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Train advice from the Man in Seat 61...

The Man in Seat 61

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A beginner's guide to

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Train travel UK & Ireland...

Train travel in europe..., train travel in asia..., train travel in africa..., train travel in america..., train travel in australasia.

Europe starts on Eurostar at St Pancras...

Breakfast in London, dinner in Barcelona

There's no need to fly within Europe.  It's surprisingly easy, quick and comfortable to travel by train from London to almost anywhere:  Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Prague, Helsinki, wherever...  The difficult bit is finding out how to do it and where to buy tickets.  That's where Seat 61 comes in.

This website explains the best routes, train times & fares from London to major destinations all over Europe, and between major European cities.

It explains the best way to buy tickets for your specific journeys, whether you live in the UK, mainland Europe, the USA, Australia, wherever.

Train times & tickets

If your journey starts in the UK , select your destination country in the upper drop-down box to see the best routes, train times, fares & how to buy tickets.

If your journey starts in another European country , select the city where your journey starts in the lower drop-down box - if it isn't listed, select one nearest to it in the same country.

Return to this page for general information & advice about European train travel.

Planning your trip

How to buy tickets, luggage, bikes, dogs & cars, about specific trains & routes, station guides, how to check train times.

If you only remember one European train travel resource

Apart from seat 61 of course - make it int.bahn.de .  This has an excellent online timetable for the whole of Europe, probably the most useful European train travel resource on the net.  Ask it for Palermo to Helsinki or Lisbon to Moscow and you'll see what I mean.  These tips may help:

Place names

It recognises English-language place names & prompts with station or city names.

If you don't know which station to select

The safest option is to select the plain city name, often in capitals, for example PARIS or BERLIN.  The system will work out which is the relevant station for your journey.

If it only offers specific stations, try to select the main station in that city, which may be shown as main station or (in Italy) Centrale , in the Netherlands as Centraal , in Germany or Austria as Hauptbahnhof, Hbf or HB (= main station in German), Hlavni in Czech or Glowny (Gl.) in Polish.

In Brussels, Brussels South Station is the main station, also known as Brussels Midi or Brussel Zuid .  In Barcelona, select Barcelona Sants .  In Verona, select Verona Porta Nuova .  In Turin, the main terminus station is Torino Porta Nuova , but the TGV trains to/from Paris use Torino Porta Susa , which many trains leaving from Porta Nuova heading for Venice or Rome also call at.  In Venice, Venice Santa Lucia is on the Grand Canal in central Venice, Venice Mestre is on the mainland.  In Lisbon, select Lisbon Santa Apolonia .

It only holds data for the main rail operators

Plus some smaller operators, not for all trains everywhere.  Notably it does not cover:

- Some private open-access operators such as Italo in Italy.

- The Circumvesuviana Railway, Naples-Herculaneum-Pompeii-Sorrento.

- Euskotren in Spain, operating narrow gauge local trains between Hendaye, San Sebastian & Bilbao.

- FEVE in Spain, who run narrow gauge local trains along the north coastal towns.

- Spanish suburban routes including Barcelona to Latour de Carol and Barcelona to Portbou & Cerbère.

- It doesn't always hold complete or 100% accurate data for the Balkans or Greek domestic trains.

For British train times it's better to use www.nationalrail.co.uk as this will show any engineering work alterations.

Timetable changes in June & December

It usually holds data only until the next Europe-wide timetable change , which happens twice a year at midnight on the 2nd Saturday in June & December.  So don't be surprised if it shows no trains running in late December if you ask it in August, that's beyond the December timetable change.  Data for dates after the December timetable change usually starts to come online by mid-October and isn't 100% reliable until early December.  Also note that data for French, Italian & Spanish trains will only be held for the next few months, not for the whole timetable period.

This system is very good, but some railways (typically the Spanish, Hungarians, Polish & Balkan railways) can be late in supplying data, and data can be unreliable in some parts of the Balkans, for example.  If you get strange results you can try the railway operator's own website instead, for example www.renfe.com for Spain or www.ose.gr for Greece.  There's a complete list of rail websites on the useful links page .

You can adjust transfer time

By default the system allows the minimum time to change trains, whether changing into a local train that runs every 30 minutes or into a sleeper train which you can't afford to miss.  It won't suggest impossible connections, it always allows enough time to walk from one train to the other if the first train is on time, but it doesn't take into account the possibility of the first train running 20 minutes late. 

It's a good policy to allow more time for transfers, so click in the From box to open the details panel, then change Transfer time from Normal to (say) at least 40 minutes .

On a through ticket you're legally entitled to later onward travel if a delay means a missed connection ( more info on that here ), but with separate non-refundable train-specific tickets the risk is yours so you should allow more than the minimum, see more about how long to allow for connections here .

You can specify a route or add stopovers

Click Stopovers to set one or two via stations if you want to find journeys via a particular route.  By adding a duration in hours and minutes you can specify stopovers at these stations.

Fares & tickets

int.bahn.de will show train times for virtually any journey in Europe, but will only show fares and sell tickets for journeys to, from or within Germany, plus a few cross-Germany routes such as Belgium/Netherlands to Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic.  To check fares for other journeys, see the How to buy European train tickets page .

DB Navigator is a free online train timetable app for all of Europe, the app version of the German Railways all-Europe online timetable at bahn.de.  It provided a journey planner, train details, and calling points, though it needs a WiFi or mobile data connection.  To download, go to int.bahn.de/en/booking-information/db-navigator (please let me know if that link stops working).

Railplanner is a free offline train timetable app that you can download onto your phone to check train times & train calling points on the move without the need to be on WiFi or to use mobile data .  It's blisteringly quick and covers almost all the train covered by the DB Navigator app.  The whole European timetable sits on your phone, with updates automatically downloaded every month.  It's created with Eurail and Interrail passholders in mind, but is useful for anyone. Download for iPhone or Android at www.eurail.com/en/plan-your-trip/rail-planner-app - please let me know if the link stops working!

Station arrivals & departures

Click here & enter a station to check scheduled train departures or arrivals at almost any station across Europe.  This is an online equivalent of the printed departure posters displayed at stations.  It shows real-time information for stations in Germany if you pick today's date, but for 'real time' information in other countries, see the real-time section below .

The European Rail Timetable

The world-famous European Rail Timetable is the train traveller's bible, with route maps and up-to-date timetables for trains, buses and ferries for all European countries, plus trains in Asian Turkey and Russia including the Trans-Siberian railway, ferries to North Africa & the Mediterranean islands.

Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook pulled the plug on their entire publishing department, and the August 2013 edition was the last to be published by Thomas Cook.  The good news is that the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team set up a private venture and a reborn European Rail Timetable continues to be published.  Remarkably, the timetable has now survived its parent company, as Thomas Cook collapsed in 2019.  What does it contain?

Buy online at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu for around £16.99 with shipping worldwide.

If you live in the UK you can also buy from www.amazon.co.uk , it's eligible for Amazon Prime next-day delivery.

Back to top

How to check fares & buy tickets

This section has turned into a bit of an essay .  If you just want to know how to buy tickets, skip this section, go to the How to buy tickets page , select a specific journey and I'll tell you how to book it.  If you're interested in how European train booking works (or doesn't), read on.

Reality check:  No single website sells tickets for all trains in all countries

Although you can look up train times almost anywhere in Europe using int.bahn.de , there isn't a single website that can show fares & sell tickets for every European train in every country.

So you can't go to europeanrailways.com (there's no such site) and buy a Stockholm to Alicante ticket (there's no such ticket).  It's perfectly possible to travel by train from Stockholm to Alicante, but we're talking 6 trains run by 5 different operators ticketed with at least 4 separate tickets.  Ah, I see from the look on your face that realisation is beginning to dawn...

Each country has its own national operator with its own website

Each national train operator has its own website and its own ticketing system.  Then there are various private operators, either genuinely independent such as Italo , Regiojet or Leo Express , or pseudo-independent such as TGV-Lyria created by the relevant national rail operator(s) to run specific international routes.

In fact, Europe has over 50 different rail operator websites selling train tickets for their own trains, even before considering third-party ticket resellers.  You need to use the right website for the right journey.  So which is the relevant operator for your journey?

If you go to the How to buy tickets page , select your starting city, and on the next page select your destination, you'll find my advice on how to book that specific route.

However, as a rule of thumb, if there's a named operator such as Eurostar or Regiojet you'd go to that operator's website, in this case Eurostar.com or Regiojet.com.  If it's a normal international train jointly run by the relevant national rail operators, your starting assumption should be to use the national rail operator website for the country where your journey starts, then check the one where it ends.

The pseudo-independent operators can also be booked at the owning national operator sites

Eurostar is owned by French Railways (SNCF) and others, and Eurostar tickets can also be bought at SNCF's website www.sncf-connect.com .  TGV-Lyria is owned by SNCF & SBB (Swiss Railways) and can also be booked at www.sncf-connect.com or www.sbb.ch.  The national operator sites can of course book other trains in their respective countries too, in connection with Eurostar or TGV-Lyria.  So London to Avignon by Eurostar & onwards French train can be booked as one transaction at French Railways www.sncf-connect.com , for example.  It can be useful to know that!

International trains can usually be booked at the national operator website at either end

For international journeys, your starting assumption is to book them at the national rail operator website for the country where the journey starts.  But if a train can be e-ticketed, you can also book using the destination country's national train operator website.

For example, Berlin-Prague trains are run jointly by German & Czech national railways, and can be booked at either German Railways int.bahn.de or Czech Railways www.cd.cz with print-your-own tickets.

Now it gets interesting, as this is one of the routes where each partner operator manages advance-purchase price levels independently.  So the price at bahn.de might be €39 (with cheaper €19 & €29 tickets sold out), whilst €19 tickets remain available for the same train at cd.cz.  It pays to check both!

In fact, even the fixed-price full-flex fare can differ between partner operators.  As I write this, Austrian Railways (ÖBB) charge €64 for a full-flex on-the-day ticket from Vienna to Prague, but even if you were in the ÖBB ticket office at Vienna Hbf, it'd be cheaper to whip out your phone and buy exactly the same ticket for the same trains from Czech Railways for €42.

But a word of warning:  Check ticket delivery carefully if buying from the operator at the destination end.  For example, Austrian Railways oebb.at issues print-your-own tickets for Vienna-Venice trains so can be used for either direction.  Trenitalia.com can also book these Vienna-Venice trains, but you must collect a hard-copy ticket from a Trenitalia ticket machine or ticket office in Italy - not much help if you're starting in Vienna!

There are exceptions to this rule, of course.  The Paris-Milan Frecciarossas enter France on an open-access commercial basis, so can only be booked at Trenitalia.com, not SNCF-connect.com.  Whilst the competing Paris-Milan TGVs enter Italy on an open-access commercial basis and can only be booked at SNCF-connect.com, not Trenitalia.com.

Some trains aren't bookable online at all

Another reality check:  Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian & Turkish railways don't sell international tickets online, for example.  Trains between Slovenia or Croatia & Germany can be booked online in either direction at German Railways int.bahn.de .  Trains between Slovenia or Croatia & Austria can be booked online in either direction at Austrian Railways www.oebb.at .  But the only way to buy tickets from Ljubljana to Zagreb or Zagreb to Belgrade or Sofia to Istanbul, is at the station.

Longer journeys often need to be broken down into stages

Many international journeys involve a change of train, often this means a change of operator.  Operator websites may not be able to sell tickets for such journeys.  Nice to Milan can't be booked at the French Railways website www.sncf-connect.com , because SNCF can't access prices or tickets for the Trenitalia train between Ventimiglia & Milan (Ventimiglia is the border station where you change trains).  And the Trenitalia website can't book you from Nice to Milan either, because it can't access prices or tickets for the SNCF train between Nice & Ventimiglia.  You need to book Nice-Ventimiglia at www.sncf-connect.com and Ventimiglia-Milan at Trenitalia.com .  Two tickets, two bookings, on two different websites, such is the reality of Europe's rail network in the 21st century.  But there are two specialist retailer sites that resolve this.

Introducing www.raileurope.com & www.thetrainline.com

Two ticket retailer websites deserve a special mention, www.raileurope.com & www.thetrainline.com .  These connect to multiple operators, allowing tickets for trains across much of western Europe to be booked in one place.

They have their own journey planning logic, so (for example) they can work out a suitable journey from Nice to Milan using an SNCF train from Nice to Ventimiglia and a Trenitalia train from Ventimiglia to Milan, they then source the Nice-Ventimiglia ticket from SNCF and the Ventimiglia-Milan ticket from Trenitalia, and add them together to provide you with a Nice-Milan journey as one seamless transaction.

I often recommend www.raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com as they allow you to book tickets together in one place for journeys that would otherwise require multiple bookings on different websites.  They are designed for international users, so happily accept overseas payment cards (some national train operator sites struggle) and are written in plain English (some national rail operator sites slip back into local language or use poor English translations).  The downside is that they charge a small booking fee, but it's often worth paying that.

Raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com currently connect to the following national railways: Great Britain (National Rail), France (SNCF), Spain (Renfe), Italy (Trenitalia), Germany (Deutsche Bahn), Austria (ÖBB).  They also both connect to private operator Italo .  www.thetrainline.com also connects to Swiss Railways (SBB), the Benelux ticketing system (SNCB, NS & CFL) and private operators Regiojet & Westbahn .

Raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com come as close as you'll get to a pan-European train booking site, but even they don't yet connect to the Portuguese, Czech, Slovakian, Slovenian, Croatian, Hungarian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Romanian, or Polish Railways ticketing systems.  So for a €15 Lisbon-Porto ticket you still need to go to Portuguese Railways www.cp.pt and the only place you'll find a €21 Prague-Budapest ticket is Czech Railways www.cd.cz.  You get the picture?

More about who Thetrainline are .  More about who Raileurope are .

Incidentally, you might also come across Omio.com .  Omio has similar connectivity, but at the time I write this it doesn't have any journey planning logic.  So although it can sell you a Nice-Ventimiglia ticket using its connection to SNCF if you ask it for Nice to Ventimiglia, and it can sell a Ventimiglia-Milan ticket using its connection to Trenitalia if you ask it for Ventimiglia to Milan, if you ask it for Nice to Milan it will say there are no trains (and will suggest a flight) because it lacks the capability to plan the journey itself and combine multiple tickets.  It also says there are no trains for journeys where it lacks the necessary connectivity.  For example, Omio says there are no trains from Budapest to Zagreb and suggests a bus, but you can easily buy a train ticket from €19 from Hungarian Railways at www.mavcsoport.hu .  So it's important to understand a site's limitations.  Omio does have some extra connectivity, for example it connects to Swedish Railways sj.se so can be useful to book Swedish trains if sj.se rejects your credit card, and to Portuguese Railways cp.pt which no other site does.

So which website should you use to buy tickets?

Don't worry!  On seat61.com I'll tell you the right website(s) to use for any given European journey (well, almost).  Go to the How to buy European tickets page and select your starting city.  On the next page, select your destination city.  I'll then explain the different ways you can make that specific journey and which website(s) to use to buy tickets.

To check fares & buy tickets in one country

You can check fares & (usually) buy tickets for domestic journeys at each country's national rail website, see the links page for a complete list .

To check fares & buy tickets for international journeys

The national rail websites listed above sometimes sell international tickets to neighbouring countries as well, but often only in a limited way, for example tickets for direct trains.  However, you'll find detailed advice on how to book specific international journeys on the How to buy European tickets page .  Here are some general rules of thumb.

Rule-of-thumb 1, try www.raileurope.com & www.thetrainline.com .

These connect to the British, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Austrian, Benelux systems and can easily book journeys including multi-operator journeys to, from and within those countries.

Be aware of their limitations:  You still need to use other sites for journeys not covered, for example they don't connect to the Portuguese, Norwegian, Finnish, Croatian, Bulgarian, Czech or Hungarian ticketing systems.  They also charge a small booking fee, you can avoid paying any fee by buying direct from train operator websites, using the following rules of thumb.

Rule-of-thumb 2 , if you know that the train you want is run by a specific operator, go to that operator's website:

- www.eurostar.com for Eurostar trains between London & Paris, London & Brussels or anywhere in Belgium.

- www.tgv-lyria.com or www.sncf-connect.com for TGV-Lyria high-speed trains between Paris & Switzerland.

- www.regiojet.com for Regiojet trains between Vienna & Prague or Prague & Bratislava.

Rule-of-thumb 3 , otherwise, simply go to the national train website for the country where your journey starts.  Although there are many exceptions to this rule, as you can see below:

- For journeys starting in London : 

   www.eurostar.com for Eurostar to Lille, Paris, Brussels or anywhere in Belgium.

   www.nsinternational.nl or www.b-europe.com for journeys to Rotterdam, Amsterdam or anywhere in Belgium or the Netherlands.

   www.raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com for journeys to anywhere in France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Milan, Turin, Germany. 

- For journeys starting in Paris & France :

   The French Railways site www.sncf-connect.com sells many journeys from Paris & French cities to neighbouring countries.

   For journeys from Paris to Germany, it's better to use German Railways int.bahn.de .

   For journeys from Paris & France to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria it's better to use www.raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com .

- For journeys starting in Brussels, Bruges or Belgium :

   The Belgian Railways international site www.b-europe.com will handle journeys to neighbouring countries.

   For journeys from Belgium to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Czech Rep. it's better to use German Railways int.bahn.de .

   For the Nightjet sleeper from Brussels to Vienna it's better to use Austrian Railways www.oebb.at or www.thetrainline.com .

- For journeys starting in Amsterdam & the Netherlands:

   The Dutch Railways international site www.nsinternational.nl will handle journeys to neighbouring countries.

   For journeys to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Czech Rep., Sweden it's better to use German Railways int.bahn.de .

   For the Nightjet sleeper train from Amsterdam to Munich, Innsbruck & Vienna use Austrian Railways www.oebb.at or www.thetrainline.com .

- For journeys starting in Switzerland :

   The Swiss Railways site www.sbb.ch can book journeys to neighbouring countries, for example Paris.

   For journeys to Paris you can also use French Railways www.sncf-connect.com , it's worth checking prices there too.

   For journeys to Italy, it's better to use Italian Railways www.trenitalia.com as SBB can't sell Trenitalia's cheap fares beyond Milan.

   For journeys to Germany, Benelux & Denmark it's better to use German Railways int.bahn.de .

   For journeys to Austria you'll often find cheaper prices at the Austrian Railways site www.oebb.at .

   For the sleeper train from Zurich to Prague sleeper, book using Czech Railways www.cd.cz as Sbb.ch can't sell it.

   For the sleeper trains from Zurich to Vienna, Budapest, Hamburg & Berlin use Austrian Railways www.oebb.at or www.thetrainline.com .

- For journeys starting in Italy :

   The Italian Railways site www.trenitalia.com can book many international trains from Italy, but not the French-run trains Milan-Turin-Paris.

   For journeys from Milan or Turin to Paris, use French Railways www.sncf-connect.com .  Add connecting tickets from other cities at www.trenitalia.com .

   It's better to use Austrian Railways www.oebb.at for Venice-Vienna day & sleeper trains, Rome-Florence-Vienna/Munich sleeper trains.

- For journeys starting in Germany : 

   German Railways int.bahn.de sells through tickets to most neighbouring countries. 

   For travel to Austria, it's often cheaper to use Austrian Railways www.oebb.at , so check this too.

   For travel to Prague, it's often cheaper to use Czech Railways www.cd.cz , so check this too.

   For Nightjet sleeper trains within Germany & to Switzerland & Austria, it's better to use Austrian Railways www.oebb.at .

- For journeys starting in Austria:

    Austrian Railways www.oebb.at can book journeys to most neighbouring countries.

   For travel to Germany, also check German Railways int.bahn.de as they can occasionally be cheaper for the same train.

   For travel to Prague, check prices at Czech Railways www.cd.cz too as they can be cheaper than ÖBB for the same train.

- For journeys starting in Prague :

    Czech Railways www.cd.cz can book journeys to most neighbouring countries.

  For journeys between Prague & Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm also try German Railways int.bahn.de .

- For journeys starting in Budapest :

   Hungarian Railways www.mavcsoport.hu can book journeys to most neighbouring countries.

   For journeys to Germany, you can also check prices at German Railways int.bahn.de , but the Hungarians are usually cheaper.

   For journeys to Austria, you can also check prices at Austrian Railways www.oebb.at , but the Hungarians are usually cheaper.

   The sleeper trains from Budapest to Zurich & Munich can also be booked at www.oebb.at .

- For journeys starting in Slovenia or Croatia

  Zagreb or Ljubljana to Germany can be booked at German Railways int.bahn.de .

  Zagreb or Ljubljana to Austria can be booked at Austrian Railways www.oebb.at .

  Other international journeys (e.g. to Belgrade or Budapest) cannot be booked online, you have to go to the station.

- For journeys starting in Poland :

   Polish Railways haven't yet enabled online booking for international trains, except for than Berlin-Warsaw.

   You can book from Warsaw or Krakow to German cities at German Railways int.bahn.de and print out your ticket.

   The sleeper train from Warsaw & Krakow to Vienna can be booked at Austrian Railways www.oebb.at as you can print your own ticket.

   All other international tickets starting in Poland can be arranged through reliable ticketing agency www.polrail.com .

- For journeys starting in Copenhagen :

   Danish Railways www.dsb.dk can't sell international tickets.

   German Railways int.bahn.de can sell tickets from Copenhagen to Germany, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, Switzerland.

- For journeys starting in Stockholm & Sweden :

   Omio.com (formerly GoEuro) or www.sj.se can sell tickets to Oslo or Copenhagen or within Sweden. 

   German Railways int.bahn.de can sell tickets from Stockholm, Gothenburg & Malmo to anywhere in Germany.

   German Railways int.bahn.de can also sell tickets from Stockholm, Gothenburg & Malmo to Amsterdam, Brussels, Switzerland & Prague.

Rule-of-thumb 4 , break the journey down

I have lost count of the times I've advised travellers to split the booking and book each section of the journey, or if necessary, each individual train, at the relevant operator's website.

For example, int.bahn.de comes up with silly-money €246 prices if you ask it for Paris to Vienna, a journey which passes through Frankfurt, but it will happily sell you a Paris-Frankfurt ticket from €39 and a Frankfurt to Vienna ticket from €29 if you break the journey down.

Similarly, Prague to Venice can't be booked online anywhere, but the Czech Railways site www.cd.cz/eshop will happily sell you a Prague to Vienna ticket from €14 and Austrian Railways www.oebb.at will book the Vienna-Venice sleeper from €59 with couchette.

There are endless examples of this all over Europe, some creative thinking is often required!

Rule-of-thumb 5 , some trains cannot be booked online

Remember that some trains simply cannot be booked online so will need to be booked by phone or at the station.  For example Zagreb to Belgrade, Belgrade to Montenegro, or Sofia to Istanbul.

I'll say it again, for advice on which website to use for which specific European train journey, see the How to buy European train tickets page .

It matters whom you call!  Some agencies are better for some journeys than others because of the ticketing systems they use.

You'll find a list of agencies with advice on who to call on the How to buy train tickets by phone page .

Maps of the European rail network

Free online rail maps.

This free online rail map of Europe is a good basic overview of the extent of the European railway network.  It's intended for people using a Eurail or Interrail pass so leaves out many routes in non-Interrail/Eurail countries such as Russia & Ukraine, and leaves out many smaller lines even in countries covered by these passes.

For more detail, try the zoom-able online map of European (and indeed, world) railways at www.openrailwaymap.org .

You can also try the Swiss Railways all-Europe online map at maps.trafimage.ch .  Zoom in for more detail.

For the best (and official) map of the UK rail system, click here .

For an online map of the French rail network click here .

For an online interactive map of the German rail network click here .

For the best (and official) map of the Swiss rail system, click here .

But for a decent map of all European train routes, you really need to buy one of the printed rail maps listed below.

Rail Map Europe:  Buy here

Travellers' railway map:  buy here, rail atlas of europe by ian allan:  buy here.

Ian Allan Publishing do an excellent hardback rail atlas of Europe for around £21, available through Amazon.co.uk .  You can also buy it in the USA at Amazon.com .

Rail Atlas of Europe by M Ball:  Buy here

There's another highly-detailed European Railway atlas covering the whole of Europe, europeanrailwayatlas.com , price £24.95 in 122-page paperback book form covering 23,000 locations with free PDF version for your computer, tablet or phone.

Real-time train running information

Are the trains running on time?  Delays, incidents, strikes or disruptions?

London to Paris or Brussels by Eurostar

Changing trains in paris.

Train journeys from the UK into Europe often involve a change of train and station in Paris.  Eurostar arrives at the Gare du Nord , which is an easy 7 minute 500m walk from the Gare de l'Est but a metro or taxi ride from the other Paris stations including the Gare de Lyon .

See the Changing trains & stations in Paris page for advice on metro, RER and taxi travel, and an easy route guide.

The Paris metro website is www.ratp.fr .

If you want to spend some time in Paris, by all means take an earlier Eurostar on the outward journey or a later one on your return.  There are left luggage lockers at several Paris rail stations if you need to leave your luggage somewhere.

You can avoid the hassle of crossing Paris when travelling to many French destinations, by changing at Lille , see the London to France page .

Changing trains in Brussels

The ferry alternatives, london to paris by train & ferry.

London to Paris 'sleeper' option via Portsmouth-Caen:   There's an overnight train-ferry-train option where you can leave London Waterloo around 18:30, sleep in a comfortable cabin with en suite shower & toilet 22:45-06:45 on Brittany Ferries' overnight sailing from Portsmouth to Caen, then take a train from Caen to Paris St Lazare arriving around 11:05.  This is not a bad option if you need an alternative to Eurostar.  Times, fares & info for travelling from London & Portsmouth to Paris by overnight train & ferry are shown here .

London to Amsterdam by train & ferry

Uk to spain by ferry, other useful ferry routes.

DFDS Seaways ( www.dfds.com ) sail overnight from Newcastle to IJmuiden near Amsterdam, see the Newcastle-Amsterdam page .

