The most beautiful cities in Germany
Germany’s most beautiful cities and towns stand among the best places to visit in the European Union. They span almost the full range of European variety.
- There are cities with Roman origins and remains such as Trier, Cologne, Regensburg and Mainz.
- Medieval cities such as Nuremberg, Erfurt, Bamberg and Worms and the half-timbered Harz region towns of Goslar, Quedlinburg and Wernigerode.
- Renaissance showpiece cities such as Lübeck, Augsburg or Bremen.
- Cities with Baroque survivals, including Dresden, Heidelberg or Passau.
- Plenty of German cities have beautiful palaces on their streets or nearby, like Potsdam, Munich, Stuttgart, Würzburg and Weimar.
- The great cathedrals such as Cologne, Regensburg, Bamberg, Mainz, Erfurt, Worms, with countless other churches, sometimes in Romanesque but more commonly in the Gothic style. The münster of Ulm has the tallest spire of them all.
- Museums of culture and art among world’s best, including Deutsches Museum, Deutsches Nationalmuseum, Alte Pinakothek and the Pergamonmuseum.
All these places can be reached by train and bus (Quedlinburg is on a branch line). All offer a range of hotels, hostels, guest houses and other types of accommodation. All are very walkable and, like most German towns and cities, are really best seen on foot. But trams and buses help get people to and from hotels or attractions and for the bigger centres, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and Nuremberg, there are fast regular options in the form of S-bahn and U-bahn trains and light-rail transport.
Germany, at the centre of Europe, has the densest network of international transport links on the continent. The summary here concentrates on the principal mass transport modes without examining in detail the possibilities of private four or two-wheeled travel.
Destination names below with virgules (slashes) – such as Prague/Prag – indicate preferred English/German versions or local/German versions such as Świnoujście/Swinemünde.
There are various options to and from most parts of Europe, although traffic at several airports serves largely the domestic Mediterranean budget holiday market.
For linking up with flights to or from German airports, the Rail&Fly package serves 17 airports and involves about 60 airlines, but must be booked with the airline or travel agent. Check the Deutsche Bahn Rail&Fly link.
Most airports are served by S-Bahn, U-Bahn or local bus connections with their nearest cities. The European Rail Timetable updates information on rail timetables to and from airports monthly.
Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurt remains the main centre for international flights to Germany from intercontinental air hubs and its underground long-distance rail station (Fernbahnhof) brings it into close touch with the city and other parts of the country. A Deutsche Bahn Reisezentrum (Su-F 7-21, Sa 8-18), a handy counter for bookings, validating rail passes and buying locally available discount tickets, is on level 3 with a connector to terminal 1 (10 minutes’ walk). Prepare for queues, however, and use the nearby information desk when appropriate. The regional station for S-Bahn (S8 or S9) or DB regional trains (RE2, RE3 or RE59) into Frankfurt is under terminal 1, level 0. RMV trains also offer connections to Frankfurt, Mainz, Wiesbaden and other cities in the region.
Berlin: Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg “Willy Brandt” (BER), opened in October 2020, is Germany's third-busiest airport for traffic and has two main terminals. Direct flights connect with almost all European capitals and a range of EasyJet, Ryanair, Eurowings and Wizz Air destinations. The adjacent former Schönefeld airport has been designated BER terminal 5. The rail station for terminals 1 and 2 is beneath the airport, serving the S9 and S45 (Ringbahn) rail lines and the FEX service to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (via Ostkreuz and Gesundbrunnen). EC, IC, ICE and Regionalbahn trains use other platforms. Terminal 5 has a separate station, Schönefeld (bei Berlin), served by S-Bahn trains S9 and S45 and regional trains RB24 and RB32. Express buses X7 (connecting with the U7 rail line at Rudow), X71 (connecting with Rudow and the U6 line at Alt Mariendorf) and X11 (to and from Dahlem) connect the airport with the city, as well as the BER1 shuttle (to and from Steglitz) and BER2 (Potsdam). The night bus N7 also serves the U7 station at Rudow. The airport has an exit to the A113 road, which runs north to Berlin and south to the A10 ring road encircling the city.
Munich: The second German airport for traffic volume is Munich (MUC), almost 30km north-east of the city, but it does not operate 24 hours. Direct flights serve global hubs such as Bangkok, Chicago, Delhi, Dubai, London, Montreal, Singapore, Shanghai, Toronto and Vancouver. European centres with flights to Munich include Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Basel, Belgrade, Berne, Birmingham, Bristol, Brussels, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Gothenburg, Helsinki, Istanbul, Lisbon, Manchester, Milan, Moscow, Oslo, Paris (and several other cities in France), Prague, Stockholm, St Petersburg, Riga, Rome and several other Italian cities, Vienna, Warsaw, Zagreb and Zürich, as well as Cairo and Tel Aviv. Two S-Bahn lines (S1 and S8) serve the airport.
Budget flights, including services from Stansted, also use Memmingen airport (FMM), about 100km west of Munich. Regional trains run to and from Munich city every 90 minutes.
Düsseldorf: DUS, Germany’s No.4 airport, is a useful link with regular flights from the British Isles (Birmingham, Dublin, Glasgow, Heathrow, Leeds-Bradford and Manchester) and serves the Ruhr as well as Düsseldorf. Like Munich, it has a dense network of European connections but is not 24-hour (closed 22-4 daily). It is a base for Eurowings long-distance flights. North American flights arrive from New York-Newark and other intercontinental flights arrive from the global hubs Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Moscow. Düsseldorf airport has two rail stations and is well served by long-distance and local trains. A monorail train links the long-distance station, parking areas and the three terminals. An S-Bahn station to the city is below.
Hamburg: HAM is well linked to the city by S-Bahn and bus. It has a close European network including most UK airports and Dublin, Warsaw, Riga, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, all neighbouring countries and Scandinavia.
Cologne: Cologne-Bonn airport (CGN), 15km south-east of Cologne, operates 24 hours and has a high-speed rail station handling regional and long-distance trains and an S-Bahn line from Cologne. Buses run to and from Bonn. The airport takes traffic from around Europe, including London (Heathrow and Stansted), Bristol, Manchester, neighbouring European hubs such as Vienna, Zürich, Milan, Budapest and Mediterranean and eastern European airports. The airport also has a bus station served by long-distance buses. There are several flights a week between Cologne and Miami (11 hours).
Stuttgart: STR has UK connections with Birmingham, Heathrow and Manchester as well as a network of European flights. The airport is 13km from the city and has S-Bahn and bus connections.
Hannover: Langenhagen airport (HAJ) is useful for trade-fair traffic and operates 24 hours, but on low traffic volumes. It handles mainly European flights but these include services from Heathrow and Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester.
Dortmund: The DTM airport receives UK direct flights from Stansted and Luton, as well as servicing eastern European flights.
Frankfurt-Hahn: This small airport handling international budget flights is 80km west of Frankfurt, halfway between Mainz and Trier. Its links include London-Stansted, Dublin and many smaller European airports. The airport has bus connections with Koblenz, Cochem, Trier, Mainz, Frankfurt, Mannheim and Heidelberg.
Leipzig: The Leipzig-Halle (HEJ) airport is between the cities at Schkeuditz and served by S-Bahn railway and fast trains as well as autobahn links. It accepts flights from European cities, mostly in central Europe and the Mediterranean.
Other airports: UK connections with Bremen (BRE) include flights from Stansted and about 40 other European centres. Dresden (DRS) direct flights are limited to eastern and central Europe and the Mediterranean. Flights from London City airport are available to Nuremberg. Airports such as Münster-Osnabrück (near Greven), Erfurt-Weimar, Rostock, Saarbrücken, Karlsruhe and Friedrichshafen handle flights to and from German cities and the Mediterranean.
Trains are Germany’s best all-round tourist option, combining virtues of speed, service, convenience and reach, while low fares are offered with some restrictions. Deutsche Bahn is the national railway service, claiming about 40,000 passenger trains daily and more than four billion passenger journeys a year. There are almost 34,000km of lines in Germany and the regional and city networks integrate well with DB trains.
