The variety of options for travelling Germany mean driving is not necessary to reach most of the attractions. Public transport between cities is fast and efficient enough to allow hops between destinations and two-wheel traffic is a further option.
Tickets issued by regional transport authorities for single journeys or day tickets may be valid for train journeys or combined journeys of bus and train, even though the trains are Deutsche Bahn-operated.
The sources for general transport information are many and are given by mode below. The European Rail Timetable (see Maps, timetables & information under the Rail travel heading below) is naturally rail-oriented but includes much information about ferries and rail buses, while providing an update at the front of its monthly editions. Its timetables are not exhaustive for regional lines but provide an excellent guide to what is offered on the main lines.
For price and other comparisons between modes for selected journeys, visit the site www.verkehrsmittelvergleich.de, which for the most part translates to English (except Ziel ‘destination’). The search engine in a few minutes responds to each point-to-point query with a series of options listed by cost, including total travel time and other timetable details plus the number of changes for the journey. It provides printable results sheets and the user can select an option and be linked to the relevant transport booking site. It is a fast method of finding the cheapest option and highlights how much cheaper (especially for rail) off-peak travel can be.
Air transport is frequent between airports such as Berlin, Munich, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne and Stuttgart. Other airports with German networks include Leipzig-Halle, Dortmund, Dresden, Rostock, Münster-Osnabrück, Paderborn, Karlsruhe-Baden Baden, Friedrichshafen and Westerland on Sylt in North Frisia. The traffic in the age of operators such as Airberlin, Germanwings and other budget airlines is significant (Lufthansa also flies domestic routes) but the main volume of domestic travel is by rail and bus.
Trains are Germany’s best all-round tourist option, combining virtues of speed, service, convenience and reach, while low fares are offered with some restrictions. Deutsche Bahn is the national railway service, claiming almost 27,000 passenger trains daily and almost two billion passengers a year. There are almost 34,000km of lines in Germany and the regional and city networks integrate well with DB trains.
The DB corporate website www.bahn.com has most information in multiple languages. Travellers can check departures to any destination, bring up times, options and prices or book, pay and print tickets online. At most stations travellers can punch in destinations at ticket machines and sample a range of connections, including travel time, connecting trains and transfer times, often platform and train numbers and details of restaurant car and bistro availability.
Travel plans can be made and services booked at the website, by phone (tel +49 1805-996633 with international charges) or at DB travel agencies abroad (a list of these can be found on the site). Travellers can also go to the website to explore booking tickets by mobile phone or iPad under the Offers tab. The service portal www.bahn.de/m/view/en has latest information and timetables that can be customised through the My Bahn function. Cars can be carried on trains using the DB Autozug service.
Private transport companies are establishing a growing presence in rail operations and online booking of tickets is an important part of these, although most companies maintain a few offices or agencies and some have on-board sales or their own ticket machines at DB stations. International rail passes and DB tickets will not be accepted on all these routes (see the Discount rail fares section below) and it is advisable to check before boarding. However for most regional trains under private operators, tickets can be bought at DB stations as well as regional travel authorities (Verkehrsverbünde).
Among the private operators is Netinera, providing networks of regional trains in the states of Niedersachsen, Hamburg and Bremen. These include the Metronom service with Hamburg-Bremen, Hamburg-Uelzen-Hannover-Göttingen and Hamburg-Cuxhaven trains and the Erixx Bremen-Uelzen and Hannover-Buchholz trains, which converge on Soltau. Metronom (www.der-metronom.de, a website which translates tolerably well in a good web browser) has opened an office (M-F 9-19, Sa 8-15) at the corner of Steintorwall and Mönckebergstraße opposite Hamburg’s central station.
Netinera operations in parts of Bavaria include the Alex (ALX) Munich-Regensburg-Schwandorf trains, lines to Hof and Fürth im Wald and the Munich-Lindau connection, the Vogtlandbahn regional trains centred on Regensburg and the Waldbahn (from Plattling to Deggendorf and to Bayerischer Eisenstein in the Bayerischer Wald). Rail passes should be valid on all these lines. Netinera's part-owned ODEG trains operate in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (to Wismar and Schwerin), Brandenburg (converging on Berlin and reaching the Polish border at Frankfurt an der Oder) and eastern Sachsen – check before using passes on these trains. Other Netinera trains run in the states of Rheinland-Pfalz and Saarland.
The Agilis network has regional trains linking Bamberg, Bayreuth and Hof in northern Bavaria as well as Ulm-Ingolstadt-Regensburg and Regensburg-Plattling services, the latter providing a link for travellers heading for Passau.
Hamburg/Köln/Express (www.hkx.de) runs between Hamburg (including Hamburg-Altona) and Cologne (three times M-Sa, twice Su) at online basic fares between €18 and €28 depending on departure time (shorter trips from €10). Stops include Düsseldorf, Essen and Münster and the full journey takes almost four hours.
NordWestBahn operates trains in the Ruhr, lower Rhine and Westphalia (Niedersachsen) regions. These include small networks converging on Düsseldorf and Bremen, trains linking Osnabrück with Göttingen and Kreiensen, and Duisburg-Xanten trains.
Also in this region, WestfalenBahn has as network of regional trains with hubs at Münster, Osnabrück and Paderborn.
TransRegio's MittelrheinBahn runs regular Cologne-Koblenz-Mainz trains but operates on DB tariffs for journeys across regional transport zones. The website www.mittelrheinbahn.de has an English version.
For the Harz Schmalspurbahnen steam narrow-gauge trains from Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg go to www.hsb-wr.de.
The speed of Intercity-Express (ICE) trains (regularly above 200km/h but up to 320km/h on the ICE3, fastest of the five types) readily covers long distances within a few hours. The ICE Sprinter trains make few stops. From Hamburg, Frankfurt can be reached in 3½ hours, Stuttgart in 5½. From Berlin, Cologne is just over four hours away and Munich can be reached in about six hours. Services include bistros on board, seat service for first-class passengers, information points, music programs, mobile phone repeaters, quiet (no mobile phone) zones, parent-child compartments and baby changing stations (see also Wi-fi access below). Rail pass users travel on these trains at no extra charge, although on some routes seat reservations (see below) might be advisable at peak times of year. It is also possible to reserve from seat diagrams when booking online under the Offers menu at www.bahn.com.
