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Travelling on an Intercity train

At a glance

  • Regional train
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Spain
  • France
  • Switzerland

Overview

© jotily

Originally referring to fast, long-distance services between major cities within a country, Intercity trains now vary greatly across Europe. In Switzerland, Intercity services are of a high standard with trains that are modern, stylish and usually with a restaurant. Yet in Austria, Germany and Italy, Intercity trains are generally inferior to newer trains such as Railjet, ICE and Frecciarossa in terms of design or speed. Usually abbreviated as IC, Intercity trains feature across much of Europe, providing many invaluable, long-distance domestic services. But there are also some Intercity trains that cross borders, such as the IC services from Amsterdam to Berlin, from Stuttgart to Zurich and from Hamburg to Copenhagen.

Many IC trains are double-decker trains. You’ll find double-decker ICs from Belgium to Finland, from Switzerland to the Netherlands – and double-decker ICs are becoming increasingly common in Germany.

In Portugal, Poland, Spain and Ukraine advance reservation is mandatory. By contrast, there are countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands where you simply cannot reserve a seat for a purely domestic journey on any IC train. But there’s still usually plenty of space for everyone.

Practical information

©Deutsche Bahn AG / Kai Michael Neuhold

Before you board

There are no specific pre-boarding requirements for Intercity trains.

Onboard

Intercity trains tend to be air conditioned and perfectly comfortable. Beyond that, expect great variety with regard to service, style or speed – even within a country and sometimes on a single route.

Trolley services are available on a number of Intercity services, notably those of the Swiss Railways and Deutsche Bahn. Where a trolley service is available, it is limited to hot and cold drinks and a range of snacks.

Many Intercity trains have a bistro or buffet car that offers cold and hot snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, usually with the option to sit down at a table. But do not count on the presence of a buffet car. So if having access to food and drink on the train is important to you, it’s best to bring your own refreshments onboard.

A full restaurant service is now a rarity on Intercity trains. Exceptions include many Swiss Intercity routes radiating out from Zurich, and on a small number of IC routes within Germany. In both cases, expect hearty staples (such as meat dishes with rich sauces) and a good range of lighter fare with soups, salads and pasta dishes.

Booking and printing options

Intercity tickets are usually open for bookings 120 days in advance.

Seat reservation is dependent on your chosen Intercity train.

Get the lowest prices on Intercity trains by booking early and don’t wait until the last minute as cheaper seats sell out quickly.

Opt for off-peak Intercity trains when you have to travel at short notice. Off-peak Intercity trains are more affordable than ones that run mornings and evenings, Fridays and Sundays or during popular holidays.

Classes of service

Intercity trains generally provide two main classes of service: Standard Class and First Class.

Intercity First Class

In open-plan carriages, seating in First Class is more spacious with three seats across the central aisle rather than four. Seating in compartments is also common. Some Intercity trains offer additional services, such as free newspapers on ÖBB trains. There are more power sockets available in First Class than in Standard Class.

Intercity Standard Class

Seating in Standard Class on Intercity trains is often in open-plan carriages with airline-style seats in pairs across a central aisle or – on some retro trains – in six-seat compartments. Yet retro does not mean uncomfortable and there is usually good luggage space. Power sockets are available on most trains, but not at every seat.

Child and youth passengers

The definition of "Child" and "Youth" varies by country and operator. This is why we ask for the age of young passengers.

Sometimes children below a certain age can travel without a seat for free. If you want to guarantee a seat for child passengers, enter '6' as the age of the child.

Read more about child and youth passenger ages. See also youth discounts and railcards.