Like buses and aeroplanes, trains too, are a convenient mode of transportation. Europe being an enormous continent has so many beautiful landscapes which can only be seen closely when you are travelling by train. Visitors, adventurers and local tourists as well, simply love train rides across European cities and countries. So, if you are planning to visit one more European city and want to experience travelling by train, this guide has a lot of tips to offer.
In this travel guide, we will share with you a few tips on how to travel in Europe by train and make the most of it.
Train Rides Within and Across Europe
European countries are inter-connected by railways that are both affordable and give travellers a different experience altogether. In fact, they are fast, frequent and reliable. But, that’s not all. Travelling in Europe by train also has several advantages.
Extensive Rail Networks
There is an extensive rail network that connects many European cities, including some rural and remote regions as well. Thus, travelling to different regions that usually can’t be reached by buses or planes, should give you an excellent experience.
Aside from travel within cities and smaller regions, you can also take trains to get to cities across the borders. For example, you can also travel by train from Paris to somewhere in France or Switzerland, which can be more delightful than getting to these places via flight.
Frequency of Trains
Trains are available every few minutes to few hours from their respective stations. You can also confirm various train timings at the stations so that you will know when to board your train.
Additionally, your train ticket will also contain information about the station, departure time, arrival time, etc.
Classes in Trains
There are different classes in trains as well. They have First, Second and Business classes. First and Business class compartments on trains are nice, but they are not exponentially nicer than Second class. The seats are quite narrow in second class, and there are usually more seats per car, but second class trains are generally quite comfortable. If you are on a budget, the second class compartment is definitely the way to go.
If you are travelling on overnight trains, there are also different classes of sleeper cabins. These sleeper cabins offer from private cabins to shared bunk rooms, and their prices depend on the level of privacy that you need for your journey.
Train Lines in Europe
Here are a few of the major national train lines:
- Austria: ÖBB
- Belgium: NMBS/SNCB
- France: SNCF
- Germany: Deutsche Bahn
- Great Britain: National Rail
- Ireland: Irish Rail
- Italy: Trenitalia
- The Netherlands: NS
- Spain: RENFE
- Switzerland: SBB/CFF/FFS
Rail Routes in Europe
There are a couple of train journeys in Europe that are different and incredibly popular with travellers. Sometimes, trains are nearly the best way to get from one place to another, and also because it is an iconic travel experience.
Here are a few popular rail routes in Europe that you can take to visit popular cities.
Amsterdam to Brussels
The train trip between Amsterdam and Brussels combines the Netherlands and Belgium in one trip. The entire journey is about 209.24 km (130 miles) and takes less than 2 hours on high-speed Thalys trains, whereas it takes about 2.75 hours on less expensive regional trains.
Berlin to Munich
A train trip between two of Germany’s most popular cities is also convenient via the Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed ICE trains. The fastest trip takes less than five hours to cover 630.86 km (392 miles), while slower trains can take eight hours. There is a direct train from Berlin to Munich and another route that stops in Nuremberg, if you would like to visit during a stopover.
Lisbon to Porto
Travelling on a train to the Portuguese capital with Porto takes just about 2.75 hours to cover the 333.13 km (207 miles) distance through some of the beautiful scenery in the country, including passing through the historic Coimbra and over one of the longest bridges in Europe.
London to Edinburgh
The Caledonian Sleeper is arguably the most luxurious train that connects London with Edinburgh in Scotland. The distance of the trip from London to Edinburgh is about 630.86 km (392 miles) and takes less than 4.5 hours by regular train. However, with a roughly 7-hour overnight trip on the Caledonian Sleeper, you will save the expense of one hotel night and be treated to a high-end train experience.
London to Paris
The 453.83 km (282 miles) trip on Eurostar train between London and Paris takes about 2.25 hours. Riding on a high-speed train underneath the English Channel is a rather unique travel experience.
Madrid to Barcelona
Spain’s high-speed AVE trains through the countryside from Madrid to Barcelona covers the 608.33 km (378 miles) distance in just about 2.5 hours. Regional trains cover the same distance in roughly nine hours. So, your best bet is to travel on the high-speed train.
Paris to Bordeaux
A train trip from the French capital to the heart of one of the country’s most popular wine regions will give you a unique experience. It takes as little as two hours to cover the distance of 539.13 km (335 miles) and only five minutes on the high-speed TGV trains.
Venice to Rome
Frecce is Italy’s high-speed trains that travel from the fabled canal city to the historic centre of the Roman Empire. It covers a distance of 526.25 km (327 miles) in less than four hours. Another high-speed rail service called Italo, also connects Venice and Rome in about the same time. However, Italo is not covered by rail passes.
