The European continent has one of the best railway networks in the world, seamlessly connecting most of its countries with a broad range of regional, international and high-speed trains.
Train travel in Europe is not only an efficient means of transportation but also an excellent way to see the countryside and its gorgeous landscapes.
But, traveling by train might feel a little confusing for some travelers, so here I’ll give you eight tips that will help you master and get the most out of train travel in Europe.
1. Eurail Pass vs. Individual Tickets
Eurail passes are made to ease your train travel experience through Europe for a specific period (up to two months) and a specific number of countries (up to 26 covered countries). It is also designed to give you a lot of flexibility on the road and to lower the cost of your transportation.
If you intend to take just two or three trains in one or a few countries, then it’s likely that a Eurail pass is not for you, as the individual train tickets (point-by-point) might cost less than a pass (which will end up partially unused). On the other hand, if you know you will be hopping on a train regularly, then a pass might be the best option for you.
Think of a preliminary itinerary and calculate the total point-by-point price on RailEurope.com and then compare that with the cost of the pass covering the same countries on Eurail.com.
2. You Must Buy the Eurail Passes Before Leaving the US
Should you decide a Eurail Pass is for you, these must be purchased before you leave the US, at least a few weeks before departing. The pass will be mailed to you along with some additional information, like train schedules and some further instructions. There are some exceptions, though. Passes like the multi-country pass are sold at some of Europe’s major railway stations, but their price tag is higher than in the U.S. Some countries also offer their local pass at major stations, but again, at a higher price.
Point-by-Point tickets can be bought ahead of time or right before hopping on the train. It depends on the season, availability, and type of reservation required. My recommendation is that once you’re set with your itinerary, try to buy the tickets to secure your seats (if they must be reserved).
3. Do Not Forget To Validate Your Pass Or Train Ticket
If traveling with a pass, before you take your first train, you MUST validate your pass at a train station in a country where Eurail is valid. A railway official will fill in the start and end date of your pass as well as your passport number. Also, they will stamp your pass to validate the date on which train travel begins. Activation is required within six months of the issuing date. To validate, you must provide proof of ID (passport) and the pass. Should you not validate your pass, you will be required to pay the full fare of the train ride you’re taking.
Should you travel with Point-by-Point tickets, at most train stations you must validate your ticket with the time-stamp machines located on the train platform. Should you not do this, a train official could fine you. Should there not be a time-stamp device, make sure a train official stamps your pass during the ride.
4. Extra Reservation Fees
When traveling point-by-point, the full fare of the ticket will include the seat reservation (if required), the sleeping berth reservation (if traveling overnight) and any other fee. No worries there. Should you be traveling with a pass, some trains will require an extra fee to reserve a seat or sleeping berth. How do you know if this is necessary? When preparing your schedule with the booklet received by Eurail, look if your train of interest has an "R" listed in the box where the departure and arrival time is listed. The "R" stands for "reservation required."
How do you reserve a seat? Go to the train station with enough time before departure (or the day before if high season) to go to the cashier, present your pass, and ask for a seat reservation on the desired train. Should there be a seat available, it will be immediately reserved for you and charged accordingly (from free to $15+). The same applies with the bed symbol, which represents the requirement of sleeping berth reservation. Reservations can also be made in advance online.
5. Local Language
When using the timetable guide, bear in mind that the city names are written in the local language. For example, when looking for Copenhagen, you must look for København; or Wien for Vienna.
6. Snacks and Water
It’s always good to have something to snack on readily available, but it is essential to at least have water with you on sleeper trains because many of them shut down their cafeterias late at night.
7. Passes Use Travel Days and Not Number of Trains
Your pass will allow you to travel for 5, 10, 15 days (continuous or actual days of travel), or any given number of days purchased. What this means is that you can take as many trains as you want during that one day. Once the clock hits 12:00 am, if you take another train, then that one ride will count as an extra day of travel.
8. When You Should Pay
If you know you’re likely to use all your days of travel allowed in the pass, or surpass them, then pay for a few of the cheaper local trains to save a travel day for the expensive train rides. I did this in Italy by paying 5 Euros on a regional train but then used my last travel day on a 50 Euro train ride.
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