Interrailing in Germany

Germany is one of the best countries for interrailing. The vast railway network reaches all corners of the country, no mandatory reservations make it very easy to hope on and off trains with little planning and constant train delays and cancelations provide numerous opportunities to socialize with other travellers.

Information for disabled travellers: https://www.bahnhof.de/en/service/accessibility

Pass validity

The ultimate source of information on pass validity is always the rail network guide in the app. But here is the TL;DR:

Pass is valid on
  • all trains operated by DB or other private operators running regional trains for the Bundesländer, this includes all EC, ICE, ICEs, IC, RB and RE trains
  • S-Bahn services
Pass is not valid on
  • U-Bahn services
  • Flixtrain
  • city trams

Train categories

  • ICE (InterCity Express): those are the high-speed train regularly reaching over 200km/h and occasionally up to 300km/h. Those are the trains you want to get for large distances across Germany. Some of the ICE trains go to neighboring countries, including Switzerland, France and Benelux.
  • ICEs (ICE Sprinter): ICE express service. Like ICE, but stops at fewer stations and so offers even faster connections.
  • IC (InterCity): regular, lower speed, long distance trains.
  • EC (EuroCity): international intercity connections.
  • ECE (EuroCity Express): high speed international intercity connections.
  • RB (Regionalbahn): regional trains.
  • RE (RegioExpress): faster regional trains.
  • IRE (InterRegio): long distance trains stopping at minor stations as opposed to InterCity.
  • S-Bahn: commuter trains serving cities and surrounding areas.
  • U-Bahn: subway services (usually not accepting Interrail).

Connections to neighboring countries

Switzerland

The primary way to travel between Switzerland and Germany is via Basel. This is the easiest way, as it doesn’t involve any international segments. In particular, from the point of view of interrail, the Basel SBB and Basel Bad Bf station are dual-country stations. That means, residents of Germany don’t need to use an in/out day to travel from Basel Bad Bf towards Switzerland, while citizens of Switzerland don’t need to use an in/out day to travel from either Basel station towards Germany.

The second major corridor is the EC train between Munich and Zürich. Note that there are no “dual-country” border station, and also that train passes through Austria. That means taking that train will always cost you an in/out day if you are a resident of Switzerland, Germany or Austria.

There are also minor international connection in other cities, including Konstanz (dual-country station!) and Schafhausen.

Poland

There are trains from Berlin to multiple Polish cities, including Poznań, Warsaw, Gdańsk, Gdynia, Kraków. All those trains cross the border in Frankfurt an der Oder / Rzepin. Booking reservations on those trains can be tricky. Please read more on how to book those in the article on Poland.

Italy

There are direct EC trains connecting Frankfurt and Milan. Those do require mandatory reservations.

France

Travel to and from France can be very expensive due to required reservations on both the ICE and the TGV. The reservation is €20 for the cross border ICE’s and TGV’s although there can be cheaper options via for example Strasbourg. For this case you pay €10 or €20 depending on the specific TGV to Strasbourg. In general: if the reservation is €20 you may as well take it all the way to Germany.

The international cross border routes are from Paris Gare d’Est (next door to Gare du Nord) and Lorraine TGV to Saarbrücken, Stuttgart Hbf and Frankfurt am Mainz Hbf with ICE, from Paris and Strasbourg to Karlsruhe Hbf, Stuttgart Hbf and Münich Hbf there is a TGV. There are also some TGV services from Marseille Saint Charles to Frankfurt am Mainz Hbf. Between Paris Gare d’Est and Freiburg (Breisgau) Hbf the route is via Strasbourg, Offenburg, Lahr and Ringsheim/Europa-Park on board a TGV.

Denmark
The Netherlands

From the Netherlands there are multiple options to cross the border to Germany, some in the Dutch fare system (OV-Chipkaart), some in the German fare system and some in both. To start is the ever useful (but quite often delayed!) IC and ICE services. Both are operated under NS International’s license, but both are part of the Dutch fare system. For the ICE it is required to pay a supplement or have a valid NS subscription (excluding Flex Basis, including Studentenreisproduct) for domestic journeys. The IC to and from Berlin is run by DB IC1 stock (soon to be replaced), in the Netherlands pulled by a NS locomotive and staffed by NS people. This counts as a domestic IC, so domestic reservations are not needed and not possible.

Both IC and ICE are valid with Interrail without a seat reservation, although especially the IC train gets exceptionally busy, so it might be worth it to book it anyway. For a single train journey it can be had from the website of ÖBB (https://www.oebb.at/en/) for 3 euro, if you have more trains that you want to get a reservation on then use DB’s site (https://bahn.com)

Unfortunatly DB added some restrictions on the ice international line From amsterdam: “During the period from 17 June to 18 August 2023, Eurail and Interrail travellers cannot use the ICE International trains towards Germany with departure times between 6am – 4pm from a station in the Netherlands. Even with a separate seat reservation, travel on these trains is not allowed for Eurail and Interrail travellers during the specified period”. This is only for traveling towards Germany from the Netherlands if you are traveling to the Netherlands this wont apply.

The IC runs from Amsterdam Centraal via Hilversum, Amersfoort, Apeldoorn, Deventer, Almelo and Hengelo to Bad Bentheim and onwards to Berlin Ostbahnhof (normally, during engineering works it can also be diverted via Zwolle, skipping Hilversum, Amersfoort and Apeldoorn or in Berlin diverted to end at Berlin Gesundbrunnen instead of Ostbahnhof) The ICE runs from Amsterdam Centraal via Utrecht and Arnhem (normally, sometimes it is diverted via ‘s Hertogenbosch instead of Arnhem, especially during the summer).

