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Train vs. Car: I need some help!

I apologize in advance for a long post. 2 weeks in Germany from Cologne to Berlin. Thought a car would be best, but am rethinking. I priced out the rental plus estimated fuel (using Michelin site). I then (with the help of folks on another forum) priced out the trains. Trains are coming in $200 USD cheaper. Enough to make me rethink the car plan. I have already booked hotels, but I can cancel and rebook (except in Bamberg and Salzburg) to redefine the itinerary to be more train amenable. But should I? Here is what I have and what I want to do....is train or car better?

My thought process:

Train Pros: no driving, no worrying about the car, no worrying about stopping for gas, no worries about vignettes for Austria, no purchasing of Germany maps for GPS, enjoy the scenery and relax

Train Cons: schlepping luggage (but that would be minimal and we pack light), luggage storage if we stop in a town (this is one of my primary concerns)

Day 1: Cologne to Boppard with possible stops at St. Marksburg and/or Linz (car 15 euros plus any parking fees; train if I go direct is 29 euros, but if I want to stop somewhere is a different price)

Day 2: Explore the Rhine region. Train to Bingen and cruise back to Boppard. Stops along the way down to Bingen. (this doesn't matter car vs. train because we're paying for the train. Although maybe a waste of a day of car rental).

Day 3: Boppard to Burg Eltz/Cochem to Rothenburg. (car approx 50 euro; train 21.80 for Boppard to Burg Eltz/Cochem and 59 euro to Rothenburg)

Day 4: Explore Rothenburg area with a possible side trip to Wurzburg (car 7.54 euros; train to Wurzburg 27 euros)

Day 5: Rothenburg to Fussen with possible stops along Romantic Road (car 28 euros; train 27 euros). However, if I went train I might skip this and go to Munich and just day trip to the castles/palaces

Day 6: Explore Fussen and palaces/castles

Day 7: Fussen to Munich (car 16 euros; train 27 euros). Hotel is located about 10 minute metro ride to city center due to parking.

Day 8: Explore Munich (with a car we have the expense of train into city)

Day 9: Day trip to Dachau (car 5 euros; train unsure)

Day 10: Drive to Salzburg (car 26 euros; train 27 euros). Nonrefundable hotel booked about 20 minutes from train station, but on the bus route.

Day 11: Salzburg to Bamberg with possible stops in Landshut. Nonrefundable hotel booked in Bamberg. (car 52 euro; train 27 euros)

Day 12: Bamberg to Erfurt (car 20 euro; train 26 euro). Explore area between?

Day 13: Erfurt to Wittenberg (car 24 euro; train 26 euro). Explore area between?

Day 14: Wittenberg to Berlin (car 13 euro; train 29 euro). Car dropped off in Berlin mid-morning.

Posted by
4958 posts

I love train travel especially in Europe, so my inclination is ALWAYS to take the train (or, reluctantly, a bus) to get around, unless it's in an area that is poorly served by public transportation or where having a car makes it much easier to get from place to place. For example, on past trips I rented a car for a few days in Slovenia and Croatia just to cover areas where there was no train service at all (only buses) and/or where I could stop at smaller towns - and having the car would save me a lot of time.

Germany and Austria have a great train network. I'm planning a trip to Germany myself coming up shortly, and I haven't even considered renting a car. If I were going to Bavaria or Austria to the small towns and lakes having a car would make a lot of sense, but I'm not doing that at all on this trip - all my destinations are well served by train. Of course, I'm traveling solo; if I were traveling with other people the cost different vs. train improves significantly for driving. If there are two of you?

Either way, $200 TOTAL for a trip is almost negligible vs. the cost of the an entire European trip may be negligible, right? Personally, even though I am very frugal when I travel, I wouldn't hesitate to rent a car if it would save me a lot of time and allow me to see a lot more.

Some people love driving on these trips because of the flexibility it offers to stop on a whim somewhere or be spontaneous. Some people dream of driving at high speeds on the Autobahn. People all have different preferences. Me: I love looking out the window for hours on a train - I find it relaxing. And trains in Europe are a lot more fun than in the States, for sure!

