A guide to train travel in Germany, German trains, buying rail tickets in Germany and using rail passes in Germany including the Inter Rail Germany pass
Arrived here from the Start Your Journey Page?
1 - Next click the trains link to the left.
2 - Next click the tickets link to the left.
3 - (optional) - next click the name of the city that you will be travelling to/from (if its listed)
4 - If you've clicked a city go back to the tickets link, you should now know all you need to know before making a booking.
If you've followed the Germany link, you'll have noticed (for reasons that we won't bore you with) that this travelling by train in Germany page is also linked to Berlin.
On therebytrain.com we also have pages dedicated to:
Train Travel on/around public holidays
National Public Holidays for 2013:
and Dec 25th/26th
On these public holidays all long distance trains that operate on Mon-Fri only and Mon-Sat only will not operate.
Regional and local trains will operate to a Sunday timetable.
Regional holidays are June 7th, Oct 31st and November 1st. On these dates local and regional trains operate to a Sunday timetable and long distance trains may also be cancelled.
National Rail Operator
State Rail Operator = D-bahn
Train Travel Words/Phrases
We admit we used Google Translate for these, if they're wrong please contact us and we'll correct them
- Train = Zug
- Station = Bahnhof (ordinary station); Hauptbahnhof (main station)
- Track/Platform = Bahnsteig
- Ticket = ticket; Karte; Fahrschein
- Single Ticket = Einzelfahrschein
- Return Ticket = Hin-und Rückfahrt; Rückfahrkarte Rückfahrschein
- 1st class = 1. Klasse
- 2nd class = zweite Klasse
- Ticket/Booking desk = Kassenschluss
- Information Desk = Informationsstand
- Left Luggage office = Gepäckaufbewahrung
- Arrival = Ankunft
- Departure = Abfahrt
- Timetable = Fahrplan
- Reservation = Reservierungspflicht
- Destination = Endziel
- Fridays only = freitag nur
- Saturday only = samstag nur
- Sunday only = Sonntag nur
- Weekend only = nur an Wochenenden
- Not Saturday = nicht Samstag
- Not Sunday = nicht SONNTAG
- Not weekend = an Wochenenden und Feiertagen
- Public Holiay = Feiertag
Long distance rail travel in Germany is dominated by the impressive ICE trains that link all major cities
Travel by ICE Trains
Reservations aren’t generally compulsory on ICE trains, but when they are recommended on D-Bahn timetables, second class passengers should definitely heed the advice.
Supplements for travel on ICE trains that operate solely within Germany aren’t charged to Eurail and InterRail pass holders and this rule also applies to ICE services that operate into Austria, The Netherlands and Switzerland.
High Speed Lines
Germany has a network of high speed lines that are used primarily by ICE trains, they are:
- Berlin - Hannover
- Cologne/Koln - Frankfurt Airport (Flughafen)
- Mannheim - Stuttgart
- Hannover - Frankfurt/Wurzburg
- Nuremberg - Munich/Munchen
The key domestic ICE routes (including extensions to Austria/Switzerland) are:
- Cologne (hbf) – Hamm – Hannover – Berlin*
- Dortmund - Essen – Cologne (Messe-Deutz) – Frankfurt Airport – Frankfurt – Wurzburg – Nuremberg – Munich*
- Dortmund – Cologne (hbf)– Frankfurt Airport – Mannheim – Stuttgart – Ulm – Augsburg – Munich*
- Cologne (hbf) – Frankfurt Airport – Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Basel*
- Cologne (hbf) -Seigburg/Bonn - Frankfurt
- Hamburg – Hannover – Kassel – Wurzburg – Nuremberg – Munich*
- Hamburg – Hannover - Kassel – Frankfurt – Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Basel – Zurich*
- Hamburg - Hannover – Kassel – Frankfurt – Frankfurt Airport – Mannheim – Stuttgart*
- Berlin – Kassel - Frankfurt - Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Basel (– Bern – Interlaken Ost)*
- Berlin – Kassel - Frankfurt - Mannheim – Stuttgart – Ulm – Augsburg – Munich*
- Hamburg – Berlin**
- Wiesbaden - Mainz – Frankfurt Airport – Frankfurt – Leipzig – Dresden**
- Berlin – Leipzig – Nuremberg – Munich**
- (Cologne – Mainz – Frankfurt Airport) – Frankfurt – Wurzburg – Nuremberg – Linz – Vienna**
Services marked (*) run on high speed lines for part of the journey only, while those marked (**) are formed of tilting trains that are faster than conventional trains.
All the above services operate at least every two hours on Mondays to Fridays, on some routes fewer ICE trains run at weekends.
When no through ICE train is available at the time you wish to travel it can be quicker to change trains at key interchange stations such as Cologne, Mannheim, Kassel and Frankfurt. However, be wary of making tight connections in Germany. Delays of 5-15 mins are not uncommon on ICE services, particularly as they near the end of their comparatively long journeys.
Travel by IC Trains
Passengers who wish to avoid paying the higher fares charged on ICE trains (doesn’t apply to Eurail and InterRail pass holders) can make use of IC trains which often provide a slower alternative to travelling between destinations on an ICE train. They don’t run on high speed lines, so journey times can be slightly longer.
