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Interrail Germany: from Mainz
Mainz is a large town in Western Germany, not too far from Frankfurt. It is a beautiful town and home to a handful of notable sights. My hometown, Watford, just outside London, is twinned with the city, thus why I visited last Carnival. I loved it!
Consequently, I was looking forward to going back to the city at some point this year, and thought it might be nice to visit some of the other major cities in the region: Stuttgart, Cologne and Dusseldorf are all within two hours. However, individual train tickets seem to be astronomical - and I'm from London, where a day travelcard takes me a month to earn on HubPages!!!
I was fortunate enough to come across Interrail, after speaking to my well travelled Uncle. I discovered one can buy an 8 day Germany ticket for £175, something that I plan to purchase. Due to the fantastic German network, it is possible to get literally anywhere in the country within six hours, making it a perfect oppourtunity for me to discover the entire country. I would estimate that the average train ticket in Germany costs 50 Euros, thus a day should cost approximately 100. Interrail should, therefore, save approximately 70% on fares; this makes it highly economical.
Mainz is a great base for which to explore the rest of Germany, as nowhere is too far with an Interrail pass. Mainz is a typical German town, more authentic than other touristy areas. As seen from the previous section, Mainz is extremely well connected to the rest of the world. Mainz Hauptbahnhof (main station) is an excellent station, due to its easy access to almost every German city within 5-6 hours!
How to get to Mainz
From London: There are multiple ways to reach Mainz from London.
By car, expect a 462 mile, 8-hour journey, via Calais, Brussels and Aachen, costing approximately £93 in petrol each way.
By train, take Eurostar to Brussels from St Pancras, and then either trains to Mainz via Cologne or Frankfurt. This costs approximately £90 return, although prices are dependant on time of day travelled. It only takes 8 hours (relatively comparable when considering flight time in addtion to time spent in airports and airport transfers) and would allow for a more leisurely journey allowing for a layover in Brussels, if taking an earlier train.More expensive trains can be taken via Paris.
By bus, overnight buses leave Victoria Coach Station at 21:30 and arrive at Frankfurt for 13:00 costing £90 when booked at least ten days in advance with Eurolines (part of national express).
By plane, budget airline Ryanair flights start at £16 each way. However this can be misleading as the cheaper flights often fly to Frankfurt Hahn as opposed to Frankfurt's main airport. Although this problem is less magnified for Mainz (as it is in between the two), shuttle buses still cost £10 each way. Furthermore, RyanAir, like most other budget airlines charge fees for baggage; making a seemingly cheap option often exceed the cost of the other methods, and often take the same time.
By plane, chartered airlines fly from different London airports to Frankfurt's main airports. Lufthansa is often the cheapest, flying from Gatwick, Heathrow and London City airports. British Airways also compete although they are marginally more expensive. London City airport is the most practical airport from London's centre: take the DLR to London City airport, towards Woolwich Arsenal, trains every 10 minutes from Bank (interchange with Waterloo and city (to/from Waterloo), Central line (West Ruislip to North-east London via Shepherds Bush, Oxford Circus, St. Pauls, Liverpool Street and Stratford), Northern line: bank branch only (Edgware, Mill East or High Barnet to Morden via Camden Town, Euston, King's Cross, London Bridge, Elephant & Castle and Kennington), Circle line (Liverpool St., King's Cross, Baker Street, Edgware Road, Notting Hill Gate, South Kensington, Victoria, Westminster and Embankment) and District Line (Ealing Broadway, Richmond, Wimbledon or Kensington Olympia to Edgware Road or Upminster (via Hammersmith, Victoria, Westminster, Embankment, West Ham and Barking). They often fly smaller commercial planes, providing an alternative style of journey.
From the rest of the UK:
Lufthansa also fly to Frankfurt from: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham.They also cover: Inverness to Dusseldorf, Edinburgh to Cologne and Dusseldorf, Newcastle to Dusseldorf, Manchester to Cologne, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart, Birmngham to Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Munich and Newquay to Dusseldorf ; providing alternative route options.
Failing this, it is easy to reach London from any part of the United Kingdom, and use one of the four transport methods mentioned above.
Fortunately for the rest of the world, Mainz is just a short journey from Frankfurt International, Germany's busiest (and indeed the 9th busiest in the world) airport. Combine this, with it being Lufthansa's base and their A380 worldwide services, there is access from many American airports. Routes to Frankfurt include: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Boston, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte and Miami. A minority of these fly to Dusseldorf and/or Munich as well.