The DB corporate website has most information in multiple languages. Travellers can check departures to any destination, bring up times, options and prices or book, pay and print tickets online. Personal accounts can be opened and a search window is next to the login button.
Travel plans can be made and services booked at the website, by phone (tel +49 1805-996633 with international charges) or at DB travel agencies abroad (a list of these can be found on the site). Travellers can also go to the website to explore booking tickets by mobile phone or iPad under the Offers menu. The DB help number is 030-2970.
Cars can be carried on trains that include the DB Autozug service. Bicycles can also be carried on some services, but a ticket and place booking is required.
On the DB website is a page of COVID-conscious travel tips and FAQs.
Details below are as compiled in mid-2023.
EuroCity (EC) trains run frequent international services at up to 200km/h, generally with on-board bistros. Foreign carriage stock is part of the make-up. A EuroCity Express service runs between Frankfurt and Milan.
The speed of Intercity-Express (ICE) trains (regularly above 200km/h but up to 320km/h on the ICE3, fastest of several types) readily covers long distances within a few hours. The ICE Sprinter trains make few stops. From Frankfurt, Hamburg can be reached in less than 4½ hours, Stuttgart in less than two hours. From Berlin, Cologne is just 4½ hours away and Munich can be reached in about four hours. Services include bistros on board, seat service for first-class passengers, information points, music programs, mobile phone repeaters, quiet (no mobile phone) zones, parent-child compartments and baby-changing stations (see also Wi-fi access below). Rail pass users travel on these trains at no extra charge, although on some routes seat reservations (see below) might be advisable at peak times of year. It is also possible to reserve from seat diagrams when booking online under the Offers menu at bahn.com.
IC and ICE trains run several cross-border connections, such as those to and from Basel.
Several times daily French TGV fast trains run between Paris and Frankfurt and between Paris and Munich via Stuttgart, Mannheim or Cologne. Thalys high-speed trains run some services from Brussels/Bruxelles/Brüssel and Paris into Ruhr cities, Düsseldorf and Cologne. These trips are an experience, but also the most expensive in Europe, according to the RailTech website.
Intercity (IC) trains run frequent high-speed links on main lines, offering on-board bistros and power outlets to seats. Interregio-Express (IRE) and Regional-Express (RE) trains offer basic comforts on city links and Regionalbahn (RB) trains link cities with smaller centres, stopping at all stations.
S-Bahn (Schnellbahn or Stadtbahn) transit lines often link large nearby population centres as well as metropolitan suburbs, sometimes with small first-class areas in some carriages.
Austria’s ÖBB Railjet fast trains travel several times daily between Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt and Vienna and through Prague and Dresden to Berlin. Munich-Klagenfurt services have been added.
Large central stations (Hauptbahnhöfe) are open 24 hours to handle overnight traffic but most will be open restricted hours depending on arrivals and departures. The DB Reisezentrum at large stations is open long hours with staff to sell tickets and provide information, backed up by DB Information desks, designed for answering queries only and staffed even longer (at the biggest stations 24 hours).
Luggage lockers (Schließfächer) are at most stations, usually in two sizes and generally varying in price depending on size and location. Cologne is exceptional in offering a choice between a left-luggage counter and an automated luggage storage system. Luggage can be stored for up to 72 hours in total.
At rail stations multilingual touch-screen machines will bring up instant point-to-point results for services with full details for the time frames requested. A printout can be taken to the ticket desk for purchases. Detailed timetable boards will be on each platform showing all trains, yellow for departures and white for arrivals.
At most stations travellers can punch in destinations at ticket machines and sample a range of connections, including travel time, connecting trains and transfer times, often platform and train numbers and details of restaurant car and bistro availability.
Locations, facilities and services at DB stations can be searched at bahnhof.de, where schematic PDF maps of larger stations can be called up (symbols are tagged in German only). When searching for the central station in a large city, use the letters ‘Hbf’ after the placename. Snack bars, toilets and kiosks selling newspapers and other reading matter are basic features of stations in small cities.
Some stations are labelled smoke-free (look for 'Rauchfreier Bahnhof' or 'Nichtraucherbahnhof'). Smoking areas at other stations may be defined by a labelled yellow square painted on platforms.
First-class ticket (but not rail pass) holders can use the DB Lounges at 15 major stations, open varying hours.
Travellers in distress can turn to the Bahnhofsmission, identified by the red Maltese cross symbol at more than 100 stations, for advice and assistance.
Maps, timetables & information
Maps and timetables provided with rail passes are by no means comprehensive. Go to the Deutsche Bahn website to check trains and precise connections.
As an overall guide, the European Rail Timetable is updated monthly with latest news and alerts and covering all but a minority of local rail services. ERT is worth the expense for cross-Europe travellers and includes handy pages on ferry links and other details. Seasonal print editions of the guide (£24.99) can be ordered in advance for overseas delivery at the ERT website. Monthly or seasonal digital versions are available at £12.99 for smartphones, tablets or e-readers, along with annual subscriptions (£90).
M.G. Ball's European Railway Atlas is a detailed publication for travellers and rail enthusiasts, including more than 120 maps of all main and regional European lines and many heritage railways plus station listings. The regional atlases, in A4 format, are available from the ERA website in book or PDF format. Germany is covered in book 2.
Detailed maps of German rail lines, including regional and S-Bahn links, can be downloaded state by state as PDFs at the DB website or type ‘DB Kartenmaterial’ into a search engine and download – a zoom will be necessary.
DB Navigator, a Deutsche Bahn timetable app, allowing bookings of mobile phone tickets,
can be downloaded from Google Play Store or Apple Store to mobile phones for use in travel planning – even the station plans are shown. Door-to-door street maps for any journey are available online under the Offers menu. Detailed point-to-point timetables in leaflet form are in the DB Reisezentrum or station hall.
On-board information is DB’s speciality. Brochures in seat pockets (with English version) describe the stops, point-to-point timings and any restaurant service, first-class seat service, on-board music programs, the positions of mobile phone repeaters, disability toilets and baby change tables.
Specialist rail blogs & ticket sites
The Man in Seat 61 covers a host of rail topics including timetables, reviews and photographs of trains inside and out, especially service and itineraries between north-west Europe and the UK. This is the place for well-travelled opinions on issues for rail transport and there are ticket purchase options under affiliate deals. There is also a Facebook page.
Multilingual information about all sorts of topics, contributed by enthusiasts and expert rail travellers, is assembled online at Rail.cc. The site has a searchable route archive and country tabs at the bottom of the homepage with route listings showing basic details and blogs.
The UK-based Trainline website is an easy, multilingual site for booking all sorts of European tickets, whether for point-to-point rail journeys, season tickets (which can be customised at the site), Interrail passes, DB, SNCF or Trenitalia tickets, FlixBus/FlixTrain fares, or tickets for many other European rail operators. It’s also an easy source of fare and timetable information. Discount offers are available. The Trainline mobile app can be downloaded at the website, the App Store or Google Play.
The Rome2Rio website presents multimodal transport options for point-to-point searches including map, timetable, travel times, fare estimates and booking links. Funding comes from attached hotel, car hire and flight advertising. The Omio website gives options with more precise fare information but no driver data.
Wireless broadband hotspots through the Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile network are accessible free in DB Lounges (to first-class – not rail pass – passengers) at about 20 key stations. WLAN is also available on cross-border ICE trains. In first-class carriages, this extends to VPN links and music or video streaming, although DB asks that streaming long videos be avoided. Second-class links allow searching, email and chat. Select the ‘WIFIonICE’ option and log in by entering ‘LogIn.WIFIonICE.de’. Accept conditions on the landing page and select ‘jetzt online gehen’. For updates visit the DB website.
A HotSpot service is also accessible free for up to 30 minutes in more than 130 stations. Select the ‘Telekom’ option and start the browser.
Reserved seats are necessary on international and some domestic fast trains and are recommended for most long-distance journeys but must be claimed no more than 15 minutes after departure. Reservations are advisable on ICE Sprinter trains. First-class normal or Sparpreis (see Discount rail fares below) fares include seat reservation.
Reservations are best made on booking but can be made separately and help keep groups seated together. Online seat reservations for most ICE trains can be made from seat diagrams at the DB website (look under ‘Seat reservation’ in the Offers menu).