Intercity (IC) trains run frequent high-speed links on main lines, offering on-board bistros and power outlets to seats. Interregio-Express (IRE) and Regional-Express (RE) trains offer basic comforts on city links and Regionalbahn (RB) trains link cities with their hinterlands. Basic D-class expresses run day or night trains. S-Bahn (Schnellbahn, see Transport - Urban) lines often link large neighbouring population centres, sometimes with small first-class areas in carriages.
Overnight trains with sleeper and couchette accommodation will run between Hamburg or Hannover and Munich, Berlin or Leipzig and Munich, Cologne or Düsseldorf and Munich, but these will reportedly cease after December 2016. DB overnight trains with sleeper and couchette accommodation ceased at the end of 2016. But Austria's national railway ÖBB has taken over some former DB City Night Line routes under the brand Nightjet (www.nightjet.com/en), having taken over the former sleeper cars once used by DB. Each has nine economy compartments with basin and access to a shower at the end of the corridor, and three luxury compartments with private toilet and shower. Some cars are double-deck. Each compartment has three berths but compartments can be sold as single, double or triple. Night snacks and water is provided, with slippers and towels, and a menu breakfast is served.
Budget four or six-bunk couchette compartments are available with sheets, blankets and pillow with tea or coffee and a light breakfast included, with snacks available to buy. Couchettes suit groups well, although sleeper compartments can be booked with interconnecting doors. Plans can be viewed online.
Six-seat overnight compartments are also available. There are no dining cars. Seat reservations are necessary.
Finding carriages and booked seats on long trains is easy. On station platforms diagrams of each train on regular runs will be shows with first (yellow) and second-class (green) sections, on-board bistros, labelled and coded to correspond to the letters shown above platform areas when the train halts.
Finding carriages and booked seats on long trains is easy. On station platforms diagrams of each train on regular runs will be shows with first (yellow) and second-class (green) sections, on-board bistros, labelled and coded to correspond to the letters shown above platform areas when the train halts.
Large central stations (Hauptbahnhöfe) are open 24 hours to handle overnight traffic but most will be open restricted hours depending on arrivals and departures. The DB Reisezentrum at large stations is open long hours with staff to sell tickets and provide information, backed up by DB Information desks, designed for answering queries only and staffed even longer (at the biggest stations 24 hours).
Luggage lockers (Schließfächer) are at most stations, usually in two sizes and generally varying in price between €6 and €2 per day (for up to 72 hours in total) depending on size and location. Cologne is exceptional in offering a choice between a left-luggage counter and an automated luggage storage system.
At rail stations multilingual touch-screen machines will bring up instant point-to-point results for services with full details for the time frames requested. A printout can be taken to the ticket desk for purchases. Detailed timetable boards will be on each platform showing all trains, yellow for departures and white for arrivals.
Locations, facilities and services at DB stations can be searched at www.bahnhof.de, where schematic PDF maps of larger stations can be called up (symbols are tagged in German only, but browser translations will be useful). When searching for stations the letters ‘Hbf’ after the name in German denote the central station. Snack bars, toilets and kiosks selling newspapers and other reading matter are basic features of stations in small cities. Nuremberg is exceptional in having no public toilets in the main station complex open in daylight.
Some stations are labelled smoke-free (look for 'Rauchfreier Bahnhof' or 'Nichtraucherbahnhof'). Smoking areas at other stations may be defined by a labelled yellow square painted on platforms.
First-class ticket (but not rail pass) holders can use the DB Lounges at 15 major stations, open varying hours.
Travellers in distress can turn to the Bahnhofsmission, identified by the red Maltese cross symbol at more than 100 stations, for advice and assistance.
Maps and timetables provided with rail passes are by no means comprehensive. Go to the Deutsche Bahn website to check trains and precise connections.
As an overall guide, the European Rail Timetable is updated monthly with latest news and alerts and covering all but a minority of local rail services. It is worth the expense for any Europe traveller and includes handy pages on ferry links and other details. The monthly print editions of the guide (£16.99) can be ordered in advance for overseas delivery at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu. Monthly digital versions are available at £11.99 (slightly outdated editions £3.00) for smartphone, tablet or e-readers, along with annual subscriptions (£90-150).
MG Ball's European Railway Atlas is a detailed publication for travellers and rail enthusiasts, including more than 120 maps of all main and regional European lines and many heritage railways plus station listings. The atlas, in A4 format, is available from www.europeanrailwayatlas.com or www.europeanrailtimetable.eu at £19.95. The European Railway Atlas Germany, extracted from the main guide, covers the country in more than 40 maps and is available in print at £13.95 (with free PDF download to your device) at www.europeanrailwayatlas.com.
Detailed maps of German rail lines, including regional and S-Bahn links, can be downloaded state by state as PDFs at the DB website – go to www.bahn.de or type ‘DB Streckenkarte’ into a search engine and download – a zoom will be necessary.
The EurAide organisation (www.euraide.de) cooperates with DB in providing information to rail travellers – especially first-time travellers – in Germany and central Europe. Online, or through partners in the US, Australia and New Zealand, it can provide rail passes and tickets or book full itineraries without agency mark-ups and will provide weekday over-the-counter advice to ticketholders from its Berlin and Munich central rail station desks. Travellers should visit the website at the planning stage and read the explanatory notes. Details about opening times are at the site or see the Raven Guides Berlin or Munich chapters.
DB Navigator, a Deutsche Bahn timetable app, can be downloaded to mobile phones for use in travel planning (even the station plans are shown). Door-to-door street maps for any journey are available online under the ‘Offers’ tab. Detailed point-to-point timetables in leaflet form are in the DB Reisezentrum or station hall.
On-board information is DB’s speciality. Brochures in seat pockets (with English version) describe the stops, point-to-point timings and any restaurant service, first-class seat service, on-board music programs, the positions of mobile phone repeaters, disability toilets and baby change tables.
