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. Two people traveling together each save 25 percent with a "Twin" discount. 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?
Train Fares: Germany
Map shows approximate costs, in $US, for one-way, second-class tickets. For first-class fares, add 50 percent.
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. 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 you're considering a Benelux–Germany Select Pass but your only travel in "Benelux" (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg) is between Amsterdam and the German border at Emmerich (about $20 in second class), it's cheaper to get a rail pass that doesn't include Benelux, and instead buy that train ticket for that stretch once you're in Europe (available at any staffed station).
Extra tip #2: If you're considering a Czech–Germany Select Pass but your only Czech leg of train travel is between the German border and Prague, you're probably better off skipping this pass, especially given that the single-country German Rail Pass covers direct buses between Prague and Nürnberg, Munich, and Mannheim. If you're opting to take the train instead, or are headed to Prague from anywhere else in Germany (say from Berlin or Dresden), it's still cheaper to just buy a train ticket between the border and Prague (about $20 each way; be sure to buy before boarding) than to pay for this two-country pass.
Extra tip #3: 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 multi-country 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 on trains or buses operated by the Deutsche Bahn (with multi-country passes, these routes are only covered by passes that expressly include the relevant country):
- Belgium: ICE international trains to/from Brussels Nord station (but not Thalys trains), and direct DB InterCity buses between Düsseldorf and Antwerp or Brussels
- 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 or Verona, or Bologna or Venice (but German Rail Pass not valid on night trains or routes via Villach)
- 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 and 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 92 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 (€23 for first person plus €5 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 011-49-1805-99-66-33.
- 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 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 multi-country 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.
German Rail Pass Spring Sale: Promo offers 20 percent off regular price of 7-day pass (either consecutive days or within a one-month flexipass window). The discount isn't automatically factored into your German Rail Pass order; you must use the sale link above. Available for sale through 5pm Eastern Time on March 31, 2016, and valid for travel through May 31, 2016. This discounted pass is not refundable and can only be exchanged for a regularly priced German Rail Pass.