Public Transport in Germany: Getting Around in Germany

Last updated on April 7th, 2022 at 06:04 pm

Read this newcomer friendly guide to public transportation in Germany.

 

There is a vast network of public transportation in Germany. You have many ways to get around in German cities and across the country. 

Public transport in Germany is called öffentlicher Personennahverkehr, or just ÖPNV. It includes key public transportation in Germany such as buses, rail and trains (underground trains, metro trains and trams).

You can also explore other countries in Europe through the German public transport network. 

1) Travelling in Germany by City Rails

Germany has remarkable urban public transportation systems, especially intracity rail systems. Even in smaller cities, people have access to some kind of public transport in Germany – whether a bus or a rail network. 

Most of the public transport in Germany is punctual, however, on weekends and public holidays, public transport in Germany runs less often than on weekdays.

There are various types of city rails in Germany.

  • S-Bahn (short for Stadtschnellbahn): City rapid rail
  • U-Bahn (short for Untergrundbahn): Underground train
  • Stadtbahn: Light-rail system
  • Strassenbahn: Streetcar or tram system

The train station is called a Bahnhof in German. It is usually located in or close to German town centres.

You can easily locate a Bahnhof in any map app on your smartphone. Once at a Bahnhof, you can buy tickets, travel by train, taxis, and buses to get around in Germany. 

Public transport timetables are available at all stops and stations in Germany.

Timetables show which lines go where, when, and how long they take to get to each stop.

You can buy tickets at the ticket machines operating in multiple languages at all the train stations in Germany.

Just buying a train ticket isn’t enough to get around in Germany. You also need an Entwerter stamp on your ticket which is a code for the date and time.

A ticket without a stamp from the Entwerter is not a valid ticket!

Your ticket must be validated,

  • Either before boarding the train (using machines at the station entrance or on the platform),
  • Or after boarding the train (using machines in the aisle or by a ticket controller). 

When you travel by rails or train in Germany, you don’t have to feed your ticket into a machine in order to get to your train.

Some people may be tempted to skip buying a ticket. However, this honour system for public transport in Germany operates on the ‘trust but verify’ principle.

Ticket controllers randomly do the rounds and request tickets, typically using the phrase Fahrkarten, bitte! (Tickets please!). Note that many controllers also ask for a personal ID.

If you get caught without a valid (stamped) ticket or pass, you’ll have to pay a fine on the spot – Even the tourists!

The fine went up in 2015 from €40 to €60.

Most public transport in Germany will allow you to take your dog or bike on board trains and buses, however, you may have to buy an extra ticket for them.

Bicycles, wheelchairs or baby strollers may be restricted to certain cars. These cars are generally more spacious with foldable seats and closer to the doors. 

Students in Germany get a semester ticket to travel on regional trains. Make sure to carry a personal ID such as a passport or residence permit card when you travel. 

Besides this, several discount options are offered for travel outside the region by train in Germany.

1.1) Getting Around in Germany by S-Bahn

S-Bahn is short for Stadtschnellbahn (city rapid rail).

This rail system is an essential part of the public transport network in many German cities. 

In some German cities, such as Berlin, the S-Bahn is also part of a rail network that includes underground U-Bahn lines. Passengers can transfer from the S-Bahn to the U-Bahn (or vice versa) at some stations, all with the same ticket. 

A round green sign with a white S signifies an S-Bahn station.

1.2) Getting Around in Germany by U-Bahn

U-Bahn is short for Untergrundbahn. It is equivalent to a metro, subway, underground, or Tube.

Although U-Bahn trains usually run underground, they can also be seen above-ground known as S-Bahn in Germany.

Only four German cities have U-Bahn lines: Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Nuremberg.

The U-Bahn is a speedy way to get around in Germany with trains running in five to ten-minute intervals at peak traffic times.

The rules for buying and validating tickets for the S-Bahn, described above, also apply to the U-Bahn.

A blue sign with a white U identifies a U-Bahn station.

1.3) Getting Around in Germany by Stadtbahn

Some German cities have an underground light-rail system known as the “Stadtbahn” city rail. This is not to be confused with S-Bahn or U-Bahn.

