It’s not just you: Munich public transport can be hella confusing.
Before I visited Munich, I thought I’d be super organised / anxious, and check out how to buy tickets for the S-Bahn. My hotel was out of the city center, and I knew that it was going to be the main public transport system I’d be using during my trip. Best to get acquainted with it! And I was sure that the official DB site’s instructions would be super-clear, right?
Ehhh. not so much. I love you, Munich, and I actually love to travel on your generally-excellent public transport. But everything you read on the DB site completely goes out of your head when you arrive in Munich, and you can’t find an option on the ticket machines for a darned 3 day group ticket to save your life.
So we’ve got two options, guys. We can wander lost through the Munich S-Bahn system forever, until we become ghostly from the lack of sunlight, and German mamas tell their kids scary stories about das S-Bahn geist. Or I can tell you how to buy single day or 3 day tickets in a simple, illustrated guide, and you can travel the city like a pro.
I like the latter option! Let’s do it!
By the way, if you’re looking for things to do in Munich but you’re short on time, check out my guide to making the most of one day in Munich!
How to buy tickets on the Munich Subway
Okay, we’re going to go over some basics first.
Firstly, don’t worry if this stuff seems pretty freakin’ confusing when you initially check it out. I’ve been to Munich twice, and it certainly threw me for a loop when I was freshly-arrived at Munich Airport (not helped by the fact that it was a public holiday, and there was zero staff around to help! Yay!). The public transport system in Munich is actually really intuitive once you get used to it, but it’s just a case of getting over that first hurdle.
So let’s get the foundation knowledge in place, and then we’ll go into how to buy single tickets, and the rather brilliant 3 day tickets which can save you rather a lot of cash!
What’s the difference between the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn?
When you arrive on the Munich train station of your choice, you’ll probably see some signage pointing you towards various letters – DB, S, and U. Who dis?
As you may have already guessed, it’s actually rather simple. DB stands for Deutsch Bahn. S stands for S-Bahn, and U stands for U-Bahn.
Deutsch Bahn is your city-to-city, overground trains. If you’re heading from Munich to Nuremberg, for example, you’ll be jumping on one of these.
U-Bahn is your standard subway system. Think New York subway, or London Underground. It operates below the surface of the city center.
S-Bahn is a hybrid service – it serves as a local overground train system throughout the suburbs of Munich, but then descends underground (and uses the same system as the U-Bahn) in the city center.
Makes sense? The S-Bahn is a local train which serves the greater Munich metropolis, but it shares the U-Bahn’s system in the city center, after which it pops out into the open again. The U-Bahn covers just those very central stations, right in the middle of the city.
Happily, you buy tickets for the U-Bahn in almost exactly the same way as the S-Bahn, so if you need Munich U-Bahn tickets you can use this guide too! Hurrah!
What are the Munich public transport districts?
Okay, this is one of the more confusing, and stressful, elements of working out which ticket you need. I had to consult my Munich-resident German friend to work out which district I needed, and he succinctly called the official site “trash” when it comes to working it out. So here comes the simple version.
Basically, the map of Munich has four big concentric rings drawn over it. The white center ring – the bullseye – is the “inner district“. This is where you’ll find the vast majority of hotels and restaurants, and all those lovely attractions you’ve been reading about.
The other districts, which are green, yellow, and red, are the “outer district“, and you’ll pay more to travel to them if you’re in the inner district – you pay for how many zones your journey passes through. To be honest, if you’re just visiting Munich as a tourist for a few days, you’ll probably only venture out into the outer district to visit Dachau (green district), or to get to the airport (red district).
Oh, and there’s also the Munich XXL, which is the white and green districts banded together. Again, pretty handy for visiting Dachau.
So how do you work out which district you need? If your stop is on this map, congratulations! You’re in the Inner District, and cheaper, less-confusing fares are yours! If your stop is on this map, you’ll have to count how many zones your journey passes through in order to get the correct ticket.
