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busy train times and reservations

What are considered the "busy" train times in Germany? From what I have read, reservations are recommended by different sources during the busy times, but I really don't know when those are. Weekends? Mornings? Summer? Admittedly, I like reservations. I like the idea of knowing I will sit with my travel buddy (my sister), and by nature I am a planner, no two ways about it. But I'm worried about cutting my times close a couple times with flights and not making my preferred train, but also don't want to wait around the airport for an extra 90 minutes playing it safe. Thoughts?

Posted by
2297 posts

When you are looking at connections on the Deutsche Bahn website, it also gives indications when a reservations is recommended. Generally speaking, Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoon/evening are the busiest times. Monday morning can also be quite busy.

You can always get on a train, even if it's busy. It may mean that you won't get a seat and have to stand or sit on your suitcase till a seat opens up.

Posted by
5615 posts

"I'm worried about cutting my times close a couple times with flights and not making my preferred train,"

The German Rail pass is tailor-made for train rides after flights - decent prices, no reservations required, use any train, whether your flight is on time or delayed. Note that reservation fees and pre-purchased saver fares result in forfeiture if you can't make your train.

"What are considered the "busy" train times in Germany? From what I have read, reservations are recommended by different sources..."

Holiday travel, basically. I've done more than a dozen trips to Germany with my wife - and a few with my daughter - and never once reserved except when required (DB's IC Bus.) We sat next to or across from each other almost every time.

My comments about the GRP are not a recommendation to buy one. That depends on your itinerary. You will get some more specific advice if you share specifics about the journeys you plan to make.

Posted by
12040 posts

In my experience, trains in Germany are busiest during commuting hours. Weekends are significantly less busy, hence, the trains tend to run less frequently. They can be pretty packed around holidays as well.

Just a bit of semantics, so that we're all on the same page. On Deutsche Bahn, a reservation is given for a small supplemental fee on top of the ticket price to guarantee a specific seat on a specific train. A ticket purchased using a saver fare must be used on a specific train, but it does not guarantee a seat unless you purchase the separate reservation. A ticket bought at full fare can generally be used all day along the desired route, but you can purchase the separate reservation for a specific seat on a specific train. Also, these comments apply mostly to ICE (Intercity Express) trains, not regional, for which seat reservations are not sold.

I usually bought seat reservations to spare myself the potential hastle of fumbling through the carriages looking for a seat. Otherwise, I can only think of one instance where I had to stand for a portion of my trip because all the seats were taken.

Posted by
2297 posts

I have been on plenty of trains with standing room only. However, most of the time, it's only for a short section. E.g. I ended up standing from Frankfurt Airport to Frankfurft main station for 10 minutes, but afterwards the train emptied out considerably.

I never get reservations when
- traveling as a single person (you'll always find a seat)
- right after arriving at the airport (too many variables as to times)

I do consider reservations when
- traveling with 2 or more AND it's a busy train as indicated by DB website

Posted by
37 posts

My specific concern is this...I have a flight that is scheduled to get in to Frankfurt (concourse 2) at 1150. The train I'd really like to take is at 1335. I'll need to activate a rail pass before boarding the train. This will be on a Saturday. If I knew for sure I'd be there on time, I'd make a reservation just to know we could have seats together. It's my first international trip...can't lie, there's a little anxiety here.

Posted by
8889 posts

Will, If you are landing at Frankfurt airport at 11:55 on an intercontinental flight, do not rely on getting a 13:35 train. It works like this:

  • Land 11:55, taxing, getting off plane: 15 mins.
  • Walk through terminal: ~15 mins.
  • Immigration (passports): Could be 10 mins., could be 1 hour.
  • Pick up luggage, exit through customs: 5 mins minimum.
  • Find your way to station platform in a strange airport: 15 mins.
  • Arrive on (hopefully correct) station platform: earliest 12:55, could be 13:45.

And, that is assuming your flight lands on time. What if it is an hour late?
This is why the general advice is not to book a train immediately after an intercontinental flight, too much risk of missing it. Just wait until you land, go to the station, buy tickets for the next train and accept paying the higher fare. You will get seats assigned and these will almost certainly be side by side (or face-to-face). midday is not peak hours.

Posted by
5615 posts

Chris F: the OP isn't buying tickets.

13:35 - looks like your train is headed in the direction of Würzburg and eventually Munich... Another train leaves FRA for W'burg at 14:38. You'll probably catch one or the other. But I've had flights that were delayed much later than that. There's no way to tell. A reservation for one train is no good for the other. All you can do is get on the next train once you've gone through those post-arrival steps and gotten your pass authorized. At the airport you may also wish to hit an ATM, or use the rest room, or grab some snacks for your train journey... Don't sweat it. There's always another train. High speed trains on Saturday at that hour are typically not so busy. Germans going away for the weekend have already arrived at their destinations. You'll very likely find seats together on a 2nd Class rail pass. If you have a 1st class rail pass, seats together are nearly guaranteed on a Saturday afternoon.

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you all for your valuable input...regardless of reservations, is it still too ambitious to think I can make a 1:35 pm train, if I land at 11:50am? Add to the equation that I'm coming from Iceland, so no immigration from what I understand, and I have no checked luggage. For someone very well traveled in the US, this is a whole new world!

And Russ, we do have first class passes...sounds like I'm being nudged out of my comfort zone and will wing it we when get there, based on your advice. Gulp.

Posted by
2297 posts

If you have First Class tickets, it is really not "winging it" :-)

Posted by
16941 posts

I don't think a "gulp" is necessary. Since you have 1st class pass, seats should be ample. Since it is an ICE train, check that the seat you choose is not reserved at some stretch along the route by checking the electronic sign above the seat. Also, if you do miss that train, you can take another train at 14:01 with a connection at Frankfurt Hbf, or wait until 14:38 for another direct ICE to Munich.

If really paranoid, you could actually buy seat reservations at 4.50 EU per person on multiple trains. If you make your intended train, just take your seat, the other reservation will expire automatically 15 minutes after that train departs. If you miss it and have to take the later train, your reservation for that one is still good. The money spent on extra reservations is for your "peace of mind".

Posted by
37 posts

For me, this IS winging it! But all things considered, I think I'll forgo the reservations for at least this stretch of the trip, based on what you're saying. I'm also realizing I apparently need medication for OCD. Thanks again for your help everyone.

Posted by
5615 posts

Will: I suggest you pull up some photos, descriptions, maps etc. of the places you will be on that first day. The FRA Fernbahnhof station you'll be using, for example.

I remember being 20 and getting off my first international flight at FRA to spend a year in Germany. This was pre-internet. No reservations, no contacts, never ridden a train in my life, no clue what faced me - it was like Scotty had beamed me to some distant planet. That's my baseline for "winging it." It would have been reassuring to have a few familiar images in my head at least.

Posted by
37 posts

Good idea, Russ...I think the anticipation and the unknown is getting to me and I'll be fine once I see a few things. I think too that not putting myself under the stress of making a reservation for that first train is a little liberating. If first class seating is as open as everyone's making it sound, then great. And if it's crowded, so be it.

Posted by
1815 posts

you could actually buy seat reservations at 4.50 EU per person on multiple trains.

BTW, any first class ticket, be it flex price or saver fare, comes with free seat reservation, but only if you request it explicitly (when booking online, by ticking the reservation box). And you can change it free of charge once.

https://www.bahn.com/en/view/offers/other/seat-reservation.shtml