By using rail lines that are separated from road traffic and normal streetcars, the Stadtbahn can provide faster service than a normal tram. Service is frequent (every 10-20 minutes) during off-peak periods.

In cities without a true U-Bahn, the Stadtbahn, with its tunnels, provides a cheaper alternative to building a full underground system like those in Berlin or Munich.

These systems even use signs with a white “U” on a blue background, similar to real U-Bahn lines in Germany.

1.4) Getting Around in Germany by Strassenbahn

Another way to get around in Germany is using the streetcar or tram) system. In some medium or large cities, streetcar lines run underground in the central city area. 

Trams are prevalent in eastern German cities. Service is fairly frequent, usually 20-30 minutes during off-peak periods.

A round yellow sign with a green H signifies a Strassenbahn stop.

2) Travelling in Germany by Train

Trains are wildly popular public transport in Germany for travelling nationally and locally.

Deutsche Bahn is the major operator of trains in Germany. It also covers most of the regional train connections. Passengers just have to buy one ticket for both systems.

The Deutsche Bahn website is also available in English (and many other languages) making it easy for non-German speakers to get around by train in Germany.


There are various types of trains in Germany.

  • Intercityexpress (ICE)
  • Intercity (IC) 
  • Interregio (IR)
  • Regio – RegionalBahn (RB) 
  • RegionalExpress (RE)
  • Eurocity (EC)

The main train station is called a Bahnhof or Hauptbahnhof in German. It is usually located in or close to German town centres.

You can easily locate a Bahnhof in any map app on your smartphone. 

Once at a Bahnhof, you can buy tickets, travel by train, taxis, and buses to get around in Germany. 

Train timetables are available at all train stations in Germany.

Timetables show which lines go where, when, and how long they take to get to each stop.

You can also find online timetables on the DB website or the DB app.

Click here to check the latest schedule for trains in Germany (in English)

You can buy train tickets in Germany in multiple ways.

  • Online (in English and several other languages) and download the ticket to your smartphone or print it. This is the easiest way.  
  • Through the ticket machines operating in multiple languages at all the train stations in Germany
  • At ticket counters in the station or at travel agencies
  • On the train with an additional fee of 7,50 EUR

When you travel by rails or train in Germany, you don’t have to feed your ticket into a machine in order to get to your train.

Some people may be tempted to skip buying a ticket. However, this honour system for public transport in Germany operates on the “trust but verify” principle.

Ticket controllers randomly do the rounds and request tickets, typically using the phrase “Fahrkarten, bitte!” (Tickets please!). Note that many controllers also ask for a personal ID.

If you get caught without a valid (stamped) ticket or pass, you’ll have to pay a fine on the spot – Even the tourists!

The fine went up in 2015 from €40 to €60.

When you book a train ticket with Deutsche Bahn, your ticket does not automatically include a seat! 

When making the train reservation in Germany, you have the option to select your wagon and seat as well as choose the ‘add ons’ i.e. seat with a work table, seat with power socket, family area, window-side seat, six-seat cabin etc.

It is highly recommended to make a reservation and spend the extra money, especially when going on a Friday or Sunday evening. Otherwise, you may have to spend the entire train ride sitting on your luggage next to the doors. 

Most public transport in Germany will allow you to take your dog or bike on board trains and buses, however, you may have to buy an extra ticket for them.

Bicycles or baby stroller may be restricted to certain cars or sections of a car. 

Some ICEs offer WLAN in their wagons, however, it reportedly has very poor connectivity, so be prepared to stay offline during your journey.

 

Travelling by train in Germany is generally not the cheapest, but you can save money by purchasing your ticket as long in advance as possible.

There are often discounted offers when booking online.

 

Use DB best prices finder (in English) to find the best price for your route

 

You can also make even more savings by buying a Bahncard.

Deutsche Bahn offers a BahnCard that gives you various discounts on train tickets or even a flat rate for travelling by train in Germany.

If you intend to live in Germany for an extended period of time, a BahnCard may be a good option to save on monthly train travel costs.

It is only available for German residents and is not suitable for tourists or anyone travelling for shorter periods of time.

Here is an overview of the price and benefits of BahnCard (in English)

The one thing you need to keep in mind is to cancel the ticket last six weeks prior to its validity as it gets automatically renewed for another year.

