Germany's cities and larger towns have efficient public-transport systems. Bigger cities, such as Berlin and Munich, integrate buses, trams, U-Bahn (underground, subway) trains and S-Bahn (suburban) trains into a single network.
Fares are determined by zones or time travelled, sometimes by both. A multi-ticket strip (Streifenkarte or 4-Fahrtenkarte) or day pass (Tageskarte) generally offers better value than a single-ride ticket. Normally, tickets must be stamped upon boarding in order to be valid. Fines are levied if you’re caught without a valid ticket.
Germans love to cycle, be it for errands, commuting, fitness or pleasure. Many cities have dedicated bicycle lanes, which must be used unless obstructed. There’s no helmet law, not even for children, although using one is recommended, for obvious reasons. Bicycles must be equipped with a white light at the front, a red one at the back and yellow reflectors on the wheels and pedals.
Buses are a ubiquitous form of public transport, and practically all towns have their own comprehensive network. Buses run at regular intervals, with restricted services in the evenings and at weekends. Some cities operate night buses along popular routes to get night owls safely home.
Occasionally, buses are supplemented by trams (Strassenbahnen), which are usually faster because they travel on their own tracks, largely independent of other traffic. In city centres they sometimes run underground. Bus and tram drivers generally sell single tickets and day passes only.
Metropolitan areas, such as Berlin and Munich, have a system of suburban trains called the S-Bahn. They are faster and cover a wider area than buses or trams but tend to be less frequent. S-Bahn lines are often linked to the national rail network and sometimes connect urban centres. Rail passes are generally valid on these services. Specific S-Bahn lines are abbreviated with ‘S’ followed by the number (eg S1, S7).
Taxis are expensive and, given the excellent public transport systems, not recommended unless you’re in a real hurry. (They can actually be slower than trains or trams if you’re stuck in traffic.) Cabs are metered and charged at a base rate (flagfall) plus a per-kilometre fee. These charges are fixed but vary from city to city. Some drivers charge extra for bulky luggage or night-time rides. It’s rarely possible to flag down a taxi; more typical is to order one by phone (look up Taxiruf in the phone book) or board at a taxi rank. If you're at a hotel or restaurant, ask staff to call one for you. Taxis also often wait outside theatres or performance venues. Smartphone owners can order a taxi via the Mytaxi app (downloadable for free via iTunes or Google Play) in more than 30 German cities.
Uber (www.uber.com), an app that allows private drivers to connect with potential passengers, is not widely used in Germany after a court ruled in 2015 that the services UberPop and UberBlack violate German transportation laws. Uber reacted by creating UberX, which uses only professionally licensed drivers and is available in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Munich. Trip costs tend to be between 3% and 12% less than regular taxi fares. Exclusive to Berlin at the time of writing is UberTaxi, which hooks passengers up with regular taxis. Normal rates apply.
Underground (subway) trains are known as U-Bahn in Germany and are the fastest form of travel in big cities. Route maps are posted in all stations, and at many you’ll be able to pick up a printed copy from the stationmaster or ticket office. The frequency of trains usually fluctuates with demand, meaning there are more trains during commuter rush hours than in the middle of the day. Tickets bought from vending machines must usually be validated before the start of your journey. Specific U-Bahn lines are abbreviated with ‘U’ followed by the number (eg U1, U7).
Hitching (trampen) is never entirely safe in any country, and we don’t recommend it. That said, in some rural areas in Germany that are poorly served by public transport – such as sections of the Alpine foothills and the Bavarian Forest – it is not uncommon to see people thumbing for a ride. If you do decide to hitch, understand that you are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Remember that it’s safer to travel in pairs, and be sure to let someone know where you are planning to go. It’s illegal to hitchhike on autobahns and from their entry or exit ramps.
A safer, inexpensive and eco-conscious form of travelling is ride-sharing, where you travel as a passenger in a private car in exchange for some petrol money. Most arrangements are now set up via free online ride boards, such as www.blablacar.de and www.mitfahren.de. You can advertise a ride yourself or link up with a driver going to your destination.