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. 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. 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
Extra tip: The Germany Eurail Pass and the confusingly similarly named German Rail Pass are also quite similarly priced. However, only the non-Eurail-brand pass offers a "twin" discount (see its key details below).
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 passholders to make a reservation, though this isn't indicated in online schedules.
What do rail passes cover in Germany?
Virtually all trains within Germany, as well as the following extras:
- Trains between Munich and Salzburg (as Salzburg is officially the Austrian border station on this route)
- S-Bahn trains (but not U-Bahn trains; this bonus is usually only relevant on the days you arrive or depart on a longer train ride, since otherwise it makes little sense to use up a rail pass travel day for a short, inexpensive trip)
- International routes: certain trains to/from Germany operated by the Deutsche Bahn — meaning you can avoid buying separate tickets (or bumping up to a Global Pass) if these are your only trips beyond Germany. These routes include:
- Belgium: ICE international trains to/from Brussels and Liège (but not Thalys trains)
- Austria: EuroCity trains to/from Innsbruck via Kufstein
- Italy: EuroCity trains to/from Bolzano, Verona, Bologna, or Venice (but Germany-only passes don't cover the full cost of night trains or routes via Villach); reserve seats either in train stations or via the Deutsche Bahn's site — choose "Seat only (no ticket)"
- Other bonuses (including a 20 percent discount on the Romantic Road bus) are described on the page linked from "Buy a Germany Eurail Pass" above.
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:
- Up to four kids under 15 travel free when named on one train ticket with anyone age 15 or older. (And kids under 6 ride free without a ticket — whereas train travel in most neighboring countries is free only for kids under 4.)
- The Deutschland-Ticket, currently €49 per person (including kids 6 and up), covers regional trains, buses, and urban transit for one calendar month. (It doesn't cover the three fastest classes of trains — you still need a separate ticket to ride any ICE, IC, or EC train.) This can be a great deal if you're not expecting to take many high-speed trains in Germany, especially if you're traveling solo. Otherwise, a rail pass, or one of the other ticket options listed here, may be a better savings.
- With "saver fare" (a.k.a. "Sparpreis") discounts, you save 25–50 percent — sometimes even up to 70 percent — by buying a train ticket 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).
- Two slow-train deals can be a steal: The "day ticket for Germany" gives groups of up to five people unlimited second-class travel on non-express trains for a calendar day (€42 for one traveler, €7 for each cotraveler, can't be used before 9:00 a.m. on weekdays, called the "Quer-durchs-Land Ticket" in German materials). Regional day tickets (a.k.a. "Länder-Tickets") are a similar deal for local trains within a single region, such as Bavaria (generally €22–30 for first person, €3–8 each for up to four cotravelers, can't be used before 9:00 a.m. on weekdays).
- The DB Navigator app makes it easy to check schedules and buy tickets on the go. Just as on the Deutsche Bahn's website, 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.
Also see our general tips for buying point-to-point tickets.