What makes German train stations among the best in Europe?

Five train stations in Germany have snagged a top 10 place in a European-wide ranking. But others haven't fared so well.

What makes German train stations among the best in Europe?
Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. Photo: DPA

Germany's top station is Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, according to a ranking of Europe's best train hubs.

The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) examined Europe's 50 largest railway stations and ranked them in terms of passenger experience, according to a mix of factors ranging from how crowded platforms are and accessibility to the number of destinations and cleanliness.

The judges crowned St. Pancras International in London as the best railway station in Europe. Zurich followed and Leipzig Central Station took the third spot, making it Germany's top.

Roma Termini in Italy snags the fourth fourth spot, while Munich took the fifth position.

With Leipzig (3) Munich (5), Hamburg (6), Berlin (6), and Frankfurt (9), half of the top 10 European railway stations are based in Germany.

All of them shine thanks to low numbers of strike days, several destinations, accessibility for passengers in wheelchairs, and diverse food and shopping offerings, according to the CCC.

READ ALSO: Germany to invest €62 billion to modernize rail network

The European Railway Station Index features mainly northern European railway stations in the top 10. Roma Termini and Milan Centrale are the only two southern European railway stations among the best ranked stations and Moscow Kazansky is the only eastern European railway station in the top 10.

Here is the ranking of the top 10 stations.

Screenshot: Consumer Choice Center

What makes stations stand out?

Zurich and London stand out for several reasons. They also scored highly because both offer 10 international destinations, while Leipzig has only one international connection according to the evaluation.

On the other hand, there are 51 destinations within Germany that can be reached from Leipzig. In this category, the Saxon station is only defeated by Paris' Gare de Lyon, which has 55 domestic destinations.

However, it's still not enough for a top ranking for the Paris train station. This railway hub is placed in the middle of the ranking (around number 16) , while most other stations from France are at the very bottom. This is mainly due to the high number of strike days.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the French clock up to 118 days – almost a third of the year – in strikes. In Leipzig and at the other German stations there were about 100 fewer days of strikes, with a total of about 16 days.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's new 2020 train timetable

Apart from Leipzig, Munich's central station also made it into the top five in the ranking.

The station in the Bavarian capital can also boast a top ranking for international connections due to its location. A total of 14 international destinations are served from here – only Utrecht in the Netherlands has more, with 15.

Munich central station. Photo: DPA

Munich is clearly lagging behind in terms of the number of shops in the station, with only eight.

However, according to German daily Welt, who reported on the railway station ranking, that's probably due to the renovation work currently ongoing.

The stations in the top three places have about 10 times as many shops. In terms of cleanliness, Munich receives 95 percent, however Leipzig and Zurich were able to pocket a perfect 100 percent rating.

Essen has dirtiest station

However, not all German railway stations are rated highly. Essen in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, doesn't get a glowing rating.

Although the station manages to land in 25th place, Essen station achieved the worst rating of all 50 in the cleanliness category with 60 percent. The testers obviously perceived it as particularly grubby.

According to the passenger association Pro Bahn, this is no coincidence: there are several dirty stations that are not up to scratch.

“In the last 15 years, the quality of the stations in Germany has risen sharply on average,” chairman of Pro Bahn, Karl-Peter Naumann told Welt. However he added: “Many stations have improved, but not all.”

Particularly in western Germany, Naumann said, there are still lots of stations that could do with better cleanliness, such as Duisburg and Düsseldorf.

READ ALSO: How travelling by train in Germany is set to improve

Leipzig upgraded

Naumann shares CCC's assessment that Leipzig has a particularly attractive station.

“This is a huge building that has been combined with a shopping centre,” he said. “It is precisely the shopping opportunities that have often been created by attracting external investors to stations that have led to a significant upgrading.”

However, Naumann can also see why Zurich train station has landed in a better spot than its German competitors.

“Everything is great in Switzerland,” said Naumann. “Zurich has combined modernity and a classic station concourse, you can do fantastic shopping and there is also a classic station restaurant.”

But even outside the big stations in metropolises there are many stations worth seeing, said Naumann.

Regardless of the rankings, everyone has their favourite station. And Naumann's personal number one is not in the top 10.

“Whenever possible, I try to change trains in Münster, which is not only very pretty and clean, but has an excellent pastry shop,” he said.

READ ALSO: S-Bahn, trains and buses: Germany to inject an extra €1.2 billion in public transport

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Is Leipzig really Germany’s ‘ultimate travel destination’?

The Saxonian city of Leipzig has been named by traveller’s bible Lonely Planet as its “ultimate” travel tip for Germany. Does the Local Germany’s knowledgeable readership agree?

The city centre of Leipzig.
The city centre of Leipzig. Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa-Zentralbild

Long a cult favourite among Germany fans, the left-wing city of Leipzig appears to now be gaining mainstream recognition after the Lonely Planet crowned it the country’s top travel destination this week.

In a new book titled “Ultimate German Travel Destinations – the top 250”, the travel publisher put Leipzig ahead of picturesque getaways such as Lake Constance and the Zugspitze as its number one destination.

“The hype that some say surrounds the city isn’t hype t all: Leipzig really is hipper than Berlin, and hotter than Munich, especially among millennials,” the guidebook boldly claims.

It goes on to lavish praise on the city of 600,000 inhabitants as “young, exciting, multifaceted – sometimes colourful, sometimes grey – and with a vibrant liveliness.”

“Everyone wants to go to the city where the anti-GDR demonstrations started,” the guidebook continues. “It is the home of Auerbachs Keller (made famous by Goethe and Faust); it’s the city of street art and wave gothic festivals; and its artistic scene at the Baumwollspinnerei is second to none.”

READ ALSO: A love letter to the eastern German city of Leipzig

‘Not cooler than Berlin’

Reaction to the list among the Local’s readership was mixed.

“It is a beautiful city and it’s easy to navigate. I find it hard to say that it’s cooler than Berlin, though. Berlin simply has more,” one reader told us on Facebook. “It’s the kind of place where people find their ‘spot.” I think most people in Leipzig know about most places in Leipzig. It’s a much smaller city. That may just be a more favourable lifestyle for some.”

Praise for Saxony’s biggest city ranged from admiration for the beauty of its architecture (particularly its train station) to the vibrancy of its arts scene.

Others suggested that Leipzig is indeed overhyped and that it can’t compete with natural wonders such as the pristine Königssee in the Bavarian Alps.

Lake Constance wins silver

Lake Constance, the country’s largest body of fresh water, came in second on the list.

The authors praised the southern See, which borders Switzerland and Austria, for “the many beautiful spots on its shores: Lindau, Meersburg, Überlingen, Constance and more – often surrounded by lush orchards.”

A regatta on the Bodensee in September 2021. Photo: dpa | Felix Kästle 

Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall came in third. 

“It’s impossible to imagine the Hanseatic city’s skyline without this glass work of art, which soars into the sky above the harbour like a frozen wave,” the book notes.

Also in the top ten were the Wattenmeer, which is a huge nature reserve on the North Sea coast, Berlin’s museum island, the sandstone hills of Saxony, and Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze in Bavaria.