Photo: Lillac/Shutterstock

Germany's Deutsche Bahn Trains Make the Country One of the Most Easy European Nations to Navigate

Germany Train Travel
by Matthew Meltzer Jul 18, 2023

For Americans traveling abroad, few countries are easier to navigate than Germany. Though not technically an English-speaking nation, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone working in tourism who doesn’t speak English. The country has plenty of amazing places to visit, the cities are clean, and travel within the country is blissfully easy. Much of this is thanks to the system of German trains known as Deutsche Bahn: Germany national railway that connects visitors to pretty much anywhere in the country from anywhere else in the country.

With nonstop flights from North America to most major German hubs, and easy train connections at the airports, exploring Germany by rail is a simple and relatively affordable way to see the cities, castles, and countryside that make the country so special. Here’s all you need to know about German trains and using the system, as well as how to take Deutsche Bahn to other gorgeous places across Germany’s borders.

What is Deutsche Bahn?

german trains in the countryside

Photo: DeutschBahn AG/Oliver Lang

Deutsche Bahn is the largest transportation system in Germany, with 5,700 stations spread across 21,000 miles of rail. German trains in the system range from the high-speed, long distance InterCity Express (or ICE) trains to regional trains and local systems through rural areas like Bavarian Forest National Park.

ICE trains are Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed trains, used for travel between the country’s major cities. They may be German-based, but they also go to destinations outside Germany, whisking visitors to cities like Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, and Luxembourg in just a few hours.

There are also regional bahn (RB) options in the German train system, which are kind of like local trains on the subway; they’re slower and make more stops at smaller stations. Between the regional bahn trains and the ICE trains are the regional express (RE) trains, which move between regions with fewer stops than the RB trains. Both can be recognized by the bright red cars. Though not as fast as ICE trains, Germany’s RB and RE trains are still an efficient method for reaching lesser-traveled parts of the country.

In big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, and Frankfort, Deutsche Bahn operates as the S Bahn. Imagine if the federal government operated the commuter/public transportation trains in large US cities, and you get the idea of the S-Bahn.

You can use German trains instead of taking extra flights

german trains in the alps

Photo: PositiveTravelArt/Shutterstock

Fun fact: Deutsche Bahn is the only train system in Star Alliance, an airline partnership that includes United Airlines and Air Canada in North America; and Swiss Air, Austrian Airlines, and Lufthansa in Europe. Including a train system in an airline alliance might seem unusual, but the partnership allows Deutsche Bahn to take the place of short, regional connecting flights. That means you can book a flight to Europe with a Star Alliance partner and have your ticket include a train connection from the major hub to a smaller city. For example, if you wanted to visit Germany’s Saxony region, you could fly Lufthansa to Hamburg, then transfer to a Deutsche Bahn train at the airport and be in Saxony in under two hours.

This hub-and-spoke system is both a way to support the county’s ambitious sustainability initiative, and a response to the EU’s curbing of short flights within the continent. So not only is Deutsche Bahn an easy way to traverse Germany, but it allows you to cut down on your carbon footprint if your final destination doesn’t have direct flights from North America.

How fast are ICE trains?

ICE German trains are fast and comfortable for long-distance travel.

ICE trains are fast and comfortable for long-distance travel. Photo:

ICE trains travel up to 200 miles an hour at top speed, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be covering the 383 miles between Munich and Berlin in less time than it takes to watch “Glass Onion.” They may be the fastest of the German trains, but they still make stops, and there are areas of track where the trains can’t operate at full speed. So even the fastest route between those cities takes four hours. When you book a train ticket, though, be sure to look and see that you’re booking an ICE train. Regional trains run this route too, and can take upwards of 10 hours to make the same trip.

Other German trains beyond Deutsche Bahn

flixtrain german trains

Photo: Axel Redder/Shutterstock

Deutsche Bahn might be the largest rail line in Germany, but it’s far from the only one. For travel within the country, you can also take Flixtrain between cities. It’s a relative of Flixbus, which operates in the US.

If you’re traveling internationally, Austrian, Czech, Swedish, French, and other European rail companies also have routes to major cities from Germany that make local stops along the way. This includes night trains to places like Florence, Zurich, Vienna, and other international destinations.

