First of all, Germany is a great country for real flexible traveling without restrictions: most trains do not require reservations. On long distance trains it is possible (and even recommended during rush hours) to make a reservation. But very few trains require reservations, so you are very flexible in adapting your schedule as you go!
Most trains don't need reservations
Reservation is not necessary for local trains:
- RegionalExpress (RE) (regional trains)
- Regionalbahn (RB) (regional & local trains)
- S-Bahn (suburban trains)
On these trains, you just board and find a seat, reservations are not available.
For some trains it's optional
Reservation is optional but not required for:
- ICE (Intercity-Express, the most common high-speed trains)
Fees: 2nd class: € 5 / 1st class: € 4
You can always hop on the ICE, but if you want to be sure of a seat, you can make a reservation. This is especially recommended during rush hours and in high-season.
Rarely, it's compulsory
Reservation is compulsory only for ICE Sprinter (high speed trains with extra comfort)
Fees: 2nd class: € 11 / 1st class: € 16
If you don't want to make reservations, there is always an alternative for the ICE Sprinter on the same route, which could take a little bit longer.
Reservation is also required for CityNightLine overnight trains. Fees depend on the type of accommodation.
To check if a train requires reservation, you can look up the train in the German train timetable. The schedules indicate if you can make a reservation with an orange button 'Reservation'. If you see a grey icon with the letter 'R', reservation is Required, otherwise it is optional (view example). You can make seat reservations up to 3 months in advance.
What are seat reservations?
With a seat reservation you are guaranteed of a specific seat in the train. You will receive the number of the carriage and the number of the seat designated to you. When you board the train without a seat reservation, you need to find an empty seat yourself. On busy trains, this could take you some time. You can make seat reservations up to 3 months in advance.
Seats in ICE trains
When making a reservation for ICE trains, you can specify the compartment type (compartment or open saloon, with or without a fixed table) and the seat location (an aisle or window seat, seats opposite or next to each other).
There are also special ‘silent cars’ for passengers wanting to relax or work quietly. In this area mobile phone calls, loud conversations or other noisy activities are unwelcome.
Accommodation in CityNightLine trains
For CityNightLine overnight trains there is a variety of sleeping accommodation available.
In 1st class, you have a sleeping car with your own shower/toilet. There are cabins for 2 or 3 persons. You can even choose a private cabin.
In 2nd class, you can choose from a sleeping car with washing facilities (for 1 up to 4 persons) or a couchette (for 2 up to 6 persons). The cheapest option is a reclining seat.
CityNightLine offers 2 types of fares for sleeping accommodation:
- Pass 1: for holders of passes covering the whole journey, e.g. when you're traveling within Germany.
- Pass 2: for holders of passes partially covering the journey, e.g. when you're traveling from or to one of Germany's bordering countries.
Read more about pass fares and prices.
There are various ways to make train reservations:
At German train stations
At a ticket office at larger train stations in Germany. Tell the staff that you have a German Rail Pass and that you only need a seat reservation.
Online through the German railways website
Online through the Deutsche Bahn timetable. Enter your journey details in the timetable and click on Search to see the available trains. Then click on the link Reservation and select your seat(s).
You can use the following credit cards for payment: American Express, Diners Club, JCB, Mastercard and Visa Card. You will receive your reservation as an e-ticket. You may be asked by the train staff to show the e-ticket together with the credit card that was used for booking.
By phone through the German railways call centre
Through the call centre of the German Railways UK Booking Centre. They have English speaking staff and they can book all seat reservations in Germany.
You can contact the Booking Centre through this booking form (mention that you have a German Rail Pass) or by phone: (+44) 08718 80 80 66 (Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 1pm CET).
You can make seat reservations up to 3 months in advance.