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Bavaria Train versus Car

Looking for suggestions about an upcoming trip to Germany. We'll be visiting Bavaria for about a week as part of a longer trip, and would like to see Fussen, Rothenburg, Nuremberg and Salzburg. We're considering two options: first, staying in Munich and day-tripping by train; or staying just outside of Munich, maybe in a castle converted to a hotel, and renting a car.

So two questions. First, pros and cons? And second, does anybody have any suggestions for a nice town outside of Munich which is scenic and less touristy (maybe along the lines of Blois in France) that would be a good driving base?

Posted by
12040 posts

Lee from Colorado and Russ will most certainly come along and insist that you only use rail... but from your list, I agree with them in this case. All of your proposed destinations are well served by rail. Except for Rothenburg odT, which sits at the end of a spur line (and receives more attention than it deserves, in my opinion), you can accomplish your trip relatively easily and cheaply by trains. Wait until Lee comes around and explains more about regional rail discounts.

Now, if you did decide to use a rental car, here's a few pros and cons. Pros- It would be a little more convenient in most of your choices, except Munich. It would allow more spontaneity. Even if you research your trip as thoroughly as possible, you will likely pass a Unterrichtungstafel (those brown tourist road signs you see everywhere) pointing to something that may interest you that no guidebook mentioned. In some cases (not all, like Munich to Nürnberg), a car will get you to your destination quicker. And in the rare instances where the Autobahn has relatively low traffic, you can test just how fast the car can move. But this doesn't occur often.

Cons- probably more expensive, when you consider fuel and parking. Driving and parking a car in Munich is a nightmare. You would need to purchase a vignette to take it into Austria. And they have something called a Stau on German roads.

If you're looking for a pleasent place to lodge outside of Munich, I would consider Rosenheim. There's not a whole lot there of interest to a tourist, but it's a rather attractive little city within the foothills of the Alps. And this popular German TV show takes place and is filmed (mostly) there. But I would only consider Rosenheim if you decide to rent the car.

Posted by
8245 posts

If your trip is in the time of the year that weather's likely to be good, rent the car as you leave Munich.
You can see many more tourist sights in an efficient manner vs. riding a train.
And Bavaria has plenty of places to see of immense interest, both inside and outside of Munich.
There is no shortage of small towns that'd be a great place to do day trips out of.

And Western Tirol in Austria is also within range.
I've been using recently to find rooms. They seem to have accommodations just about in every city and village worldwide.

Posted by
19171 posts

The train system in Bavaria is excellent. Find schedules on the Bahn website. For the places you mention, regional trains take less than an hour longer to get there vs express trains, and you can use a Bayern-Ticket, an all-day pass for regional trains, for 26€ for two people.

Some years ago, I thought about staying in Rosenheim as a base to visit Munich, but I had difficulty finding accommodations I wanted. However, that was over a decade ago, things might have changed. You can look for accommodations on the Tourist-Info Rosenheim website. I would disagree with the statement to only consider Rosenheim if you have a car. Rosenheim is on the line to Munich and there are hourly (at least) regional trains the get to the Munich Hbf in under 40 minutes. Other lines go from Rosenheim to Salzburg and to Innsbruck. Stay within walking distance of the Bahnhof or use one of the many city buses. Most lines go through the Bahnhof at some point.

Six years ago, I made a trip using public transportation on the Romantic Road, and one of my stops was here, in landsberg am Lech. Augsburger Hof is much nicer than it appears from the outside, with large clean rooms with baths. It is about a km walk to the Bahnhof, or you can take a city bus. From the Bahnhof, it's a 47-56 min connection to the Munich Hbf with a change of trains in Kaufering. Landsberg is a cute little town, with remains of a medieval wall and the prison where Hitler wrote the first half of Mein Kampf.