Standard rail fares
At Deutsche Bahn stations or the DB website, standard fares can be booked one-way or return. Various combinations of class, departure time, train type and number of changes of train are possible, for the next train or in advance, with different fares attached.
The standard Flexpreis ticket is booked for a day only and available for any departure. Flexpreis tickets can be rebooked until the day before travel at no cost. On the German long-distance expresses ICE, IC and EC, it’s best for budget reasons to book in advance. A seat reservation comes with a first-class ticket.
Children under 15 with parents, grandparents or older siblings travel free (register at point of purchase) or at half-fare unaccompanied. Children under 6 travel free and need no ticket. Family compartments for small children can be booked.
The DB daytime express one-way ceiling in first/second-class is €297.80/175.20. For a Hamburg-Munich trip (6¼ hours direct by ICE in daylight or as much as 11½ hours overnight), first-class same-day fares might vary between €105.90 and €173.90, while a second-class off-peak ticket booked days ahead could cost €44.
The Berlin-Dresden fare (a trip of two to three hours) can cost as little as €67.40/24.60 or as much as €113.90/52.50, depending on schedules or whether ICE expresses or regional trains are used.
Much also depends on the online options selected on the ‘Booking information’ page. Punching in the departure point and destination details here gives options including ‘Show our best prices’, ‘Only local transport’ and ‘Show fastest connections’. This produces all the fare options chronologically.
Budget rail fare structures are explained below.
City mobil & City-Ticket
These are ticket options for covering connecting local services, such as bus, S-Bahn or U-Bahn, in cities of departure and destination. The City mobil single-fare ticket adds the convenience of a bookable city transit connection to an intercity journey in the destination city. The City-Ticket is similar but can apply for any number of connecting journeys for varying periods up to 24 hours – check when booking. It's automatically included in saver and flexi fares for trips of over 100 km in more than 120 cities. The available option appears at the ‘Ticket & reservation’ stage of an online booking. But to take advantage of either option and save money, travellers need to plan their journeys closely.
Digital tickets can be bought by smartphone on a link on short notice and loaded into the DB Navigator app for use.
German Rail Pass
Deutsche Bahn's German Rail Pass is for travel in Germany by non-European residents. It operates instead of a German single-country Eurail Pass. German Rail Passes are valid for DB trains, including S-Bahn urban-regional trains, a long list of private rail services and some cross-border lines into Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Italy.
Basic passes for consecutive days, flexi, twin and youth pass (ages 12-27) options are available in first or second class. Flexi passes spread travel over a set number of days within a month, while twin passes effectively provide about 40% discounts for the second traveller. Up to two children aged 4-11 travelling with an adult get a free pass.
Pass holders need not pay supplements for fast trains, but seat reservations for these are recommended. Cross-border or night reservations may be compulsory. There is a list of bonus discounts, including for the Romantic Road bus and Moselle and middle Rhine cruises.
Online purchases can be made in euros at the DB website (where a brochure stating conditions and bonus benefits is available for download) or in US, Canadian or Australian dollars at the Eurail website. Passes can also be bought at rail pass offices in Germany (listed at the DB website). Passes purchased online can be printed out, with the exception of flexi passes, which are shipped free to several countries including the US, Canada and Australia. Rail staff fill out the validity dates.
The basic German Rail Pass allows three, four, five, seven, 10 or 15 days’ consecutive travel. Adult passes (for travellers aged 28 or over) in first/second class range from €255/191 for three days to €622/452 for 15 days. First/second-class twin passes for adults cost from €433/325 to €1057/769 and youth passes (ages 12-27) from €205/153 to €497/362.
German Rail Pass Flexi adult prices, for three, four, five, seven, 10 or 15 days’ travel in a month (first/second-class) range between €269/201 (three days) and €691/502 (15 days). Youth Flexi passes for first/second-class travel cost from €215/162 (three days) to €553/402 (15 days). Adult twin flexi passes range from €456/342 for three days to €1175/854 for 15.
Up to two children aged 5-11 can travel free with an adult. Younger children travel free under all circumstances.
German Rail Passes are valid on DB ICE trains to Liège and Brussels and DB-ÖBB EuroCity trains to Kufstein, Innsbruck, Bolzano/Bozen, Trento, Verona, Bologna and Venice.
Other pass benefits include:
- 20% discounts on Rhine and Moselle cruise ship travel with KD Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt
- 20% discounts on the Deutsche Touring Romantische Straße bus
- 10% discounts on Bavaria’s Zugspitzbahn rack railway near Garmisch-Partenkirchen
- 50% discounts on BSB cruiser boats on Lake Constance/Bodensee
- 25% discounts on three Stern und Kreisschiffahrt Berlin boat cruises
- 10% discounts on advance bookings at A&O hotels and hostels
- Discounts on Berlin, Potsdam and Hamburg bus tours
- Historic Highlights of Germany city card offers in Aachen, Augsburg, Bonn, Erfurt, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Lübeck, Münster, Osnabrück, Potsdam, Regensburg, Rostock, Trier, Tübingen, Wiesbaden and Würzburg.
Interrail Germany Pass
Interrail passes are for Europeans (including British citizens) to ride on services run by DB and its partners, including several cross-border links. Youth passes are available for passengers aged 12-27 and child passes are free. Periods are three, four, five, seven, 10 and 15 days, flexible over one month or continuous. The Interrail Germany smartphone one-country passes start at €162 (youth, second class for three days) and rise to €691 (adult, first class for 15 flexible days).
Budget rail fares
To get low-price options on basic train fares, use choices including ‘Show our best prices’ for that day (but see the footnote) or ‘Only local transport’ (slow, maybe with multiple connections, but cheaper). There is also a ‘Further options’ button to make specific choices including ‘Types of transport’.
Saver Fare: The Sparpreis range of discount one-way fares, subject to availability, for first or second-class travel and valid on the main expresses (ICE, IC or EC) within Germany. Select a specific express train and day for the journey when a Sparpreis ticket will be valid. When starting or completing the journey on regional or local trains, there is no restriction on trains or times except that the journey must end by 10am next day. Sparpreis fares can be booked online at the DB website at the ‘Select’ stage of the booking.
Sparpreis second-class fares come without a reserved seat and start at €21.90 (€32.90 in first class, with reservation) and youth fares at €12.90. Cancellation is possible for €10 on the first day of travel and any refund comes as a voucher. The City-Ticket option and a BahnCard 25% discount apply.
Saver Fare Europe: Saver Fare Europe (Sparpreis Europa) is a range of discount one-way fares, subject to availability, for first or second-class travel and valid on the long-distance expresses (ICE, IC or EC). Second-class fares start at €21.90 and first-class fares at €32.90. Up to four children aged 6-14 travel free with an adult. The City-Ticket option applies in Germany. Cancellation is possible for €10 and any refund comes as a voucher.
The 2023 Sparpreis Europa fares include Copenhagen/Kopenhagen-Hamburg from €28.90/44.90 (second/first class for advance booking), Frankfurt-Paris from €39.90/49.90 or Frankfurt-Amsterdam from €27.90/37.90. Dresden-Prague fares start at €27.90/13.90.
For details of the discount fares between Germany and 16 European countries, check the Offers menu.
Super Saver fares: SuperSparpreis is a no-cancellation budget option for first or second-class travel and valid on the long-distance expresses (ICE, IC or EC). Second-class fares come without a reserved seat and start at €17.90 (€26.90 in first class, with reservation), youth fares at €16.90. BahnCard 25% discounts are available and use of public transit services can be included in the ticket at booking. No cancellations are possible. Children aged 6-14 travel free (up to four per adult) but must be included in the booking. City mobil local transport connections can be booked in more than 100 cities and towns.
SuperSparpreis Gruppe (second class from €8.90 per passenger) and Sparpreis Gruppe (second class from €9.90 per passenger, first class from €27.90) fares cover a group of up to six travelling together, with seat reservation. Children aged 6 and over pay half-fare.
SuperSparpreis fares can be booked online at the DB website at the ‘Select’ stage of the booking. When starting or completing the journey on regional or local trains, there is no restriction on trains or times except that the journey must end by 10am next day.
