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Rail pass or not ?


We are going to Paris, Germany, Switzerland in early September and looking at whether to buy rail pass or not. We are a family of 5 (3 kids - 22,22,24).
We are flying into Paris to start our trip, will be in Paris for 3 days. Then we go on to Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt, Lorrach, Lucerne, Munich. Sept 9 - Sept 21
We were looking at the Rail Pass for 3 countries or should we buy individual train tickets ?
While we're in Frankfurt we may take the tour to Heidelberg and Baden Baden OR take a Black Forest tour.
Also, while in Munich, should we buy Oktoberfest tickets in advance or just go to tents with open seats ?
Any advice is appreciated.


Posted by
2353 posts

The only way to determine which is best for you is to price point to point tickets and compare with pass price. Use the rail site for each country to price your tickets.

France -

Germany -

Switzerland -

There may also be regional passes that might work for you too.

Keep in mind the Paris to Cologne TGV is one that has very limited reservations for passholders - if all gone you will need to purchase full tickets for that trip.

Posted by
27714 posts

and the pass holder reservations on the TGV have a substantial cost, to be paid on top of paying for the pass, and are for a specific seat on a specific train, and not valid on any other.

Posted by
2487 posts

Check the ticket prices for your intended travelling dates. Advance bought tickets can come with huge discounts, especially with the Deutsche Bahn.

Posted by
16768 posts

The fast direct trains from Paris to Cologne are operated by Thalys and, with a Eurail Pass, have substantial reservation fees, almost as much as a full fare ticket bought well in advance.

Day trip from Frankfurt to Heidelberg can be done for the whole group as a Quer durch Lands ticket for 76 EUR total if you stick to regional trains, just as fast as ICE or IC trains on this short haul, and leave after 9 am on a week day (there is a direct regional train at 9:06). Or on the weekend using a Schoenes Wochende Ticket for 56 EUR and travel any time.

Baden-Baden is 2/3 of the way between Frankfurt and Loerrach, so you wouldn't want to do that as a day trip from Frankfurt. Do it as a stopover between those two destinations.

In Loerrach, stay at a hotel that offers the KONUS card and you can travel the regional trains and buses throughout the Black Forest area for free.

With just a short jaunt into Switzerland, a pass for this area won't be worth it IMO. You can book advance tickets from Zurich to Munich on the EC trains or the bus for cheap.

With 7 destinations in 12 nights, I think you should cut something, like Berlin. Otherwise, you'll spend all of your time riding trains and not have time to actually see anything. With 3 nights in Paris, that is 6 destinations in 9 nights resulting in way too many one night stands.

For Oktoberfest entrance is free. If you want to reserve a table, That is for 8 people and the price includes a minimum per person for a certain amount of food and beer for each person the table is reserved for. Just go in the late morning and there will be plenty of places to sit. The reservations are mostly for the evening, and you can sit at a reserved table until the reservation time. An afternoon should be enough for you, and you can leave the kids there for the evening as 3 young people should be able to join other parties without much difficulty. People get really friendly at this event.

Posted by
5556 posts

"...will be in Paris for 3 days. Then we go on to Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt, Lorrach, Lucerne, Munich... Sept 9 - Sept 21"

Do you land on 9/9 in Paris, or leave Paris on 9/9?

I will assume it's 9/9-11 in Paris, and that you then have 10 nights (9/12-21) in 6 different cities. (Or perhaps you fly out on 9/21 so it's just 9 nights.) Is this correct? And one of your Frankfurt days might be spent taking a day trip to the Black Forest. I assume also that you fly out of Munich and do not have to return to Paris.

IMO your itinerary requires serious reconsideration. If I understand your plan correctly, you are averaging 1.5 days per city once you leave Paris - and that's before you subtract out the packing/unpacking time, the time spent getting to/from train stations, and the actual travel hours spent on the trains. You will be traveling with FOUR other people with their own normal inner clocks as well as their "travel across 9 time zones" clocks, one or more of which will surely be screwed up upon arrival in Paris (9 time zones if you live near Tahoe, anyway.) 3 nights (which is not 3 days but perhaps just 2.5 at most) are inadequate for Paris as a rule of thumb. And after that you have 4 big cities that you cannot possibly see that quickly.