Should you go 1st or 2nd class?

2nd class is absolutely fine for most travellers.  There's no need to pay for a 1st class ticket to travel in comfort these days, especially on the fast modern air-conditioned express trains.  So if you're on a budget, don't bother with 1st class unless you are offered prices that make it silly not to upgrade.

For most of us, 2nd class is the norm unless the Company is paying.  If you're visiting Europe from overseas, rest assured that there are very few peasants and chickens in 2nd class these days.

What more do you get in 1st class? 

First class gets you wider seats, plusher seats, more leg and elbow room, and fewer passengers per coach.  In most cases, assume that is all.  Luggage room is the same, perhaps with fewer passengers per coach using it, but this is not a sensible reason for paying a 1st class fare as there's always room for luggage in any class.

On a few premier trains including Eurostar , Spanish AVE trains & Lyria , some 1st class fares include an at-seat service of food & drink, but these are the exceptions.  Unless you're told otherwise, you should assume that a 1st class ticket simply gets you a nicer seat with more leg and elbow room, surrounded by more business travellers with laptops and fewer families with kids.  On German ICEs and Austrian railjets , food & drink is not included but in 1st class a steward will take orders and serve you at your seat, in 2nd class you have to go to the bistro or restaurant car.

Tables for two & solo seats:   First class cars generally have seats arranged 2+1 across the width of the car (two seats abreast, then the aisle, then one solo seat), hence the wider seats with more elbow room compared to 2+2 seating in 2nd class.  So in a typical first class car you'll find face-to-face tables for two and solo seats as well as tables for four - if you're a couple, facing each other across an intimate table for two, both of you getting a seat that's both window and aisle, is a key advantage of going 1st class.  As is booking a solo seat if you're travelling alone, a seat that's both aisle and window, where you aren't sitting next to anyone else.

Train seat numbering plans :  Click here for train seating plans

1st class can be an affordable treat

Don't decide until you see the price!  Most train operators have airline-style variable pricing, you might find 2nd class costs €40 and 1st class only €45 because of the way the price quotas have worked in each class.  In which case you'd be crazy not to pay an extra €5 to upgrade!

On sleeper trains, class is irrelevant

On sleeper trains, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class ticket is almost irrelevant, as your comfort depends on the type of sleeping accommodation you pay for:  Seat, couchette, or sleeper.  A 2nd class couchette is more comfortable (and more secure) than a 1st class seat.  A 2nd class sleeper is more comfortable than a 1st class couchette (where such things exist).  In fact, on most routes only a 2nd class ticket is now needed for a 2-bed sleeper.  On nightjet sleeper trains , for example, all accommodation is now classified as 2nd class, even deluxe sleepers with shower.  The options for travelling on overnight trains are explained here .

Should you make a seat reservation ?

Local, suburban & regional trains in most countries don't have seat reservations.  You just get on and sit where you like, like the London Underground or New York Subway.

Long-distance trains in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden & Poland are usually all-reserved and every ticket comes with a seat reservation automatically included, free of charge.  The same goes for international trains to, from or between these countries including Eurostar , TGV-Lyria , Paris-Barcelona TGVs , Paris-Milan TGVs , Paris-Milan Frecciarossas and Paris-Germany TGV/ICE trains .  Such trains often don't have any displays showing which seats are reserved and which free because it's assumed that all passengers have a reserved seat.

Long-distance trains in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark & much of central Europe are usually reservation optional .  You can travel without a reservation (the risk is you may have to stand at busy times) or you can pay a small fee to reserve a seat.  If you don't have a reservation you can sit in any empty unreserved seat - an electronic display above each seat (or on older trains, a little printed slip in a slot) show which seats are reserved.

Making a short journey mid-week in February as a solo traveller I might not bother making a reservation, especially if I'm joining at the station where the train starts so will have my pick of the seats.  But if you're making a long journey or travelling on a busy Friday or Sunday afternoon or travelling with your family or in a small group, I strongly recommend making a reservation to be sure of a seat.  You are usually offered the option of adding a seat reservation when buying a ticket online, if you fail to add one you can sometimes make a separate seat reservation only booking later, the German, Austrian & Czech railway websites can do that, but not all websites.

Forward-facing seats

I know from experience that American visitors in particular (if you'll forgive me for saying so) are obsessed with facing forwards.  Europeans less so, as we are used to trains with half the seats facing one way, half the other, and we know that it's no big deal as trains run smoothly on rails - think cruise liner restaurant, where half the diners are going backwards at 18 knots without noticing!

On most European trains you cannot specify which way your seat faces.  The reservation system knows the carriage seat layout, but it cannot predict which way round the train will enter service that day.  Indeed, on some routes the train reverses en route, for example on a journey from Rome to Venice, seats which are backward-facing from Rome to Florence will be forward-facing from Florence to Venice as the train changes direction at Florence SMN which is a terminus.  Similarly, trains from Zurich to Innsbruck, Salzburg & Vienna change direction at Buchs, before the Austrian border.

There are a few cases where a forward-facing seat can be requested.  Some operators including Eurostar keep their trains a particular way round, for example on Eurostar car 1 is always at the London end, car 16 at the Paris end.  You can often select your seat from a seat map when you book such trains direct with the relevant operator, the direction of travel is often indicated on the plan so you can see which seats face which way.  On a few TGV routes in France a clever dual numbering system allows the correct set of numbers to illuminate depending which way round the train is, which in turn allows the reservation system to offer a choice of forward-facing seat if you book at www.sncf-connect.com or www.thetrainline.com .  In the UK, we have traditionally had a much simpler low-tech system.  Two seats facing each other have the same number, say 15, the one facing is 15F and the one going backwards is 15B.

Remember that on trains where reservation is optional (domestic trains in Benelux countries, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, and much of Eastern Europe) you can sit where you like, and if you find your reserved seats not to your liking just sit elsewhere.  However, in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, all long-distance trains are all-reserved so you usually have to stick with your reserved seats.

My favourite arrangement in first class on most European trains is a face-to-face table for two.  Both of you get a window seat, and both an aisle seat, and one seat is always facing forwards.  My wife usually gets that!  It also means you get the full length of a window to look out of, not half a window.

Which side of the train?

On some routes the best scenery is on a particular side of the train, for example the left hand side going south along the Rhine Valley from Cologne to Mainz, or the right hand side from Switzerland into Austria through the Arlberg Pass.  I try and mention which side to sit on the relevant pages of this site, if it matters.

However, many reservation systems won't let you choose which side of the train to sit as the train or carriage could enter service either way round.  Only in some cases is direction of travel shown.  On trains where reservation is optional (domestic trains in Benelux countries, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, much of central Europe) you can sit where you like so can move if your reserved seat is on the 'wrong' side.

First class lounges at stations

There are first class lounges at some major stations, usually with complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks or even beer and wine, plus WiFi and charging points.  Sometimes the lounge is for anyone with a first class ticket (which may or may not include first class Eurail or Interrail passes), in other cases the lounges are only for holders of the most expensive premium-fare first class tickets or who have that train operator's frequent traveller loyalty card. Here's a quick guide:

Eurostar business lounges at London St Pancras, Paris Nord & Brussels Midi

Eurostar has a business lounge opening off the departures hall after security at London St Pancras , Paris Nord & Brussels Midi with complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine & spirits, beer and snacks.  The lounge has toilets, free WiFi and charging points.  The London and Paris lounges also have a free cocktail bar, open afternoon until evening.

The business lounges are open to holders of Business Premier tickets or holders of Eurostar's top-tier Carte Blanche loyalty card.  They are not open to holders of Standard Premier tickets or railpass holders. 

Paris & France

Anyone with any 1st class ticket for TGV-Lyria trains from Paris to Switzerland can use the SNCF Salon Grand Voyageur at Paris Gare de Lyon in Hall 3 with free WiFi, hot drinks and water.

Apart from this, the Salon Grand Voyageur is only open to travellers with SNCF loyalty cards or the most expensive full-price 1st class Pro tickets.  You can use it with any 1st class ticket if you have a Eurostar Carte Blanche loyalty card.

All the other major Paris termini and many big city stations across France have an SNCF Grand Voyageur lounge with free WiFi, hot drinks and water, but these are only for passengers with SNCF loyalty cards or the most expensive full-price 1st class Pro tickets.  You can use them with any 1st class ticket if you have a Eurostar Carte Blanche loyalty card.

Brussels & Belgium

Eurostar (formerly Thalys) has its own lounge at Brussels Midi, only for Eurostar (formerly Thalys) passengers who have the most expensive Premium class tickets.  Not open to holders of Comfort class (= regular 1st class) tickets or to railpass holders.

Apart from this there is no first class lounge at Brussels Midi , but I consider the bar at the Pullman Hotel to be the best VIP waiting room for the price of a beer.

Amsterdam & the Netherlands

There is an NS International Lounge at Amsterdam Centraal at the western end of platform 2 and there are similar lounges at Schiphol & Rotterdam Centraal.  You can use these lounges with any type of 1st class international ticket including 1st class Eurail & Interrail passes.

Follow the signs for NS International Lounge, check www.nsinternational.nl for opening times.  Tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks available. 

Switzerland

Unfortunately, SBB closed their first class lounges at Zurich & Geneva at the end of 2016, citing lack of use.

Trenitalia has Freccialounges at major city stations.  These are only for holders of the most expensive Executive class tickets or who have Trenitalia's own frequent-traveller loyalty card.

Competitor Italo also has lounges at major city stations, branded Club Italo.   These are only for holders of the most expensive Club class tickets or who have Italo's own frequent-traveller loyalty card.

There is a Renfe Sala Club lounge at Madrid Atocha , Madrid Chamartin , Barcelona Sants , Malaga Maria Zambrano, Seville Santa Justa, Cordoba, Valencia, Alicante, Girona, Zaragoza Delicias, Valladolid and several other stations. 

The Sala Club is open to anyone who has paid the Premium fare, or who has a 1st class ticket for an international AVE (but not TGV ) to France.  Typically open from 06:00 to 22:00 every day.  You can use them from 2 hours before your train leaves until departure.

Tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and snacks available.  For details search www.renfe.com .

There are DB Lounges at major stations, but only for holders of the most expensive DB Flexpreis tickets.  You cannot use the lounges if you have a 1st class Sparpreis or Supersparpreis ticket or Eurail or Interrail pass.

They don't admit holders of tickets for regional trains or trains operated without DB involvement such as Eurostar (formerly Thalys) , Nightjet , European Sleeper or the Munich-Prague trains .

However, if you have a Eurostar Carte Blanche loyalty card you can use a DB Lounge with any ticket.

There are lounges at Berlin Hbf , Bremen, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main Hbf , Frankfurt Flughafen , Hamburg Hbf , Hanover, Cologne Hbf , Leipzig, Mannheim, Munich Hbf , Nuremberg, Stuttgart.  Typically open 07:00-21:00 daily, follow signs for DB Lounge , search int.bahn.de for opening times.

There are ÖBB Lounges at Vienna Hauptbahnhof , Vienna Meidling , Linz, Salzburg , Innsbruck , Graz & Klagenfurt.

These Austrian lounges are really useful because you can use them for up to 90 minutes before or after your journey with almost any type of 1st class ticket or with a ticket for any type of sleeper for Nightjet or EuroNight trains and with a 1st class Eurail or Interrail pass.

There's one exception:  You can use the lounge with a 1st class DB Sparpreis or Flexpreis fare, but not with a Super Sparpreis fare.

Typically open 06:00-21:00, for details see www.oebb.at & search for ÖBB Lounge .  Tea, coffee, soft drinks, snacks & free WiFi available.

Budapest & Hungary

Budapest Keleti has an excellent business lounge on platform 9 , open 06:00-21:30 daily.  This lounge is really useful as it can be used by anyone with a 1st class international ticket to, from or via Budapest, or a single or double sleeper ticket, or a 1st class Eurail or Interrail pass with a reservation for a train that day.  Unfortunately, there's no lounge at Budapest Deli or Budapest Nyugati.

Prague & the Czech Republic

CD (Czech Railways) has a lounge at Prague Hlavni with newspaper and free WiFi, but it's also open to 2nd class passengers with tickets for the higher categories of train such as EuroCity and SuperCity so it's more upmarket waiting room than 1st class lounge.  The excellent Fantova Kavárna upstairs in the historic station hall makes a better VIP waiting lounge for the price of a cup of coffee.

PKP Intercity used to have poorly-advertised lounges at Warsaw Centralna & Krakow Glowny , but strangely closed them in 2014 due to lack of users.

Copenhagen & Denmark

DSB Danish Railways have DSB1 lounges for first class passengers at Copenhagen , Aarhus and Odense.  Open Monday-Friday only.  Passengers with 1st class tickets for SJ trains to Stockholm or Intercity trains to Germany can also use it.  For details search www.dsb.dk and use Google Translate.

Stockholm & Sweden

SJ have a first class lounge at both Stockholm Central & Gothenburg Central open to all first class ticket holders   It's open Monday-Friday only morning until mid-evening, for details see www.sj.se .

Travelling overnight

Sleeper trains are a time-effective and romantic way to travel.  Huge distances can be covered while you sleep, using less daytime time than flying and often saving a hotel bill, too.

Forget about first and second class on sleeper trains, these terms become misleading.  The real classes on an overnight train are seat, couchette and sleeper.  In fact, all accommodation on nightjet sleeper trains is now technically 2nd class, even a deluxe single-bed sleeper with shower.  Although some operators still require a 1st class ticket for a single-bed sleeper.

Incidentally, trains don't have sterns or bows or port or starboard as they are not a ship.  They also don't have cabins , the correct term has always been a sleeper or couchette compartment .

Click for sleeper & couchette car berth numbering plans , this answers the typical worry We have berths 21 & 25, are we in the same 2-berth compartment?   Yes, you are!

...in a sleeping-car

A sleeping-car is the equivalent of a hotel :  A cosy bedroom, with comfortable beds, washbasin, and room service.  Sleepers come in 1, 2 & 3 berth varieties, depending on the route, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class ticket, and the price you want to pay.  For the daytime parts of a journey, the beds fold away to reveal a sofa.

If you are travelling alone and don't want to pay for a 1st class single room, you can normally book just one berth in a 2 or 3-berth room and share with other passengers of the same gender (though this is currently not possible in Italian domestic sleepers).

In addition to the normal lock, sleeper compartments have a security lock which cannot be opened from outside even with a staff key, so you'll be both safe and snug.  The most modern sleepers now have CCTV in the corridor, too.

On most sleeper train routes there are inclusive fares covering travel, sleeper & breakfast.  If you have an Interrail or Eurail pass, you can look up the additional cost of a sleeper on the Interrail & Eurail reservations page .

For more detailed information about what to expect when travelling by sleeper, see the Travelling by Sleeping-car or Couchette page or the information about specific sleeper trains, including:

- Nightjet sleeper trains linking Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland.

- Prague to Krakow sleeper train .

...in a couchette

A couchette is rail's answer to a youth hostel or pensione:   Economical and comfortable, it's an ordinary seating compartment for 4 or 6 people by day, with fold-out padded bunks for 4 or 6 people by night, each with sheet, rug & pillow which you arrange yourself.  Male and female passengers normally share the same compartment (although there are 'ladies only' compartments on most routes), and apart from removing shoes & jackets,  passengers do not normally undress.

A berth in a 6-berth couchette compartment costs around €20-€27 per berth per night, in addition to a 2nd class ticket or railpass.  A berth in a less-crowded 4-berth couchette compartment costs around €30-€37 per berth per night, in addition to a 2nd class ticket or railpass.

In addition to the normal lock, couchette compartments have a security lock or chain which cannot be opened from outside, even with a staff key, so you'll be quite safe.  1st class couchettes (4 berths per compartment) are rare, they pretty much only exist in on the few remaining French domestic overnight trains .

There's more detailed information about what to expect when travelling by couchette on the Travelling by Couchette or Sleeping-car page .  For more specific information, if your journey involves a nightjet, see the nightjet sleeper train page .  If your journey involves a French domestic Intercité de Nuit overnight train, see the Intercités de Nuit page .

...in a seat

Although it's the cheapest option, travelling overnight in an ordinary seat is a false economy.  It's not recommended however tight your budget, either for comfort or security, unless there's no other option.  There's no lock on the compartment door, and no staff on duty.  Think of it as the equivalent (almost!) of sleeping in a shop doorway.  Always budget for at least the couchette supplement for a comfortable night's journey. 

How early to be at the station?

There are some exceptions .  Major Italian stations now have a simple manual ticket check between concourse and platform circulating area.  In France some major stations have automatic ticket gates when boarding long-distance trains, scan the barcode on your ticket and they open, they're work until 2 minutes before departure.  But it's still nothing like air travel.

Train composition posters

Is there passport control before boarding, how long to allow for connections , it takes just minutes to change trains, if your onward train is a local one, if your onward train is all-reserved, if your onward train is a sleeper, if connecting out of a sleeper.

Example   You're catching the Cologne-Munich sleeper train, due to arrive in Munich at 07:10.  There are onward connections to Salzburg at 07:25 and 09:30, both with cheap fares available which are only valid on whichever specific train you choose.  Online systems and the European Rail Timetable suggest the 07:25.  But is this a safe connection?  No, it isn't.  Even this excellent sleeper train can arrive 20, 40 or 60 minutes late, and it pays to be on the safe side.  In this case I'd recommend booking the 09:30 and having a leisurely breakfast in Munich.

Through ticket or separate tickets?

Recommended connection times when changing stations in paris, travel tips, what happens if you miss a connection, if things go wrong ..., here's what you should know.

With a through ticket the international conditions of carriage (CIV) give you a cast-iron legal entitlement to travel on by later trains if a delay means a missed connection, so tight connections aren't necessarily a problem.

However, through tickets no longer exist for many journeys and you'll often be given separate tickets for each train.  Unfortunately, CIV protection only applies to connections within each ticket, not between tickets.

The good news is that rail staff will usually help you out if there's a delay, as connections between separate tickets and different operators are often covered by the Agreement for Journey Continuation (AJC) or RailTeam/HOTNAT , which I explain below.

If you miss a connection

If you are on a delayed Eurostar and you realise you're going to miss your onward connection, Eurostar train managers carry a HOTNAT / CIV stamp and will endorse your ticket.  They may walk through the train helping people with connections, or may announce that they are available in a particular car.  Similarly, staff on other European trains can usually endorse or stamp your ticket if their train is delayed.

Tip:  If crossing Paris by metro, buy a metro ticket in the Eurostar cafe-bar car to save vital minutes, you might still make your connection.

It's good to be aware of your rights under the international conditions of carriage or CIV and its limitations, and of AJC & HOTNAT .

An example...   I was travelling from London to Bordeaux on a Eurostar running 40 minutes late.  It looked like I would miss my connection in Paris, and naturally my onward ticket was train-specific & non-changeable!  An announcement was made that the train manager was in the bar car to help passengers with connections.  He stamped my ticket and told me to go to the ticket office at Paris Montparnasse to get myself rebooked on a later train.  In the event, I bought a metro ticket from the Eurostar cafe-bar to save time at the metro station (important tip!), I walked to the front of the train as we approached Paris, I had allowed a little more than the recommended minimum 60 minutes to cross Paris in any case, and I made my connection!

If you miss a Eurostar due to a delayed train

If you miss a connection in brussels, your rights:   civ conditions of carriage.

Unfortunately, this CIV missed connection protection only applies within a single contract for carriage, in other words, within one ticket.

If you have a through ticket from A to C changing at B, your connection at B is protected if there's a delay.

But if you have a ticket from A to B and a separate ticket from B to C, your connection at B is not protected by the CIV as this is two separate contracts for carriage and CIV does not apply between contracts.  These days, many journeys have to be made using separate tickets.

For example, there are no through tickets between London and Germany, so if you book a journey from London to Berlin, even as one transaction on one website, you'll get a London-Brussels Eurostar ticket and a separate Brussels-Berlin DB (German Railways) ticket.  This is two separate contracts for carriage and CIV does not protect you for a missed connection in Brussels, between the two tickets.

The CIV were written when through tickets were the norm for almost all European journeys, these days many through journeys have to be made using multiple tickets.  Frankly, the CIV are no longer fit for purpose.  I have spoken at the EU Parliament in Brussels on the subject!

Railteam & HOTNAT

Agreement on journey continuation ( ajc ).

The signatories to the AJC are:

SNCF (French Railways), DB (German Railways), ÖBB (Austrian Railways), Trenitalia (Italian Railways), Renfe (Spanish Railways), SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), BLS (Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon Railway), CD (Czech Railways), SNCB (Belgian Railways), NS (Dutch Railways), CFL (Luxembourg Railways), DSB (Danish Railways), SJ (Swedish Railways), SZ (Slovenian Railways), ZSSK (Slovakian Railways). 

Eurostar signed up to the AJC in 2023, as did MAV (Hungarian Railways), PKP (Polish Railways), HZPP (Croatian Railways) & European Sleeper .

The AJC doesn't currently cover some open-access operators such as Italo, Westbahn, Regiojet, Leo Express.

To qualify for help under the AJC:

Both trains have to be run by signatories to the agreement.

You have to be making an international journey, not a domestic one.

You must have allowed reasonable period of time between trains, meaning at least the minimum applied by official journey planners.

You may need to get proof of the delay from the delayed operator, which they are obliged to give you.

Onward travel has to be on the same operator on the same route.  It is either the station staff or the train manager for the onward train you gives you permission, you should ask at the interchange station.

Remember that the AJC is a commercial agreement between operators, it's not a passenger right you can claim.  So politely remind staff about it if they don't seem to know about it.

A traveller's report

A traveller reports:   "I got to my local station and there were no trains going anywhere!  There had been an emergency that stopped all trains for half an hour or so in the early morning rush hour, just when I needed to get to London for the 8.30am Eurostar to Paris and TGV down to Toulon, with train-specific tickets all the way.  So what do you do?  I just went to the ticket office when I reached London - they had the emergency flagged up on their computer screens and just wrote me a docket/stamped and signed it and on I went.  At St Pancras, I did the same - went to the Eurostar ticket office and they stamped the unused tickets, issued new ones and off I went.   At Gare de Lyon, I went to the ticket office, showed them all the dockets, stamped, stapled and initialled tickets and again they just issued me a ticket for the next train."

Holidays & tours by train

Railbookers , railbookers.co.uk.

Railbookers can custom-make a holiday or short break by train to most European countries for you, with train travel & carefully-chosen hotels, for however long you like, leaving on any date you like.  If you tell them what you want, they'll advise you on the best trains, routes & hotels and sort it all out for you.  They look after their customers well and get a lot of repeat business, so I've no hesitation in recommending them.

UK flag

Byway, byway.travel

Byway ( Byway.travel ) is a UK-based eco-holiday firm with a 5-star TrustPilot rating .  If you're nervous about booking train travel yourself, they'll book European trips for you as a package including hotels, starting from any British station.  Byway includes package protection, a 100% Covid refund guarantee, free disruption & re-planning and on-demand WhatsApp support while you're away.

To see pre-configured packages from the UK to various destinations, use the journey planner on their website .

Tip:   First book a one-way outward journey to your destination city on your outward date.  Then change the direction of the arrow and book an inward journey on your return date.  The journey back to the UK can be from a different location if you like, for example if you plan to travel around a bit before your return to the UK.

Alternatively they can build a trip to your requirements, email them or use the contact form .  Please say you heard about them from Seat 61.

Rail Discoveries , raildiscoveries.com

Great rail journeys , greatrail.com, general country guidebooks.

People sometimes think a guidebook is an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see and understand so much more if you have a decent guidebook.  For the independent traveller, I think the best ones out there are either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both guidebooks are excellent, and you won't regret buying one!

Click the images to buy at Amazon.co.uk or buy in the USA at Amazon.com

H otels in europe, backpacker hostels.

www.hostelworld.com :  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about the backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of dorm beds or ultra-cheap private rooms in backpacker hostels in most European cities at rock-bottom prices.

Car hire comparison:  www.carrentals.co.uk

The award-winning website www.carrentals.co.uk compares many different car hire companies including Holiday Autos.  That means not only a useful price comparison, but a wider choice of hire and drop off location.

Travel insurance & other tips

Always take out travel insurance.

You should take out travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with Staysure.co.uk myself.  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here .  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

US flag

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a European mobile data package and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility list .  There's no need to buy a physical SIM card!  Maya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data .

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:   1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android .  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than getting a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card , they'll give you £5 cashback through that link.

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  Why you need a VPN

When travelling you may use free public WiFi which is often insecure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explained .  ExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using this link you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I also get some commission to help support this site.

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, hotel bookings and Interrail or Eurail passes are often now held on your mobile phone.  You daren't let it run out of power, and you can't always rely on the phone's internal battery or on being near a power outlet.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Buy from Amazon.com .

Touring cities?  Use hill walking shoes!

One of the best things I've done is swap my normal shoes for hill-walking shoes, in my case from Scarpa.  They're intended for hiking across the Pennines not wandering around Florence, but the support and cushioning for hiking works equally well when you're on your feet all day exploring foreign cities.  My feet used to give out first and limit my day, now the rest of me gives up before they do!

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Travel Europe on a Budget

The Savvy Backpacker

City Guides .\33 a132798-3f3b-4585-954d-7e70cf863447{fill:#231f20}

Complete guide to train travel in europe | how to travel europe by train.

Our step-by-step guide to traveling Europe by train.

Transportation

rail travel to europe

Traveling by train is the quintessential way to tour Europe. It’s romantic. It’s inspiring. It’s super-efficient. It’s comfortable. Some might say it’s almost magical. And to those who don’t live in a country where train travel is prominent, it’s a little mysterious.

In this Complete Guide To Train Travel In Europe,  I’ll cover everything you need to know about traveling Europe by rail—including how to get the best price on train tickets, rail pass tips, understanding train schedules, tips for riding trains, how to navigate train stations, and advice for dealing with other issues you might encounter. By the end of this guide, you’re going to be a European train expert!