Länder-tickets (region for a day): With this DB regional budget option, holders can travel second-class through a particular federal state (Land) or group of states for a day at fares ranging from €22 to €39.50 between 9.00 on the nominated day and 3.00 next day. There can also be group benefits, but the fast ICE, IC and EuroCity (EC) trains (and sometimes Interregio-Expresses) must be avoided.
Länder-tickets are valid on all regional trains, most S-Bahn networks and the bulk of urban public transport links within the relevant states. Some private rail operators also accept these tickets. It’s important to keep track of state boundaries and validity on the desired services and check carefully any planned local links. So, although these tickets can be a fraction cheaper when bought from a ticket machine or online, it can be worth inquiring in person and then buying at the booking counter.
Offers and conditions vary by state but in all the offer is available M-F (for some states at weekends or on holidays from midnight to 3.00 next day). Extra passengers can be added at low but varying rates, so Länder-tickets can be particular bargains for groups or adult families of four or five people.
Some states offer only second-class options. In Nordrhein-Westfalen the ticket is known as SchönerTagTicket.
Some offers group adjoining states – Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen are grouped with their neighbour states and the Niedersachsen tickets are valid on Greater Hamburg transit services.
Quer-Durchs-Land-Ticket (Germany for a day): This single or group discount ticket could be up for review. The offer allows unlimited second-class travel in Germany on regional trains only for a day (9.00 to 3.00 next day, from midnight at weekends or on German public holidays) at €44 for one passenger, plus €7 per extra person (up to five people). Some private operators also accept this ticket.
BahnCard: Three DB BahnCard classes with percentage discounts support flexible needs for travellers who can set up a temporary address. Some research could deliver big discounts and travel insurance can be added for journeys at extra cost. All cards can be booked at the DB website and an interim card printed out for immediate use. Three-month trial (Probe) BahnCards could be realistic options for some travellers. BahnCard 50 and BahnCard 25 classes bring 50% and 25% discounts, often on already discounted fares. Probe BahnCard 100 costs €1,295 (second class) or €2,339 (first class) and would cover constant travel.
Jugend BahnCard for travellers aged 6-18 costs only €12 a year. My BahnCard for travellers under 26 starts at €36.90. There is also a range of senior (over 65s) BahnCards.
When booking a fare online, travellers get an option to buy a BahnCard. Cancellation of BahnCards 25 and 50 must be notified in writing at least six weeks before the end of its term or they will be automatically renewed for a year. BahnCard 100 is not automatically renewed but must be ordered by email using a downloadable form.
Probe BahnCard 25 (€17.90/36.90 for second/first class) gives 25% discounts for three months on all, including budget fares.
Probe BahnCard 50 (€72.90/146) gives 50% discounts on Flexpreis journeys (25% with Sparpreis and SuperSparpreis) and is designed for frequent trips at short notice.
Probe BahnCard 100 (€1,295/€2,339) could be a saver, covering all frequent travel on standard flexible fares. Probe BahnCard 100 is valid within the City-Ticket zone of all listed towns and cities.
Deutschland-Ticket: Deutschland-Ticket (also D-Ticket) is a scheme where travellers pay €49 for a calendar month of unlimited second-class travel on all local and regional public transport, except most mainline trains. It lasts until 3am on the first day of the following month.
Deutschland-Ticket can be used only on slow short or medium-distance trains. Upgrade tickets are available for single journeys or on a monthly basis under regional tariff guidelines.
Children aged 6 or over need their own ticket.
Deutschland-Ticket is available only by subscription, which has to be cancelled before renewal. It comes as a smartphone 'Handy-ticket' or chip-based credit card-sized card.
Deutschland-Ticket is not valid on most DB fast trains such as IC, EC, ICE services or DB RE trains, FlixTrain, FlixBus or other privately operated long-distance bus companies
Travellers can buy at bahn.com, in the DB Navigator app, DB ticket centres and regional transport authorities. Other transport companies are expected to sell the ticket.
Season tickets: For repeating journeys on regional or S-Bahn trains, a range of DB local or regional commuter or frequent-travel tickets (Zeitkarten) is available at the DB website for a year (Jahreskarte), month (Monatskarte) or week (Wochenkarte). With monthly or yearly tickets another passenger or three children (6-14) can accompany the holder on Saturdays.
Buses have become a low-cost and flexible point-to-point option in Germany. The benefits of developing competition show in fares for long-distance buses, mostly booked online, sometimes through travel agencies or by phone. For some departures heavy discounts are available. Passengers can also pay normal fare on board for vacant seats. On many routes buses are more frequent Thursdays, Fridays and weekends.
The downside of the bus industry's state of flux is that routes and fares are constantly changing and current research of offers is best. The rule of thumb should be: book online, when possible in advance. Regular passengers recommend remaining vigilant when waiting for buses or while on board. Keep personal belongings compact and secure.
The usual city hub for long-distance buses is the Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof (ZOB, or often Busbahnhof). This may be the convergence point for urban or regional buses as well as inter-city services but arrangements vary by place. Often the ZOB is next to or near the central rail station (important exceptions are Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart). Compared with big rail stations, bus stations often lack support services such as ticket counters, enclosed waiting areas, luggage lockers, cafes and snack bars. Stops are sometimes unlabelled. But with growing patronage these are improving and in cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich arrangements are adequate.
After more than a decade of deregulation, bus market competition remains fierce and routes continue to expand and bus lines based abroad are testing the German market. Online bookings dominate. Fares vary between discounted tickets limited to fixed departures to standard rates for flexible departures.
Smartphone mobile tickets are increasingly common but passengers should check on any need to print out tickets. Discounts for junior travellers are not guaranteed. Carrying a passport when boarding is recommended.
Oversized baggage or items heavier than 30kg regularly incur journey fees of €4 or more, which can vary by country of destination. Usually these should be added during the booking process.
Wi-fi access is offered free by some operators, but the number of simultaneous connections and duration may be limited. USB ports are common. Some buses also carry snacks and drinks, but it’s best to board with water.
Short-run specials can be expected to appear from time to time and travellers with flexible schedules should scour websites for comparisons. Tickets can also be bought from selected travel bureaus listed on company websites.
The many integrated transport networks (Verkehrsverbünde) operated by large cities and their hinterlands include buses in their regional ticketing systems. They provide connecting options for travelling around regions such as Franconia and between neighbouring centres such as Frankfurt and Mainz or Düsseldorf and Dortmund. All these have online presences with maps and explanations of fare systems.
Some of the larger regional public transport operations such as VBB (Berlin-Brandenburg), VGN (Franconia including Nuremberg and Bamberg) and or VRN, centred on Mannheim but linked with Würzburg, may offer handy links for some travellers. It’s possible to make intercity one-way or return journeys using day tickets without using the big lines.
Comparison & booking sites
Specialist bus sites, most of which are multilingual, are:
Fernbusse.de (in German only)
But in all cases it is advisable to check the operator’s website for conditions before booking.
FlixBus is the dominant German and European player. The network is now dense, reaching into more than 30 European countries. Using changes, many hundreds of journey combinations are possible.
FlixBus fares vary but there are discount offers for online bookings or through the FlixBus app. Departures early in the week, late on Sundays or after midnight are among the cheapest fares. Tickets are also available on the bus, from agencies, by phone (tel +49 30-300137300) or at FlixBus Shops:
Berlin: ZOB, Messedamm 8 (M-Su 8-20), Alexanderstraße 3
Cologne: Köln Hauptbahnhof, D-Passage, Trankgasse 11
Dresden: Wiener Platz 6
Frankfurt: Stuttgarter Straße 26
Hamburg: Adenauerallee 78
Hannover: Rundestraße 12
Munich: Hackerbrücke 4
Nuremberg: Käte-Strobel-Straße 4
Snacks and drinks are available in some buses.
Berlin-Munich fares can be as low as €15 but fares for some departures rise above €60. For Berlin-Hamburg, the range can be €12-40, Frankfurt-Cologne €12-30, Bremen-Hamburg €7-15.
