Slower Travel: How to Buy Cheap European Train Tickets (Plus: Travel Itinerary from Germany to Sweden)


Back in January I showed you how Christian and I travel Europe in my article on train travel from the UK to Germany via Belgium. This time, let me share a trip I am taking as a solo traveller!

Vineyards and Scandi Forests

As I am writing this, I am sitting on a train to Stockholm Central, typing on my laptop. I am on day 2 of travelling by train and have come a long way from the South! My summer trip started out with a flight from Manchester to Cologne (best flight option currently by Germanwings) for a family event. But as I was preparing to book my normal return flight, a Facebook post caught my eye:

“Need someone to look after our cat while we travel. Would any of our friends be interested?"

This came from a friend who lives in Stockholm! A new cat to hang out with and accommodation in an apartment in Stockholm? I was excited, and after some planning we matched up the dates and I decided to make my summer trip home to Germany into a big train adventure.

Here’s how the trip breaks down:

Day 1: Travel by plane from Manchester to Cologne, then by train to Wittlich Hbf

Img ©Christian

Img ©Christian

The first destination in Germany is always the Mosel valley to me. I was there to visit my family, but don’t think that this wouldn’t be a beautiful place for you. The Mittelmosel can be reached by train to Wittlich Hbf with a bus connection to any of the small villages. It’s focused on winemaking, with lush green vineyards on the hills and a stunning river winding its way through the valley.

Language Tip: Hbf stands for Hauptbahnhof, the central station of any city.

The Mosel region is world famous for its wines and amazing scenery. Visit a local wine estate and enjoy a wine tasting with the original producers - guys who know what a vineyard, wine cellar and tractor look like. There are over 15 wineries in my home village alone, and of course I recommend Weingut Hammes (tell them I sent you!). The biggest wine festival of the region is called the Weinfest der Mittelmosel and takes place in Bernkastel/Kues in early September. If you are in town, don’t miss out on the parades, funfair, fireworks and the wine street.

The temperatures during my visit regularly reached 35 degrees, with nighttime temperatures around 20. Some of my favourite things to do include getting amazing gelato at Venezia, swimming outdoors and camping by the river.

Day 7: Travel from Wittlich to Hamburg, via Koblenz.

This is a 7 hour journey including one change and features the lovely rivers Mosel and Rhine as its backdrop up until Cologne. On the trip you will get to see German landscapes changing to the flat and the nautical. Hamburg makes a very beautiful overnight destination, as everything is close by and the city’s sights are within easy reach. It also allowed me time to catch up with a long-time-no-see school friend, Verena who is chief blogger at Hamburg von Innen. She has kindly put a few tips together for you so you can get the most out of Hamburg:

Start at the Landungsbrücken and get set for your day with a Fischbrötchen, the classic Northern German snack. While you're there, take the lift to the old Elbtunnel and cross the river to admire the new Elbphilarmonie building (set to complete in 2017). The views in this part of town are fabulous.
Walk through the Portugiesenviertel to the MichelHamburg's iconic church which offers the best views in town from its tower. On the way there, stop at Milch for an excellent coffee break. You shouldn't miss Jungfernstieg and Binnenalster, with a visit to Warnecke for some ice cream.
Take a stroll around the Speicherstadt and admire this UNESCO-listed cultural treasure. The best Hamburg-style food is Labskaus or Hamburger Pannfisch with an Alsterwasser (shandy).

My accommodation in Hamburg was a friendly little Airbnb apartment in Altona.

Day 8: Travel from Hamburg to Stockholm, via Copenhagen

There’s currently no direct train running between Hamburg and Stockholm, but the trip via Copenhagen is fun and adds little time in total. For this journey, I was on the tracks for 12 hours in total, with a 2 hour changeover. Hamburg to Denmark offers views of picturesque Friesland and a crossing of the Baltic Sea to get to the island of Fehmarn.