Quick Tip: Most train tickets are now electronic so you’ll want fast and reliable mobile data on your phone when traveling via train. Check out my guide on how to use your phone in Europe and our guide to the best SIM Cards and Data Plans for Europe .

Europe Train Travel: The Good & Bad

Europe by Train

Let’s start with a quick overview of the good and the not-so-good aspects of European train travel.

Advantages Of Train Travel In Europe

Here are all the things I love about riding the train in Europe:

  • In contrast, traveling from the airport to the city can take anywhere from 20-60 minutes and costs between $10-$80.
  • There are no lengthy check-in procedures or security screening for most train travel. You simply show up a few minutes before the train leaves, buy a ticket if you don’t have one (often from a ticket machine with English instructions), and hop on the train.
  • There are no luggage weight limits or extra fees for multiple pieces of luggage. Just make sure that you’re able to lift your bag onto the train.
  • Most European trains now accept electronic tickets—you simply show your ticket on your phone. That means no waiting in ticket lines and it makes planning your train travel even easier.
  • You can pretty much bring whatever you want on a train—including alcohol. You’re sure to make a few friends if you give a few away to your fellow travelers. So stop by the local grocery store and pick up some cheap food for the journey.
  • Europe’s rail network is extremely vast so it is possible to travel to even small towns by train. Most destinations offer multiple trains a day. The most popular routes usually have multiple trains an hour so getting to where you want to go is rarely difficult.
  • If you’re traveling a long distance, consider taking an overnight train. These trains have special sleeper cars with bunks (usually six-bunk rooms or two-bunk rooms). A bunk in a sleeper car will cost about $35-$65 extra (about the same as a night in a hostel) but you won’t lose out on a whole day of travel. Overnight trains also have normal seats if you don’t want to fork over the extra cash for a bunk but it’s kind of uncomfortable.
  • Train travel allows you to be spontaneous so you can show up at any train station, buy a ticket, and be on your way.
  • Europe has a lot of beautiful countryside so traveling by train is a great way to see some fantastic views.
  • Some trains also offer designated quiet cars if you truly want to relax.
  • Train seats are larger and more comfortable than plane seats (especially when compared to many discount airlines). You’re also free to move about the train whenever you feel like it. Many trains also have seats that face each other and have a table between the seats—so it’s great for groups.
  • European trains run on schedule well over 90% of the time but flights are only on schedule around 65%.
  • Historically, train stations were the central hub for commerce and transportation so European cities showed off their status by building grandiose train stations. While it isn’t a huge deal, it is one of those nice little perks.
  • Many countries offer sizable discounts for people under 26 years old so don’t forget to look into those discounts.
  • We’ve always found riding the train to be fun. It’s oddly magical and relaxing.

Disadvantages of Train Travel in Europe

Train travel isn’t perfect so here are a few things to watch out for:

  • That said, you can get some really good deals if you’re able to book high-speed trains in advance. But you’ll pay a premium if you book super last minute.
  • There are often discounts for travelers under 26 years old.
  • Many high-speed trains often travel between 150-180MPH but very long distances can still take quite a bit of time. Additionally, some long-distance routes might require the use of slower regional trains.
  • Note: Don’t forget to add in travel time to/from the airport and time to get checked in and through security—which will add around two-three hours to your journey.
  • The train schedules can be a little confusing—especially for beginners. Luckily, there are plenty of apps that help make the process much easier but we still get tripped up every now and then.
  • Many cities have more than one train station (Paris has six!). It’s not uncommon to arrive at one station and leave from another. We’ve shown up at the wrong station a number of times so be sure you read your tickets carefully.
  • It is also possible to change stations during a single journey. For example, when traveling from London to Lyon via the Eurostar, the Eurostar stops at the Paris North station, but then you have to travel to the Paris East station to catch the train from Paris to Lyon because there are no direct trains from London to Lyon. This transfer would require a cheap Métro (subway) ride.
  • Striking is a national pastime in Europe. It happens a few times a year (or more if the people aren’t happy) but they announce the strikes well in advance so it shouldn’t be a surprise (just a hassle). You’ll just have to deal with them if they happen.

Pre-Trip Train Journey Planning

rail travel to europe

There are a number of great websites that will help you plan your train journey.

The first is Rome2Rio — simply plug in your destinations and it will give you all the train routes (as well as plane, bus, and car routes with cost estimates and travel times) for your journey. Rome2Rio is good for comparing different modes of transportation but I find better train ticket prices and more complete train listings on Omio and Trainline .

The German Railways Website ( Bahn.de ) shows the schedule of every train in Europe (yes, every train). We find that it’s helpful for piecing together complex train journeys. But it’s also good for seeing which trains require reservations and other important information. Unfortunately, you can only book German train tickets on the site so hop over to Omio and Trainline to book your tickets.

I’ve also written a few country-specific train guides to help you learn the quirks of each country’s rail network.

  • Belgium Train Guide
  • England Train Guide
  • France Train Guide
  • Germany Train Guide
  • Italy Train Guide
  • Netherlands Train Guide
  • Portugal Train Guide
  • Spain Train Guide
  • Switzerland Train Guide

How to Buy European Train Tickets

Europe train ticket machine

Buying European train tickets can be a little complicated—especially when you’re looking for the best deals.

That’s because each country runs its own National rail service (many countries also have separate private rail networks as well) and each does things slightly differently. Luckily, there are plenty of online tools to make the whole process easier and we’ll walk you through the process.

Understanding Train Ticket Pricing

Before we get started, we need to explain that there are two main ways that train tickets are priced — fixed price and variable price.

Variable-Price Train Fares

Variable Fares are always changing based on demand, the day of the week, the time of year, and the distance to the departure date. Essentially all high-speed trains operate on this pricing model.

  • To get the best price on high-speed train tickets it’s best to pre-book your tickets early — usually a few weeks in advance. In general, the prices will continue to creep up as the departure date approaches — you’ll pay a fortune if you buy last minute.
  • Of course, you lose flexibility if you have to buy tickets in advance because the cheapest tickets are normally non-refundable/unchangeable

Fixed-Price Train Fares

With Fixed Fares, the price is solely determined by the distance traveled. This is most common on regional and slower trains. With this type of ticket, it doesn’t matter when you buy your tickets because the price never changes.

Where To Buy Europe Train Tickets

There are two main ways to buy European train tickets — directly from each country’s National Rail Service (via their website or at the train station) or through a third-party train booking search engine like Omio and Trainline —I find these booking services to be much more user-friendly.

Third-Party Booking Sites

There are quite a few advantages to buying your train tickets with third-party booking sites:

  • The advantage of booking with a third-party booking site is that it lets you book more complex multi-country/international train routes. Many National Rail Services have trouble booking international routes (i.e. going from France to Italy) — so they can’t always find the best deals or show all available routes.
  • Many of Europe’s National Rail websites still have issues processing foreign credit cards so it’s common for credit cards to be declined when booking. These third-party sites won’t have these issues.
  • We’ve found that it’s common for Europe’s National Rail websites to be plagued with weird technical problems and overall poor user interfaces. Many times you’ll get kicked from the English version of the page to the local language in the middle of the booking process. These third-party booking websites take care of these issues.

Our Favorite Train Booking Websites

  • Omio : Omio is a great train booking engine that lets you book tickets from just about every country’s rail service and they make the booking process very user-friendly.
  • Trainline.com : Trainline is a new European train booking service (very similar to Omio ) that sells train tickets from Austrian, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and German Railways railways (and a few others).

National Booking Sites

Despite their technical issues, sometimes the absolute cheapest tickets can only be found by booking directly with each country’s national rail service. This is because sometimes they offer special deals that third-party booking sites don’t have access to. So it doesn’t hurt to at least take a look.

Links to Some National Railway Websites:

Austrian Railways ¹ – Belgian Railways ¹ – Danish Railways – Finnish Railways – French Railways – German Railways – Irish Railways – Italian Railways – Spanish Railways – Netherlands Railways ¹ – Norwegian Railways – Polish Railways – Swedish Railways – Swiss Railways ¹ – United Kingdom Railways

¹ Domestic tickets (i.e. trips that are wholly within the country) are always the same price — regardless of when they’re purchased and they never require a reservation. Therefore, it is easiest to buy tickets at the station. However, these countries often have a separate international high-speed train system (e.g., Belgium has slower regional trains and high-speed Thalys trains that link major Belgian cities to other international cities — these tickets should be purchased early for cheaper fares).

Quick Note About Eastern Europe Trains

Some Eastern European countries still don’t have online ticket booking so it’s only possible to purchase tickets at the station or through a local travel agent. Ask your hostel or hotel and they’ll tell you where to locate an agent.

Receiving Your Online Tickets

There are a number of ways to collect your tickets after you purchase them:

  • Electronic Tickets:  Many times you can have an electronic ticket sent to your phone (either via email or the booking app). Simply show the conductor on the train when he checks tickets and he’ll scan the QR code on the screen. This isn’t available in all countries but most countries have switched to eTickets.
  • Print-At-Home Tickets:  Anywhere that offers electronic tickets will usually let you print tickets at home. You can often simply save the PDF to your phone/tablet and the conductor can scan it from there.
  • Note: You’re often required to use the SAME credit card use to purchase the tickets to collect the tickets at the station.

Buying Tickets At The Station

You can buy train tickets at any train station—either from the ticket window or from automated ticket machines. We recommend trying the automated ticket machines since the lines at the ticket window are long, slow, and understaffed.

When To Buy Train Tickets To Get The Best Price

Fares are fixed for most  regional and local trains so there is no reason to buy them early.

For high-speed trains , it’s best to buy tickets early to get the cheapest tickets. In most cases, train tickets can be purchased 60-90 days before the departure date but buying a few weeks early is usually fine.

Let’s look at some ticket price examples:

  • Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €69.00
  • Purchased Three Weeks Before Departure: €55
  • Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €135
  • Purchased Three Weeks Before Departure: €97
  • Purchased Six Weeks Before Departure: €54
  • Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €234
  • Purchased Three Weeks Before Departure: 124
  • Purchased Six Weeks Before Departure: €55

As you can see, booking just a few weeks early can save quite a bit of money.

Quick Point About Buying Train Tickets Early : As stated above, buying tickets in advance is the best way to save money but this also limits your ability to be flexible/spontaneous. This is especially true since many of the truly cheap train tickets are non-refundable. For optimum flexibility, it might be best to buy a rail pass. Here’s our  Guide To Using Rail Passes in Europe and our Eurail Pass Review .

Other Train Ticket Discounts

Most rail services offer various discounts—some are based on rider age but other discounts are based on region, the day of the week, or other schemes.

  • The most common discount is a youth discount — which is usually for people under 27 years old.
  • Most countries offer a number of potential discounts. For example, Germany has a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket (Happy Weekend Ticket) where groups of 2-5 people can ride as much as they want on regional trains from Saturday-Sunday for €44. Check each country’s rail service website to see if there are discounts available.

Eurail Passes

rail travel to europe

Many travelers choose to use rail passes instead of buying individual tickets. That’s because Eurail passes can save you a bit of money (depending on how you use them) but most importantly they give you excellent flexibility by allowing you to travel without needing to plan.

Note: We’ve written a lot about Eurail Passes. Check out our  Guide To Using Rail Passes in Europe and our Eurail Pass Review for more in-depth information.

Quick Rundown On Rail Passes

A rail pass (aka Eurail Pass) is a single ticket/pass that allows you to ride any train in Europe — simply hop on, show the conductor your pass, and you’re good to go. Actually, it’s not quite that easy these days as there are a few stipulations, but the general idea is that you can ride any train without booking individual tickets.

Types Of Rail Passes

  • Continuous:  Unlimited travel to any Eurail participant country for between 15 days and 3 months.
  • Flexi:  10 or 15 individual travel days (doesn’t have to be consecutive days) to any Eurail participant country within a two-month period.
  • For example, one pass could be 10 days of train travel between France, Switzerland, and Italy. You have a two-month window to use of your 8 travel days. Each day you travel by train counts as one travel day but you can take unlimited train rides within each day.
  • Eight travel days in a single country which must be used within a month.

Advantages of Rail Passes

  • Flexibility: The number one benefit of rail passes is the flexibility they offer. You simply have to walk onto the train and go.  That’s why this is a great option for people who don’t want to plan and who would rather wander across Europe.
  • Long-Distance Trains: It’s also a good deal if you plan on taking a lot of long-distance trips because those tickets tend to be expensive so a rail pass is a good way to save some money. On the other hand, if you’re taking a bunch of short train rides then you’ll probably be better off buying single tickets.
  • Low Stress:  Piecing together a bunch of train journeys and then pre-purchasing individual tickets is stressful and take a lot of time and planning. For a lot of people paying a little extra for a rail pass is worth the hours saved having to preplan your entire trip.

Disadvantages of Rail Passes

  • More Expensive: It’s usually cheaper if you purchase your train tickets online a few weeks in advance. That said, most of these cheap pre-purchased tickets are non-refundable so you’ll lose most of your flexibility. However, if you’re purchasing your train tickets a few days before departure then it’s much cheaper to use a rail pass.
  • Reservations: A few countries require rail pass holders to pay extra for a seat reservation on high-speed trains. The fee can range from anywhere from €5-€35 and they have to be made in advance — they can sometimes be made online or directly at the train station. Here’s a detailed guide to rail pass reservation requirements from eurail.com. You can also enter your journey into  Bahn.de  and it will tell you if that specific journey requires a reservation.

Navigating The Train Station

Europe train guide | safety

Ok, now we know about buying train tickets and rail passes and all that jazz… so let’s learn about what to expect when you get to the train station.

The train station is the central transportation hub of most European cities so things can be a little chaotic and confusing—especially if you’re not used to traveling by train. In this section, we’ll give you some tips to help you find your train.

First, make sure you have the correct train station because many cities have multiple stations. For example, Paris has six stations, and even smaller towns have two different stations.

Once you arrive at the station, you’ll see signage in English so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding your way. Some stations are huge so you may have to walk quite a bit and navigate stairs and escalators.

Depending on the size of the station, you’ll also find fast food, cafes, shopping, lounges, and restrooms (although you sometimes have to pay to use them). We usually pick up something to drink and maybe a little snack for the train. Also, most train stations have luggage lockers that you can rent if you need them.

Pickpockets and Scams at the Train Stations

Train stations can get very busy, hectic, and full of confused tourists so they’re a common target for pickpockets and other scammers. Pay attention to your stuff and be wary of “helpful” strangers willing to help you with the ticket machines. Check out our Guide To Avoiding Pickpockets and Tourist Scams in Europe .

Train Ticket Machines

Europe train guide | vending machines

If you need to buy your train tickets or print your pre-purchased tickets you’ll want to first head to the automated ticket machines. Everything is in English are the machines are easy-to-use.

Alternatively, you can still go to the ticket window or customer service desk but the lines are usually long.

Reading The Departure Board

Europe Train Guide | Departure Guide

Once you arrive at the station you’ll want to look for the departure board. There are usually multiple boards throughout the station and one giant main board. This board tells you where to find your train, when it leaves, and where it’s going.

The three most important things to note are the train number, departure time, and the platform.

Your train ticket will show the scheduled departure time and the train number but it usually won’t show which platform the train leaves from. You’ll want to find the train number on your ticket and match it up to the departure board. It’s very common for the departure board to not show the platform until a few minutes before departure so pay attention to the board.

Find Your Train’s Platform

Europe Train Guide | Platforms

Once know what platform your train is departing from you’ll want to find that platform at the station. Sometimes the platforms are a bit hard to find so you might have to seek them out. Don’t worry if there isn’t a train there at the moment because trains often pull in, load up, and leave.

There are usually a few staff members milling about on each platform so don’t be afraid to ask train station staff as most can speak English.

Validate Your Ticket 

Europe Train Guide | Validate Ticket

Many physical train tickets need to be validated (stamped with time/date) before entering the train so look for small validation boxes near the entrance of the platforms. Simply place your ticket inside the machine and it will stamp it.

You can receive a large fine if the ticket checker sees that your ticket isn’t validated (they’ll assume you were trying to ride for free). If you forgot, quickly seek out the conductor, explain that you forgot to validate and everything should be fine. Or you can just play the “I’m a dumb tourist and these scary trains confuse me” card and hope they let it slide.

Note: Electronic tickets don’t need to be validated because they’re usually only good for the specific time stated on your ticket. Some paper tickets also don’t need to be validated but we usually try doing it anyway to be safe.

Finding Your Train Car

Europe Train Guide | Coach Number

On some trains (usually high-speed trains) you have assigned seats so look at your ticket to see which train car your seat is in. The car number will be displayed on the side of each train car. You can enter in any car but it’s much easier if you enter your car (walking through multiple train cars is a pain).

Most regional and slower trains don’t have assigned seats so you can simply hop on any car.

That said, you’ll want to get on fairly quickly because trains are usually only at the station for a few minutes before they leave.

On The Train

rail travel to europe

You’ve made it on the train. Congratulations! In this section, we’ll talk about settling in and a few things you might experience on your ride.

Find Your Seat & Store Luggage

Find your assigned seat (if you have one) or take any free seat if it’s open seating. Also, take the opportunity to store your luggage. Smaller luggage like backpacks and some suitcases can be stored above your seat on luggage racks. There are usually larger spaces for bigger luggage at the end of each train car.

Wait For The Conductor To Check Your Tickets

After the train starts, a ticket checker will come by and check your ticket. While not extremely common in Western Europe, border patrol might board the train to check passports. They might ask you some questions but we usually only ran into this in Eastern Europe.

Enjoy The Ride

One of the great things about train travel is the comfort of the ride. Feel free to walk about, check out the bar car, enjoy a picnic (alcohol is allowed), or sleep. Some trains offer free wifi but we’ve never had much luck getting it to actually work.

Departing The Train

One of the most confusing parts of the ride is knowing exactly when to leave the train. That’s because train stations are sometimes named very similarly. For example, many trains coming into Brussels first stop at the Brussels Nord station (which is located on the outskirts of town) before stopping at the main  Brussels Centrale station (which is located in the center of town).

More Europe Travel Tips From The Savvy Backpacker

Best travel pants

We have a lot more tips and tricks for traveling through Europe on a budget. Here are a few helpful articles we think you’ll enjoy.

  • Get moving with our picks for the  Best Travel Backpacks .
  • Get packing with our  Europe Packing List .
  • Get traveling with our  Europe City Travel Guides .
  • Get planning with our step-by-step Guide To Traveling Europe On A Budget .
  • Get a High-Speed eSIM Data Plan for Europe and learn more about how to use your phone in Europe .
  • Recent Posts

James Feess

  • The Most Visited Cities In Europe | A Guide To The Most Popular European Cities - February 2, 2024
  • Fashion Advice: How to Avoid Looking Like An American Tourist In Europe - February 1, 2024
  • Guide To Using Smartphones, SIM Cards, and Data Plans In Europe - January 26, 2024

rail travel to europe

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Related Reads

Italy train guide — how to travel italy by train.

How to travel Italy by train — tips for buying Italian train tickets and advice for navigating Italy by rail.

France Train Guide — How To Travel France By Train

How to travel France by train—tips for buying French train tickets and advice for navigating France by rail.

How To Buy Train Tickets in France | Guide To Buying French Train Tickets

What you need to know about booking train tickets in France and tips for getting the cheapest prices.

How To Buy Train Tickets in Italy | Guide To Buying Italian Train Tickets

What you need to know about booking train tickets in Italy and tips for getting the cheapest prices.

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This Train Pass Is the Secret to City-hopping Through Europe on the Cheap (Video)

rail travel to europe

For many travelers, exploring Europe is a must — a rite of passage, even. And for travelers looking to plan the perfect Eurotrip, snagging a Eurail pass is vital.

Since its debut in 1959, Eurail has helped travelers squeeze the most out of their time abroad. The pass has long been a favorite among backpackers, study-abroad students, wandering nomads, and those with limited vacation days, but a strong desire to see the world. If you're out to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, or you just want some freedom from the hassle of travel planning, investing in a Eurail pass is a no-brainer.

Below, we've put together a complete guide to the Eurail pass, covering everything you need to know to use the pass and optimize your time in Europe.

Who Should Buy a Eurail Pass and Why

Eurail is a single rail pass that grants access to 40,000 destinations across 33 different countries in Europe. In other words, it's the most flexible and convenient way for visitors to explore the continent with ease. Unlike a traditional train ticket, a Eurail pass gives travelers the ability to utilize existing infrastructure — Europe's thousands of railways — to travel between destinations for a set amount of days.

If you're heading to Europe and planning on visiting more than one location — as in, multiple countries or even multiple cities within the same country — then you're going to want to equip your journey with a Eurail pass. The pass essentially provides all-inclusive access to Europe's well-connected train system, meaning you don't have to book tickets for each individual leg.

Eurail passes are available to anyone — college-age backpackers, couples, families, and travelers looking to make the most of their time in Europe on a budget — but special discounts are provided to certain age groups.

The catch? Eurail passes are not available to Europeans; they're solely for non-European residents. However, European citizens do have the option of purchasing an Interrail Pass, which is similar to a Eurail pass, but for Europeans only.

How to Buy and Use a Eurail Pass

Currently, Eurail offers two different pass types: the Global Pass and the One Country Pass. A Global Pass is essentially the all-inclusive option: It gives travelers the ability to take a train between any of Eurail's 33 participating countries. Meanwhile, the One Country Pass works only within a single country (there are 29 countries currently available on this pass).

Travelers select either a Flexi Pass, which includes a predetermined amount of train travel days (such as four travel days within one month), or a Continuous Pass, which includes unlimited train travel days during a predetermined trip length (such as 15 days or three months).

Eurail also groups certain regions, so that you can score multiple countries for the price of one. For example, the Benelux Pass includes Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, while the Scandinavia Pass includes Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Once you've chosen the pass that best fits your needs, you can order it through Eurail's website . Eurail ships the physical pass booklet to you worldwide, including an address in Europe, if you're already there. It's best to order your pass at least four weeks before your trip to ensure it ships in time and you can secure any necessary reservations. However, you can plan as far as 11 months in advance. You can also purchase a pass at European train stations.

Before you can use the pass, you'll need to activate it. Validating the pass can be done online using Eurail's free pre-activation service at checkout, or at a European train station once you arrive. You must activate the pass within 11 months of its issue date.

Once your pass is validated, you're ready to go. Simply choose a train and then present your pass upon boarding. Make sure to fill out the required information in your pass booklet for each ride, as the conductor will come by to verify and stamp it.

Eurail's easy-to-navigate Rail Planner App lets you search train timetables, plan your route, and make reservations where needed. The My Trip section of the mobile app makes it simple to save your journey and see your route broken down as a day-by-day itinerary.

Note that some trains in Europe require a seat reservation. In these cases, railway carriers charge a reservation fee that is not included in the price of your Eurail pass. However, seat reservation prices are typically nominal (around $10 to $25, even for overnight trains).

Most reservations can be booked through Eurail's Self-Service option. Alternatively, you can book in person at the station, over the phone, online, or through the Rail Planner App.

Eurail Pass Cost and Discounts

In 2019, Eurail retired its two- to four-country Select Passes, focusing instead on the Global and One Country Passes. These changes enabled Eurail to roll out significantly discounted prices, add a second-class option on all adult Global Passes, and even introduce a Senior category, encouraging an older generation to travel as well.

The cost of a Eurail pass varies widely depending on the type of pass you purchase. For example, a Global Pass with five travel days in one month is usually between $319 and $425, while a 15-day unlimited pass falls between $501 and $667. A three-month unlimited pass usually costs between $1,019 and $1,358, and a One Country Pass for Italy is usually $144 to $271, while France is typically $87.

There are various age-group discounts available: Travelers aged 12 to 27 can purchase Youth tickets and receive a 25 percent discount (up from 23 percent in 2019), while seniors aged 60 or older receive a 10 percent discount. Children under 11 travel for free.

If you're not eligible for an age-based discount, keep an eye out for special promotions — Eurail regularly runs deals, especially for booking far in advance.

Where to Go With a Eurail Pass

Eurail's network includes 33 of the 44 countries in Europe, so your options are plentiful, and you can travel to a new country every day, if that's what strikes your fancy.

Plus, Eurail regularly adds new countries and routes to their portfolio — as of Jan. 1, 2020, Estonia and Latvia are the most recent additions. Popular destinations like France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, and Poland have long been included.

Eurail also recently added a Greek Islands Pass , which covers ferry trips between 53 Greek islands aboard partner carriers Superfast and Blue Star Ferries. The Greek Islands Pass is available for $102 (five trips within one month) or $199 (six trips within one month). The pass is also available at Eurail's discounted Youth rate of $77 or $175 for the five- and six-trip option, respectively.

Benefits of Having a Eurail Pass in Europe

The main perk of exploring Europe with a Eurail pass is the fact that it enables you to hit multiple stops with minimal hassle. For one affordable price, you can board trains across the continent and hop between destinations with ease, freeing you from the logistical nightmare of planning and arranging tickets for each individual leg of your journey.

A Eurail pass allows travelers to be as flexible or organized as they choose to be on a trip to Europe. During one short visit, you can check off bucket-list spots like Italy, France, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, and more. Or, you can explore just one country in-depth, without having to arrange tickets every time you want to head somewhere new.

Eurail also partners with hostels, tour operators, and restaurants across Europe, so there are some added pass benefits such as discounts at Generator Hostels, free or discounted ferry and bus trips, and cards that grant access to a city's top attractions.

To maximize your pass, figure out the optimal pass type for your needs and then fully explore the benefits that come with your purchase. You'll be posing in front of the Eiffel Tower and snacking on pizza in front of the Colosseum in no time.

Recommended Eurail Pass Routes

If you've never been to Europe, you'll likely want to use your Eurail pass to hit highlights like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Berlin, but don't pass up the opportunity to get off the beaten path a bit, too. With a Eurail pass, you're free to get creative.