Types of Munich tickets, and where to buy them
Sorry, technophobes – it’s most likely that you’re going to have to buy tickets for the S-Bahn from a machine. Munich laughs at your pain.
Generally, stations don’t have a human ticket seller, so it’s actually pretty important to get accustomed to the ticket machines as soon as possible. The good news is that once you get used to them, they’re actually fairly simple to use!
If you’re visiting for a few days, the chances are that you’re purely going to need a single ticket, or day tickets, to get around the city. If that’s the case feel free to skip this section (I won’t be offended, I promise!), and go on to the next one where there’s lots of lovely step-by-step photos!
Still here? You’re a curious one, aren’t you? As a reward, here’s a brief description of the other Munich tickets you may have a use for:
Stripe ticket: A long ticket with ten spaces – travelling through one zone will require you to validate two spaces (or “stripes”). So it saves you a bit of money in comparison to buying a bunch of single tickets, but you have to know to fold the ticket correctly in order to validate it. You’re probably better off sticking to a Munich day ticket, unless you’re confident – because getting it wrong will lead to a €60 fine.
München Card: A handy little card which gives you a day ticket for Munich public transport (for anywhere between 1 and 5 days), and free entry for a bunch of Munich attractions. Hurrah! You’ll have to specify whether you want it for the inner district or the entire network – the latter will cost you more – and you can buy it online before you even leave home.
How to buy a S-Bahn single ticket
Okay, now we’re on to the good stuff. I’m going to keep this as simple as possible, rather than give out a ton of unnecessary info. So here’s how to buy a ticket for a single trip on the Munich S-Bahn.
Buying a ticket using the red DB ticket machines
These screens are from the red DB ticket machines – you’ll see them on the main platforms of train stations, including the airport and Hauptbahnhof (the main train station).
1. This will be the first screen you see. Eeeeeek! What if you don’t speak German??
Not a prob. Hit that UK flag down at the bottom.
2. Ahh, this looks a bit more manageable!
As you can see, I was standing at Fasangarten station when I took these photos (getting very wet; I hope you appreciate my sacrifice!). Simply tap the empty space where it says “To”.
3. This is all straightforward enough – start typing your destination using the touchscreen, and it’ll suggest destinations on the left-hand side.
You’ll notice that it suggests some popular choices before you even start typing, so if you’re heading somewhere like the Hauptbahnhof, Marienplatz, or the airport, just give it a tap.
4. As you can see, I’ve selected a ticket to the airport – Fasangarten is in the Inner District, so it’s costing me a little more as I’m travelling through all four zones. Notice as well that my ticket is already validated – I can select to issue the ticket without validation (if I’m buying the ticket in advance to use later), but in this case, I don’t need to worry about validating it in a machine.
If that’s all you need, hit the green Pay button, and you’re done!
5. Need another ticket for a travel companion? Hit that button at the bottom marked “Another Ticket”.
6. You can get your second ticket here – unless you need anything different from the ticket that you’ve previously selected, hit the “Same Destination” button at the bottom.
7. Ta-da! You now have two tickets for a single journey on the S-Bahn. Hit that green Pay button, and enjoy your trip!
You can also see from this series of screens how easy it is to buy a Munich day ticket – simply select the “Single all-day ticket” option you can see above on the left.
Using the blue S and U-Bahn ticket machines
These are the machines you’ll see if you descend into a subway – and to be honest, they’re rather more straightforward. If you’ve read through the above steps, they follow much the same principles, but there’s less hoops to jump through. Let’s have a quick look!
1. Here’s the first screen you’ll see, once you’ve used that handy translation button on the right-hand side. Hit the top button for “Single tickets & strip card”.
2. Hit that “Single tickets” button, and you’ll be directed to a very straightforward “To” and “From” scenario. Pay up, and you’re done!
