How to use Munich's public transport System

As a tourist from abroad, you will usually have no car with you.
Trust me, you don't need a car to see the fascinating city of Munich. There is a really good public transport system.

Compared to the size and the number of inhabitants (approx. 1,5 Million people) Munich has a very extensive public transport system, consisting of commuter trains, subways, tramways and buses serving more than 710 Million people per year in an area of 5.500 square kilometres (2.123 square miles).

The network consists of 617 kilometres (383 miles) of train tracks, about 500 kilometres (310 miles) of bus lines in the city area and another 4.800 kilometres (2.982 miles) of bus lines in the greater Munich area. Impressive, isn’t it? Here I will tell you how to use the public transport system in Munich, how to buy tickets and the pro’s and con’s of Munichs public transport system.

Understandig the different types of transport in Munich

The most confusing especially for first time visitor is understanding the different types of public transport in Munich. Again: There are commuter trains, subways, tramways and buses. The most impressive and suitable for masses of people are on the one hand the commuter trains called „S-Bahn“ (spoken like „ace-bun“) and on the other hand the subway called „U-Bahn“ (spoken „oooh-bun“). You might have guessed it, the signs for the S-Bahn and U-Bahn are a big U and a big S. The U-Bahn sign is a white „U“ on blue ground and the S-Bahn sign is a white „S“ on green ground. While the U-sign is always a square, the S-sign is always round. But there is more to learn about the different public transportation options in Munich:

Munich subway train interior

The Munich U-Bahn (subway) quick facts

The Munich subway system was (like the S-Bahn) introduced in 1972 for the XX. Olympic Games. Today, the Munich subway system is the fastest way to get to different districts, especially during rush hour, when most streets are congested. Here are some facts about the Munich U-Bahn:

  • The U-Bahn started in 1972 with 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) of track connecting the inner city with the Olympic stadium and Olympic parc.
  • Today the U-Bahn serves 100 stations with six lines (U1 - U6) and two supporting lines (U7 & U8).
  • The latest expansion of the U-Bahn was finished in 2010.
  • As more and more people move to the city, some lines reach their maximum capacity especially during rush hour. Therefore, there are plans to expand the network again until 2025.
  • The common frequency is 10 minutes. Where more lines operate on the same tracks and where supporting lines operate, there are often frequencies from 3 to 5 minutes.
  • The Munich subway is run by the Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft - MVG (Munich transport company), which is a subcompany of the Stadtwerke München - SWM (municipal works company). The subway uses the Bavarian colour sheme blue and white.
  • There is no circular subway system. All subways head for the inner city.
  • All subway lines operate underground with one exception. The U6 goes overground in the north of the city. The U6 is also the only line that crosses the city boundary.

The Munich S-Bahn (urban rail) quick facts

The S-Bahn was introduced in 1972 for the XX. Olympic Games and replaced the old commuter trains to the suburbs. Until today the S-Bahn is the most frequently used public transport system as it carries thousands of commuters from home to work and back. It also brings people from the greater Munich area to the city center in a quite short time. Here are some facts about the Munich S-Bahn:

  • S-Bahn is either the abbreviation for "Schnellbahn" (rapid transit train) or "Stadtbahn" (city train). Nobody knows exactly.
  • The Munich S-Bahn is run by Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) and therefore uses the Deutsche Bahn colour sheme (red/grey/white).
  • It uses electric rail cars with about 190 seats and standing room for about 350 people per car.
  • A S-Bahn train usually consists of two rail cars.
  • The common train frequency is 10 minutes during rush hour, otherwise 20 minutes.
  • There are seven S-Bahn lines. S1 - S8 (funnily S5 is missing).
  • All S-Bahn lines have to go through the inner city. There is no circular railway system like for example in Berlin
  • All S-Bahn trains run underground like a subway in the inner city. Munich therefore actually has two different subway systems in the inner city, but the S-Bahn just crosses the city in east-west direction, while subways connect different city districts.

The Munich tramway system quick facts

The tramway (local dialect: "Tram") in Munich is the oldest public transport system. Munich got its first horsecar - "Tram" in 1876. Electric tramways were introduced around 1900. Until the Second World War, Munich had a quite extensive tramway system consisting of 28 lines. Here are some facts about the Munich tramway system:

  • The Munich tramway is run by the Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft - MVG (Munich transport company), which is a subcompany of the Stadtwerke München - SWM (municipal works company). The tramway uses the Bavarian colour sheme blue and white.
  • Before the subway was opened in 1972, the tramway was the easisiet way to get to the city center and to different districts in Munich.
  • In the 1980s there were discussions to abandon the whole tramway system, but the city council decided to stick with it and even build new lines.
  • The tramway stays within the city boundaries, with one exception: Line 25 crosses the city boundaries to the quite wealthy suburb of Grünwald in the south.
  • In the 1948 the famous local folk singer Ferdinand Weisheitinger (known in Bavarian history as "Weiss Ferdl") sang a song about tramway line No. 8 and what a commuter can see there everyday. The song is known by Munich citizens until today - line No. 8 is gone.
  • There are specific "Night tramways" that operate hourly throughout the night to bring you home after clubbing or a long evening in a pub.

The Munich bus system quick facts

When there were the technical possibilities to use motrized vehicles to transport a bunch of people, soon buslines were introduced - also in Munich:

  • In 1897, Munich got its first motorized bus line.
  • The Munich bus lines are run by the Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft - MVG (Munich transport company), which is a subcompany of the Stadtwerke München - SWM (municipal works company). The buses use the Bavarian colour sheme blue and white.
  • Today, the bus lines operate more than 480 kilometres (300 miles).
  • Outside the city boundaries, you will also find buslines that connect the outskirts and suburbs called "Regionalbusse" (regional buses). These are run by different companies, but use the same tariff as in the city. They also have a consistent colour sheme (green-white-blue).
  • Regional buses use the numbers 200 - 999

Don't get confused by different company signs

As a tourist you might be confused using the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, tramways and buses in and around Munich, as more than fifty companies run them. You might think there are different tariff systems and different prices, but no – you don’t have to think about the company structures behind the public transport system in Munich. Actually it’s easy as pie.