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Germany, Austria, Switzerland?

Hello everyone. I'm planing a trip this year with my wife and 10 year old twin boys. We would like to fly into Germany the week of 7/21 and leave the week of 8/12. I've been reading websites & books for a couple weeks now but i'm having trouble balancing keeping the children engaged and happy as well as enjoying our first time in the region.

Taking destinations from online forums, i've checked into the standard places everyone always hears about:
Bacharach, Rothenburg, Munich, Fussen, Salzburg, Berchtesgaden etc...

Can you please help me fill in the blanks?

I was planing on traveling by train for the whole trip. But if it's needed I could rent a car in certain areas just to reach out of the way places.

We both love small towns and mountains and are very interested in seeing / visiting some places in and around these three countries.

Also does anyone know about these rail passes? I've been told that they are great but then i've read recently that they aren't as good as they used to be. Are they still worth it?

Thank you for any advice you might have,
Ben

Posted by
4073 posts

With kids, try to stay in one place for a while. Maybe pick two or three (max) places to stay for the whole trip. We (includes two boys 3&9) spent a week vacation last summer in Seefeld, Austria. Lots of hiking, water activities, rodelbahns, mountains. Mittenwald is nearby and lovely; Leutasch Spirit Gorge is beautiful, great big kid playground on top of the mountain in Seefeld (parents can drink beer at restaurant while watching kids play). Relax and enjoy the mountains - don't try to rush through them. We stayed in the apartment at the Hotel Princess Bergfrieden (best hotel ever).

Rent a car for flexibility; railpasses are wastes of money.

Posted by
15573 posts

I am trying to go back in time and remember what I would like as a 10 year old. Yes, I got it: castles, castles, dungeons, fortifications, castles. Fortunately, they have these in spades in Germany & Austria.
Rothenburg would be great for a few days. You can walk the ramparts around the town. The Nightwatchman tour is a must, and of course, the Kriminalmuseum (the Medieval Crime (and punishment) Museum).
As far as rail passes go, if you headquarter in Bavaria, your family can travel together anywhere in Bavaria on regional trains after 9 am weekdays on a single "Bayern" ticket. It is 23 euro for the first passenger, and 4 euro for each additional passenger. The kids are under 15, so they would travel free (they need to be listed on the ticket but not charged). This ticket is also good for the entire day on weekends and holidays. Rothenburg is in Bavaria, so it is covered. Salzburg, even though it is in Austria is also included. Fuessen, Berchtesgaden, and of course, Munich are part of the deal as well.

Posted by
36 posts

Thank you both for your input.

Sam does that Bayern ticket cover trams etc... In the city or is it just for trains from one city to another? Is that on the DBahn website?

Does the Rhine have a ticket the would help you out there similar to the Bayern one? I thought The castle ruins in St Goar might be cool for the boys to explore after a boat ride from Bacharach etc...

Ben

Posted by
15573 posts

Yes, it includes all S-bahns, U-bahns, trams, and MOST buses.
http://www.bahn.com/i/view/USA/en/prices/germany-regional/bavaria-ticket.shtml
Yes same deal is available in Rheinland-Pfalz. Good on the west bank of the Rhine from the French border to just above Remagen and on the east bank from Kaub to above Linz.
There is also a subdistrict called the Rhein-Mosel transport network (VRM) that is good from Oberwesel (just north of Bachrach) on the west bank to Remagen, same as R-P on the east bank, and up the Mosel to Bullay, which is west of Cochem. The VRM Minigroup ticket is good for up to 5 for 20 euro for one day, or 40 euro for a 3-day pass. It is good on all regional trains and buses.
Website: http://www.vrminfo.de/en/home/

Posted by
36 posts

Thanks Sam! That great info. I was being lead towards the Eurorail global pass by people I know but it just seemed like overkill to me. These regional tickets sound much better.

Any opinion on specific sites in and around Bavaria or over the Austrian border?

Ben

Posted by
17642 posts

"railpasses are wastes of money."

So, IMO, is renting a car. In Bavaria, a Bayern-Ticket will only cost you 27€ for the two adults; your boys travel free with you. The Bayern-Ticket is valid for a whole host of buses, not just in cities. RVO (Regional Verkehr Oberbayern) has an extensive network of buses south of Munich, along the Alps.

