Train Travel in Europe

local-train-s-bahnSomeone once told me that the whole country of Germany was about the same size as Wisconsin. I got so excited, because this would mean I could see just about everything in Europe in three years. Traveling six to eight hours from Alabama to North Carolina several times a year was normal for me and my family. To most Americans traveling long distances to explore, head to a destination or see family and friends usually doesn’t phase them. We know heading from east to west, or north to south, involves planes, trains and automobiles. Unfortunately, in the States our railroad services are not as convenient or easy to travel on. Amtrak still has excursions but they seem pretty expensive. A 15-day American Excursion runs about $500. 

However, here in Germany and around Europe, taking the train in major cities, cross-country or across Europe is affordable, easy and fun. To a newcomer, riding the train around Europe can sound exciting and adventurous but also a little terrifying. No one wants to end up on the wrong train heading to Translyvania, which by the way can happen. Only kidding ~ by the time you finish the blog, you’ll be ready to book that next excursion or take the train downtown to a fest or farmers market. Here’s some pointers.

A few lessons I’ve learned about taking the train 

1.Understanding Deutschebahn

Set up an account on-line

  • The DB (DeutscheBahn) website is pretty easy to navigate however, setting up your account can be a little tricky. 
  • tww-stop-sign-girlIn the address field, you’ll need to click on the upper right hand corner for Deutschland/Germany (if it translates) on the page, because for some reason, Germany is not on the drop-down list (if you struggle with this section – please send me a note below) 

Download the APP

deutschebahn-logo

  • DB Navigator App
  • This app is awesome on your phone, mine automatically switches to the English version so I am able to understand it easily.
  • When I’ve been stopped, the officer is easy to scan my Qwerty code.

MAP

  • Germany’s rail system is an END-OF-LINE map system similar to U.S. major cities like Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Wherever your destination is look for which direction you are going and follow the line.
  • All the train lines have different colors, for example:  red, blue, green, yellow,etc.
  • City Train Map map-link

CITY TRAINS

1.  So many trains!! Which one do I take – the Sbahn, U-bahn?? HELP!

  • S-bahn(Stadt-bahn) and U-bahn 
    • S-bahn (Stadt-bahn) – train within the city system (Stuttgart’s S-bahn) can be easily utilized by downloading the VVS, (Verkehrs und Tarifverbund-Stuttgart) and SSB (Stuttgart StadtBahn) apps (or visit their websites)
    • Hauptbahnhof  or like a Union Station (stateside) as we think of them in the States are major train stations within every city. Even the smallest of town’s have a bahnhof in Germany. Gotta love it! Here is where Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof is located and has some of the nicest customer service people around~ remember to take your VAT form.
    • U-bahn – in Stuttgart this is the original train system, even some trains go underground – hence U-bahn. (Unterbahn)

travel-information-center-stuttgart-germany

  • Regional Trains 
    • These trains travel between major cities in Germany and usually have two different train options. To me, they are also some of the best deals when traveling with group. See more below.
      • REG – Regional trains travel between major cities, have quite a few stops and can take time  (however, usually these cost the least)
      • IRE – Inter-Regional Express (if you are lucky to find these trains on your Regional ticket – YOU SCORED!) These make some stops too but travel faster between cities and make fewer stops.
  • ICE – InterCity Express 
    • These exceptionally fast trains are wonderful and travel fast between Stuttgart and Münich, Münich to Berlin, etc. Major cities, fast travel, usually hefty ticket price.

beuron-train-station-germany

TICKETS

Buying S-bahn tickets can be daunting, even approaching the kiosk. However, Stuttgart has made it quite simple. I teach the specifics in my class, however here are some basics.

  1. Press the British Flag for speaking English
  2. Buying a ticket one way for destination – choose destination (this is typically the most expensive way to travel)
  3. Buying an all-day ticket is the bottom right bottom (covers 5 people) all day
    • Choose all day pass – from Magstadt our price is under €20 (cheapest way to travel with more than one person.
  4. Four journey ticket – one of my favorites ~ allows you to choose Zones (must be validated – using this orange machine) ticket-validator-stuttgart
    • It is the only ticket that requires validation. A four journey ticket can be used one-way for four people, or round-trip for two. There is a one-year expiration on the ticket.

These are typically the options I choose. The destination ticket is good for all modes of transportation, bus, tram and S-bahn for up to two hours of travel. After that you will need to purchase another ticket for another destination.

 

tww-stop-sign-girlDO NOT GET CAUGHT ON THE TRAIN WITHOUT A TICKET – €60 FINE

  • I know there are rebels out there, but please don’t do this ~ it’s costly. My son had a pass, but did not have it stamped with the correct month. We still got a €60 fine. 
  • For more indepth information, sign up for my TRAIN class…HERE.

 Group and family travel

  • Germany has regional bundle specials that are wonderful for state’s and county’s, even country wide. The more people you travel with~ the cheaper your ticket per person becomes. As I mentioned above in the Regional Offers section this is where “The more, the merrier” really is cost effective and A LOT of fun!

