Need expat info for Germany?
Trains in Germany
More than 40,000 km of railway tracks make up the basis of Germany’s most important national transport system. Trains in Germany are mostly clean, comfortable, and efficient. They are an environmentally friendly, albeit expensive alternative to travelling by plane.
Even though lots of Germans like complaining about rising fares and inadequate customer service on trains in Germany, quite a few outsiders still regard the country’s rail system as one of the best in Europe. Still, getting upset over the train service seems to be part of the German etiquette. The majority of trains in Germany is run by the Deutsche Bahn AG, but there are also some private regional lines, such as the Bayerische Oberland Bahn in southern Bavaria or the Nord-Ostsee-Bahn near the German-Danish border.
Trains in Germany: Trains and Stations
There are different types of trains in Germany which may seem confusing at first glance. The following list should help you to make sense of the various types of trains in Germany and the services they offer:
- EuroCity (EC) trains connect major cities, not only in Germany, but also in other European countries. For example, there are regular EC connections between Hamburg and Copenhagen, Berlin and Warsaw as well as Munich and Milan.
- Intercity Express (ICE) trains in Germany connect large urban areas on hourly schedules. They travel very fast, and some ICE lines offer additional onboard services like WLAN hotspots, mobile reception, and audio/video entertainment. Therefore they are often preferred by business travelers.
- Intercity (IC) trains in Germany connect some of the bigger cities, for instance, Hamburg and Nuremberg.
- Regional Express (RE) trains in Germany are regional trains that stop in smaller cities as well. They are cheaper but also slower than the ones mentioned above.
- A Regionalbahn (RB) is the slowest sort of train in Germany. RB trains only serve limited areas and make numerous stops at small stations. Just like RE trains, their second-class compartments can quickly become crowded, especially on Friday night, over the weekend and during holiday season.
Stops at German train stations tend to be rather brief, so do pay close attention to the conductor’s announcements on the loudspeaker system or ask your fellow passengers to alert you to your stop. The stations themselves are connected to local or regional transport network, although bus and coach timetables may be rather irregular in the countryside.
Trains in Germany: Tickets and Fares
Travelling by rail in Germany is indeed rather expensive, especially if you opt for a first-class seat on a fast long-distance train. For example, a single first-class ICE ride from Munich to Berlin costs up to EUR 219 – considerably more than a cheap inland flight. However, there are numerous ways of getting a discount for train travel in Germany, and we can explain only a few of them here:
- If you go on business trips within Germany on a regular basis, the so-called Bahn Card will probably come in handy: With this personalized discount card, you can save up to 50% of the regular fare.
- For long-distance travel, there are also so-called “savings fare” offers: a limited number of tickets for certain connections are sold for as little as EUR 29 or EUR 39.
- Moreover, you can save up to 50% on every return ticket as long as you restrict yourself to travelling on a particular day and train and make a return trip to and from the same station.
- In addition to that, there are various seasonal tickets and regional discounts too. The Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket (Happy Weekend Ticket) and the Länder-Tickets (regional day tickets) are particularly popular.
Trains in Germany: Where to Buy Your Ticket
You can purchase your ticket for trains in Germany at the ticket counter, from a vending machine (not all of them accept debit cards or credit cards, though), or online. It is no longer possible to buy tickets onboard regional trains. If you board a regional connection without a valid ticket, you are automatically dodging the fare, and the conductor may force you to leave the train at the next station.
In larger cities, you will often find so-called Reisezentren (travel centers) as well as at least one info booth with English-speaking staff. They can help you find the right connection, or give advice on trains in Germany and local transport or to find the right connection. However, ticket counters at smaller stations usually have limited opening hours and the local staff may not be as proficient in English. Thus, learning to speak the local language in Germany can be a big advantage. In very small towns, there is no longer a ticket booth at all. There you’ll merely find ticket vending machines as well as a few coin-operated luggage lockers.
The train is a popular mode of transportation, especially during the holidays. Thus, we recommend to make reservations for trips during holidays, weekends, and possibly rush hour. Otherwise you might end up sitting on your suitcase or on the floor.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.