaper, so 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.

5. There are now five different types of ICE train operating services within Germany and two different types of IC train - including the new double deck Intercity2 trains.

6. Seat reservations are included for journeys by  IC or ICE trains IF you book 1st class tickets.

However, they are optional when booking 2nd class tickets - so seats may not be available for the entire journey if you don't add a reservation to your booking.

If you will be using a rail pass on trains WITHIN Germany reservations are optional in both 1st AND 2nd class on IC and ICE trains  - seats aren't guaranteed if you haven't reserved.

7. Check the timetables (the yellow Abfarht sheets at stations) before boarding Regio trains.

Some Regio trains are faster than others, so taking the next train to leave MAY not be the quickest option.

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 - Five 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, 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.

A notable exception is that Reisezentrums don't sell tickets or reservations for Thalys train services.

Reisezentrums can be a great resource if you're following a Eurail or InterRail 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 option - 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. 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 reserve 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
. Book tickets last minute at the station and you won't pay any more for local journeys and any journey by a Regio train.

2. Book tickets at a station and it will be train service specific.

For example if you book a tickets that is valid for travel by Regio trains, you can't then use it to travel on an ICE or IC train service.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. On the majority of ICE and IC journeys within Germany the cheapest 'Sparpreis/Savings' ticket price is now €19.90 AND on the shorter international routes the cheapest international ‘Sparpreis’ 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.

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

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

8. 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 - Two things that are good to know:

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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