Information about all sorts of topics is contributed by enthusiasts and travellers and assembled online at rail.cc (formerly Raildude). Use the Germany country tab at the bottom of the homepage. For a well travelled opinion on rail issues, including those specific to Germany, go to www.seat61.com.
Reserved seats are necessary on international and some domestic fast trains and are recommended for most long-distance journeys but must be claimed no more than 15 minutes after departure. Reservations are advisable on ICE Sprinter trains. First-class normal or Sparpreis (see Discount rail fares below) fares include seat reservation.
Reservations are best made on booking but can be made separately and can help keep groups seated together and secure compartments or (on the relevant ICE trains) mobile phone repeaters or wireless hotspots. Online seat reservations for most ICE trains can be made from seat diagrams at www.bahn.com (look under 'Information' under the Seat reservation tab in the Offers menu).
Wireless broadband hotspots through the Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile network are accessible free in DB Lounges (to first-class – not rail pass – passengers) at about 20 key stations and on ICE trains along the north-south line Hamburg-Frankfurt-Munich (via Stuttgart or Nuremberg), from Frankfurt to Cologne, Düsseldorf and Dortmund, from Frankfurt to Basel, and from Berlin to Hamburg and Cologne. Other lines from Hamburg, Bremen, Dresden and Leipzig are being introduced. The prominent HotSpot logo is carried on equipped carriages. For updates visit the DB website www.bahn.com. A HotSpot service is also accessible free for up to 30 minutes in more than 120 stations (see the Services menu at the DB website).
ICE first-class passengers who are non-Telekom customers can select the Telekom_ICE connection, create an account in the HotSpot portal (or through the HotSpot app), and connect. Second-class passengers can create an account at normal Telekom HotSpot account rates (see the Internet heading of the Communications section of the Travel Essentials menu).
At the Deutsche Bahn website www.bahn.com, standard first/second-class fares from Hamburg to Munich or Flensburg to Passau are near the DB daytime one-way ceiling at €237/142. By comparison, the Berlin-Dresden fare can be as little as €57.90/36.20 or as high as €109/65 depending on whether ICE expresses or regional trains are used. Berlin-Cologne direct fares will be €195/117 on the ICE. A Berlin-Hamburg first/second-class fare on a direct IC service taking just over two hours and costing €107/78 compares with fares using two regional trains (taking just over four hours) at €77.70/48.60.
Children under 15 with parents (or grandparents) travel free (register at point of purchase) or at half-fare unaccompanied. Children under 6 travel free and need no ticket.
The City mobil single-fare ticket adds the convenience of one or two city transit journeys to an intercity journey at point of booking, valid for two or three hours to cover the necessary connection. The City mobil day ticket is similar but can apply for any number of connecting journeys for varying periods up to 24 hours – check when booking.
Some users might prefer booking through travel agents or websites such as Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com), rail.cc (formerly Raildude, rail.cc) or The Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com). But it would be wise to first compare the DB deals under Discount rail fares below.
Budget travellers can find that working to a careful plan offers considerable savings on rail travel without the up-front expense of rail passes. There is a selection of discount fares from locally valid day tickets for singles or groups happy to restrict their travel to off-peak regional trains – ideal for excursions – to tickets covering states or groups of adjacent states.
A summary of DB discount fares is below but full details and conditions are at www.bahn.com in the Offers menu. The ‘Regional offers overview’ tab provides some basic comparisons of terms. Private rail operators (see Rail travel above) offer further options.
For a scheme selling last-minute, fixed-booking, second-class rail seats online for €17 and tips on other budget fares, check out the L'tur network at bahn.ltur.com and translate in the browser.
With this DB budget option holders can travel through a particular federal state (Land) second-class for a day at fares as low as €23 between 9.00 on the nominated day and 3.00 next day. Conditions vary by state but in all the offer is available M-F (for some states at weekends or on bank holidays from midnight to 3.00 next day).
Länder-tickets are valid on all regional trains, most S-Bahn networks and the bulk of urban public transport links within the relevant states. Some private rail operators also accept these tickets. But it is best to be certain of boundaries and validity on the desired services and check carefully any planned local links. So, although these tickets can be a fraction cheaper (typically €2) when bought from a ticket machine or online, it can be worth inquiring in person and then buying at the booking counter.
Some offers group adjoining states – Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen are paired with their neighbour states, while Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen make a trio. The Hamburg-Schleswig-Holstein ticket extends to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the Bremen or Niedersachsen tickets are valid on Greater Hamburg transit services. Brandenburg-Berlin, Baden-Württenberg, Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern also offer first-class options. There are also night tickets with similar terms valid from 18.00 or 19.00 to 6.00 for some states. In Nordrhein-Westfalen the ticket is known as SchönerTagTicket. The varying terms can be investigated under ‘Länder-Tickets' in the Offers menu at www.bahn.com.
Länder-tickets can be particular bargains for up to five people, who can travel on one ticket for little extra (generally €39-43 total), making it possible for groups or families to spend a week or two in Germany with quite low travel expenses – so long as the fast ICE, IC and EuroCity (EC) trains (and sometimes Interregio-Expresses) are avoided. It’s a cheap and handy way for groups of Garmisch-Partenkirchen skiers or Alps walkers and climbers to have a day and night out in Munich, or for culture buffs in Dresden to visit Weimar for the day.
This ticket for up to five people allows unlimited second-class travel in Germany on regional trains only for a day (9.00 to 3.00 next day, M-F only) at €44 for one person, plus €8 per extra person. Some private operators also accept this ticket.
This is a ticket offer for €40 online (€42 at the rail station counter) for one weekend day, valid on regional or S-Bahn trains only from midnight to 3.00 the following day for up to five people (each paying €4 extra) travelling second-class together.
This is a range of discount one-way fares, subject to availability, for first or second-class travel and valid on the main expresses within Germany. Prices for one person range from €19 to €27 second-class (for up to 250km), longer journeys €29 to €125. Up to four adults can join at €20 extra each, against which the primary ticket holder gets a €9 per person discount. Children under 15 can accompany parents free. Night trains attract a fare supplement. Return journeys can be booked but in all cases travellers must stick to the itinerary. First-class tickets are available from €29 up to 250km or from €39 to €189 for longer distances. These fares can be booked online using the ‘saver fare’ option at the DB website.
