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Traveling With Children on the German Trains
We love traveling in Germany with kids and we ALWAYS love traveling by train in Germany. It’s so easy, efficient, and our little boys feel like they are in a Thomas the Train wonderland! I get asked all the time if I recommend taking the German trains with kids and I almost always come back with an emphatic YES! Granted, there are plenty of times that we drive, but I’ll cover that towards the end of this article.
Traveling by train with kids is great:
- Not stuck in car seats for hours
- Can play games like UNO and checkers
- Can go to the bathroom at a moment’s notice
- Easy to eat on
- GORGEOUS scenery!
- Don’t have to worry about driving in Germany or in big cities
In this guide, I’ll cover when it’s worth driving vs taking the train in Germany with kids, how to find the best tickets and prices for families, and tips for making your journeys easy, stress free, and fun!
Knowing the Deutsche Bahn Trains and Tickets
Before I jump all into German trains with kids, make sure you’ve read my Ultimate Guide to Germany Train Travel, since you’ll want to know the differences between things like an ICE train and regional tickets, like the Bayern Pass. I also have an in depth article on the German Rail Pass, which may really benefit you if you are a family of four.
What Tickets Should Your Family Get?
It can be really difficult figuring and pricing out what DB train tickets you need, especially when you throw in the nuances of different ages and kids. Here’s what you need to know:
5 and Under Are Always Free
No matter what DB ticket you buy, 5 and under are always free.
Kids 6-14 Years Old
Long Distance Trains: If your kids are under 15, they are free with a paid adult ticket. However, they still need to be specified on your ticket when booking. When making your booking, this is pretty straightforward since you’ll input how many adults and how many kids you want to start with.
You can make sure that your children’s information is all input under the “Advanced” option while booking.
Regional Offers: If you are using a Lander Ticket, like the Berlin-Brandenburg Ticket or the Bayern Pass (which are typically cheaper than Saver or Flex Price tickets for the whole family) then children 6 and over are NOT free and DO count as one of of the 5 people allowed on the ticket.
15 and Over
If you’ve got teens who are over the age of 15, they will need a full priced ticket (unless you choose to get a German Rail Pass, which they can then select “Youth”- I’ll cover these passes below)
You Still Need Seat Reservations
When you book your tickets, remember that seat reservations are not included in your ticket price, for both you and your kids. What this means is that you have a ticket to be ON a specific train, but you do not have an actual seat. But I always recommend booking seats when traveling with kids! You just never know when a train is going to be full and the last thing you need is to have to stand with your little ones on a train!
Even if you buy a seat for yourself, this does not automatically add a seat for your child. This may sound confusing, but it’s actually pretty straightforward when you are booking online, as the website prompts you to add seat reservations for both adults and kids.
You can either do this during your actual booking process or you can book a seat reservation separately. For example, if you’ve purchased a German Rail Pass, you’ll want to buy seat reservations here.
NOTE: Seat Reservations are only for long distance (ICE/ IC) trains. Most regional tickets don’t even have the option to book specific sets, so you don’t need to worry about that.
Family Compartments on German Trains
As someone who has extensively traveled with kids, I can vouch for that horrible feeling when your toddler is screaming and everyone is staring at you like you are the worst mother ever. Luckily, on ICE trains, there are family cars, that are JUST for people with kids!
These train cars fit up to 5 people in a family. There are two kinds of family cars:
General Families: These rooms are for families with younger kids and about school aged kids.
Traveling with Toddlers and Babies: These rooms are for families with tots up to the age of three. These have space to crawl around, a place to park a stroller, and even a place to warm up bottles! Is this transportation heaven!?
Reserving a Family Car on an ICE Train
- When booking, be sure to include at least 1 child in the booking process under “Passengers”
- Click on “Advanced search options” when you first start your search. Here you can specify the number of kids and ages (up to 14 years)
* Even if the child is free, they MUST be specified on the ticket.
- Online, you will be prompted to reserve seats. Select the number of people in your family and since you selected children earlier, it will then give you options for where you’d like to sit.
- For Very Young Families: The Parent & Child Compartment is in its own 6 person cabin. Ideal for babies/ toddlers
- For Young Families: This is not on every ICE train, but is an actual whole train car, where the entire section is designated for young families, such as preschool-aged through grade school. This is great if you want your kids to play with others or just don’t want the general stress of keeping kids quiet on a train.
- Cost: 8,00 per way in 2nd class or EUR 10.60 in 1st class and is sooo worth it!