How to buy the Munich group ticket
Okay, the 1 and 3 day group ticket for the S-Bahn can be a little trickier to find on the system, especially on the DB ticket machines. BUT, they can save you a whole pile of cash. If you’re travelling with at least one other person, and you’re going to be there for a full day, or three full days, it’s definitely worth getting a group ticket.
It’s also a good idea to know in advance if you’ll need a ticket which only covers the inner zone (the white ring), or the entire network (all four rings). Again, bear in mind that the airport is in the furthest ring out.
Buying a group ticket on the red DB machines
1. First off, translate the screen into English (or another language of your choice) using the same buttons as in step 1 of “Buying a Single Ticket”. Unless you really want to practise your German.
2. You may be tempted to press that “Search for offers” button in the top right. DON’T DO IT. That way leads to madness, and a very uncooperative search system, in my experience. Instead, hit that large box under the “To” and “From”, where it says “All offers”.
3. You’ll see this screen next. Hit the “Group tickets” button on the right-hand column.
4. Here’s the next menu. If you want a group day ticket, hit “MVV Collective all-day ticket”. If you want the same thing, but for three days (woo!), choose MVV Group 3-day ticket Inner zones” on the right.
5. This is how it should look when you go to pay for it – notice again that you can buy it in advance, for a date of your choosing. Or you can buy it unvalidated, and just use it when you need it. Handy, eh?
6. And here’s how it looks for an all-day group ticket.
Yay! You’re done! Trust me, that may look simple, but it took me a fair bit of fiddling about with ticket machines until I found the easiest way to access those sweet ticket offers. This lets you go straight to it with a minimum of fuss!
Buying a group ticket on the blue S and U-Bahn machines
1. Again, the blue machines make life rather easier for you. Start off on this screen, and hit “Day tickets” (second one down).
2. So far so good! Either select “1 person” if you’re an adult on your own, or “2-5 persons” if you’ve got company.
3. Hit the appropriate number of days, and pay. How simple is that?
The lesson to be learnt here is to use the blue machines if you can – they’re considerably simpler, and don’t overwhelm you with options!
Do I need to validate my ticket?
The simple answer here is “yes”.
The more accurate answer is “yes, unless it doesn’t fit the machine”.
At first I had a bit of confusion with Munich public transport tickets, because I was so terrified of getting fined by the inspectors (and yes, you do see a fair amount of them on the trains, so don’t even think of getting on without a ticket and risking the €60 fine). I was trying to insert practically everything into a validation machine, until it dawned on me that I had bought my tickets already validated. Scroll up to the screenshots above, and you’ll see that when you go to pay, it’ll tell you that your ticket is already validated.
There’s a simple way to make certain. If your ticket needs validating, it’ll fit into the blue validation machines you’ll see on the platforms/subway stations. If it doesn’t fit, then it’s already validated, and you don’t need to worry. Think of it this way: if it fits, you sits!
Remember also that the single journey tickets are one-way – there’s no return tickets here. Also, you do have a time limit in which to reach your destination. Scroll back up to the screenshot where I showed you how to buy a single ticket, and you’ll see on the right, the time limit is in red.
You can see that I bought the ticket at 8.05am, and that it’s valid until 12.05pm. The length of time is dependent on what journey you’re making, so give it a check when you purchase.
Munich Airport to city center
Okay, I’m going to say it: trying to go from the airport to Munich city center via public transportation can be a gigantic pain in the backside. Which is a shame, because that’s where the majority of hotels are, and therefore where you’re most likely to be going.
The things is, it actually works fine – it’s the same transport system which works everywhere else in the city – but it can be hella confusing when you’ve just arrived. It’s not terribly well signposted, and you’ll most likely be wondering who you buy a ticket from.
Munich airport to Munich by train
Let’s make this simple. If you want to travel by train, you’ll almost certainly have to buy your ticket from a machine. You can buy the hyphen-heavy “Airport-City-Day-Ticket”, which gives you a full day’s transport on the entire network (it’s available for groups, too), or just buy a single ticket. It just depends which one works out better for wherever you’re headed.
