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Travel through Germany/Switzerland on train exclusively

Hello! A bit of background: my daughter was accepted for an internship in Frankfurt starting in late May, so my trip planning is very rushed, I know! I would like to wander through Germany and into Switzerland using trains mostly as my transport. I know that car rental is expensive and parking is tough, though we might take a day trip as we get her settled in. For the rest of the trip it's me alone. I thought I'd follow Rick Steves' itinerary, mostly because in my lack of time to plan, I haven't seen any others that aren't day trips.

I'm a bit paralyzed in making final plans because of the logistics.
1. Once I get to the towns, how do I get to surrounding areas?
2. What's the difference between Eurail and Deutsche Bahn? I'm completely confused by this.
3. I have certain places I want to visit, like the Zugspitze and Zermatt for the Matterhorn (we used to have annual passes to Disneyland, so while I'm in the neighborhood . . .). Will I be able to access them by train as well?

Thanks for your help! I'm sure I have more questions that I'm forgetting, but these are the ones that are literally keeping me awake at night.

Posted by
3197 posts
  1. Local train or bus.
  2. Deutsche Bahn is the big state owned railway company that runs most of the trains in Germany. Eurail is a rail pass sold to non-Europeans.
  3. Yes.
Posted by
6 posts

Thank you both! I appreciate the responses and seat61.com looks like a great website.

Posted by
6624 posts

Eurail and RailEurope do not operate any trains, mostly sell tickets and passes. People use the Deutsche Bahn website to research train schedules because it is very comprehensive and easier to use. But they don't operate or sell tickets for all the trains in Europe. The Swiss railway system is at sbb.com/en.

The good news is that you can get just about anywhere you need to get by train in Germany and Switzerland (some places like Zermatt, only by train). And it might seem intimidating if you've not done trains before, but its easier than it looks.

You need to nail down an itinerary and schedule, and if you share that here, people will make suggestions and recommendations as to what is doable, and how you might take advantage of rail discounts. But really the best advice is to get a guidebook or two (Rick Steves are great for first-timers), to get a good feel for how things work. The distances on a map are deceiving, as it can take a lot more time to get around in mountainous countries than it would seem. Start with how many nights you have and go from there. It can take a half to a whole day every time you change locations, so it may limit what you can do.

Posted by
5124 posts

For the Zugspitze, take the train to Munich and then to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This is a lovely town and worth a few nights. You can take the mountain railway from Garmisch followed by a cable car up. It is fun to take the cable car all the way down to the Eibsee, explore around the lake and then train back to Garmisch.

Travel by rail and bus is pleasant and usually pretty efficient in Germany and Switzerland.

Posted by
2074 posts

Sounds like your plan is flying into Frankfurt, and out of Zurich? How many nights on the ground total?

Look under the Germany and Switzerland sections here on the Forum- lots of discussion regarding your exact questions, as many folks here are heading that way in the near future. Train travel in these two countries is very efficient and dependable.

For Switzerland, most likely the Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Pass will work best for you.

Draft a tentative itinerary , and we all will be happy to help out.

Safe travels!

Posted by
18301 posts

Deutsche Bahn is the national railway of Germany. Yes, they run almost all of the trains in Germany. The best website to use for train schedules and fares in Germany is https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en. This page is in English.

Swiss Rail is the national rail line of Switzerland.

Eurail is a consortium put together by the nation rail lines in Europe and some boat lines for the purpose of packaging and marketing rail passes.

RailEurope, Trainline, and others are just 3rd party resellers of tickets (travel agencies, really).

The Deutsche Bahn website shows bus connections (although not usually with prices) as well as train connections. So, if you know the name of a small town, or a bus stop in a small town, you can find the route to it on the Bahn website.

Posted by
12882 posts

Hi,

Re: the surrounding areas....The big cities ie, Frankfurt, Munich, Dortmund, Hamburg, Düsseldorf , Hannover, Leipzig, Cologne, Berlin, etc., have a subway system (the U-Bahn and S-Bahn) covering the city itself and its outlying area depending on the extent of this net. This is addition to the local bus system mentioned above.

Posted by
5555 posts

...my trip planning is very rushed, I know! I would like to wander
through Germany and into Switzerland using trains mostly as my
transport.

Wandering is great, but as I think your sleepless nights are telling you, you will need to do some smart pre-planning so that you aren't sleepless in Europe as well. Where will you sleep, BTW? Hunting down rooms as you roam subtracts from your "quality travel" time. Let's say you have 12 nights. A "book-as-you-go" wander might require you to find 6-10 different accommodations on the fly. If you find a place, you will get the "room leftovers" and may need to settle for a location that's far from the train station or a bed that's way outside your budget.

My preference: pre-book 3-5 nights in a few different base towns, places with rail service that also have good rail connections to other places of interest. Then I spend my 12 days wandering out and back from those base towns, with zero worries about whether or where I will lay my head that night or have my morning Brötchen mit Kaffee. In this manner, a 12-night trip might require advance-booking in just 3 places, places that suit my both my needs and my budget.

"But won't it be expensive to do round-trip outings every day from those base towns?" you ask. No, not with good base town choices. Germany's rail system has many layers; inexpensive local and statewide DAY PASSES are available for purchase on the spot for such trips. And some local authorities offer FREE day passes as incentives to tourists. (These passes include local bus, subway and tram systems as well.)

You seem focused on rural travel and scenery (Zugspitze / Zermatt are mentioned) so I'll share some good travel bases...

