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Travel Info & Tips Travelling on German Trains
How to travel on German trains

Travelling on German Trains

Discover insights to what you can expect on board and how tickets can be used

| almost 2 years ago
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Welcome to our guide to German trains and the international trains to/from Germany.
It explains the differences between the types of train services, shows what trains operate on each route and gives an insight into how frequently the trains operate on the major routes.

Use the Content menu to jump to the info you want or need to know.
OR grab a coffee and discover all the most pertinent info that will help your German train travel experience to be as fabulous as possible!

ICE 3, single deck IC, Twindexx IC and Regio are included in this guide to German trains

On journeys within Germany:

We try not to be biased, but we're big fans of German trains, the ICE1 and ICE3 trains in particular are some of the most impressive trains on planet earth.

The types of train service:

Deutsche Bahn (DB) is the national rail company in Germany and the train SERVICES it operates include:

(1) ICE trains – all of which travel on a high speed line for at least part of a journey.
There are now five different types of ICE train which operate on different routes within Germany.

(2) IC trains – long distance express trains that tend to be slower than ICE trains because they rarely use the high speed lines.
New double deck 'Intercity2' trains have been introduced on some routes.
Intercity 2 trains are included in this guide to German trains

(3) S-Bahn are local commuter trains that operate within the major cities and also link some cities, but they stop at every station that they pass through.
In Berlin, Frankfurt (Main), Hamburg and Munchen/Munich some of the S-Bahn trains travel across those cities and link the main stations, the hauptbahnhofs, to the city centres.

(4) Regio trains – that are a mix of

  • long distance Regional Express (RE) trains, which can be an alternative to IC, ICE trains between closely spaced cities; when travelling between cities they are usually slower than IC or ICE trains, but faster than S-Bahn trains.
  • Trains that link smaller towns, some of these services can travel fairly long distances.
  • Local trains in rural areas.

Catering & Wi-fi on express trains:

All IC and ICE services have some form of on-board catering, but the specifics of what will be available depend on the specific type of train used on the departure that you will be travelling by.
Restaurant cars, which can be accessed by holders of First and Second class tickets, are only available on the ICE 1 and ICE 4 trains.

Bar/bistro services are available on all ICE trains and on some longer-distance IC services, but on the new Intercity2 trains a more limited selection of items is available from the catering trolley, which will be taken through the train.

On the ICE services, First Class ticket holders can order food/drink from the bar or restaurant menus (when available) and have it delivered to their seats, but no complimentary catering is provided.

Wi-fi is now available on virtually all ICE trains (and a few IC trains including the new double deck IC trains), the portal is free and comparatively easy to access.

Seat reservations:

Book a 1st class ticket(s) for a journey by ICE or IC train and your seat reservation is included in the ticket price, but if you book 2nd class tickets; seat reservations are optional, the price of reserving a 2nd class seat = €4* per seat.

*If your end-to-end journey involves more than one ICE or IC train, you will only pay for one reservation when booking tickets**, but your seats will be reserved on all trains.
(**But not if you subsequently opt to add a reservation(s) after booking your ticket).

In addition to ensuring that you can remain in one seat for your entire journey, there are two less obvious benefits of making a reservation on IC and ICE trains, whether you will be travelling 1st or 2nd class.
1: You can select from options for the location of your seat, which in addition to window or aisle seats, can include compartment seats and seats at tables.
2: You can usually choose specific seats on a seating plan, though what you won't be able to do is ensure your seat is facing forwards unless you will be travelling on ICE 1 or ICE 4 trains.

ICE and IC trains reverse direction when calling at Frankfurt (Main) hbf, Leipzig hbf, Munchen hbf and Stuttgart hbf
This also applies to the majority of long distance trains that call at Koln hbf so it doesn't particularly matter that choosing forward facing seats, isn't usually an option which can be selected.

Quiet zones:

Also If you book 1st class tickets or 1st/2nd class reservations on ICE trains you can choose in which 'zone' on the train that you wish to travel by.

A less obvious aspect of travelling by ICE trains is that there are two types of seating zones/areas in both 1st and 2nd class - 'Quiet' and 'Phone'
Travellers are not supposed to use their phones in 'Quiet' coaches/zones, the conductor or your fellow passengers will ask you not to do so.
While if you know that it's likely that you will be making multiple calls during your journey, DB is suggesting that you book tickets in the 'Phone' coach/zone.

If you have no preference re; the amount of noise your fellow passengers are likely to generate when using their phones, you can select 'any' when booking a seat reservation, or 1st class ticket.

However, if you haven't reserved you'll be less likely to be aware of these 'zones' when boarding a train and looking for seats, you may unwittingly find a seat available in a 'mobile' or 'quiet' coach, which wouldn't have been your preference.

