Nowhere in the world when traveling by train is more diverse and convenient than in Germany, the railway network spreads throughout the country, so popular and there are many options. Although the ticket prices have increased slightly in recent years, they still offer many good deals, especially slow trains, local and regional trains, although you will have to change trains one (or many) times on one route. To get cheaper tickets, the most simple way is still to book early as possible, for a train from Berlin to Munich, the purchase ticket price on the day of departure is €125 while early booking is only €29. So, how to travel in Germany by train (travel around Germany by train) on a budget? Let’s check out our guide to rail transport in Germany (Germany train guide) to find out the answer!
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The most popular website to book train tickets in Germany is still www.bahn.de of Deutsche Bahn (DB Bahn). Fortunately, it now offers an English interface, less difficult and strenuous than before when finding tickets, due to having to search for the city name in German.
Rail transport in Germany: Types of trains in Germany
On Bahn.de you can find everything about trains, routes in Germany as well as Europe, but in Germany there are many different types of trains that you should know:
High speed train types
- ICE (InterCity Express): The most popular train type in Germany runs between major cities in Germany and other cities in Europe, this train can reach speeds of up to 200mph (320km/h). Waiting time between train stops is only about 1-2 minutes, may require make a seat reservation or not.
- ICE Sprinter: An express train brand of ICE, operating between major cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne and Düsseldorf. This is non-stop or transit train, targeting the money-rich tourists and running at rush hours like the beginning or the end of the day.
Both ICE and ICE Sprinter have on-train bars, restaurants, and food served right at spot. First class seats also have many other utilities such as newspapers, sockets, LCD screens, .. To take these express trains you need to book in advance if you want to buy cheap tickets (trains with IC, EC, ICE signs). Cheap tickets usually open for sale about 90 days before the departure date, you should pay attention to find tickets early.
Local train (regional train) and slow train
- Regional Express (RE): Trains run between major cities and often stop between stations and connect with ICE express train.
- Regional Bahn (RB): Trains run between towns in the region, speed is slower than Regional Express train.
- Inter Regional: Train running between regions of Germany.
- S-Bahn (suburban trains): Trains run in the city.
- InterCity and EuroCity (IC and EC): Trains run between major cities of Germany and Europe, faster than local and regional trains but slower than ICE train (about 200km/h). On-train facilities are also less than ICE train.
Local trains (marked with signs R, RE, M, ALX) have in common that the speed is slower than ICE train, the route distance is also shorter. These types of trains usually do not require make a reservation in advance and you do not need to buy tickets in advance because the ticket price is fixed and almost never run out of tickets.
Other types of trains
- City Night Line (CNL): Night trains run between German cities such as Munich, Berlin, Hamburg. This train is usually includes the carriages of IC, EC links together, for the berths you will have to book in advance. The waiting time for a stop is 15-20 minutes and the train is usually quite noisy.
- Scenic train: There are two main scenic train routes in Germany: The Black Forest route between Offenburg – Konstanz and the Rhine Valley route between Koblenz – Mainz.
How to travel in Germany by train: How to buy train tickets and types of train tickets in Germany
How to buy train tickets via Bahn.de
- Step 1 – Search: Go to www.bahn.de and change the interface to English by click the “world map” icon on top menu or directly access this link https://www.bahn.com/en. Then fill the information of departure and arrival stations, date and time of departure –> select the type of fast or local train (fast connection and local transport) –> select number of travellers, select age (adult or child 6-14) –> select class (1st class or 2nd class) –> then click Search. If you have a discounted BahnCard, choose it from the drop down list or leave it default because few tourists have this type of card, usually only for people who live in Germany a long time because they have to travel a lot in a long time. This card is only valid for a certain period of time.
- Step 2 – Select: Select the train you want to go with and ticket type, then click Continue. The trains with cheap tickets are listed here, you have the opportunity to find cheap tickets if you know how to hunt tickets early.
- Step 3 – Ticket & Reservation: There are 3 options for registering an account (see picture below), you can book tickets without registering for an account (booking without registering). Then click Continue to display the section of ticket selection and seat selection. You can print tickets for yourself or save tickets to your smartphone via the app for the smartphone called DB Navigator (iOS, Android). If you want to book a nice seat, it costs EUR4. Then click Proceed.