Posted by
2485 posts

As mentioned, all the places you are going to are accessible by train (as I did on my trip in Dec. 2011). If on further planning, you want to visit places the at are off the rail lines, then I would opt for a car. But I enjoy relaxing on the train. I recommend making your hotel (b &b, pension,fewo) reservations in advance. try putting your travel in to get an idea of the train travel times, and to get an idea of the auto travel times. That might help make the decision.

Posted by
6808 posts

"We'll be visiting Bavaria for about a week as part of a longer trip, and would like to see Fussen, Rothenburg, Nuremberg and Salzburg. We're considering two options: first, staying in Munich and day-tripping by train; or staying just outside of Munich, maybe in a castle converted to a hotel, and renting a car."

Daytripping by train from Munich to these other places you name isn't very convenient at all, IMO., since...

1.) you'll spend 4 hours on the train to Füssen and back (5 if you are going to the palaces in Schwangau)
2.) you'll spend 5.5-6 hours getting to Rothenburg and back - on the fastest, most expensive trains, 6.5-7 hrs. on local trains.
3.) daytrips to Nuremberg will take only 2.5 hours round trip on the fast trains but normal fare is about 200€ round trip for two.
4.) daytrip to Salzburg is 4 hours round trip on local trains, 3 on the fast ones.

By car, your travel times will also be very substantial. Your destinations are pretty far apart for daytrips, and all this travel time adds up.

Suggest you split your time in 3 different places. This reduces your total time on trains substantially and you can use inexpensive daypasses (which use the local trains.) Example:

Rothenburg, 2-3 nights: Daytrip to Nuremberg and back (1.25 hrs each way) for two passengers is 16.80€ total with the Tagesticket Plus daypass. Alternatively, overnight in Nuremberg and daytrip to Füssen, which makes the subsequent trip to Füssen shorter by maybe 30 minutes.

Füssen: 2 nights. Get there on a Bayern ticket (26€) using local trains (the only ones you can use between Munich and Füssen anyway.) 4.25 from Nuremberg, 4.75 hours + from Rothenburg.

Salzburg: 2 nights. Get there on a Bayern ticket (26€) again. Around 4 hours.

That's about 70€ altogether, and around 11 hours of train travel (vs. around 20 hours doing daytrips from Munich.)

I'd try to do the either the trip to Füssen or to Salzburg on Sat or Sun so you can use the Bayern ticket prior to 9 am. The other option is to advance-purchase a savings fare ticket for these trips for tickets that include the faster trains. You'll save maybe an hour on one trip and half an hour on the other, but you'll have to stick to a schedule as these tickets are train-specific. Fares will be close to the Bayern ticket price if you get tickets right when they go on sale (92 days out.)

2-base Option w/ MUNICH as 2nd base: Instead of staying in Füssen and Salzburg you can use Munich as a base, but the daytrips are still long...

Daytrip to Füssen: bite the bullet, get up very early, go to bed very late. Go on Sat or Sun to use the Bayern ticket early in the am.

Daytrip to Salzburg: 2 hours each way on RE trains, Bayern Ticket. Saturday or Sunday again so you can leave early on the Bayern ticket.

If you stay outside Munich in a small town instead of Munich, you will make the train trip longer to either Salzburg, Füssen, or both.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks for the tips. Russ, I wish I could do it like you suggest. If I was still in my twenties and single, I would rent the car and drive from place to place every day or two! However, my wife strongly prefers not to pack and unpack frequently, thus we are using a central base.

We're not quite so concerned about cost. There will be four of us traveling together, so that makes the car a better deal even with gas. If we do go by train, we'll almost certainly get a multi-day rail pass for Germany as well will also be visiting Berlin and the Rhineland.

I'm intrigued by the Rosenheim idea. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to rent a car and stay in a town outside of Munich but which is easily accessible to Munich by train (in other words, take the train into Munich and maybe Salzburg, but drive elsewhere). I guess part of the reason I want to drive is to have better flexibility on the Romantic Road, but I really don't want to drive in Munich itself (coming from New York City, I have had my fill of urban driving).

Thanks for the thoughts all.

