While Franconia has an ample train network, if you are looking to go to more remote village breweries, you’re going to have to use its even more extensive bus network if using public transportation. The excellent www.vgn.de is available in English and is great for route planning with options for PDFs of not only bus timetables but also bus route maps. That stuff is in German but it’s a timetable so not so hard to read. As with the DB site, VGN has a great App, too.
There are a host of different ticket options but I generally use the Day Ticket. You can get this for one person if traveling within 1-2 zones or a group ticket for up to six people if traversing more zones. There are zone maps but it’s probably easiest to put your starting point and destination into the journey planner and go with the ticket option they give you. Even if you are just doing a round trip, the Day Ticket is generally cheaper. Obviously, big groups are getting a huge break here much as the Bavaria Ticket used to be run. Unlike the Bavaria Ticket, however, you can start your journey anytime after 12:00 am the day of purchase until 3:00 am the following day. If you buy a ticket on Saturday, it’s good all day on Sunday to until 3:00 on Monday! Prices vary depending on your starting point and how far you are traveling but cap out at just under 20 EUR for a full network/six person ticket. Sure beats taking a taxi or renting a car!
Unlike trains, you don’t have to buy tickets before but unless your have some basic German skills, it’ll be easier. You can do it easily enough on their website, as well as on their handy App. The Day Ticket makes life easy. Just buy it with your phone and it’s good all day and on weekends, all weekend.
Of course, there are some things to consider if going this route. First off, unless you are traveling on a heavily utilized route, buses are infrequent so it is IMPERATIVE to know when the last bus returning leaves. Use the journey planner feature AND download bus timetables. Look at them closely, paying special attention to Feiertagen (holidays) and Schulbus (school bus). School buses are perfectly okay to ride on and look just like regular buses. In fact, they are regular buses and the kids just take them. The thing is, they don’t run if there’s no school on that day. I’ve had this happen to me before and had to wait a few hours for the next bus. Needless to say, I’m a lot more careful now. Your best bet is to go to the train station closest to the area you’re planning to travel and ask them to set up an itinerary for you. If not, travel as early as you can and preferably in warmer months with longer days. If you have to walk out, you’ll be happier if you’re not freezing and walking in the dark.
If you stick to more popular routes, buses are more frequent but you still need to take care as they’re not hourly and don’t run until midnight. Even on popular hikes like the Fünf Seidla Steig, they run every couple hours and stop relatively early evening. This walk starts at the end of a regional train that is frequent so just make sure to know when the last bus runs to the train or plan your walk to finish closer to the train station. In fact, if you have that option on any planned route, it’s the best course of action.
(Fünf-Seidla-Steig® is a registered trademark of the breweries Elchbräu, Brauerei Hofmann, Lindenbräu, Brauerei Friedmann and Klosterbrauerei Weißenohe)
I’m not trying to scare people from using the bus system, just warning you to be careful in your planning. The buses are fabulous and generally quite empty. Even when the kids are on the bus, it’s good fun and the drivers are super helpful though you’re going to need some basic German the further from a big town you get. We met one bus driver who was a real character, with hair like Elvis. He gave us a bunch of bus brochures on hiking/busing options. He was so busy talking to us, he missed our stop (the only stop in that village!) but happily circled back to a drop us off.
Of course, the reason to head into the countryside of Franconia is to do some walking, right? Tips on how to do just that are the last part of this series.