Even if Paris lies outside the time frame you provided, 9-10 nights is very snug for the German/Swiss parts.

Before you make a big decision about tickets and passes, do give the itinerary another look. If you agree that it's too rushed, consider dropping Berlin (which normally requires 3+ full days and which adds so much travel time to your route. You can in fact visit some WW II memorial and information sites in Cologne and Munich, if that's what you had in mind for Berlin.)

Another option for streamlining things into a north-south route would be to forget Munich and Oktoberfest. The Canstatter Volksfest just outside Stuttgart is not as well known among international travelers but also a huge and fun Bierfest that is well known to Germans - and it's en route between Frankfurt and Lörrach. And of course the September wine fests in the Rhine Valley south of Cologne on the way to Frankfurt happen every weekend - no tents, no tickets, just a whole lot of fun, including street music, wine stands, wine queens, and crazy good fireworks.

Posted by
38 posts

Thank you everyone for all the advice.
If we drop Berlin from the itinerary, would you suggest individual train tickets for Germany or a German Rail Pass?
Going from Loerrach to Lucerne, is it better to buy the individual train ticket or a pass. From Lucerne we travel to Munich and end our trip there.

Posted by
16768 posts

Still not clear. are you arriving in Paris on 9/9 or departing from Paris on that date?

Posted by
38 posts

We arrive in Paris at 11am sept 9. We leave to go home from Munich on Thursday sept 21.

Posted by
8889 posts

Mike, You only have two trips in Switzerland as far as I can see, Lörrach to Luzern and Luzern to Munich. In both cases a Swiss pass would only be valid from and to the border, definitely not worth it for those trips.

Lörrach (strange choice of place to stay) is a suburb or Basel. Coming from Frankfurt (Main) you change at Basel Badischer Bahnhof from the IC/ICE train to an S-Bahn (commuter) train for Lörrach.
Not sure if Lörrach station will sell you a ticket to Luzern, if not, just buy a ticket to Basel SBB, and buy another one from there to Luzern, Lörrach - Basel Badischer Bahnhof - Basel SBB, and Basel SBB - Luzern are both 2 trains per hour. Do not get the two stations in Basel mixed up.

Buy Luzern to Munich in advance on the DB website (same as for the other German trips), in order to get the best discount.

Posted by
18302 posts

Paris to Cologne: The fastest route (3:20) goes through Brussels, Belgium. Make that a 4 country pass?

Without Brussels, Paris to Cologne is at least a 5 hour trip.

Posted by
16768 posts

DB will sell you tickets from Loerrach to Luzern for 179 EUR for 5, this is basically Swiss tickets priced in EUR.
Luzern to Munich is cheapest and fastest with the DB bus from Zurich to Munich, 150 EUR for 5 with Saver tickets.
Cologne to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Loerrach can be done with 110 EUR Saver tickets each. Throw in a couple of day trips with QdL tickets or Laender tickets for 39 to 76 EUR each, all told say about 700 EUR. Five 7-day GRP (2-twin and 1 single) would cost 1061 EUR and that would not cover the Swiss portion.

It would still be somewhat rushed, 3 nights Paris, 2 nights Cologne, 2 nights Frankfurt, 1 night Loerrach, 2 nights in Luzern, and 2 nights in Munich.
What are your plans in Frankfurt? You said you wanted to do a day trip to Heidelberg, leaving no real time in Frankfurt. Why not skip Frankfurt and go to Heidelberg and stay there?
What is in Loerrach you want to see? Otherwise go straight to Luzern.
What in Luzern? Mountain railway rides? That might bring a Swiss Pass into the mix.
Munich is Oktoberfest, we got that much.

Edit - OK, friends in Loerrach. Got it.
Edit 2 - If you staid in Heidelberg, you could travel to Loerrach with a Baden-Wuerttemberg Ticket for 43 EUR and even have time for a 4 hour stop in Baden-Baden. The interesting parts of Baden-Baden are a long way from the train station, but your B-W ticket will cover the local bus as well.