The main IC routes:

IC trains and NOT ICE trains provide all or the majority of the express train services on these routes:
IC trains are included in this guide to German trains
1: Hamburg – Bremen – Dortmund - Cologne/Koln
2: Cologne/Koln – Bonn – Koblenz – Mainz – Mannheim – Heidelberg – Stuttgart
(There are ICE trains between Cologne/Koln and Stuttgart which take an alternative route)
3: Leipzig – Halle – Magdeburg – Hannover – Bremen – Oldenburg – Norddeich Mole
4: Stuttgart - Zurich
5: Hamburg – Rostock – Stralsund
6: Nuremberg – Stuttgart

Which type of ICE train per route:

The on board ambience varies between the different types of ICE train and there can be noticeable differences, such as whether seats in compartments or restaurant services will or won't be available.
But on many of the routes taken by ICE trains only one type of train is used, so this list will provide an indication of the type of train you will likely be travelling by; though its not entirely comprehensive, the routes with an exceptionally sparse service haven't been included.
Note that multiple types of train share some routes.

The ICE 1 routes:
ICE 1 trains are included in this guide to German trains
(1) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen (around 50% of of departures)
(2) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart (most departures)
(3) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel
(4) Berlin - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel (ICE 4s are used on trains which travel beyond Basel)
(5) Berlin - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) (Sud) - Frankfurt Airport (all departures)
(6) Hamburg - Berlin -Erfurt - Nurnberg - Munchen (some departures)
(7) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Ulm - Augsburg - Munich (all departures)

The ICE 2 routes:
ICE 2 trains are included in this guide to German trains
(1) Berlin - Hannover - Hamm - Dortmund - Essen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf (all departures)
(2) Berlin - Hannover - Hamm - Wuppertal - Koln/Cologne hbf (all departures)
(3) Hamburg/Bremen - Hannover - Kassel - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen (a few departures, particularly the services which divide or join to serve both Hamburg and Bremen)

The ICE 3 routes:
ICE 3 trains are included in this guide to German trains
(1) Essen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf - Koln/Cologne (Messe-Deutz) - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main) - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen (all departures)
(2) Dortmund - Wuppertal - Koln/Cologne (Messe-Deutz) - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main) - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen (all departures)
(3) Dortmund - Wuppertal - Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Munchen (a few departures)
(4) Essen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf - - Wuppertal - Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Munchen (a few departures)
(5) Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel (all departures)
(6) Amsterdam - Utrecht - Arnhem - Oberhausen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf - Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main) (all departures)
(7) Bruxelles - Liege - Aachen - Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main) (all departures)
(8) ICE 'Sprinter' Service: Berlin - Erfurt - Frankfurt (Main) (some departures)
(9) ICE 'Sprinter' Service: Berlin - Erfurt - Nurnberg - Munchen/Munich (all departures)
(10) Stuttgart - Mannheim - Frankfurt Flughafen/Airport - Seigburg/Bonn - Koln-Messe/Deutz - Dusseldorf - Essen - Dortmund - (Bremen - Hamburg) (all departures)

The ICE T routes:
ICE-T trains are included in this guide to German trains
(1) Hamburg - Berlin - Leipzig - Erfurt - Nurnberg - Munchen (a few departures)
(2) Hamburg/Bremen - Hannover - Kassel - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen (a few departures)
(3) Koln/Cologne - Koblenz - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main) - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Regensburg - Linz - Wien/Vienna (all departures)
(4) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Regensburg - Linz - Wien/Vienna (all departures)
(5) Berlin - Erfurt - Nurnberg - Regensburg - Linz - Wien/Vienna (all departures)
(6) Dresden - Leipzig - Erfurt - Frankfurt (Main) - Frankfurt Airport - Weisbaden (all departures)

The ICE 4 routes:
ICE 4 trains are included in this guide to German trains
(1) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen (a few departures)
(2) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart (some departures)
(3) Essen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf - Wuppertal - Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Munchen (most departures)
(4) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel - Zurich - Chur (all departures)
(5) Berlin - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel - Bern - Interlaken (all departures which travel beyond Basel)
(6) Hamburg - Berlin - Leipzig - Nurnberg - Munchen (most departures)
(7) ICE 'Sprinter' Service: Berlin - Erfurt - Frankfurt (Main) (some departures)
(8) Hamburg - Berlin -Erfurt - Nurnberg - Munchen (some departures)

Trains not operated by DB:

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.

Travelling on the Regio services:

Regio trains are included in this guide to German trains

Regio train SERVICES can be broadly divided into four categories:

(1) Those that follow the routes of IC and ICE express trains, but stop at stations (including some airport/flughafen stations) that IC/ICE trains skip - so they are slower than the express trains.
(2) Trains that link multiple towns in built up areas, on routes that usually aren’t taken by IC or ICE trains.
(3) Semi-fast cross country trains in more rural areas.