If you've always wanted to visit Luxembourg and Lithuania, but have no interest in Spain or Portugal, that's not a problem: Depending on the pass type you purchase, your travel plans are entirely up to you. Just make sure to consult a map and plot a route that makes sense geographically.

Are you more into nature's wonders than mankind's? Book a Scandinavia Pass and wander through Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland in pursuit of the northern lights. Or, experience the beauty of Switzerland, a favorite among families — Switzerland's Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt, included in a Eurail pass, traverses 91 tunnels, crosses the Oberalp Pass, and winds through the stunning Swiss Alps. The Golden Pass route, also included, skirts Lake Geneva and passes through some of the most picturesque mountain towns in Europe, including Gstaad and Interlaken.

Another idea is to add a theme to your itinerary: With the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics around the corner, why not take an Olympic tour of Europe? You can start at the site of the first-ever Winter Olympics in 1924 — Chamonix, France — and then head to Paris, home of the second-ever Summer Olympics in 1900. From there, hop to Antwerp, Belgium — home to the first Olympic games after the turmoil of World War I — and then take the high-speed Eurostar under the English Channel to London, England, the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Exploring lesser-visited Eastern Europe is also made easier by Eurail. With 2020's inclusion of Estonia and Latvia, the pass now covers rail travel across all of the Baltic countries for the first time in its history. Plus, with the pass, you can take the ferry between Riga and Stockholm or Germany, or from Tallinn to Stockholm or Helsinki, all for up to 50 percent less than you'd pay for these same international ferry connections without the pass.

Red train moving through Switzerland with mountains visible in the background--views like this are one of the best reasons to travel Europe by train

How to Travel Europe By Train: The Ultimate Guide (+ Tips!)

Beautiful views, comfortable train cars, the bustle of busy platforms, and the thrill of a new adventure: there are a lot of good reasons to travel Europe by train!

But, for those of us who grew up in a place where traveling by train isn’t common, the prospect of train travel in Europe can be as intimidating as it is exciting.

Thanks to traveling Europe extensively for years (including with our dog!) and spending more than a year living in Portugal, we’ve had a chance to appreciate countless train rides through and across Europe.

From the mind-boggling efficiency of Swiss trains to overnight train rides through Eastern Europe (Sofia to Istanbul was a particularly memorable ride) to simple jaunts across Italy, we’ve experienced just about every form of train travel in Europe.

And along the way, we amassed a huge number of European train travel tips !

This train travel guide is a culmination of everything we wish we would have known before we started traveling Europe by train , plus why we think it’s worth a try.

Table of Contents

Who is This Guide to Train Travel in Europe For?

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Kate Storm waiting for a train on a platform in Luxembourg, as part of a travel Europe by train adventure across Europe

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If you’re planning an epic, multi-destination trip and are hoping to travel by train through Europe but aren’t already comfortable with train travel on the continent, then this guide to traveling by train across Europe is for you!

We grew up in suburbs in the USA, and until we started traveling internationally in adulthood (4+ years of full-time travel , more than a year living in Lisbon, many trips across Europe, and counting!), we had virtually never taken a train.

W hile that’s certainly not the case for many people around the world, it is for thousands of our readers who grew up in similar environments to us!

If you’re excited to travel Europe by train but are learning the whole process from scratch like we once did, you’re exactly who we wrote this guide for.

While train travel in Europe isn’t exactly the same everywhere–with over 50 countries and therefore over 50 train systems, there are plenty of quirks based on location–this guide to train travel in Europe will give a solid overview that will help you start your travels with confidence.

Kate Storm and Jeremy Storm on a balcony overlooking Positano

Planes, trains, buses, rental cars, river cruises–with plenty of transportation options for getting around Europe, how do you know if train travel is for you?

In this section, we’ll break down the pros and cons of traveling Europe by train to help you decide if it’s the right transportation option for you.

Photo of a pink and white train in a station in Paris. You can see the Eiffel Tower in the top right of the photo. If you follow this 3 day Paris itinerary, you might take this train to Versailles.

Pros of Traveling Europe By Train

Taking a train across europe is a bucket-list-worthy experience..

For most of us who hail from other places, this is the number one reason to book that first train in Europe, right? 

Traveling by train through Europe tops plenty of bucket lists around the world, and for good reason: it’s an incredibly fun way to explore the continent.

On some routes, the train ride is a travel destination in its own right–and even when it’s not, it’s a cultural experience to remember.

Vienna to Cesky Krumlov by Train: View of Cesky Krumlov from Castle Tower

… and can allow for spontaneity.

For some routes, especially those with fixed ticket prices (more on that in another section of this Europe train guide), traveling by train allows you to be spontaneous, coming and going from destinations with much less foresight than is required when taking planes.

Depending on where you are, it can be very scenic.

If you have daydreamed about staring out train windows in Europe as you watch mountains, streams, seas, villages, castles, and vineyards go by, let me tell you… that’s pretty much exactly what it’s like a lot of the time!

Obviously not everywhere on the continent is scenic, but if you travel Europe by train, you’re likely to experience some truly incredible views along the way.

historic red cogwheel train approaching schynige platte with alps in the background, one of the most beautiful places in switzerland vacation

Most train stations are in the center of the city.

In our opinion, this is one of the biggest benefits to train travel in Europe!

W hile most airports (especially airports servicing budget flights) are located far outside the city centers, train stations are generally located right in the heart of the action.

Step outside the train station in Cologne, for example, and you’ll be looking at the cathedral.

In Florence , you’ll arrive less than a 10-minute walk from the Duomo . 

In some places, like in Milan, Antwerp, Porto , and Paris’ Gare de Lyon, the opulent central train station is practically a tourist destination in its own right, so you’ll be exploring the minute you arrive, rather than spending hours getting into the city center from the airport.

sao bento train station, your first glimpse of porto after traveling from lisbon to porto train

No luggage limitations!

No one is going to weigh your luggage or make sure it is only a certain size on a train, so you can bring whatever you like (sports equipment and generally pets included).

Train travel in Europe is generally far more comfortable than flying.

At the end of the day, traveling Europe by train is immensely more comfortable than flying.

There’s less hassle, more comfortable seats, more ease of moving around, often better views, and more control over your environment.

If all else (price, time, etc.) were equal, we’d personally choose to take a train across Europe over a plane any day of the week.

Vienna to Cesky Krumlov: Train Ride

Cons of Traveling by Train Through Europe

It can get pricey..

When you first set out to travel Europe by train, you may assume that it is more affordable than flying–but thanks to a combination of several factors, including incredibly inexpensive budget flight carriers in Europe, that’s actually not the case.

Typically, it’s cheaper to hop on a budget flight between two major European cities than take a train.

The severity of the difference, though, can vary dramatically, and there are lots of tips you can apply to your train travel in Europe to mitigate the cost, which we’ll cover in this blog post.

Venice Grand Canal with gondola paddling across it--a must-see item for your 2 week Italy itinerary!

If you’re traveling long distances, train routes can take a prohibitively long time.

For example, when traveling from Paris to Venice , a route we’ve traveled by train, the train can easily take upwards of 10 hours, while the flight time is under 2 hours.

Now, that doesn’t account for getting to and from the airport, checking luggage, or going through security, all of which increase the amount of time a flight actually takes, but it’s still a large difference.

Train travel in Europe isn’t available everywhere.

As you move further into eastern Europe and the Balkans, train travel becomes much less prevalent (even popular Dubrovnik isn’t connected to the rest of Europe by rail).

A nd, when it does exist, can take longer and be less comfortable than planes or even buses depending on the destination.

View of Split Croatia as seen from Marjan Hill on a sunny day--definitely don't missing visiting Split on your 10 days in Croatia itinerary!

Rail strikes can derail plans to travel Europe by train.

Generally, these are planned in advance, so you’ll know what you’re getting into before arriving, but they can be a bit of a hassle.

W e’ve had trips to both Italy and France impacted by rail strikes in the past.

If you have mobility issues, train travel can be difficult.

Lifting and storing luggage, navigating small staircases and bathrooms, and making your way through crowded train stations can be difficult if you struggle with mobility, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to travel Europe by train.

This is especially true with a short connection–we once had to literally sprint through the station to make a connecting train on time in Germany!

Frecciarosa Train in Italy: Florence to Bologna Train

Traveling Europe by train can be a bit intimidating.

This isn’t a con, exactly, but there’s no doubt that the confusion surrounding train travel in Europe can prevent new visitors to the continent from trying it out, especially if they’re concerned about language barriers or navigating multiple countries.

If that’s your only hesitation, though, we urge you to set those concerns aside.

T raveling Europe by train is an incredibly rewarding experience, and well worth stepping a bit outside of your comfort zone for !

Selfie of Kate Storm and Jeremy Storm on Lover's Bridge in Annecy, one of the best places to visit in Annecy

When discussing train travel in Europe, it’s important to remember that not all trains are created equal, or exist for the same purpose.

Here are a few general train categories to keep in mind as you plan your trip.

Metro/Intra-City Transport

Metros, aka subways (though some do run above ground) are public transportation used by a certain city.

While they are technically trains, metros are their own category entirely and this Europe train guide doesn’t cover them any further.

One Day in Paris: Metro Sign

Commuter Rails/Regional Trains

Commuter rails and regional trains aren’t exactly synonymous, but for the purposes of this guide, they’re similar.

T hese are slower-moving trains used to connect surrounding villages to a major city (for example, Versailles to Paris) or trains that go within a certain country or region (for example, from Siena to Florence in Tuscany).

Most of the tips in this guide to train travel in Europe apply to these trains, but they sometimes have fewer amenities (like snacks/drinks available for purchase, for example) than high-speed or long-distance trains.

jeremy storm at cais do sodre train station in lisbon portugal

High-Speed Trains/Long-Distance Trains

These are trains that cover long distances within a country (for example, from Florence to Venice ) or cross borders (for example, from Paris to Amsterdam).

Since each country runs its own train system (often with a national carrier option and private carrier(s) mixed in), booking a ticket between countries may mean changing train companies at a city near the border.

For example, when we traveled from Paris to Venice by train, we took a French SNCF train from Paris to Turin, Italy, and then boarded an Italian Italo-branded train to travel from Turin to Venice–all booked on the same ticket.

These high-speed and long-distance journeys are the primary focus of this guide on how to travel Europe by train.

Kate Storm in a red dress standing with a caroseul and Sacre Coeur in the background--this is one of the most instagrammable places in Paris!

Tourist Trains

These are trains that, while technically public transportation, are typically used as tourist attractions for sightseeing purposes, and are priced accordingly.

Examples include the Glacier Express or Schniyge Platte in Switzerland, or the Jacobite Steam Train (aka Harry Potter train) in Scotland.

jacobite steam train crossing viaduct in the scottish highlands

Sleeper Trains

Technically, sleeper trains aren’t their own category–they’re just long-distance trains with sleeper carriages in them–but they’re worth calling out separately in this guide to train travel in Europe because they’re particularly interesting for travelers.

Not only are sleeper trains a great way to save on hotel costs for a night of your trip, but they can also be quite the travel adventure in their own right!

Kate Storm and Jeremy Storm selfie on a sleeper train through Europe

Before you start looking into buying train tickets, there are a couple of terms to be familiar with:

First vs. Second Class Tickets

When traveling via train in Europe, you’ll generally have a choice between first and second-class tickets.

Buying a first-class ticket generally comes with slightly larger seats, sometimes the ability to reserve your exact seats when you can’t in second class (both of those facts vary based on the company you travel with), and possibly a small snack like a water bottle and a pack of cookies.

In our earlier travel years, we never used to consider these perks worth the money–but I’ll admit, as we started traveling with more luggage and most importantly, our dog Ranger, we started splurging on first-class more frequently.

The extra space can definitely come in handy if you have more than a suitcase with you!

jeremy storm and ranger storm with luggage in front when traveling around europe by train

Variable vs. Fixed Price Tickets

Variable-price tickets, as the name implies, tend to increase in price the closer your date of travel gets.

T hese tickets are generally used for high-speed trains and long-distance journeys and will be the most common form of ticket you see when traveling between countries by train in Europe.

Fixed-price tickets are more typical for regional (aka “slow”) trains and can be booked at any time–so you can just show up at the station and buy them from a kiosk without issue.

For example: if you travel from Florence to Bologna on a high-speed train, it will take around 30 minutes and that ticket has a variable price.

If you travel on the regional train that takes around an hour, the price is fixed and you can book it at any time.

View of Bologna from above--this beautiful city is worth adding to your list of places to travel Europe by train

When you travel Europe by train, one of the first things you’ll need to get the hang of is exactly how and where to buy European train tickets–and you have plenty of options!

Here are different ways to obtain train tickets in Europe.

Best Things to Do in Budapest: Tram #2

Online (Via a Third-Party Site)

Third-party booking sites are incredibly useful when preparing to travel Europe by train, especially when you’re planning to travel between countries.

We use and recommend Omio , which will allow you to easily compare prices between different routes, show you the most efficient path, and allow you to book trains across Europe with no concerns about language barriers, iffy online translations of national websites, or issues with payment (some company websites struggle to process foreign credit cards).

Omio is a ticket aggregate, and searches multiple companies and routes at once, which makes it very handy for checking train timetables and possible routes as well as for booking tickets!

Search  train routes and tickets prices in Europe today!

Buildings in front of harbor of Cassis France, their reflections are on the water in the bottom half of the photo.

Online (Via the Company Directly)

Alternatively, if you’re looking for the best possible deal, you can book tickets online through direct websites for most countries in Europe.

For example, here are the national train company websites for Italy , France , and Germany .

We tend to book directly whenever we’re traveling domestically in a place we’re very familiar with, like Italy.

Couple standing in from of Colosseum, One Day in Rome -- Rome in a Day

At the Train Station

If you’re traveling a short distance on a regional or commuter rail (like to take a day trip, for example), you can also buy tickets directly at the train station.

If you’re buying train tickets in person, we recommend using the kiosks available whenever possible.

Not only do they tend to have language options that make things much easier, but they also tend to take a fraction of the time of waiting in line to be helped by a person directly.

kate storm sitting on a ledge overlooking a free view of the prague skyline when traveling prague on a budget

With a Train Pass

The final option for booking tickets to travel Europe by train is to do it in one fell swoop with a Eurail pass (for non-European residents) or Interrail pass (essentially the same thing, but for European residents).

Essentially, a Eurail pass will allow you to buy a certain number of train rides (or an unlimited number) in advance, allowing you to be more spontaneous in your travels.

However, there are limitations–for example, some routes still require advance reservations and charge additional fees.

G enerally speaking, the average user will end up spending more on train travel in Europe with a pass than without one.

There are cases where a train pass makes sense, though, so if you’re planning lots of European train travel, especially in Western and parts of Central Europe , be sure to run the numbers to see if a European train pass is right for you!

trentitalia high speed train in milano centrale station, as seen when traveling italy by train

Once you buy your tickets, the next step is to actually receive them!

Here are the three main options.

Most European train tickets these days can be received online and downloaded to your phone. 

When available, this is by far the easiest and quickest way to receive your tickets.

Grote Markt in Bruges Belgium with 4 colorful buildings visible with green awnings out front--an essential stop during your 3 day Belgium itinerary

At the Station

You can also choose to receive your (paper) tickets at the station you’re departing from, either by purchasing them there as mentioned above, or by picking up tickets you bought online.

In most cases, there’s no real reason to pick up paper tickets you bought online as opposed to simply downloading them, but most countries do still have the option.

kate storm boarding a train to sintra from lisbon portugal

If you book tickets to travel Europe by train well in advance of your trip, many countries do also have a home delivery option where they can be mailed to you before you travel.

We took advantage of this for our very first multi-country trip to Europe and had our train tickets for our overnight route from Krakow to Budapest mailed to our then-home in San Antonio.

Honestly, it was complete overkill, even as the novice travelers we were then, and we don’t necessarily recommend doing this–but some places do have the option available.

Kate Storm spinning in front of a clock tower in Riquewihr, one of the best day trips in Alsace!

If you’re confused, concerned, or just slightly intimidated by train travel in Europe but are ready to book your first journey, this section is for you!

Follow these instructions step-by-step, and you’ll travel Europe by train with ease.

Book your ticket.

Generally, for long or inter-country journeys, booking online is the easiest option as we outlined above.

We use and recommend Omio for booking train tickets in Europe.

Shop train tickets across Europe today!

Best Books About Italy: View of Verona

Make sure your ticket is in hand.

This can mean downloaded onto your phone or printed onto a piece of paper in your hand.

E ither option works in most places, but whichever you choose, make sure you have your ticket handy when you board.

Head to the (correct) train station.

Most major European cities are home to more than one train station, so be sure to double and triple-check that you’re going to the right one before you set off.

Kate Storm standing with her back to the camera along the Grand Canal, a must-see during a Florence to Venice day trip! Gondolas are parked along the canal and Kate is wearing a cream sweater.

Find your platform.

Much like in an airport, your first step to finding your train platform will be to check the (often large, sometimes confusing) boards bearing destinations and times.

It’s best to search for your train based on a combination of the train number, company, and departing time– not the destination. 

If your train is continuing past your stop, for example, searching by destination can get very confusing, very quickly.

European trains (and Europe in general) also use the 24-hour clock (so 3:00 PM will be displayed as 15:00, etc), so keep that in mind when looking for your train on the departures board.

Two trains waiting on an empty platform, a common sight during train travel in Europe and when taking a train through Europe

Validate your ticket.

If you have a paper ticket, you’ll need to validate it before you board.

T he kiosks to validate your ticket are generally placed just before you reach the platform, but can sometimes be easy to miss if you’re not looking for them.

(As far as we’re concerned, this hassle is another point in favor of online/downloaded tickets.)

If applicable, find your train car and seat number.

If your train has reserved seats, you’ll need to find the exact train car number and seat number to sit in.

T his is most common on long-distance, high-speed trains.

Vienna to Cesky Krumlov by Train: Train Views

… Or just look for the appropriate class.

If your train has open seating, the only seating concerns will be whether you sit in the 1st or 2nd class.

The “1” or “2” denoting whether it’s a first or second-class train car is generally marked obviously on the side of the train, near or on the door itself, so it’s fairly easy to make sure you’re in the correct place.

Stow your luggage.

In some trains, this will mean storing your luggage in the racks provided at the ends of each train car, in others, it will mean in the racks above the seats, and in still others, there are even places to store bags between the seats.

Keep an eye on what others are doing, but keep in mind that as long as your luggage isn’t in anyone else’s way, there’s generally some flexibility to the process.

kate storm jeremy storm and ranger storm on a train in switzerland

Settle in and enjoy the views.

Once you’ve found your seat and stored your luggage, it’s finally time for the best part of train travel in Europe: kicking back and enjoying watching the world go by.

No matter how many times we ride trains through Europe, we never stop getting a little thrill during this part of the process!

Keep your ticket handy for when the conductor comes by.

At some point, as you travel Europe by train–and it could be 5 minutes into your ride, 5 hours into your ride, or both–a conductor will come by to check your ticket.

Be sure to have your ticket in a convenient place so that you’re ready when this happens!

Things to Do in Orvieto Italy: Torre del Moro View

Listen carefully as you get close to your destination.

As you begin to get close to your destination, it’s time to pay very close attention to the announcements.

Many European cities have train stations that sound very similar to each other, especially to those not familiar with them (for example Roma Tiburtina and Roma Termini), and you’ll want to be certain to exit the train at the correct stop.

O therwise, you might accidentally find yourself deep in the suburbs instead of in the center of the city!

In many places, especially along routes popular with tourists, arrival announcements for each station will be repeated in English, but that’s not a guarantee.

kate storm and jeremy storm taking a selfie on a train across europe

Exit the train quickly and smoothly.

When you reach your stop, be ready to exit immediately–that means luggage in hand and waiting at the end of the train car to exit.

You’ll generally see people start to queue up a few minutes before arrival.

The train stops long enough for everyone to exit comfortably, so you don’t need to push past other people or even hurry if you’re prepared.

However, if you wait until the train stops before even getting your luggage together, well–if your station isn’t the final stop, you might find the train moves on before you have time to get off.

Visiting Versailles from Paris: Train Station

If you have your heart set on traveling Europe by train, plan ahead.

As you plan your Europe itinerary , you’ll likely find that some destinations are better suited for traveling Europe by train than others, and it definitely pays to know which destinations require a train, plane, or bus before arriving in Europe.

Train travel in Europe is generally best suited for certain Western and Central European countries–the further you move into the Balkans and Eastern Europe, the more limited (and, shall we say, adventurous) it becomes.

And, despite being situated essentially as far to the west of Europe as you can get, Spain and Portugal are surprisingly isolated from the perspective of train travel (this is due to having a different size of railroad gauge than other countries in Western Europe).

jeremy and ranger at abrantes portugal train station when traveling europe by train

Distance also plays a key role.

Traveling from Paris to Venice by train is a long but completely doable day, but Paris to Zagreb , not so much–that route is better suited to a plane.

Add in the fact that you’ll want to book your variable-price tickets in advance, and the bottom line is that you should definitely bank on planning at least the most important routes in advance.

Kate Storm in a gray dress standing in Rue de l'Universite in Paris with the Eiffel Tower behind her

Definitely book complex routes for train travel in Europe in advance.

If you’re traveling from Rome to Florence or Madrid to Barcelona, especially if you don’t mind taking a regional/slow train, you can book your train tickets once you already arrive in Europe.

For more complex or longer routes, though, you’ll make things much easier on yourself if you book before you start your trip abroad.

kate storm and ranger storm on the trenord train platform in como italy

Bring snacks and drinks along for the ride.

While most long-distance routes will sell simple food on board like sandwiches, drinks, and pre-packaged snacks, the selection is generally about on par with airplane food, in other words, expensive and unexceptional.

Commuter and regional trains are much less likely to sell food on board.

On long-distance trains, there’s typically a dining car you can visit to make purchases, and on some routes (especially in first class), a restaurant cart will come around offering a few items, similar to a flight attendant.

Better not to worry about it, though: we recommend packing plenty of snacks (or even a full meal) and drinks to bring along, which is completely typical on trains in most places in Europe.

Best Food in Budapest: Strudel

If you have a long train ride ahead, consider packing cards or a game.

Not only will this help entertain you throughout the journey, but it’s also a great way to meet other travelers!

Don’t count on having internet access onboard.

Even if you have a European SIM card and are traveling within the Schengen Zone (where SIM cards are supposed to work across borders), maintaining an internet connection on a European train ride is iffy.

B etween tunnels, remote countryside, border crossings, etc., it’s best not to count on having access.

laptop open to our escape clause on renfe train in spain itinerary

If the train advertises wifi, don’t count on that either–some of them require a local tax ID number or phone number to access.

We’ve found that our best bet for internet access during train travel in Europe is whenever the train briefly stops at a station.

If you have a SIM card that works for that destination, you can usually expect at least a few minutes of connectivity there.

Bike leaning against bridge over a canal in Annecy, France

Make sure you go to the correct train station.

We mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: be very certain that you go to the correct train station when traveling by train through Europe… and that goes for when you get on and when you get off! 

… And show up early.

Some train stations in major cities are enormous, and can almost resemble airports, with 30+ platforms, various levels, and in some cases a mall inside them (like Roma Termini, for example).

If you’re not familiar with the station in question, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to find your way to the correct platform once you arrive!

Photo of the empty train tracks at a station in Cinque Terre. Some people are standing to the side and waiting on the platform.

If you have an opportunity to take an overnight train, do!

Not only is it a great way to save on the cost of a hotel for the night , but spending the night in a sleeper car can be quite a travel adventure!

(Though in the interest of full disclosure, I have never once gotten what I would call a good night’s sleep on a train. No regrets, though, and we’ll do it again!).

Toilets are plentiful, but their quality is questionable.

In other words, bring some toilet paper (I usually keep a small packet of tissues handy for that purpose) and hand sanitizer. 

Also, wet floors aren’t exactly unheard of, so you might want to stick with close-toed shoes.

Most high-speed trains in Europe have a toilet available in every train car, so you typically won’t need to go far to find one.

train station in lauterbrunnen switzerland as seen from a train with waterfall in the background

If you’re a student and/or under 26, you might qualify for discounts.

Keep that in mind when booking your train tickets for Europe, and if you do book a discounted fare, be sure to keep your ID handy (it’ll likely come in handy in many other places during your trip, too).

Keep in mind that some under-26 discounts are only available to EU residents, so be sure to verify that before counting on them if you aren’t European.

You can generally bring dogs (and cats) with you on trains in Europe!

This is a bit beyond the scope of this blog post, but given that we have several photos of Ranger in here, I’m sure at least a few readers are curious!

The vast majority of trains in Europe allow well-behaved companion animals on board, with varying requirements and costs (generally either free or the price of a child) based on the animal’s size, whether it’s confined in a carrier, etc.

It’s best to check the expectations for each route in advance, but with a little planning and flexibility, your furry friends are generally welcome.

Ranger is quite the traveler and has visited 8 countries and counting with us, many of them by train!

ranger storm sleeping on a train in germany

Keep an eye on social norms.

Cultural expectations around eating, talking loudly, and storing your luggage can and will vary depending on where your train travel in Europe takes you.

B e sure to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing to ensure you’re not inadvertently committing a faux pas !

For example, if you take a train, say, in Italy and then later in Austria as you travel Europe by train, you’ll likely notice a huge difference in the noise level on the train!

Photo of a red train in Switzerland with mountains in the background, black and red text on a white background reads "how to travel europe by train the ultimate guide"

About Kate Storm

Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

63 thoughts on “How to Travel Europe By Train: The Ultimate Guide (+ Tips!)”

We are senior citizens planning a trip to Italy and surrounding areas in September 2022. Looking at some train travel, multiple cities for sight seeing. We like the smaller, picturesque, historical cities. What advice can you offer?

I definitely recommend searching “Italy” on our search bar (top right of the site on desktop, part of the menu on mobile). Italy is one of our favorites and we have (literally) about 100 posts about it!