Posted by
38 posts

After reading everybody's advice, we decided to take out Berlin off our itinerary. We don't have enough time allotted for Berlin. We are adding that time for the Black Forest and another day in Munich (too see more WWII memorials, Dachau, etc and make up for not seeing Berlin)
Our revised itinerary:
9/9 - arrive Paris at 11am
9/10 - paris sightseeing
9/11 - Louvre tour in the morning. Leave for Cologne in afternoon (staying with friends)
9/12 - Rhineland - see Burg Eltz castle ?
9/13 - leave cologne in the morning, go to Heidelberg and spend the rest of the day in Heidelberg.
Leave in the evening for Black Forest (any suggestions on 3 star hotels?)
9/14 - Black forest ( explore - I read that there's a train system within black forest that we can use to get around)
9/15 - Leave Black forest in early afternoon to visit friends in Lorrach, spend the night at our friends' house in Lorrach
9/16 - Leave Lorrach in the morning, go to Lucerne. Walk around Lucerne ( hotel suggestions?)
9/17 - Swiss alps tour from Lucerne
9/18- leave Lucerne in the morning, go to Munich (go to Oktoberfest if we get there before 5pm)
Can you recommend a town close to Munich where we can take the train easily into munich?
9/19 - munich or another town close by
9/20 - munich - Castles tour (neuschwanstein castle)
In Munich, we'd like to see WWII memorials, Dachau,
9/21 - back to USA

Somebody suggested we buy our train tickets in advance (thalys) from Paris to Cologne, we will do that. Have to figure out if we should buy German Rail pass or just buy regional train tickets there ? Will buy train tickets from Lorrach to Basel to Lucerne (another suggestion from this blog)

thanks for the feedback!

9/18 -

Posted by
21057 posts

The Deutsche Bahn has all sorts of ticket deals that make a rail pass extraordinarily unlikely to pay off in that country.

Posted by
5147 posts

I use public transport when traveling in Europe and I just wanted to mention two important components of a successful trip. 1) luggage is key. Each person must be able to handle their own luggage on and off trains as well as lift their bag over their head as necessary. I suggest limiting each person to a carryon size bag and a day pack or large purse. 2) travel can take up your vacation time if not thoughtfully planned. I regret to say that I think you are still trying to do too much in too little time. Can you narrow your focus and itinerary a bit more?

Posted by
16768 posts

Looks like you have a workable plan now.

Going to Burg Eltz: It will require a hike through the forest from Moselkern station, about 1 hour, unless you're in better shape than I am. I wouldn't do it on a rainy day, but in nice weather it is quite pleasant. Get a "Quer durchs Land" ticket for 5 people at Cologne Hbf for 76 EUR out of a ticket automat and write all the travelers names on the back of the ticket. You can buy from the window for a 2 EUR service fee. Take the 9:38 Regional Express to Koblenz and change to the Regaionalbahn going to Trier and get off at Moselkern. Print out a little google map to help you find your way. There are English language tours at the castle, and a nice little terrace restaurant there. Return connections to Cologne are at 1 past the hour from Moselkern plus a few others at oddball times.

Cologne to Heidelberg and Black Forest: I am not an expert in the Black Forest, but for instance, I will suggest Freudenstadt since it is something of a rail hub and famous for its fresh air (so say the Germans). So with that example:
Buy Sparpreis tickets now for 5 people from Cologne to Freudenstadt specifying a 6 hour stopover in Heidelberg, Cost is 109.50 EUR. There is a direct IC train at 6:53 that goes through the Rhine Gorge, so sit on the left hand side of the train for the best view. That will get you to Heidelberg shortly after 9 am and tour for the day. Now you are not actually obligated to leave at Heidelberg at any given time, as by the "Vor und Nach" rules of the Sparpreis Ticket, you only have be on the first leg. You can take any regional train whenever you want for the rest of the day to your final destination. There are s-bahn trains every 30 minutes from Heidelberg to Karlsruhe, then change to and s-bahn train to Freudenstadt. I can't recommend any hotels, but make sure they offer the KONUS card and you can travel freely through the Black Forest, and even get to Loerrach using it as it is valid on your check-out day and Loerrach is in the card's range of validity.