Several bus lines based in eastern Europe offer competitive fares throughout the region. The Czech bus line RegioJet/Student Agency has routes extending into Germany and beyond with Prague as the node, connecting east to Brno, Vienna, Bratislava/Preßburg, Košice, Budapest, Györ/Raab, Cracow/Kraków and south to Lyon, Lausanne, Venice and Rome. There are also Paris, London, Brussels and Amsterdam services. German destinations include Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Dresden and Berlin. Prague buses run five times daily from Dresden (2 hours, €18.90-25) and Berlin (4½ hours, €27.90-35). Budapest services, with a change in Prague, run nightly from Berlin (13 hours, €49.80-71).
The Riga-based Ecolines network covers 20 countries.
Berlin-Riga fares (20-23 hours, at least twice daily) are €49.50. Overnight Berlin-Tallinn/Reval connections three times daily (25-30 hours, €49.50-99), several weekly Berlin-Warsaw connections three times daily (7-8 hours, €38).
BlaBlaBus has services from western German cities into France and tickets are bookable at the BlaBlaCar website. There is also a handful of German inter-city services. Frankfurt-Paris buses (7¾-10¼ hours) run several times daily including direct airport start at €30. Munich-Paris daily direct buses (11¾ hours) start at €40, but fares can rise much higher. Cologne-Brussels (3¼-4¾ hours) daily buses start at €13. Other routes include Düsseldorf-Paris, Mannheim-Paris, Munich-Metz, Mannheim-Frankfurt and Stuttgart-Karlsruhe.
The Romantische Straße bus (May-Oct) covers the Romantic Road or Frankfurt-Würzburg-Rothenburg-Dinkelsbühl-Augsburg-Munich-Füssen route Sundays and Wednesdays each way with a hop on-hop off service at a total fare (Frankfurt-Füssen) of €227 (bookings recommended). Passengers change at Donauwörth heading for Augsburg or Füssen.
Visitors to Russia from most countries need a visa. Visitors arriving in Belarus by bus need a visa for stays of more than 30 days.
Ferry travel & cruise ships
International ferries and cruise ships operating in the Baltic and North seas are big business, carrying regular traffic in tourist and business markets with a wide range of comforts. Buffets, cafes, bars and duty-free shopping mix with a range of entertainments on big ocean-style cruise craft plying the popular routes. Cabin bookings may be necessary on overnight services.
For roll on-roll off services, operators often charge fares per passenger vehicle (varying sizes, generally under or over six metres), motorbike or caravan with a varying number of occupants. Drivers should note minimum check-in times for vehicles. Fares vary by season and some ferries may not sail Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
The main international river route involves Danube cruises between Germany and Austria.
One-way fares are given below as a guide, discounts for family tickets, day tickets, return trips within a period, multiple trips or gangway sales being available on some ferries. Online bookings can attract special rates or avoid fees, but travellers should check provisions for cancellation or change. Some operators offer both economy fares with strict conditions and flexible fares with options to change bookings.
The 2023 fare structure and details are given below. Voyage times are minimums given good sea conditions. Passenger check-in times should be noted.
There are no direct ferries between the UK and Germany but UK-Netherlands connections allow travellers to link with trains or buses over the German border. The Harwich-Hoek van Holland service of Stena Line operates daily or overnight (single from €49, 6½ hours). The overnight Newcastle-Amsterdam ferries of DFDS Seaways depart nightly (from €80, about 16½ hours). P&O Ferries travel overnight Hull-Rotterdam (from €182, 11½ hours, seven times weekly).
Cars, caravans, motorhomes, bicycles or motorcycles are carried.
The Scandlines Puttgarden-Rødby ferry connection is the fastest way from Hamburg and Lübeck to Scandinavia. The ferry (45 minutes) shuttles 40 or more times a day. One-way passenger-only tickets for adults, bought at the harbour, start at €10 in low season and €20 high season (mid May-early Sep). Accompanied children pay half-fare and younger children travel free.
Charges for a car with passengers start at €50 (motorbikes €44) for online bookings at least 30 days ahead and range up to €139 (flexible or last-minute). Tickets bought over the counter incur a €15 surcharge and for vehicle combinations beyond six metres there is a €30 charge for every two metres. DB bus X85, VBN regional buses and FlixBus connect Lübeck with Puttgarden.
The nearest Berlin-Denmark connection is Scandlines’ Rostock-Gedser ferry (1¾-two hours), sails six times each way daily. One-way adult booked fares start at €13 low season or €28 high season, children €7 or €14. Charges for a car with passengers range between €69 and €187. Surcharges for vehicle combinations beyond six metres are €30 for every two metres. Online fares for passengers with motorcycle start at €54 (low season) or €67 (high season). Round-trip fares are available.
On both routes Scandlines round-trip fares, including day car packages and onward Øresund bridge or Helsingör-Helsingborg combination tickets to Sweden, are available. Bicycle surcharges start at €1.50.
Bornholmslinjen ferries sail between Sassnitz and Rønne on the island of Bornholm (3¼-3½ hours) once to eight times weekly depending on season. Fares are set in Danish kroner. The adult online fare for foot passengers ranges from about €6 (cheapest, low season) to €26 (standard, mid June-mid August). Children (ages 12-15) cost €4-13 and up to two children per adult 11 or under travel free.
For a car with up to five passengers, the cost starts at about €13, but there are various price levels depending on flexibility and passenger lounge access. Motorcycles with up to two people cost €13 (low season) or €39 (high season).
DB trains connect Berlin with Sassnitz (2-5 hours via Stralsund or Rostock and Stralsund, ICE and regional services) and ODEG trains run several times daily. FlixBus (5¼ hours) runs Berlin-Rostock daily.
The TT-Line ferry routes connect Travemünde (near Lübeck) and Rostock with Trelleborg, south of Malmö.
The lowest fares are for online bookings. A €15 service charge applies to other bookings. The fares below are for specific departures and flexible tickets and peak periods from mid-June to mid-August have higher rates. A 10% rebate is available on return trips. Free satellite wi-fi internet access is available in areas of all craft. Meals, including breakfast, can be bought on board, booked as extras or booked with various packages. Some ferries carry vehicles and some departures require vehicle bookings.
Where cabins are not compulsory – as on certain departures – the charge for a recliner chair starts at €19, passenger charges for one to four-berth inside or sea view cabins start at €49, luxury cabins at €89.
For the Travemünde-Trelleborg direct ferry (8¾-10 hours, two to four daily departures including overnight crossings) there is a range of packages targeted at families, couples, campers and motorcyclists.
One-way fares start at €29 per adult (€99 overnight) or €79 with car. For a child aged up to 6 there is no charge, for ages 7-12 fares start at €19, and ages 13-17 at €36.
The bicycle cost is €19, but costs for motorcycles can be lower. There are varying charges for minivans and mobile homes by departure.
On the Rostock-Trelleborg route (6-7 hours, two or three times daily including overnight crossings), adult fares start from €49 by ferry or service.
A TT service runs between Trelleborg and the Polish border port of Świnoujście/Swinemünde, about 50km south-east of Greifswald. The journey takes 6½ hours, with fares starting at €101.
Fares for the weekly Travemünde-Karlshamn service (16½ hours, vehicle booking required) start at €79.
Stena Line sails Rostock-Trelleborg (up to three departures a day, 6-7¼ hours). Alternatives of fixed economy fares or rebookable flexi fares (about 30% higher for passengers but often double for vehicles) are offered. Check-in closes an hour before departure.
Rostock-Trelleborg single adult economy fares (€28.50-38.50) and flexi fares (€33.50-58.50), children aged 4-15 €5.25, children 3 and under free.
Booked reclining seats are an added €7 (€9 at night) and buffet meals are bookable at the website. A budget single sleeping pod can be included on some departures. Cabin berths start at €50 on day trips (€75 overnight). One-way car cost (up to 4.7m long) with driver start at €46.
Stena Line Kiel-Gothenburg/Göteborg ferries (nightly each way, 14½ hours) have low-season adult fares of €41 (economy, for early bookings) and children aged 4-15 half-fare. But the floor rises to €66 through late June, July and early August and cabin bookings are mandatory. Low-season inside cabins start at €80 (rising above €130 in high season) and the range extends to panorama jacuzzi suites at €280 (low season).
