Even though Germany is compact, the main cities are flung right across it in all directions. On any given trip, you’ll likely have to take at least a couple of mid-length trips. Travel within Germany can be pricey – but only if you don’t plan in advance. As long as you know your travel dates and all your options, you can cut down your travel costs to a fraction of what they would be without it.
During the couple of months spent in Germany this year, we used every transportation option ourselves and are compiling it all here for you to know your options and get the best prices for each way to get around Germany.
Trains in Germany
You might dream of traveling Europe by train and nowhere is train travel more comfortable or efficient than Germany. But prices have skyrocketed in the last few years. There are still good deals to be had, but these usually are only valid for the slow regional trains, not the slick, ultramodern ICE trains and involved changing trains at least once in your journey. Either way, you need to book in advance. Show up at the train station today and try to book a train form Munich to Berlin, and you’ll have to fork out €125. If you book this journey two weeks in advance instead, you can get the same ticket for as low as €29, which is almost €100 cheaper!
The Deutsche Bahn website has a good English language area where you can check train times and prices, but you will still have to know the German names of the cities or you won’t be able to search, i.e. München instead of Munich, Köln instead of Cologne.
Look beyond the standard tickets at offers as well. If you’re planning a weekend getaway, you can buy a Weekend-Ticket for €42 which allows unlimited travel for up to five people on regional trains all weekend long! If you divide the ticket by 5 and take two trips, that comes to just €4.20 per person per ride, no matter how far you travel! A similar ticket is the Quer-durchs-Land ticket, which offers unlimited train travel on slow trains for 24 hours. The ticket is €50 for two people, €56 for three people,which breaks down to €18.60 per person and gets proportionally cheaper the more people share it.
Some cities also offer special ‘tourist cards’, like the Cologne WelcomeCard which is €9.00 and offers 24 hours of free travel on all trains, subways, buses and trams in Cologne, plus discounts of up to 50% on museums, tours and attractions.
Deutsche Bahn offers Germany-only rail passes (as opposed to the popular European rail passes many use) but we find them to be pretty expensive compared to all the other ticket options, unless you plan to take the train often or are under 25.
Buses in Germany
The Deutsche Bahn effectively held a monopoly on public transportation until January 1, 2013, which is when German law allowed the creation of private companies to compete with the DB. Now several bus companies have popped up with much cheaper tickets compared to the train, making bus travel in Germany suddenly a very attractive option.
If you decide, with two days notice, to go from Frankfurt to Munich, the train starts at €69 ($92). Bus fares for the same journey start at €20 ($26).
Buses from Berlin to Leipzig are €8, Berlin to Hamburg €9, or €22 for a ticket all the way down to Munich. You can even go all the way to Innsbruck in Austria from Munich for as low as €8! Check out MeinFernbus.de, BerlinLinienbus, Flixbus or City2City and consider EuroLines for international routes. We compared bus prices for our routes using Busliniensuche.de. The site has an overview of which buses cover which routes and compare costs of each company, and though it’s all in German, it’s easy to navigate. Just type in your date and from where to where you’re headed, and it will show you a list of all your options and how much they cost. Then you can head straight to the website of the provider of your choice and book your trip there. It’s important to book your trips in advance, since similar to budget airlines, prices go up closer the date of travel.
Around the same price as a bus, sometimes even cheaper and always cheaper than the train, are Germany’s many carpooling services. Carpooling is very popular in Germany – not surprising since it relies on a green mentality and is fairly common sense. Drivers have extra seats in their car, you need to get to the same destination – why not split the cost of gas and drive together?
Drivers post their trip on a carpooling site, including departure time and per-passenger cost. People looking for rides along the same route call, text or get in touch via the website to book a seat. Most of these sites have an English version and even offer rides on European routes, like Berlin – Warsaw, Munich – Florence or Hamburg – Stockholm. Some of our favorite carpooling websites include Carpooling.com, BlaBlaCar, Flinc.org, Mitfahrangebot, Mifaz, Mfg-Buddy and Drive2day for all of Europe (all in English). If you speak German, you’ll benefit from an even wider variety, with services such as BesserMitfahren or Fahrgemeinschaft.de.
The advantage of carpooling to buses is that you can be very spontaneous – decide to head from Frankfurt to Stuttgart tomorrow? No problem, you’ll definitely still find a ride at the same price as an advance bus ticket would cost.
Get a German SIM card for Carpooling, Hitchhiking and Wi-Fi
If you decide to carpool, you’ll need a cell phone to take calls and text about pick up points, etc. You can pick up a German SIM card for as little as €5 including credit (usually the card is free and comes with €5 credit) in the discount supermarkets such as Lidl or Aldi and top up your phone as needed. You just top up your card as needed, but since rates are very competitive, you probably won’t use more than €10 credit per month. SIM cards with data are a little bit more expensive, but make sense if you want to use the carpooling, train or bus apps during your travels. Fellow traveler Kash breaks down all SIM card options in Germany including data in this post. Another advantage to having a German SIM is that while there is free Wi-Fi almost everywhere, often times you need to have a code texted to your cell for access. No cell phone, no free Wi-Fi – so avoid that catch-22 and get a German SIM card!
Hitchhiking in Germany
Hitchhiking in Germany is way more widespread and socially accepted than in the U.S. and other countries. If you are on an extremely tight budget or just up for adventure, hitchhiking in Germany is possible, safe and a legitimate option. You can’t wait on the highway (Autobahn) itself, but you can wait at gas stations and at service areas along the highway. There are sometimes 10, 20 even more than 30 people at popular pick-up spots, so you might consider using websites like Hitchhikers.org or the iThumb App to find a ride even before you leave.
Car rentals in Germany
If you don’t want to trust the daredevil German drivers with your life and prefer driving your own car, check out the special weekend offers by the big car rental companies such as Enterprise. We have taken advantage of deals for €14.99 per day from Friday to Monday and weekend flat rates as well. If you are driving a long distance, why not post your trip up on one of the carpooling websites and make your gas money back taking a few local Germans with you!
Car Sharing in Germany
Car sharing services have exploded in popularity over the years, but for the short-term visitor, this option is a bit more difficult to take advantage of. Essentially, car sharing involves being able to rent a car for an hour or half a day any time you want. Cars are usually in convenient locations around the cities, you don’t have to find a rental office and you can book on short notice for as low as 5 Euros per hour via an app on your smartphone. The problem is that you have to register with the company of your choice. The registration fee is usually around €29 Euros, so it makes more sense for longer stays in the country. Once you do have it, you can shop, get out to the countryside or take a quick morning trip anywhere at the drop of a hat. Some car sharing services worth checking out are: Car2Go (in seven German cities; famous for their fleet of Smart cars) Cambio (in 13 German cities), DriveNow (car sharing by BMW in Germany’s five largest cities), CiteeCar (in four German cities) or Flinkster (the official car sharing service of Deutsche Bahn with cars in over 140 German cities (and if you have a Bahncard, there’s no registration fee!).
Flying usually doesn’t make much sense in Germany, thanks to the country’s compact size, but if you want to save time and are traveling popular routes like Berlin – Stuttgart or Hamburg – Munich, it’s worth checking Germanwings for flights within Germany from €39.99 (booked around 4 weeks in advance, sometimes there are even cheaper deals). If you are planning to take trips from Germany to another destination in Europe, most cities are served by the major budget airlines, such as Easyjet, Ryanair or Germanwings.
Have you traveled in Germany and can add any tips to get around Germany on the cheap? Feel free to share them in the comments below!