When making a family reservation, you can only book it for up to 5 people (For example, 2 adults and 3 children)
The DB Family Card
Unfortunately, there isn’t a family pass or even family discounts on Deutsche Bahn. So, I feel like the phrase, “DB Family Card” is slightly misleading, as it really doesn’t offer
Basically, this card is for families that have more than 4 kids (ages 6-14) and up to 8 kids total. It doesn’t offer a discount but allows you to book everyone all together.
Unfortunately, you can only get these by calling Deutsche Bahn or by going to a travel center at main train stations.
Free Childcare on Select Trains
Bless the traveling with kids Gods! I wish this service was on every train (and plane and car ride)! Alas, it’s only on select ICE trains, but still….if there is the option, TAKE IT!!!
See if the train you are on has free Deutsche Bahn childcare, which is for all kids over 3 years old. There is staff available for things like face painting, puppet plays, and other kid-friendly activities. As of right now, these services are typically only on the weekends and on select routes only.
Tips For Traveling With Kids on the German Trains
Book and Reserve Ahead
As noted earlier, you’ll definitely want to reserve seats if traveling with a family or kids. This helps ensure that you actually have seats but also this allows you to seat everyone all together.
If you are buying single journey tickets, about 3 months often seems to be the sweet spot for finding good prices. Waiting until the last minute can become VERY costly!
Get the Freebies!
This is particularly for longer journeys, like those on ICE and some IC trains, but you can get little goodie bags for your kids…for free! Find the meal car on the train and as a worker for one. What is in each bag will vary, but you’ll find things like a coloring book, or little activities booklet, games, and a kids magazine.
Easier said than done with littles, isn’t it!?
If you are not in a family compartment, you’ll quickly realize just how quiet your train car is. This is just a cultural thing in Germany. I always remind my (naturally very loud children) that when we are on the train that we need to use our whispering voices and that it’s not play time.
Have Busy Activities
What you have all depends on the age of your kids. To be honest, my little ones are pretty content just watching out the windows for a while. Buuuut, as all parents know, this only lasts so long! We may play things like Eye Spy, or if you are feeling especially crafty, you can create a Bingo style game of train spotting items (Food Cart, Someone wearing headphones, Platform Signs, Tunnel etc)
We also have other Go-To travel activities like:
- Playing UNO
- Water WOW Books
- Sticker Books
- Coloring Books
- Math and Letter Workbooks
There are outlets on all ICE trains as well, so of course you can always have shows downloaded onto a tablet, podcasts for kids, etc ready to go.
Pack The Right Luggage
Packing for Germany is one thing. Packing for Germany with kids is a whole other thing! I used to pride myself on how light I could pack….and then I had kids!
- Car seats (yes….I have lugged car seats on DB trains before!)
- Diaper packages
- Extra gear
Suddenly, those “Only a backpack” days of traveling seem like a faint and distant memory! However, if I am traveling just by trains with my kids, I do everything in my Mommy Powers to pack as light and efficiently as possible. If I can get it down to one bag per adult and a small backpack per (walking) kid then I consider that a success!
Backpacks vs Roller Luggage
When traveling by train, you really have to take into consideration what kind of luggage you’ll take. Keep in mind some of the following things about traveling by train in Germany:
- Remember, that the train aisles aren’t that big/ wide, making roller luggage (especially those HUGE ones) difficult to maneuver from one train cabin to the next.
- It’s not uncommon to have to run to catch a train!
- Not all train stations have elevators and many do require you to walk down steps and under the tracks to get to the other platforms
Backpacks: I absolutely LOVE doing backpacks only when traveling. I just prefer to have my hands free when I’m with kids. But when I’m on the trains, I especially reach for a backpack first when packing. I have a super large backpack that I use just for these types of trips. It’s huge and I can easily pack all of my stuff plus at least one of my kids’ items in it.
I also make my kids bring along some of their own stuff. For example, over 3 years old, and I put in their tablets, headphones, snacks, etc in their own bags.
Roller Suitcases: If you are going to bring luggage, I can’t recommend small to medium sized roller luggage enough. The extra big ones will be difficult to manage and you can just forget about the ones that only have 2 wheels. If you absolutely insist on roller luggage, get ones that have the 4 wheels that you can turn and twist more easily to help get you down the smaller train aisles.
