By Rick Steves
No matter where you're traveling in Europe, the Deutsche Bahn website should be your first stop for timetable information. (While each country's national rail company has its own website, the one operated by the German Railway — the Deutsche Bahn — has train schedules for virtually all of Europe.) I use this site to plan my connections for almost every trip in Europe.
Here's how to use it:
Start with a station-to-station search. Enter just the city name, unless you know the name of the specific station you want.
- Replace umlauts with an e: For example, Füssen can be spelled as "Fuessen" to avoid having to figure out how to type ü.
- For fjordside Bergen, use "Bergen (N)" (the N stands for Norway).
- For my favorite medieval walled town in Germany, type its full name: Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
If prompted, choose a station. Many cities have several stations, and you may be asked to specify which station you want from a drop-down menu. If one of the options is the city's name spelled in capital letters, go with that one (it'll look up the best connections for that city, regardless of the station).
- In cities with several major stations (such as London, Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid), your choice of station may depend on the specific direction of travel or the location of your hotel — refer to your guidebook.
- Main stations are often called "central," "terminus," or "Hbf" (for Hauptbahnhof).
- A very long list of stations probably includes bus stops in the same town. If one of your top options is just the city name, with no station/stop name after it, re-select that choice (or try re-entering the city's name with "Hbf," for "main station" after the city's name, e.g. "Berlin Hbf").
- Venice's main station, right on the canal, is "Venezia S. Lucia."
- Enter the date and time. Just make your best guess about when you think you might be traveling (using the 24-hour clock). Don't worry too much about knowing the exact date and time of your train trips, as schedules for most trains don't vary much (Sundays are the major exception, when frequency can slow down on many routes). Though most schedules aren't available more than three months out, you can still get a fairly accurate idea of trip length and frequency by trying a closer date on the same day of the week you'll be traveling.
- Skip the extra search fields. If you're just looking up schedules, there's no need to fill out any fields beyond the top ones: Once you've entered the stations, date, and time, just skip right to "Search." (If you're prompted here to select from a drop-down list of stations, see #2, above.)
- Review your options. You'll be given a range of possibilities for your journey. Each one shows the start and end points (with stations specified), the departure and arrival times, the duration of the trip, the number of changes, the types of trains, and whether the train requires a reservation (indicated by a circled "R").
- Know where to find more details. Clicking the arrow symbol next to any of the trip connections will give you more detail, including all transfer points. If you click "Show intermediate stops," you can see every stop on that route. Clicking the train number shows all the stops for the entire route, including those before and/or after your stations.
- Check for reservation info. "Compulsory reservation" means what it says, while "Please reserve" means that reservations are recommended but optional. "International supplement" doesn't apply to travelers with rail passes.
Pricing: The Deutsche Bahn site doesn't show fares for most trains outside Germany and Austria. I wouldn't bother checking exact ticket prices on each country's own national railway site; for estimates, use these maps.
If the system brings up a "Pricing" section, simply fill in any age and click the "Continue" button. If you're unfamiliar with the terms "Bahn Card" and "Rail Plus," it's safe to assume you won't be eligible for either of these discounts (both of which apply mostly to European residents, as these cards make no sense for most tourists).
Seasonal changes: Schedules change seasonally around June 10, September 10, and December 10 (though changes are often small). The Deutsche Bahn posts updates as soon as they're available. Even if your trip is several months in the future, this is still the best planning tool. (Again, you can enter an earlier date for a fairly accurate idea of the schedule.)
Alternate routes: This system shows the most direct and practical routes between two points. To design your own detour, add a "Via" (midpoint) city on the query screen.
Coverage: The Deutsche Bahn site is the most complete resource for train schedules throughout Europe. If your destination is not covered (and if you've spelled it correctly), that's a good sign it doesn't have train service. Train websites for Spain and Italy may be useful if you're not able to find what you need on the Deutsche Bahn's site. For a comprehensive list of each country's railway sites, go to railfaneurope.net.
New Query: The "New Query" and "back" buttons bring you to a fresh starting page. Use the "Change" button to change a few features of your original request.
Mobile app: The DB Navigator app is a boon for train travelers with smartphones and tablets.
Check schedules locally: No matter how carefully you've looked up your schedules in advance, it's a good idea to double-check schedule information while you're on the go in Europe.