"Bacharach, Rothenburg, Munich, Fussen, Salzburg, Berchtesgaden etc..."

I've been to all those places, plus Seefeld, Mittenwald, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau, Lindau, the Allgäu, and a host of other places most people have never heard of, without ever needing a car. Germany, and particularly Bavaria, has about the most extensive rail networks in Europe, augmented by a system of buses.

A real castle they might like is the one in Burghausen. The town can be reached in 2 hours from Munich (change in Mühldorf) and there is a city bus (#1) from there to the castle.

Posted by
3696 posts

I have traveled in Germany on two different occasions with a boy the age of your twins, and one a few years older. I think having the kids do a bit of investigating on their own ahead of time might be fun for them. With one of the kids I did a 'castle tour' and we had a great time. We did have a car (I almost always drive...like the freedom and flexibility) and found many out of the way places as well as the tourist areas. Had a number of roadside picnics which were a really memorable part of our trip and just meandered our way around the country. A few favorites... Heidelberg, Neuschwanstein(sp), Salzburg, Rothenberg (although we stayed in Dinkelsbuhl) I also prefer small towns so having the car gave us the freedom to explore and find our own little hidden gems.

Posted by
36 posts

Lee, Terry, Thank you both for your responses. I appreciate the help.

I plan to move around by train but have considered renting a car for 1 or 2 days to explore on our own. It seems like Fussen might be a good place to rent a car and drive around some.

I'm still deciding on exact places to visit. Anyone know of good places to go that haven't been mentioned yet?

Ben

Posted by
102 posts

Renting a car while staying in Southern Bavaria is a good idea. You can cover a lot more ground and not be tied to train schedules. Besides Füssen, check out Oberammergau (and nearby Schloss Linderhof and Kloster Ettal), Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Wieskirche in Steingaden, Andechs, and the Tegernsee.

For your kids, definitely check out some hiking and a Sommerrodelbahn. The Alps in summer are beautiful and there is plenty to do to keep your kids entertained.

Posted by
7640 posts

Do keep in mind that if your boys are under 12 years old, they will probably need to sit in a booster car seat. Will you drag those around with you from the US, or pay extra to rent them from the car rental company? My thoughts are, that kids of that age love riding trains, trams and buses, much more than they enjoy sitting in the back seat of a car. Many of the Regional trains are double deckers, so you get to sit upstairs and get a grand view of everything, plus there are toilets on the trains. School vacations may be in many areas, which will jam up the autobahn like you wouldn't believe. Both Hessen and Bavaria will be on vacation that last week of July, going into August. One more reason to ride the train.
http://www.holidays-info.com/School-Holidays-Germany/2014/school-holidays_2014.html

Places with chair lifts, funiculars are also fun. Think Ruedesheim, Wiesbaden Neroberg, or Heidelberg. Open Air museums, castle ruins, water parks, etc. are all a treat for kids that age too.

Posted by
36 posts

Good info everyone. Thanks for all your feedback. I'm going to look into all of the places you've shared with me and see which ones we're able to do.

Does anyone know anything about Switzerland? Are there any worthwhile places to visit that aren't too complicated to get to?

Also keep the Germany / Austria locations coming. I'm looking into each and every place mentioned and really appreciate the help.

Ben

Posted by
1402 posts

As said, for shorter train trips, the Länder tickets are good value - if you are taking a long trip where using the faster IC or ICE trains, consider getting the ticket online 2 days in advance on bahn.de. As an example last Sept. , the Frankfurt to Gengenbach ticket was 29 for 2 rather than 103 normal price. These tickets are for specific trains, so they are best when you know you will be able to take that train (not suggested on the day you arrive in country, since the arriving plane can be late - as it was for me!)

Sommerroddelbahn are a must. The castle at St. Goar is great for boys of that age - take a flashlight. In Rothenburg the Crime and Punishment museum.

Posted by
15573 posts

Switzerland is stunning. Clean, well organized, trains that go everywhere and run like clockwork and absolutely the most awesome scenery. But everything here seems to cost twice as much as neighboring Germany and Austria. So just keep in mind the saying, "You don't go on vacation to save money." and you'll be alright. Think of it like this: The Motel 6 is all booked up, so we have to stay at the Ritz Carleton.