Lufthansa fly the following routes: Montreal to Frankfurt as well as eight other European destinations including Munich. Toronto to Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, as well as a large collection of European cities. Calgary and Vancouver to Frankfurt (and London).
From Rest of the World:
Lufthansa now offer reasonably competitive flights to its base in Frankfurt from various locations across multiple continents. These destinations include Buneos Aires, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro in South America; Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the Middle East; Johannesburg and Cape Town in Africa and Bangkok, Dehli, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Singapore, Beijing and Tokyo in Asia; making travel to this part of the world both simple and inexpensive.
Major Airports to Mainz
The major airport in Germany is Frankfurt and this is used for most destinations mentioned above. From Frankfurt Airport the train to Mainz Hauptbahnhof (Main station) takes just 26 minutes by using the S-Bahn to Wiesbaden (a worthwhile visit for the day - Bus 6 from Mainz).
In previous paragraphs I have mentioned other airports that flights may arrive into: Frankfurt Hahn is accessed only by Shuttle Bus which takes 1hr 10 and costs £10 each way. The other four mentioned: Munich, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Stuttgart are accessible by train. Since, this Hub discusses purchasing an Interrail ticket, you could consider using this trip as a day although if used in both directions equates to two days out of your eight, although I would only reccomend this with Munich, as it is not cost effective with the others.
From Munich, trains cost 79 euros standard although certain specific trains can be cut by 10 or 20 or even 30 euros. This will take about 4 hours whether you use direct trains (several a day) or alternative routes via Frankfurt or Mannheim. There is an option approximately every 30 minutes. It costs an additional 10 euros and will add an additional hour to travel time if travelling from/to the airport, so perhaps utilise late flight times and make a stop in the city, as you must travel there before connecting with a train North.
From Cologne, prices fluctuate greatly, however there are methods of travel for under 20 euros, meaning travelling to Cologne need not be an expensive detour. Some of the cheap trains go via the city centre in addition so a stop over is definitely possible. From the airport it takes just 2 hours, with regular departures. This train will pass along the Rhine valley, which is a beautiful excuse to fly to Cologne instead! From Dusseldorf, hourly trains via Dusseldorf's centre cost 29 euros and take just under three hours. From Stuttgart, trains average out at 2 hours in length, via central Stuttgart and cost upwards of 19 euros.
Interrail, I have found on my discoveries, provide both 'Global Pass' which covers Europe and individual passes which are for a single country. Each of the 27 single country passes fit into one of 5 price categories: £64, £80, £132, £170 and £175 for eight days, that you can travel within a frame of 1 month.
Germany is the most expensive option but actually is not a huge amount of money when you calculate alternative travel costs.
Interrail is only available for those living in an EU country. For those who don't, Eurail offers alternative methods. Unfortunately they do not have an equivalent of just Germany so you would have to buy the cheapest multiple country pass inclusive of Germany - the Denmark-Germany pass costing 238 Euros. When converted into pounds this is only a mere £17 extra. For which you could visit Copenhagen as opposed to one of the German cities mentioned below. There is an additional section regarding this to be found below.
Eurail also offers additional combinations of passes which may appeal to even those applicable for Interrail. They offer combinations with a neighbouring country to Germany over eight days, which can be spread out over two months as opposed to just one. They also offer a 3 country pass for 296 euros over eight days spanning two months, cheaper than the Austria-Germany, Poland-Germany, France-Germany and Switzerland-Germany options, so this is often a more economical option. Add another country for just 27 euros too.
So, the plan? Purchase an eight day ticket to Germany at £175 or an eight day ticket to Germany and Denmark for 238 Euros, whichever applies and read below for some brilliant itenaries that can be made - you will be surprised by the distance one can travel and the potential savings to be made!
German Trains are frequent, fast and hugely reliable. To find any timetable head to bahn.com for an easy way of viewing the options available.
Using Interrail in Germany is incredibly easy on most trains. Thus, this hub will avoid those which are not (require a surcharge due to compulsory reservation) and this unfortunately eliminates certain cities and may incur longer journeys.
