With the German train network being so well established and running special prices, you can really cover much ground while not breaking the bank. But there are some things you need to know before you train travel Germany.
I’ve had my fair share of German train travel fails and there are recurrent themes. So here is my personal experience and comfortable as possible.
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If you have been around Germans for a while you would know that our favourite pastime is not train watching like the Japanese, but to complain. And complaining about trains is high on that list.
In Germany, we have one major company providing train services, Deutsche Bahn, and you will not get around using them if you want to have a scenic train ride around the country. Flixbus, who runs affordable bus services around Germany and Europe is trying to become a serious competitor. We’ll see.
Getting German Train Tickets
There are two ways to get a German train ticket. The classical approach of heading for a station and asking for your ticket at the Service Center.
There are also ticket machines at train stations. If it’s a small local/regional stop that is only serviced by regional trains, you may not find one. But big train stations and cities all have them. They can be a bit confusing to use, however, especially if you want to do short trips and save with local deals.
My go-to way is to book online. The train page can be accessed in English as well and is straightforward to use.
It lists all the options, you can cutomise it if you feel like you’d rather have more time when switching trains or want to only use regional trains because of your special deal ticket.
Type in your preferred day and time and take a look at the different prices, types of trains and changing times. They’ve also introduced the listing of how busy trains are during different times (indicated by small people figures), which is helpful when determining if you need to reserve a seat. I typically don’t.
You can even click to see earlier or later train times to get the best deals. One thing you should know is, the earlier you book in advance, the better the deal you get.
Also, always check whether all parts of your trip are included in the ticket price or if you need to buy an extra ticket for subways, trams, etc. (This can’t be done online but you can add the CityPlus ticket, which includes the local transportation but isn’t neccessarily cheaper.)
Regardless of your booking time, there will usually be three ticket options (apart from second and first class). A regular ticket, special price ticket or special discount price for 19,99€.
The regular one allows you to take any train on the day of validity, whereas the other one is restricted to the exact train combination you chose upon booking.
However, if one of your trains is cancelled (which happens) or is seriously delayed, the restriction is revoked. In that case, make sure you get a train staff member to confirm this before embarking on the train. You can do this in the train station, too. But do it rightaway.
If you book online, you also need to select your means of identification, which can be your passport or credit card. Make absolutely sure to travel with your chosen ID and show it to the conductor when they are checking your ticket. Otherwise you might pay a penalty!
Saving Money on German Train Travel
When you book online, you have the option to choose between different ways of delivery. You can have it sent per mail, via mail to print out (in A4 format only!) or on your phone as a PDF or in the app.
Naturally, the onlin version is cheapest (it’s free) and the most environmentally friendly one.
If you are staying for a couple of months in Germany, you could consider the option of a German ‘Bahncard’.
There are trial deals for 3 months and these allow you 25% off the normal ticket price in addition to using local transport in combination with your tickets.
Not bad, right? Also, there are regional and state deals for unlimited rides over a set period and sometimes group deals. In Thuringia, theres the Hopper Ticket, which allows for short one way trips for only 5,60 EUR.
In case you want to do a big Europe tour and hit up several cities on the continent, check out the cheapest prices on Eurail passes.
Good to Know
If you have bad timing, you might want to do German train travel during strike times. These are not that common, fortunately. However, delays are. In Germany trains are often rearranged or replaced without proper notice.
t’s good to check the train coach order on the announcement screens at the platform or ask the conductor to be extra sure. If coaches are swapped or taken away, it might mean that your seating ticket is void.
In case there is no rearrangement, take a look at the original coach order on the posters on the platform before your train arrives.
Look for the time of departure and destination and you can see the seat allocation, so you know exactly where to get on. This helps avoiding running around the train looking for your reserved seat.
If you have ticked the notification box (and you should) during the booking process, you will receive an email or text message if there has been a change, delay or cancellation regarding your booking (could be just an hour before, though).
Note: Not all German train travel stations or ICE trains have Wi-Fi. Regional trains in Germany or small train stations never have it.
Notable Recurring Issues
Travelling in winter is never big fun as it is cold both outside and inside, but in summer the aircon is sure to give your neck a chill. That is, as long as it is working.
More often than not, it is not and then the air can get super stuffy inside and even water bottles as an alleviation quickly run out and you might not get one.
Not sure if that is just my personal experience but the death of the aircon usually appears together with the detachment of one wagon on an extremely crowded train.
Also, toilets have always been somewhat an issue and you would be wise to prepare for the worst (wet floor, paper sticking to it, lack of soap). If it is not the case, all the better. It’s not always like that.
I find that regional trains are in better shape than the ICE, probably because of less people using them during off peak times.
Now you know why Germans like to talk a lot about the Deutsche Bahn and how you can use it as well! I wish you happy travels and in the eternal words of German train conductors, “Senk yuh fur trevellllllling wehsse Deutsche Bahn.”
Do you have any experiences with German trains? Or maybe questions? The comment section is all yours.
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- What’s there to see in Altes Land near Hamburg
- What to Do in the state of Thuringia in winter
- How to spend 1 day in Stuttgart
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