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Public Transportation in Germany: Tips to Get Around

Public Transportation in Germany: Tips to Get Around

You have decided to spend your vacation time in Germany. You reserved your plane and hotel. Now you need to figure out how to get around on your trip using local transport.

You can always rent a car, but it may be costly, and you are an inexperienced European driver. Now, you need to learn more about public transportation.

Once you arrive in Germany, if you are American, you will notice that the German public transportation system is much more efficient and cost-effective than that of America. There are many more options, and for the most part, you can get anywhere at any time.

Public Transportation in Germany (Free and Paid Options)

Red tram going on Hallmarkt square in front of Marktkirche,
bbsferrari / Adobe Stock

Remember that you can purchase a train ticket from your current location to your destination, valid for the train, bus, and streetcar.

Take a train from Darmstadt to Hanau, then use the same ticket for a bus from Hanau to Frankfurt.

Taxi Cab

Mercedes-Benz Taxi in Germany
art_zzz / Adobe Stock

Taxi cabs can be found around any airport or public location. If you walk up to a taxi parking area with a row of taxi cabs, go to the front vehicle first. The price varies but can be expensive at times. The weekend taxi fees are generally more expensive than the fees on a weekday.

If you can avoid using a taxi cab, I would recommend it. If you are relatively pleased with the service provided by the cab driver, a one or two EUR tip would be sufficient.

Street Cars (Trolley)

Köln Ubierring Tram, one method for public transportation in Germany
beqa / Adobe Stock

Streetcars were the first mode of public transportation in Germany. Accessible transportation to enjoy things to do in Leipzig and Germany. Streetcars make frequent stops and have a map layout of each stop.

Check the route and be sure the stop you want is close enough to your destination. If not, you may want to take the U/S Bahn, a bus, or a taxi. Street cars are about the same speed as normal cars in the city.

Bus

People waiting for the bus at bus stop in Friedensplatz
William Perugini / Shutterstock.com

The German bus system is one of the best in Europe. Buses run frequently and on schedule. The buses have an electronic display showing the upcoming stops, making it easy to find your stop.

Buses can be a great way to get around the city without worrying about transfers. However, if you are going from one suburb to another, the bus may not be your best option because it can take a long time.

Train

Modern regional train traveling with speed on railway tracks through nature landscape, at sunset, near Schwabisch Hall, Germany.
YesPhotographers / Adobe Stock

The European rail system is set up to be a very cost-effective and efficient means for international European travel, with many inner-city trains running constantly during the day.

The German rail system, which the German National Railway Company manages, is just as effective. When entering a train station (Bahnhof), you must purchase a ticket from the machine.

You can only buy a train ticket with EUR but use any denomination below 20, including coins or bills. Simply select your destination from the list on the ticket machines, enter the destination number, and push the “Einzelfahrt” button.

Your change will fall along with your ticket to the tray. For example, If you plan to travel from Frankfurt to Paris, you may use the ICE train.

This train is designed to get you from point A to point B much faster than a normal train. ICE trains are a little more expensive but may be the smart way to travel if you plan inter-country travel in Europe.

See Related: Geography Information About Germany

Different Types of Trains in Germany

Here is a summary breakdown of the types of trains in Germany:

Train TypeDescriptionTicket OptionsBooking PlatformsTips for Travelers
ICE (InterCity Express)High-speed trains connecting major cities across Germany and international destinations.– Single tickets
– Group tickets
– Rail passes (e.g., BahnCard, German Rail Pass)
– Deutsche Bahn website
– DB Navigator app
– Third-party booking sites
– Seat reservation recommended for long journeys
– Cheaper fares during off-peak hours
Regional (RE, RB)– No seat reservations are required
– Great for exploring a specific region
– Single tickets
– Länder-Tickets (regional day passes)
– Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket (countrywide day pass)
– Deutsche Bahn website
– DB Navigator app
– Local ticket machines
– No seat reservations required
– Great for exploring a specific region
S-BahnRegional trains connect smaller towns and cities within regions.– Single tickets
– Day passes
– Monthly/weekly passes
– Deutsche Bahn website
– DB Navigator app
– On-site ticket machines
– Frequent services, especially during rush hours
– Ideal for short distances in metropolitan areas
IC (InterCity)Long-distance trains connecting major and medium-sized cities.– Single tickets
– Group tickets
– Rail passes (e.g., BahnCard, German Rail Pass)
– Deutsche Bahn website
– DB Navigator app
– Third-party booking sites
– Seat reservations are optional but can ensure a seat during busy times
– Look for savings fares for cheaper tickets

Regional Trains

These regional trains are a great option for short-distance trips and are usually very cost-effective. The train makes frequent stops, has a relaxed schedule, and is a great way to see the German countryside. These trains are like intercity trains.

ICE Trains

Front of a Deutsche Bahn Train

As mentioned, ICE trains are high-speed trains designed for long-distance travel and can get you from point A to point B much faster than a regional train. The downside is that you will spend more money and may be charged for each stop. In addition, train strikes happen, so you may end up experiencing delays or a complete change of plans.