Where to visit within Germany
Berlin: The capital of Germany, a beautiful city, home to the 1936 Olympic Stadium (where Adolf Hitler's racial policy was famously destroyed due to the victory of black athlete Jesse Owens in the 100m sprint); it is an imposing edifice, its architecture projects Nazi ideals and is an interesting attraction both historically and from the sports perspective. The city is home to the Reichstag, the German parliament building, as well as various memorials regarding the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie also feature on the list of attractions, worth a visit. There is plenty to do here and fortunately due to the fantastic train system, visitors can have up to almost ten hours here. Take the 23:59 train to Hamburg (arriving at 06:51) to encompass the 19:00 rule (only counts as one day) and to allow for almost seven hours to sleep as the train passes through Cologne, Dusseldorf and Dortmund. Then catch the 07:06 train to Berlin, arriving at 08:46, for an early start to what will surely be a packed day in the capital. On the return journey, the last applicable train that can be caught is at 18:30, via Frankfurt centre, arriving at 22:49, and taking the 23:17 S-Bahn, arriving in Mainz just short of midnight.
Stuttgart and Heidelberg: These two cities, are both in the Baden-Wurttemberg region. Stuttgart is a large city with multiple churches, squares, parks and museums; as well as many notable buildings. It has no less than eight excellent high-up views of the cityscape, including the main station's - which is free - worthwhile for the first activity upon arrival in the city, perhaps. Heidelberg is in a river valley between Stuttgart and Mainz, worthwhile sights include the longest pedestrian shopping street in Germany, the Castle, and their hill for spectacular views. Both very different, both very interesting. The proposed route uses mostly direct trains, making the transportation less tiresome than other optional itenaries. I suggest the 05:15 - 06:39 train from Mainz to Stuttgart. Return to the station for 1.00 to allow time to climb the station's tower for a promised spectacular view. Board the 2.05 train to Heidelberg, arriving there at 2.44. Stay for dinner in Heidelberg and board the 10.10 train, arriving in Mainz at 23:29, changing trains at Mannheim. This allows for over 7 hours in each location visited on that day, plenty of time to sample the highlights of both, contrasting cities.
Cologne and Dusseldorf: These two neighboring cities are further North from Mainz, on the River Rhein. Along with Mainz, these three cities host the three largest German Carnivals every year. If you time your trip right, this might be another reason to visit Mainz, or these two. Cologne is home to its famous cathedral, twelve Romanesque churches and synagogue, proving it to be both historical and spiritual. Agnesviertel, is a quarter worth a visit due to its shops and monuments. The city is also home to multiple museums. Rival town Dusseldorf just down the road, is famous for its old town. Various other monuments and sights regarding the River Rhein and its cuisine make it a worhwhile stop. Similair to the previous paragraph, their proximity to Mainz (compared with other German cities) mean more time can be spent there as opposed to travelling. Proposed route: 06:17-08:07 (Mainz to Cologne), 15:10-15:31 (Cologne to Dusseldorf) and 21:27-23:38 (Dusseldorf to Mainz (via Cologne)). This allows for 7 and 8 hours to be spent in the cities respectively.
Munich: Germany's third largest city can be enjoyed for up to 14 hours, when visiting from Mainz. The city's famed for its magnificent architecture, fantastic museums (they far succeed even those in the capital city), royal streets, squares and palaces, and much more. Besides all these wonderful activities, Munich hosts Oktoberfest, every october, famous for its German beer and German sausages. As previously mentioned, 14 hours, is available in the city using Interrail. Take the S-Bahn leaving Mainz at 00:02, in the direction of Hanau, to Frankfurt Airport. From here take the 00:46 train, which arrives in Munich at 05:21, passing through Heidelberg and Stuttgart on the way making for an early start and allowing for four-and-a-half hours sleep onboard. The last train to save spending two days on your pass is at 19:40, arrving at 23:50, with a 5 minute transfer at Wurzberg.
Hamburg and Luneburg: Hamburg is Europe's second largest port and Germany's second largest city. Fantastic shops fill the streets surrounding the station. There is plenty to do in this large city, canals, lakes, museums, shops and more. The Harbour is to be found at the city's heart and there are many things to do surrounding it. Take an oppourtunity to explore the waterways by bus (they have more bridges than a combined sum of Amsterdam, Venice and London!) and/or sample their interesting cuisine: watch out for eel, its everywhere! Luneburg is a great place to visit, relatively unknown, it has a large pedestrianised inner town, which is both historic and aesthetically pleasing. The Town Hall and beautiful square make for a nice visit, away from busier Hamburg. In the main square, the chocolate shop, is a must-visit. There is a direct overnight train connecting Mainz to Hamburg, leaving at 23:59 and arriving at 06:51 allowing a good nights rest. From Hamburg to Luneburg, there are multiple trains an hour, taking just thirty minutes. By taking the 15:28-15:59 should allow for the best ratio of time spent in the two cities. Lastly from Luneburg to Mainz, leave Luneburg at 19:27, alight at Funda, take the 21:57 to Frankfurt and lastly the S-Bahn to Mainz, arriving shortly before midnight.
