France and Germany will give free train tickets to under-27s

Train travel is set to be one of the top travel trends in 2023 — especially if you’re a young citizen of France and Germany.

On January 22, French transport minister Clément Bonnet and his German counterpart, Volker Vissing, announced that 60,000 free train tickets for under-27s would be made available this summer.

The pledge was made on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Elysée Treaty of Friendship between the two countries.

In a joint statement, politicians said the scheme was designed to boost train travel between France and Germany. France’s Bonn also expressed its hope that it would not only promote “contribute to the discovery of our two countries, but also to the development of the use of trains.”

“This is a concrete initiative, in line with our climate ambitions, that will get many young French and Germans traveling – and hopefully dreaming,” Bonn said in the statement

The pledge was made to mark the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty of Friendship between France and Germany ©Getty Images/iStockphoto

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What we know so far

While the exact details are yet to be finalised, it is certain that only French and German nationals 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 distribution will be split fifty-fifty between the two countries and will most likely be determined by a lottery system. The outlet also reports that for now it’s a “one-off” initiative, but if it works, it could be repeated every year.

During the same meeting, the duo announced two more engagements designed to promote mobility between the two countries.

A direct high-speed train line connecting Paris and Berlin will open in 2024, and a night train connecting the two capitals will be launched later this year.

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Summer itineraries for train travel in France and Germany

What might summer travel look like for those who qualify for the free tickets? Lonely Planet asked Germany-based photographic artist and train travel enthusiast Jennifer Scales for some advice.

“The train is a great way to discover Germany and France, as both countries have fast trains connecting the larger cities and a relatively dense network of regional lines in the countryside,” said the artist, who has spent the last 15 years capturing landscapes from train windows.

“If I was 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 would likely be the TGV link that connects 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 onwards, the pistes follow the Canal du Midi, the engineering marvel of the 17th century that first linked the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Later, between Narbonne and Montpellier, the train follows the coastline amidst beautiful scenery,” she said.

Close up of a group of flamingos in the Camargue, France
Take the train to see flamingos in the Camargue wetlands in France © Getty Images

From Arles, after a stop in the windswept Camargue wetlands, it’s only a short trip to Marseille. “If you’re tired of spending your days on trains, the connection back to Paris is also possible via the night train that leaves from Nice,” she adds.

For those traveling from France, Jennifer says Munich is a great starting point for German train adventures. “From the bustling Bavarian capital, you can easily take a train to more rural and breathtakingly beautiful alpine landscapes,” she said. “The train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen takes you through the so-called ‘Blue Land’, a marshy area around Murnau that inspired artists such as Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky with its unique light and atmosphere.”

Berlin is four and a half hours from Munich on the high-speed ICE (InterCity Express) connection. “You can even go to Sylt, Germany’s northernmost island, by train,” she added. “It is connected to the mainland by the Hindenburgdam, a road with a railway on top.”

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What other free train travel schemes are available in Europe?

The EU has a free train travel scheme for 18-year-olds. The Discover EU initiative, which has been running since 2018, is open this year to EU citizens born between 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2004. Applications opened in October and tickets were given out, but a second round of applications is forthcoming will be open on the Discover EU website sometime in the spring.

In the meantime, people can apply for discounted rail tickets through the Interrail scheme: one train ticket that lets you get on and off as many trains as you like on participating European train networks. The Interrail pass is open to EU residents and citizens of all ages. 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 the ongoing cost of living crisis in Europe, some countries have launched discounted transport schemes to ease the budget burdens on residents and commuters. In Spain, for example, many passengers who travel by long- and medium-distance trains and long-distance buses can do so for free as part of a cost-of-living transit scheme.

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