You could of course rent a car for only part of your trip, right? Maybe for just a few days where having a car would make it easier? You can generally do one-way rentals as long as you return in the same country in which you rented.

Have you looked at the German Rail Pass?

Have you used the site www.bahn.de/en to check train routing between cities? That's been my go-to site for checking European train schedules forever - even when not traveling in Germany! Travel time and convenience of the routing is more important to me than the cost vs. driving between two cities. If it will turn out that connecting between two cities requires 3 changes and 2X as much time as driving, maybe you wouldn't want to do that by train - or you'd want to re-think our routing.

Posted by
10 posts

Hi Andrew,

Thank you for your perspective. I usually travel by train in Europe (except Ireland) and enjoy it. This originally seemed the more cost effective tool since there are two of us. I am so on the fence...we had an amazing time driving in Ireland, we stopped all the time at interesting look outs, etc. However, Ireland is much different than Germany.

bahn.de is a great site! One thing I was going to do was look at the travel times....as you said, if the train time is quite longer, then it might not be worth it.

Mom is traveling with me and is quite frugal. If she had her way we would be staying in hostels....but I wasn't going that frugal! Yes, in the grand scheme of this 6 week trip (we have other stops before Germany) the $100-$150 each isn't such a big deal.

Posted by
12040 posts

Looking at this itinerary... on paper, I would give a slight preference to the train... if you had allotted more time for each destination. But as it is, you have far too many one night stops, and moving between too many peripheral destinations. Trains are great when you're moving between large cities. Less so when you have to change to regional trains to reach the smaller destinations. I just foresee this trip is a lot of packing, moving to train station, riding on the train, changing trains, moving to your hotel, unpacking... and then repeating the next day. It gets tiring more quickly than you might think, and it becomes more of an exploration of the rail infrastructure than the actual country.

How about this idea? Day 1-10, by rail. On day 11, you have to route back through Munich anway, consider picking up a rental car at the Hauptbahnhof. Although I hate driving in Munich (and parking can be a nightmare), it's pretty easy to simply drive out of the city from the Hauptbahnhof. Because the remainder of your trip consists mostly of peripheral destinations (except for Berlin, where it doesn't seem like you'll spend anytime), you'll make much better time by car. Landshut is worth a stop-over, but very inconvenient under your plans via train. Don't worry about missing a drive along the Romantic Road... the attractions are the individual towns along the road, not the drive along the road itself. If you decide to only use rail, I would cut several destinations.

Posted by
10 posts

We actually have 2 nights at each hotel until we leave Munich...then we do one night for about 4 nights (Salzburg, Bamberg, Erfurt, Wittenberg - and only Wittenberg so it puts us a little closer to Berlin).

Yes, staying in Berlin for 5 days. But that is for work, so I'm not worrying about that planning.

Posted by
111 posts

I'm a big fan of trains, especially in Germany where they cover so much and don't need reservations. However, I also very much enjoyed a (solo) driving trip in these same regions. With the numbers of stops that you're considering en-route, I think you'll appreciate the freedom of driving and having your car be your "home" for two weeks. A decision like this is more about style than money.

Posted by
3696 posts

I have driven frequently in Germany and always enjoy the freedom to stop at interesting little places I see while en route. If you keep part train (which I do love...its just so restrictive) and part car you can enjoy both. The biggest con for me on the train is the schedule.

Posted by
6807 posts

Two cons for a car that you left out: stress and parking. Can be frustrating, and costly. Also, trains save time as you usually travel town center to center. Driving in Germany is not like driving in Ireland. Distances are much farther, and the autobahn is like most US interstates - not quaint and charming. Only advantage to car is if you are wanting to go to small out-of-the-way towns or backroads.

Posted by
761 posts

The extra couple hundred bucks for the car is really just a pittance compared to the cost of the entire trip. While the driver loses some of the sightseeing some of the places you are going, a car gives you the chance to stop or double back to real take in some of the sights and you never have to take a quick picture through a dirty window. It's also a lot easier to drive up to the Berg Eltz than it is to walk up from the train station. With a car you have to the door transportation which will really be nice on the occasional day when it rains and the car will never ever leave without you because you were a minute late to the station. A map card for your GPS really doesn't cost that much. You want to back the GPS up with some decent paper maps because it will tell you exactly where you are but the screen is a bit small when you want to know generally where you are. Also you want to preload your hotels etc. before you leave so you have a chance to make sure some of the funny ones will be accepted. We found that to be a more common problem in the UK than on the continent but it is best to know before you go.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you all for your perspectives! I really do appreciate them.