Students in Germany get a semester ticket to travel on regional trains. Make sure to carry a personal ID such as a passport or residence permit card when you travel. 

Besides this, several discount options are offered for travel outside the region by train in Germany. 

 
Click here to find the lowest Supersaver fare from as little as EUR 17,90 (in English)
 

There are also special offers such as weekend travellers, which allow up to six people to travel by train in Germany for a whole day at the weekend.

 

Click here to book a ticket for a group of 6 within Germany for as little as EUR 8.90 per person (seat reservation included!)

Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket: This allows you to travel with up to four friends for a day on all regional trains across Germany. You could travel between two or more German states with this ticket.

Click here to book a day ticket for Germany starting from €42 (in English)

 

Regional Day Tickets: This ticket allows you to travel with up to four friends per ticket and tour one state of your choice for a whole day. 

Click here to book DB regional day ticket starting from €22 (in English)

 

 

 



 

There are a couple of options to travel across Europe by train.

1. Deutsche Bahn Saver Fare Europe

With this super saver fare, you can discover Europe’s major cities for as little as EUR 18.90. It allows you to travel to 16 European destinations.




2. InterRail Pass

Interrail’s all-in-one Pass is the most flexible way to explore Europe and lets you explore 33 countries in Europe by train.

You can hop on and off as many trains as you like simply by showing your Interrail Pass on your phone.





3) Travelling in Germany by Bus

Thanks to its vast network, getting around in Germany by bus is an everyday convenience for millions of Germans. Even the most remote villages have regular bus services.

There are two types of bus services in Germany. 

  • Local ‘intracity’ buses
  • National ‘intercity’ buses

Learn about both types of buses in Germany in the following sections. 

3.1) Local Buses in Germany

Local buses are a part of the öffentlicher Personennahverkehr or ÖPNV. Just about every town of substantial size has at minimum a bus system.

Tickets for fast trains such as the Intercityexpress (ICE), Intercity (IC) or Eurocity (EC) are more expensive than the tickets for local trains.

The connections between urban centres are usually offered by ICEs or ICs, with very modern trains (the ICs a little less so) going fast and with few stops only.

Local train services include the Interregio (IR), the Regional Express (RE) and the Regionalbahn (RB).

A round sign with green H in a yellow circle identifies a Haltestelle, a bus or a tram stop.

At some stops, there may be an electronic sign that indicates the route number and when the next bus or tram will arrive.

 

In almost all cases, you will find a framed timetable on a post at the stop.

Timetables are posted at all stops. Timetables illustrate which lines go where, when, and how long they take to get to each stop.

Most local buses in Germany sell tickets onboard. You get inside the bus, tell the bus driver your destination and they will print a ticket on the spot for you. 

Drivers on most buses can only accept cash, so be prepared to bring the exact change.

Like for trains in Germany, make sure that your bus ticket is also validated!

Some tickets are already validated when the driver prints it out for you, others you still have to validate.

If you already have a ticket, show it to the bus driver as you board, and then validate it with a yellow, orange or red machine in the aisle labelled: Bitte hier entwerten.

If the ticket is not validated, you are travelling without a ticket.

There are buttons on posts along the aisle that you press to signal when you want to get off.

Most buses in Germany have an electronic sign above the driver’s compartment that indicates the name of the next stop, and “Bus hält” (“bus will stop”) if someone has pressed the stop button.

In some cases, you’ll hear a chime and a recorded voice that announces the name of the next stop. You may have to press a button to open the door if you are the first person to exit.

Always exit through the rear door!

 

3.2) Long-Distance Buses in Germany

Domestic long-distance intercity bus services are called Fernbus in Germany. Fernbus in Germany is a budget alternative to travelling by train across the country. 

There are many long-distance bus routes connecting German cities and destinations in other European countries.

Most of the domestic Fernbus companies also offer international routes either themselves or in conjunction with another carrier.

You will need to make sure you have the required paperwork (passport, visa, etc.) for entry into your destination country.

The bus companies generally do not operate their own stations, but rather use existing public bus facilities.

In most large cities, the buses will stop at either the central bus station (Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof/ZOB), usually near the main train station or the long-distance bus terminal at the airport.