Posted by
612 posts

Two summers ago we did Prague, Berlin, Nuremburg, Rothenburg, Fussen, Salzburg & Munich. We rented a car because there were 4 of us traveling and it was cheaper to rent than to go on trains. Do the math and see how much it would cost you to rent versus buying train tickets. I would suggest that if you drive try to book B&B that have free parking or at least reasonably priced. In Berlin and Munich we parked for 10 euros a day. The other places were free.

Posted by
6808 posts

" wife strongly prefers not to pack and unpack frequently, thus we are using a central base."

Hmm. I certainly understand that. But does she know how long she'll be sitting, sitting, sitting on the train and/or in the car? Much of the route you have in mind is less than spectacular.

I'm in my 60's now and prefer to travel the way your wife likes to do - stay a week and do daytrips. I'm planning exactly such a trip right now. We'll be renting one apartment for a week or longer this April. But I pick select my base and destinations with an eye to what I feel is reasonable time in transit. If you and your wife clearly understand the logistics and still feel what you have planned involves reasonable travel time, then carry on. People can certainly vary on the amount of transit time they can tolerate before it becomes absurd.

I just hope you understand that multi-day railpasses, no matter how much you pay for them, are no faster at all than trips made with advance-sale savings fares (which use the same fast trains.) Like the savings fares, passes put you on high-speed trains for SOME routes, but they will not shorten your trip time enough over the local trains to make for the sort of day trips that old folks like me and most other folks here would deem reasonable. Rosenheim to Rothenburg and back means 8 hours on 4-5 different trains. Munich to Rothenburg and back by train is 6 hours on 3-4 different trains, 6+ hours by car (not including potty stops, gassing up, traffic, etc.)

Given the single-base-town constraint, I'd encourage you to find a base either in northern Bavaria (Franconia... Rothenburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg, etc.) or southern Bavaria. Both areas are wonderful and chuck full of places to explore on shorter day trips for much longer than 7 days, places you will zip right past with your current itinerary.

Posted by
6808 posts

"I guess part of the reason I want to drive is to have better flexibility on the Romantic Road..."

It would be a terribly long day to drive the RR from Munich all the way north, actually visit some of the towns, and still have time to return to Munich - not much flexibility in that day. From Munich you can daytrip north comfortably to SOME of the RR towns by train. Donauwörth is 80 minutes from Munich; Harburg is 10 minutes further, Nördlingen 15 minutes further.

Posted by
12040 posts

"I guess part of the reason I want to drive is to have better flexibility on the Romantic Road,"

For the most part, driving the Romantic Road is like driving any secondary route in Bavaria. No more or less scenic than any other. It links together some attractive towns, but then again, attractive towns aren't exactly rare in Germany either. If your main reason for renting a car is to drive the Romantic Road, I wouldn't bother. Just pick out those towns that interest you and visit them. And now that the Rosenheim idea seems to have taken root, the Romantic Road isn't very convenient if you decide to base there.

Posted by
1506 posts

I really like Rothenburg. We have stayed there 4 times in recent years but I would not find it worthwhile to make a day trip from Munich. The train ride is too boring in one direction, let alone two ways in the same day. The places you listed are tourist favorites, especially tourist favorites in Rick's excellent but limited guide. If you want to do day trips from Munich, there are many excellent places within an easy train ride from Munich. Tom's point about scenic towns not being in short supply is correct.

For a "medieval experience" much closer than Rothenburg, you might consider Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its medieval structures. I really like walking through its old town. Landshut is near Munich with a Duke of Bavaria Castle on the hill; Freising with its monastery on a hill is enroute for another nice look around. Landsberg an Lech is well reported, on my list to do. There are many other places that can be suggested. Check out a fuller guide, like the Michelin Green Guide. They will cover more places in less detail than Rick's.

I like train travel in Germany. Going back for visits after having lived there for 6 years, train travel is my preferred method of travel. It gives you a little better exposure to the culture in my book. Still, I try to minimize the time "lost" to looking out a train window. Good luck with your trip.