For small, picturesque, historic cities, Siena, Venice (it is pretty small!), and Verona come to mind. Florence, too–surprisingly small in some ways!

For even smaller hilltop villages like Montepulciano, etc, in Tuscany, be aware that many of the train stations aren’t in the town center, so you’ll likely want to catch a taxi in many of them to avoid hauling luggage up a hill.

Two years ago we had a small villa in a very small town in Italy. We trained to a new place everyday. It was funned and easy. We took the local bus into the next target town, bought our tickets at the station and took off for the day. We went to Florence, Pizza, and several smaller towns. We are mature seniors and had no trouble getting around. Only a couple of people spoke english in a small town, but, we managed easily.

Your comments encourage me to locate a home base in Italy and take a train or bus to the surrounding suburbs etc. I’m no spring chicken nor my husband but we get around easily. Thank you

Thanks for the helpful information. Appreciate it!

My boyfriend and I just booked our first train tickets in Europe thanks to you!!! I’m so happy we found your blog. We’re going to France and Spain this summer!

Ahhh that is wonderful to hear! Have a fantastic time!

My wife and I, both 70 are taking a cruise from Budapest to Passau and plan on taking trains to Birmingham England from Passau. I’ m planning about 5 stops. First Venice then Tirano, St. Moritz, Sion, Strasbourg and finally Birmingham. I plan on a Eurrail pass. do you have any advice, help or suggestion. Thanks

Hi Wayne! If you’re planning on an Eurail pass, my best advice is to research your routes, dates, and times in advance–many popular routes will still require advance reservations even with a pass.

Kate, my wife and I are planning our first cruise in Europe, and are thinking about taking the train from Barcelona to Rome (cruise departure). Your blog was a great overview. My question has to do with ability to get off and on a subsequent train, for day visits on the way. Is switching covered or individually arranged ahead of time, and is it a good or bad idea for novice mostly monolingual travelers to Europe? Advice? Thanks,(Chuck)

If you book a ticket from Barcelona to Rome, your ticket will be good for that specific train/departure only, so you can’t get off and back on at various stops. If you want to stop places along the way, you’ll need to book individual tickets between each destination you plan to visit.

If you have your heart set on that, look into an Eurail pass–it does what you describe, however, it can get confusing (some routes still require advance reservations) and will usually be more expensive than booking tickets individually.

Traveling by train is absolutely doable as a novice traveler, but be sure to be careful when you’re booking your tickets (to ensure they’re the right dates/times/train stations you expect), and pay close attention to the stops to ensure you don’t miss yours.

Another option, if you’re traveling during the summer and want to get from Barcelona to Rome quickly without flying, would be to take a ferry to Rome and then train to a few places around Italy from there.

Hope you guys have a great trip!

My family is looking to travel from Lille to Amsterdam. My question is: when we depart out train that originated in Lille and transfer to a new train in Brussels, will we need to go through some form of customs before we board the train for Amsterdam? I just want to get an idea of how much time to leave for connecting trains.

Hi Matt! No customs required–all of those countries are part of the EU Schengen Zone, so moving between them via train is generally as seamless as road-tripping between US states.

And, is 33 minutes to connect from one train to another a lot of time? We have never done this type of thing before so I’m not sure if that is cutting it too close

33 minutes should be okay! Definitely move with purpose to find your next platform once you arrive, but you shouldn’t be in a huge hurry as long as everything is on time.

Kate- I am considering coming to Europe early for my Christmas river cruise heading out of Brussels. I was thinking of taking the train from the Brussels airport to Koln to see their markets and explore, and then doing a day train up to Dusseldorf to see their Christmas markets. It looks like about a 2 hour train ride on Thalys to Koln and then only about 30 minutes from Koln on to Dusseldorf. I will then take the train back to Brussels for my riverboat cruise. Does this sound feasible?

As long as the timetables work in your favor, I don’t see why not! Germany and Belgium are both great countries for exploring by train.

Hello Kate, We are looking to visit Italy for the first time in December/2022, I was looking in the train tours, visiting 4 cities (Rome, Florence,Venice & Naples). Your thoughts on train tours? Thank

Hi Sharon! I’m not sure what you mean by tour–if you mean a guided trip, they can of course be very fun with the right group, but I wouldn’t say you need one for this route.

All of those cities are very simple to visit independently by train, and we have taken trains to and from all of them many times (I’m actually typing this on a train to Venice).

Hi Kate, my husband and I are planning to fly in to Italy and travel by train to the following places: 1) Milan 2) Switzerland 3) Vienna 4) Prague 5) Paris

May I know if these places can be connected by train. If yes which train will you recommend, please. We are actually thinking about 15-20 days to cover these areas. As it’s our first Europe trip, do you think it’s sufficient and is there any place along the way that you would encourage to go. Thank you.

Yes, those are all excellent destinations to visit by train, so you’re good to go there. As far as specific trains, you’ll need to pull up the individual routes to check (we recommend Omio for this, especially with cross-border trains).

That’s definitely too many places for 15 days, though, and still pushing it at 20. I’d recommend trimming the itinerary a bit if you can (or adding on extra days, of course!).

Hi there This was so helpful. My husband and I are going to Amsterdamin September and then 3 nights in Bruges. All us booked but I’m overwhelmed but the trains websites. Omio is the easiest but I’m still leary. Is it legit and a decent safe way to book trains? We are only going to Belgium. Then two days to the countryside in The Netherlands which we will just grab a regional train. Everyone is telling us to book the train to Bruges. Any helpful advice would be great. We would go to Antwerp and take an IC train to Bruges an hour later,as my husband does have hip and knee problems. Thanks in advance.

I understand, it’s a lot to take on the first few times!

We use Omio regularly, as do many people we know, it’s perfectly legitimate.

The Antwerp train station will be a beautiful place to rest for an hour. It’s absolutely stunning, especially the front foyer, and often pops up on lists of the best things to see in the city!

Hi Kate, My husband and I will be traveling from Prague to cities in Austria and Germany by train next month. We have used trains a few times in Europe before, but it was pre Covid. It looks like most Covid restrictions have been dropped, but I wondered if you have to show Covid vaccination cards on the trains?

Thank You, Jaymie

I’m always hesitant to answer questions like this because I feel like I’ll be summoning disaster with how quickly things can change, LOL.

But at the moment, no, you won’t need your vaccination proof in either place as far as I know.

Life is pretty 2019 these days when it comes to the logistics of traveling around Europe as a visitor, though a handful of places still require masks on public transport (I think Vienna is one of them, but again–things change!).

This is so helpful, but I’m striking out with trains from Naples to Rome? It says that there aren’t any? Why would they list it as an option if they don’t travel to there? Also, is there a way to preview how long the train rides are to decide if we want to travel to certain cities? Cannot find any train tables. I find the Omio and Eurail sites to be difficult to navigate and I can’t get enough information to plan! 🙁 Does it make sense to buy a eurail pass first and then research times and etas? Any help is appreciated!

Trains from Naples to Rome definitely exist! It’s possible you’re looking too far in advance to book the tickets–on Omio right now, it looks like I can purchase Naples to Rome tickets up to about 6 months out.

When you search for a specific route on Omio, Trenitalia, etc, it’ll show you how long the train is and how many changes there are, if any, much like searching for a flight.

We don’t recommend using the Google tool for this, as it tends to default to how to get somewhere if you leave at that second, which can be confusing and normally involves a more complicated route than you need.

Personally, we don’t generally find Eurail passes to be worth it in terms of cost-savings for most travelers, but in terms of research, you’ll be working with the same information either way. 🙂

Hope that helps! It can be a bit confusing at first, but if you try practicing by looking at dates sooner than when you actually plan to travel, I think you’ll find the information you’re looking for.

Thank you for taking the time to write all that useful information. It is so much appreciated by many of us! 🙂

Like many of your readers, we are (two young adults) planning to visit Europe for the first time this upcoming May. We are currently looking at: Landing in the morning in Prague, spend 1 or 2 nights, then Vienna, one night, leave following morning for Bratislava (this one is a maybe, it’s so close!) OR Vienna to Venice. Spend 1-2 nights, then Zurich, and finally Munich, before we make it back to Prague to catch our returning flight. We are looking at 9 days from the morning we land. 🥴 We figured it would be more efficient to travel in a circle, as some destinations -like Paris- will be out this time around. 🙁

Thoughts on that? I will look into Omni regarding trains, but our plan is to travel only by train, if possible.

I know that’s a lot of questions, but THANK YOU so much for your help! 😊

Thanks so much, Al! So glad to be helpful. 🙂

You definitely have the right idea with traveling in a circle, though I definitely recommend trimming some destinations!

With 9 days, I’d suggest no more than 3 base cities (and that’s pushing it), and you can add a day trip or two from there if you like.

I know it’s SO tempting to add more places (I have this problem constantly myself lol) but you’ll have much more fun with a bit of time to explore each place!

I’m not sure what your priorities are or what your budget is, but based on the cities you listed, I’d cut Zurich (Switzerland is amazing, but you don’t have time) and Bratislava. Ideally, I’d suggest cutting one more city as well.

If it were my trip, personally, I’d do a Prague – Venice – Munich triangle, and potentially day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle or somewhere else in the Bavarian Alps with one of the days in Munich. That’s just personal preference, though!

You can definitely do all the destinations you listed by train, no issue there at all. 🙂

That recommendation sounds amazing. The two big ones are Prague (#1!) and Venice, but really hoping to do Munich as well.

I will look into the Bavarian Alps, as I am not familiar with them 🙂

Thanks again. Really enjoy reading through your content! 😊

If you love mountains and/or castles, you’ll definitely love them!

Enjoy some Czech beer for us 🙂

Hi, we are doing Europe by train in June. Is there a way to determine: a. which direction the train(s) are going, so we can face forward? b. Which side is considered the right side (vs left side) for best views when recommended? Thanks for your perspective.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut way to determine which way trains are facing, especially because they often turn around during the route, depending on how they pull into/out of various stations. On long journeys, it’s not uncommon to find yourself facing forward part of the time and backward part of the time.

If you’re starting from the beginning of the line, you can sometimes tell which way you’ll be facing at the beginning based on the route, but not always.

The same goes for the views–for very specific routes, you can sometimes get personalized recommendations from others who have traveled the route (especially for particularly scenic ones), but there’s no simple solution to figuring it out beyond just recommendations.

It’d certainly be easier if that were the case!

Hi Kate, Really enjoying your posts, photos, and appreciate the helpful advice. I am planning a trip in Sept/Oct to visit Scotland for a week before traveling in southern Germany and Austria. What would you recommend about getting from Scotland/London to Koln, Munich or Frankfurt? Is there a good train route to take? Or is this a case where flights make more (economic or time) sense? Thanks for any pointers!

That’s definitely a route that is better served by flight, both from an economic and time perspective! 🙂

Is there something I am missing about Omio, the booking site that you recommend?

My wife and I are moving to Lyon in April and plan to go to Amsterdam in May. I went on the Omio site just to get a sense of what was available from Lyon (Gare Part Dieu) to Amsterdam (Centraal) on a random date (I picked May 9) and the site told me it could not find any trains between these places. But on the Rail Europe site, it showed a slew of trains available throughout the day.

I am confused.

I am too, I’m not sure why it’s not coming up! I just did the search myself and played around with dates, destinations, etc. Paris – Amsterdam, for example, seems to be pulling up just fine.

Could be as simple as a bug, but I just shot Omio an email asking for clarification.

Hi Kate I am Josh from KL Malaysia looking forward for europe trip in september 2023. I would like to start trip from berlin to budapest for 15 to 17 days.how to go about it by using eurorail?

Eurail has a website with a planning tool that can help you sketch out your journey.

Generally, you’ll buy either a set number of travel days within a given time period (like 7 days to be used in a month) or an unlimited pass.

Many routes do still require advance reservations (with additional fees), so be sure to check each route individually so you don’t miss anything!

Hi! I would love to travel as comfortably with my dog as you have, seeing from the pictures. I have a couple of questions: 1) what’s the name brand of that pet carrier. Looks perfect for mine. 2) Could you post tips on hoe to travel with your pet successfully.

Thank you for your content!

Yes, absolutely–with a catch (if you’re in the US). We bought the bag on Amazon Spain when living in Portugal and don’t know of an equivalent here. But this is the link: https://www.amazon.es/-/pt/gp/product/B00XR2D94W/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&fbclid=IwAR3p0Ihrxf6e1yL4nJv5pJBK0GXmOIVIqXL97ov77VRuxSIvm61M2-NbfQE&th=1

Here’s Ranger’s backpack that he gets carried in as well (size large): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07C9XLXVH?ie=UTF8&th=1&linkCode=ll1&tag=ourescapeclau-20&linkId=813c9a64c05de1faef0162cbed102f22&language=en_US&ref_=as_li_ss_tl

He absolutely loves both–gets so excited when we get his bags out, and climbs right in when we get onboard!

Traveling by train in Europe with a dog is usually pretty simple, but you’ll always want to look up requirements for the specific country/train company (some require dogs not in a carrier to pay a half-fare or child’s ticket, etc).

If your dog is very small (like a yorkie or similar) they’re usually free, though again, be sure to check in advance.

I have it on my list to write a whole blog post on this topic eventually, but I hope that helps get you started! 🙂

Just wanted to say thank for you for such amazing content. We are starting to plan a 5 week trip to Europe for Summer 2024 with our 4 kids and your site and recommendations are beyond helpful.

Thank you so much, Megan! That’s wonderful to hear. 🙂 Hope you guys have an incredible trip!

Hi, planning a trip to Europe with the family. Have been to Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and UK so we are looking for something different. Like Berlin, Prague and Vienna or Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels. Love to get your thoughts on these routes and would you recommend taking the train between these cities? Or any other 3 cities you recommend we do over 10 days.

Sounds like a very fun trip! All of the cities you mentioned are definitely doable by train, but Berlin-Prague-Vienna is more cohesive than Amsterdam-Berlin-Brussels (I also personally would put a couple of dozen other cities in the region ahead of Brussels, though it definitely has things to offer!).

Since it seems like Berlin is a priority for you, I’d recommend using that as your anchor and spanning out from there.

A few other places that could make sense, if you want to add more options to your list, could be Krakow, Budapest, or Bratislava.

If you want to start in Berlin and include Amsterdam, you might look into Hamburg, Cologne, or Bruges.

You could also head south from Berlin, and do a Berlin-Munich-Switzerland (Zurich or Lucerne if you’re looking for cities) route.

Really, the possibilities are endless, so it just comes down to the cities that call to you the most!

We are seniors, experienced travellers but novice on trains. We have 3 weeks to visit Paris, Prague, Vienna, Bern, Marseilles, Barcelona, and Lisbon. What suggestions can you offer us Thanks

My first recommendation would be to trim a city or two–3 days per city is a very fast pace to keep up for 3 weeks!

Lisbon and Barcelona are of course the biggest geographic outliers. Lisbon is a non-starter as far as train travel to the rest of these cities is concerned–realistically, it’ll make more sense to fly to and from there.

Barcelona is a bit tricky, since Spanish and Portuguese trains are on a different rail gauge than the rest of the countries on your list. You can take a high-speed train from Barcelona to Paris, but getting from Barcelona to Marseilles via train is much more challenging than you’d think it would be based on a map.

The rest of the cities you mentioned are very well-connected by train, so you shouldn’t have any issues there. 🙂

Really informative site you have here!

I’m from Asia and planning to visit Europe for the first time in Oct 2023. I’ll likely start the tour from London and have about 10 days, then will fly home from Heathrow Airport London. I’m really into trains and would love your advice on what some destinations would be possible. I’ve never been to Europe so anything is fine with me. 🙂 Thank you

Honestly, the number of options is so overwhelming that you’re going to want to narrow it down–a lot!

Assuming you plan to hop over to mainland Europe (as opposed to heading north to Scotland, for example), Paris and Amsterdam are both great jumping-off points connected to London by train.

From either city, you can then reach dozens of cities within several countries in a day’s worth of train travel (or less).

Consider taking a look at places that interest you in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium–just to name a few!

If you want to peruse some sample itineraries, we have several in this post: https://www.ourescapeclause.com/2-week-europe-itinerary-trip/

Hope you have a fantastic trip!

Thanks for all the info contained within this blog. We are planning for summer 2024,a 2-week tour of Europe starting and finishing in the UK. How many stops would you recommend? Where would you suggest?, need to combine, beach, sightseeing and something in the Alpes? Ive got in mind Uk – South of France – Italy- Budapest-Krakow – Germany(or similar)-UK Now for the tricky bit, we are planning to do this with around 20 Explorer scouts! Any tips for travelling in groups? Can you also recommend a great website for hostels Thanks in advance

Sounds like quite the trip! 20 scouts–you guys have your work cut out for you, but I’m sure they’ll love it. 🙂 Can’t offer much personal insight in that direction myself, but I commend you guys for taking it on.

With only 2 weeks, I’d recommend 3 stops, with an additional day trip or two to add on more destinations. Sticking with the UK – South of France – Italy might work best in your case. Germany and Switzerland would also work as potential substitutes as they’re geographically close (depending on where you go).

We go into a lot more detail on putting together a 2-week itinerary in this guide: https://www.ourescapeclause.com/2-week-europe-itinerary-trip/

As far as booking lodging goes, we tend to book all of ours through Booking dot com these days. For hostels in particular, Hostelworld is also popular, though we have rarely used it ourselves. Depending on how old your scouts are you might want to double-check any age requirements for dorm stays.

We are a couple in our 60’s who have travelled by train in Italy and Japan .We are travelling to Greece for 2 weeks then flying to Hamburg.From here we are going to travel straight to Berlin(3 nights),Amsterdam(3 nights),Paris (5 nights),Interlarken,Switzerland (3 nights) then to Munich(4 nights). I have just started researching the best way to purchase rail tickets either a Eurail pass or point to point on Omio.Considering our itinerary what do you recommend?I have read that a Eurail pass is easier than point to point bookings but may be more costly.

Thanks for your blog,very informative.

Hi Francine,

In our experience, Eurail passes tend to be a bit more expensive for most travelers. Part of the reason for this is that many popular routes still require advance reservations that require you to commit to a date and often pay an additional reservation fee.

We have used an Eurail pass in the past, but these days, we always choose to book point-to-point journeys.

However, the only way to know for sure about your route in particular is to plan your trip out via Eurail (be sure to double-check what routes require reservations) and as a point-to-point trip and compare prices. Every trip is different, and since the prices for high-speed trains change depending on when you book them, there’s no way to know for certain.

If you’ve been comfortable traveling by train in other countries in the past, I wouldn’t say the ease of using an Eurail pass is worth the probable extra cost, especially with how simple it is to book train tickets online these days. It does depend on the traveler, though!

Thanks for the information Travelling to krakow then Prague Budapest and Croatia. Have 2 month. Would like to travel by train How far in advance do you need to book train tickets as I want to do it leisurely and not book to far in advance. Also what other country’s/cities do you recommend Thank you so much Betty

For most routes in that area, booking as you go (a few days to a week or so in advance) is just fine, as long as you’re a bit flexible. Exceptions can include night trains and traveling over holidays, so keep that in mind!

Keep in mind that train travel in Croatia is much less expansive than you might think–Dubrovnik doesn’t even have a train station! You can use some train routes, like Zagreb to Split, but plan on adding in buses and/or rental cars (plus ferries, of course) depending on where you want to go in Croatia.

With 2 months to travel from Krakow to Croatia, you might also consider stops in Austria (Vienna is right along your route), Slovakia (Bratislava is very easy to reach) and Slovenia. Depending on how direct you want to travel, Bosnia and Herzegovina could fit in as well.

That barely scratches the surface of the possibilities, but hopefully it gives you some ideas!

Hi! My wife and I love to travel (Between the two of us we have done Italy, Fiji, Australia and many others). We are planning on the F1 races in Spielberg, Austria next June. Thinking about the train from Vienna to Barcelona after and wondering if the ride (about a day) is worth the time? The flight is about 5 hours. We had fun on the train in Italy (Rome to Venice) We will likely leave Vienna the Mon or Tues after and have another 10 days. What do you think about Barcelona and Madrid? Do both? Or one over the other? Thanks in advance!

The distance between Vienna and Barcelona is far enough that unless the idea of a night train and a few train changes sounds like a fun adventure, I’d recommend flying! Basically as a travel experience it can work, but as a basic form of transportation, they’re a bit too far apart for the logistics to make sense.

As far as Barcelona and Madrid, both are wonderful, but they’re very different. Barcelona wins on whimsical architecture and access to the sea. Madrid wins on stately art museums and for having a more laid-back vibe. We enjoy both cities, but Madrid is our personal favorite of the two (though we are in the minority with that opinion!).

If you have time to spend a few days in each, they’re definitely both worth experiencing.

Hi! Thanks for the reply….sounds like flying is the way to go….we will have 4 days each in Madrid/Barcelona so should be able to get the flavors of both. Love your blog!

Thanks, Greg! Enjoy Austria and Spain! 🙂

Hi Kate! I just found your blog while planning my first Europe trip… I’m so excited I have actual tears! I promised myself traveling around/to Europe would be something I accomplish by the time I turn 25. This train travel blog has given me so much needed information as when I originally started planning this trip a few years ago my original plan was by train. I will be combing through your blog site to read as much as I can and support you how I can.

My plan is to start in southern Portugal, through southern Spain, southern France, into Italy. I need to do more research to see if this much in a 2 week time span is even feasible. And, it looks like I may be better off taking a bus in Western Europe. This has been my one hurdle in actually going. If I’m going to go, I’m going to visit multiple countries… but the navigation between countries is the most fearful part for me. I will be using your blog to help me plan and prepare.

All this to say… I’m so glad I found your blog!! Thank you for all of your wonderful information.

Your comment brings a huge smile to my face! I remember planning our first trip so clearly at about the same age (I was 23 on our first-ever trip to Europe and 24 on our first multi-country European backpacking trip) and I can definitely say it was nothing short of life changing. 🙂

All of the places you mentioned are among our favorites in the world! And reading between the lines, it sounds like you may have a preference for coastal areas, which all of those areas have in spades.

One small snag is that you have chosen some of the hardest places to travel between countries by train in western Europe, namely Portugal and Spain. Getting between major cities by train is no issue within each country, but the two aren’t very well-connected by train to each other, and the only train route to France from Spain leaves from Barcelona. There’s a long history as to why, but basically the train rail gauges in the Iberian peninsula are different than elsewhere.

However, don’t worry! There are plenty of solutions. 🙂 Buses are definitely a great option, especially for getting between places like the Algarve and Seville, etc. There are local buses, but also check out Flixbus, which is very popular with travelers and easy to use (we’ve used it many times ourselves). Also, flying is a surprisingly affordable option–Ryanair, Easyjet, etc. have tons of routes in these areas and are frequently way cheaper than traveling by train. Blablacar–basically Uber for traveling long distances–is also an option, though not one we have lots of personal experience with.

Finally, don’t forget about ferries! They can be surprisingly affordable, especially in Spain and southern Italy. We took a ferry from Barcelona to Rome and found it very memorable with amazing views: https://www.ourescapeclause.com/barcelona-to-rome-ferry/

As I always like to tell people, getting on that first plane and starting your trip is the hardest part. After that, everything falls into place. 🙂

Hi Kate, Your blog has been super informative and helpful! We are planning a family trip to Europe this May with our 3 teenagers. Our goal is to do Rome (4 nights), Venice (2 nights), Salzburg (3 nights) and Munich (4-5 nights) in 15 days. Planning to fly into Rome and fly out of Munich or Frankfurt (Dallas is home), and travel by train from city to city. Are we taking on too much? Do you recommend using the fast train from Rome to Venice? Really want to take the train thru the Alps from Venice to Salzburg, but is it going to be much more expensive than flying? I’m assuming I need to book that leg of the train trip asap. Again, great job on the blog! It has made me very excited for our trip!

That’s great to hear, thank you!

That sounds like a good pace for a trip–if anything, 5 nights seems slightly long in Munich, though very doable with a day trip or two built in (and there are plenty of amazing ones in Bavaria!).

Taking the fast train from Rome to Venice would absolutely be our preference–it’s the fastest way to travel between the two cities by far.

Same for Venice to Salzburg (it’s a lovely train ride!). but yes, it can be more expensive than flying depending on when you book and how good of a flight deal you get. It’s much more comfortable regardless, though (not traveling to and from the airports is a big benefit in its own right). Depending on what train company you travel with, expect tickets to be available for purchase anywhere from 3-6 months in advance. I’d start watching earlier, though, just looking at more recent dates, to get a feel for what prices to expect.

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Traveling by Train in Europe: Where, Why, and How

Train travel has been the transportation method of choice in Europe for many years for good reason: Europe is dense enough that train travel is efficient, taking you from city center to city center much quicker than you can when flying.

Buying Train Tickets and Rail Passes

The easiest place to buy your train tickets in Europe is at Rail Europe. They also sell rail passes, which are convenient if you plan on making lots of journeys.

Top International High-Speed Train Routes

Europe has an extensive high-speed rail network, connecting cities such as Paris, Barcelona , and London quickly and easily.

The main two international services are the Eurostar (connecting London with mainland Europe) and the Thalys, which connects Paris to Belgium, Holland and north-west Germany, with Brussels as the main hub.

Within the Schengen Zone , Europe's border-free zone, you can board a train in one country and end up in the other without even realizing it. Though Britain isn't in the Schengen Zone, border controls for Eurostar routes to and from London are conducted by both countries before you depart, which means you can just jump off the train and walk out the station at the end of your journey without standing in any lines.

Check out some of the best international routes in Europe:

  • London to Paris 2h30m
  • London to Brussels 2h
  • Paris to Brussels 1h20m
  • Paris to Barcelona 6h30
  • Frankfurt to Paris 3h50m
  • Hamburg to Copenhagen 3h55m
  • Frankfurt to Zurich 4h

Of course, you're actually more likely to be taking trains within a single country. Read on for country-specific advice for train travel in Europe.

