As a general rule, any train trip over 3 hours and I start looking at booking a first-class ticket. In general, this ends up not being too much more expensive when booked in advance, the closer you get to the date of departure the more expensive the ticket will get.
Overall taking trains in Germany is an enjoyable experience that is part of visiting the country. Here are a few Tomas Tips to get you started:
- Give yourself ample time to change trains if you have a change on your trip, navigating the complexities of German train stations can be intimidating and time-consuming if it’s your first time.
Try and book ICE (Inter City Express) whenever possible, these trains are usually more direct, having less or no train changes, stop in fewer places, they can be more expensive at peak hours but you’re on vacation so go when it’s not busy.
- If you’ve booked a first-class seat, check to see if your departing station has a Bahn Lounge. In many major cities, a first-class lounge is available, just present your same-day ticket and you’ll get a quiet place to sit, tea and coffee and washrooms for you use.
- The Deutsche Bahn App is great, download it, use it. (Android | iOS).
- Print your ticket and have your credit card ready. While you can use the app as your ticket, I like to have a printed version just in case. They will sometimes check your credit card against the card used to pay for the ticket. I’ve experienced this more in the past so not sure if it’s still a thing today.
Understanding the System
The German train system, Deutsche Bahn is the national train network that connects cities. Within each city operates a separate system within the city limits. If you want to travel from city to city in Germany you’ll likely end up on a Deutsche Bahn train.
Deutsche Bahn ticket prices only get more expensive the closer you get to the date.
Sparpreis Tickets (discount rates)
The advantage of being a tourist in Germany is you likely know when you’ll be travelling, which means you can book your trains in advance. This often means you’ll be able to get good ticket prices.
There are advantages and disadvantages of this ticket type so be careful when booking, especially if you think you’re itinerary will change as the cheaper tickets are non-refundable, do not transfer and you must take that explicit train at that time.
Booking a ticket on a train is often not enough, while in many cases you can book just the ticket, you won’t have a place to sit. This is especially true on the major city routes that often tend to have more passengers.
When booking a ticket you will have the option to or be required to book a seat. Usually, this runs an extra $5 to $10. In First-Class (‘1.’ or, ‘erste’, ‘first’) the seats generally are in a 1-aisle-2 configuration, so travelling alone means you can have a window and aisle seat!