If you’ve got particularly smaller babes and toddlers, then I can’t preach the powers of babywearing enough!!! I absolutely love baby wearing. Full Stop. But traveling? I honestly can’t envision any other way to transport my kiddos (I kinda hate strollers)! I am a big fan of the brand Tulaand I even have a Toddler Tula, so I’ve worn my kids all the way from newborns all the way through about 3.5 years old.
Wearing babies and toddlers on the trains is about a million times easier than dealing with strollers on trains. If you can get by without bringing a stroller or pram, I say do it! Not only is it easier to walk through the train, but many trains have limited stroller space, so that way, you don’t even have to worry about that! And not to mention the hassle to just even get a stroller ON the train! Yeah….hard pass.
If you absolutely need a stroller though, you’ll want a lightweight travel stroller that collapses. The caveat to all this is that you ARE traveling in Germany (which means cobblestone streets!) so while you need a travel stroller, it also needs to be sturdy enough to handle those tough roads. I’ve used this travel stroller (when my husband INSISTS we bring one) and it’s bumped over many cobblestones in it’s 5 years and is still hanging in there to see another adventure.
Use a Travel Bed for Overnighters
An overnight train with kids isn’t at the top of my list for travel experiences, but it has been done! It is a great way to save money by not having to pay for a hotel for a whole family. A few major tips though:
- Book a Sleeper Car. You can choose between 1-3 beds per sleeper and it’s your own private cabin. You can book some that even have their own bathrooms inside as well and many come with breakfast as well.
- Book a Whole Couchette Coach. If you have 4-6 people in your family, you can book a whole couchette coach. It’s not as comfortable as the actual beds in a sleeper car, but isn’t the worst thing in the world. We’ve done this with 3 adults and 4 kids and the kids slept better than the adults! TIP: DO NOT book individual seats on a couchette coach. THIS IS MISERABLE. People come and go all night and the conductor comes in at every stop. This was one of my worst travel nights ever!
- Use a Travel Bed. If you book a sleeper car and you have a baby or toddler, bring along a travel crib. I use this one, as it’s so small and lightweight that I can wear it as a backpack and it can fit (tightly) in most sleeper cars. Alternatively, for my older kids (about to age 5ish) I use this blow up mattress for travel, which can pack down into a larger suitcase.
Eating On The Train
- Grab Food at The Train Station: Most bigger train stations will have food options like a bakery or even some fast food style foods (Doners, Pizzas, etc) where you can grab some really good food, pretzels, etc to have for either food or snacks on the train. We, of course, always grab a few fresh pretzels before boarding!
- Get the Kinder Snack Boxes On Board: On trains that have restaurant cars (ICE trains) they now have Kinder Meals, where you can pick a main entree and it comes with an apple juice, fruit smoothie, candy and toy
Should My Family Drive or Take the Trains in Germany
If you are still on the fence about driving or taking the trains in Germany with your family, here are a few things to consider
Where Are You Traveling To?
- If you plan on traveling to mostly big cities, then you should have no issues using the train system to get from one destination to the next. Alternatively, if you plan on doing some more off the beaten path locations (which often some of the best family hidden gems are), then having a car is better
- You won’t want a car in big cities anyway. Once you are in places like Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, etc you won’t want a car. It’s difficult to drive in the big cities and it’s often quite hard to find parking (and is expensive if you do!)
- If you want flexibility though, driving is great. It gives you more options for where you want to go, where you want to go, what to bring, when to stop, etc.
- There are also some speciality trains that are an adventure in and of itself, like the Höllentalbahn, which is a fun thing to do in the Black Forest with Kids.
How Many People Are In Your Family?
This can go either way.
- Of course, the more train tickets you need to buy, it may add up quickly (unless you plan on doing a lot of local travel where you can use Lander Tickets, which actually will end up being really affordable with a family)
- But driving in Germany with a family can get logistically hard. Vans are hard to come by and are often extremely expensive.
- Remember gas in Europe is NOT cheap, so take that into the total cost of car rentals as well. Calculate costs for hotel parking as well, as that often is additional in Germany in big cities.
How Much Luggage Are You Bringing?
If you plan on bringing a TON of stuff, then taking a train with your family can be really difficult.
How Old Are Your Kids?
- If your kids are old enough, can they help carry the load (literally)? That makes train travel a little easier. If you’ve got several littles and you have to lug everything yourself, things start to get a little trickier.
- If you can pack light, then I love train travel with little kids. Being able to play games, get up and walk around, go to the bathroom at any given notice, etc all beats being strapped into a car seat for hours