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Trains in German cities

Having not been to Europe before and hearing that the public transportation in most countries there is superb, I am wondering in particular which cities in Germany are best connected (internally) by subways and / or trains. To me, trains are by far preferable over buses, so I'm curious whether there is a NYC of Germany, so to speak. A city where one can find a station just a few blocks away no matter where you are, not wait long for the train you need, and then enjoy the wondrous experience of chillin' (and perhaps switching lines a time or two) without being affected by traffic is just marvelous for vacation. An alternative on my mind is to go to a city or a few towns that are extremely walkable such as Konstanz. Ultimately we'll probably go on a 2-week trip including Austria, Germany, and Spain so what we might end up going to big cities in two of those and something more remote in the third.

Posted by
18385 posts

The best cities in which I have experienced public train transportation are Munich (first) and Frankfurt. I understand that the train system in Berlin is also very good, but I have not been there.

Posted by
21865 posts

Compared to LA, every German city is NYC. In fact, I think most are better than NYC. Most systems are a combination of subway, surface trains, bus,and tram.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank y'all for the responses. To clarify, I'm looking for opinions like what Lee shared - personal impressions (are there cities where the trains alone grant mastery of the terrain?) and hierarchy of where different cities stand relative to each other. Where I am right now is in the beginning stages of planning and having a lot of trouble picking a destination or even narrowing down between options.

Posted by
31524 posts

Darren, I agree with Lee that Munich is one of the best cities for public transportation. It uses a combination of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Trams, etc. so if you know how to use the system, it's very easy to get around. It's also a very walkable city (IMO). Berlin is also good with both U-Bahn and S-Bahn, but the network is still being expanded, following the re-unification. As I recall, the U-Bahn is more prevalent in the former western sector. The new Berlin Hbf (main station) is incredible, and a marvelous piece of engineering (considering it's built on top of a Bog). It's like a huge multi-level shopping mall that also has trains. The S-Bahn trains are on the top level and the long distance trains tend to be on the bottom level. Of course, two of the BEST and most extensive transit systems in Europe are the Metro, RER and Buses in Paris, and "the Tube" and Buses in London. The Metro in Rome works well, but it only has two lines at the present time (a third line is being built, but no idea when it will be finished). Rome also has some small electric Buses that get into narrow spaces easily, and some Tram service. I'm not overly familiar with the systems in Spain, but I'll be there in a few months so will have a better idea after that. Happy travels!

Posted by
8185 posts

Well, similar to NYC, you will find people who live in the large cities of Germany who don't ever drive a car, and who don't even have a drivers license. I am one of them. I get around the city on a daily basis using the underground as well as the above ground tram system, but also use the buses. Have experienced the same in Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart and Cologne, and though I haven't been to Hamburg, I imagine it is the same. They all have efficient transportation systems. One can buy a day or week pass if you are staying here for a while. That said, most of the cities are also very walkable (except for Berlin because it is a bit of a latecomer as far as cities and capitals are concerned and very spread out) due to how they first began and expanded with a series of defensive walls. They usually have a core downtown, where you will find most of the historic buildings, churches and pedestrian shopping zones, but also residential areas. Because the Germans value their green space, cities tend to grow in and up, rather than out into large suburbs, sort of opposite to how it is done in the US. This keeps the downtown areas thriving and lively, and of course walkable.

Posted by
13023 posts

Hi, Which cities, specifically, are you planning to visit in Germany? Certain cities are junction points which serve the trunk lines. The NYC of Germany (if such a comparision, "so to speak," can be made vis-a-vis transportation) is Berlin with its extensive bus, subway, local train, express train (ICE), light rail (S-Bahn), serving multiple train stations along with the main station. If you're interested in seeing how elaborate, varied, and extensive train stations in Berlin are, I suggest seeing Hauptbahnhof (Main station), a marvel as suggested above, Ostbahnhof (the east station), Bahnhof Friederichstrasse, and Bahnhof Zoo (in the west). Those I would suggest as first priority, Lichtenberg, Wannsee, Ostkreuz...less so.

Posted by
16941 posts

Yes, Paris is the N'est plus ultra of underground systems.

Posted by
12040 posts

In addition to the above, Hamburg has an extensive U Bahn system. I found that I didn't really need to use the system in Munich. Most of the stuff of interest was within walking distance from the center. I think it was designed more for commuters who live in outer districts. I think I read that Nürmberg is the smallest city to operate it's own metro. Mannheim has a very extensive Strassenbahn network, but I wouldn't go out of my way to visit here. Likewise, Wuppertal has a monorail, and although it's probably a decent city to live, I wouldn't rank it highly as a tourist destination.

Posted by
2779 posts

In some cities, like Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Mannheim, you can also do a city tour on a historic tram. They use very well preserved pre-WW2 trams for an hour's or more ride through the entire city - or in the case of Mannheim you can even go to Heidelberg on it.

Posted by
9 posts

James, I'm by no means ranking a city's tourism worth by it's transportation system, per se. Really, there are too many places that I read about and am excited to go to, so I'm thinking through what my wife and I prefer for vacation destinations. One of those is to get around mostly by walking, and if possible not by bus. It sounds like this line of inquiry doesn't narrow anything down with all cities being great in that regard but the commentary here is nonetheless very helpful.

Posted by
441 posts

I've ridden public transportation in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Austria. They've all been excellent. If I were to pick one city, it would be Munich. Of course, Venice is good too.

