By Rick Steves
Are rail passes a good value for Germany?
Rail passes are usually a great value in Germany, often saving money while allowing you to hop trains at your convenience. The single-country German Rail Pass, for example, gives you four days of transport anywhere in the country (and even a few select routes beyond Germany) for about the cost of a Munich–Frankfurt round-trip ticket. While it's possible to swing many point-to-point ticket discounts in Germany, a rail pass still makes sense for most visitors traveling by train in Germany.
How do I see whether a rail pass makes sense for my trip in particular?
Use this map to add up approximate pay-as-you-go fares for your itinerary, and compare that cost to the price of a rail pass for the number of days you expect to spend on the train. (Dashed lines show bus connections.) Also, follow the links below for:
• More tips for figuring out whether a pass makes sense for your trip
• The basics on choosing among rail passes
• More tips on how to save money by fine-tuning your rail pass
• Advice on deciding between first and second class
• Fare-estimate maps outside Germany
• Answers to frequently asked rail-pass questions
Choose one of the passes below to check prices and to buy your pass (orders are fulfilled by Rail Europe).
Note that if you're opting for a single-country German Rail Pass, or a Eurail Global Pass, you'll need to choose between a continuous pass or flexipass when ordering (see our advice for deciding between the two).
Extra tip #1: If your only train travel in "Benelux" (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg) is between Amsterdam and the German border at Emmerich, it's cheaper to just buy a separate train ticket for that stretch (about $20 one-way in second class) than to include Benelux on your rail pass.
Extra tip #2: If your only Czech leg of train travel is between the German border and Prague, it's cheaper to just buy a separate train ticket for that stretch (about $20 one-way in second class) than to include the Czech Republic on your rail pass. Also, keep in mind that the single-country German Rail Pass covers direct buses between Prague and Nürnberg, Munich, and Mannheim (explained below).
Extra tip #3: If you're using a rail pass to travel to or from Paris on a Thalys train, your pass must include France as well as Germany, but it needn't cover the "Benelux" region, even though that train connects through Brussels (but the train does require a $25–40 seat reservation on top of your pass).
Extra tip #4: If you're considering a Germany–Poland Select Pass, keep in mind that the single-country German Rail Pass already covers buses between Berlin and Kraków, Katowice, and Wrocław.
Do I need to make seat reservations on German trains?
For the most part, you can hop on most German trains with just your rail pass in hand. Most daytime routes, including fast InterCityExpress trains, do not require seat reservations. Some international or overnight routes (such as to Paris, Brussels, Venice, or Copenhagen) do require that you have reservations before boarding, as indicated in online train schedules. The EuroCity train between Munich and Italy (via Innsbruck) requires rail-pass holders to make a reservation, though this isn't indicated in online schedules.
What do rail passes cover in Germany?
All trains within Germany, as well as the following extras:
- All rail passes for Germany also cover the entire train trip between Munich and Salzburg, Austria (the official border town).
- Buses are covered when operated by the railways. Express buses to/from Prague, as well as Berlin–Kraków buses, require a paid seat reservation (with a Eurail-brand multicountry pass, you'll pay a higher fee if your pass only includes one of the countries). Passes also offer a 20 percent discount on the privately operated Romantic Road bus (discounts do not use a flexipass travel day).
- The single-country German Rail Pass also covers certain international routes to/from Germany on trains or buses operated by the Deutsche Bahn (with multicountry passes, these routes are only covered by passes that expressly include the relevant country), including:
- Belgium: ICE international trains to/from Brussels and Liège (but not Thalys trains), and direct DB InterCity buses between Düsseldorf and Antwerp
- Prague: Direct DB InterCity bus (not train) services to/from Munich (as well as a stop near Munich's airport), Nürnberg, and Mannheim (requires paid seat reservation)
- Austria: EuroCity trains to/from Innsbruck via Kufstein, and direct DB InterCity buses between Munich and Klagenfurt
- Italy: EuroCity trains to/from Bolzano, Verona, Bologna, or Venice (but German Rail Pass does not cover the full cost on night trains or routes via Villach; reserve these Italian tickets either in train stations, or book online and enter that you have a Eurail Global Pass — thanks to a quirk in Rail Europe's system, you can only get this particular German Rail Pass benefit by temporarily claiming to have a Global Pass…go figure)
- Poland: Direct DB InterCity bus (not train) between Berlin and Kraków, Katowice, and Wrocław (requires paid seat reservation)
- Copenhagen: Direct DB InterCity buses to/from Warnemünde
- Ljubljana: Direct DB InterCity buses to/from Munich
- Zagreb: Direct DB InterCity buses to/from Munich
- Other bonuses are described when you click through to purchase; they're also outlined in materials that come with the rail pass.
If a rail pass doesn't pencil out for your trip, you may be able to shave off the cost of your train tickets with some of these tips:
- Kids under 15 travel free when named on one train ticket with parents or grandparents.
- With Sparpreise discounts, you save 25–50 percent — sometimes even up to 70 percent — by buying a train ticket at least three days in advance for pre-selected dates and times (group discount available, refund restrictions apply, and seats at each discounted rate are limited — for best prices buy as early as possible; deals go on sale up to 180 days ahead).
- Slow-train specials in Germany include a wild Schönes Wochenende (Happy Weekend) ticket for €40 plus €4 for each additional traveler; it gives groups of up to five people unlimited second-class travel on non-express trains all day on Saturday or Sunday. The weekday version is called the Quer-durchs-Land Ticket (valid after 9:00 a.m., €44 for one traveler plus €8 for each co-traveler, max. 4). Länder-Tickets are a similar deal within a single region such as Bavaria, for travel after 9:00 a.m. on local trains (€25 for first person plus €6 for each additional person, max. 4; see regional-network route maps).
- Search for German ticket fares on the Deutsche Bahn's site (discounts are calculated if you add children or put in a return date). You can also order by phone at +49-1805-99-66-33.
- Those staying longer in Germany can get discounts for a full year by purchasing one of several Bahn Cards (one person pays €62 for 25 percent discounts, or €255 for 50 percent discounts in second class, cheaper for seniors, youths, and children).
Also see our general tips for buying point-to-point tickets.
Germany Rail Passes: Key Details
Single-country German Rail Pass: This pass' "Twin" discount offers a 25 percent price break for two people traveling together; odd-numbered groups must buy one individual adult or youth pass. Note that adding extra travel days on this pass, at about $15–30/day, is significantly cheaper than doing so on a multicountry pass — though the flexipass version of this single-country pass is valid for just one month, not two, after you've activated the pass. This pass is also sold at main train stations in Germany. Note: This is not a Eurail-brand pass, so special Eurail promotional deals don't apply to this pass.