Earlier last year, I wrote about my Christmas wanderlust trip to Bavaria, zooming between Munich, Nuremberg, Salzburg and Hallstatt on the (mostly) reliable rail network. Even though I briefly mentioned the route of the railroad adventure I took, I have people asking me for guidance on how to book the train tickets, read the tickets and what seats to take, for example, which required more details and explanation. I understand the anxiety behind such queries, especially for those who are just starting to embark on free-n-easy trips. In fact, my own learning journey was tougher, considering how information was scarce during the early days of internet!
Therefore, I thought I would relive some of you from the suffering with this (hopefully) simple guide on how to buy train tickets for your Bavaria trip in Germany, the no-sweat way XD
Train Adventure in Bavaria – Overview
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my whole trip around Bavaria was planned based on the assumption that I would base myself mainly in Munich. From there, I took a day trip to Salzburg (I took another day trip out to Neuschwanstein Castle via coach, which is irrelevant to this post). Then I moved to Nuremberg for a night’s stay, before I plied the inter-country railroad to Obertraun in Austria.
Main Tool for Booking a Train Ticket
My tickets (Munich – Nuremberg vv; Munich – Obertraun vv) were all booked on the website www.trainline.eu. According to the website, it is a credible 3rd-party website that helps users search for railroad tickets across multiple rail providers, much like how travel websites like Expedia work.
Considering that there are multiple train operators even within Germany and Bavaria, it makes more sense to use such a platform to search across multiple operators for tickets that optimises time and cost.
The website was easy to use, but it did not live up to my expectation. For me, I wanted assurance of the seats I reserved, and during the booking process, all I could do was to indicate that I want my seats to be together, and not choose the seats like I can for a cinema. However, I must say that compared to my experience booking for train tickets in France, Trainline is way user-friendly!
Class of Travel
Typically, I go for the best class for rail travel. If I can, I go for silent car too.
For DB Bahn, the classes are split into 1st and 2nd class. If you look at their website, the cabins don’t look like they differ a lot, but don’t take the chance.
The perks of going First goes beyond just wider seats and more leg room. Right from the onset of booking, I can reserve my seats free of charge. There are less passengers in the 1st class cabins because of the bigger seats, so you are fighting with less people to go onboard. On certain situations, being on First means priority boarding and skipping the cattle queue. It means less travel anxiety for typically just 10 to 30 Euros extra.
If you think you can do with the travel anxiety, think again, think hard, and then think again.
When you have only 13 minutes in between train rides, where you have to orientate yourself, find where your next train will depart, make your way through and then board the train… you will be grateful for paying that extra!
The Train Tickets
First, there is no need to print the tickets, even though it said so in the e-ticket. Germany is a very advanced country and it’s weird to think they require you to produce a paper version of a ticket! What they need is your QR code, and if need be, your travel / identity documents.
Next, Germans are also very detailed, so everything about your seat is also indicated on the ticket, except that they are in German. It’s difficult to try and use Google Translate for words you don’t know while reading the PDF off your mobile (and while you are on the go). So here’s a sample of my ticket and a quick introduction of meaning of the foreign language:
The most important thing to note is of course your train number and carriage number. You can only know which platform your train will depart from using the train number at the station itself. When on the platform, look for the information display that tells you which direction the train will be coming from, and the indication of the location of each carriage – so that you do not need to run down the length of the platform after realising you are waiting at the wrong end of the platform.
Munich – Salzburg
I did not reserve my tickets to Salzburg online, prior to the trip. First, that was a day-trip, sans luggage, so I was treating it like a normal commute to work. Secondly, as I found out later, you can get cheaper tickets when you buy them at the train station – you have to be content with the fact that you don’t have reserved seats, the timing may not meet your requirements and you may end up on a non-express train (i.e. it stops at small stations and adds on to your travel time) – consequences that I am not willing to bear if I were to be moving in between hotels.
Therefore, buying the ticket on the spot was OK for me. In fact, the trains between Munich and Salzburg were so frequent, when N and I missed a train, we only needed to wait for 20 minutes for the next one!
Munich – Nuremberg – Hallstatt
This is a little complicated – I stayed a night at Nuremberg, before taking the 6-hour journey to Obertraun. Therefore, the tickets I bought were Munich – Nuremberg vv, and Munich – Obertraun vv.