For repeating journeys on regional or S-Bahn trains a range of DB local or regional commuter or frequent-travel tickets (Zeitkarten) is available at the DB website for a year (JahresCard), month or week. With monthly or yearly tickets up to four people can accompany the holder on Saturdays. The JahresCard holder gets a free BahnCard 25 (see below).
A range of DB BahnCards with percentage discounts supports flexibility of needs. Travel insurance can be added for journeys at extra cost. All can be booked at www.bahn.com and an interim card printed out for immediate use. Cancellation of the card must be notified in writing at least six weeks before the end of its term or it will be automatically renewed.
BahnCard 25 (€125/62 in first/second-class) gives 25% discounts for a year and for long journeys can pay off quickly. BahnCard 25 for students up to 26 or seniors costs €81/41. Jugend BahnCard 25 for ages 6-18 costs €10.
BahnCard 50 (€515/255) gives 50% discounts on journeys and is designed for frequent trips at short notice. Children, students under 27 and seniors over 60 pay half-price for BahnCard 50.
BahnCard 100 (€6890/4090) covers all travel on Deutsche Bahn services for a year. Extra BahnCard 25s are free for partners or families. The PDF order form is on the DB website but in German only.
In addition to BahnCard discounts there is a City-Ticket discount allowing free travel on public transport in more than 100 destination cities after intercity journeys over 100km on the day of arrival. This applies also on return journeys. Free travel for accompanying children is not included.
Several passes, including convenient flexi-passes, are available for international visitors only. The Deutsche Bahn website www.bahn.com offers these for online sale. For comparisons of rail pass deals, websites such as www.raileurope.com or rail.cc) will offer more than one type of pass. For specific passes compare prices at such sites with those given for the passes described below.
A list of private rail services where rail passes are (and are not) valid is under the FAQs on the www.germanrailpasses.com site. Rail passes must be validated at a station on the first day of use and must be shown with a passport.
Deutsche Bahn's German Rail Pass is for travel in Germany by non-European residents, including S-Bahn urban-regional trains and listed private rail services, and a list of cross-border extensions outlined below. Pass holders need not pay supplements for fast trains.
German Rail Pass Flexi allows three to 10 days’ travel over one month. Adult passes in first/second class range from €255/189 for three days to €466/345 for 10 days. First/second-class twin passes for adults travelling in company (€383/284 to €699/518) and youth (ages 12-25) passes (€204/151 to €373/276) are available.
German Rail Passes for five, 10 or 15 consecutive days’ first/second-class travel for adults cost €285/211, €413/306 or $571/423. Adult twin passes work out at 75% of these rates. Youth passes for first/second-class travel cost €228/169 for five consecutive days, €330/245 for 10 days and €457/338 for 15 days.
Up to two children aged 6-11 are entitled to child passes for free travel with each adult pass holder. Accompanied children under 6 also travel free.
A 25% discount on German Rail Pass standard rates was offered during summer and autumn 2014.
Online purchases can be made at the DB website (where a brochure stating conditions and bonus benefits is available for download) or in US, Canadian or Australian dollars at www.germanrailpasses.com. Passes can also be bought at DB sales office outside Europe or at 16 rail pass offices in Germany (listed at the DB website). Passes purchased online arrive by post, shipped free to several countries including the US, Canada and Australia.
German Rail Passes are valid to Basel in Switzerland and Salzburg in Austria. They confer 20% discounts on Rhine and Moselle cruise ship travel with KD Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt (see River travel), 20% discounts on the Deutsche Touring Romantische Straße service (see Bus travel) and 10% discounts on Bavaria’s Zugspitze rack railway near Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
German Rail Pass also covers trips with DB into neighbouring countries, including ICE trains to Liege and Brussels and EuroCity trains to Kufstein and Innsbruck in Austria and Bolzano, Trento, Verona, Bologna and Venice in Italy. Journeys on DB's IC Buses to Strasbourg, Prague, Cracow, Antwerp, Brussels, London, Zagreb and Copenhagen are also included.
Eurail is for non-European visitors. The varieties valid in Germany are Eurail Global Pass (valid in 28 countries, not including the UK), Select Pass (covering four adjoining countries) and Regional Pass (two adjoining countries). There is no Eurail single-country pass for Germany (instead see German Rail Pass above).
Full conditions and price lists are published at www.eurail.com, with free standard shipping to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and several other countries. Tickets bought at the website can also be shipped to eligible travellers at European addresses. There are also FAQs and comparisons that help decide the best type of pass. Prices in euros should be taken as a guide only (Eurail website purchases can also be made in US, Canadian or Australian dollars). The first day of use must be no later than six months from date of purchase.
First-class adult, adult saver (two or more people always travelling together) and first and second-class youth (age 12-25) passes are offered, along with family passes based on the adult saver rate including half-fare for children. Children under 4 travel free with the pass holder.
A Eurail Global Flexi Pass for 10 days’ travel over two months costs €682 for adults in first class only (saver rate €581) and €547/446 first/second-class for youth (ages 12-25). Travel on 15 days in two months costs €894 (adult), €761 (adult saver) and €716/583 (youth). There are Global Passes for 15 continuous days (€580 adult, €494 adult saver and €465/379 youth) and 21 days (€746, €635 and €598/487). Passes for unrestricted travel over one, two or three months cost €917, €1291 or €1592 (adult) and €735/598, €1034/841 or €1275/1037 (first/second-class youth). Adult saver rates are 85% of the adult rates.
Eurail Select Pass is based on five, six, eight or 10 days’ travel over a two-month period for any combination of four bordering countries. Fares for five days, combining Germany with France, Austria and the Czech Republic, are €413 adult (adult saver €352, youth €332/271), six days €452 (€385, €363/296), eight days €526 (€448, €422/344) or 10 days €600 (€512, €482/393). Fares combining Germany, the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, treated as one country) Denmark and Sweden are considerably lower, with adult full fares ranging from €344 (five days) to €534 (10 days). Fares for any chosen combination can be computed at the website (for this pass there are no options including Poland). Family Select Passes allow up to two children to travel free with each adult.
