Traveling between Copenhagen and Hamburg is a relatively short journey with plenty of options available. Planes, buses, cars and trains all serve the route. The rail link is unique, however, in that the train rolls on to a ferry, spends an hour crossing the Femer Baelt between Rødbyhavn and Puttgarden, and then rolls off again. It is an exceptional travel experience slated to disappear forever at the end of this year.
On board this cute three-car set from @omDSB, headed to Hamburg. First class, second class, and beer class seating available on board. pic.twitter.com/RmkyBbgNTU
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) March 30, 2019
We boarded the train in Nykøbing F, the furthest north we could start the ride (it is no longer a single seat all the way to Copenhagen; see more on that below). At that point we were two of only a (literal) handful of passengers on board. The train filled up as we made a couple additional stops headed to the port, but it was not overwhelming the day we made the trip.
Less than an hour later we approached Rødbyhavn and our transition from terrestrial to aquatic travels. As the train nears the port it slows, waiting to slot in between the cars that ride on the same deck of the ship.
Tracks are set within the ferry to ease the process and it is one that is well practiced by the crew, running several times each day. Still, there is something surreal about looking out the window of the train and seeing trucks so close, all entering the same ship together.
Once on board travelers are required to leave the train. It is a safety precaution to make sure you’re not below decks should an incident occur. And so we took our beer topside for some sun and relaxation on the crossing.
We enjoyed the early spring sun and watched Denmark disappear behind us.
Planes passed overhead in the clear blue skies.
Some plane spotting action top side on the ferry. That’s @HainanAirlines headed back to China from Paris. 👋✈️ #avgeek pic.twitter.com/hor2FqY5Xx
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) March 30, 2019
We certainly were lucky with the weather that afternoon.
As we approached the German port it was back down to the train to prepare for our disembarkation. Just as smoothly as we rolled on to the ferry we rolled off again, now in a new country. As we’d crossed the border we awaited the arrival of immigration officers at the next station, just off the ferry. They walked through the three-car train quickly and then we resumed the trip to Hamburg.
Catching a ride
Generally speaking it is an easy trip to book online via the German Rail’s website. Fares will vary but they are generally reasonable so long as you book in advance; I paid ~$35/person for our crossing, far less than the walk-up pricing.
When reviewing the options available note that the site will also show the routings that do not include the ferry. Expand the details of your desired trip and make sure it includes the Puttgarden border crossing option to get the ferry ride. A border crossing at Flensburg means you’re not taking the ferry.
The tracks between Copenhagen and Rødbyhavn are already being upgraded for future, high speed services. This means a replacement bus or rerouting to get to the port terminals where the ferry train runs. That adds time to the trip but it is still worthwhile.
Unlike many longer train trips in Europe there is not a dining option on board the train. Stock up at the grocery in Hamburg or Copenhagen (including a few beers) to make sure that you’re well supplied for the journey.
Not much longer…
The train portion of the trip is a relatively normal European intercity experience. The train set used for the trip today is an older set of cars from the Danish rail service; the prior generation of nicer German trains that used to operate the route no longer run. That’s just one sign of the route’s imminent demise.
Yup from the December timetable change. The trains will be diverted to run via Jutland and on to Hamburg, bypassing the ferry. When the Fehmarn tunnel opens the trains will return to their original route, using the new tunnel.
— Simon Andersen (@jegerpizza) March 30, 2019
A newer routing that spends more time on land rather than running via the ferry is already in service. Search results for trips between the two cities will often favor the route without the ferry; it is faster now, even though it is a longer total distance. And the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link tunnel is planned for connecting Rødbyhavn and Puttgarden. Soon there will be no need for the ferry at all in this area. When the tunnel opens it will include rail service as well as roadways. It is a massive project, filled with superlatives:
- World’s longest immersed tunnel
- World’s longest combined road and rail tunnel
- World’s longest under water tunnel for road
- Deepest immersed tunnel with road and rail traffic
- Second deepest concrete immersed tunnel
To that end, the rail service will halt with the December 2019 schedule changes. The trains will no longer ride on the ferry. The time is now to catch this rare transit experience while it is still running.
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My family has taken this before, but I didn’t realize it’s to end this year. Will have to do this one last time for the memories.
How have I never heard of this before! Thanks for posting this. I’ve got a Europe trip next month where I’m flying back from CPH and was just looking at positioning flights there from Eastern Europe….looks like I may now be booking a flight to Hamburg and doing this instead!
Very cool Seth.
Damn. I didn’t know that was ending. A real shame. The train onto a ferry experience was incredible.
There’s still a similar journey during the summer from Berlin to Malmo in Sweden. It’s a sleeper service that spends 4 hours on a ferry. Guests have the option to stay on the train or explore the ship. Great way to save on a night’s accommodation when I was Interrailing some years ago.
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