Posted by
16883 posts

Commentors above should note that the direct Thalys train from Paris to Cologne via Brussels no longer requires you to have Belgium/Benelux on your pass; no 4th country. You pay the same pass holder reservation fee of $32 in 2nd class or $44 in 1st class with just France on a pass. That's also the only train on your route that requires reservations. But it makes sense to reserve soon to get that discounted ticket and trim down the number of countries for pass comparison.

The 2-country Select Pass can be a fair amount cheaper than 3 countries because it offers a 2nd-class option for all ages, starting from 4 days at $255 per adult and $245 per youth. The pass would give you 50% off Lake Luzern boats and trains and lifts to Mt. Rigi and Pilatus. But your modified plan has also cut out or broken up the most expensive train days from the original plan. Full-fare tickets on this route could cost more than the pass but the advance-discount German tickets would cost less (not including Swiss excursions).

Posted by
18302 posts

I know something about the northern Black Forest, having spent 23 night in four town there. Freudenstadt, mentioned by Sam, is the largest place I have stayed, for three nights. Freudenstadt was originally built around a site of a castle, that was never built, so the open area is now the town square, said to be the largest in the Germany. There is a covered walkway around most the outside of the square with lots of little shops. When I was there I stayed in a hotel facing the square, but I no longer see it listed on any site as a hotel.

I see only one three-star hotel, Krone/Arkadenhotel, shown actually facing the square. I've never stayed there, so I can't recommend it personally, but it is a three-star hotel.

There is another three-star hotel, Bären, a few block back from the square.

I've eaten, but not slept, at Hotel Schwanen. It seemed nice and it is also three-stars. It seems to me more expensive; I mention it only because it is on one of the roads leading from the Stadtbahnhof to the square, so less of a walk with luggage.

I wonder about your insistence on a three-star hotel. I never bother with stars; what's important to me is location and price. In the star-rating catalog for DEHOGA, the German Hotel and Restaurant Assoc, which issues stars, all hotels, to have even one star, have to meet the same level of cleanliness and good maintenance. What differentiates the number of stars is things like the size of the room, hours that the front desk is open, room service hours, if they have heated towel racks, or whether there is a shoe shine machine in the room. Those things mean nothing to me. I just want a clean, secure place to sleep.

In actuality, any place, with or without stars, will probably meet the cleanliness and maintenance requirements. The Germans just have high standards. I've spent many a night in a no-star hotel and never had a bad experience.

What might matter for you could be that three-star hotels are required to have someone on the staff, not necessarily always there, who speaks English. Also, any hotel with more than one star has to take credit cards. I think this fact explains why there are so many nice, un-star-rated hotels in Germany. Germans eschew credit cards, but if you don't take them, you can only have one star, so why bother.

Anyway, I found another hotel, Jägerstüble, right on the square, that looks very nice but isn't rated.

Freudenstadt is about an hour away from Gutach and the Black Forest Open-air Museum, to the south. In the other direction, Calw, the home of Steppenwolf author Hermann Hesse, with lots of Fachwerk building, would make a nice side trip.

Posted by
18302 posts

Can you recommend a town close to Munich where we can take the train
easily into munich?

In 2007, I spent the last Saturday night of Oktoberfest in Landsberg am Lech. The place was fairly busy, but I don't think completely booked; at least I had no problem making reservations in advance.

Landsberg is about 45-50 minutes from the Munich Hbf by regional trains, with one change in Kaufering. Sometimes the change is fairly quick, a few minutes for a one platform change, but if you miss the connection, there's another train on that line in about ½ an hour.

With a "Regio-Ticket Allgäu-Schwaben", all five of you can travel round trip to Munich Hbf and back for 44€. I don't think the ticket includes any transport in Munich, but for 5 more euro, the Bayern-Ticket will.