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A Complete Guide for Traveling by Bus in Germany

Traveling by bus is one of the most popular ways to get around Germany. It’s cheap, comfortable and oftentimes scenic. Intercity buses connect the country’s big cities to the more remote locations, and there are even a few companies that link Germany to other European countries.

Until recently, taking the train was the only ground transportation option in Germany. Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s predominant railway carrier, had a monopoly on the industry, which prohibited competition with the rail line, including coach travel. In 2013, the German government deregulated the market, and intercity bus lines began popping up all around the country.

Today, bus travel is one of the cheapest ways to get from point A to B across Germany. While it may not always be the fastest form of ground transportation, the comfort onboard has come a long way. Most buses offer Wi-Fi, power outlets and plenty of legroom. So, whether you’re commuting just a short distance or trekking across the entire country, bus travel is a comfortable and convenient way to get around Germany.

Bus companies in Germany

After the liberalization of Germany’s long-distance bus industry in 2013, FlixBus became the biggest name in bus travel on the German scene. Today, the carrier dominates the industry and owns about 90% of the market share. A few smaller companies operate a handful of targeted routes as well, which keeps prices competitive for travelers.

FlixBus services hundreds of cities all across the country and is the leader when it comes to long-distance bus travel. In addition to having the most comprehensive network, FlixBus also has top-notch onboard amenities to keep travelers comfy throughout their journey.

Pinkbus offers fast, non-stop journeys between Berlin and Hamburg and Munich and Zurich, Switzerland. What distinguishes this company from other German bus lines is that its fleet is 100% climate-neutral. It also prioritizes barrier-free travel for adventurers with disabilities by making it easy to travel with a wheelchair, walker, and guide dog or human at no extra charge.

Lufthansa Express Bus caters to those flying in and out of the Frankfurt and Munich airports. From Frankfurt Airport, the bus journeys directly to Strasbourg. From the Munich Airport, the bus goes to Nuremberg with a few stops in the city center. Departures are conveniently synchronized with flight times, and if you’re flying Lufthansa, your boarding pass doubles as your bus ticket. You will still need to book and pay for your bus ticket, but you'll receive one single boarding pass for your entire trip.

Western Germany has more routes available than eastern Germany, with the exception of Berlin and coastal cities near the Baltic Sea. Not a lot of mid-sized cities in eastern Germany have bus connections.

Many cross-border connections are available from some of Germany’s larger cities. Major international bus companies that provide service in and out of Germany include BlaBlaCar Bus, Sindbad and Union Ivkoni, among others.

The most scenic bus routes in Germany

Germany is famed for its enchanting countryside, which often makes traveling by bus as beautiful as it is convenient. For travelers craving a scenic detour, we’ve highlighted the three most scenic bus routes in Germany:

Rhine River Valley
The route along the Middle Rhine Valley is one of the most spectacular areas in Germany. Also known as the Rhine Gorge or the Romantic Rhine, this stretch is famous for its medieval castles, extensive trails, verdant hillsides and abundant vineyards. The Rhine River Valley is especially scenic in the autumn when the fall foliage is at its peak. The bus route from Cologne to Mainz offers the most scenic stretch of the Rhine River Valley.

Bavarian Alps
The Bavarian Alps of southern Germany offer up some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country. Alpine lakes, rustic farms and lush meadows punctuate the region, and of course, there are plenty of rugged mountain peaks to be seen as well. A bus trip to several different destinations within the Bavarian Alps region, including Lindau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Salzburg (Austria), will allow you to take in the natural beauty of the area.

Black Forest
The southwest corner of Germany is home to the Black Forest. Due to its composition of dense pine forests, charming old villages, rolling hills, and thundering waterfalls, it’s no surprise that this is the setting of some of the most legendary fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Take a bus to Freiburg, Baden-Baden, Karlsruhe or Heidelberg to see the beauty of this region up close.

How to book bus travel in Germany

Reserving your bus ticket in advance is a good idea for a few reasons. Purchasing your ticket online is the cheapest option, and it also ensures your spot on the bus. Some carriers do have ticket offices at bigger stations, but you’ll likely pay more, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a spot on the bus. Most carriers also allow you to buy tickets from the driver before departure, so long as the bus is not already full. Bus tickets can be reserved months in advance.

Some companies let you select a specific seat on certain routes, though many bus carriers simply let passengers pick their spots when they board on a first come first served basis.

Generally speaking, canceling or changing your bus ticket is pretty easy, just make sure you do it far enough in advance. You’ll often get a full or partial refund or a voucher to use on your next trip. If you want to be extra safe, buying trip protection is never a bad idea, especially for more pricey tickets.