BOPPARD is in the Middle Rhine Valley about 1.25 hours from FRA airport. Free day passes come with your room. Visit old-world towns like Beilstein, Cochem, Oberwesel, and Rüdesheim in both the Rhine and Mosel River valleys; tour authentic medieval castles; take hikes along the Rhine gorge cliffs; check out local wineries; take a 2-hr. river cruise.

Further south is GENGENBACH, on the scenic Black Forest Railway and not far from Strasbourg France and the Swiss border town of Basel. Free day passes for travel around the Black Forest come with your room. Day trips to nearby towns (Schiltach, Villingen, Triberg, Donaueschingen, Freiburg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Gutach and the Vogtsbauernhof open air museum, and other destinations are doable from Gengenbach. Leaving Gengenbach, Zermatt is about 5 hours by train.

Garmisch (Zugspitze, See transport network.) and Nuremberg (see transport network) are great bases too.

Posted by
6 posts

I am so grateful for everyone's responses! I know I won't get to thoroughly immerse myself and see everything and that's not the purpose of this trip, but being in a foreign country that's labeled in a language I'm not familiar with makes it tough! It's great to have such a friendly resource and I'll come back after my trip!

Russ, by wandering, I definitely meant having a pre-arranged place to sleep. I need my ducks in a row before setting out. Thanks for the travel bases suggestions! I'll take a look on a map (I'm getting better with the geography, but not quite there yet).

Here's my tentative itinerary:
number of days flexible: Frankfurt (where daughter is)
2 days: Baden-Baden or Heidelberg (is one better than the other?)
2 days: Rothenburn ob der Tauber
2 days Salzburg
3 days Füssen
3 days Montreux
3 days Bernard-Oberland staying in Murren
number of days flexible: Luzern
3 days: Paris
Home from London: I have a return ticket from Heathrow

Now that I look at it, it seems a bit rushed. I'd like some time to walk/hike some trails, which is why I chose Zermatt as a destination, though now I see weather can be an issue there. I do want to see some castles, art, German history, and definitely green stuff. I live in the desert and grew up in the desert so the beauty of the trees and greenery of the Alps has always drawn me to them. LOL!

Posted by
27713 posts

but being in a foreign country that's labeled in a language I'm not familiar with makes it tough

it isn't that bad, really it isn't. The alphabet is the same. Just need a few words, a smile, and a pleasant greeting (especially in shops in France) and you'll be fine. You see here many use the local spelling for places which makes it much easier to follow signs and such. You'll be amazed how your few words in French or German, and their likely more words in English along with some creative miming will solve all your problems. Really.

Posted by
6624 posts

I'd pick Heidelberg over Baden-Baden. The castle there is very accessible.

The rest of it seems like a lot of time in transit between stops, reducing quality time you're actually there. That means you wont have much time to ". . . get to the surrounding areas . . . "

Posted by
5555 posts

3 days Füssen
3 days Montreux
3 days Bernard-Oberland staying in Murren

"I thought I'd follow Rick Steves' itinerary,..."

I don't know exactly which of his suggestions you are following, but keep in mind that Rick Steves' tours are ROAD journeys. This goes back to the tips you've read from Stan here about possibly misjudging train travel times and logistics because map distances look short. Also, Rick's tour destinations are chosen in part because they fit a road-travel sequence; if he were doing a similar tour using trains, he might just choose different destinations in the first place. So I'd urge you to keep this option in mind as well - you can do your own itinerary - and also that you've got to lay out the train trips for the places you think you want to see to fiind out if they are doable. These two travel legs in your plan between Füssen and Mürren will put you on 10 different trains and require 11-12 hours of train travel.

"I won't get to thoroughly immerse myself and see everything and that's not the purpose of this trip"

It's good that you get that. But with your idea of spending time in FOUR different countries and in places that are NOT necessarily easy to travel between by train, you are pretty much red-lining your travel engine.

Time allocation is off as well, if you have 3 nights in tiny Rothenburg + 3 nights in Paris! I wouldn't attempt Paris with fewer than 4 nights. Rothenburg doesn't take more than a day; BTW it makes for a weak travel base town, if you were thinking extra days there for day trips, because it's at the end of a trunk railway and requires changing trains soon after you've boarded. A Füssen base also puts you at the end of a trunk line - you can get to the Zugspitze but you'll need to be on a bus part or all of the way.

Maybe skip the Zugspitze altogether (which doesn't compare with the Berner Oberland) or use Garmisch as a base town instead of Füssen; a Füssen base requires bus travel part or all of the way.

Use this page to examine individual journey details: https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe

"I do want to see some castles, art, German history, and definitely green stuff."

Basel - right across the German border - gets a lot of acclaim for its art options. And it's right on the route to the Berner Oberland from Germany.

For Germany, with your interest in hiking, greenery and castles, the Rhine (Boppard) would appear to suit you quite well - the Black Forest too. It would streamline your trip if you spent time in these places and in Heidelberg before taking a direct route (with a stopover in Basel??) to the Bernese Oberland and the rest of Switzerland, which from your posts appears to be more important to you. Maybe 5-6 nights in Germany, and 7-8 nights in Switzerland, with 4-5 in Paris?

Posted by
6 posts

OK, duh! Thanks, Russ! Sometimes it takes someone beating me with a 2x4 (doesn't help that I'm a visual learner) to make it sink in but I see now after finding a rail map to see what you're talking about. I will definitely take into consideration your suggestions (I hadn't had a chance to before my last post). I had also read about the KONUS pass on other threads, which seems like a fabulous offer to get back some of those taxes paid ;).

And I appreciate the help with the Swiss trains too! I'll tackle them next.