Eurail Regional Pass, covering two adjacent countries (as well as the Germany-Benelux option below) has categories of adult first and second-class and family (for two adults and children aged 4-11, first or second-class), with saver pass rates (the same as family adult rates) at 75-80% of full rates. Expect first-class saver rates at the same level as second-class ordinary rates.
Germany can be paired with France from €332 for first-class adult passes for four days’ travel in two months to €544 for 10 days (second-class €267 to €436, youth €267/218 to €436/355 first/second-class). Rail pass seating is limited on French trains and pass users travelling there are advised to plan and book early.
A similar deal covers Germany and the Benelux countries from €309 for first-class adult passes for four days in two months to €521 for 10 days (second-class €248 to €418, youth €248/203 to €418/340).
There are also Germany-Austria passes (adult first-class from €286 for four days in two months to €495 for 10 days), Germany-Switzerland passes (from €332 to €544), Germany-Czech Republic passes (from €286 to €495), Germany-Poland passes (from €309 to €521) and Germany-Denmark passes (from €286 to €495 for 10).
Other Eurail benefits include free S-Bahn travel in Germany’s city networks (but not other parts of transit systems), 30% fare discounts on Finnlines ferries to Finland from Travemünde and 20% discount on Finnlines ferries from Travemünde to Malmö in Sweden (cabin charges are extra). Passes valid in Sweden cover travel on the Berlin Night Express overnight ferry-train service from Sweden to Berlin (Apr-mid Aug, add the mandatory €29 couchette booking).
Eurail passes also confer 20% fare discounts on Rhine and Moselle cruise ship travel on regular schedules with KD Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt (see River travel). Discounts of 7.5% are offered on Donauschiffahrt Wurm+Köck Danube cruise fares between Regensburg and Linz.
For Eurail passes valid in the Czech Republic, travel to Prague or Strasbourg on Deutsche Bahn’s IC Buses is included. The same applies for IC Buses to Copenhagen (for passes valid in Denmark), Poland, Belgium and Croatia.
There are also 20% discounts on fares for the Eurolines-Deutsche Touring Romantische Straße bus (see Bus travel) and a handful of sundry specials.
Interrail is for European residents only, but is not valid for the country of the user’s residence. The Interrail Germany Pass is available for three, four, six or eight days’ travel in a month. Prices for adult passes in first/second class are €317/203 (three days), €349/223 (four days), €445/283 or €492/€313. Rates for youth tickets (ages 12-25) in first class are €254, €279, €356 or €394; in second class €154, €164, €208 or €232.
Family Interrail Germany Passes allow one child 11 or under to travel with each adult pass holder at no extra charge. First-class rates are €317 (three days' travel in a month), €349 (four days), €445 (six days) and €492 (eight days). Second-class rates are €203, €223, €283 and €313.
The Interrail Global pass, which is valid in 30 European countries, offers more flexibility, with passes for five days’ travel valid over 10 days (adult first/second-class €413/264, youth €331/192) and 10 days over 22 days (adult €588/374, youth €471/281). Family passes allowing an accompanying child free travel equal the adult rate.
There are also 15 and 22-day continuous passes (adult €650/414 and €760/484) and one-month passes (adult €983/626). Youth passes for 15 and 22 days or one month cost €520/325, €608/360 or €787/461).
Senior Global passes for ages 60 and over (from €372/238 first/second class for five days in 10 to €886/504 for a full month continuous) are also available. For all conditions and booking links go to www.interrail.eu.
The biggest discounts are during summer in the form of a month's flexible travel in Germany with Deutsche Bahn. This has been a year-to-year offer by DB, available from the end of June until August 31, the last purchase date for passes. The last date of validity is September 15, so passes bought late in August cannot run full-term, but might still be valuable given the savings. There is a restriction in that one leg of each journey must be by ICE, IC or EC train. For news keep watch during April and May at the Offers menu of the DB website.
There was no 2016 or 2017 Deutschland-Pass. The 2015 Deutschland-Pass rates in first/second class were €449/349, travellers under 27 (second-class only) €269, travellers under 19 (second-class only) €159. Twin passes were €669/469 first/second-class but these become family passes as up to three children under 15 accompanied by parents or grandparents travel free.
National bus networks are growing quickly in response to Germany’s competition policy. Buses have become a low-cost point-to-point option in Germany, though buses between main cities are not usually as frequent or extensive as rail.
A central bus station is usually labelled ZOB (Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof) on maps and in timetables. This may be the convergence point for urban or regional buses as well as inter-city services but arrangements vary by place.
The bus market is in flux and rivalry will remain fierce, although big discounts for junior travellers have all but disappeared. With the pace of change routes should continue to expand and further improvements in bus and station facilities may be expected. Two big operators, MeinFernbus and FlixBus, have merged and bus lines from abroad are testing the German market. Fares vary between discount figures limited to some departures for online bookings (for which passengers will need to print out tickets) to standard rates. Heavy baggage may incur fees.
Wi-fi access is offered free by some operators, but the number of simultaneous connections will be limited. Some buses also carry snacks and drinks.
Short-run specials can be expected to appear from time to time and travellers with flexible schedules should scour websites for comparisons. Tickets can also be purchased from selected travel bureaus listed on company websites.
As well as using websites run by operators, bargain-hunters can also compare and book fares online through comparison portals. The www.busliniensuche.de service (translate through the browser) covers a range of providers including regional operators and places stops on a finder map. Searches also throw up Deutsche Bahn rail services and a sponsored car-share network. At www.busticket.de travellers preferring bus travel can check out possibilities, compare standard and discount fares for about 500 connections, and book. The site www.fernbusguide.de has similar capabilities with booking links to operator sites but only the homepage is in English. Details of routes, bus lines and booking links can also be found at www.busradar.com (in English), www.fernbusse.de, and www.fernbus24.de.