Spain has more kilometers of high-speed rail tracks than anywhere else in Europe (and is second worldwide, after China). All the routes go via Madrid, which means you'll probably need to change there to get from north to south, although there are some continuous routes that cross the entire country.

High-speed trains in Spain are known as the AVE.

  • Madrid to Barcelona 2h30m
  • Madrid to Seville 2h30
  • Barcelona to Seville 5h15m
  • Madrid to Malaga 2h20

Germany started the high-speed train movement in Europe, but the roll-out stagnated for some years, which means that key routes (such as Berlin to Munich) don't yet exist. (You can still take the train from Berlin to Munich, but it's not really any quicker than the bus.

High-speed trains in Germany are called ICE. 

  • Berlin to Hamburg 1h55m
  • Frankfurt to Cologne 1h20m
  • Frankfurt to Munich 3h10m

 The high-speed rail network in Italy is essentially one long line that connects Naples to Turin, via Rome , Florence, Bologna, and Milan.

  • Rome to Florence 1h20m
  • Rome to Milan 2h55m
  • Rome to Bologna 1h55m
  • Rome to Naples 1h45m
  • Rome to Turin 4h05m
  • Milan to Bologna 1h
  • Milan to Turin 45m

There are not many high-speed rail routes in France, though the network is expected to roll out further in the next few years, eventually connecting Paris to Bordeaux.

  • Paris to Lyon 1h55
  • Paris to Marseille 31h15
  • Paris to Strasbourg 1h45
  • Paris to Lille 1h

Train Travel vs. Flying

How do these travel times compare to flying? Let's consider a one-hour flight. We'll add a half hour to get to the airport via taxi or rail connection (remember to add the costs!) They'll want you to be there well in advance of take-off, let's say an hour minimum. You've already doubled the travel time, and you're not even close to your destination.

Then consider that it takes a half hour to get your bags and get to the front of the airport to survey the options to get you into town. Choosing a taxi, you might be lucky to get to the city center and your hotel in a half hour. Add another hour in total to your travel time.

So now we're at 3.5 hours for a "one-hour" flight.

Another thing to consider is that budget airlines often operate out of Europe's smaller airports. You'll have to consider this when you want to take a budget flight to connect your international flight to your final destination. For example, most international flights arrive at London's Heathrow airport, but budget airlines tend to fly out of London Stansted, London Gatwick or London Luton airports.

Some airports are notoriously far from the city they claim to serve. Ryanair calls Girona in Spain ' Barcelona-Girona ', even though it is 100km from Barcelona, while Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is 120km from Frankfurt itself!

Prices for budget airlines and high-speed rail connections are often similar, though flights are often cheaper when booked well in advance and more expensive at the last minute.

Train Travel vs. Driving

High-speed train travel is invariably quicker than driving. It will also usually be cheaper when traveling alone or in a pair. Remember that toll roads are very common in Europe, which will push up the price of your journey considerably. Only when you fill a car can you be more confident of savings. 

Here are some other pros and cons of driving as compared to taking the train.

Train Pros: Why You Should Take the Train in Europe

  • Trains allow you to move easily between cities and European capitals. Most train stations are located near the tourist centers and have hotels nearby.
  • No parking worries.
  • With an unrestricted Eurail Pass, you can get on and off when you wish, often without the hassle of dealing with ticketing agents. You can take the train on a rainy day just to see the scenery, without having to worry about the unscheduled expense.
  • You can sleep on a  night train , saving travel time and some of the cost of a hotel.
  • You can pay full attention to the scenery at hand.

Car Pros: Why You Should Rent or Lease a Car on Your European Vacation

  • It's easy to get to small, out-of-the-way towns and hidden romantic getaways.
  • Go where you want, when you want. You don't have to go by the train timetable.
  • Visit sights out in the countryside without having to sign up for an expensive tour.
  • When you see something compelling in transit, you can leave your luggage in the car (albeit at some risk!) and explore your surroundings.
  • Many people can travel at the same cost--if you choose a large enough car.

Train Cons: Why You Shouldn't Take the Train

  • If you want to experience an event in the countryside, you'll most likely have to sign on to an expensive tour or figure out the local buses, which aren't on a tourist schedule.
  • Usually, two people travel for double what one person can travel for. A large family traveling on a train is usually quite a bit more expensive than stuffing them into a rental car, especially in northern Europe, where train fares tend to be higher. This is changing as there are deals on train tickets that allow families to travel on a discount. On the other hand, keeping young children entertained may be easier on the train.

Car Cons: Why You Don't Want a Car

  • In a major city, you'll have to deal with parking and related fees,  if  you can figure out how to get to your destination in the first place.
  • You'll have to deal with the worries involved with driving in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar rules.
  • Many cities in Europe have restricted traffic zones in the city centers, like the  Zona Traffico Limitato in Italy , made to confound tourists. Ticketing is automatic via cameras and can be quite expensive.

Guide to Bus and Train Travel in Spain

How to Travel From Florence to Paris by Train, Bus, Plane, and Car

About Single Europe Train Tickets

Choosing Madrid-Barcelona Air Shuttle Vs the AVE Train

How to Travel from Madrid to Barcelona by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

How to Travel From London to Paris by Train, Bus, Plane, and Car

AVE Trains in Spain

5 Ways to Find the Cheapest Train Travel

How to Travel From Rome to Naples by Train, Plane, Bus, or Car

How to Travel from Frankfurt to Paris by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

How to Travel From Zurich to Paris by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

How to Get from City to City in Spain

Germany Guide: Planning Your Trip

How to Get the Best Hotel Deals in Europe

The 12 Best Day Trips From Barcelona

Step-By-Step Budget Tips for a First European Vacation

Wander-Lush

Europe by Train: 20 Itinerary Ideas for 10 Days of Travel

There’s no better way to slow travel through Europe than by train. Here are 20 itinerary ideas for 10 days in Europe by rail – with options for every travel style, budget and season.

An epic European train journey through the Swiss Alps.

Europe is experiencing something of a railway renaissance, with old tracks being revived and new rail routes opening up.

Whether you’re looking for a fast-paced, multi-country itinerary or you prefer to explore one country in depth, travelling by train is an easy and affordable way to get around.

Some of these train journeys are among the most beautiful on Earth; others are a convenient way to get from A to B. Whatever you’re looking for, here are 20 of the best Europe 10-day itinerary ideas to get on board with.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Learn more.

10-day itineraries for travelling Europe by train

Each of these Europe train itineraries is perfectly suited to 10 days of travel but can easily be shortened or extended depending on how much time you have.

Depending on your travel plans and just how far you plan to ride the rails, it might be economical to pick up a Eurail Global Pass.

Similar to a Amtrak Rail Pass in the US or the JR Pass in Japan, it can be used for multiple trips across the continent (it covers 33 countries in total). There are no fixed dates, and you have complete flexibility to design your own route.

Learn more about the Eurail Pass and purchase your pass online here through the official website .

Central Europe by Train: Hungary to Slovenia

  • Route: Budapest – Bratislava – Vienna – Ljubljana
  • Editor’s pick

Hungary, Austria and Slovenia.

This route traverses four of Central Europe’s great capitals: Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Ljubljana.

Made for travellers who don’t mind moving at a fast pace and want to make the most of their 10 days in Europe, this itinerary hits all the urban highlights of Hungary , Slovakia, Austria and Slovenia with plenty of opportunities for day trips to castles, wineries and hiking areas in between.

Start in Hungary’s enthralling capital and spend a few days experiencing the best of Budapest . Don’t miss a morning wander around the covered market, a soak in the Gellert or Széchenyi Thermal Bath, and sunset at Fisherman’s Bastion.

After the impressive scale of Budapest, Slovakia’s capital (3.5 hours away by train) seems diminutive in comparison – but don’t be fooled, Bratislava has a lot to offer visitors. With one full day in the city you can catch all the highlights, starting with a morning walking tour of the historic Old Town core and culminating with a view from the castle grounds.

For something different, cross the famous UFO Bridge to wander around Petrzalka , a colourful neighbourhood on the opposite side of the river. Then indulge in a day trip on the Danube or through the countryside to visit Slovakia’s amazing castles, wineries and old towns .

Continue to Austria, following the mighty Danube river. For this leg you can choose between a morning train (1.5 hrs) or if the weather is good, the ferry (1.5 hours). Vienna needs no introduction – there are countless things to keep you occupied in this classic European capital for 2-3 days, ranging from historic cafes to museums and churches.

When you’ve had your fill, board the train for a final time for the scenic journey to Ljubljana. This train ride takes the better part of a full day and leads you through some of southern Austria’s and northern Slovenia’s most beautiful countryside. Stopovers in Graz or Maribor (Slovenia’s second-largest city) can easily be arranged if time permits.

Fall in love with petite and pretty Ljubljana by wandering the river’s edge through the Old Town, browsing the produce market and taking the funicular up to the castle. Bled is within easy reach (under 1.5 hours by train or bus) and you won’t regret adding on a half-day trip to visit the region’s most iconic lake .

Northern Italy: Milan to Trieste

  • Route: Milan – Verona – Padua – Venice – Trieste
  • Designed by: Sophie from Just Heading Out

Three cities in Northern Italy.

Italy has more than enough on offer to fill 10 days of travel or more . This route takes you to some of the most popular cities in the north of Italy plus a few underrated places.

Start in Milan, the elegant fashion capital. Spend two nights here to eat, drink, shop and see the highlights: The Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Castello Sforzesco. The next day, take either the regional train (2 hrs) or the fast train (1.25 hrs) to Verona.

Verona’s biggest claim to fame is as the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet , so you must visit Juliet’s balcony and Romeo’s house. But there’s much more to Verona! Climb up to the Castel San Pedro for a great view of the city, visit Castelvecchio, and see an opera performance at the historic Arena.

After two nights in Verona, board an early train to Padua (1 hr). Padua is noticeably less touristy than Verona or Milan. As one of the oldest cities in Italy , it features a beautiful historic city centre. Visit the Cathedral, the Botanical Gardens, and the Prato della Valle.

After dinner, it is time to take a train to Venice (30 mins). When you arrive, check into your hotel and rest up for three days of sightseeing . Aside from the highlights – such as Ponte Rialto, Doge’s Palace and Piazza San Marco – be sure to leave some time to explore the streets and get lost down the alleyways. A day trip to Murano and Burano is certainly worth the effort.

From Venice, it is a 2-hour train ride to Trieste. This underrated city lies close to Italy’s borders with Austria and Slovenia, and both influences can be clearly felt in the food, culture and architecture.

Trieste is the perfect place to slow down and relax for a day at the beach. Finish your trip around Northern Italy by visiting the Castello di San Giusto and Miramare Castle.

Southern Spain’s Andalusia: Madrid to Granada

  • Route: Madrid – Toledo – Cordoba – Seville – Granada

Three cities in Southern Spain.

While a road trip in Spain might be the best way to explore the country from top to bottom, you can still see a lot when travelling on the country’s railway network. This itinerary focuses on the southern part of the country: the culturally distinct and utterly mesmerising Andalusia region.

Spain’s capital is a natural place to begin. If it’s your first visit, pause for a day or two to visit the most important landmarks in Madrid before boarding a train to Toledo. Half an hour later, you’ll find yourself walking the streets of one of Spain’s most magical and history steeped cities . For all the best things to do in the imperial city, see this guide to Toledo .

For the remainder of your Spain train itinerary, divide your time between Cordoba (4 hours from Toledo by train), Seville (40 minutes from Cordoba) and Granada (1.5 hours from Seville). Each of these three Andalusian cities has its particular charms and fair share of awe-inspiring landmarks, most notably the Mezquita in Cordoba, the Alcazar in Seville and the one and only Alhambra in Granada.

If you have more time, finish with a couple of days on the coast or head west to Lisbon to continue travelling around Portugal by train.

Poland & Germany: Krakow to Berlin

  • Route: Krakow – Wroclaw – Dresden – Berlin
  • Designed by: Kami from Kami and The Rest of The World

Poland and Germany.

This train journey takes you through some of the most beautiful and interesting cities of Poland and Germany and allows you to see some lesser-known yet amazing corners of Central Europe.

Featuring historical sites, beautiful nature and hip spots, the itinerary is good for anyone who’s interested in culture and history but also wants to venture beyond the expected.

Start your journey in Krakow, the former capital of Poland and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. You need at least two days to see all the main sights, starting with the Old Town and the Wawel Castle, the riverside and the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. Krakow is a perfect base for side trips, the most popular being the UNESCO-listed salt mine in Wieliczka and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Both are easily reached by train.

From Krakow, continue by direct train to Wroclaw (3 hrs), one of the main cultural capitals of Poland. Set aside a full day to see the city, taking your time to fall in love with the colourful Market Square and to find as many quirky dwarfs as possible. In the evening be sure to find the magical ‘neon yard’.

From Wroclaw, you can easily explore part of the Lower Silesia region – probably the most interesting part of Poland. Easy train trips include beautiful Swidnica , with its spectacular 17th-century Church of Peace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the stunning Ksiaz Castle (the third largest castle in Poland), numerous spa towns, and the Sudety mountains.

From Wroclaw, continue by train toward Dresden but stop on the way in Goerlitz, the city divided by the Polish-German border. It’s one of the prettiest and best-preserved German cities and you’ll surely recognise it from numerous movies, including The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglourious Basterds . The train trip from Wroclaw to Dresden takes a little over 3 hours and Goerlitz is more or less halfway.

Even though the city was badly destroyed during WWII, Dresden has some of the most impressive Baroque architecture you can find in Europe. You need two days to see it properly, but the main highlights of the city are conveniently located in the centre.

Finish your trip in the cool and vibrant capital of Germany, Berlin (2 hrs by train from Dresden), where you can enjoy a variety of attractions – from historical monuments and mementos of 20th-century world events – and alternative sites such as Kreuzberg.

The Swiss Alps: Geneva to Tirano via the Glacier Express

  • Route: Geneva – Bern – Interlaken – Zermatt – St Moritz – Tirano
  • Designed by: Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor

The Swiss Alps.

This 10-day itinerary is breathtaking all year round – but at the same time it’s winter-inspired as it follows some of the highest peaks in Europe and takes you to some of the most popular destinations for winter sports in the Swiss Alps.

Many of the stops are hard to reach, so the most convenient start is Geneva near the France/Switzerland border.

A day or two is enough time to explore Geneva, the largest city in Switzerland, before forwarding to the charming administrative capital of Bern (2 hrs). You can cover the main attractions of this small but beautiful city in a day – the connecting bridges are a must see – before the next stretch to Interlaken (1 hr), a resort town known as the ‘adventure capital of Switzerland’.

Interlaken is an ideal base to explore the many surrounding mountain peaks including the famous Jungfrau. The 3-Day Jungfrau Travel Pass offers great value for money when exploring this area’s mountains by train and cable car.

This Swiss rail itinerary then takes you high into the alps to visit some of the most beautiful winter resort towns in the world. The first is Zermatt (2.5 hrs), set beneath the majestic Matterhorn (AKA the Toblerone mountain). Cable cars from Zermatt whisk you up towards the peak.

A day is long enough to explore the town before joining the Glacier Express , one of the most scenic train rides in the world. After 7 hours riding the rails through mountainous terrain you’ll finally reach St Moritz where you can connect to yet another breathtaking train, the Bernina Express, to cross into Italy. The trip ends at Tirano (4 hrs). Spend a day in this resort town before continuing on to Milan or Turin for onward travel.

The Balkans by Train: Zagreb to Bar

  • Route: Zagreb – Belgrade – Bar

Zagreb, Montenegro and Belgrade.

Bus is by far the preferred way to travel around the Balkans region – but there is one rail route that should be on every traveller’s radar. The train from Belgrade (Serbia) to Bar ( Montenegro ) is easily one of the most scenic and yet underrated in all of Europe.

With 10 days up your sleeve, you can tackle this full-day journey (the day train is highly recommended) plus add a few days in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb , at the beginning of your trip.

Zagreb is often overlooked in favour of Venetian cities along the Dalmatian Coast – yet Croatia’s capital is easily one of its most beautiful destinations , albeit in a slightly unconventional way. Zagreb is loaded with history, street art and beautiful churches, including the iconic St. Mark’s, with its colourful tiled roof.

After a day in Zagreb, board a train for Serbia’s capital, Belgrade (6 hrs). The former administrative centre of Yugoslavia is a must-visit for those interested in modern history and Brutalist architecture. Spend a morning at Avala Tower , climbing up to the viewing deck for a panorama, cycle around the concrete jungle that is New Belgrade, and wander the old neighbourhood of Zemun. House of Flowers, the final resting place of Josip Broz Tito, is a fascinating visit – but if you only have time for one museum in Belgrade, make it the Tesla Museum.

Completed in 1976 and officially opened by President Tito himself, the Belgrade to Bar train passes over no fewer than 435 bridges on its way to the Adriatic Coast. It’s all about the journey: The part of Montenegro the train traverses is absolutely stunning , especially when the train passes over marshy Lake Skadar.

When you arrive in Bar, make a detour to Stari Bar to explore the ruined old town and the aqueduct before finding a spot to relax on the beach. Pleasant swimming beaches can be found down the coast in Ulcinj – itself a good jumping off point for travelling into Kosovo or Albania .

The Netherlands’ Randstad: Rotterdam to Amsterdam

  • Route: Rotterdam – Den Haag – Amsterdam
  • Designed by: Erin from Pina Travels

The Netherlands by train.

This European train route brings you to three beautiful Dutch cities within a region of the Netherlands known as ‘The Randstad’, the most heavily populated and developed part of the country.

On this route, you’ll get to experience the best of Dutch culture , architecture, history and food. Travel times between cities are short and direct, which makes this an easy train itinerary with maximum time to explore each destination.

The route begins with three days in Rotterdam. During WWII, Rotterdam was completely flattened by bombing. The city has since been rebuilt, and is now a modern metropolis that’s packed with history, art, good food and amazing architecture. While in Rotterdam, check out the city’s famous ‘cube houses’ to walk among the blocks and visit the Show Cube Museum . You’ll also want to check out the Erasmus Bridge, the Van Nelle Factory (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Market Hall, where you can enjoy Dutch art and food all under one roof.

From Rotterdam, take a quick 25-minute train ride to your next destination, Den Haag (The Hague). Plan to spend three days in this city, which is known for being the seat of the Dutch government since 1588. Den Haag is home to the Gothic-style Binnenhof complex and the 16th-century Noordeinde Palace, which is one of the Dutch Royal Family’s official palaces. You’ll also find plenty of museums, churches, and restaurants that are worth visiting.

Next, take a 45-minute train ride from Den Haag to the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam to witness the artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and iconic narrow houses for yourself. You’ll want to spend four days visiting popular attractions plus experiencing alternative things to do in Amsterdam .

Visit the Rijksmuseum to see the work of the Dutch masters and visit the Anne Frank Museum to learn the story of the Jewish wartime diarist. When you’re hungry, be sure to drop by Upstairs Pannenkoekenhuis to try some classic Dutch pancakes!

Portugal by Train: Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela

  • Route: Lisbon – Coimbra – Porto – Santiago de Compostela
  • Designed by: Or from My Path in the World 

Portugal.

Covering three of the biggest cities in Portugal along with the endpoint of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, this route is perfect for history and culture lovers, as well as for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Portugal’s laid-back yet lively atmosphere , taste great food and wine, and meet friendly locals.

Lisbon is a contagiously vibrant city and it’s worth dedicating four days to experience the best of it, including its landmarks, museums, enchanting neighbourhoods and culinary and nightlife scenes. Some of the must-sees are Sao Jorge Castle, the National Tile Museum, Belem Tower, and the Santa Luzia Lookout Point – but the bucket list goes on and on.

A 2-hour train ride will take you to Coimbra, a postcard-perfect city on the Mondego River. Coimbra is known for its 13th-century UNESCO-Listed university, one of the oldest in Europe . While touring it, it’s possible to visit the Baroque Joanine Library, the Botanical Garden, gorgeous courtyards, and much more.

Other things to do here include visiting Sé Velha (Coimbra’s cathedral), admiring the Manga Cloister, and watching a Fado de Coimbra concert. This music genre originated in Lisbon but Coimbra has developed its own typical style.

After two days, continue to Porto (1.5 hrs), another must-visit place in Portugal . Spend another two days in this city, a fantastic base to explore the Douro Valley if you feel like hiring a car. Visit Livraria Lello (an astounding bookstore), wander through the Crystal Palace Gardens, visit the Bolsa Palace, and cross the bridge over to Gaia to tour some top port wine cellars.

Lastly, Spain’s train company, Renfe, can take you from Porto to Vigo (2.5 hrs) and from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela (50-90 mins), where you can spend your last day and a half. As the endpoint of the pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago, its highlight is, of course, the impressive UNESCO-Listed cathedral, built in the 11th-13th centuries.

Mainland Greece: Athens to Thessaloniki 

  • Route: Athens – Meteora – Thessaloniki
  • Designed by: Chrysoula from Greece Travel Ideas

Mainland Greece.

This 10-day train journey in Mainland Greece covers the country’s two major cities and the natural wonder of Meteora.

The train ride from Athens to the port city of Thessaloniki via Meteora is dramatic, as it passes through narrow valleys and steep mountainous countryside. The greatest treat is the chance to discover Meteora, with its amazing rock formations and six monasteries perched on high rocky crags.

Athens is rich in archaeological treasures that are easy to visit on foot. Other things to see include the Archaeological Museum, the various markets, and the Changing of the Guard ceremony in Syntagma Square. Four days or longer is required to enjoy all of these attractions.

The train from Athens to Meteora (Kalambaka station) leaves Larissis Athens station in the early morning and takes 4.5 hours. The journey passes through beautiful mountainous countryside with narrow valleys. It’s quite a long walk to the first of the monasteries and they are spread out across a wide area, so it’s best to take a taxi or pre-book a guided Meteora tour.

Most visitors to Meteora stay for two days in nearby Kastraki or the larger town of Kalambaka. All 6 of the monasteries are open to the public and accessible via stone-cut steps, but it’s advisable to limit yourself to 3-4 per day.

The train journey from Kalambaka to Thessaloniki takes 3.5 hours. Thessaloniki is an attractive port city with a rich history and reputation for good food, so it’s ideal to spend at least 2-3 days here. Thessaloniki has several notable Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman, and Sephardic Jewish monuments. In contrast, there are lovely beaches within easy reach, good shopping and a vibrant nightlife.

Czechia & Germany: Prague to Munich

  • Route: Prague – Nuremberg – Munich
  • Designed by: Riana from Teaspoon of Adventure

Germany and Czechia.

This 10-day train journey is all about beautiful buildings, rich history and – if you’re a fan – drinking lots of delicious beer!

Each of these cities has something special to offer and no shortage of things to keep you entertained. They’re also all quite close to one another, so you won’t waste too much time getting from one spot to the next.

The trip starts in Prague , one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe, where you’ll spend three nights. On day one, walk through some of Prague’s most beautiful neighbourhoods before checking out Vysehrad castle in the afternoon. End your first day trying Czech food classics such as pork, dumplings and of course, beer! 

Start the second day with a walking tour through the Old Town and Wenceslas Square, take photos on the Charles Bridge, then enjoy a river cruise in the evening. On your third and final day in Prague, see the John Lennon Wall, visit the famous Prague Castle, and end with a beautiful view from Letna Beer Garden.

From Prague, head out on a 6-hour train journey to Nuremberg, where you’ll spend three nights. Your first day in Nuremberg should be dedicated to exploring the Old Town. Don’t miss Weissgerbergasse, a street filled with historic timber houses.

Take a guided tour of the Nuremberg Memorial to learn more about the Nuremberg Trials and visit the courtroom where the trials took place. For more history, visit the Nazi Rally Grounds and Documentation Centre on the afternoon of day two. For something lighter, admire the artwork at Albrecht Dürer’s House and visit the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg.

To finish, take a one-hour train ride from Nuremberg to Munich for your final 4 days. Get your beer fix at a local beer hall or garden, tour the beautiful Old Town, including Marienplatz and Frauenkirche, shop the food markets, and visit local museums.

On your last day in Munich, head out on a day trip. Visit Dachau, the oldest and largest concentration camp in Germany for an important tour through history, or head to Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty .

Ukraine’s Big Three: Kiev to Lviv

  • Route: Kiev – Odessa – Lviv
  • Designed by: Amy from Moonshine and Minibuses

Three great cities to visit in Ukraine by train.

This itinerary hits the three most-visited cities in Ukraine , giving you an eclectic overview of Europe’s biggest country.

While you can take the day train in order to enjoy the views, Ukraine’s night trains are the recommended affordable way to cover a lot of ground quickly. If you’re nostalgic, the overnight trains are often a trip into the past!

Landing in Ukraine’s capital will launch you right into the middle of one of the most dynamic countries in Europe. From colourful medieval legends to stoic Soviet architecture , centuries of history are on display at every corner.

With four days in Kiev, join the pilgrims in the monastery caves of Lavra Pechersk and peek at mummified monks, explore the luxurious private residence of ousted President Yanukovych, and dine at restaurants headed by internationally renowned chefs.

Just when you’re getting into the groove of Ukraine, head to Odessa, the Pearl of the Black Sea, travelling either by intercity or overnight train. Odessa has a reputation for being a party town (that it gleefully lives up to), but in addition to the beach clubs and Gilded Age bars, make sure you take some time to learn about the history of the city. Established under Catherine the Great, it has a diverse and dramatic background.

After two or three days of living life to the fullest in Odessa, head towards Lviv. This city is nearly 800km from Odessa, so it’s best to take the overnight train. Considered a cultural hub, Lviv is a tapestry of idyllic European scenes, from its cobblestone streets to its skyline of church spires. Wander down alleys, pop into coffee shops, and peer into the myriad of churches.

End your trip to Ukraine at an underground bunker-style pub, a craft beer ‘theatre,’ or the regal opera house (or even the cocktail bar below it!).