The total basic fare for car, driver and cabin starts at €208. Meals can be booked online.
Finnlines operates a Travemünde-Malmö service (about nine hours, two or three times daily). These ferries include overnight runs, some of them Travemünde departures in the small hours with compulsory cabin bookings. Higher rates for flexible bookings are available. Meals are available at on-board prices or bookable as packages.
Adult one-way day fares start at €39.50 (€100 with basic cabin) in high season and €21.50 (€54 with basic cabin) in low season, but for overnight journeys basic fares are more than €100. Passengers aged 13-17 cost €26.70, children 6-12 cost €18.50.
Charges for cars, when carried, start at €91. Higher rates apply for large vehicles. Bicycles are carried free on low-season day departures, motorcycles at a charge of less than €8.
For the Scandlines tariff to Sweden via Denmark, combining Puttgarden-Rødby or Rostock-Gedser tickets with the Helsingør-Helsingborg ferry crossing or Øresund bridge vouchers, visit the Scandlines website.
Overnight cruises on the Kiel-Oslo service of Color Line are the only direct connection (nightly each way, 20 hours). Cabin charges are compulsory.
Low-season online one-way adult fares with basic cabin start at €240 weekdays (up to €410 Saturdays). Standard adult one-way fares (inside cabins) start at €334 in high season (mid June-late August), €274 in low season. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday departures are cheaper, Saturday the most expensive. For children (ages 15 and under) add €10 each. For flexible bookings add €50. For outside cabins, add €74. A service fee of €19.50 applies for offline bookings. Meals can be booked online.
Small car charges start from €175 in low season, €245 in high season.
Ferries may not sail some days in January, February and April.
Norway has border controls on ferry passengers from Germany, Sweden and Denmark.
Finnlines cruises Travemünde-Helsinki daily (about 31 hours, departure at 2.00 from Travemünde and return 15.00 from Helsinki). There are variations for public holidays. Special fares for fixed bookings or standard rates for flexible bookings are offered. There are discounts on return fares and groups in a cabin.
Recliner seat passages, the budget option, cost €107.50-190 in high season. Berths in shared inside cabins start at €219. Passengers in shared berths can choose gender-based or family-type cabins. Cabin booking charges vary considerably between shared cabins for suites and rates depend on comfort standard, season and position. Meals can be booked.
Charges for basic cars up to 6m on start at €150.
DFDS Seaways sails a Kiel-Klaipėda/Memel route (about 20 hours) nightly. In high season, charges for recliner seats (not available on some ferries) start at €74 and range beyond €100 depending on departures. The low-season charge falls to €19. Berths in four-bed shared cabins start at €59.
Twin-cabin fares start at €109, rising above €200 at weekends in high season. Four-berth cabins start at €174, rising above €500 in high season (four levels of cabin accommodation are offered). Car charges start about €100 in high season, €69 in low season, and there is a €10 fuel surcharge.
Stena Line sails Travemünde-Liepāja/Libau (22 hours, six times a week with evening departures) at basic adult fares starting at €26 (economy low-season), children 4-15 half-fare. Cabin costs start at €85 (ranging up towards €300 for outside cabins), recliner seats at €19 or €29.
Car costs start at €45 (economy low-season departures), rising above €100 in high season. Meals can be booked online.
Passengers continuing to Russia need valid Russian entry visas. Drivers in Russia must show an international driving permit (IDP) in Russian or authenticated Russian translation, as well as having their foreign licence with Russian translation. There should also be proof of minimum third-party automobile insurance and car ownership in Russian. Passengers bound for Belarus are likely to require a visa. Crossing from Belarus to Russia over the land border is not permitted.
Most river services are sightseeing cruises but some cover significant legs of German rivers and become transport options. For trips on the Spree or Havel see the Raven Guides Berlin and Potsdam chapters, for the Elbe see the Dresden downloadable guide, for the Main the Würzburg guide, and for the Neckar the Stuttgart guide.
Middle Rhine: KD Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt (tel 0221-2088318) dominates Rhine cruising and its services between Cologne and Mainz from April to October are a restful way of covering territory while taking in the castles, the river towns and the vineyards. The authentic castle stretch is Mainz-Koblenz, though there are also plenty of castles between Koblenz and Bonn. Timetables vary over the cruise season but there are more options during July and August. The key link points are Koblenz, St Goar and St Goarshausen.
Danube to Austria: Donauschifffahrt Wurm & Noé cruise ships sail the Danube between Passau and Linz (5¼ hours, Fridays and Saturdays). In 2023 the service was scheduled from mid-August to the end of September. The adult single fare is €35, children 6-13 €17.50, under 6 no charge. Add €2 per person for return fares, and a return trip by train costs €49. The bicycle charge is €2.
Car & motorcycle
There are more than 200,000km of high-quality major German roads. In the road hierarchy route numbers designated by ‘E’ on green labels are European routes. The German federal highways (Bundesstraßen) are designated ‘B’ with a route number on some maps but the numbers appear alone on a yellow shield on most maps and road signs. Landesstraßen (sometimes L-roads) or Staatsstraßen (S-roads) are state main roads. Minor (‘K’) roads (Kreisstraßen) are local.
Most road signs, with some variations, are in line with European standards. Information on road signs is at the I AM Expat website. For another summary of German road laws, visit the Transport menu at the AngloInfo website. The minimum driver age is 17.
Basic speed limits on highways are 100km/h, in urban areas 50km/h, in residential streets often 30km/h. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and show headlights at all times.
It is best to carry an international driving licence, which usually can be supplied by the national automobile club in the traveller’s home country. For car rentals in Germany this is likely to be a requirement.
In winter conditions drivers should ensure the car has winter or all-weather tyres. It is an offence to use the wrong tyres in winter conditions and correct tyres are a condition of insurance cover. All vehicles are required to carry a first-aid kit.
A driver involved in or witnessing a road smash is required to stop and if there is injury there is an obligation to render assistance. If there is dispute about liability, or an injury, the police (tel 110) must be called. For an ambulance, call tel 112. Traffic police (Verkehrspolizei) wear white caps with dark bands.
The German automobile club ADAC is affiliated with international automobile clubs including AA and AAA – check with home organisations. Otherwise the basic membership cost is €54 a year. The website is best viewed using Google Translate. ADAC’s vehicle breakdown service hotline is tel 01802-222222 (no prefix dialling from mobiles).
Environmental badges: Emissions requirements on cars entering many German cities and towns are strict. Cars and motorhomes entering the inner areas of many large German cities are required to meet basic emission standards, be certified as such, and display a windscreen sticker to prove it. Motorcycles are exempt.
There are more than 80 environmental zones (Umweltzonen) around German cities and towns with controls on vehicle entry based on emissions. These areas are sometimes defined broadly by S-Bahn (such as in Berlin) or motorway rings around the city. Road signs displaying a red ring indicate the start of the Umweltzone, grey rings with black diagonal bars indicate its end. There are fines of €100 for violations.
The controlled areas include: Aachen, Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Bremen, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Erfurt, Frankfurt/Main, Freiburg im Breisgau, Halle, Hamburg, Hannover, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Ludwigsburg, Magdeburg, Mainz, Mannheim, Munich, Neu-Ulm, Regensburg, Stuttgart, Ulm and Wiesbaden. The Ruhr area from Duisburg to Dortmund has one continuous zone.
At the green-zones.eu website, German green stickers (Grüne Umweltplakette, showing the number 4) can be bought for €9.90 on provision of vehicle registration and documents. Green (class 4) stickers apply to unleaded petrol vehicles registered since 1993 and diesel vehicles registered since 2006. The badge is valid for the lifetime of the vehicle. More details and indicator maps of the environmental areas are on the website. EU delivery time is up to eight days.
The environmentalbadge.com website also sells stickers, as well as the registration offices of the following organisations: DEKRA, TÜV Süd, TÜV Nord, GTÜ and at licensed vehicle garages. Travellers can also make inquiries with automobile clubs.
Autobahns: The 13,000km of German motorways are shown with route numbers on blue hexagonal shields on road signs (sometimes numbers appear on maps with an ‘A’). The blue sign with white road-under-overpass symbol indicates the start of autobahn, the same sign with red diagonal slash indicates its end.