In all cases it is worthwhile first checking the various websites and conditions.
Mid-2017 fares and charges are given below.
FlixBus (www.flixbus.de), which has merged with MeinFernbus and Postbus, runs a dense national and European network of 24-hour routes. Booking can be made by phone (tel 030-300137300), agencies or Flixbus ticket offices:
Berlin: Alexanderstraße 1 (M-Su 8-19) and ZOB, Messedamm 2 (M-Su 6.30-23)
Cologne-Bonn airport: Terminal 2 arrivals, Kennedystraße (M-Su 6.30-19)
Dresden: Friedrich-List-Platz 2 (M-Su 8-20)
Frankfurt: Stuttgarter Straße 26 (M-Su 6.30-21)
Hamburg: Adenauerallee 78 (M-Su 6-22)
Hannover: Rundestraße 12 (M-Su 7-20.30)
Munich: Hackerbrücke 4 (M-Su 6.30-22.30)
Nuremberg: Käte-Strobel-Straße 4 (M-Su 8-19)
Fare examples include Berlin-Hamburg (more than 60 connections daily, €9.90-37 including ZOB Messedamm, Alexanderplatz, Südkeruz, Alt-Tegel and Wannsee departures), Berlin-Dresden (at least 130 daily, €9-24.50), Frankfurt-Nuremberg (more than 20 daily, including Frankurt Hauptbahnhof and airport departures, €11-25.90), Frankfurt-Würzburg (more than 20 daily, €7.90-17.90), Frankfurt-Munich (more than 20 daily, €17-33.90), Berlin-Munich (more than 20 daily, €17-34.90) and Cologne-Bremen (including Cologne-Bonn airport, about a dozen times daily, €15-30.90). Small discounts on fares are available for children aged up to 14 (children aged up to three must be in child seats with fixing straps supplied by the carer).
Free wi-fi access is offered on buses and two luggage items will be carried free (additional items cost €2, heavy or oversize luggage could incur a €9 fee) and bicycles at €9 – for both check conditions. Bookings are online or through agencies and ticket offices are in Berlin (two), Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Cologne-Bonn airport, Munich and Nuremberg (see the Bus travel section in the international transport menu). The hotline is tel 030-300137300.
UK-based Megabus offers FlixBus fares through uk.megabus.com.
Eurolines-Deutsche Touring (www.eurolines.de, tel 069-7903501) national services cover large cities, offering non-refundable or flexible rates. Fares include Berlin-Dresden (three times daily, €8-31), Berlin-Cologne (five times weekly, €22-25), Berlin-Stuttgart (Monday and Thursday, €27-56), Frankfurt-Stuttgart (daily, €8-34), Hamburg-Hannover (Friday, €7-2619) and Munich-Stuttgart airport (five times weekly, €9-34). There are 10% discounts for students under 26, children under 18 and travellers over 60, 50% discounts for children 4-11 and 80% discounts for younger children. Full timetables and booking details for all Eurolines buses are available at the website. The line maintains ticket offices at some large bus stations, in all having almost 30 booking sites.
Eurolines’ Deutsche Touring Romantische Straße bus (mid Apr-late Oct) covers the Romantic Road or Frankfurt-Würzburg-Rothenburg-Dinkelsbühl-Augsburg-Munich-Füssen route daily each way with a hop on-hop off service at a total fare of €108 (bookings recommended). Look under the Eurolines site National Bus Lines menu or at www.touring-travel.eu/romantische-strasse.
DeinBus (www.deinbus.de) operates several routes including Berlin-Leipzig-Frankfurt (twice daily, €22-27.50), Aachen-Cologne (three times daily, €9-15), and Frankfurt-Heidelberg-Stuttgart (once or twice daily, €10-19). There are also links to Prague, Strasbourg, Paris and into Belgium and the Netherlands. Lower fares are generally for online bookings. Tickets from the bus driver are at full fare and tickets purchased from travel bureaus or by telephone (tel 069-175373200, M-F 10-18) incur a €3 charge. Children under 15 travel at half-fare. Baggage beyond carry-on and one storage item costs €9.
Deutsche Bahn’s IC Bus service (www.bahn.com) has expanded to include German domestic routes. Mannheim and Heidelberg have been added to the Nuremberg-Prague route. Berlin-Copenhagen buses run via Rostock or Hamburg and the Frankfurt-Luxembourg bus in Trier. Bus saver fares start at €9.90. Passengers can also use German Rail or Eurail passes. Seat reservations and wi-fi access are available.
Berlin Linien Bus ceased operating in October 2016 and its operations were folded into the IC Bus network.
The many integrated transport networks (Verkehrsverbünde) operated by large cities and their hinterlands include buses in their regional ticketing systems and provide connecting options for travelling around regions such as Franconia and between neighbouring centres such as Frankfurt and Mainz or Düsseldorf and Dortmund. All these have online presences with maps and explanations of fare systems. Deutsche Bahn also runs bus services such as the OVF Frankenbus network between towns.
Some of the larger regional public transport operations such as VBB (Berlin-Brandenburg, see the Raven Guides Berlin or Potsdam chapters), VGN (Franconia including Nuremberg and Bamberg, see those chapters) and Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar or VRN (www.vrn.de, centred on Mannheim but linked with Würzburg) may offer handy links for some travellers.
The variations in price for internal flights can be huge. But budget tickets, comparable with rail fares (and even some long-distance bus fares) are available by shopping online. The Lufthansa no-frills domestic and short-haul arm Germanwings has extended its portfolio consistently and routes have, controversially, been moved from the parent to the low-cost offspring. The competitor Airberlin also offers discount flights.
These minimum fares, more commonly but not exclusively for advance bookings, are available online at the ‘Low fare calendar’ link under the Offers menu at www.germanwings.com, or under the Special offers menu at www.airberlin.com (select the ‘Deutschland’ market, which can be viewed in English). Return fares can be calculated differently for the two legs depending on date and these quite wide variations can involve multiples of three or four, especially when booking close to travel date.