The transit at Munich (from Nuremberg) was OK; to go to another platform, one does not need to climb stairs and take overhead bridges / underpasses, which is a bane for those with luggage. Instead, you have to go to the end of the platform to access another platform – it’s only bad if you are alighting / boarding on the other end.
Salzburg and Attnang -Puccheim was tricky; one needs to use the underpass to access the different platforms and I must say this simple act was sufficient to disorientate a traveller psychologically, especially under the pressure of time.
Trains tend to be late in Salzburg (departing when we were going to Hallstatt, and arriving when we were returning to Munich), and was the only reason why I said the trains in Europe are mostly reliable.
Experience of a Lifetime in Bavaria
For the most part, the train trips around Bavaria were very typical – typical of those that you will experience in the UK or US. The leg between Munich to Salzburg was unique, as I was allocated a 4-seater cabin; we shared our cabin with 2 old ladies (thankfully!) who were amused at the thought of 2 Asians travelling with them. However, it was also the most uncomfortable trip, as there was limited space for our luggage. This also showcased the downside of the reservation system: I could only choose to have my 2 seats together, but not side-by-side. So technically, N and I were in the same cabin, but we were facing each other.
On the contrary, the best journey was between Salzburg and Attnang-Puccheim. For one, the cabin was almost empty, the carriage was modern, toilets clean and we got a bar of chocolate as a 1st class perk.
The sector between Attnang-Puccheim and Obertraun felt more like a commuter train; it passed through towns where people boarded and alighted like it was part of their daily life, which provided a little peek to the lives of the locals in the alps. There were also limited seats; most of the space in the carriage was standing space, also typical of a commuter train.
The most miserable part of the journey had to be the Salzburg – Munich leg on returning from Hallstatt. Not only was the train late, the cabins were full, so N and I had a hard time finding seats; we did not even have a proper place for our luggage, so we had to sacrifice our leg space for the luggage. On hindsight, I could have chosen a later train for this leg, so as to avoid the mid-day peak.
Book your hotels before booking the train tickets – after all, you are only booking tickets for a mode of transport, and the rail network in Western Europe is still reliable and frequent enough for you to book the tickets at a later stage of your planning.
Read up on the neighbourhood – Where is the main railway station in town? Are you going to take the train from an alternate station? Where are you staying in relation to the targeted train station? In the end, not only do you have to factor in the travelling time between the hotel and the station (and the luggage you are going to take with you), you also have to factor in check in / check out times, and whether you need to add on another train ticket. The last thing you’d want is to drop off at Hauptbahnhof, when your hotel is near Hirschgarten station.
Food is usually not catered (unlike flying), and the dining car’s offerings may be overpriced. Therefore, always plan to reach the train station 30 minutes before departure, so you can at least buy takeouts for your meals onboard and leave time to park yourself at the platform. In the example of our transit at Munich, I allocated a more liberal transit time (about 30 minutes); like I mentioned earlier, one has to change platforms at one end of the platform. That is also where all the food options are located, so it becomes easier for one to pick up food to go during transit – just allocate slightly more time for the queuing and paying.
Download the DB Bahn app, so that you can check the platform of your connecting train before you alight. Most of the time, the transit times are so tight and yet you have to catch a breath after lugging your suitcases off the train, then orientate yourself in the station, look for the info of the next train, go to the departing platform (which may involve going up and down stairs) and lug your suitcases up the train. Having the app and the info beforehand gives you more time to orientate yourself properly and of course, eliminates the chances of boarding the wrong train!
Bavaria Train Journey Overview
Munich – Salzburg vv (1h 42m; 35 Euro pp each way)
Munich – Nuremberg vv (1h 7m) (23.50 Euro pp each way)
Munich – Obertraun vv (4h 20m) (49.90 Euro pp each way) – details in the screenshots below
Share & Share!
If you find my guide to Bavaria useful, please remember to share it to your friends and spare them the headache of planning their rail trips!
Also, if you find that some part of my guide is wrong, or you have info that will make it more complete, do share in the comments below or PM me! This is supposed to be a helpful post, so I will appreciate any updates to make this useful for everyone 🙂