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Help deciding between Air/Rail/Both?

Hi All

I am looking for some advice. My husband and I are taking our first trip to Europe in early May 2017. Our itinerary is as follows:

2 Nights Frankfurt, Germany

2 Nights Munich, Germany

4 Nights Lucerne, Switzerland

4 Nights Paris, France

I would love to hear some advice regarding if we should fly to each location (from the previous) or take the rails. I have been doing some researching into rail travel but am finding it overwhelming. Would love to hear pros/cons to both!

Thank you!

Posted by
4637 posts

Easy to do it by train. Frankfurt to Munich takes 3 and half hours by direct train.
Munich to Luzern 4 hours 46 minutes. Change in Zurich. Munich to Zurich is by bus run by Deutsche Bahn. There is also option to go by train to Zurich but that connection is slower.
Luzern to Paris 4 hours 43 minutes, change in Basel.
None of that would be faster by plane and certainly it would be less comfortable and more complicated (to the airport, from the airport, security and so on).
The best to look for the schedule is on Deutsche Bahn website.

Posted by
4637 posts

No rail pass. Too expensive. Buy your tickets as soon as you can. You will save substantial amount of money.

Posted by
37 posts

We are going in mid June 2017 thru July. can I buy my train tickets already???

Posted by
16883 posts

You've mentioned two different travel periods. You can edit either of your original messages.

These long-distance tickets go on sale with deep discounts about three months in advance of travel, and perhaps earlier for the train to Paris.

Posted by
4637 posts

Laura, OP did not mention 2 different travel periods. That was somebody else - cindyhm.

Posted by
3 posts

So it would be beneficial to just purchase the tickets to the locations directly? I'm having trouble finding tickets from Munich to Lucerne available to purchase ( I know we will have to do Munich - Zurich- Lucerne, can't find these tickets online either) Could it be too early?

Posted by
16832 posts

If you are going in early May, the soonest you can buy tickets is early February.

Posted by
12898 posts


Not worth flying from Frankfurt to Munich, maybe to Berlin or Hamburg. I would suggest taking the ICE train, direct connection. The con part is that it may be very crowded in May, you never know. Better to reserve the seat, more so if you intend on traveling in the morning on a week day.

Posted by
31471 posts


All the trips you'll be making are relatively short, and those are absolutely best done by rail. Keep in mind that in some cases you'll be using high speed trains which travel at up to 300 km/h, so those are faster than flights for short runs (when all is considered - travel to and from airports, check-in, security, waiting, etc.). Rail will also be a much more pleasant experience than the airport "dog & pony" show.

You can research all your rail journeys on the website. There may be minor schedule changes between now and May, but probably nothing significant. You can buy tickets for rail trips in Germany and France at (or you can buy them at stations when you arrive there). Note that some of the high speed trains have compulsory seat reservations, and those tickets are specific to train, date and departure time so if you buy advance tickets, you must be wiling to commit to a specific departure. One example is the trip from Switzerland to Paris. You'll travel from Lucerne to Basel SBB via Swiss train, and then change to the high speed TGV and that one has compulsory reservations.

One other point to note is that Paris has about six rail stations. The train I referred to above will probably arrive at Gare de Lyon, so you'll have to get from there to your hotel via Metro or Taxi.

As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd highly recommend that you read Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip, as that provides a lot of good information on "how" to travel well in Europe. Also use the country or city-specific guidebooks (RS books of course) to plan sightseeing, hotels, local transportation, etc.

Posted by
5567 posts

You didn't ask for this so please ignore it if you wish. But for what may be at most 3.5 days of sightseeing in Germany, I don't believe Frankfurt - Munich is a great choice - it's only big cities - and it requires substantial train/bus travel altogether by the time you've reached Lucerne. Rick Steves offers the following suggestions for stays of that duration:

3 days: Munich, Bavarian castles
5 days, add: Rhine Valley, Rothenburg

Of course he's not taking into account that you're headed to Lucerne afterward - but it's worth thinking about. Do you really have a strong desire to see Frankfurt? Or is it just that FRA is a good airport for you? Because you might instead just fly into Munich for 4 nights, possibly with a day trip or two, then take your 5-hr. trip to Lucerne. Not flying into FRA obviously spares you the 3+ hour train trip to Munich (which cuts into your time there.) OR... if you need FRA, do what many do - board a train there for the Rhine Valley (one hour from FRA airport.) From the Rhine town of Bingen to Lucerne is also only 5 hours. You could spend 4 nights on the Rhine, OR you could spend 2-3 nights there and 1-2 nights in a location on the way to Lucerne (Heidelberg or the Black Forest come to mind.)