Schedules are also important and, while the Germanwings network serving Düsseldorf, Cologne-Bonn and Berlin Tegel is useful, it would be necessary for a traveller in Bonn to get to Dortmund airport to connect with a flight to Munich, which handles few Germanwings routes. The Memmingen airport 100km west of Munich handles more, but only to Hamburg (twice weekly) and Berlin among north German cities.
Thus the cost of a connecting bus or train journey might have to be factored into the price-time equation before sizing up the air travel benefit. Schedules can also involve changes of flight.
In addition to the destinations mentioned above, the Germanwings network includes: Rostock, Hannover, Bremen, Leipzig-Halle, Dresden, Nuremberg, Karlsruhe-Baden Baden (to and from Hamburg only), Stuttgart and Friedrichshafen. There are also flights between Salzburg in Austria (near the German border) and Rostock, Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig-Halle, Dresden and Cologne-Bonn.
Some (rounded-off) examples of the floor for one-way Germanwings fares are: Cologne-Bonn to Dresden €40, Cologne-Bonn to Berlin €33, Hamburg to Memmingen €40 (rarely, more usually €70), Berlin to Nuremberg €33, Stuttgart to Hamburg €33 and Leipzig-Halle to Düsseldorf €40.
Airberlin offers fewer budget fares but perhaps a little more choice. It is possible to fly Berlin-Stuttgart for about €50, Berlin-Düsseldorf for about €60 and Berlin-Munich or Hamburg-Munich for about €80, generally booking with a few weeks’ notice. Airberlin destinations in Germany are: Berlin Tegel, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Erfurt-Weimar, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Karlsruhe-Baden Baden, Munich, Münster-Osnabrück, Nuremberg, Paderborn, Rostock, Saarbrücken, Stuttgart and Westerland in North Frisia.
Most river services are sightseeing cruises but some cover significant legs of German rivers and become transport options. For trips on the Spree or Havel see the Raven Guides Berlin and Potsdam chapters, for the Elbe see the Dresden chapter, for the Main the Würzburg chapter, and for the Neckar the Stuttgart chapter.
KD Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt (www.k-d.com, tel 0221-2088318) dominates Rhine cruising and its services between Cologne and Mainz from late April to early October are a restful way of covering territory while taking in the castles, the river towns and the vineyards. The authentic castle stretch is Mainz-Koblenz, though there are also plenty of castles between Koblenz and Bonn. Timetables vary over the cruise season but there are more options during July and August. The key link points are at Koblenz (where between June and October it is possible to join Moselle cruises to Cochem) and Boppard.
Downstream travellers can cruise daily from Mainz to Koblenz in less than 10 hours (including a four-hour change at Boppard) or Rüdesheim-Koblenz in four hours. In July and August (or Sep-early Oct F-M) there is an option to cruise Mainz-Koblenz in 8½ hours (three hours in Boppard). After an overnight stop and a day in Koblenz, travellers can reach Bonn (3½ hours) the following evening.
Travelling upstream (Jul-Aug M-Su, Sep-early Oct Th-Su), there are cruises from Koblenz to Rüdesheim (just over six hours). Between Bonn and Koblenz (5½ hours) twice-weekly cruises operate in July and August, with the possibility of picking up an onward cruise to Rüdesheim the same day.
The Mainz-Cologne single fare per person is €65, Mainz-Koblenz €57.40, Koblenz-Cologne €48.80 (return fares, for fans of the cruise experience, are little more at €71, €64.40 and €53.20). Children aged 4-13 with adults pay only €6 on all routes. Students aged under 27 pay 50% of adult fares and travellers over 60 pay 70% fares with valid ID.
KD's Koblenz-Cochem services operate from June to early October (9.45-15, return 15.40-20) at single/return fares of €31/36.40.
Donauschiffahrt Wurm+Köck (www.donauschiffahrt.de, tel 0851-929292) operates cruises between Deggendorf and Passau most Thursdays and Saturdays from late May until the end of September (2½ hours, €21.50 single). Travellers can link with trains from Regensburg to Plattling and change for a regional train to Deggendorf. For Wurm+Köck cruises on to Linz and Vienna see the Transport - International menu.
There are more than 200,000km of high-quality major German roads. In the road hierarchy route numbers designated by ‘E’ on green labels are European routes. The German federal highways (Bundesstraßen) are designated ‘B’ with a route number on some maps but the numbers appear alone on a yellow shield on most maps and road signs. Landesstraßen (sometimes L-roads) or Staatsstraßen (S-roads) are state main roads. Minor (‘K’) roads (Kreisstraßen) are local.
Most road signs, with some variations, are in line with European standards. A PDF in English displaying German road signs is at the ADAC (German national automobile club) website www.adac.de. At the top of the homepage, search ‘Verkehrszeichen Englisch’ (a short summary of road laws is on the last page). An easy-to-use US Army chart is online at www.ansbach.army.mil/documents/EuropeanRoadSignsPamphlet.pdf. For another summary of German road laws visit the Transport menu at the AngloInfo website (germany.angloinfo.com/transport). The minimum driver age is 17.
Basic speed limits on highways are 100km/h, in urban areas 50km/h, in residential streets often 30km/h. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and show headlights at all times.
It is best to carry an international driving licence, which usually can be supplied by the national automobile club in the traveller’s home country. For car rentals in Germany this is likely to be a requirement.
In winter conditions drivers should ensure the car has winter or all-weather tyres. It is an offence to use the wrong tyres in winter conditions and correct tyres are a condition of insurance cover. All vehicles are required to carry a first-aid kit.
A driver involved in or witnessing a smash is required to stop and if there is injury there is an obligation to render assistance. If there is dispute about liability, or an injury, the police (tel 110) must be called. For an ambulance, call tel 112. Traffic police (Verkehrspolizei) wear white caps with dark bands.
ADAC is affiliated with international automobile clubs including AA and AAA – check with home organisations. Otherwise the basic membership cost is €49 a year and a membership window in English is at the homepage under the Mitgliedschaft menu. ADAC’s vehicle breakdown service hotline is tel 01802-222222 (no prefix dialling from mobiles).
