T-bane, S-tog, Tube, Metro…while the name may vary depending on your destination, the goal is the same across the globe. Cheap, easy and efficient travel opportunities abound when you use the metro system for any inner city and cross-country transportation. However, just like the many names, each of these metro trains and rails has their own way of operating. You’ll need to understand the ins and outs of navigating the metro station, finding the right train and purchasing your tickets to make metros work well for your travel plans. Check out this guide to get you started!
How to Know Which Train to Take
First things first, you need to decide which metro train to take. This is also known as the line or the station. For example, in London, the lines include Bakerloo, Waterloo, and Jubilee. Then on the Paris by Train system, metro stations are called gares and have names like Gare du Nord, Gare de Lyon, and Gare de Bercy. Before you travel to a destination, check to see what the proper names are for the stations based on the country’s language.
Once you know what the train’s names are and how these are categorized, study a map of the metro system service. You will be able to find a map of any metro system online by searching for the city metro station. These maps will indicate the cities or neighborhoods along each line.
Each line may be highlighted with a different color. This color is often used as a secondary name for the train line, such as the Blue Line or Orange Line. Identify the lines you are going to take for certain, such as those nearest to your hotel, main city attractions or the airport. This will be a good starting point.
To travel by a metro train, you need to know:
- Name of the station where you are going to get on
- Line you will be traveling on
- Station where you will get off
- Final station on the line you will be riding
- Any connections you’ll need to transfer to another line, if applicable
Here’s an example to show you exactly what to look for. Below is a map of the Munich, Germany metro station. We’ve laid out two routes and highlighted the things you should look for in the subway map to make your journey a success. Let’s start with our red boxes.
Route 1 – Red Boxes:
You’re currently at Hauptbahnog (Central Station) but you want to go visit the 1972 Olympic Stadium grounds and have a picnic. First locate the metro stop closest to the Olympic stadium – here it’s marked with the Olympic Rings and called Olympia-zentrum. Now, find which lines go to this stop – you have two options here U8 (red and orange) or U3 (orange). Since you are at the central station you can hop on either line to get there but let’s say you want to take U3 (orange) just to be safe. Before you can get on a train you need to know the end station, this tells you which direction the train is traveling. For the U3 line the end station is Moosach. Now you know all your stops and stations and are ready to find your train. At the metro you’ll want to find the Orange U3 line then wait by the train heading to Moosach. Once you’re on board enjoy the ride and hop off at Olympia-zentrum. Then, you’re off to explore the old Olympic grounds and enjoy your picnic.
Route 2 – Blue Boxes:
Munich is home to Oktoberfest and many people visiting will want to know how to get there. The metro is one of the easiest ways! Let’s say you’re starting at Karlsplatz and you want to get off at Theresienwiese (the fair ground that hold Oktoberfest). Again, you’ll need to look for the lines of Theresienwiese (green – U4 and brown – U5) and then find the end station(s). For this you can ride either U4 or U5 so you can find a train that ends at either Heimeran-platz (U4) or Laimer Platz (U5). If there are two lines it’s nice to know both end stations because sometime one train arrives more often than the other.
You will want to do all of your research regarding the metro lines before you head out to the station. This will give you the information you need to purchase your tickets more efficiently, as discussed later in this article. However, take a map of the metro with you in case there is a sudden detour or you get lost.
Once you get to the metro station if you have trouble finding the right line or are confused once you get into the situation of traveling, just ask someone for help. The majority of metro travelers will be experienced locals who can give you the information you need. If there is a metro attendant or security guard in the proximity, they can also help you find your destination.
Another tip: When you arrive at a train station, you will be notified of trains on their way to the station a couple of different ways. Most train stations are going to have a digital sign above the train stop that tells a brief description of the train line or destination station along with the time of arrival.
Some stations, such as the London Tube, will also alert you over an intercom system. Keep your headphones out of your ears so you can listen for any announcements. In addition to providing timetable information, any delays or last-minute changes will be announced in this manner.
How to Get Tickets for Trains
Once you know which trains and times you will be traveling, it’s time to purchase your tickets. Generally, a metro system will offer you several ways to buy tickets. The typical scenarios for ticket purchases for out of town riders include:
- Purchasing single day paper tickets
- Purchasing a multi-day or multi-pass (country or zone) card that you load electronically
Typically purchasing a multi-day metro ticket offers a better value than purchasing a new one each day.
For most countries, you will need to purchase your tickets in person at the train station. Arrive in plenty of time in case there are long lines for ticket purchases. Most main metro stations will have ticket booths where you can buy tickets electronically using a debit or credit card. In some larger stations (central stations) you might have the option to purchase tickets from a ticket counter or person, here you can pay in the local currency, debt or credit card. Keep in mind this only applies to the larger cities and central stations, stations along the route typically do not offer the option to purchase from a person or with cash.
Knowing How to Scan Tickets
With your tickets in hand, you are ready to ride the metro train. Considering which type of ticket you have, the scanning process will vary. Keep in mind you must always validate your ticket or get it scanned by an official. The penalty for not getting your ticket validate can be a few hundred bucks in some countries or a trip to the local jail. It is up to you to get your ticket validated.
Some metros require you to scan your ticket at a kiosk before you can enter the train station platform. Other metros require you to scan your ticket when boarding the train. Train stations may also require you to scan your ticket when leaving the station or train. Look for information at the train station prior to boarding regarding the specific way to handle ticket validation. Always keep your ticket with you during your transit in case you need to prove you validated it.
Finding a Timetable for Train and Rail Travel Times
As you are navigating the metro station information prior to your travels, check out the available timetable for that particular country or region. Several countries have printed books of timetables, but you will have a difficult time finding a hard copy while in the US.
You could wait until you arrive to purchase a timetable book from the train station or travel office. However, most of the major rails and trains worldwide feature online timetables. Here are some of the most popular, but note you should also look up your travel destination to see if they have a local timetable available online:
- London Tube timetables
- HyperDia timetables for railways in Japan
- Deutsche Bahn train timetables in Germany
- Official timetable of Switzerland
- Paris by Train schedules
- Metro Madrid timetables
- Shanghai Metro timetables
- Beijing Subway Train timetables
- Scandinavian Rail for Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark train travel
In general, metro timetables remain in place for a full calendar year. Therefore, you can print out a copy of a timetable and you should be good to go for your trip. Many subways also offer the option to download an app or the map to your cell phone. This is a great option provided you have data when traveling. Always check with your phone carrier before using data in a foreign country.
A final word of wisdom when using any metro system, most subways and metros are very similar. If you have been on one in the US you likely will be okay to ride one someplace else in the world. When traveling be sure to research your route in advance and be mindful when traveling. Always keep an eye on your belongings and be courteous, you are visiting a different country respect their rules.
Subways aren’t the only option for transportation when you arrive in a new city. Check out our handy guide on selecting the perfect transportation option for your trip.
Here’s a few other blogs to help you plan your international vacation: