For planning to a vacation to multiple cities in Germany, you’ll need to understand how transportation in Germany works. It’s a big country, but it’s very well connected through the train system. There are even some good bus options to consider, especially for budget travelers. Take a look at our guide to how to get around in Germany.
It helps to look at how long it takes to get from one part of the country to another, and to compare trains and buses. That way you can decide how much time you’re willing to spend in transit when planning your Germany itinerary. And if you’re on a budget, sometimes a slightly longer option can save you a lot of money.
Where to stay in Berlin
Berlin has lots of great neighborhoods for you to stay in and explore. If you’re visiting Berlin for the first time, it might be best for you stay somewhere central. Many of the attractions are in Mitte or easily connected to Mitte by Berlin’s public transport, so you should stay somewhere in that region. Here are a few hotels we recommend.
For a more detailed look at the different neighborhoods and our recommendations, check out our guide to where to stay in Berlin.
Getting around Germany by train
Germany’s national rail company is Deutsche Bahn. Their website is excellent, available in English, and easy to use for planning routes throughout the country.
FlixTrain is another new option for trains in Germany. They are the same company as FlixBus, a popular bus company throughout Europe. Their bus site will even show you train routes, where available, alongside the bus options.
Deutsche Bahn fast train transportation in Germany
Traveling long distances from one region to another is easier and more efficient using the fast trains. These are marked as ICE, which are the fastest trains, and IC or EC, which are still fast but stop more often, and are best booked ahead of time. The ticket prices are more expensive if you book last minute, so if you know when and where you want to go, you can save money.
For reference, ICE means Inter City Express, IC means Inter City, and EC means Euro City. So usually the ICE trains are slightly faster and/or have slightly fewer stops than the IC trains. EC usually means the train is traveling to a city in another country.
To give you an idea of distances, here’s how long it takes to get between Berlin and some of the major cities in Germany:
- Berlin to Munich: 6 to 7 hours
- Berlin to Hamburg: 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours
- Berlin to Heidelberg: 5 to 6 hours
- Berlin to Freiburg (Black Forest): 6 hours 30 minutes to 7 hours
- Berlin to Frankfurt: 4 to 5 hours
- Berlin to Cologne: 4 hours 40 minutes
- Berlin to Leipzig: 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes
- Berlin to Dresden: 1 hour 50 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes
As you can see, there aren’t too many short journeys there. So every time you change cities, you will spent half or even a full day in transit. Be sure to work this into your planning.
Deutsche Bahn regional train transportation in Germany
Germany has several regions or states. Traveling within one state can often be really affordable when you take the slower regional trains. Each state has a day ticket that allows you to travel on the regional trains and city public transportation with up to five people traveling together.
These tickets are valid from 9am to 3am the next day on weekdays, and from midnight on weekends and official holidays. You pay a base fare for one person and an additional rate for each person up to five, and you can book the day you want to travel.
There are some variations depending on the state so be sure to check the rules first.
Deutsche Bahn train tickets are easy to book online since the website is also available in English. But you can also book tickets at machines, which also switch to English, in any train station.
Most train stations will also have a ticket counter if you want to buy from a person, but they might not always speak English and sometimes there are extra charges involved.
Certain tickets, usually savings fares, will bind you to a specific train. You must travel on the exact time and route you have booked. The only exception is if you have a connecting train and your first train is late, causing you to miss your connection.
If you want more flexibility, book the standard fare which allows you to travel on a particular route but you are not bound to an exact time. You must still ride the same class of train as the ticket you have booked.
You don’t validate train tickets in Germany, but someone will come through and check your ticket almost every time, so don’t ride without a ticket. Often you can buy a ticket on the train, but it comes with a hefty fee, so it’s best to buy your ticket before getting on the train.
Seat reservations on Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn train tickets don’t automatically assign you a seat. If you want to reserve a seat, there’s an option in the booking process to do so. It costs 4.50 euros per leg, and it’s only available on the long distance (IC, ICE, EC) trains, not the regional trains.
Reserving a seat means you know exactly where to go and you don’t have to stress about searching for an empty seat or get split up from your traveling companions.
If you don’t reserve a seat, when you board the train, look above the seats next to the seat numbers to find one that isn’t reserved. On rare occasions on popular routes at busy times, there could be no seats available.
In 10 years of living in Germany, I’ve only been stuck completely without a seat once, but it was enough for me to almost always reserve seat now. The small fee is worth it to avoid the stress, especially when I have lots of luggage.
FlixTrain transportation in Germany
FlixTrain is a fairly new option in Germany, but it’s one that could save you money. They are good for medium to long distance travel. Even though they don’t have as many routes, they do have the most popular routes you are likely to be interested in as a tourist.
Some example routes include Berlin to Cologne, Cologne to Hamburg, Berlin – Frankfurt – Heidelberg – Stuttgart, Hamburg – Berlin – Leipzig – Munich, and Munich to Frankfurt. These routes have other stops as well. FlixTrain also has one route in Sweden.
Train tickets on FlixTrain come with a guaranteed seat. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck standing. Most trains have free wifi and outlets at your seat. FlixTrain also uses the normal train stations, so you don’t have to go someplace different to catch the train.
It’s definitely worth comparing FlixTrain with Deutsche Bahn since they could save you money on the same routes.
Getting around Germany by bus
FlixBus can be a great option for getting around in Germany since it is almost always cheaper than the train. But you do have to weigh the cost savings with the amount of time it takes. For some routes, the timing is similar, while others are much longer.
FlixBus is definitely worth checking out when you’re planning your routes. Their buses are modern, clean, and safe, and I would recommend them for any type of traveler.
The FlixBus website also tells you when they have a FlixTrain option for the route you’re searching for, so if the bus takes too long, the train might be good. For example, Berlin to Hamburg takes about 2 hours by train on Deutsche Bahn. If you look at FlixBus to compare with the bus prices, you’ll see that the bus takes 3 to 4 hours, which is not ideal. But they tell you it’s faster with the train, and you’ll see that the FlixTrain option takes about 2 hours.
When I’m traveling around Germany, I always check the FlixBus site before I book my transportation. If it’s cheaper and similar timing, I’ll use FlixBus.
Check prices and schedules on FlixBus.
Book a tour for your trip to Berlin
Berlin Travel Resources
I want you to have the best trip to Berlin, and hopefully this guide to transportation in Germany is helpful. But there are lots more tips on the site!
Check out this detailed list of the best things to do in Berlin. It’s full of activities, attractions, and more. If you love castles, here are some castles in and near Berlin. And for those of you spending more than a few days in Berlin, consider taking a day trip.
Here’s what you should know before coming to Berlin. From practical tips to quirky facts about the city, it’s all in there.
Read this helpful packing list for Berlin so you know what to bring and what to wear.
Visiting Berlin? Don’t forget travel insurance!
It’s always a good idea to travel to Berlin with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here is reasonably safe, but you never know when something could happen. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or become a victim to theft.
We recommend World Nomads insurance for travel. Travel insurance helps you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.