Most autobahns have no legal speed limits but an advisory maximum of 130km/h is understood. In some stretches there are limits down to 80km/h. Recommended limits are white numbers on a square blue sign. Enforceable limits are black numbers in a red circle.
The large speed differentials between cars create problems and drivers should observe the custom of keeping to the right and the rule of passing only on the left. Bicycles and pedestrians may not use autobahns.
The German government has introduced tolls on autobahn use, but only for vehicles above 7.5 tonnes. The number plates will be registered and serve as proof that the toll has been paid. For more information visit the tolls.eu website.
Emergency stopping is permitted only on the road shoulders and there is a dim view of drivers who run out of fuel. Some road shoulders may be used in heavy areas to ease congestion (Stau) – these stretches are indicated by blue signs with white vertical arrows. Nearest emergency phones (Notruf) along motorways are indicated by arrow signs at the roadside. Service areas (Raststätte) with toilets and 24-hour fuel stops are at the side of the autobahn at regular intervals. It is wise to use these for breaks, as the unbroken scenery for long periods at steady high speeds can challenge concentration.
If a road smash (Unfall) causes autobahn traffic jams, space must be left in the middle of the road (or between the two left lanes) for emergency vehicles. Electronic dynamic signs in black with red and white symbols are used where possible as warnings or to modify traffic conditions (including speeds) and a red cross of this type indicates a closed lane. Road works are not uncommon and are attended by lane redirection arrows, traffic barriers and reduced speeds with yellow lane markings overriding any white lines.
Petrol prices: There are plenty of fuel stops on major roads. Fuel charges in Germany in May 2023 were averaging €1.84 per litre for 95 octane unleaded gasoline. Diesel fuel was cheaper at about €1.58 and LPG €1.04. Updates are posted at tolls.eu.
Car rentals: In Germany the major operators are Avis, Europcar (affiliated with the US network National), Hertz and Sixt but there are dozens of others. Prices and conditions can be compared online. It will likely be cheaper to book and pay online by credit card, which can avoid some charges, but read carefully all conditions and print out all rental documents to take on the trip. It is common not to get the car requested and in these cases the car provided will usually be larger.
The rental price includes 19% tax, although incremental road taxes may or may not be included, depending on the company. In Germany 20% fees can attach to cars collected at airports and some central railway stations. Picking up cars on Sundays can be expensive or impossible as most rental offices are closed – others are also closed Saturdays, so opening times must be checked. Handing back cars in different countries than they are picked up is possible but adds costs.
GPS systems usually add cost and drivers taking cars over borders need to ensure the unit will work in other countries. Extra charges are avoided by returning the car as full as possible with petrol (keep the purchase receipt). Extra matters such as cleaning or perceived damage might be billed to the credit card later.
Travel insurance will rarely cover rentals and damage. There are traps for collision or theft insurance and sometimes issues surrounding security deposits.
The extensive national bicycle network includes about 200 long-distance trails and routes. Road surfaces in some eastern rural areas are still a concern but the general quality is high.
The routes are interactively mapped at bikemap.net. For more detail, the Radweit website translates well in browsers where there are notes and explanations of symbols. Regional sheet maps (Radwanderkarten) at 1:75,000 are available from online retailers.
The Discerning Cyclist has a useful strategy for how to show bike lanes on Google Maps. The Naviki route map for cyclists uses Google Maps to find routes to fixed points and operates well in Germany. This gives route, distance and time, which can be varied for mode including leisure cycling or mountain bikes.
Bikes can be loaded onto most Deutsche Bahn trains (for ICEs this requires disassembly and packing) in marked carriages or baggage areas for an additional fare.
Bike path networks encourage the use of pedal power and most cities have developed at least their on-street networks. Bremen's trail network is well established and Berlin has more than 600km of trails. They vary from purpose-designed paths to divisions of pedestrian areas with relevant signs, where care must be exercised.
Often exclusive bicycle paths in Germany are painted (or paved in) red-brown, commonly where on the same surface as footpaths. In other places they may be marked off at the streetside by solid white lines with occasional bicycle symbols. Bicycles will generally share pedestrian lights and crossings at road intersections (in some places a bike symbol is indicated on the lights). At other crossing points they will share white-striped pedestrian crossings.
Bicycle hire: Hire points are often around or at rail stations or at hostels and pensions, but some close during winter months. Telephone book or online listings will be under 'Fahrradverleih' or 'Fahrradvermietung'. Expect day rates of at least €14 (lower over several days).
Two registration-based schemes offer lower rates. Nextbike covers 60 cities and the Deutsche Bahn Call a Bike system, allows easy pickup of bikes at certain stations using chips or smartphone-transmitted codes.
Bicycle locks are advisable anywhere and users should carry their own, even if hiring on the road.
Bicycles can be carried on urban trains, generally at off-peak times, with local variations – space permitting. Cities may require bicycle tickets for S-Bahn or U-Bahn travel but in some bikes are carried free. For cyclists' viewpoints on negotiating other transport in Germany, visit the Cycletourer website.
The national cycling federation Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club has regional branches that can be excellent centres for travel information and offer bicycle hire. The ADFC main website translates well in browsers and there are tips for buying secondhand bikes. A directory of ADFC-accredited bicycle-friendly accommodation, including hotels, B&Bs and campsites, is in English at the Bett und Bike website.
The bicycle routes are many, the most popular being the 420km Donauradweg or Ulm-Regensburg-Passau ride, which extends about 30km into Austria. A list of dozens of cycle routes with descriptions is available through the interactive map at the DZT/GNTB website. Links are also available to maps at the Komoot website.
The German car-pooling institution the Mitfahrzentrale – designed for sharing petrol costs with another traveller driving to the same destination – is not new but has been made easier and more responsive by online listings. The BlaBlaCar website is an English option (with prices in pounds) but there are some similar sites. Drive2day is another English option. The Fahrgemeinschaft is badged by the auto club ADAC and Bessermitfahren has a free ride category. Both translate fairly well in web browsers – for von read ‘from’, for nach read 'to', for Angebote ‘offers’. There will be lists of point-to-point offers and requests with proposed times, days, prices and number of seats wanted or available.
Registration on sites allows profiles to be viewed and verified and women can specify women. There are also downloadable mobile apps for convenience.
Payment, as specified by the driver, can be at the time of meeting, or a pre-payment can be handled online. On booking, the partners receive each others’ mobile phone numbers.
Rideshare and ridepooling services operate in Germany but are less common than in some countries and their coverage is not universal. SourceForge's rideshare app page lists more than two dozen rideshare apps operating in Germany, including Uber, Lyft, Free Now (formerly Mytaxi), CleverShuttle, SmartCar and Cabubble. Some local systems, such as Berlin’s BerlKönig and Hamburg’s MOIA, operate in partnership with local public transport authorities. Munich’s MVG network has an on-demand ride service.
Hitchhiking: Hitching (Trampen) is not illegal in Germany, except on autobahns. It may be possible to pick up a lift at autobahn fuel stops, although the operators would reserve the right to eject hitchhikers. Trucks, normally a good source of lifts, do not operate between midnight Friday and late Sunday evening. Some tips on hitching in Germany are at Hitchwiki.
German city and regional public transport is tightly integrated, efficient, speedy and generally reliable. There is plenty of up-to-date information. Cities or regions commonly use an integrated system of urban transit tickets designed to get travellers to destinations and back using multiple modes. In most German cities urban transit is a far better choice than tackling the challenges driving presents to the visitor.
Activity is coordinated among various transport providers by the city or regional transit authority (Verkehrsverbund).
Night networks (Nachtverkehr) or routes (Nachtlinien) between midnight and dawn generally entail different services or different route numbers. Often there is substitution for U-Bahn light rail or S-Bahn rail services between midnight and dawn by buses running similar routes, although in the biggest cities rail services are likely to run continuously from dawn Friday to late Sunday and on nights before public holidays.
The Verkehrsverbund website (in bigger cities there will be an English version) id the place to call up timetables, search a journey planner, or download information PDFs. PDFs of each timetable (Fahrplan) or colour-coded and numbered schematic maps of each network (Liniennetzplan or Linienplan) are easy to download and print from websites. Most are available as brochures from information kiosks, major rail stations, transport hubs or tourist offices. Warnings about alterations or interruption of services are generally posted online.
