Brian's Guide to
Getting Around Germany

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Intercity Transport
Intercity Bus

This page last updated January 6, 2024

With some minor exceptions, domestic long-distance intercity bus services (Fernbus) were largely prohibited in Germany prior to 2013 due to anti-competition laws that protected the railways. After a lawsuit between the Deutsche Bahn (DB) and startup bus company DeinBus in 2011, the industry was deregulated in 2013 and intercity bus services boomed. Prior to 2013, intercity bus passenger traffic hovered around 2 million passengers per year, but that number soared to 8.2 million in 2013, 16 million in 2014, and 23.2 million in 2015. The totals then hovered around 23 million before plummeting during the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and only recovered to 7.5 million in 2022.

International bus service was allowed in Germany prior to 2013, and those services are well-developed, especially to eastern and southern Europe.

In general, bus travel will be cheaper than comparable rail service. However, the trade-off is that it is usually slower. This is due to buses generally being limited to 100 km/h (while even "slow" trains exceed 150 km/h), traffic congestion, and the requirement that bus drivers take scheduled rest breaks. Buses also tend to be more cramped than trains. When deciding between bus and rail, be sure to consider the trade-offs of cost, time, and comfort.

On this page:


Bus companies

When the industry was deregulated in 2013, more than a dozen companies started offering service. The competition was fierce and many startups ultimately did not survive that initial shakeout, and many others failed later due to the impacts of the COVID pandemic. After peaking at 328 in late 2015, the number of intercity routes has sharply declined along with the number of bus companies.

After the industry downsizing, one company today dominates the market: FlixBus, with 85% market share in 2019. It has bought-out several rivals and caused others to go bankrupt, perhaps most notably DeinBus. Ironically, FlixBus now also operates several intercity rail services (more on FlixTrain on the rail travel page.) The few niche bus companies still operating in Germany include BlablaCar Bus (BlaBlaBus), RegioJet, and Ecolines.

FlixBus coach

Typical FlixBus coach
(Photo by Brian Purcell)

Fares and tickets

Even with the market consolidation, bus fares are generally cheaper than comparable train fares, although the DB offers special fares and discounts of its own to compete with bus services, so it's always worth checking both.

Like other transportation services, you'll almost always get the best fare by booking online in advance. You can also typically purchase tickets over the phone, usually for a small surcharge. Some companies operate ticket offices at major stations or storefronts in the larger cities, and tickets can also be purchased through many travel agents. FlixBus tickets can be purchased from a growing number of newsstands, tobacco shops and grocery stores.

Tickets can also usually be purchased from the driver at departure, but this will almost always be the most expensive option as well as the least certain as the bus may already be fully-booked by departure time. Drivers may only accept cash. If you wish to board at an on-request-only stop, you will have to purchase your ticket ahead of time.

There are several aggregator services that will check the fares of all the bus services as well as the DB. Links for recommended aggregators and the individual bus companies are at the bottom of this page.

Travel on buses requires individual tickets for each journey — there are no passes like there are for the rail system that allow unlimited and spontaneous travel, nor are there frequent-traveler discount programs. FlixBus had a pass called InterFlix that allowed the purchaser to take five trips in a three month period for €99, but that seems to have been discontinued.

Required documents
A copy of your ticket (either paper or electronic) and your identity papers are usually required for boarding.

Cancellations or changes
Cancellation and rebooking policies vary among the operators, so you'll want to check those rules before purchasing if that's a concern. Most will refund your money less a processing fee or percentage of the ticket price, but some will only issue you a voucher for future travel with that company. The deadline for cancellation or changes also varies anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours before departure.

In case of cancellations initiated by the company or significant delays (e.g. a bus breakdown or missed connections due to traffic delays), you'll need to contact the company to determine your options.

Seat reservations
Purchasing a ticket guarantees you a seat on the bus, but not a specific seat. FlixBus offers the ability to reserve a specific seat for an additional cost.