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The journey features a truly exciting extra: Your train drives ONTO A BOAT. I was absolutely amazed by this. The ScandLines crossing between Fehmarn, a German island in the Baltic Sea, and Roedby in Denmark takes 45 minutes and gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs. 

The Swedish part of the train journey is all trees and meadows and water, a wealth of things to look at. The SJ train was comfortable and fast, offered free wi-fi, plugs and a little bistro so that you couldn’t be more comfortable.

Here in Stockholm, I’m getting around using the T-Bana (the city metro). My city guide book recommends Skansen, the open air museum to take visitors back to Viking times. I’m also planning to give a little bit of time to a nice walk around Södermalm, the beautiful old town and the open air baths. Being self-employed and staying here as a house sitter has made it possible for me to combine working and discovering this new city and I am very much looking forward to my stay (and to hanging out with Moppet, the cat I’m looking after).

How to Purchase your Tickets

Although navigating the Deutsche Bahn website can take a little getting used to, its wealth of connection and saver fare data means it remains a must when you are planning Euro train travel. Journeys abroad are open for booking as long as they’re offered by or in partnership with Deutsche Bahn. Alternatively, try The Trainline Europe.

I decided to opt for a mobile ticket, meaning I had to download the DB Navigator app and log in. I was amazed at how well this worked, conveniently allowing me to access my tickets and timetables on my phone, research alternative routes and get platform information. Even on the trip from Copenhagen to Stockholm, the conductor accepted my foreign e-tickets without question. Deutsche Bahn offers the option of posting the train ticket to you in hard copy. Be aware that lost tickets will not be replaced if you take that option, and there’s a small extra charge for it.

I bougnt a BahnCard too, a special offer from Deutsche Bahn which gives you 25% off each journey you take. Since the full trip from Wittlich to Stockholm was booked and paid through the Deutsche Bahn website, I was able to make this journey for just €110. That’s an outstanding deal, especially since I realised that it includes a ferry!

Notes on Learning German, Swedish and Danish

Learning German? My native language? Oh yes! This trip took place so recently after I developed my new German pronunciation course that my ears were more attentive than ever. My parents and I watched the news and listened closely to make sure the pronunciation is real Hochdeutsch. And we spoke more Moselfränkisch to each other than ever. On the train trip to Koblenz, I got to listen to some Trier boys drink beer and speak dialect. Do any of these expressions make sense to you German learners? I love and understand them all:

  • Hal dau mol de Schniss weile!
  • Du komen am Sunndisch die Frimmen vorbéi.
  • Dau Flappes!
  • Eisch hann die Freck, haut kann eisch néist.

The prize for most languages during a train announcement goes to the Danes this time, who racked up Danish, Swedish, German and English on their leg of my journey. I didn’t really stop in Copenhagen for very long, skimming over the Danish language on my trip to Sweden.

Everyone I have spoken to in Stockholm so far speaks English at an incredibly high level. But once again, you can tell that the “they all speak English anyway” excuse just doesn’t fly. They may be able to speak English to me, but they don’t choose to. I am happily wandering around at the moment armed with this little beauty, a dictionary from 1975:

The way I use my dictionary to help me learn the language is so much fun to me. I carry it around everywhere and take time to look up words that I see come around again and again (på, och, uttlev) and translate written texts. The dictionary also contains a pronunciation guide, and once I feel like I’m ready to do it I’ll try out my new word on a Swedish person just to check I’m getting it right. Spoken Swedish is not making a lot of sense to me yet, which is to be expected on day 2 a 10 day visit. But every day, I'll be adding words and making memories.

And here’s a little closing note on the languages of this trip (no Norwegian included): 

If it’s got an ø (pronounced “gulp” or something like that), it must be Danish. If it’s got an å (pronounced “oh”), it must be Swedish.

I would love to hear from you! Have you ever been to Sweden? Have you travelled a long distance by train? Share your best train travel experiences with me in the comments.