- Step 4 – Passenger: Enter your personal details, credit card information (Master, Visa card) for payment, and click Proceed.
- Step 5 – Payment, Check & Book: Complete your personal information and finally confirm, then tickets have been sent to your email.
In the first step when search ticket, after you choose the departure and arrival stations for long routes and press “Search” button, the result will be a list of many trains, each trip has 2 types of tickets in 2 separate columns are: Savings fares and Flexpreis. So how are these two different?
- Savings fares: These are cheap tickets with preferential prices usually €19, €29, €39 depending on the length of the distance and the time you book in advance. These tickets are of course cheap but you are only allowed to return or exchange tickets if you accept to pay fee (before the train runs). After the departure time, you will not be exchanged or refunded.
- Flexpreis: These types of tickets are usually fixed prices tickets and you can buy it right at the station on the day of departure. Flexpreis tickets allow you exchange and refund for free before the train runs, after departure time, the exchange fee is EUR17.50.
For the convenience of finding and managing tickets, especially if you intend to travel a lot by train, you should register an account at Bahn.de and log in to check, print tickets, very useful later. Managing your purchased and print your tickets is also easier for you. You can also buy tickets at the ticket vending machines on the day of departure, but the ticket price will be quite high. Especially if you directly buy from the ticket checker on train, you have to pay an extra fee of EUR2. Children under 15 can travel free without ticket if go with an adult who already bought the ticket.
Buy tickets via Trainline
In addition to SBB’s website above, a train ticket booking website that you can consider to use when you want to traveling between cities within Germany or to other European cities and vice versa is Trainline.com. This website is extremely convenient, which can search for most trains and routes in Europe, even local trains and offer you a lot of train transfer options with different prices and times.
Trainline is extremely useful if you want to find long and complicated routes that other websites cannot. For example, you want to go from Munich to Milan, Vienna,.. and vice versa,.. For these routes you will have to change trains many times, you do not know how to arrange? Trainline will help you do that.
Promotional train tickets in Germany for those who travel a lot by train
The above booking steps are for normal train tickets in Germany, but if you travel a lot in Germany you will have many options for cheap train tickets, which can be listed here as day tickets, weekend tickets or tickets for a region or state in Germany, especially if you travel with groups of 2 to 5 people.
Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket (Happy weekend ticket) – Weekend ticket
This ticket allows you to unlimited travel in a day in Germany (trains: RE, RB, IRE, S-Bahn) from 0:00AM of the previous day to 3AM the next morning, apply for 2-day weekend (Saturday, Sunday). The fare is €40 for the first person and only an additional €4 for the next person if traveling in groups (for example, going with 2 people costs €44, 3 people costs €48 and a maximum of 5 people).
Happy Weekend tickets are not available for high-speed trains like IC, EC and ICE but only for regional trains (trains with the signs: RE, RB, IRE or S-Bahn when you search for tickets on Bahn.de). These trains are slower, but the fare is so good, especially if you go with your family, a group of 5 friends, it will cost only EUR11/person. You see the information and buy tickets here.
Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket (Weekday ticket) – Daily ticket
Similar to weekend ticket, weekday ticket allows you to go unlimitedly to all regions throughout Germany with a fixed ticket price of €44, an additional €6 for the next person and a maximum of 5 people. This ticket can only be used for slow trains like weekend ticket (trains: RE, RB, IRE, S-Bahn), starting from 9AM of the previous day to 3AM the next day. So you need to consider if going on long journey will take a lot of time, much slower than IC or ICE trains and will have to change trains many times. Of course the big advantage is the ticket price already.
You can see the information about the day ticket here. Currently, only the German version is available, so use Chrome to translate it into English.
Lander tickets – Tickets by region (Regional day ticket)
This ticket allows you unlimited travel, but only in a certain region and in a day of your choice. Like the above tickets, Lander tickets if used during the week from Monday to Friday, the valid time is from 9AM of the previous day to 3AM the next day, and use on weekends is from 0:00AM of the previous day to 3:00 the next day.