On-board services

All of the carriers use air-conditioned, modern over-the-road motor coaches for transport including some double-decker buses. Smoking is not allowed on any bus.

Wi-Fi and entertainment
Most buses have free Wi-Fi service with Internet access available. However, the service can be unreliable with passengers reporting drop-outs or slow data rates at times. Most companies also offer a free entertainment service via Wi-Fi (use your own device) with music and movies available.

Many buses also feature electric outlets for recharging your electronic devices. These outlets are usually 220 volt, so you will need to make sure your device either accepts that voltage or you have a transformer. You may also need a plug adapter.

Food and drink
Most companies allow you to bring food or drink on the bus, and some also offer a limited menu of refreshments for sale on board.

Toilet facilities and rest breaks
All buses have an on-board toilet. Most buses will not stop for rest breaks en route unless required by law for the driver. If the bus does stop for a driver break, passengers are generally allowed to disembark to use the facilities; be sure to stay nearby or ask the driver when the bus will depart so that you are not left behind!

Typical FlixBus bus interior

Typical FlixBus bus interior

Baggage policies vary widely among the carriers, so you'll need to check the rules with each individual company. FlixBus, for example, allows you to bring one small carry-on and to check one bag for free.

Be sure to label your bags with your name, address, and phone number. You should also consider adding something to make your bag more easily recognizable such as a bright-colored handle grab, strap, or tag. Luggage cannot be transported unaccompanied.

Like an airplane, there is a luggage hold beneath the passenger compartment as well as overhead and underseat storage in the passenger cabin. Large bags should be placed in the luggage hold with only smaller, carry-on type bags brought on board; again, check the policy of the company for specific allowances. Note that passengers load and unload their own bags from the luggage hold. When loading, note that the hold area may have separate compartments marked by signs for each destination served by the route; be sure to put your bag in the section corresponding to your destination.

As with regular baggage, the policies for bulky items and bicycles also varies. Most do allow baby buggies/carriages and wheelchairs without an additional fee. Most do not allow pets other than service animals; the latter usually requires you to notify the company ahead of time.

Seat belts
All buses are equipped with seat belts (lap belts) and all passengers are required to use them while seated.


Hamburg central bus station (ZOB)

Hamburg central bus station (ZOB)
(Photo by Brian Purcell)

The bus companies generally do not operate their own stations, but rather use existing public bus facilities. In most large cities, the buses will stop at either the central bus station (Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof/ZOB), usually near the main train station, or the long-distance bus terminal at the airport, or both. Large cities may have multiple stop locations, so be sure to check the exact location. In smaller towns and the suburbs, the stop may be located at a train station or simply at a bus stop on the side of the road near the town center.

Your ticket will give the address (and often a map) of the stop location for both your origin and destination. If you are making a connection, be sure the stop where you will change buses is the same or, if not, that you know how to get between the stops for your connection and how much time you will need to do so.

In some cities, stops have been moved from the city center to outlying areas due to concerns about congestion (or other political reasons.) Whatever your ultimate destination, be sure you know how to get there from where the bus drops you. Fortunately, most stops in cities are located at or near public transport.

At the larger bus stations, there are departure boards similar to those at train stations and airports that show upcoming departures and what platform (Bussteig) they will be departing from; use these to locate your outbound bus. Before boarding a bus, confirm its destination using the destination sign at the parking bay and on the front or side of the bus. Ask the driver if in doubt.

Arrivals/departures board at Hamburg central bus station

Arrivals/departures board at Hamburg central bus station
(Photo by Brian Purcell)

Disembarking between stops
All of the bus companies generally prohibit intermediate or ad-hoc stops unless there is an emergency. If the bus stops for a required rest break for the driver, passengers are generally allowed to disembark to use the facilities.

International connections

Most of the bus companies also offer international routes either themselves or in conjunction with another carrier. Because of the current migration issues in Europe, there are some border checks even within the Schengen zone, so you may be asked for your passport or other identity papers before departure and/or en route.

Other sites of interest

FlixBus (English)
RegioJet (English)