There are also night trains going through Germany from the Netherlands, operated by ÖBB Nightjet. One train heads for Zurich Hbf via Köln Hbf and Freiburg, one train heads for Innsbruck Hbf via Köln Hbf, Nürenberg Hbf (this train splits from the Wien train here) and München/Munich Hbf and Wien Hbf via Köln Hbf, Nürenberg Hbf (this train splits from the Innsbruck train here), Passau Hbf. A seat reservation is required, these are obtainable via DB (https://bahn.com) and ÖBB (https://www.oebb.at/en/), with the same costs as above for a seat. The couchettes are only bookable via ÖBB when using Interrail.

For Interrail holders that also hold a free or discounted travel product in the Netherlands and want to avoid using their inbound/outbound days, there are multiple border crossings that are within the Dutch OV Chipkaart fare system and thus do accept OV-Chipkaart for international journeys. These are: – Maastricht-Aachen Hbf with Arriva via Heerlen (note that OV Chipkaart subscriptions are not valid for journeys wholly in Germany, even though the OV Chipkaart is) – Arnhem Centraal-Emmerich (Elten) with VIAS – Enschede-Gronau with DB Regio – Groningen-Weener/Leer with Arriva (note that DB Netze did not replace a bridge between Weener and Leer, so the train terminates in Weener. There is a direct non-stop bus from Groningen to Leer that OV Chipkaart and other Arriva train tickets are valid on

There are other services that OV Chipkaart is not valid on (but Interrail is): – Hengelo-Bad Bentheim-Bielefeld Hbf with Eurobahn (useful if the Dutch stops are once again cancelled on the IC Berlin, although it is unknown if Bielefeld actually exist) – Venlo-Mönchengladbach Hbf with Eurobahn

Belgium

To Belgium there are a few options, the first is the Thalys Brussels-Zuid Midi/Bruxelles-South Midi to Cologne/Köln/Koeln/Keulen Hbf, Interrail is valid on these trains but a 30 euro reservation is required (bookable via https://www.b-europe.com/EN/Booking/Pass#TravelWish). This train stops in Liége-Guillemins and Aachen Hbf.

There is also an ICE on the same bit of track travelling between Bruxelles-Midi and Köln Hbf, this one does not require a seat reservation, but it is highly recommended when it is busy. This train does make one additional stop in Bruxelles-Nord.

Thirdly there is the ÖBB Nightjet from Brussels to Wien/Vienna which combines with the Amsterdam to Wien/Vienna Nightjet at Köln. A seat reservation is required, these are obtainable via DB (https://bahn.com) (4.50 euro, for the whole trip) and ÖBB (https://www.oebb.at/en/) (3 euro, for a single train). These prices are for a seat only, which is definitely not recommended on a night train but are an option if the couchettes are sold out and you must go on this train. The couchettes are only bookable via ÖBB when using Interrail.

Czechia

There are two EC lines that run every two hours connecting to Czechia:

  • Hamburg – Berlin – Prague. Some trains from this line also continue to Flensburg, Kiel, Vienna and Budapest. This line is operated by DB and Czech railways(ČD), the trainset includes a dining car with JLV service. Seat reservations are optional but recommended at busy times. It also stops in the Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland, a very attractive area for hikers.
  • Munich – Prague. This line is operated by Die Länderbahn and ČD. It is very unreliable, expect delays. The RE line between Nürnberg and Cheb can be a more reliable alternative if it fits your route. Seat reservations are optional, and it is only possible to buy them for the section between Schwandorf and Prague. The trains are only 4 cars long, they can get crowded on busy days. There is a food trolley service, but only on the section in Czechia. The trains are classified as ALX in Germany, which makes them regional trains, therefore for example the Bayern-Böhmen ticket is valid on it.

A daily night train runs between Prague and Zurich, it also makes stops in Germany at night, although the times are set up mainly for travel between Czechia and Switzerland. It also runs with a dining car between Prague and Leipzig.

Buy reservations from ČD, it’s cheaper (3€) than from DB (4.5€). It also woks for domestic trains within Germany, same as ÖBB.

Austria

TODO

Tips for traveling in Germany

Planning for unreliability

Unfortunately German trains aren’t particularly reliable. When you are planning your journey, always assume that any particular train can be delayed by hours or cancelled. You may need to be flexible and change plans as you go.

If you are planning to take more than one train in a row, booking seat reservations may not be worth it. It is always possible and likely that you are not going to make the connection and will have to take an alternative train. Your seat reservation won’t be valid anymore.

Install the DB Navigator app. It has realtime data, you can easily check the state of delays and easily find recommended alternative connections.

Don’t worry too much when your train is delayed and canceled. The German network is extensive. If you miss your train, just take another one in roughly the same direction and you will eventually make it to your destination.

Booking seat reservations

There are two good ways of booking seat reservations for domestic trains in Germany: You can either use DB (the website or the app) or ÖBB (the website or the app).

  • If you want to book a reservation for a single train, use ÖBB. It will be cheaper.
  • If you want to book a reservation for a connection consisting of multiple train rides, use DB. The price is fixed regardless of number of trains, while ÖBB would charge you separately for each train.
Food on board

Long distance trains in Germany usually have a restaurant car. The selection of food is decent. The prices are between 6 and 12 EUR for a dish, although portions are rather small. There is a great selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Coffee is decent.