Detailed information about the Lander ticket you can see here, there will be a list of 16 regions throughout Germany, such as Bavaria – Munich, Brandenburg – Berlin, … Fares vary from region to region so you have to choose a specific region to see ticket price information, usually from EUR23. In addition, if you interested in other cities in your itinerary such as Salzburg, Berchtesgaden (Eagles Nest) or Füssen where Neuschwanstein castle is located, you can refer to the private regional ticket called Bayern Regional Ticket, allow you unlimited travel within a day from Munich to above locations. Ticket price for 1 day is €23/person and an additional €5 per next person in the group. Some other regions also have similar tickets you can refer to this link.
All three types of day ticket, weekend ticket and regional day ticket above are only for slow trains RE, RB, IRE, S-Bahn and apply to groups of up to 5 people. Please note that these tickets are valid for Class 2 cabin, are non-refundable and cannot be used in conjunction with any other promotion.
German Rail Pass
This is one of the Eurail Pass types with unlimited travel within a European country with pre-selected number of days, also known as One Country Pass. There are many options for the number of days to go, can go consecutive or choose a certain number of days in 1 month, 2 months. To buy tickets you can go to here and choose the destination is Germany. You can book in advance here.
Rail transport in Germany: Practical experience
Reservations and refunds
Regional, short and slow trains you don’t need to book tickets in advance (trains with the symbols R, RE, M, ALX when you search on Bahn.de) because these trains are always available seats, you take it almost like take the Metro.
Fast and long-distance trains such as IC, ICE, you do not need to buy tickets in advance if you want to buy the expensive Flexpreis ticket (full-flex standard price) with a fixed price, but if you want to buy cheaper tickets like Sparpreis (savings) you should book in advance if you want to buy at good prices. Please note that with a long journey, it is also important to reserve seats in advance, it will help you sit at right spot (cabin, compartment). Different carriages may arrive at different stations and the wrong seat may not reach the right destination.
Consumer protection laws in Germany requires DB Bahn to partially refund the ticket price if your train departs delay more than 1 hour. For any train that late 60 minutes, you will get a refund of 25% of the ticket price, if it delays of 120 minutes or higher, you is refunded 50% of the ticket price, you remember to claim your rights if you are delayed the train. In addition, children under 15 years old is free when accompanied by an adult, as long as their name is on the accompanying adult ticket.
Go with the group
In Germany, it seems they encourage people or tourists to travel as much as possible. The evidence is that if you traveling in groups, you will get a lot of preferential fares. Therefore, wherever you go, you should invite as many friends as possible (maximum of 5 people), the ticket price for the second person in the group will be much cheaper, so why don’t you try, it is fun and save when going with the large group!
Group travel is only valid for a certain region and cannot be used for ICE high-speed train, but there are some very good and worthy routes like going from Munich to Salzburg with a total of only €43 for 5 people when buying Bayern-Ticket, or from Berlin to Szeczin, Poland for only €29 for 5 people when buying Berlin-Brandenburg-Ticket.
Regional train ticket and high-speed train ticket
You should book ticket at Bahn.de as soon as possible, there are long routes from Germany to other cities in Europe only around EUR19, if you are determine your itinerary, do not wait, book tickets as soon as possible. Buying high-speed train tickets IC, ICE will of course be more expensive than regional train tickets, but you should consider the traveling time. For example, for Berlin-Munich route, if you take ICE train, it takes about 6 hours with a maximum of 1 transfer (change train), while take the regional train will takes from 9: 30-11 hours with 3-6 times of transfers.
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Berlin you can refer to
- Berlin Welcome Card with Optional Museum Island Pass
- Discover Berlin Half Day Walking Tour
- Potsdam Half Day Tour from Berlin
- East Berlin Half Day Walking Tour
- Berlin Friedrichstadt-Palast: Vivid Grand Show Ticket in Berlin
- LEGOLAND® Discovery Centre Ticket in Berlin
- Berlin Red Buses Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Bus
- Berlin Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tours (Open-Top)
- 4G WiFi (SG Delivery) for Europe
- 3G/4G SIM Card for Multiple European Countries (HK Airport Pick Up)
- 4G Portable WiFi for Europe from Uroaming
Are you looking for how to getting around Berlin? Read more: How to get around Berlin cheap? — 5 best way to get around Berlin & how to travel around Berlin. And Berlin travel blog — The fullest Berlin travel guide blog for a great budget trip to Berlin for the first-timers.