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Whether you are a tourist or an expat, you may feel confused at the time you encounter the public transport system in Germany. At KnowInsider, we guide you through and demystify the way public transportation in Germany is structured and operated.

Public Transport in Germany

Public Transport in Germany and Europe is usually excellent, covering effectively regions inside the big cities, interconnecting cities as well as connecting smaller towns along the way. Its excellent reputation refers to it being reliable, comfortable and relatively fast.

Although Germans are known to be car lovers, most citizens living inside big cities, especially expats choose to use public transport such asbuses, trams, and urban/suburban rail lines in their everyday lives.

Bigger cities offer various types of public transportation compared to smaller towns yet even in the smallest towns there is at least a bus system.

Means of Transportation in Germany

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The major cities feature four distinct types of public transportation. The fastest and vastly used is the Rapid transit system involving five U-Bahn systems covering the city center and thirteen S-Bahn systems that operate underground in the city center and over ground towards the suburbs.

U-Bahn (subway/underground)

Most of Germany’s metropolitan areas have the Untergrundbahn also known as U-Bahn, the underground rapid transit. In the most central areas they run underground raising at ground level as they get closer to the periphery.

S-Bahn (suburban commuter rail)

This is the railway that operates within city center traffic including the suburbs and nearby towns. There express trains travelling from the city center deep into the periphery work flawlessly in the bigger cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Munich,...

Bus & Tram

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Buses are a great way of transportation at night time. Bus stops in Germany are marked with a capital H. The bigger the city, the number of bus systems operating in it increases. buses are supplemented by trams, which are usually faster because they travel on their own tracks, largely independent of other traffic. In city centres they sometimes run underground. Bus and tram drivers generally sell single tickets and day passes only.

Stadtbahn (light rail)

Similar to the U-Bahn, yet operating mainly in the suburbia and over ground some of the large cities have also this means of transportation called Stadtbahn or light rail. The frequency is flattering as well running every 10-20min.

Ticket

Types of tickets

Short trip tickets are only valid for two or three stops on a single form of transportation.

Single tickets are generally valid for a set time period (often 90 minutes). You can change modes of transport as many times necessary to complete your journey and you must stay within the valid zone(s).

Day tickets grant you unlimited travel within specified zones for either a full day or a 24-hour period. It is not uncommon for tickets to allow travel up until 2am or 3am the following day to allow passengers to return home from an evening out.

Week tickets are valid within specified zones for a week. You can also purchase tickets that are valid for longer (a month pass) but these usually have to be purchased from an official at the ticketing office.

Group day ticket offers great value for money if you are travelling in a group of three or more. Usually valid for groups of up to five people, they give unlimited travel for a day or 24 hours within specified zones.

How to buy a ticket

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You can buy a ticket from one of the ticket machines at all tram, U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations. It is possible to change the language of the machine to English.

You can buy directly a ticket from the driver on buses. At major stations, there is usually a staffed ticket office where you can buy all kinds of tickets, including season tickets. Most transport operators now also offer E-tickets via an app.

Tips

Don’t be scared by the German ticket machine, just hit the button to change the language to English and start looking at the options.

The way the German display on the machine is straightforward so you will not be confused in any way. In case you still find it hard then ask anyone for help or reach the DB Info counter.

Tickets must be validated before the journey. This is done by going at the yellow or red boxes on the platforms to get them stamped. In buses or trams the person in charge does it manually. In case of inspection, a ticket that is not stamped is invalid and you are charged around a 40 Euro fine.

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