Posted by
11292 posts

If you're interested in "subway tourism" (which I fully understand, as a subway fanatic myself), the Big Five are probably New York, Paris, London, Moscow and Tokyo. Having been to all five, my favorite is Moscow (look at some pictures of Line 5, particularly Komsomolskaya Station, and you'll see why). In addition to the grandeur, the subway trains in Moscow are more frequent than anywhere else I've been. Coming back to New York from Moscow, NYC's subways seemed barbarically primitive in comparison. Berlin is a strong competitor to these five, when you combine S-Bahn and U-Bahn. It also has the novelty of "ghost stations"; if subways interest you, don't miss the exhibit in the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station (even my mother, who doesn't share my subway fascination, loved this). I haven't been to Mexico City; while this one is much newer than the Big Five, it's almost as big as they are (in number of stations and lines). As others have said, almost all European cities have wonderful mass transit. One of the few that struck me as not so great was Brussels; its subway and premetro (trams that run underground) was harder to figure out than it should have been, and I remember waiting more than in other places. It got the job done, but that's it. continued..

Posted by
11292 posts

continued.. In many German cities (Leipzig, Dresden, Weimar, Cologne, former East Berlin), they have trams. These are the "best of both worlds." Like a bus, they're above ground, so you can see things while riding. Like a subway, they make fixed stops and an electronic board announces when the next one is coming. French cities are all busy putting in trams as well, and these are great. Often, they go underground in the center (many of Cologne's do). So, unless you insist on subways, you can also see smaller places and have a transit tourism experience. I loved Lyon's driverless subway trains, and their integration with the trams and funiculars. As Rick says, stand in the front of the first car, and you feel like you're piloting your own starship. Do look at the Urban Rail website posted above (I often check in to see changes in cities I haven't visited in a while, like Sao Paulo). It has links to other sources of info, as well.

Posted by
28145 posts

I'm surprised that nobody mentioned Glasgow which has a circular underground train system called a Subway. Or Liverpool with an excellent combination of heavy rail and less heavy rail. Strasbourg's trams are excellent. The most incredible system of trams I have seen anywhere - we never had to wait for more than a few seconds and there are stops absolutely everywhere and the lines just wind around each other making transport an absolute delight - is in Basel. It absolutely puts Amsterdam - a city also with excellent transport including heavy rail, light rail, metro and trams with the occasional boat and bus thrown in for good measure - into the also rans. Systems I have been well chuffed with in Germany are
Frankfurt - and all the way into the Taunus mountains and a very dense S-bahn and U-bahn network going for miles and miles to neighboring cities Cologne - an excellent network in the city and an extremely dense network of S-bahns all the way into the greater Ruhrgebeit Munich - already spoken of by others which even has an S-bahn to Andechs Actually it is really hard to think of a German city without excellent transport, or for the vast majority of Europe either. I'd seen many people overwhelmed by choices trying to decide where to go. Its been a while since I've seen transportation used to help throw a dart.

Posted by
11292 posts

I was just focusing on the large ones, but Neil's right, the Glasgow system is fun. It's called the "Clockwork Orange" and when you go, you'll see why. If using a subway is a priority, Rome is a poor choice. I LOVE Rome, but its subway is only two lines and it only goes to some places of interest. I walked and used buses much more. Milan's subway system is only 3 lines, but it's very useful; I find getting around Milan much easier than getting around some smaller Italian cities. Madrid's subway is nice and covers the city very well. In addition, it has the clearest subway announcements I have EVER encountered - they sound like language teaching tapes, with their precise enunciation. In the eternal contest of "Madrid vs Barcelona," Madrid's subway wins (Barcelona's is good too, but the announcements are the standard semi-garbled type). Budapest has an unusual system. They have 3 lines and are building a 4th. The first line is the oldest on the Continent (only London's is older), and is just barely under the ground, and uses very small trains. The other two are Soviet built (as I said above, this is a good thing) and hence very deep (Soviet subway stations could double as bomb shelters). It's the only system I've encountered where you need a separate ticket to change trains even when you don't leave the system or go above ground. See the movie Kontroll to learn about the infamous Budapest ticket inspectors. Yes, if your primary interest is Germany, I wouldn't choose based on subways or transit; all the cities there have excellent systems. But if seeing subways is the primary reason for the trip (even more than seeing Germany), go to London, Paris, and Moscow, and then work from there.

Posted by
13023 posts

Hi, If your main focus on public transportation systems is Germany, then I would suggest seeing first Berlin (those stations I listed above), then the main stations in Leipzig (esp don't miss this one), Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Munich, Hamburg (with its S-Bahn going to the suburbs), Köln, Dortmund. You'll find that in Paris and London, (also great systems), Berlin, Munich there is not the fear of duplication, if at Paris Gare du Nord you want to go to Gare St Lazare you can go by Metro, RER, or the bus. I usually take the RER or bus just to avoid the Metro. The same applies in Berlin: going to the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport (when it becomes operational)...you can take the S-Bahn and transfer, the bus and regional train combo, or the regional express from Hbf. You'll find that the U-Bahn makes visiting Vienna a lot easier, esp a combo of tram and U-Bahn.

Posted by
8185 posts

Just for fun, go to Youtube and watch some videos of all the trains, trams, and stations for the places you are interested in visiting. Amazing wealth of information and it gives you an excellent idea of routes, platforms, and scenery that each particular train passes.