The more complex maps integrate the tram or bus networks with rail. Google Maps that mark stations in large urban centres display the services that use that station or stop with a left mouse-click. The green circled H on a yellow sign is for a bus or tram stop (Haltestelle), another German standard.
Buying tickets (Fahrkarten, Fahrausweise, Fahrscheine, or sometimes even Tickets) for local services is possible online for customers with registered accounts but the usual method for tourists will be at ticket machines at stations, stops or on board. Tickets for smartphones are available in many cities.
Ticketing is based on travel within or between marked zones (Tarifzonen), either concentrically arranged or covering areas according to which travellers pay for the number of zones crossed.
In Hamburg the two systems are to an extent mixed.
Day tickets, multi-day tickets or other period tickets, multiple-trip tickets (some at discounted fares) or short single-journey (Kurzstrecke) tickets are available. The validity of these will be expressed in terms of stops (usually two to four, depending on the mode) and sometimes marked on route maps displayed at individual stops.
Paper tickets will most often need to be stamp-validated before use. Practices differ by place, but stamping machines positioned about waist-high on posts at the entrance to platforms are designed for the insertion of the ticket in the direction of the printed arrow. Sometimes a slot with the word ‘Entwerten’ will be on the purchase machine. Often tickets bought for a day or short terms come ready-stamped from the machine. Either way, a day or time of validation should appear on the ticket.
Sometimes multiple-journey strip tickets with numbered stripes are issued. These need to be validated accordingly by folding and stamping in the machine. Some tickets can be bought online, often at a discount. Ticket checks are occasionally carried out by transit inspectors.
If buying day or multi-day transit tickets, travellers should ensure the relevant transit zones are covered by the ticket they are buying. Typically, children aged 6-14 will pay about half-fare.
City tourist cards: Sometimes transport for up to three days in a German city is included in a city card, along with admission to major tourist attractions or discounts for sightseeing tours. Sometimes group or family cards are offered.
These products vary and the convenience value should be considered. Details of periods and benefits are posted on city tourist websites. Common benefits of a city tourist card are:
- Free travel on public transit services for the period of the card (shown in days or an equivalent number of hours from time of validation)
- Admission or discounted admission to major city tourist attractions
- Discounts (or the full cost) of city sightseeing bus tours
- Discounts at participating cafes and restaurants or special shopping offers
- A city guide booklet or map
Some tourist cards are valid until early morning the following day.
Visitors should expect to have to fill in names of tourist card users and carry proof of identification.
Tourist cards are generally available at tourist offices, transit customer service centres or transit ticket machines.
Each city centre's main rail station (Hauptbahnhof) is the focal point of the rail network. The extent of the Schnellbahn (S-Bahn) rail networks in the biggest cities makes transit rapid and these can be combined with trams and buses. At times S-Bahn lines, which are operated by Deutsche Bahn but use the integrated metropolitan ticketing systems, reach far enough to link neighbouring cities (such as Berlin and Potsdam or Leipzig and Halle) or make a destination such as Meissen a comfortable afternoon excursion from Dresden. There may even be first-class areas on some S-Bahn trains. German Rail and international passes are valid on S-Bahns, but using them this way adds a day's use to flexipasses.
S-Bahn stations tend to be further apart and their lines reach further than on U-Bahn (underground/metro/subway) networks. U-Bahns do not in fact always run underground and in cities such as Cologne, Stuttgart and Nuremberg carriages climb out of their tunnels a few stops from the city centre and operate basically as light-rail or tram systems.
Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr cities, Bremen, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Dresden, Leipzig, Saarbrücken have U-Bahn networks. In Berlin and Hamburg the U-Bahn alternates between tunnels and lines elevated several metres above ground. In all cases services are frequent – in Berlin and other big cities five or 10 minutes is the usual interval – and the networks are interlinked through common stations and appear on the same maps, providing easy changes between modes or regional and international services.
The green 'S' and blue 'U' symbols are easily identifiable and standard through Germany and show up handily on many Google maps and Here.com. Most lines cross cities from one side of the metropolitan area to the other and, though it is important to know before boarding which direction (Richtung) is correct, not all services on a line may be timetabled to reach the terminus.
Most German metropolises have a tramway/streetcar (Straßenbahn) network – the chief exceptions are Cologne and Hamburg, which rely on close S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus networks. Tram networks are important even in medium-sized cities such as Augsburg (population about 260,000) or Würzburg (130,000) and are the basis of inner urban transit in cities such as Bremen and Dresden. U-Bahn services (see Rail above) often operate similarly to tram services outside city centres.
Tram tickets can usually be bought for short trips, periods or a day, often from machines at stops, and sometimes from machines on board. But most common is the multi-modal integrated city transit ticket. Names of coming stops show on an overhead digital panel.
Buses are often run by the city authority (Stadtwerke) and where trains and trams are dominant tend to fill gaps between other modes and provide coverage to outer areas. The next stop (or next few stops) will show on a digital panel inside the bus. Generally at least basic single-trip and day tickets can be purchased from bus drivers.
Sometimes local buses share the central bus station (ZOB) with regional or international buses. The ZOB is often be adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof, but there are many exceptions.
Entry by the front door is mostly compulsory unless using a pushchair/stroller, pushing a bicycle (where allowed) or using a mobility device. There are often two gates, the left-hand one for passengers showing period passes or validating prepaid tickets and the right-hand for those needing to buy tickets.
Taxi cabs are not extremely expensive for short trips and service is good, particularly assistance with luggage (for which tips or rounding up of the tariff are appreciated). Cars are required to be a pale ivory colour similar to beige but there are variations in cities such as Lübeck. Taxi stands or ranks are at major rail and bus stations and other obvious points.
Local taxi telephone numbers are offered under the Transport headings for major Raven Guides destinations (for other options look under ‘Taxi’ in local telephone books). Metropolitan areas often use a central call number. Users with enough confidence in German can use the automated call line (tel 22456, mobile phone rate €0.69 per minute) in cities and all but small towns. The German TaxiApp is another option, but works only with German phone numbers. About 70 German taxi services also use the Cab4me app.
Most starting tariffs are between €3 and €5. In most places the subsequent charge per kilometre will be in the range of of €2-2.50. Sometimes this rate is higher for the first 5km. In some places the flagfall charge is €5 or more but will likely be balanced by the kilometre rate.
Sometimes idling time in traffic brings a small added charge. Fares can be charged at a slightly higher rate from late evening, or on Sundays.
Fares (for trips less than 50km) attract 7% tax, which is included in the meter charge. Longer trips are possible at negotiated prices (with a healthier tip), but the tax rate jumps to the full Umsatzsteuer level of 19%.
Bike path networks encourage the use of pedal power and most cities have developed at least their on-street networks. Bremen's trail network is well established and Berlin has more than 600km of trails. They vary from purpose-designed paths to divisions of pedestrian areas with relevant signs, where care must be exercised accordingly.
Often exclusive bicycle paths in Germany are painted (or paved in) red-brown, commonly so where on the same surface as footpaths. In other places they may be marked off at the streetside by solid white lines with occasional bicycle symbols. Bicycles will generally share pedestrian lights and crossings at road intersections (in some places a bike symbol is indicated on the lights). At other crossing points they will share white-striped pedestrian crossings.
Bicycle locks are advisable anywhere and users should carry their own, even if hiring on the road.
Bicycles can be carried on urban trains, generally at off-peak times, with local variations – space permitting. Berlin and Munich for instance require bicycle tickets for S-Bahn or U-Bahn travel but in Frankfurt bicycles – when there is room – are carried free. In Berlin bikes are allowed on trams and night buses as space permits. Folding seats near doors often provide the necessary space in trains but some cities require bicycle-marked carriages to be used.
For details on bike path maps, see the Bicycle section above. For cyclists' viewpoints on negotiating other transport in Germany, visit the Cycletourer website.
Ferries are a necessary part of the urban transport network in cities such as Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden and are integrated into metropolitan ticketing.