Grab your freshly-printed ticket, and head down the escalator or elevator to the station itself.
This is where it may seem confusing – which platform do you need? Argh!! But it’s actually not too bad: the airport is at the end of two S-Bahn lines, so you can’t go off in the wrong direction. You’ll either need the S1 or S8 service, depending on where you’re going (check the last section in this article for a handy link to the map). You’ll spot the number on the front and side of the train when it arrives, and it’ll either have a destination of Munchen-Ost (S1), or Munchen-Pasing (S8).
Both of these services connect up with other lines once they get closer to Munich city center (and both of them go to the Hauptbahnhof, which is the central HQ), so you’ll definitely be able to reach your destination!
Munich airport to Munich by bus
Underground transport systems not your thing? Good news: you can travel to Munich city center by bus and overground train, though it’ll take a little longer.
Walk to terminal 1, and catch the number 635 bus to Freising. It’ll helpfully deposit you at Freising train station 20 minutes later, whereupon you can buy a ticket on the overground ticket to the Haupbahnhof.
Want a third option for Munich airport transportation? There’s the Lufthansa Express Bus, a shuttle bus which runs between the airport and the city center for a remarkably reasonable price – and they don’t even mind if you didn’t fly with them! The sweeties!
Useful apps for Munich public transport
I found apps super useful for using the transport system in Munich. Let’s have a look at a couple!
MVV Munich: The official Munich public transport app. I’ve heard that it’s not amazing for purchasing tickets, but the MVV app shines when you just need to look up a departure time. Select “Trips” from the drop-down menu, and punch in the two stations you’ll be traveling between. Hey presto, you’ve got the departure time – and if you’re going to be doing the journey regularly, you can save it as a favorite. Handy!
DB Navigator: The official app of the overground trains. You can use it in a similar way to the MVV app (it works for looking up times of train between two S-Bahn stations, for example), but it does a lot more! It’s super useful if you’re planning a day trip, such as to Dachau, Nuremberg or Salzburg, but you can also use it all over Europe. Want to look up how to get from Budapest to Paris? You can do that in this app; it’s genuinely one of the best apps for anyone going on an extended trip of the continent.
Moovit: A general-purpose public transport app – it’s not great for looking up travel outside of an area (if you try to look up a journey from Munich to Nuremberg, for example, it’ll throw a bit of a tantrum), but brilliant for looking up train, buses or trams within the city!
Munich S-Bahn map / Munich U-Bahn map
Want to check a Munich public transport map? Click here to see one which combines the S-Bahn and U-Bahn on to one, handy map!
Notice that the number of the line can be seen the terminus at either end (for example, the S3 starts and ends at Holzkirchen and Mammendorf), and that S-Bahn lines are marked with “S(number)”. U-Bahn lines are “U(number)”, accordingly.
Munich U-Bahn hours of operation are super convenient, running from 4am to 1am. The S-Bahn drivers get an extra 15 minutes lie-in, operating from 4.15am to 1am.
And that’s pretty much everything you’re going to need to know!
I know from personal experience that it can be confusing when you first arrive in Munich, and you’re trying to work out how to get a simple ticket. It makes you feel like an idiot, and an appalling traveler, and you may be tempted to drown your sorrows by going face-down into a plate of schnitzel. I feel your pain, honey.
So let’s avoid breadcrumb-in-eye injuries, and share this guide! Ticket shame will be a thing of the past. The world will be glorious once more. You can do that by hitting those lovely share buttons over on the side.
If you want to be super-prepared for your trip to Munich, and share this at the same time, how about pinning the below images to Pinterest? That way, you’ll have it saved for when you need it – you can read through those step-by-step photos before you use the ticket machine, and avoid having impatient locals queued up behind you!
By the way! This article contains some affiliate links. These incur zero extra cost to you, should you choose to purchase the service provided, but they give this blog some commission which goes towards the running costs. Any additional money earned is spent on importing giant schnitzels, because I will never tire of going face-first into those things.