Train travel is on track to be one of 2023’s top travel trends — particularly if you’re a young citizen of France and Germany.
On January 22nd, the French transport minister, Clément Beaune, and his German counterpart, Volker Wissing, announced that 60,000 free train tickets will be made available to those under the age of 27 this summer.
🚅 Diesen Sommer werden wir 60 000 kostenlose Jugendtickets zur Verfügung stellen, damit junge Menschen unter 27 Jahren mit dem Zug durch Deutschland und Frankreich fahren können! 🇩🇪 🇫🇷 🇪🇺
— Volker Wissing (@Wissing) January 22, 2023
The pledge was made to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Élysée Treaty of friendship between the two countries.
In a joint statement, the politicians said that the scheme has been designed to encourage train travel between France and Germany. France’s Beaune also expressed his hope that it will not only promote “contribute to the discovery of our two countries, but also to the development of train usage”.
“It is a concrete initiative, consistent with our climate ambitions, which will make many young French and Germans travel — and, we hope, dream,” Beaune said in the statement
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What we know so far
While exact details are still to be finalized, what is certain is that only French and German citizens under the age of 27 will qualify for the scheme and that the tickets will only be valid for rail journeys between the two countries.
France’s HuffPost reported that the allocation will be split fifty-fifty between both countries and will most likely be determined through a lottery system. The publication also reported that, for the time being, this is a “one-off” initiative — but if it works, it could be repeated every year.
During the same meeting, the duo announced two more commitments designed to promote mobility between the two countries.
In 2024, a direct high-speed train line linking Paris and Berlin will open, while a night train connecting the two capitals will be launched at the end of this year.
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Summer France and Germany train travel itineraries
What could summer travels look like for those eligible for the free tickets? Lonely Planet asked German-based photo artist and train travel enthusiast Jennifer Scales for her advice.
“The train is a great way to discover Germany and France since both countries have fast trains connecting larger cities and a relatively dense network of regional lines in rural areas,” said the artist, who has spent the last 15 years capturing landscapes from train windows.
“If I were planning to experience France by train, I would take advantage of the fantastic TGV network,” she said. Coming from Germany, she added that the first journey is likely to be the TGV connection that links Strasbourg to Paris in less than two-and-a-half hours.
For fans of scenic routes, she would highly recommend the Intercités regional train from Bordeaux to Arles. “From Toulouse on, the tracks follow the Canal du Midi, the technical marvel of the 17th century that first connected the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. Later, between Narbonne and Montpellier, the train follows the coastline in the midst of beautiful nature,” she said.
From Arles, after stopping off in the windswept Camargue wetlands, it’s only a short journey to Marseille. “If you are tired of spending all your days in trains, the connection back to Paris is also possible via the night train that starts in Nice,” she adds.
For those traveling from France, Jennifer says Munich is a great jumping-off point for German rail adventures. “‘From the lively Bavarian capital, you can easily take trains to more rural and breathtakingly beautiful alpine landscapes,” she said. “The train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen takes you through the so-called “Blue Land”, a marshland around Murnau that has inspired artists like Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky with its unique light and atmosphere.”
Berlin is four and a half hours away from Munich on the ICE (InterCity Express) high-speed connection. “You can even go to Sylt, the northernmost island of Germany, by train,” she added. “It is connected to the mainland via the Hindenburgdamm, a causeway with a railway line on top.”
What other free travel train schemes are available in Europe?
The EU has a free rail travel scheme for 18-year-olds. The Discover EU initiative, which has been going since 2018, is open this year to EU citizens who were born between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2004. Applications opened in October and tickets were snapped up, but a second round of applications is set to open on the Discover EU website sometime in spring.
In the meantime, people can apply for discounted rail passes through the Interrail scheme: a single train pass that lets you hop on and hop off as many trains as trains as you like across participating European train networks. The Interrail pass is open to EU residents and citizens of any age. Passes aren’t cheap but there are usually discounts for those under 27. Non-European citizens can apply for a similar pass known as Eurrail.
Concerned by Europe’s ongoing cost of living crisis, some countries have launched discounted transport schemes to ease budget burdens for residents and travelers. In Spain, for example, many passengers who travel on long- and medium-distance trains and long-distance coaches can do so for free as part of a cost-of-living transit scheme.