Deutsche Bahn tickets and pricing

deutsch bahn bridge train

Photo: Lillac/Shutterstock

Costs for the various German trains depend on multiple factors, from the distance you’re traveling to how far in advance you booked your ticket. ICE trains, if booked far enough in advance, can cost as little as 13 euros, or about $14.50. Wait until the last minute to book a train from Berlin to Frankfurt, and you’re looking at upward of $180 euros (about $202). Budget about 100 euros for a long-distance, high-speed train, and you’ll be in the ballpark.

ICE train tickets can be bought up to six months in advance, which is how you nab those 13 euro fares. Shorter, regional trips are generally around 15-40 euros, with little change in cost no matter when you buy it.

If you’re planning on taking multiple German trains while you’re traveling, the best bet will probably be a Deutsche Bahn pass. The most useful is the Deutschland Ticket at 49 euros. It’s sold as a monthly subscription and covers all rail zones plus buses, which serves you well if you’re also riding public transportation in big cities. The only drawback is that it doesn’t include ICE trains, but plan far enough in advance and you can get those tickets at a reasonable price.

If you want something a little more all-inclusive, the German Rail Pass gets you access to every train in the Deutsche Bahn system, including ICE trains. You can purchase it to use over periods ranging from three to 15 days, either consecutively or spread out, depending on the pass you buy. Prices start at 153 euros.

Children under age six ride Deutsche Bahn for free, and children between 6-11 are free with any full adult fare.

Day trips on German trains

day trips on german trains - austria

Photo: Canadastock/Shutterstock

Munich to Salzburg, Austria

Yes, ok, the art and culture of Salzburg aren’t technically in Germany. But the ride through Bavaria from Munich is spectacular, and given how easy it is to reach Austria, it’s worth adding an extra day to your trip. You may want to stop in the town of Lindau on Lake Constance, which has a section of rail with stunning views of the alps. You can also take a regional train from Stuttgart if you’re traveling further south, or catch a short connector and visit the dreamy town of Hallstatt.

Hamburg to Sylt Island

This little island in the North Sea is a popular weekend destination, mostly because of its pristine white sand beaches and towering dunes. It’s only accessible by train and ferry, and has been called the “Martha’s Vineyard of Germany,” thanks to its reliably clean air and sea breezes. A ticket to Sylt Island costs about 49 euros, and the trains cross a dam en route, providing an over-water scenic highlight before you’ve even reached the island.

Berlin to Saxony

This rich, hilly region of southern Germany makes for a delightful destination to see via train, speeding by the Elbe River on your way from Berlin to the Czech border. Along the way, you can stop in the brilliantly rebuilt city of Dresden, which painstakingly restored many of the buildings destroyed in World War II. Now, it’s one of the most beautiful architectural cities in Germany. You can also stop in Schmilka, a 500-year old lumber town with cobblestone streets and historic homes. It’s become somewhat of a wellness village and a model of community sustainability, with a brewery and bakery that use mill-ground grains from local farmers.

Tips for traveling by German trains

Use the app

Yes, the last thing most people want on their phones is another app. But if you’re planning to travel on German trains, using Deutsche Bahn’s app will make your life exponentially easier. You can buy tickets at or at a station, but download DB Navigator, and you can see every route in the system, book tickets, calculate fares, look at maps, and do pretty much everything else you need short of ordering curry wurst in the dining car. And once you leave Germany, you can just delete the app.

Make reservations for weekend travel

Seats are typically easy to find on Deutsche Bahn trains, but if you’re planning to travel long distances on the weekends, make sure you book ahead. Trains can sell out, and sometimes they’re oversold, which means you may end up standing the whole way from Berlin to Prague. You’ll also want a reservation even if you have a Deutsche Bahn pass. While you may be able to physically get on the train, you won’t be guaranteed a seat or luggage space.

Order German food on board

Deutsche Bahn only delivers food to seats in first class, so take a stroll to the dining car if you want to sample classic German dishes. The menus change seasonally every three months, but always serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus German wine and beer. Currywurst is the quintessential train food, and most trains have a vegan version.

Even during the warmer summer months, you’ll find passengers devouring hearty eintopf: a traditional beef stew made with vegetables and sausage or beef (or whatever other ingredients the chef decides to use.)

Discover Matador