Posted by
13558 posts

Let’s see if I understand
Day 1 Depart the US
Day 2 Arrive Frankfurt late morning, with jet lag. Spend night in Frankfurt
3 Another night in Frankfurt
4 Half day train trip to Munich. See Munich for a half day
5 Full day in Munich
6 Half day train trip to Lucerne. See Lucerne for a half day
7 Lucerne
8 Lucerne
9 Lucerne
10 Half day trip to Paris
11 Paris
12 Paris
13 Paris
14 Go home

Since there are 16 non-business days in “Two” weeks, and since the tickets to Europe aren’t cheap, why don’t you add two days to the trip and do Germany some justice. You might also look at the cost of renting a car in Germany and dropping it off at the Swiss border.

Posted by
18312 posts

The general rule of thumb is that you should only fly if the train trip would take more then 5 or 6 hours. This takes into account time to get between a city and the airport on both ends plus time in the airports for check in, security, boarding time, and time to find ground transportation.

Frankfurt to Munich would be particularly difficult to justify flying since you can do it be train in just over three hours.

It doesn't look like Luzern has a major airport. The closest airports are in Zürich and Basel. You would have to go to/from Luzern from these airports. There are regular ECs from Munich to Zürich taking just over four hours; the Bahn also runs a modern IC bus non-stop from Munich to Zürch in less than four hours. Basel to Paris takes only three hours.

What's more, I would find sitting in a comfortable train seat watching the scenery far more pleasant than the hassle of going through airports and the lack of comfort of a cramped plane cabin.

Posted by
13558 posts

I’ve got different rule of thumb. I look for a plane when the train ride exceeds 4, maybe 4.5 hours. But for me, when I end up looking at long transportation times I see it as a bad plan. My biggest limitation is time when on vacation; cost is second and the trick is to balance to the two.

Let’s just pick a couple of places I know a little about, Prague and Budapest.

0.5 hours Cab from Budapest District VI to airport $25
1.5-hour early arrival (breakfast in the airport, spouse shops)
1.5-hour flight time $110
0.5 hours Arrival, pick up bags and get to taxi
0.5 hours Taxi to Ventana Hotel in Old Town $40
4.5 hours $285 for two people traveling together. And actually, I should reduce this by at least a half hour because if I didn’t eat breakfast at the airport I would be eating it someplace else…… And just in general I would rather be walking and seeing than sitting in a train.

0.25 hours Cab from Budapest District VI to Keleti Station, $10
0.5-hour early arrival at station
6.75 hour train time $30
0.25 hours Arrival, get to taxi
0.25 hours Taxi to Ventana Hotel in Old Town $15
8 hours’ hours $85 for two people.

So……….. is 3.5 to 4 hours’ worth $200. For me, yes.

Posted by
18312 posts

Or, lets pick something the OP asked about - Munich to Luzern.

If you take the train, the closest airport to Luzern is Zürich, so either way you go by train from Zürich HB to Luzern. The difference is Munich Hbf to Zürich HB.

If you go by train, the fastest connection and lowest fare is the EC. Time from Munich Hbf to Zürich HB is 4H33. Cost with an advance purchase Saver Fare is 38€ for two.

If you fly, the S-Bahn to the airport leaves from the Hbf and takes about 40 min and costs 22 euro for two people. Figure 10 minutes to get from the S-Bahn station to Terminal 2, and 90 minutes preflight time. Only Lufthansa and SwissAir fly direct to Zürich in 55 min for 717 euro for two people. Figure another 20 min to get to the S-Bahn at ZRH and 12 min and 6,30€ from there to Zürich HB.

So flying might save you 45 min at an additional cost of over 700€.

But let me pick a couple of places I know a little about. In 2012 I went from Zwiesel, in the Bavarian Forest (you see some of us don't just visit big cities) to Prague. The trip by train took 4h41 and cost me the equivalent of 11€ in Czech Koruna.

The nearest major airport to Zwiesel is Nürenberg. Zwiesel to Nürnberg takes 2h50 and cost 28€ with a Bayern Ticket. The lowest fares I find are 1190€ for two for the 1h55, one stop flight to Prague, so already you've spent more time and a lot more money flying and you haven't gotten to downtown Prague.