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June 30, 2010. As we have said before, it is not compulsory to take the fast train. On most routes through Europe, there are plenty of slow train alternatives, often more scenic and sometimes much cheaper.
A great weekend bargain in Germany
On the weekends, for example, travelers can roam the length and breadth of Germany by local and regional trains using the Schönes Wochenende Ticket (SWT), which allows unlimited travel for just €37. And the beauty of the SWT is that you can take along up to four other travelers without having to pay an extra cent.
We have friends who last Sunday traveled from Aachen (on the Belgian border) right across Germany to Salzburg using the SWT, effectively paying €7.40 each for a journey of over 500 miles that took in the Rhine gorge and much more fine scenery. The SWT can even be used to selected stations beyond Germany’s borders (i.e. Salzburg in Austria, Schaffhausen in Switzerland, Wissembourg in France and Szczecin in Poland).
Cheap regional tickets in Germany
While the German SWT is a weekend-only deal, regional tickets in Germany give the freedom to roam within a more limited area on any day, but only after 9 a.m. Mondays through Fridays. These tickets are named after the federal states (Länder in German) in which they are principally marketed. These tickets are typically priced at €20 for one person or €28 for a group of up to five people traveling together.
Roaming Germany’s Baltic coast
The Länder tickets are often valid for substantially larger areas than the federal states after which they are named.
You might expect the “Schleswig-Holstein” ticket only to be valid in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Think again. This ticket also covers the German states of Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, not to mention selected cross-border stretches of railway into Denmark and Poland. This validity area thus covers Germany’s entire Baltic coast and offshore islands (several of which have causeways carrying railways to the mainland). So devotees of branch lines can use the Schleswig-Holstein ticket to travel very cheaply along rural rail routes from Padborg in Danish Jutland to the Polish town of Swinoujscie.
Similarly, the Sachsen ticket is valid far beyond the borders of Saxony. It can be used over a huge area that encompasses part or all of five German states, two cross-border routes into Poland, and one through the Czech Republic.
As with all Länder tickets, and with the Schönes Wochenende Ticket (SWT), just buy the ticket at the ticket machine before hopping on your first train. You can book a ticket online, but there is really no need to do this. The online tickets are no cheaper than those sold at station ticket machines.
In many border areas of Europe, special rail passes are available, even to non-residents, to promote mobility in frontier regions. These are superb deals, often covering not merely the immediate border region but substantial areas well beyond the frontier.
The following are particularly good bargains for one-day tickets:
1. The Euregio Bodensee Tageskarte gives unlimited travel around Lake Constance (called the Bodensee in German) including ferries and selected rail routes in Austria, Germany and Switzerland: €28
2. The Euregio Maas-Rhein Tageskarte permits rail and bus travel throughout parts of eastern Belgium, the Limburg area of the Netherlands and over the German border to Aachen and beyond: €15.50
3. The EuroNeisse Ticket covers a large part of northern Bohemia (Czech Republic), part of Silesia (Poland) and eastern Saxony (Germany) and affords unlimited travel on trains, buses and trams: €10
All the passes mentioned in this post give travelers the chance to really explore a region or make longer hops at a bargain price. Local trains with frequent stops along the way often give a sense of engaging with landscape and communities in a way that is less possible on fast express services.