Tips for finding deals on bus tickets in Germany

Bus travel is one of the cheapest forms of travel in Germany, so deals and discounts are usually pretty hard to come by.

If you want to save as much money as you can on cross-country travel, be sure to purchase your tickets online in advance. Prices are usually at their lowest for bus travel about one month out. If you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants, tickets purchased between three and seven days before departure are often cheaper.

That’s not to say you should show up and buy a ticket on the day of departure – this is usually when tickets are at their most expensive. If you can avoid it, never buy a ticket directly from the driver – prices can be up to ten times higher than they are online!

Daily/monthly cards & passes
There are currently no daily/monthly passes available for frequent long-distance bus travel in Germany.

Types of intercity bus services available in Germany

Generally speaking, most bus companies in Germany offer standard seating without any first-class or luxury options.

FlixBus allows passengers to choose their seats ahead of time on certain routes, but this is not available for every trip.

You’ll always know exactly where you’re sitting before boarding with Pinkbus, as travelers are able to pick their seats ahead of time at no extra cost. While there are no luxury seat choices, there are special areas set aside for young children, passengers with disabilities, and even safety seats next to the driver for uneasy riders or those who experience motion sickness.

If you’re taking the bus to the airport in Frankfurt or Munich, Lufthansa Express connects passengers to Strasbourg (Frankfurt Airport) and Nuremberg (Munich Airport) with various stops along the way. These routes are usually tailored around flight times, so you won’t have to wait around at the airport for long periods of time. Specific seat reservations are not available with Lufthansa Express, so try to arrive early if you want a good seat. FlixBus also operates several routes from major airports to city centers and long-distance routes.

Getting to the bus station in Germany

Most long-distance bus companies in Germany don’t operate out of their own dedicated stations. Instead, they are located at existing transportation hubs like rail stations, bus terminals or airports. In larger cities, buses often have their own terminals, usually labeled as ZOB or ‘Zentralen Omnibusbahnhof’ (which translates to ‘Central Bus Station’). These terminals often have luggage storage, restaurants, convenience stores, toilets, and waiting areas. Companies may operate at more than one station in larger cities, so always double-check your ticket before making your way to the departure point. Tickets usually contain a departure address, and some even include a small map for reference.

Most bus stops have a convenient location in the city center, so you can either walk or take public transportation. However, some stations have been built further due to concerns about inner-city congestion, so you may need to arrange travel from the station to your final destination depending on your location. Uber currently operates in seven major German cities, and there are usually taxis available in less developed towns as well.

Plan to arrive at the station at least 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time. Most companies begin boarding before the departure time so they can hit the road on schedule.

Getting on the bus in Germany

To get on the bus, you will need a copy of your ticket (either printed or digital), along with a valid form of identification. Of course, if you’re traveling across the border, you’ll also need a passport, or just an identity card if you are an EU national. Documents must be original and not a copy of an official ID.

Most bus companies board passengers in a first-come-first-served fashion. If you need extra help boarding or have a wheelchair/walker, Pinkbus is the best option, though routes are limited.

On-board experience on German buses

Since bus travel is a fairly recent phenomenon in Germany, all buses are modern and comfortable. Buses are typically standard coaches, though there are some double-decker vehicles in the fleet as well.

Most long-distance bus companies in Germany offer top-notch amenities onboard. WiFi is a given in this day and age, though service can frequently be spotty and slow. In addition to WiFi, some carriers also offer onboard entertainment, including music and movies.

If you don’t want to rely on the dodgy WiFi, consider having some offline options pre-downloaded on your cell phone or other smart devices. After all, you can only keep yourself entertained for so long. Most buses also have reclining seats and power outlets.

Food & drink
Some German bus lines offer a small selection of food and drinks onboard, mostly snacks, candy, coffee and bottled refreshments. Travelers can also bring their own food and beverages onboard, so if you want the full gambit of options for your long-distance journey, you should stock up before your trip.

Toilet facilities & rest breaks
Most of the larger German bus companies have a bathroom onboard, though these are not necessarily known for their high quality or cleanliness. If you can, try to go before you get on the bus, or at least use it sooner rather than later if you want a clean seat. Some longer journeys include pit stops for the driver, and travelers are usually allowed to disembark and use restroom facilities and shop at on-site vendors. Just be sure you’re quick so you don’t get left behind!

Baggage allowance differs from carrier to carrier, but most German bus lines transport regular luggage without a fee. Larger bags will be stored in the luggage hold, and you’ll be responsible for grabbing your own items when you arrive at your destination. Smaller bags can be brought on board and stored above your seat.

Oversized items like bicycles can usually be transported for an additional fee, though space for these is often limited. Be sure to contact the bus carrier ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate your needs. Items like wheelchairs and baby strollers are generally allowed onboard for free.

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