Explore Germany by rail
Germany arguably has one of the best and most-connected rail systems in the world. Thus, you won’t have any troubles planning a week-long trip (or longer) in Germany relying on the rail networks. Not only comfortable and punctual, it’s also great value for money especially with a rail pass.
It’s important to note that The Eurail Single Country Passes only passes through Germany and doesn’t cover travel within the country. If you’re intending to explore Germany extensively, you can opt for the German Rail Pass instead!
What is the German Rail Pass?
The German Rail Pass is a transport pass which allows unlimited rail travel throughout Germany. It’s accepted on all trains and IC buses operated by Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany’s national railway company. There also also selected private railway companies that can be accessed by the German Rail Pass.
With your German Rail Pass, you can opt to travel on consecutive days or non-consecutive days within one month. For those who are planning on venturing outside of Germany, the transport pass also allows travel to cities outside of the country like Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Poland and Czechia.
Aside from transportation, German Rail Pass holders are also eligible for discount on selected tourist attractions and shopping outlets within Germany.
Visitors who are permanent residents (for over 6 months) outside of Europe, Turkey and the Russian Federation are eligible for German Rail Pass. If you happen to be aged 27 or younger, or if you’re travelling in pairs, you can qualify for discounted prices!
How to use the German Rail Pass
Purchase your German Rail Pass
You will need to decide on the type of pass (adult, twin, youth, or child), which class (1st or 2nd class but can vary), and validity period (the number of travel days whether consecutively or non-consecutively). Make sure to purchase your Germain Rail Pass from a trusted source!
It’s good to have a rough timeline of your time in Germany planned out, so you can choose the best package suited for your itinerary. If you’re still unsure, keep reading till the itinerary section to give you some inspiration.
Activate your German Rail Pass
Before you start your train journey in Germany, you have to first activate your German Rail Pass which you can do so at the train station. You can go to a DB ticket office to have your pass validated before you board your first train. If you arrive in Germany on a train from abroad, a ticket inspector on the train can also validate your pass.
The railway official will activate your German Rail Pass by entering the first and last day of validity on your pass. Each German Rail Pass has to be activated within 11 months of the issue date. For example, if you purchased your German Rail pass on 31 May 2018, the last day you can activate it is on 30 April 2019.
German Rail Pass seat reservations
Domestic German trains typically do not require a prior reservation but you can make a reservation for long distance trains. During peak seasons or rush hour, especially for the ICE high-speed train, it’s recommended to make reservations. Seat reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance.
You can always take a look at the train timetable to see if it requires a reservation. To make a reservation, you can do so at a ticket office in the larger train stations in Germany. Otherwise, you can also make reservations online through the DB Bahn train timetable or contact the booking center.
Travel days on German Rail Pass
The German Rail Pass comes in either 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 or 15 travel days. You can opt for a German Rail Consecutive Pass or a German Rail FlexiPass. A travel day lasts from 12am (midnight) to 11:59 pm on the same calendar day. You’re entitled to unlimited train travel within that 24 hours.
There’s also the 7pm rule. This lets you board a direct night train after 7pm and arrive the next day after 4am, but only the day of arrival is counted as your travel day. Do note that the 7pm rule only applies after you activated your German Rail Pass! For example, if it’s activated on June 11, you can’t use the 7pm rule on the evening of June 10.
Itinerary: Cities to visit with 1 week in Germany
Day 1 & 2 - Munich
The trip begins in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, where you can find centuries-old structures, boisterous beer halls, vibrant art scene, and high-tech industry. Affectionately referred to as a “city of laptop and lederhosen”, Munich has preserved its cultural heritage while leading in technological advancement.
When in Munich, make sure you indulge in some pork knuckle and drink lots of freshly brewed beer. It is, after all, hailed as "the City of Beer” where Oktoberfest is held yearly! Depending on the time you have, you can also make a day trip out to Füssen to visit magnificent fairytale-like castles. Here are several most-recommended places worth visiting:
- Munich Old Town (Marienplatz, Bürgersaalkirche, Munich Residenz, Karlsplatz Stachus, etc.)
- Bavarian Film City
- Englischer Garten
- Hofbräuhaus am Platzl
- Olympic Tower
- Füssen (Neuschwanstein castle, Linderhof castle, Oberammergau)
Day 3 - Heidelberg
Welcome to Germany’s city of romance, Heidelberg! This dreamy, picturesque town boasts views of the ruins of a castle, quaint buildings, cobblestoned streets, and stunning sunsets. Surrounded by lush greenery and situated on the Neckar River, Heidelberg is also home to Germany’s oldest university.
Just South of Frankfurt, Heidelberg’s sceneries will steal your heart away with many of these interesting and exciting attractions:
- Heidelberg Castle
- Heidelberg Hauptstrasse (Main street)
- Altstadt (Old Town)
- Philosopher’s Walk
- Old Bridge
- Heidelberger Liebesstein
Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/Uqdi1K & https://flic.kr/p/em2of1
Day 4 - Cologne
The largest city of the Holy Roman Empire during the medieval times, Cologne in the modern times is one of Germany’s most liberal cities. Whether you’re into Romanesque churches, museums, chocolate, drinking or general sightseeing, it’s a city you’ll enjoy exploring.
With a thriving pub scene in Cologne, don’t be shy to stop for a cheeky refreshment between visiting these famous attractions in the city:
- Cologne Cathedral
- Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (chocolate museum)
- Museum Ludwig
- Romano-Germanic Museum
- Cologne’s Old Town
- Hohenzollern Bridge
- Fragrance Museum
- Cologne Zoological Garden
Day 5 - Hamburg
Dubbed as the “Gateway to the World” and rightfully so, Hamburg is Germany’s largest port and second-biggest city. Home to some pretty amazing fish sandwiches, the understated Hamburg is also known for its stellar nightlife scene. Also, a fun lil fact - the people of Hamburg are referred to as "Hamburger"!
With only a day in Hamburg, you should fit these attractions in your schedule for the best experience of this eccentric port city:
- Hamburg Fish Market
- Port of Hamburg
- Miniatur Wunderland
- Hamburg City Hall
Photo Credit: https://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/
Day 6 & 7 - Berlin
Saving the best for last, the largest city and the capital of Germany, Berlin! In between all the glitz and grit, Berlin is filled with modern architecture, old-time reminders, rich history, fantastic eats, lively nightlife and vibrant culture. Holocaust memorial and graffiti are also preserved, to serve as reminders of Berlin’s turbulent times in the 20th century.
Although 2 days is not much to fully deep dive into Berlin, here are a few must-visit spots to start on your trip to this German capital:
- Berlin Wall East Side Gallery
- Brandenburg Gate
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
- Potsdamer Platz
- Berlin Cathedral
- Kreuzberg Street Art