For emissions requirements on cars entering many German cities and towns see the Car section of the Raven Guides Transport - Urban menu. Drivers with long-term travel plans should keep watch on a recently proposed plan to effectively toll only foreign-registered cars on all German roads. This plan, with a start date yet to be announced, involves issuing a road-use pass with windscreen sticker for fees on a scale up to €112 per year based on emissions levels. Foreign trucks already face German road-use fees.
The German motorways are shown with route numbers on blue hexagonal shields on road signs (sometimes numbers appear on maps with an ‘A’). The blue sign with white road-under-overpass symbol indicates the start of autobahn, the same sign with red diagonal slash indicates its end. Most autobahns have no legal speed limits but an advisory maximum of 130km/h is understood. In some stretches there are limits down to 80km/h. The large speed differentials between cars create problems and drivers should observe the custom of keeping to the right and passing only on the left. There are no special autobahn tolls. Bicycles and pedestrians may not use autobahns.
Emergency stopping is permitted only on the road shoulders and there is a dim view of drivers who run out of fuel. Some road shoulders may be used in heavy areas to ease congestion (Stau) – these stretches are indicated by blue signs with white vertical arrows. Nearest emergency phones (Notruf) along motorways are indicated by arrow signs at the roadside. Service areas (Raststätte) with toilets and 24-hour fuel stops are at the side of the autobahn at regular intervals. It is wise to use these for breaks, as the unbroken scenery for long periods at steady high speeds can challenge concentration.
If a road smash (Unfall) causes autobahn traffic jams, space must be left in the middle of the road (or between the two left lanes) for emergency vehicles. Electronic dynamic signs in black with red and white symbols are used where possible as warnings or to modify traffic conditions (including speeds) and a red cross of this type indicates a closed lane. Road works are not uncommon and are attended by lane redirection arrows, traffic barriers and reduced speeds with yellow lane markings overriding any white lines.
There are plenty of fuel stops on major roads. Fuel charges in Germany in June 2017 were about €1.36 per litre for 95 octane unleaded gasoline. Diesel fuel was cheaper at about €1.14 and LPG €0.55. Updates are posted at www.fuel-prices-europe.info.
In Germany the major operators are Avis, Europcar (affiliated with the US network National), Hertz and Sixt and prices and conditions can be compared online. It will likely be cheaper to book and pay online by credit card, which can avoid some charges, but read carefully all conditions and print out all rental documents to take on the trip.
It is common not to get the car requested and in these cases the car provided will usually be larger.
The rental price includes 19% tax, although incremental road taxes may or may not be included, depending on the company. In Germany 20% fees can attach to cars collected at airports and some central railway stations. Picking up cars on Sundays can be expensive or impossible as most rental offices are closed – others are also closed Saturdays, so opening times must be checked. Handing back cars in different countries than they are picked up is possible but adds costs. GPS systems usually add cost and drivers taking cars over borders need to ensure the unit will work in other countries.
Extra charges are avoided by returning the car as full as possible with petrol (keep the purchase receipt). Extra matters such as cleaning or perceived damage might be billed to the credit card later.
Travel insurance will rarely cover rentals and damage. There are traps for collision or theft insurance and sometimes issues surrounding security deposits.
The extensive national bicycle network includes about 200 long-distance trails and routes. Road surfaces in some eastern rural areas are still a concern but the general quality is high.
The routes are interactively mapped at www.bikemap.net. For more detail go to the English version of www.radweit.de, where there are notes and explanations of symbols. Regional sheet maps (Radwanderkarten) at 1:75,000 are available from online retailers.
A choice of trails, designated bike lanes or bicycle-friendly routes for Germany can be viewed on Google Maps on enlargement, activated using the menu at top left next to the search window.
The Naviki route map for cyclists, downloadable at www.naviki.org, uses Google Maps to find routes to fixed points and operates well in Germany. This gives route, distance and time, which can be varied for mode including leisure cycling or mountain bikes.
Bikes can be loaded onto most Deutsche Bahn trains (except ICEs) in marked carriages or baggage areas for an additional fare. For details of the Nextbike or Deutsche Bahn Call A Bike systems see the Bicycle section of the Raven Guides Transport - Urban menu. See also the Cycling notes in the Landscapes & outdoors section of the Travel Experiences menu.
The German car-pooling institution the Mitfahrzentrale – designed for sharing petrol costs with another traveller driving to the same destination – is not new but has been made easier and more responsive by online listings. The website www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de translates fairly well in web browsers – for von read ‘from’, for nach read 'to', for Zieladresse ‘destination’. The site has lists of point-to-point offers and requests with proposed times, days, prices and number of seats wanted or available.
Registration on the site allows profiles to be viewed and women can specify women. Sometimes the journeys are train journeys, offers to share a group ticket (check Discount rail fares above). Ground rules about meeting times and places and wait times are included and a latest cancellation time can also be nominated. There are also downloadable mobile apps for convenience. The website has begun an optional booking system charging 11% commissions on fully registered journeys, which delivers some safeguards.
Payment, as specified by the driver, can be at the time of meeting, or a pre-payment can be handled through the website. On booking, the partners receive each others’ mobile phone numbers.
The sites www.fahrgemeinschaft.de, www.bessermitfahren.de, www.citynetz-mitfahrzentrale.de and www.mitfahrzentrale.de, the last with a well-functioning inbuilt English option, operate free to private users on similar principles. Some have price-reckoning tools as a start point, with variations on terms and insurance arrangements. The prices discussed are competitive with discount bus fares and in the right circumstances the journeys will prove more convenient, although they are not always between major tourist destinations.
The Berlin Shuttle site www.berlinshuttle.de offers journeys between Berlin and Hamburg by merging the notions of car rental and car pooling. The sites flinc.org, www.drive2day.com and the UK-based www.blablacar.com could also be of assistance, especially in getting to or from Germany.
Hitching (Trampen) is not illegal in Germany, except on autobahns. It may be possible to pick up a lift at autobahn fuel stops, although the operators would reserve the right to eject hitchhikers. Trucks, normally a good source of lifts, do not operate between midnight Friday and late Sunday evening. Some tips on hitching in Germany are at www.hitch-hiking.org.