3. Look for deals 

  • Ameropa – the discount company for Deutschebahn has quarterly discounts that include hotel accommodations, transportation and sometimes (tours) and breakfasts. This makes traveling with children especially fun and affordable.

green-girl4. Traveling throughout Europe

If you live in the Stuttgart area, you can visit the Deutschebahn office in the Main train station (Hauptbahnhof) to book regional, state or Europe-wide travel. However, I have had great luck using the websites below too.

italian-trains-imperia

Each one of these sites have discounted rates, seasonal specials and offers that making taking the train so enticing.

tww-snail5. Here are a few rules and etiquette I’ve observed ~ 

  • First, when traveling by train in Germany there are a few courtesies to consider that are different from traveling by train through other parts of Europe.
  1. When on the escalator in the station, STAY TO THE RIGHT, moving passengers will use the left lane to walk faster and pass you ~
  2. When traveling on the train – especially the S-bahn(Stadt/City) Train, do not use your cell-phone. If you must, talk quietly. This is highly frowned-upon to have loud conversations on the train.
  3. Pay attention to where you are sitting – almost on every train the closest seats to the door are for handicap or elderly. If you are sitting in these and no one around meets those criteria ~ of course, it’s fine to sit there, however, if not, move about.
  4. DO NOT REST YOUR FEET on the SEAT in front of you 🙂 this is a no-no. 
  5. German trains are impeccably clean ~ they don’t allow food or open drinks. (Other than fest time, then it seems, “katy bar the door – everyone has a beer.”
  6. Speaking of Fest, The Canstatter Fest is the busiest time on the train, as everyone is smarter by not drinking and driving.
  7. Last, do not be afraid to ask for help when you are at any major station. My friend Charlotte, went to Poland one time and was helped by a local farmer. Good souls are out there everywhere.

A little about the bus ~

The transit system for Stuttgart would not be complete if I didn’t mention the “bus system.” Our bus system is inexpensive and easy to get around. However, the journey can be quite interesting.

blue-bus-stuttgart

Little story ~ 

One day we were headed to Stuttgart from Magstadt on the (S60) and our train was re-routed. This happens sometimes, the train system is far from perfect, but it makes the journey interesting. After being re-routed in another direction where we wanted to go, (towards Leonberg) we were informed to get off the train and take the bus the rest of the journey to downtown. We were told our ticket would cover the cost of the journey – phew! After hopping onto a bus we headed for downtown Stuttgart. However, according to my GoogleMaps App we were an hour away traveling through Schloß Solitude and other interesting parts of Stuttgart. We did stay on the bus until we ended up in downtown near Stadtmitte and had lots of laughs. 

Since then, I’ve found the bus transportation is quite easy to use in Stuttgart and cost in one direction is between €1.40 to €2.80. Bus maps can be found at the Hauptbahnhof or your local bus or train station, like Böblingen or Vaihingen.  

konigstrasse-train-and-schlossplatz-germany

tww-stop-sign-girl SPECIAL NOTE – If you buy an ALL-DAY pass ticket (including Group Pass) your transportation on all the transit system is covered within city limits, bus, U-bahn and S-bahn.

I find using the VVS website for bus service NOT HELPFUL at all! UGH, REALLY. And since GoogleMaps doesn’t have a bus method yet, I like this website the best, IF I use the bus. 

Traveling by bus to other BIG cities?  More information here ~

If all this information is just too much at one time, no fear, I offer a monthly local class in Stuttgart helping people “learn the train.” CLICK HERE for more information. 

It’s always an adventure when you ©Travel with Wendy!

 

16 comments

  1. You’re just doing my dream, I envy you, that is something I want to do and I hope to do it in the future. The pictures are great and I feel quite better now because at least I can have some experience reading cool stuff like this. The good thing is that everything is pretty close so you can explore a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Nicolas, yup, this is a dream…I hope I don’t wake up too soon 😉 I try to encourage people even if it’s just exploring on the weekend, go see something new ~ we have lived all over the world and I’m surprised at what people don’t explore right in their own backyards. My German neighbors have never been to some of the really cool places I’ve discovered and they are RIGHT there 🙂 Thanks for the shout-OUT! Happy travels ~

      Like

  2. It’s nice to be able to familiarize yourself with the trains if you’re ever going to stay in Europe for some time. I really appreciate this guide! It’s easy to understand and very detailed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are some great tips. I’m from the Netherlands, which is a tiny country. So we typically find 2 hour train rides excruciatingly long already lol. But inter railing Europe is something I would love to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your class on taking the trains so much Wendy! I now feel confident and have even passed on my knowledge to my teenage sons! (they were impressed) After throwing down my knowledge, my 19 year old decided to take the train by himself. He had no problems at all. I highly recommend taking a class with Wendy and have a fun day learning and exploring!

    Like

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