Getting around with public transportation in Germany

Photo by Bardia Khajenoori

USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs

Public transportation is the ideal way to travel in Germany and throughout Europe. With many forms of transit and a vast network of stops across the country, you don’t have to travel far to find a connection.

The various levels of transit services combine to connect nearly every city, town and village in Germany. Stops and stations may be served by one or more agencies and types of transit. The Verkehrs- und Tarifverbund Stuttgart, or VVS, coordinates operations between all transit companies in the greater Stuttgart area so that one ticket may be used across all available modes of transport.

German rail and much of public transit effectively operates on the honor system. Travelers purchase tickets and step onto trains without being checked upon entry. Passengers with multiple-use paper tickets must stamp their ticket on the bus or U-Bahn, or at the station platform or entrance to the train station when taking S-Bahn or regional trains. Conductors periodically check for tickets and the fines for riding without one can be hefty. It’s important to have valid tickets for every trip, no matter how short. Most station ticket machines now have a touch screen interface and accept credit cards.

Local transit

Buying tickets can be done at stations, from a bus driver, or through a mobile device. Mobile apps specific to the Stuttgart region are SSB Move and VVS Mobil, while DB Navigator works for both long distance and local travel nationwide; all are easy to use and fully functional in English. Setting up an account with one or more of these apps (storing your credit card information) allows you to purchase tickets on the go. After purchase, the app stores a bar code which can be shown to ticket checkers as proof of purchase. Once the ticket is downloaded, you don’t need a data connection to retrieve it; just be sure it’s there, and keep your phone charged while you’re traveling.

Various types of tickets are available for local transit, from single ride tickets valid in one direction for three hours to “short trip” tickets and day tickets for individuals and groups of up to five people.

Transit maps are available at station platforms, online and within mobile apps. Local travel is broken down into circular zones radiating outward from downtown Stuttgart. The number of zones you travel through during your journey, including start and end stations, determines how many zones you need on your ticket. Inputting your start and end points into one of the mobile apps or ticket machines will allow you to see exactly how many zones you will need.

For example, travel to downtown Stuttgart departing from Böblingen (near Panzer Kaserne) requires three zones, while leaving from Vaihingen (near Patch), Möhringen (near Kelley) or near Robinson Barracks requires only one, as these
locations are already in the same zone.

Travel from downtown Stuttgart to Stuttgart Airport requires a 2-zone ticket.

Types of trains

Deutsche Bahn (DB) is the primary rail operator in Germany. DB operates several levels of rail service ranging from local commuter trains to express trains that cross the country in a matter of hours. You can book long distance travel through a Bahn office using a VAT form, or online/via mobile app without a VAT form (the tax on train tickets is 7%).

S-Bahn trains connect Stuttgart with closer outlying areas, with more stops and greater frequency closer to the city center. An S-Bahn train is a no-frills commuter train without toilets or concessions. A Regiobahn (regional) train, also red, reaches further within a region and can be very cost-effective. This type of train has toilets and often two levels of seating.

The white IC (InterCity) and ICE (InterCity Express) trains are for long distances, to include neighboring countries. IC and ICE train seats may be reserved, and ICEs will have a dining car and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Agents at staffed ticket offices can help you find the best fares for travel or assist with purchasing transit subscriptions.


DB offers discount cards, called BahnCards, which offer percentage-based discounts on fares for long distance travel. They are normally valid for a year but are sometimes offered in a ‘trial’ version for a lower price and shorter validity period. BahnCards can be a great deal for travelers who travel with DB frequently, so if purchasing tickets for long distance travel at a staffed ticket office, consider asking about how getting one would affect the price. Note that they must be canceled in writing at least six weeks before the renewal date, or they will be automatically renewed with payment due (and without VAT savings). Cancellation is as easy as submitting a form letter to the DB website, and it can be done as early as desired. Providing this notice simply advises DB not to renew the card; it will still be valid through the expiry date.

With a BahnCard 25, travelers get 25 percent off all Flexpreis and Sparpreis fares. Flexpreis tickets are refundable and not bound to a specific train or itinerary, while Sparpreis tickets have more restrictions and offer greater savings at the cost of flexibility. Booking earlier offers lower-priced Sparpreis tickets.

With a BahnCard 50, travelers receive 50 percent off all Flexpreis fares and 25 percent off Sparpreis fares. As the BC50 doesn’t offer any additional savings on the saver fare tickets, this card is best for travelers who prefer flexible tickets or who travel more spontaneously.

Transit subscription options

The Deutschlandticket, introduced in May 2023, offers unlimited use of local transit options throughout Germany, charged as a subscription which is cancellable on a monthly basis. A price of €49 per month has been confirmed through 2024. A price of €49 per month has been confirmed through 2024. This ticket, despite its widespread validity, costs even less than a one zone subscription for Stuttgart previously did.

Offered only in “paperless” form via smartphone or chip card, the ticket is valid for all types of local and regional public transit, including buses, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, and non-long distance trains (with prefixes RB, RE, IRE, and MEX) across the country. This also includes the ‘Zacke’ (rack railway) and Seilbahn (historic cable car) in Stuttgart, both of which are operated by the city’s transit company (SSB), and ferries operated by the local transit company in cities such as Berlin and Hamburg.

They are not valid for travel on long distance trains (with prefixes ICE, IC, EC, or the Flixtrain) or long distance buses (such as Flixbus). The official DB Navigator app has an option to route your journey through regional transit to ensure that you only use included services.

While there is no age restriction on the Deutschlandticket, children under 6 travel for free in Deutsche Bahn (DB) trains and in Stuttgart regional transit, so they do not need their own tickets.

A youth version of the ticket, called the D-Ticket JugendBW, is available at a cost of €365 per person, per year. The ticket can only be purchased for people aged 21 and younger. It is available initially as a one-year subscription but can be canceled on a monthly basis after that period.

Baden-Württemberg Regional Ticket and Quer-durchs-Land Ticket

Two special day tickets sold by DB offer the Deutschlandticket’s flexibility without its commitment.

The “Baden-Württemberg-Ticket” applies to regional transit, not IC or ICE trains, and your usage must begin after 9 a.m. on weekdays; it is valid all day on weekends and German holidays. This ticket is perfect for day trips on regional trains and the S-Bahn/local transit for solo travel or with a group of friends within Baden-Württemberg (going outside the VVS service area). Make sure your train will arrive before the ticket expires.

The “Quer-durchs-Land” (across the country) ticket offers unlimited regional train travel for one day throughout Germany. Like the BW Ticket, it can be good for up to five people. This type of ticket does not include travel on true “long distance” trains like the ICE – traveling to Berlin on this ticket, for example, would take 10-11 hours and multiple changes.