I need to dig out my TomTom. We had preloaded it with maps for Ireland and it was handy....but we backed up with an atlas. I've also learned that your iPhone GPS works without using data abroad. You just have to preload your destination while on wifi and make sure your data is off. You also have to cache the google maps (zoom in and zoom out) and you're good to go.

I am actually looking forward to some non-Irish roads....it was quaint, but so stressful at times!

We have made sure that all of our hotels have included parking. So any expenses would be if we stopped in a town to explore and had to pay for the car park.

Posted by
963 posts

I'm with Irv on the door to door convenience for attractions and especially for the one nighter hotels. Suggest trains to big cities, cars to smaller ones where parking is not an issue. When we use a car, we park the car in the big cities and drive in between. We took mostly back roads last summer on a Berlin to Amsterdam trip that hit a lot of towns listed in the RS guidebook ( get it!).

Posted by
875 posts

I personally enjoy the freedom of a car and not being tied to train schedules and multiple train changes. Keep in mind fuel prices in Germany are double the price in the USA. Stau (traffic jams) on the autobahns are not fun when you encounter one and they can impact your timeline. Yes you will have to pay for parking in many places for tiny parking spaces compared to the USA (consider a smaller car and have euro change on-hand). Most German roads are in a much better condition than USA roads. Some are narrow, but you get used to it. The traffic laws are not that much different, but right of way and signs can be confusing sometimes. Do some studying ahead of time. Take the TomTom (Navi) with updated maps! Taking the less traveled way will get you out of tourist areas and to sights off the beaten path too. No trucks on the roads Sunday other than milk and those with permits, and trucks are limited to 100 kilometers per hour speed. You will not see police on the roads as US State Troopers are, but there are cameras (Blizer) to catch speeders. I think you will need an International Driver’s License for Austria too, and a vignette if you drive on Austrian autobahns.

Posted by
12040 posts

"No trucks on the roads Sunday other than milk and those with permits," Is that true? I really haven't noticed much of a difference compared to any other day, at least on the Autobahn network. Those permits must be pretty easy to obtain.

Posted by
13015 posts

Hi,

I usually favour trains esp in Germany but much of that depends upon one's itinerary in Germany. For yours my suggestion is not to get a rental car, stick with the trains. You're going to cities/towns well served by trains from regional ones to the ICE, such as Lutherstadt Wittenberg to Berlin. Unless you're going out to esoteric villages in the greater Berlin/Brandenburg area, taking the train will work.

Posted by
18384 posts

For cost to Dachau, you said "train unsure". If you get a Muenchen XXL Tageskarte (day ticket), 14,20€ for a Partner ticket for two people (up to 5, actually), it will cover your round trip by public transportation from anywhere in downtown Munich to the Hauptbahnhof plus the S-Bahn to Dachau station plus the bus to the the Memorial, plus any other transportation in downtown Munich, for that day. That's three euro more than the cost of a day ticket for the inner zone of Munich alone.

Cost of parking at the Memorial is 3,-€.

The Memorial has it's own tours with guide who have been very well trained by them for 3,-€/person.

Posted by
2829 posts

I think that, for your itinerary, the car is a better option. It allows you to plan roadside small detours and/or scenic drives off the main routes, something trains can't ever give you.

So I'd say - stay with the car, and plan accordingly.

Posted by
3336 posts

I agree that a car is better for what you are planning. The cost difference is negligible to me when you compare the freedom you have to stop where you like. I avoid hauling my luggage on and off trains and in and out of taxis and buses whenever I can. I'd much rather keep my luggage in the trunk until I arrive to my lodging. Having to find a place to store luggage between lodgings while sightseeing is, to me, the biggest misery of travel ever invented. I'd pay the 200 extra just to avoid the stress! That's just my two cents...