Transiberian Express: Siberia to St. Petes

  • Route: Irkutsk, Siberia – Moscow – St. Petersburg
  • Designed by: Sinead from Map Made Memories

Siberia and St Petersburg.

This itinerary offers something for everyone as it combines historic sites and the fantastic architecture of the big cities with small-town rural Russia, nature trails and scenic landscapes.

Spend a day exploring Irkutsk on foot following the city’s ‘green line’, a tourist trail painted on the pavement that covers points of interest around the city. Take a full day trip to Lake Baikal 70km away. Shop in the fisherman’s market at tiny Listvyanka, visit the wooden Church of St Nicholas, take a boat trip on the world’s deepest lake, or enjoy a scenic hike in the hills surrounding the lake.

The train from Irkutsk to Moscow takes around three-and-a-half full days following a popular stretch of the Trans-Siberian Railway route.

When you arrive in Moscow, spend 3-4 days visiting the imposing Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb and the incredible Armoury. Tour opulent churches such as the iconic St Basil’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

For an amazing view of sprawling Moscow, head to the deck on the top of the Central Children’s Store, an enormous toy store in the centre. Spend a day riding the elaborately decorated Russian Metro system and make a stop at VDNKh to view the sculptures and to visit the Museum of Cosmonautics.

The journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes 4 hours on the fast train or 8 hours on a slower overnight train.

Enjoy a leisurely trip on St. Petersburg’s canals before exploring the elaborate Winter Palace (try to book tickets in advance as there are usually long queues). Make time to visit the ornate Church of the Spilled Blood, decorated from floor to ceiling in tiny, colourful mosaics depicting intricate biblical scenes.

The Best of Britain: London Loop

  • Route: London – Bath – Cardiff – Liverpool – Edinburgh – York – London
  • Designed by: Tracy from UK Travel Planning

Three cities in Great Britain.

This 10 day best of Britain by rail itinerary is the perfect way for first-time visitors to explore some of the most popular cities across Britain’s three nations. In addition to visiting the three capitals, the itinerary also includes a trio of England’s most beautiful and interesting smaller cities.

A round trip itinerary, the journey starts and ends in London. To start, explore the sights, landmarks and attractions of the UK capital . A guided tour may be the best option to make the most of your day.

Departing from London, head to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed city of Bath. Travel time by train between the cities is around 1.5 hours with direct services departing from London Paddington to Bath Spa. The main highlights of Bath include the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and the Royal Crescent. Sally Lunn’s is a popular cafe for a cake and a cuppa. On your third day, continue exploring Bath or jump on the train to Salisbury and Stonehenge.

After spending two nights in Bath, travel to the Welsh capital Cardiff (1 hr). In Cardiff, visit the castle, stroll the centenary walk or join a Gavin & Stacey or Dr Who themed tour.

Travel from Cardiff to Liverpool (3.5 hrs) and spend an afternoon exploring the main sights of the city including Albert Dock. Another option here is to take a Beatles tour and visit the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, fills the itinerary for days 6-7. There are plenty of things to do and see over two days, including Edinburgh Castle, walking the Royal Mile, shopping on Princes Street, and enjoying the views from Arthur’s Seat.

Then, travel from Edinburgh along the Northumberland Coast and through the cities of Newcastle and Durham before arriving in York (2.5 hrs). Walk the city walls, visit York Minster, learn about the city’s history at the Jorvik Viking Centre, and shop on the Shambles. For the best afternoon tea, head to the iconic Bettys Tea Rooms before travelling back to London on day 10 (2 hrs) to complete your loop.

To put a festive spin on this UK road trip, consider timing your journey to spend Christmas in London .

Norway by Train: Bergen to Oslo via the Flam Line

  • Route: Bergen – Voss – Myrdal – Flam Fjord – Gudvangen – Laerdal – Flam – Myrdal – Oslo
  • Designed by: Tracy from Tracy’s Travels in Time

Norway's cities, churches and fjords.

This rail itinerary from the coastal city of Bergen to Norway’s capital, Oslo, is perfect for those who want to experience the breathtaking beauty of this Scandinavian country. Train lovers will enjoy travelling on the Flam railway, which is recognised as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.

Spend the first couple of days exploring the city of Bergen. Not-to-be-missed highlights include the UNESCO World Heritage Site of old Hanseatic wharf and the buildings at Bryggen, Bergen’s fish market, and a ride on the funicular to Mount Floyen for spectacular views of the city.

On day three, hop on the train to the small resort town of Voss. The journey takes 1.5 hours with beautiful views along the way. If you’re visiting in summer, enjoy the hiking trails around Voss. In winter, make sure you book accommodation in advance as Voss transforms into a popular ski resort.

After spending the night in Voss, take the train to Myrdal (1 hr) where you alight and transfer to the Flamsbana Line. This is one of Norway’s most popular attractions, so book your tickets in advance.

As well as the Flamsbana, there are a few things to do and see in Flam including the museum – but the main attraction is the fjord on which Flam sits. Catch a boat and enjoy a spectacular scenic trip along two of Norway’s most famous fjords to the neighbouring village of Gudvangen.

The next few days offer the perfect opportunity to explore the local area. Stay in Gudvangen overnight before catching a bus to the nearby town of Laerdal via one of the longest road tunnels in the world.

Relax for a few days, enjoy a few hikes or cycle around. Explore the Gamle Laerdalsoyri village in Laerdal, whose wooden houses date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Borgund Stave Church near Laerdal is the best preserved stave church in Norway and can be reached by bus or bicycle.

On day eight, take the bus to Flam (50 mins) and jump onto the Flam railway back to Myrdal. Trains run from Myrdal to Oslo up to four times a day, but be sure to check connections.

The final two days of this itinerary are spent in Norway’s capital, Oslo. Explore the city’s museums (fans of artist Edvard Munch can experience his works at the new Munch Museum) and enjoy the architecture, cafes and foodie culture .

Northern Spain: Madrid to Barcelona via Basque Country

  • Route: Madrid – Bilbao – San Sebastián – Zaragoza – Barcelona
  • Designed by: Vicki from Vicki Viaja

Beaches and churches in Northern Spain.

While many visitors to Spain only travel back and forth between the most popular destinations, this Spain 10-day itinerary leads you to the north of the country – an area known for its great food and unique culture.

The itinerary starts in the capital of Spain, Madrid. In three days, you can get a good first impression of Spanish culture and visit essential sights such as the Plaza Mayor and the Almudena Cathedral.

The journey continues to the north of Spain. In Bilbao (4-5 hours from Madrid by train), you can experience the unique culture of the Basque Country. Bilbao is also the ideal destination for art lovers. Besides the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, the art museum Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao awaits you.

San Sebastián, also called Donostia, is another example of a great city in the Basque Country. After taking the train from Bilbao (2 hrs), get to know the northern beaches. The most famous in the area is the Playa de la Concha. Don’t miss the sunset .

Continue 3 hours by train to Zaragoza, a beautiful city in Spain that is unfortunately overlooked by most travellers. The city is built in the typical Spanish style and its restaurants allow you to try lots of delicious dishes from the region. Particularly impressive is the Pilar, the city’s basilica, which is located in the center. It’s the largest of its kind in Spain and is considered one of the most important churches in the country.

The last stop is in the Catalan capital Barcelona , 90 minutes by train from Zaragoza. Spend a few days relaxing on the beach, soaking up Catalan culture, and discovering some of the most impressive buildings of the Modernisme movement, including the Sagrada Família, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló.

East Meets West: Istanbul to Bucharest

  • Route: Istanbul – Edirne – Plovdiv – Sofia – Bucharest

Romania, Turkey and Bucharest.

This train journey is unique because it crosses continents, taking you from Istanbul from East to West, Asia to Europe, and through to Bulgaria and Romania. Trains in this part of Europe might be a little slower and less comfortable than what you’re used to, but that’s all part of the fun.

Start your epic rail journey the best way possible by crossing the Bosphorus into Europe. Istanbul is a huge, heaving city. Whatever time of year you visit – winter or summer – and however you choose to explore it – by focusing on the highlights, by wandering the less-touristy neighbourhoods or by letting your stomach guide you between the best restaurants and markets – you really can’t go wrong. Just make sure to set aside time for the Hagia Sophia and Grand Bazaar.

Before leaving Turkey , make an overnight rest stop in the city of Erdine (4 hours from Istanbul by train) to see the stunning 16th-century Selimiye Mosque before crossing the border into Bulgaria. As you continue moving north, you’ll see how the historic Ottoman influence has permeated the Balkans region.

While Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city, has its draws and is worthy of a day or so of your time, Plovdiv is where you should direct most of your attention. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Plovdiv counts an immaculate Roman Amphitheatre and exquisite Bulgarian Revival architecture among its many virtues. To get there, you’ll need to take a bus or local train from Sofia.

The Sofia to Bucharest leg over the Danube river is another highlight of this itinerary – just be warned that it takes a full day to reach Romania’s capital and in the winter months , you may need to change trains at the border.

Devote some of your time in Bucharest to learning about Romania’s tumultuous recent history and don’t leave without visiting the vibrant Piata Obor market . One of the best things to do in winter is hop between the many cafes and wine bars, an experience that will show you a different side to the city.

Transylvania by Train: Bucharest to Sibiu

  • Route: Bucharest – Brasov – Sighisoara – Sibiu

Colourful houses in Transylvania, Romania.

A perfect extension on the previous itinerary (or a wonderful rail journey all on its own), Transylvania by train is a slow travel experience that will allow you to soak up the magnificent landscapes and wild nature this part of Romania is known for.

This trip is all about the fortified churches, Saxon cities and magnificent castles, with a side of hiking (or skiing) plus plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in Transylvania’s unique culture along the way.

A road trip through this area of the Balkans will give you more flexibility, but the romance and nostalgia of the train can’t be beat. Connections are reasonable, times fast and fares extremely affordable, making this a great choice for budget-conscious travellers.

Departing from Bucharest, take an early morning train (1.5 hrs) to the small city of Sinai to visit the awe-inspiring Peles Castle. As you break through into mountainous territory and enter Transylvania proper, your first stop is Brasov, another hour north by rail. Brasov is the first of three charming cities on this itinerary and warrants at least two full days, with an afternoon set aside for visiting Bran Castle.

The fortified city of Sighisoara (4 hours by train) is smaller than Brasov but even more charming. Walk the old walls, admire the craft guild gates and climb up both the bell and church tower for a view.

Sibiu (3 hrs) is known for its distinctive vernacular architecture and grand main square – there are towers here that you can climb for an aerial view, too. Connections back to Bucharest are easy to find, or you can continue west to Timisoara then cross into Northern Serbia .

Classic Italy: Venice to Rome

  • Route: Venice – Florence – Rome
  • Designed by: Samantha from The Wandering Wanderluster 

Three classic cities in Italy.

Train travel is arguably one of the most romantic ways to travel. So why not travel by train through three of Italy’s most romantic cities?

Venice, Florence and Rome are three of the most-visited cities in Europe and fortunately they are very well connected by Italy’s high speed rail network, which means you can easily visit them all in 10 days.

The beauty of this short Italy itinerary is that it can be done in either direction and thanks to the frequency of train departures, you can pretty much leave and travel onto your next destination anytime you want.

Start your trip in the serene ‘Floating city’ of Venice in the north, known for its charming canals, gondolas and beautiful architecture that lines the main artery through the city, the Grand Canal. There is a lot to see in Venice but for first timers, three days is plenty for the main highlights.

Jump on a 2-hour train and arrive in the heart of the Renaissance city of Florence for another three-day stay. Art lovers will trip over their tongues at the sheer volume of masterpieces to see in the city, while foodies will want to devour their body weight in Bistecca alla Fiorentina and drown themselves in Tuscan wine.

Finally, head to Italy’s magnificent capital city, Rome, where there are as many ancient ruins as there are churches – the main must-visit being St Peter’s Basilica inside Vatican City.

Three Great Capitals: Paris to London

  • Route: Paris – Brussels – London
  • Designed by: Dymphe from Dymabroad

Paris, London and Brussels.

This is the perfect itinerary by train for visiting three of the greatest European capitals.

Start in the French city of Paris where you can glimpse the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. To explore the highlights of the city, three days is a good amount of time.

The train journey from Paris to Brussels takes about 1.5 hours. The capital of Belgium houses some of the institutions of the European Union. After two days, continue to London (2.5 hrs) for Big Ben, London Eye, Tower Bridge, and Oxford Street.

There are plenty of Instagrammable places in London to check out. Three days in the city is plenty of time to see the most iconic sights.

Christmas Market Route: Frankfurt to Metz

  • Route: Frankfurt – Cologne – Aachen – Liege – Metz

Three famous Christmas markets in Europe.

This festive-themed train trip around Europe takes you between five of the region’s most atmospheric Christmas Markets in Germany, Belgium and France. Travel times are short, so you can easily accomplish this route while the markets are in full swing.

Frankfurt’s Christmas Market dates back to 1393 and is one of Germany’s largest and most spectacular festive events. While you wait for Römerberg square to transform into an open-air market, spend your days in Frankfurt roaming the riverside and the reconstructed Altstadt Old Town. For more things to do in Frankfurt, see this list .

If you’re looking for something special to buy from the market in Frankfurt, a locally made blue-and-white pitcher jug is a great choice. Save some room in your suitcase, though, because there’s lots more shopping to come.

Cologne (60 minutes from Frankfurt by train) and Aachen (30 minutes from Cologne by train) boast two more gorgeous German-style Christmas Markets.

When your time in Germany draws to a close, cross the border by train to visit Liege (20 mins) where you’ll find yet another classic market, this time with Belgian souvenirs and food . Finish with a scenic train trip through Luxembourg to the French city of Metz (4 hrs), where a special gastronomic market awaits.

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Awesome information. I am going to use this guide to enhance my travels abilities.

So happy I came across this post! What a great list! I really like the look of the Swiss rail trip.

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Lonely Planet's train expert picks his top 5 rail journeys for 2024

Tom Hall

Dec 19, 2023 • 6 min read

Nightjet train

New routes, faster trains, even renewed carriages, LP's Tom Hall says European train travel has never had it so good © South_agency / Getty Images

With new routes, faster trains and even renewed carriages, the great European rail renaissance shows no signs of hitting the buffers.

Indeed, it’s never been easier to book tickets – either before you go or on the move. Operators are now rewarding travelers who explore Europe by train and, for a rail system that has been around for ages, it still has plenty of hidden classics up its sleeve.

Co-author of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Train Travel in Europe , Tom Hall surveys the scene for 2024 and suggests five rides to appeal to the rail buff in all of us.

Picture of a logo of an overnight train from Amsterdam to Innsbruck, also operated by Nightjet.

1. Paris to Berlin Nightjet, France and Germany

The revival of the Paris to Berlin sleeper service has done more than restore a key night train connection. This thrice-weekly ÖBB (Austrian Railways) service is one of the most celebrated new routes in recent years. It is a fantastic way for travelers to see both these cities in one trip, whilst enjoying a night on the rails too. The route hasn't had a night service since the pandemic and with no daytime link, this is the only direct connection between the French and German capitals.

Trains depart from Paris’ beautiful Gare de l’Est station. If heading east, arrive in time to admire Albert Herter’s vast memorial painting, The Departure of the Infantrymen , which honors the soldiers who headed to the front in WWI from the station. With an early evening departure, the sleeper arrives before 9am in Berlin. Coming west, there’s time for a lie-in before a 10:24am arrival into Paris.

The service joins up with cars heading to and from Brussels in Mannheim – where cars to Vienna are also detached – offering passengers an alternative connection to the UK via Eurostar. However, it’s the connection between Paris and Berlin that is the most eye-catching, not least because there’s already the European Sleeper train between Brussels and Berlin.

As ever with night trains the experience trumps punctuality, so build in some additional time for any onward journeys. From late 2024 the Paris–Berlin route will operate daily, and will also run with new-generation Nightjet carriages including innovative capsule-style private mini cabins for one .

A passenger train on the Brenner Railway in the Austrian Alps

2. Munich to Bologna, Germany and Italy

As memorable an experience as night trains can be, they don't offer much to see out the window – unless you count the occasional lengthy stop in a deserted station to add or remove carriages.

Despite being one of Europe’s most storied routes, the direct service from Munich to Bologna along the Brenner Pass line still feels like a back door into Italy from northern Europe. The seven-hour journey threads its way through Austria’s Tirol region, past pretty villages, going via the Alpine city of Innsbruck. It then traverses the pass through mountainous scenery and on through the Dolomites before reaching the beautiful city of Verona. From here, the route is flat to Bologna, arguably Italy’s most underrated destination.

While this service currently offers familiar EuroCity carriages, in spring 2024 the service will have new Railjet cars offering an updated, comfortable ride. They will include updated three-class seating and a dining car, making this a tempting option for a summer journey through the Alps.

A Eurostar high-speed train leaving Amsterdam Centraal Station for London St Pancras station on a summer's day.

3. Amsterdam to London, the Netherlands and the UK

In less than four high-speed hours, Eurostar trains whizz direct between Amsterdam and London . Running up to four times a day, the route is a popular alternative to flying. However, from June 2024 the route will go on an enforced hiatus for the rest of the year. This is due to construction at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station.

Whilst the work is taking place, there won't be space for the security and immigration facilities at the venerable terminus that Eurostar requires for travel to the UK. Instead, passengers will need to take a freshly rebranded mainland European Eurostar (formerly Thalys) train to Brussels  and use the passport controls there.

The Amsterdam to London service will return in early 2025 and more passengers will be able to use this route than before. In the meantime, travel in the first half of 2024 for the most convenient journey between the two capitals.

Trains from London to Amsterdam will still run direct during this time. The trains will just pootle back empty to Brussels. If this set-up sounds familiar, it’s because this was the arrangement when Eurostar first started operating in Amsterdam.

Mother and son tourists travelling by train between towns in Cinque Terre, Italy. The son is looking at beautiful landscapes

4. The Ionian Railway , Italy

For something different in Italy, aim for this slow train along its southern shoreline. Running for 472 glorious seaside-hugging kilometers, this seven-hour epic runs twice daily between Taranto and Reggio di Calabria , the latter best known as being one end of the boat train to Sicily . This service links quiet seaside towns on Italy’s instep, hugging the Ionian coast for much of the journey. As you might expect for a railway that doesn’t connect major tourist destinations, even in high summer this line has low passenger traffic, giving it a lazy and slightly secret atmosphere. In such a popular country that only adds to the appeal.

With a little imagination, the Ionian Railway can form the basis of a few days of exploration along the line such as ancient Metaponto and comparatively little-visited coastal cities like Crotone and Catanzaro. Alternatively, take the afternoon service. You can then put your feet up as this stately service rumbles on past endless sea vistas until Sicily looms into view across the Straits of Messina with the sunset for accompaniment.

Note: although this is an InterCity service, it behaves more like a regional train, stopping frequently – 23 times – and, crucially, it doesn’t have a buffet or dining car. Bring a picnic.

A Renfe Media Distancia train at Zaragoza-Delicias station in Zaragoza, Spain

5. Zaragoza to Canfranc, Spain and France

Despite being the birthplace of the artist Francisco Goya and home of the Aljafería Palace, a vast turreted Hispano-Islamic fortress, Zaragoza still somehow manages to fly under the radar. Yet Spain’s fifth-largest city is well worth a visit. It has a remarkable subterranean world of Roman remains and a museum devoted to origami. It also has a firm grasp of its culinary history, best explored on a tapas tour of the atmospheric alleys of El Tubo. They make it hard to leave.

Even Zaragoza’s station is an architectural highlight. It’s also the starting point for an unlikely adventure. Twice a day,  a regional service heads north into the Pyrenees . High up at an altitude of 1040m lies Canfranc, a vast Beaux Arts station building on the French–Spanish border. For many years this steep-sided valley was where passengers would change trains but it was struck into near silence in 1970 when a damaged bridge on the French side of the mountains led to the closure of the Canfranc route as a way to travel onwards to Pau in France.

That seemed to seal the fate of the “Titanic of the Mountains,” whose vast ornate exterior and grand salons fell into disrepair, only to be visited by curious day-trippers on hard-hat tours. However, a landmark hotel and spa opened in the station building last year, giving travelers a reason to linger at what remains a backdoor route from Spain to France. Two trains daily make their way from Zaragoza in a little under four hours. Whether you stay the night or not, the route onward involves a bus across the border to Bedous and a train from there to Pau, from where fast TGVs run to Bordeaux and Paris.

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The tourist train connecting Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol, passing over the Bridge of Cassagne, in the Pyrenees.

10 of the best train journeys in Europe, chosen by Lonely Planet

A new book on rail travel across the continent showcases gorgeous scenery, historic routes and adventures at a slower pace

R ailways in Europe are many things. With their grand stations, history and evocative destinations, they evoke a timelessness that is absent from the uniform experience of flying. In recent decades, high-speed services have complemented classic routes, while the demand for more climate-friendly travel has grown and new options have sprung up, including a recent wave of night trains.

Lonely Planet, which for nearly 50 years has championed a down-to-earth, connected style of travel, has produced a new Guide to Train Travel in Europe aimed at unlocking adventures by rail from any starting point on the continent. Here the authors pick fantastic journeys from the book.

Paris to Berlin – fast or slow

Liège-Guillemins station in Belgium, created by the architect Santiago Calatrava.

A well-established network of high-speed trains and a huge choice of slower options connects two of Europe’s great cities. A glorious three-country tour would allow you to head from Paris to Brussels, travelling on to Cologne via the space-age architecture of Liège-Guillemins station. Cologne’s cathedral is so close to the station you can hardly miss popping in before boarding an onward ICE German fast service to the capital, which takes less than five hours. To see more than the immediate surroundings of the station buildings in each city, book separate tickets for each leg at trainline.com , or add in a stop of a few hours or an overnight booking via Deutsche Bahn ( bahn.de ). A high-speed connection from Paris via Frankfurt is also possible.

Amsterdam to Vienna on the Nightjet

Passengers look outside the window of a Nightjet train at Vienna station.

One of several recent additions to Europe’s sleeper train scene, the Nightjet service operated by Austrian Railways ( oebb.at ) departs every evening at 7pm or 7.30pm from Amsterdam. As you doze off, the train will trundle alongside the Rhine, passing Cologne and Koblenz, then continuing south-east through Germany and entering Austria at Passau. A 9.19am arrival in Vienna ensures time for a lie-in and breakfast. This train can easily be combined with the Eurostar service from London or a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam , or from Harwich to Hoek van Holland .

Loop the loop in North Wales

A steam train on the Ffestiniog Railway, in Snowdonia.

Some of the world’s most beautiful narrow-gauge railways can be found in Wales and two of the best can be combined in a loop that takes in the mountains and coastal scenery of Snowdonia. Catch a service from Llandudno Junction – which has main line connections – down the Conwy valley to Blaenau Ffestiniog . Change for the celebrated Ffestiniog Railway , a distinctive steam-hauled service that winds 13 miles down to the coast at Porthmadog. Return via the sublime steam service of the Welsh Highland Railway under the summit of Snowdon to Caernarfon, where you can catch a bus to Bangor and main line services.

From Bastia to Ajaccio through the Corsican interior

Train passing a derelict station at Lumio, Corsica, with snow-covered mountains in the distance under a deep blue sky.

The Chemins de Fer de la Corse ( Corsican Railways ) is a narrow-gauge railway centred on Ponte Leccia – from where three main lines head to Ajaccio, Bastia and Calvi, all providing incredible views of beautiful and rugged terrain. The route linking Ajaccio and Bastia is the longest and most celebrated, taking three and a half hours, so is best done with an overnight stop, rather than attempted as a day trip. Corsica is well served by ferries from mainland France such as Toulon, Marseille and Nice, opening up a tempting train-and-ferry route from the UK.

Dublin to Madrid by train and ferry

View from the cliff walk between Bray and Greystones, with  grassy cliffs and sea, in Co Wicklow, Ireland.

It is possible to head from Dublin direct to mainland Europe. A largely single-track line skirts the Irish Sea heading south as far as Wicklow before veering inland and stopping in the appealing county town of Wexford, set on the estuary of the River Slaney. It’s a short hop along the tracks from there to the port of Rosslare for the twice-weekly ferries to Bilbao , which take about 30 hours. Then it’s a five-hour rail journey on to Madrid. Recommended stops take in Burgos’s treasured cathedral, the former Spanish capital of Valladolid and Segovia’s Roman aqueduct and Alcázar fortress.

Venice to Palermo – across the water in Italy

The statue of Garibaldi outside Palermo train station, Sicily.

Heading from top to toe in Italy, this dramatic journey’s potential stopping points need no introduction. Fast Frecciarossa trains connect Venice to the gastronomic centre of Bologna in 90 minutes, with Florence 40 minutes down the line. An hour and a half further on you’re in Rome. From here the south of Italy opens up. For one of Europe’s most unusual rail experiences take a train service all the way to Sicily. At Villa San Giovanni in Calabria, you and your carriage board a dedicated ferry to Messina, in Sicily, from where the hectic fun of Palermo is a slow-rolling four and a half hours’ ride away along the coast. There are several daily intercity and night services that run from the mainland, via the ferry, through to the Sicilian capital including sleepers direct from Milan, Genoa and Pisa.

From coast to coast, via a mountain high – Oslo to Bergen

A Flåm Railway train running through a valley, in Norway.

A contender for Europe’s best train trip, the Bergen Line ( Bergensbanen ) thunders past southern Norway’s mountains and lakes between Oslo and Bergen, reaching 1,222m at Finse station, where a snowball fight is generally on offer. The trip takes nearly seven hours, which passes quickly in a blur of incredible scenery on a comfortable intercity service. There’s scope to do a longer version of this route taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which includes the Flåm Railway – possibly the world’s most scenic branch line – and a boat journey through Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord.

Paris to Barcelona on the slow train

The Petit Train Jaune (little yellow train), crossing the Pont Séjourné viaduct in the French Pyrenees.

