Beginners Guide to Train Travel in Germany
Traveling by train is a a great way to explore Germany and the rest of Europe. With this beginners guide to train travel in Germany you will go from novice to (semi) pro.
With that being said, you can find a train station in almost every European city. For example, my small town of 50K people has a train station that will take you just about anywhere in the EU – trust me we’ve tested it.
Before you head out there’s a few things to keep in mind.
Table of Contents
Americans Living in Germany; Know before you go.
Here is a quick reminder of some things to always bring when traveling as an American; first, don’t forget to bring cash (Euros), passports, a mask & vaccination documents (if necessary).
Not sure which passport you need? Check out our passports guide!
If you’re in the military and stationed in Vilseck Germany, this is an opportunity to test out your local train station. Even this tiny city of 6K+ has a train that’ll take you anywhere you want to go in Europe!
Most Common Trains
Germany has a bunch of trains. Regional trains, high speed trains, and underground trains. Below are some of the most common to get familiar with:
Advantages of Train Travel in Germany
If you aren’t used to riding the train in Germany, here’s some reasons why you need to consider trying it out for your next journey.
- – Trains are in (almost) every city
- – No security lines
- – Food and drink
- – Work/relax
- – Flexible schedule
I know we’ve already made this clear, but I can not stress enough how convenient it is to have public transportation available to you no matter how big or small the city is. Let’s just let that one sink in.
Ok, another fact, lines suck.
When getting on a train, you won’t find any security lines, making it easier to hop on and off.
Unlike the airport, you don’t have to worry about showing up 2hrs early, separating your belongings at checkpoints, or stressing out about a line that could cause you to miss your flight.
Getting on the Train
Right before you get on the train double check that you’re on the right one. Most individual train wagons have the train number and destination details right on the windows.
Time to store your luggage and find a seat.
You’ll find luggage compartments at the end, and sometimes right in the middle of individual train wagons.
In other words, they’re located right near all the exits of the train.
Most trains will also have overhead compartments for luggage.
As an American, it felt strange to leave my luggage out of sight when trains were full or your assigned seat was on the opposite end.
But it’s all good.
Your luggage is safe. In my experience, other passengers aren’t worried about stealing your belongings.
However, I would periodically check on it when the train has stops, just to make sure no one mistakenly takes your similar looking bag.
2nd Class Train Travel in Germany
A standard second class ticket is your most common ticket on the railway.
Each train in Germany has a different vibe for second class, but at a minimum you can expect:
- – Comfortable seating
- – Tables for games or doing work
- – Cup holders
- – Outlet plugs
- – Toilets
- – Special seating for bikes, elderly or handicap, and even kids
Depending on which type of train you’re on, there’s also food, drink, or light snacks available. And when there’s not a worldwide pandemic, you can bring your own food or drink – to include pregame beers for Oktoberfest!
1st Class Train Travel in Germany
Welcome to 1st class travel. You’ll find 1st class seating on just about every “above ground” train.
The regional trains will have a little more leg room, an outlet plug, and it will be sectioned off in a quieter part of the wagon.
InterCity Express (ICE) trains will be your top notch 1st class experience.
ICE trains have their own dedicated wagons with plenty of space, outlet plugs, FREE Wi-Fi, and a fancy restaurant where you can order full meals, drink, & snacks.
You can also order straight from your chair! Treat yourself to an Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce!
Not only do you have a train station all over the map, but they also have flexible schedules.
In the event of missing a scheduled departure or connection, chances are there’s another train arriving soon to get you where you need to go.
Once you reach your destination, taxis are available outside the station to take you to your next stop.
Disadvantages of Train Travel in Germany
Like all modes of transportation, there’s some disadvantages to be aware of as well.
- – Travel time can be longer than car
- – Time delays/strikes
- – Stranded by weather
- – Language barrier
- – Missing your connection
- – Overcrowded
Although I’m a strong advocate for the train, there’s definitely some sensitive issues that need to be addressed.
Just because you’re on a train and there’s no traffic, doesn’t mean you’ll get there faster.
Usually your travel time by train vs a car is a bit longer. I’ve learned to accept this over time.
I’m completely ok with traveling a bit longer in order to avoid traffic (aka “Stau”), sitting for long periods of time, and just driving in general.
Delays and strikes are the worst. This can completely change your “train vibes.”
Delays are unavoidable, you’ll experience this from time to time, but we’ll show you how to work around it.
Some of the most common delays occur due to weather, construction, and train maintenance.
In addition, overcrowded trains will cause delays and sometimes force you to sit on the floor if you haven’t reserved a seat. Be careful when booking during a big festival, and stay aware of train occupancy by recognizing the “how full is my train symbol.”
Although rare, strikes also happen and there’s nothing you can really do to prevent it. The biggest advantage to “beating a strike” is to have awareness.
Strikes are no surprise (delays are). You can always count on the local news or Deutsche Bahn Navigator App to warn you about an upcoming “Streik” and how it may effect your train travel in Germany.
Missed connections are also a huge bummer. You can miss your connection for a number of reasons, but keep in mind, through the DB App you can always see the schedule in real time to make adjustments for unforeseen delays.
Check out all your passenger rights for refunds on delayed trains, missed connections, and cancellations
Lastly, if you’re new to train travel in Germany, chances are “split trains” and language barriers can also cause a bit of confusion and frustration. Most train announcements speak in both German and English, but split trains still seem to catch us by surprise.
Pro Tip: Take the time to learn a few keywords to navigate the language barrier.