Posted by
17642 posts

The advance purchase "Savings Fare" tickets must be purchased at least 3 days before travel. The Bahn website will not offer them if you're too close to travel time. In reality, however, the tickets are "tiered" for price and limited in quantity at each price tier. When the cheapest tickets have been sold, the next tier are more expensive. You are unlikely to get the best price 3 days before travel time. These tickets come on sale 92 days before their travel date.

However, if you are willing to take regional trains, you can buy a Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket (52€ for 2 adults & 2 children under 15) at an automat at the station right up to the time of travel. On weekends, a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket for the four of you would cost 44€.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Does anyone know anything about Switzerland?" Yes, but so far, it really doesn't fit in with the rest of your wishlist. And if you're looking for Alpine thrills, you'll bet plenty in southern Bavaria and Austria. Quite a bit cheaper than Switzerland too.

If the boys would enjoy an amusement park, look into Phanstasialand near Bonn.

Posted by
36 posts

Lee - Just making sure I understood correctly.

The cheaper fares like the Bayern ticket (the ones called Länder Tickets on the website) are the ones that you have to buy in advance?

And the next level tickets, don't remember the names, but the ones that are for 40-50ish depending on if it's weekday or weekend I should be able to buy at the station on the day of travel without problem?

Posted by
15573 posts

No, the Bayern ticket can be bought just before you travel. They are cheaper if you buy them from a station vending machine, you'll pay a small service fee to buy them from a ticket window. The Bayern ticket is a "Laender" ticket, good only in that German state, each state has its own Laender ticket. The QDL and Schoenes wochende (Beautiful Weekend) are similar but good for the entire nation of Germany.

Posted by
36 posts

Thanks Sam! I really appreciate the info. This forum has been a big help.

Posted by
4073 posts

Just to clarify on railpasses...

Those offered by RailEurope, Interrail, Eurail, etc are wastes of money.

Those offered by the National Rail Carriers of various countries (Ein Fach Raus in Austria, Bayern ticket in Germany, for example) are completely legit and quite a different thing altogether.

Posted by
794 posts

We really enjoyed the Black Forest Open Air Museum [Vogtsbauernhof], which we visited as part of the 2006 Rick Steves Germany/Austria/Switzerland tour. Castles are great, but this is a different view of history that you and the boys might enjoy. I just checked TripAdvisor for reviews, and there was a big thumbs up from a family traveling with a 9-yo son as well as the other mostly positive reviews. However, you might need a car to get there; I defer to the Germany experts on transportation.

Posted by
23 posts

Hello Ben,
I have been to Austria twice, and am going back this June. The first time I went to Austria was with a girls' choir group- all 11 & 12 yrs. old. Some of the highlights that I recall were 1) visiting a salt mine (the Hallein was amazing- including a "slide" down into a "indiana Jones" type basement- flashlights, water ride, etc.) 2) Prater Park in Vienna with the world famous Ferris Wheel (featured in the James Bond "Living Daylights" movie 3) Ice Cave. I don't remember where the Ice Cave was, other than it was about an hour from Salzburg, but it's not for couch potatoes. The walk was long and involved inclines and a lot of stairs, but the views inside the Cave were spectacular. I suspect that your boys would be in awe. It also included a cable car ride up a mountain... very cool.
All three of these places were huge hits with the girls- I imagine probably even more so with boys. The one thing we didn't do, but did later in America- was go see the famous Lipizzan Spanish riding horses in Vienna. They have a fabulous show and you can easily research this.

All these activities would be great for you and your wife as well as your boys. One word of caution- the Prater Park wasn't in the best area (it's a small amusement park- the Ferris Wheel is the highlight) so if you go there, I'd go earlier rather than later in the day. Oh- also- on our most recent trip, my colleagues went to the Vienna Zoo and said it was simply amazing. I didn't go because I wanted to go to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, and it was our only completely free day in Vienna.
Hope this helps! I would love to hear a trip report when you get back. I personally love Austria and I'm so excited to go back in June, God willing!
Blessings,
Faith

Posted by
36 posts

Faith - Thank you for your reply. We are really looking forward to this summer. I will be sure and post an after trip report to share info that might help others. I haven't been involved in forums in the past but i'm finding this one and the people on it extremely helpful.

Ben