Local Trains

These are trains like suburban trains that connect the small villages to the larger major cities. They are much slower than a regional or ICE train and can take several hours to reach your destination.

U/S-Bahn

U-Bahn Station in St. Pauli

The U or S Bahn would be the equivalent of the subway in the States. The U-Bahn covers city areas, whereas the S-Bahn covers city areas up to 60 kilometers outside the city.

Normally you will only find U/S Bahns in bigger cities. The U/S Bahn typically makes more stops than trolleys, making them the most brilliant choice for inner-city travel.

You can also purchase an all-day ticket, suitable for trolleys, buses, and the U/S-Bahn, by pressing the Tageskarte button instead of the Einzelfahrt button.

It is possible to board the train or trolley without purchasing a ticket, but you will be fined 60 EUR minimum, and these checks occur regularly. You can purchase train tickets online from the official homepage of Deutsche Bahn.

Useful Tips for Taking Public Transportation in Germany

  • Make sure you have EUR currency before you travel. The ticket machine only takes EUR coins and bills.
  • If you are going on a long-distance trip, purchasing your ticket in advance is best.
  • You can purchase tickets online, at the train station, or on the train/trolley.
  • You must purchase a ticket from the machine when entering a train station.
  • You can only buy a train ticket with EUR, but you can use any denomination below 20, including coins or bills.
  • When traveling on a regional or ICE train, always validate your ticket before boarding the train. The machines are located at the entrance and exit of each carriage. You can be fined 60+ EUR or more if caught without a valid ticket.
  • You can also buy a day ticket, which is good for trolleys, buses, and the U/S Bahn, by pressing Tageskarte instead of Einzelfahrt.
  • Always say “Guten Tag” to the conductor when entering a cabin for identification. In an emergency, the conductor will be able to help you.
  • Use common sense and keep alert for pickpockets.
  • Single tickets are also available for short trips.
  • In case of emergencies, alert the local transport authority.

See Related: Germany Currency: Everything You Need to Know

Other modes of public transportation in Germany

City bus in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Sina Ettmer Photography / Shutterstock

Germany has 335 international airports, including Frankfurt Airport, Europe’s third-busiest airport. Lufthansa has the most extensive traffic network, and Eurowings provides cheap domestic air travel services to domestic destinations.

Bikeshare Services

Bikeshare in the city of Cologne, Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Bikeshare services, which allow people to rent bicycles for short periods, have been steadily growing in popularity in Germany. These services are often managed by local governments, who recognize the benefits of providing their citizens with an affordable and eco-friendly transportation option.

By offering bikeshare programs, cities are reducing traffic congestion and air pollution and promoting a healthier and more active lifestyle.

With the convenience of app-based rental systems and strategically placed docking stations, bikeshare services have become a convenient alternative to traditional modes of transportation.

As a result, more and more people are choosing to hop on a bike rather than rely on cars or public transportation. This shift towards bike-share services is transforming how people commute and contributing to German cities’ overall sustainability and livability.

Electric Scooters

Electric Scooters on Street in Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Several large micro-mobility startups were started in Germany that promote the usage of shared electric scooters as a means of transportation. These offer an excellent alternative to cars, bikes, and public transportation, given their ease of use and speed.

However, they cost money (usually a premium to alternate transportation options), and you’ll have to download the Lime or Uber apps to use them.

Ferry Travel

Halunderjet Ferry Heading to Helgoland
Ulrich / Adobe Stock

In Germany, ferry travel is limited to just a few cities. There are no public bus transportation alternatives in Hamburg or Berlin.

Germany is bordered on all sides by seas and is defined by lakes, rivers, and freshwater bodies within its borders. Ferry services between North Rhine-Westphalia and Western Frisia countries are usually used for basic transportation.

Vessel services are provided on the Rhine, Elbe, and River Danur. There are also ferry services in river sections with no bridges or tiny islands, as well as some significant lake locations such as the Chiemsee, Starnberg, and Mövensee during the summer months (March through October). Several towns operate scenic river/lake tours.

German public transport is efficient, accessible, and safe. Most German cities have train stations and bus stations available. And there are many other public transport options in Germany like U Bahn, S Bahn, Ferry Boats, Domestic Air Travel, Bikes, Taxi, and Cars.

See Related: Magdeburg Water Bridge in Germany

FAQ

Can you rent a bike in Germany?

Yes, you can rent a bike in Germany. Local governments usually manage bike rental services.

Can I take my pet on the train?

Pets are not allowed on trains, except assistance dogs.

Is there free public transport in Germany?

No, there is no free public transportation in Germany. You can get a multi-day pass suitable for the bus and train system (except ICE). And if you take a single trip on the train or trolley during your multi-day pass, you will be fined 60+ EUR minimum.

Can you drive through Germany?

Yes, you can drive through Germany. But if you come in by car or motorbike, you must purchase a vignette before entering the country. It costs 10 EUR daily and is valid for seven days after purchase. And if your stay is less than three months, you don’t need to purchase the vignette.

What is a vignette in Germany?

You put a sticker on your windshield to show proof of car insurance and vehicle registration.

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