Berlin to Frankfurt

Relaxing, eco-friendly travel without the queues and security checks of an airport? Here are our top reasons why you should ditch flying and travel the 500 km between Berlin and Frankfurt by train.

1. The route itself

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

With the opening of Berlin’s north-south railway tunnel and main railway station in the mid-2000s, the transport network in the German capital was finally unified. An iconic example of modern architecture and a sight in and of itself, Berlin Hauptbahnhof is located on the site of the historic Lehrter Station – a significant spot in the history of Berlin’s rail network. In 1871, the new “Ringbahn” first connected the city’s terminuses and by 1882 the “Stadtbahn” was winding its way through the city centre. Berlin has always had a well-connected and expanding transport network and it still benefits from this today. Find out things to do near Berlin Hauptbahnhof here.

Fläming Heath

A short distance from Berlin lie the rolling hills of Fläming Heath, a scenic spot in eastern Germany. Wind turbines and even the odd windmill dot the landscape as you pass through charming villages and small towns. Crossing the mighty River Elbe in Wittenberg – also known as Lutherstadt for its close ties to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation – is an impressive sight.

Central German floodplains

Shortly after Halle/Saale (on ICE Sprinter trains) or Leipzig (other ICE trains) as you head towards the centre of the country, you cross the Saale-Elster Viaduct, the longest bridge in Germany and the longest high-speed rail bridge in Europe. For 6½ km, you traverse a lush wetland landscape. This is followed quickly by bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel – 300 in total – with great views over the Thuringian Basin, including over the famous Saale-Unstrut vineyards.

Erfurt Old Town

Erfurt lies in the heart of Germany and is home to one of the nation’s prettiest and best preserved old towns. The Krämerbrücke, a medieval stone bridge lined with half-timbered houses which dates back to 1325, has been continuously inhabited for over 500 years. There’s also an impressive Gothic cathedral, a medieval town fortress, and a network of winding alleyways and cobbled streets. With a flexible ticket from Deutsche Bahn, you can hop off here during your journey and explore!

Thuringian Forest

Leaving Erfurt, the pace becomes more leisurely and the landscape more mountainous as the train meanders through the foothills of the Thuringian Forest, Rhön Mountains and Vogelsberg. Shortly after passing through Eisenach – the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach – the ICE whizzes through Hörschel, a pretty half-timbered village deep in the Werra valley and the starting point of the historic Rennsteig hiking trail in the Thuringian Forest. Definitely worth a look out of the window!

Mainhattan

As the train pulls into Frankfurt, the skyscrapers of the city’s central business district – known here as Mainhattan after the River Main on which Frankfurt lies – come into view. With the Commerzbank Tower, one of Europe’s tallest buildings, and more than 30 other buildings dominating the skyline, Frankfurt rivals other metropolises such as Shanghai, London or even New York. Certainly makes for a great photo!

2. The train ride

High speed and maximum convenience. High-speed ICE trains are one of the most convenient ways of travelling between Berlin and Frankfurt, with 2-3 direct trains an hour and numerous other indirect connections. The journey takes approx. 4 hours. Berlin–Frankfurt is one of the busiest routes in Germany, so we recommend reserving a seat or booking in advance for affordable first class tickets. To check how busy your train is expected to be, visit www.bahn.de or download the DB Navigator app.

On-board entertainment. All ICE trains now permit passengers access to the ICE Portal, an extensive media library with films, documentaries, podcasts and music available. Best of all, it’s free of charge! Simply log on to the train’s Wi-Fi on your smartphone, computer or tablet and start watching.

On-board bistro. Each ICE train features an on-board restaurant or bistro offering breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a selection of drinks and snacks. In first class, you can even be served at your seat.

3. Prices

Effective and affordable. If you’re travelling on a budget, check out Flixtrain as an alternative to the more expensive ICE trains. The carriages are a little older and the journey takes a little longer at approx. 5 hours, but the trains still have Wi-Fi, sockets and snacks, and tickets are considerably cheaper with early bird prices from just €9.99.

Early bird fares. Those that know their travel dates in advance should take advantage of Deutsche Bahn’s Saver and Super saver fares. Prices start at €19.90 per person (with discounts available for additional passengers and those travelling with a BahnCard) but may increase or decrease depending on how busy trains are or if deals are on offer. Friday and Saturday trips not booked in advance will be the most expensive. Use the DB Saver fare finder to find the best deals.

Time and again. If you travel regularly on Deutsche Bahn trains, the most affordable option is to get a BahnCard. These travel cards provide discounts of 25% or 50% and are valid for 3 months, 1 year or on a subscription basis. If you travel multiple times a month, consider getting the BahnCard 100 for the entire German rail network and public transport in most German cities.

How to buy your ticket

Tickets can be purchased at the following locations:

  • DB counters in major railway stations across Germany
  • Online at www.bahn.de
  • Ticket machines in most stations
  • DB Navigator app
  • On-board from the conductor (on ICE, IC and EC trains). Buy your ticket as quickly as possible as the conductor may think you are trying to travel without a ticket. This option costs at least €19 extra.

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Cover photo by Mathias Konrath on Unsplash

Michael Bartnik
Written by Michael Bartnik
Michael is a Berliner born and bred. Bucking the stereotype that all Germans love to drive, he never got his driving licence and relies instead on his first-class BahnCard to travel around Germany and Europe. A keen advocate for train travel and the railway industry, Michael has worked for both the Swiss and German Railways. He is based in Berlin.