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Six exceptionally scenic train rides to take in Germany

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Six exceptionally scenic train rides to take in Germany
A Deutsche Bahn train crosses the Ravenna Viaduct near Hinterzarten in the Black Forest. The 36-kilometre-long railway line from Freiburg to Titisee is one of the steepest railroad lines in Germany. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Patrick Seeger

Want to take a train trip in Germany but don't know where to start? Here are our top picks for beautiful rail routes across Germany – just grab a ticket and climb aboard.

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From the Rhine River Valley to Mainz

Extending most of the way down Germany’s western side, is an extensive train route connecting the Rhine River Valley to the Black Forest to Switzerland. 

But you don’t need to leave the Rhine Valley to experience one of the route’s more scenic sections. 

Starting in Cologne, this railway follows the Rhine River south. The picturesque part of this ride begins just past Koblenz and continues through the dramatic Rhine Gorge on to Mainz. This section offers views of castles on hill tops and quaint river-side villages.

To be sure you catch those river valley views, make sure that you take a train with stops in Bonn and Koblenz on its way to Mainz. As opposed to the non-stop train to Frankfurt that a navigator app may suggest.

The entire route from Cologne to Mainz takes nearly two hours on a fast ICE train. The section from Koblenz to Mainz takes 50 minutes.

If you’re travelling from Cologne, you’ll want to take a seat on the left side of the train. Likewise if you are coming from Mainz, you’ll want a seat on the right.

This route is the first section of “Route 9” in the latest edition of the Europe by Rail guide, which is a good resource for train-spiration in Europe.

Three lakes from Freiburg

Freiburg im Breisgau is the fourth largest city in the state of Baden-Württemberg, and is known throughout Germany to be a bit of a hippie hub. Which makes it a fitting location to embark on this forest-lined rail route.

READ ALSO: Basel vs Freiburg: Which city is better to live in?

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Any of a number of trains from Freiburg will take you through the Black Forest, and therefore offer some splendid green views. 

But for the most striking scenery that the region’s railways have to offer, it is recommended to navigate to Seebrugg by way of the Höllentalbahn (Hell Valley Railway) to the Dreiseebahn (Three Lakes Railway).

To do so, you can catch an S10 or S11 train to Titisee, and then transfer to an S1 train to Seebrugg. Since both of these trains are S-bahns, Deutschlandticket holders don't need to pay any additional fares for this route.

Between Titisee and Seebrugg, you’ll pass by three beautiful lakes, hence the name Dreiseebahn. You’ll also score sustained views of Bärental (Bear Valley).

The entire journey takes about an hour and 15 minutes.

Zugspitze Railway Route

On the topic of scenic views in Germany, the Alps always deserve a spot on this list. Considering train routes, the Bavarian Alps Railway (Bayerische Zugspitzbahn) deserves a mention.

Train to Zugspitze

Relax and admire the Zugspitze: If you take the train to do your mountain sports, you don't have to worry about traffic jams and icy roads. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa-tmn | DB_AG/Bartlomiej_Banaszak

This route starts off in the region’s best-known ski town, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and winds its way along the Alpine valleys toward the Austrian border, taking passengers to the base of the Zugspitze, which is Germany’s highest mountain. The journey takes about 90 minutes.

For some, Zugspitze offers Germany’s highest elevation hike, but for those not looking to get so many steps in, there is also a connected cable car that can take you to the top from the Eibsee stop.

The Bavarian Alps Railway is run by DB and connected to regional trains, so Deutschlandticket holders can enjoy this route on a day trip from Munich, for example, without purchasing another ticket.

Travellers without the monthly subscription ticket can buy a combined train and gondola ticket on the Zugspitze website.

Note that construction will cause railway disruptions during certain periods this spring and summer.

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Brockenbahn: Harz Steam Railway Route

Usually a scenic train ride is just a bonus on the way to your destination. But what if the train journey was the destination?

As crazy as that may sound, for many passengers on the Brockenbahn in the Harz Mountains, that’s how it is.

The Brockenbahn is part of the greater Harz Railway (Harzer Schmalspurbahnen - HSB) which takes passengers through the notoriously scenic mountains and Harz National Park. It’s also a line hauled by historic steam-engine locomotives.

This route connects Wernigerode to the summit of Brocken mountain several times daily – with the entire line taking about an hour and 40 minutes. The summer timetable, including the connected HSB lines, can be found here.

Thanks to local agreements, Deutschlandticket holders can also ride HSB trains at no additional cost.

Dresden to Bad Schandau / Prague

You probably won't read about this route in travel blogs, but anyone who’s taken a train from Berlin to Prague may have noticed that there is a particularly beautiful strip of tracks in the middle of the journey.

READ ALSO: Prague and Dresden added to Brussels night train route

Some of the most striking views are seen between Pirna (just outside of Dresden) and Bad Schandau, which is a spa town near the Czech border. Here the tracks follow the Elbe River, and you can catch glimpses of so-called Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz), including a passing view of the infamous Bastei Bridge.

Of course the views don’t really end immediately at the border. So if you are compelled to journey into the Czech Republic, your views of rolling hills and small villages along the river will continue for some time.

This route is particularly gorgeous in autumn when trees all over the mountain sides have begun to turn red and yellow.

Local travellers can experience this line on an S1 train from Dresden with use of their local transportation passes. 

But if you are planning to cross the border, you’ll be on a long-distance train operated by Czech railway České dráhy (CD). You can buy tickets for CD trains coming from Germany from Deutsche Bahn, but sometimes it can be cheaper to find the same tickets on the CD website.

Allgäu train

A train runs through the Allgäu Alpine foothills. The region is known for its wildflower filled meadows, and Bavarian villages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Allgäu Railway

A quick image search for “Allgäu” provides reason enough to put this humble train trip on your Germany bucket list.

Crossing the beautiful Allgäu region, this hour and half train ride connects Ulm and Lindau, and offers views of rolling hills, wildflower filled meadows, and Bavarian villages along the way.

Best of all, it ends at Lake Constance, also called Bodensee, which is a stellar summer-time destination for a lake-side vacation.

READ ALSO: Living in Germany - Making the most of culture and lake life

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Note that there are two main routes connecting Ulm to Lindau. Each of them takes about 90 minutes, but the one that travels directly through the Allgäu region is the one with a transfer in Memmingen.

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