These three faster services are categorised as RE 'Regional Express' trains and it can be worth looking out for these services, as they are quicker, but cost the same price as the slower Regio services - when both are an option.
The Regio trains that use double deck coaches are most often found on those three types of service.

(4) ‘Local’ trains OUTSIDE of the major cities which call at every station - so rural branch line trains fall into this category.
These slower trains are designated as RB services on timetables etc RB = 'RegionalBahn'.

Compare RE and RB services on timetables

So something to watch out for is that on certain routes some Regio trains, the RE trains can be faster than others because they skip stations, while the slower RB trains will be calling at every station.
As a result it can be worth checking the arrival times of Regio trains on the paper departure sheets.
An RE train that leaves later than an RB train, can actually reach its final destination sooner,

Travelling on the S-Bahn services:

S-Bahn services are included in this guide to German trains

Two things in particular are worth knowing about S-Bahn trains:

(1) In Berlin, Frankfurt (Main), Hamburg and Munchen/Munich they penetrate further into the city centre than other train services.
So the fastest city centre access option in these cities can be connect into an S-Bahn train and not the metro (U-Bahn).

(2) S-Bahn trains always call at every station on their routes and some of these routes between cities can be particularly long.
So when travelling between cities, targeting the Regio trains instead, will usually be a faster option; even if the next Regio train won't be departing for another 15 - 20mins

The on board information:

The info screen on German IC train
On train announcements can be in German only - they're usually made in English and German on the ICE trains, but when a train is delayed any pertinent info is usually then only delivered in German.

ICE trains and the new IC trains also have electronic info screens in each coach which will feature info about the journey.

However, what is unique to journeys by ICE and IC trains are the paper journey info guides that you will find on the seats.
They SHOULD be specific to the particular train you will be travelling by and are particularly useful if you will be changing trains; as they have details of the connections available at each station that the train will be calling at.

Good to know about the timetables:

German trains USUALLY depart to fixed regular timetables, particularly during the day, as a result on the routes taken by ICE trains and IC trains there is USUALLY a train departure every hour OR every other hour.
On routes taken by Regio trains, there is usually 1 x train per hour.
S-Bahn trains depart every 20 mins, every 30 mins or hourly - the longer distance routes tend to have 1 x train per hour.

ICE FREQUENCY SUMMARY:

Note that many services extend beyond the cities at either end of these routes - but those extensions are less frequently served.

1 x train per hour
(1) Berlin - Hannover - Hamm - Dortmund - Essen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf/Berlin - Hannover - Hamm - Wuppertal - Koln/Cologne hbf
(2) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen
(3) Essen - Duisburg - Dusseldorf - Koln/Cologne (Messe Deutz) - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main) - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Munchen
(4) Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Frankfurt (Main
(5) Hamburg - Berlin - Leipzig - Erfurt - Nurnberg - Munchen

1 x train every other hour
(1) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart
(2) Hamburg - Hannover - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel - Zurich
(3) Berlin - Leipzig - Erfurt - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Munchen
(4) Berlin - Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel (- Bern - Interlaken)
(5) Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Munchen
(6) Koln/Cologne hbf - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim - Kalrsruhe - Basel
(7) Berlin - Erfurt - Frankfurt (Main)
(8) Dresden - Leipzig - Erfurt - Frankfurt (Main) - Frankfurt Airport - Weisbaden

Note that alternate trains operate between some cities to provide an hourly frequency.
This includes

  • Hamburg <> Frankfurt (Main)
  • Berlin <> Frankfurt (Main)
  • Koln - Frankfurt Airport - Mannheim
  • Stuttgart <> Munchen

up to 6 x trains per day
(1) Berlin - Kassel - Frankfurt Airport
(2) Frankfurt (Main) - Wurzburg - Nurnberg - Regensburg - Linz - Wien/Vienna
(3 Stuttgart - Mannheim - Frankfurt Flughafen/Airport - Seigburg/Bonn - Koln-Messe/Deutz - Dusseldorf - Essen - Dortmund - (Bremen - Hamburg)

Are German trains particularly punctual (if that's not a stupid question)?

Not a stupid question at all because the answer is 'No'.
We're being a bit cheeky here because long distance ICE trains and IC trains aren't particularly less punctual than the express train services in other large European countries, such as Great Britain, France and Italy.
But the British media seem to be a tad obsessed with the notion that British trains are particularly awful and inefficient compared to German trains and that simply isn't true.

German express train punctuality is very similar to the levels of punctuality achieved by British express trains.