Hanover and Lubeck: Hanover is the capital of Lower-Saxony. Worthwhile sights include Herrenhauser Gardens, a replica of Versailles, Castle Marienburg and the Machsee lake. Lubeck is a unique sight, a fantastically preserved old city, located on an island in the Trave river. Admire the beautiful architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most notable buildings include the town hall, two preserved medieval gates and St Marien's Church, the largest in Lubeck. Lubeck is also famous for its marzipan (although this can be bought in Kaufhaus' ground floor in Mainz, so don't obsess about buying it here!) which is a fantastic gift idea. Lubeck is close to Travemunde a baltic beach town and harbour, where one can watch the ships go by. Trains leave Lubeck every hour at three minutes past the hour. The journey time is 23 minutes. The station is a mere 400m from the beach. Trains return at 34 minutes past. The trains leaving Travemunde continue to Hamburg, from where it is possible to catch a train to Hanover, however it is up to thirty minutes quicker to return to Lubeck and continue through the prescribed route via Luneburg. The two cities can be enjoyed for five hours each in order to only use one interrail day. Lubeck can be reached by following the trip to Hamburg (above paragraph) and then boarding the 07:06 train, arriving at Lubeck for 07:48. The trip from Lubeck to Hannover is longer than most, when the itenaries include two cities, expect a journey time in excess of two hours. One of the shortest options is leaving at 13:09 and travelling to Luneburg, taking an hour, and then take the 14:28 to Hannover, arriving at 15:21. The last train out of Hannover would be the 20:41, arriving at Frankfurt for 23:00 and then taking the 23:17 S-Bahn to arrive in Mainz, 5 minutes before midnight.
Nuremberg and Regensburg: Nuremberg, Bavaria's second largest city, is home to many sights, worth a look. The old town is home to the Castle, city walls and many other noteworthy attractions. There are many mueseums and several of the suburbs are also worth a visit. Don't forget to try their legendary sausages. Regensburg is one of Germany's oldest towns and its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. The main attraction is the UNESCO city centre, highlights are the cathedral and the stone bridge. It often feels more Italian than German, presenting an alternative feel to your trip. I would reccomend bringing some Nuremberg sausages with you and buy some typical Regensburg mustard to accompany it. The proposed itenary would be: depart Mainz at 00:02 on the S-Bahn towards Hanau and alighting at Frankfurt Airport some twenty minutes later. Then take the 00:46 to Augsburg, which takes exactly 4 hours, allowing for some shut eye, and then take the final leg at 05:31 arriving in Nuremberg, shortly before 07:00. From here trains to Regensburg leave reguarly. The fastest are direct trains taking 55 minutes, stopping nowhere inbetween. These leave at 08:30, 10:30, 12:30, 14:30 (the recommended one for this trip), 16:30 and 18:30. From Regensburg the latest one can leave is 19:19, arriving in Mainz at 23:55, changing at Nuremburg and Frankfurt along the way. For an easier journey consider leaving earlier at 18:30, as that train is direct to Mainz.
International Trips: Beneleux
As earlier mentioned, non EU residents cannot purchase an Interrail pass, but must instead buy a marginally more expensive pass either to three countries of choice or Germany and another country. Bar Denmark, Czech Republic and the Beneleux (Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands) it is cheaper to buy a three country pass.
Denmark is impractical as Copenhagen, the capital is at least 12 hours each way to Mainz, meaning a day trip is out of the question, as are the majority of Danish cities. However, if you are happy just visiting the German cities, there are plenty to fill eight days, then this is the cheapest option.
Next price up, only 18 euros more expensive than Denmark, and thus highly worthwhile considering, is the Beneleux Pass, which provides access to Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium. Mainz is practical from all three.
Luxembourg is three hours each way. Using the 06:17-09:45 method from Mainz to Luxemborg and the 20:17-23:38 option on the return leg (both via Koblenz and Trier), would allow for little over 10 and a half hours in the city; visiting all the city has to offer. This presents a great opportunity to visit Europe's second smallest country - don't let its size put you off, there's plenty to entertain yourself with. The trains to/from Luxemborg usually cost over 100 euros return, so you can instantly see the pass's economical benefits.
Within Belgium, the two popular options would be Brussels and Brugges. Brussels is three hours, via Cologne or Frankfurt. This can, utilising the correct trains, allow a long day in the city; from (leaving at 06:17) 09:35 to 18:25 (arriving at 23:38), just short of 9 hours; plenty of time to visit the Manneken Pis and eat some waffles.