They also provide the fastest trains between destinations on routes not served by ICE trains including:
- Cologne – Dortmund – Bremen – Hamburg
- Dortmund – Hannover – Magdeburg – Halle - Leipzig
- Karlsruhe/Stuttgart - Heidelberg – Frankfurt – Marburg – Kassel – Hannover – Hamburg
- Cologne – Bonn – Koblenz – Trier
- Hamburg – Rostock –
- Berlin – Stralsund
- Berlin – Rostock
- Nuremberg – Stuttgart – Karlsruhe
- Stuttgart - Zurich
On these routes IC trains run at least every two hours, but they tend to operate less frequently on other routes which have parallel ICE services, so advance planning is recommended if you want to make savings when booking tickets for domestic travel within Germany.
Boarding a long distance train
On the platforms at German stations from where IC, ICE (and international express trains) depart from, you will find poster signs similar to that pictured below.
German ICE and IC trains are lengthy, but (in theory) you can use these signs to work out where on a platform you should wait to be near to a particular carriage door when the train arrives.
A useful facility if you'll be travelling 1st class or have reserved a seat in a particular carriage on the train
Apologies that it's not particularly clear on ThereByTrain's attempt to photograph the poster, but if you look above the train diagrams, then towards the top of the image (below the dates, to the right of Gleis 4), you can hopefully make out some grey boxes.
The letters in these boxes correspond to zones on the platform, indicated by letters that will be suspended from the roof above the platforms. (see picture below)
The above diagram is telling those waiting for the 05:45 (the top train) that when the train arrives, the first class will be in Zones D and E.
Also on the 05:45 train 2nd class carriages 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be in Zone A, while numbers 5 and 6 will be in Zone B.
It's usually worth seeking out this notice because, as can be seen, there can be big differences as to where 1st class will be located etc on each different train service.
The platform zone (B in the above example) is often indicated next to the electronic screens, that give details of the next train to depart from the platform at German stations.
Note that this electronic display also gives an indication of in which zone those with 1st class tickets should wait on the platform, but it doesn't give details of which zones individual carriages on the train will be located.
If this electronic sign indicates that the 1st class will be found on a different zone to that what is indicated on the information poster, then trust the electronic sign to be right and the poster to be wrong.
A quirk of train travel in Germany is that many trains (as many as 20% in ThereByTrain's experience) travel in reverse formation, back to front in other words.
This means that on these trains, the opposite to what the poster on the platform tells you about to where to wait for the train applies, 1st class will be found in Zone E and not Zone A etc.
In these instances announcements will be made and there will be text scrolling across the electronic sign, but it won't be translated into English.
If you're caught out by this scenario ThereByTrain's advice is to board the train by the door that's nearest to you and then move through the train to find 1st class or your reserved seat.
Travelling on Saturday/Sunday
If you have a choice between travelling long distances in Germany by train or on international ICE and EC trains to/from Germany at a weekend or on Mon-Friday, then ThereByTrain.com's advice is to avoid travelling at weekends.
On German train timetables ICE, IC and EC trains generally have the same arrival/departure and journey times at weekends as they do on Mondays-Fridays, but long distance trains are much more likely to be delayed by work on the line at weekends.
Information as to whether trains will in fact be slowed by work on the lines at weekends is hard to come by. On two extensive trips in Germany ThereByTrain has been accompanied by a friend who spoke good German. He wasn't aware of warnings of trains being delayed by work on the line being given in announcements at the station or on the train, nor was any information given about possible delays on the electronic departure indicators.
A positive is that German trains rarely have to take a completely different route when work on the line is being carried out, and having to take a bus for part off the journey is virtually unheard of.
However, the first indication that the ICE or IC train will be delayed by work on the line is normally when the train slows down.
These delays aren't factored in the timetable, the trains affected are simply shown as being late at subsequent stations that they arrive at, but these time differences can be substantial.
ThereByTrain has been at Cologne/Koln station when all trains from Hamburg were being delayed by 45 mins or more due to work on the line, and at Munich/Munchen hbf when all trains travelling through Augsburg were being delayed by more than 30 mins.
High speed lines can also be closed for maintenance at weekends and this can have major impacts on train times. ThereByTrain.com is yet to travel on the high speed line between Aachen and Liege because on both occasions the ICE trains were diverted on to the old line due to maintenance.
On both occasions announcements were only made on the train immediately before the train was due to take the high speed line.
Therefore take particular care when making connections between trains in Germany at weekends, ThereByTrain's advice is to allow for a minimum of an additional 45 mins more than the timetable suggests!
By Train Through The Rhine Valley
One route with both frequent ICE and IC services is Cologne to Frankfurt and Mannheim, the overwhelming majority of ICE trains take the dedicated high speed line, so are an hour faster, but the IC trains (along with EC services) take the traditional route through the Rhine Valley.
This is one of the most spectacular rail journeys in all of Europe (if you sit on the river side of the train, which is to the right going north and the left when travelling south from Cologne), so if you have the time available, taking this route is highly recommended. When choosing between long distance IC and ICE services, look for trains that are travelling through the towns of Bonn, Koblenz and Mainz.
In the majority of urban areas a network of local services operate that are branded S-Bahn and provide frequent and regular interval trains, seven days per week. These S-Bahn services also provide rail links to airports in Berlin, Cologne/Bonn, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Halle, Munich, Nuremberg and Stuttgart.
Outside of urban areas, local trains and slower trains between cities, that call at virtually all stations on any route are branded RE.
Train Stations in Germany
The primary station in a German city is referred to as the ‘Hauptbahnhof’, which is usually abbreviated to ‘hbf’ on timetables and station signs.
Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich all have multiple stations that are served by long-distance and international trains, but the timings used on therebytrain.com are from the main Hauptbahnhof.
Certain long distance services from Cologne and Frankfurt only serve stations other than the ‘hbf’ and these have been indicated where appropriate.