Vienna to Budapest
RailJet trains are high-speed trains that can cover the distance of 244 km (152 miles) in less three hours. But, if you want to see more along the way from Vienna to Budapest, you might just take the slower regional trains. These trains have total journey time of a little more than four hours, if you do not get off the train to explore the more scenic route.
Tips for Planning Trips and Booking Trains to Travel in Europe
Whether you are visiting Europe for the first time, or are a frequent visitor, these tips will help you make your time in around Europe worthwhile.
Plan Your Train Rides
A good travel plan makes about 80 per cent of your holiday trip successful. Even so, planning your travel during a peak or off-peak season can have a significant advantage or disadvantage on your travel expenses, too.
It is usually seen that peak seasons attract more visitors from all over the world, while off-peak seasons do not see much tourism.
Book Reservations or Get a Rail Pass
Similar to buying plane and bus tickets, you will, of course, need a train reservation to travel across cities in Europe. You can book a train reservation online or via a travel agency in your area. Now, depending on your travel journey(s), some trains may require an additional reservation that will also cost extra. However, if the trains you are taking do not mandate booking reservations, in such cases, you would simply need to hop on a train carrying your pass.
Alternatively, you can buy rail passes that are usually valid for 24 hours. Using a rail pass, you can easily travel to various places by taking several train journeys within the 24-hour period. The cost of rail passes can vary depending on the traveller and travel day(s). Also, there are discounts on rail passes, particularly for seniors and youth (up to age 27), and the number of travel days needed within a month.
Sometimes, it is a great way to save money on train tickets by using a rail pass to travel by train in Europe, however, you will also need to find out if your specific itinerary would be cheaper with a rail pass or with point-to-point tickets instead. For instance, you can look up the cost of individual train tickets for each leg of your journey, then compare the total cost of those tickets to the cost of the rail passes that cover the countries you will be visiting, and have the right number of travel days. This should help you figure out which one is less expensive.
The type of rail pass you can get depends on where you live. For example, citizens of any country outside Europe are eligible to purchase a Eurail Pass, whereas citizens of European countries are eligible for an Interrail Pass. These rail passes function in the same way and also have roughly similar benefits and drawbacks. However, they are not interchangeable. While most train trips in Europe are included on a rail pass, some are not. Also, scenic trains are often either not covered at all or only discounted, and the same goes for private rail companies as well.
Additionally, there are also regional breakdowns of the types of passes available underneath the general rail pass umbrella. Global Pass covers most countries, while Eurail Italy Pass, Eurail France Pass, etc. are country-specific passes that mainly cover the country name. There are also a couple of passes that cover more than one country, but not the entire continent. This is to reflect how travellers move through Europe. For example, the Benelux Pass covers countries, like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, while the Scandinavia Pass covers countries, like Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all on one pass.
Book Train Tickets Ahead of Time
In contrast to purchasing rail passes for your 24-hour train journey, you may look for tickets that are available for booking in advance. A train ticket and a reservation are two different things. While some trains require both, other trains only require tickets. Thus, you will just find a vacant seat and sit where you like.
Buying train tickets in advance will not only help you save money, but you can also avoid waiting in the queue at every train station. When you purchase individual train tickets online through the official website, you may sometimes, be offered discounts that are usually not available at the station’s ticket counter, especially if you book tickets in advance. Prices for train tickets are not fixed and may increase as the date of departure nears. Bear in mind that most tickets are not available for sale more than 90 days before the travel date.
Ensure Your Train Ticket is Valid
If you have only a ticket with no reservation, chances are good you will need to validate it, particularly if there is no date associated with the ticket. (If you’re not sure whether you need to validate your ticket, find an information desk or ask a station official.) Validation machines are usually near the entrance to the platforms and are often relatively small machines with a slot where you’ll insert the ticket so it can be stamped with the date and time.
Getting to Train Stations
The size of train stations and the number of platforms can vary from one city or country to another. The rail networks also play a key role in the frequency of the departure and arrival of trains. So, make sure you are going to the right train station and platform to board your train on time.
Also, to get to train stations, you can take buses or taxis, or perhaps, a family member or friend can simply drop you off in their car to the station. If you have a local guide map with you, it will certainly help you with navigating from one point to another, and without getting lost.
Stack Up with What You Need
It is important that you carry a few essential items before taking train rides. From snacks to books or magazines, these will add some comfort to your trip. Although you will be mesmerised and captivated by the scenic beauty around you and some trains may even serve meals to passengers travelling on long journeys, the essential items you are carrying should also be useful.
Many train stations often have vending machines, where you can get some snacks for your short or long journey, just in case. There are also news-stand, if you need to buy a newspaper along the way.
Pay close attention to what’s required for the train trips on your itinerary so you’re sure to have what you need.