Brugges, 'The Venice of the north' and UNESCO World Heritage SIte can be done, albeit only enough time for 4 hours there, via Cologne and Brussels. The easiest trains, allowing for maximum time are: 06:07 - 11:02 via Cologne and Brussels, and the 16:58 train from Brugge to Brussels. From there take the 18:25 train to either Cologne or Frankfurt Airport, and then make a connection to Mainz, arriving at 22:18 and 22:38 respectively.
For those that wish to do both in one day, albeit slightly rushed, could potentially visit Brugges for lunch, arriving at 11:02, and visit Brussels for early dinner, leaving at 18:25, using either the 13:58-14:55 or 14:35-15:34 options, the former allowing slightly longer in Brussels, and the latter vice versa.
Finally, the Netherlands, there is enough time to visit the Canals of Amsterdam for over 9 hours, meaning plenty of time for a fantastic daytrip. The trains required to do so are 04:32-09:25 and 18:41-23:25 both via Frankfurt Airport (note: reservations, incurring a few euros extra cost (these have been widely ignored in this hub), are possibly required for one train in this route).
Other cities in the Netherlands provide shorter journeys. The Hague can be visited for eight and a half hours, Rotterdam for the same, Eindhoven is far nearer and thus can be reached by 9am, and the last applicable train at 8.15pm allowing for a longer day, 10 hours can also be spent in Nijmegen.
These are all close together so multiple destination journeys within the Netherlands are possible. For example The Hague and Amsterdam are just 48 minutes apart, with direct trains leaving at 23 and 53 past every reasonable hour.
International Trips: France & Switzerland
Since Prague is also hugely impractical, the only other option is a three country pass. Due to Mainz's location, I would recommend including France (with view of visiting the south east of the country) and Switzerland.
Using an overnight train, via Basel, Zurich can be reached by 8am. By leaving on the last train at 19:00, would allow for 11 hours in the city, the largest in Switzerland, home to many notable landmarks. The beautiful old town of Basel can be enjoyed for up to 13 hours. 11 hours is available in the capital Bern, home to many famous museums. You can travel as far as the most diplomatic city in the world: Geneva, and still have over 5 hours there!
For France, unfortunately the Riviera is out of the question. With the exception of Paris, (where it is possible to catch the 05:40-09:50 and 19:06-23:29, both via Mannheim, although incurring a reservation cost) concentrate your sights on the North East of the country: Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne and Franche-Comte regions. The three most notable towns are Colmar, for its beautifully preserved old town; Nancy, for Palace Stanislas and various other UNESCO Squares, museums and parks; and Strasbourg, for its both beautiful and historic centre.
For Nancy, there are two main ways to get there: either overnight or early morning. Overnight involves leaving Mainz at 01:39, and alighting at Offenburg at 05:19, this train would allow for little over three and a half hours sleep. There is then a long transfer (1:13) before the train to Strasbourg at 06:32, which takes just 30 minutes. Finally the 07:20 train to Nancy will arrive at 08:50. Alternatively, if the idea of sleeping on a train is unappealing, then take the 05:40 train to Mannheim, and the 06:27 to Karlsruhe, before boarding the TGV to Strasbourg and then an additional hour-and-a-half to Nancy, arriving at 09:43 - the TGV requires compulsory reservation and thus will incur a small additional fee. On the return leg the last route is 18:15 (the later route is directed through Luxembourg and thus is not necessarily covered on your pass), which arrives at 23:29 in Mainz, having made transfers at Strasbourg, Offenburg and Mannheim. This allows either nine-and-a-half or eight-and-three-quarter hours depending on choice of route.
Strasbourg is ninety minutes and one train connection closer to Mainz. This means by following the route proposed in the prior paragraph, it can be reached at either 07:04 or 08:20 and leave at 20:22. This allows for a very long day in Strasbourg, either 12 or 13 hours.
Finally Colmar, this is a 30 minute journey from Strasbourg consequently the maximum potential stay here would be approximately 11 hours.
Due to their close proximity, Strasbourg and Colmar could potentially be combined, whereas Nancy should be left as a full day affair, since there is so much to do there.
Please note, train times, prices of tickets and other variables may alter over the course of time, so please always double check what you are reading here on the official websites: bahn.com for train timetables or interrail.com/eurail.com for pass related queries. Many thanks. I hope you enjoy your trip!!!