International trains from and to Germany:

International services to and from Germany are included on this guide to travelling on German trains

These are the FOUR key things worth knowing about international EXPRESS trains from/to Germany:

(1) International trains when operated by DB (Deutsche Bahn) are referred to online, at stations and on timetables as IC or ICE trains.
A a general rule is that EC (EuroCity) is used in Germany when another country is operating the train.

So that if you board an EC train in Germany heading to Switzerland, you will be usually travelling on a Swiss train.
OR board an EC train heading to The Czech Republic and you will usually find yourself on a Czech train etc.

(2) Thalys is the only direct train service between northern Germany and Paris.

(3) On international ICE trains the DB Wi-Fi portal is only available in Germany and on board announcements are multi-lingual.

(4) Overnight trains still link Germany to Austria, Hungary Italy, Croatia, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland and The Czech Republic and now The Netherlands.

The services on each international route summarised:

The primary international DAYTIME train services are listed below - not all trains call at stations in brackets.

Services marked with an* require compulsory reservation - seats will automatically be assigned when booking tickets, but rail pass users will need to reserve prior to boarding.

Routes that have a minimum of 3 x departures per day:

By Thalys train
((Dortmund – Essen – Dusseldorf) – Koln – Aachen – Liege – Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Paris Nord

By TGV trains
(Munich/Munchen – Augsburg – Ulm) – Stuttgart – Karlsruhe – Strasbourg – Paris Est
Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim (– Karlsruhe – Strasbourg) – Paris Est
Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim - Kaiserslautern - Paris Est

By ICE trains:
ICE 3: Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim - Kaiserslautern - Paris
ICE 3: Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim - Karlsruhe - Strasbourg - Paris
ICE 3: Frankfurt Main – Koln - Aachen – Liege – Bruxelles Nord - Bruxelles Midi/Zuid
ICE 3: Frankfurt (Main) – Koln – Dusseldorf – Duisburg – Arnhem – Utrecht - Amsterdam
ICE 4 Hamburg – Hannover – Kassel - Frankfurt (Main) – Baden Baden – Freiburg – Basel – Zurich – (Chur)
ICE 4** Berlin – Kassel – Frankfurt Main – Mannheim – Freiburg – Basel – (Bern – Interlaken)
ICE T: (Koln/Cologne – Bonn – Koblenz – Mainz) – Frankfurt (Main) – Wurzburg – Nurnberg – Linz – Wien/Vienna

By EC (EuroCity trains) or International IC trains:
EC: Hamburg – Lubeck – Nykobing – Copenhagen/Kobenhavn (reservations are compulsory in summer and highly recommended on all journeys)
EC: Berlin – Frankfurt Oder – Poznan - Warszawa*
IC: Berlin – Hannover – Osnabruck – Rheine – Deventer – Amersfoort – Amsterdam EC: (Hamburg) – Berlin – Dresden – Decin – Praha/Prague – (Brno – Bratislava – Budapest)
EC: Hamburg – Bremen – Dortmund – Koln/Cologne – Bonn – Koblenz – Mainz – Mannheim - Freiburg – Basel – (Bern – Interlaken)
IC: Stuttgart – Singen – Schaffhausen – Zurich
EC: Munich/Munchen – Lindau – St Gallen – Zurich
EC: Munich/Munchen – Innsbruck – Bolzano – Trento – Verona – (Vicenza – Padua/Padova – Venice/Venezia) OR Bologna)*
EC: Frankfurt (Main) – Darmstadt – Stuttgart – Ulm – Augsburg – Munchen/Munich – Salzburg – Bad Gastien - Villach - Klagenfurt

By Austrian Railjet trains
Railjet: Munich/Munchen – Salzburg – Linz – Wien/Vienna – Budapest

There are only 1 or 2 x departures per day on these routes:

By EC (EuroCity trains) or International IC trains
EC: Hamburg – Frederica – Arhus
EC: Munich/Munchen – Salzburg – Villach –Ljubljana – Zagreb*
IC – Munster – Koln /Cologne – Bonn – Koblenz – Mainz – Mannheim – Stuttgart – Ulm – Lindau – Bregenz – St Anton – Innsbruck
EC: Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Freiburg - Basel - Luzern - Bellinzona - Lugano - Como - Milano (this direction only)
EC: Milano - Stresa - Big - Visp - Spiez - Thun - Bern - Basel - Freiburg - Karlsruhe - Mannheim - Frankfurt (Main) (this direction only)
Reservations are required when travelling to/from Italy by this train.

Other routes with 1 x departure per day:

ICE 3: (Amsterdam – Utrecht – Duisburg – Dusseldorf) – Koln/Cologne – Mannheim – Freiburg – Basel
DB/SNCF: Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Baden Baden - Strasbourg – Mulhouse – Lyon – Avignion - Marseille*

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

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