Tips for Train Travel in Germany

On our last trip to Europe, we ended up flying into Frankfurt and taking the train to Hamburg to embark on our cruise on the MSC Preziosa. It was just a lot less expensive to fly into Frankfurt and we don’t mind taking the train, so it worked out for this trip. It wasn’t a completely smooth trip as we did have a couple of hiccups. They didn’t ruin our trip because we’ve learned with travel overseas that you need to just roll with the punches. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself when I get all anxious and stressed out! 😁

Purchasing Your Tickets

I have found that if you are only taking one or two trips with specific timetables, then it is more cost effective to just purchase the tickets you need directly from their website rather than buying a rail pass. If you are able to purchase pretty far in advance (which we were), we were able to get the “Super Saver Fares” and saved ourselves quite a bit of money. If your schedule is much more fluid, then I would definitely get the rail pass. However, I haven’t ever used the rail pass, so I can’t speak to how it works.

There are some trains you cannot reserve online such as local trains within a city. For example, the morning of embarkation, we needed to take the train from the main train station in Hamburg to Hamburg-Veddel which was a station closer to the port. This ticket we needed to buy from the ticket machine the morning we were headed to the ship.

How to Access Your Ticket When You’re Abroad

After you’ve purchased your tickets, you will get an email with the PDF of your tickets. I always print it out so that I have a paper copy of our tickets with me. You can also bring it up on the DB App on your phone. However, I very rarely use my cell service when overseas, so it’s just a lot more convenient to have the paper copy. If you are using your cell service while overseas, the DB Navigator app will allow you to check in. That way, it alerts the conductor that you are checked in, on the train, and they don’t have to bother you to check your ticket. Using this feature could be helpful if you want to grab a quick nap after a long flight.

Note: The PDF of your ticket is designed to print on A4 paper which is a little larger than the standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ letter paper. Before printing, change the paper size or scale percentage to get all the information to print on one sheet.

Choosing a Seat

When we purchased our tickets, I sprang for first class seats.

Two reasons. (1) I like the ability to choose my seat. Since there are usually four people in my traveling party, I want to be able to know that we can all sit together. It just makes it easier for all of us, especially when making train transfers. I also like choosing a seat super close to the bathroom, or one of those compartments if I can swing it.

db-first-class-compartment

(2) Free gummy bears and chocolate. Not really, but who doesn’t like getting free snacks – especially gluten free ones? 😉

I like having the dining car menus at my seat and someone come around and take my order (not free). Some might call it lazy. I call it convenient. You also get more legroom and a more spacious, comfortable seat. Also, if you are traveling on an ICE train, you get free WiFi in first class.

Also, be mindful about whether or not you are choosing a seat in a quiet car. You can’t use your cell phone or talk loudly amongst your friends in these cars, so if you will need to be able to do that, make sure you are not choosing a seat in a quiet car.

Navigating the Train Station

The train stations in Germany are very well laid out and labeled. If you run into any problems, look for a Deutsche Bahn employee. They seemed to be always willing to help a weary traveller. 😉There are also large arrival and departure boards much like an airport that will help if there is any changes or confusion.

Reading Your Ticket

On your ticket, Datum and Zeit are probably pretty self explanatory. Date and time. Remember that, in Europe, the date is always listed day then month. Beyond that, you will want to pay attention to three things:

  • Gleis: platform. This is the platform for which your train will arrive and leave out of. Pay particular attention to these if you have to make a tight connection.
  • Produkte: train number. This is the number of your train. Look for this on any information boards or maps for up-to-date information about your train’s arrival time (for any delays) or where your car will be in relation to the platform (if you’ve booked a specific seat).
  • Wg.: coach. This essentially means what car your seats are in. There will be a map of the trains arriving and departing that day at the track where your train will be. This map will show where your coach will be when it arrives. For example, our car was number 12. We looked at the map and saw that car 12 would be half way between A and B. There will be signs with letters along the platform (usually hanging above) with these letters, so you know where to stand and wait for your train.

The “Reservierung” section has all the pertinent information about your specific reservation. In this example, I have four seats (sitzplätze) in coach number 12 (Wg.). Our seat numbers (Pl.) were 63-66 which were two window seats (Fenster) and two aisle seats (Gang.). Our four seats were around a table (Tisch) in a nonsmoking car (Nichtraucher). I believe that information is obsolete as all trains are non smoking only. Ruhebereich means ‘quiet area’ and the final bit is our reservation number.

Eating at the Train Station

Speaking of the train station, don’t sleep on the food offerings at the stations. I have had some of my most favorite German eats in a train station! Want a quick lunch or a snack to hold you until you get to your final destination? Try something from the train station! Always delicious and fresh!

What To Do If Something Happens

Something will happen. It always does. For us, we didn’t have any problems on our way from Frankfurt to Hamburg — smooth sailing. However, it was a different story on the way back to Frankfurt from Hamburg at the end of our cruise.

The train line in Hamburg from the port to the main train station was shut down for the weekend when we disembarked the ship. Also, our train to Frankfurt had been cancelled, so we were being rerouted to a “replacement” train. In their defense, I did get an e-mail the day we boarded the ship saying there was a change to our train timetable. It just couldn’t tell me what that change was. That was frustrating – especially since I had all week to think and worry about it.

We ended up taking the bus to the main train station in Hamburg and then finding our “replacement” train (which was delayed) to Frankfurt. I did this with a little help from a Deutsche Bahn employee. We have found that you will, with little effort, be able to find an employee that speaks English. I had to work a little harder to find someone in the small Bavarian village we stayed at during our 2016 trip to the Alps, but I eventually found someone that could help.

The most important advice I can give is keep calm. DB is good to honor your “passenger rights” and will do everything they can to get you on a train to your destination.

Rolling With The Punches

The only problems that I ended up having with the “replacement train” is that our previously chosen seats didn’t apply. We were still guaranteed a first class seat since that is what we paid for, but we just had to find an open seat once we boarded the train. You find an open seat by looking at the LCD screens above the seats. Those screens will tell you if a seat is occupied, and which stop that person is getting on at. For us, we found a compartment with six seats. Only one was reserved and that person was getting on the train in Cologne. As luck would have it, the compartment next to us became empty in Cologne and the passenger decided to take the empty compartment so he could take a nap. So, we ended up with a cabin to ourselves. Yay!

The other issue was our original train was a direct train from Hamburg to Frankfurt which was to arrive around 1 pm. This new train was the scenic route through Bremen, Cologne, Mainz, Koblenz, and a ton of other towns along the Rhine River. We didn’t end up arriving at the Frankfurt airport until around 4:30 pm. The conductor did warn us of this when we got onboard and said we could get a faster train if we got off in Cologne. But, we didn’t mind as our flight didn’t leave until the next morning. It was nice to see more of the German countryside – even places I hadn’t seen before!

But, ya know what? It all ended up working out. Even though when I saw the look on the conductor’s face when he looked at our tickets, I was sure we were headed to nowhere and my anxiety almost got the better of me.

I hope this helps you travel with confidence on the trains in Germany. Germany is and always will be one of my favorite places to visit! Have you taken the train there? Do you have any information that you think I should include here? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


how to travel by train in germany

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