Your ticket will give the address of the stop location for both your origin and destination.

If you are making a connection, be sure the stop where you will change buses is the same or, if not, that you know how to get between the stops for your connection and how much time you will need to do so.

In general, travelling by bus in Germany is cheaper than train services. This is primarily a result of fierce competition as well as lower overhead to operate buses.

However, there are trade-offs of travelling with Fernbus in Germany:

  • They are slower than trains. This is due to the imposed speed limits on buses in Germany, general traffic congestion and the requirement that bus drivers take scheduled rest breaks.
  • They tend to be more cramped than trains making long journeys uncomfortable. 

 

When deciding between bus and rail, be sure to consider the trade-offs of cost, time, and comfort.

Like other transportation services, you’ll almost always get the best fare by booking online in advance.

There are several aggregator services that will check the fares of all the bus services.

When you arrive at the station you should show a copy of your ticket (either paper or electronic) and your ID for boarding the bus.

 

There are many long-distance bus routes connecting German cities and destinations in other European countries.

 

Most buses have free Wi-Fi service with Internet access available.

However, the service can be unreliable with passengers reporting drop-outs or slow data rates at times.

Most companies also offer a free entertainment service via Wi-Fi (use your own device) with music and movies available.

Many buses also feature electric outlets for recharging your electronic devices. You may need a plug adapter.

4) Travelling in Germany by Car

Public transport in Germany pretty much makes car ownership redundant for people living in cities.

Driving in Germany is considered more of a hassle than a necessity, especially with the excellent public transportation available in every city.

Here are some tips for odd occasions, when you want or need to get around in Germany by car.

4.1) Car Sharing in Germany

Car sharing in Germany might be fairly new, but it is rapidly becoming popular.

Currently, 740 cities have car-sharing services in Germany. More than 2,460,000 German residents are registered with these car-sharing providers. As of the beginning of 2019, a total of almost 20,200 vehicles were available for car-sharing in Germany. 

The biggest advantage of car sharing in Germany is that it significantly reduces the financial burdens of car ownership. 

The flat fee of car sharing in Germany covers the cost of

    • car loans,
    • car insurance,
    • fuel costs,
    • general maintenance

It is no wonder that more and more locals are deciding to rely on car sharing in Germany, particularly with the rising fuel costs

SHARE NOW is one of the biggest car-sharing providers in Germany. You can use their services for as low as 0,09 € per minute, which covers the fixed costs of car loans, car insurance, fuel, and overall maintenance.

Click here to check out SHARE NOW’s car-sharing offers in Germany.

4.2) Car Rental in Germany

Renting a car in Germany is another great alternative to buying a car in Germany. 

If you want to plan a road trip across Germany without relying on trains or buses, then renting a car is a great option.

The car rental process is standardised all across the EU, so it also works for a road trip across EU territories. 

Most car rental agencies will allow one-way rentals e.g you pick up the car in one city and return it to another at no extra fee.

On a personal note, we have rented cars for road trips in and around several EU countries: Crete, Italy, German Baltic Coast, Portugal.

We extensively use SIXT for renting cars in Germany since we never had any bad experience with them. 

Click here to learn more about SIXT car rental in Germany

4.3) Taxi Services in Germany

Taxis are ideal for quick intercity travel, however, it is also quite an expensive way to get around in Germany.

The best way to hire a taxi in Germany is to find one at a taxi stand. You are most likely to find taxis near train stations, airports, large hotels, city centres, shopping areas, etc.

You will find several taxis waiting in a queue at these locations. The etiquette is to approach the first taxi in the queue. If the driver cannot travel to your destination he will ask you to ask for the next taxi in the queue. 

Obviously, you can also order a taxi in Germany by phone. Every city has a taxi hotline that you can find by searching for “City name + Taxi-Zentrale”. 

All taxis in Germany are required to have a visible meter and fares are regulated by local laws within a designated local tariff zone (Pflichtfahrgebietes).

Rates can vary by city, but generally, there is a €2-3 “drop charge” or basic fee (Grundpreis), then a rate of €1-3 per kilometer with slightly lower rates for longer distances (typically in excess of 2 to 5 kilometers). Note that ‘night rates’ also apply to taxi fares in Germany.