Abfahrt – Departure
Ankunft – Arrival
Fahrkarten – Tickets
Fahrplan – Train Schedule
Gleis – Track
Verspätung – Delayed
Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) – Central Train Station
Bahn/Zug – Train
Getrennt. – Split/Separate
Dieser Zug wird getrennt – This train will split
Ausstieg Links/Rechts – Exit to the Left/Right
Nächste Station – Next Station
Reserviert – Reserved
On some occasions, trains will join or split from other train wagons on the track. It’s important that you understand exactly what train wagon you’re getting on before you enter the train.
Each section of the train is categorized alphabetically by train wagon.
A B C D E will be big and bold right on the train gate as well as on the schedule board above the track. Each letter represents different sections of the train so you’ll know where 1st/2nd class are, bathrooms, and restaurants.
The letters will also let you know where each section of the train is going to.
For example, the picture below represents one long train leaving at 16:43 that will eventually split in the middle of the journey.
Train wagon “A” represents train number “RE 41” which goes in the direction of Vilseck – Weiden – Neustadt (WN).
Section “B” & “C” represent train number “RE 40” which goes in the direction of Amberg – Schwandorf – Regensburg.
In this example, it’s important to get on the section of the train that matches your train number, destination city, and corresponding train wagon letter.
Buying Train Tickets
Over the years, I’ve discovered that the cost of a train ticket is relatively inexpensive, but will come down to a number of important factors.
How far in advance did you buy the ticket?
2nd Class vs 1st Class.
Did you take advantage of regional offers or the Bahn card?
Did you use a VAT form?
Tips for Buying Tickets
You can purchase tickets at a kiosk, online, at a travel center, or through the DB App.
You can pay either by Euro cash, coin, or debit card at the kiosk. In addition, some kiosks will have the option for you to pay for parking as well.
The Germans are VERY law-abiding, especially when it comes to having a ticket on the train. Kein Ticket, Kein Fahren! In other words, No Ticket, No Go!
Upon arrival at the train station, checking the kiosk is a great way to look up departure and arrival times at other train stations. Also the train schedule boards provide useful information, however your best option is the DB App which provides a more detailed timeline in real time.
But first, lets go over some regional offers…
Pro Tip: Always take a picture of your tickets, just in case you misplace them, you have poor reception with the DB App, or to consolidate tickets for multiple people
Some of the offers include: discount tickets state by state, €9 ticket, Across the Country ticket, and for travel around the state of Bavaria, get the €26 Bayern ticket.
Benefits of Purchasing a Bayern Pass
- – Groups of up to 5 people can travel on one ticket
- – €8 for each additional passenger
- – Unlimited travel anywhere in Bavaria for the whole day
- – Mon-Fri 9 am-3 am the next day
- – Weekends and Public Holidays travel till midnight
- – Up to 3 children between 6 and under 15 travel free (regardless if they belong to you)
The Bayern pass is a great way to see multiple Bavarian cities in a single day or weekend with friends. Make sure to check out all the rules for using this type of ticket, such as writing everyone’s name on one Bayern ticket to show the ticket agent.
Check out the FAQ page for any questions you might have, for instance, cancellations or pet travel.
Deutsche Bahn App
The Deutsche Bahn App has been a lifesaver for me when traveling. With a real-time tracker, you’ll have plenty of options to plan a detailed itinerary of your trip.
For example, “Trip Planner” allows you to map out your journey by location, date/time, and 1st/2nd class.
“My Tickets” will display your purchased E-tickets and timetable in real time.
Let’s look at an example ticket purchased from the App to show you what it means.
Train Travel from Weiden to Ramstein
First, let’s start with timetable options from Weiden to Ramstein.
Here’s the options based on the time frame I selected for the trip.
You can select “Now,” “Earlier,” or “Later” for other time options. Each section shows the arrival and departure times updated in real-time.
Looking at the first row, the “12:41” time is green which means it will be an on-time departure. If the train is delayed, it would show a time in red.
Next is “7:17” which is the total journey time of 7hrs and 17minutes. Then you have “chg.3” which shows you how many times you have to change trains – 3.
Below this you’ll find the “ALX – ICE – RE – RB” which are the different types of trains you’ll be on, followed by the ticket price “98,90€.”
By clicking the first option, it goes into further detail about this specific journey.
For example, We leave from “Pl.2” – Platform 2 on an “ALX RE2” – ALEX train number RE2. By clicking the down arrow you will see the time you arrive at each stop.
Our first stop is “München Hbf” – Munich at 15:18 at “Pl.25” – Platform 25.
Then, we have 10 minutes to get to Platform 15, which leaves at 15:28 on the “ICE 514” train.
On the following page, you’ll find offers that include cancellation options, seating, or collecting Bahn points.
Pro-tip: If you’re a frequent traveler, you can purchase a Bahn card where you collect points for free travel, exclusive benefits, and special offers
Ok, let’s look at another example of a train going from Weiden to Ramstein. Nuremberg will be our first train change, but it seems that we’re going to arrive 20 minutes late. This is a great opportunity to see how the app provides alternative routes, but it is best to go back to the home page to find departures leaving out of Nuremberg with the closest time when you arrive.
Since I am now arriving at 07:43, the next best option is to take the 08:00 train out of Nuremberg.
There is no need to purchase another ticket since the ticket agent will know that you had a delay (once she scans your ticket) and will therefore accept your previous ticket. However, when this happens, you might not have the same assigned seat.
Final Thoughts about Train Travel in Germany
Wow. We really went down the rabbit hole, didn’t we? At this point, you have all the tools you need to become an expert on train travel throughout Germany.
Where do I go first? For some inspiration, check out my Ultimate Europe Travel Guide.
If you’re in the military, here’s the top places to go to while stationed here!
Have fun exploring and subscribe to the channel for more videos about Germany!