These cities are linked by a fast train , but there’s a leisurely route south through France to the Pyrenees via Limoges, Toulouse and through magnificent rural and mountain scenery to Latour-de-Carol. While it’s possible to reach Latour-de-Carol by direct night train from Paris, you would miss the slowly unfolding views you can enjoy when doing this journey in daylight. From Latour-de-Carol a commuter line runs all the way to Barcelona and takes just over three hours. Possible stops along the way include fortified Ribes de Freser and Ripoll, home to an ancient monastery and a good starting point for hiking trails.

Budapest to Split on a sleeper

Old Hungarian train at Lake Balaton, in a beautiful landscape, with Tihany in the background.

During the summer there’s a tempting night service between Hungary’s capital and the Adriatic. In recent years the train has left Budapest at midnight, getting into Split after lunch. En route it passes the Hungarian holiday playground of Lake Balaton and Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. Once on the Adriatic coast, buses head south to Dubrovnik, while ferries and catamarans radiate out to nearby islands.

Locarno to Domodossola through the Swiss Alps

View of snowy peaks out the window of a restaurant near Titlis mountain, Switzerland.

Pretty much any journey in Switzerland promises jaw-dropping scenery, and on several routes trains run slowly specifically to show off the mountains, rivers and lakes that can be seen from the window. Travelling between Locarno in Switzerland to Domodossola in the Piedmont region of Italy, the Centovalli (Hundred Valleys) Railway is a short but scenic service past 52km of waterfalls, chestnut groves, church-topped villages, deep ravines and vineyards. Highlights include the Isorno Bridge near the village of Intragna and Intragna’s gorge.

These routes, plus tips on rail travel, are featured in Lonely Planet’s Guide to Train Travel in Europe by Tom Hall, Imogen Hall and Oliver Smith (£19.99), available at shop.lonelyplanet.com

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Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct in Scotland with the Jacobite steam train against sunset over lake.

Train Travel in Europe: How to Book, Where to Go, and Tips for a Smooth Ride

Jessica Spiegel

Jessica Spiegel

July 18, 2023

11 min read

Once upon a time, traveling by train was a given on any multi-city trip through Europe . From gap year backpacking adventures, to breaks during a study abroad semester, to annual two-week vacations—when in Europe, the assumption was you’d go by train.

With the proliferation of low-cost airlines all over the European continent , not to mention the number of travelers who rent cars, train travel is no longer the default for every European trip. There are still excellent reasons to ride the rails in Europe, and some trips for which it’s the best transportation option. We’ll cover some of the pros and cons of traveling by train, as well as tips to help you plan the perfect train trip.

The benefits of traveling Europe by train

Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct in Scotland with the Jacobite steam train against sunset over lake.

It’s romantic.

You don’t have to look far to find the word “romance” associated with European train travel. Trains give us a nostalgic sense of an era we may barely know and certainly didn’t live through, but it’s a powerful feeling nonetheless. We can read historic accounts of famous travelers traversing the continent by train on their Grand Tour, and then we can step onto the modern equivalent from a similar platform and pretend we’re reliving that experience.

You’ll see more.

When you travel close to the ground, you see more of the country. And, unlike driving a rental car, trains don’t require you to navigate or pay attention to road signs. Train lines are sometimes near roads, but they’re often near nothing in particular at all, giving passengers an opportunity to see parts of the countryside they might not get to see otherwise.

Overnight trains save hotel money.

Budget-conscious travelers know that next to airfare, accommodation is often the biggest expenditure. So if you can combine transportation and accommodation, you’re saving a little money. On longer train journeys, a sleeper cabin on an overnight train can be a great way to get where you need to go and not pay for another night in a hotel. If you’re asleep anyway, you might as well multi-task by zipping across the country while you’re at it.

Rail passes offer travel flexibility.

While you’d need to book an airline ticket well ahead of a trip, train travel doesn’t typically require such advance planning. You can buy individual point-to-point tickets on the day of your trip or—to avoid waiting in line at the train station—travel with a rail pass that allows you to simply hop on the train and find an available seat. Unless the train you want dictates the purchase of a supplemental reservation, you can travel at a moment’s notice. (Yes, you must get a rail pass before you arrive in Europe, but when you buy it you won’t need to make decisions about when you’ll be traveling or on what trains.)

Dealing with luggage is easier.

Increased security at European train stations means that there are sometimes screening areas for luggage, but you don’t need to worry about three ounce bottles of liquids in plastic bags or removing your shoes. Not only that, you won’t pay extra if you’ve got two bags instead of the one free checked bag the airline allowed you on the way to Europe. You will need to carry the bags yourself and stow them on the train, either in the luggage racks at the end of each car or on the racks over the seats.

Train stations are in city centers.

Transportation between the city center and the airport can take an hour or more (not to mention how long you’re supposed to get to the airport before a flight), which is time you could have spent enjoying a little bit more of your vacation. Train stations, by contrast, are right in the middle of the city. In some cases, you can even walk to the main square from the train station—or, more commonly, access the city’s metro system from inside the train station. Less time spent in transit means more time on vacation.

The drawbacks of traveling Europe by train

It can be slow..

Even with the increasing number of high-speed trains criss-crossing the continent, it’s hard for a train to get from point A to point B as quickly as a jet. Trains that make frequent stops at smaller cities and routes that require transfers can also significantly slow your progress.

It can be expensive.

Because of the number of budget airlines in Europe, train tickets are no longer always the cheapest transportation option between cities. High-speed trains are getting more common, but those are also the more expensive train tickets. And when you’re traveling with a group, buying enough train tickets for everyone is sometimes more costly than renting a car that fits everyone in the group.

Rail strikes do happen.

You might have done all your research and you know that traveling by train for your particular itinerary is the most efficient or least expensive option, but all that research won’t mean anything if there’s an unexpected rail strike. In many cases, rail strikes are scheduled in advance and locals can plan around them—but travelers don’t usually know where to look for that information (or even that it’s information they should look for), so they’re the ones who often get left in the lurch.

>> Get tips on finding cheap flights to Europe or learn how to fly cheaply within Europe .

How to plan a rail journey in europe.

Manarola railway station, Cinque Terre, Italy.

1. Find out if the train is really the right option.

Maybe you’re convinced that train travel in Europe sounds great and you’re ready to hop on board. First things first, however, you’ll need to determine what the best mode of transportation is for the particular trip you’re taking. As mentioned, while taking the train is often the best option, it’s not always the best option.

Using the handy Rome2rio site, you can plug in each leg of your itinerary to get a general idea of how long each type of transit would take as well as roughly how much each would cost. Even if you decide not to book tickets right away, you’ll at least know whether you should be taking the train, or if a bus, flight, or car rental makes more sense.

2. Look into whether you should get a rail pass.

Rail passes act as train tickets, and they’re sold in increments of “travel days.” With a pass, you check off a “travel day” when you take your first train trip in a 24-hour period—and you can take as many train journeys as you want within that 24-hour period and still only use one “travel day” on your pass. Some trains require an additional reservation, which costs extra, but if the trains you’re taking don’t mandate reservations you’d simply need to hop on a train carrying your pass.

The kind of rail pass you can get depends on where you live. Citizens of any country outside Europe are eligible to buy a Eurail Pass , whereas citizens of European countries are eligible for an Interrail Pass . They function in the same way and have roughly similar pros and cons, but they’re not interchangeable.

Underneath the general “rail pass” umbrella, there are also regional breakdowns of the types of passes available. The pass that covers the most countries is the Global Pass, while country-specific passes bear the country name (Eurail Italy Pass, Eurail France Pass, etc.). There are also a couple passes that cover more than one country (but not the whole continent) to reflect how travelers move through Europe—the Benelux Pass covers Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and the Scandinavia Pass covers Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all on one pass.

The cost of rail passes varies depending on the traveler—there are discounted passes for seniors and youth (up to age 27), for instance—and the number of “travel days” needed within a month. Using a rail pass to travel by train in Europe is sometimes a great way to save money on train tickets, but you need to do a little bit of math to find out if your specific itinerary would be cheaper with a rail pass or with point-to-point tickets instead. 

To figure this out, 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’ll be visiting and have the right number of “travel days.” It should be clear which one is less expensive.

Note that while most train trips you’re likely to take in Europe are included on a rail pass, some are not. Scenic trains are often either not covered at all or only discounted, and the same goes for private rail companies. You can consult Eurail’s list of participating railway companies for more information.

3. Book point-to-point tickets in advance if possible.

Should you decide that a rail pass is not the way to go for your trip, your next step is to see what train tickets you can buy in advance. Not only does this help you avoid waiting in a potentially long line at every train station, it can also help you save money and avoid train strikes.

Generally speaking, purchasing individual train tickets online through the official website gives you access to discounts that aren’t available at the station’s ticket counter—especially if you book in advance. Prices sometimes go up as the date of departure nears. Note that most tickets aren’t available for sale more than 90 days (give or take) before the travel date.

Booking train tickets ahead of time helps you avoid the hassle of rail strikes since, as mentioned, transportation strikes are often scheduled well in advance. It’s not unusual for a few trains to be running even on strike days, but of course those tickets sell out quickly. If you wait to buy your tickets until you get to the station, you’ll be stuck. If you bought them a couple months before the train trip, you’ll be one of only a handful of happy travelers on train strike day.

Keep in mind that a train ticket and a reservation are two different things. Some trains require both, other trains only require tickets (and you’ll just find a vacant seat and sit where you like). Pay close attention to what’s required for the train trips on your itinerary so you’re sure to have what you need.

It’s also worth noting that the different classes of train cars don’t coordinate precisely with different classes on airplanes. “First” or “business” class levels on trains are nice, yes, but they’re not exponentially nicer than “second” class on the train (like they are on planes). The seats are a little narrower in second class, and there are usually more seats per car, but second class trains are generally quite comfortable. If you’re on a budget, second class is definitely the way to go.

For overnight trains, there are also different classes of sleeper cabins, from private cabins to shared bunk rooms, with prices that reflect the level of privacy.

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

Tips for European train travel

young woman boarding train with luggage.

To prepare you for your first train trip in Europe and make sure it’s an enjoyable ride, here are a few important things to know.

Navigating the train station 

Some large stations have 20 or more platforms inside a cavernous building, where trains come in and then depart again by going out the same way. Others are pass-through stations with only a few platforms. There will be at least one ticket sales window and, usually, at least one automated ticket machine. Depending on the size of the station, you may find a simple newsstand kiosk that also sells a few snacks or multiple eateries and shops.

If you already have everything you need to board your train (ticket or rail pass and reservation if needed), you’ll only need to find the right platform and get on the train. If you need to do anything—buy or print a ticket or reservation, for instance—you should allot plenty of time in case there’s a long line and/or you need help with an automated ticket machine. If you’re traveling across borders, like from Paris to London, you’ll need to arrive at least 40 minutes before departure to go through customs and immigration. 

Security at train stations has increased in recent years, so you may also need to go through a security checkpoint in order to get onto the platform for your train. To do this, like at the airport, you’ll need to show your train ticket and put your bags on a conveyor belt to be scanned.

Validating your ticket 

If you have only a ticket with no reservation, chances are good you’ll need to validate it—particularly if there’s 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.

Finding your train and carriage

You’ll see either large readerboards (just look for groups of people staring up at the wall and you’ll find the readerboard) or smaller TV-like screens that show the arrivals and departures of upcoming trains and the track numbers where they’ll be found. Once you see your train and the associated track number, you can make your way to that platform. 

In some stations, platforms are marked with roughly where each train car number will stop, so you can wait at the appropriate point for your coach—but if you don’t see that, don’t worry. Each train car is labeled clearly so you’ll know which one is yours. (And if you don’t have a reservation, you won’t need to worry about getting on a specific numbered car—you’ll just need to get on a car in the class of the ticket or pass you have.)

If you have a reservation, once you get on board the right car you’ll stow your bags and find your reserved seat. If you don’t have a reservation, you’ll just need to find an unoccupied seat. And if someone boards the train later who has reserved that seat, you’ll need to move.

When you’re boarding a train at a mid-point on its journey (such as at one of the pass-through stations mentioned above), it may only be in the station for five minutes or less. The good news is that you can get on any train car and move through the train itself to find your car, so if you’re running late just get on board the train before it departs and sort out your seating later.

Storing your luggage 

Each train car will typically have a luggage storage area at one end (a bathroom is usually at the other end) for larger bags, and there will also be racks over the seats for smaller items and carry-on sized bags. If you’re concerned about not letting your bags out of your sight, then you should try to use the overhead racks.

Amenities on board

Many trains have a cafe or restaurant car that every passenger can visit, regardless of ticket class. Quality and prices are what you’d expect from a cafe on a train car when travelers have no other options, so many passengers bring picnics on board instead. Stop at a market before you go to the station if you can; not every station has a wealth of good food options.

There are toilets on board, usually one per train car. It’s a very good idea to bring a packet of tissues into the stall with you, just in case the toilet paper has run out—especially on long-distance trains, since there’s not necessarily anyone coming through to check on supplies until the end of the line.

Exiting the train

If your destination is not the end of that train’s journey but a mid-point along the way, the train will only be in your station for a few minutes. You’ll need to pay attention to train announcements about the next station (and double-check the time against your ticket’s listed time of arrival) and be ready with your bags near the train door when the train arrives at the station so you can disembark quickly.

>> Check out our list of best apps for traveling in Europe .

Great rail routes in europe.

Switzerland's Glacier Express train.

Every trip is different, and you will need to go through the steps outlined above to determine whether taking the train is really the best option for your trip. There are, however, some train journeys in Europe that are incredibly popular with travelers—sometimes because it’s nearly always the best way to get from place to place, and sometimes because it’s an iconic travel experience. Here are a few of them.

  • London to Paris by Eurostar: Riding on a high-speed train underneath the English Channel is a rather unique travel experience. The 282-mile trip between London and Paris takes about 2.25 hours.
  • Madrid to Barcelona: Spain’s high-speed AVE trains whisk travelers 378 miles through the countryside from Madrid to Barcelona in about 2.5 hours. Regional trains cover the same distance in nearly nine hours, so the high-speed train is usually your best bet.
  • Paris to Bordeaux: Traveling the 335 miles from the French capital to the heart of one of the country’s most popular wine regions can take as little as two hours and five minutes on the high-speed TGV trains.
  • London to Edinburgh by Caledonian Sleeper: It’s no Hogwarts Express, but the Caledonian Sleeper is arguably the most luxurious train connecting London with Scotland. The 392-mile trip from London to Edinburgh can be less than 4.5 hours by regular train, but with a roughly 7-hour overnight trip on the Caledonian Sleeper you’ll save the expense of one hotel night and be treated to a high-end train experience.
  • Switzerland Golden Pass or Glacier Express: The scenery in Switzerland can be pretty epic, and there are a couple of train routes that take full advantage of that. The Glacier Express snakes through the Alps from Zermatt to St. Moritz, taking roughly eight leisurely hours to cover a little more than 180 miles (it’s not about speed, it’s about soaking in the views). The Golden Pass is three train journeys between Montreux, Zweisimmen, Interlaken, and Lucerne, with numerous mountain passes and lakes to see along the way. All three trips together cover less than 250 miles, but you can take them individually.
  • Lisbon to Porto : Trains connect the Portuguese capital with Porto in about 2.75 hours, traveling 207 miles through some of the loveliest scenery in the country—including through historic Coimbra and over one of the longest bridges in Europe.
  • Vienna to Budapest: High-speed RailJet trains can travel the 152 miles from Vienna to Budapest in under three hours, but if you want to see more along the way you might find the slower regional trains (total journey time of a little more than four hours, if you don’t get off the train to explore) to be the more scenic route.
  • Amsterdam to Brussels: Combining the Netherlands and Belgium in one trip is popular, so the train trip between Amsterdam and Brussels is, too. The 130-mile journey takes less than two hours on high-speed Thalys trains or 2.75 hours on less expensive regional trains.
  • Berlin to Munich: Travel between two of Germany’s most popular cities is easy with Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed ICE trains. The fastest trip takes less than five hours to cover 392 miles, while slower trains can take eight hours. There’s a direct train from Berlin to Munich and another route that stops in Nuremberg, if you’d like to visit during a stopover.
  • Venice to Rome: Italy’s high-speed Frecce trains travel from the fabled canal city to the historic center of the Roman Empire, a journey of 327 miles, in less than four hours. Another high-speed rail service, Italo, also connects Venice and Rome in about the same time (just note that Italo isn’t covered by rail passes).

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Jessica Spiegel

Freelance Writer

Published July 18, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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Everything you need to know about booking Eurostar train travel across Europe

Jordan Waller

If you're already based in Europe, the iconic Eurostar train likely needs no introduction; if you're only visiting the continent, however, you may not be quite aware of the service or how speedy and convenient its connectivity is between the U.K. and mainland Europe.

If you're looking for an easy (and typically cheaper) alternative to flying in Europe , then Eurostar might be just what you're looking for. It provides easy access to several countries — if you're short on time during your vacation, you could opt to take a daytrip from London to Paris using this train service.

Keep reading to find out more about traveling on Eurostar, including how to book tickets and save on fares by using your points and miles . Plus, check out our in-depth overview of each fare type on the Eurostar .

Eurostar trains travel to several destinations

rail travel to europe

Eurostar began operating in 1994 and is one of Europe's most well-known high-speed train services. The train currently offers direct service to London; Paris; Brussels; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Amsterdam.

Further connecting Eurostar services will take you to Antwerp, Belgium; Liege, Belgium; Dusseldorf, Germany; Duisburg, Germany; Essen, Germany; and Dortmund, Germany.

rail travel to europe

In addition to operating its own trains, Eurostar serves as a connecting rail service for other high-speed carriers to destinations like Disneyland Paris.

Related: 7 reasons why your next family vacation should be a train trip

What are the different ticket types for Eurostar trains?

rail travel to europe

The fare classes on Eurostar come in three tiers. The lowest and most affordable is Standard, which is the equivalent of coach or economy class with an airline.

Next up is Standard Premier, which is akin to premium economy. Finally, there's Business Premier, which is Eurostar's version of business class.

The fare classes are broken down as follows:

With regards to pricing, the cost of fares in Standard and Standard Premier fluctuates based on seasonality, peak periods and destination. Business Premier, on the other hand, remains fairly consistent year-round in terms of pricing. Eurostar tickets can usually be booked up to 330 days before your return travel date.

Generally speaking, if you're considering a trip from London onward, you can expect prices to fall somewhere within the following margins for a one-way trip:

If you're looking to snag a bargain, it's worth keeping your eye out for flash sales, which Eurostar regularly runs throughout the year, often with tickets for as little as 30 British pounds (around $38).

How do Eurostar trains compare to flying?

rail travel to europe

Compared to flying to your destination and transiting through European airports, traveling via Eurostar is much more low-stress.

The most obvious difference is the security experience, which, compared to that at an airport, is effortless, with no removal of liquids or large electric items. Although queues can mount up during busy periods, we've found that we're through security in under 10 minutes when we travel with Eurostar.

Check-in is similar to airport check-in in that you must show your ticket and passport at a desk or kiosk. London's St. Pancras International Station , however, is currently testing biometric face scans , which may make checking in even faster.

Regarding lounge access, it's worth noting lounges are only available at the St. Pancras, Paris Gare du Nord and Brussels Midi/Zuid stations.

If you're used to airline-run business-class airport lounges, you may need to lower your expectations somewhat here. Although comfortable and pleasant, the lounges are somewhat basic — don't expect too much in the way of food.

Related: The best lounges at London Heathrow — and how to get inside

On board the Eurostar, it's like most modern trains you may have taken at home. The differences between Standard Premier and Business Premier are nominal. You'll get slightly more legroom and a slightly more modern seat in both classes than in Standard.

What you're paying for in these classes is the luggage allowance and food service. If you don't deem either of those things a huge must-have, you'll be more than comfortable in Standard.

That said, the food service on the Eurostar is much better than on most airplanes and currently features a menu designed by the renowned Raymond Blanc. Champagne and coffee services are also served free of charge in Business Premier.

How to book the Eurostar train with credit cards

rail travel to europe

Travel on Eurostar, booked directly with Eurostar or through an online travel provider, should be coded as travel.

The following credit cards offer bonus points for travel expenses, along with strong welcome bonuses:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card : Earn 5 points per dollar on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 2 points on all other travel purchases.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve : Earn 3 points per dollar on travel purchases.
  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card : Earn 2 points per dollar on all purchases, including travel.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card : Earn 2 points per dollar on all purchases, including travel.
  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express : Earn 3% cash back on transit, including taxis, parking, tolls, trains and buses.
  • Citi Double Cash® Card (see rates and fees ): Earn 2% on every purchase, with 1% cash back when you buy and an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

Related: 14 best travel credit cards

How to earn points and miles for Eurostar trains

rail travel to europe

Eurostar operates its own loyalty program named Club Eurostar. For every British pound spent (about $1.27), you will earn 1.2 points. This means you earn around 1 point per $1 spent.

Elite members receive the following points bonuses when booking:

  • Avantage: 25%
  • Carte Blanche: 50%
  • Etoile: 75%

Eurostar tickets can now be booked through the Uber app , and you will earn 10% back in Uber credits on Eurostar bookings and National Rail train tickets in the U.K.

Additionally, you can earn 10% back when you purchase your coach tickets with the following U.K. operators: National Express and Megabus. If you decide to opt out of taking public transit, you can also hire a car from Avis, Hertz and other companies in your Uber app. When you book your trip, you'll receive £10 off (about $12).

You can also transfer 2,000 Accor Live Limitless points and receive 300 Eurostar points.

How to redeem points and miles for Eurostar trains

rail travel to europe

You can redeem 2,000 Club Eurostar points for a round-trip ticket in Standard class (or 4,000 points for a Standard Premier ticket), though these tickets are limited. For 1,000 more points, you can book any Standard or Standard Premier seats available.

A round-trip ticket can easily cost over $200 in Standard class (and double this at peak periods), making Club Eurostar points very valuable.

Business Premier tickets are available for 6,000 points round-trip for any available seat (saver-level space is not offered).

A one-way upgrade from Standard to Standard Premier is 600 points.

If you don't wish to redeem Club Eurostar points for train travel, you can transfer 500 Eurostar points and receive 1,000 Accor points .

You can redeem Virgin points through Virgin Red for the following Eurostar vouchers:

  • 2,000 points for a 10-pound E-Voucher (about $12)
  • 5,000 points for a 25-pound E-Voucher (about $31)
  • 10,000 points for a 50-pound E-Voucher (about $63)
  • 20,000 points for a 100-pound E-Voucher (about $126)

We would not recommend redeeming Virgin points in this way under any circumstances, as this will only give you a redemption value of 0.5 cents each, which is only one-third of our current valuation of Virgin points . You can obtain far more value from your Virgin points by redeeming through flights on Virgin Atlantic or partner airlines like Air France, KLM and Delta Air Lines.

Related: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: How to earn and redeem points for maximum value

Bottom line

Eurostar's popularity boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic as travelers looked for ways to move around Europe without relying on airlines. As a result, Eurostar fares can be more expensive compared to flights with the same route. For short journeys like between London and Brussels, taking Eurostar is a much quicker and more relaxing experience, while on longer journeys like London to Amsterdam, the price can be similar.

If you want to travel within Europe and like the idea of keeping your feet on the ground, book in advance or redeem points and enjoy the stress-free Eurostar rail experience.

The Independent

The most exciting new train journeys across Europe for 2024

I t’s getting increasingly easy to travel around Europe flight-free, thanks to a host of new train routes launching at a time when certain governments are going all out to reduce aviation-related emissions. France, for example, has banned domestic flights where rail journeys of less than two and a half hours are possible, and the EU plans to double its spending on high-speed rail by 2030.

New routes launching in 2024 range from inter-city services making twin-centre holidays in Europe a breeze to sleeper trains putting top ski resorts in easy reach of cities such as Amsterdam. On this occasion, our focus is on routes between destinations on the continent, although new rail connections will soon benefit those of us in the UK – Eurostar rival Evolyn recently announced plans to launch a high-speed Channel Tunnel rail service between London St Pancras and Paris Nord in 2025.

Here are the current hot tickets for anyone planning to ride the rails in 2024.

Read more on rail travel :

  • The most unforgettable train journeys around the world
  • All aboard the new train route exploring Mexico’s Mayan heartlands
  • Is this the age of the overnight sleeper train?

Brussels to Prague with European Sleeper

Launch date: 25 march 2024.

European Sleeper’s night train service from Brussels launched in early 2023 but rail infrastructure work meant it could only reach Germany’s capital – until now. From March 2024 it will run from Brussels to Prague , with a journey time of around 15 hours and stops in Amsterdam and Berlin . Keep an eye out for more European Sleeper routes – including ones between the Netherlands and the French Alps, and Amsterdam and Barcelona – in 2025. A word of warning – don’t expect turndown services and chocolates on your pillow. There are three classes of cabin, and the trains are best described as pre-loved – European Sleeper has relied largely on decommissioned train carriages which have been given a quick spruce-up and brought back to life. On the plus side, the company has promised new trains – and perhaps even a chocolate on your pillow – in the near future.

Berlin to Paris with ÖBB Nightjet

Launch date: 11 december 2023.

If a decommissioned German train carriage doesn’t do it for you, this next option might sound more appealing. In early December 2023 ÖBB Nightjet launched its new Berlin to Paris route, which operates three times a week and stops in Strasbourg, eastern France . Cabin options range from a seat in a standard compartment to slick bunkbed couchettes with room for up to six people and, at the top end, mini cabins for solos and couples. It’s also worth noting that ÖBB Nightjet plans to turn the route into a daily one in late 2024.

Amsterdam to Austria via Germany with TUI’s Ski Express

Launch date: 23 december 2023.

Getting to Austria’s ski slopes will become even easier this winter, thanks to TUI’s new Ski Express service, which connects Amsterdam with Austria via Cologne and Frankfurt. Cabin options range from economy to comfort private – book one of these and perks include a sink (OK, not necessarily the most exciting of amenities, admittedly) and steward service. But a word of warning for those prone to missing their stop – if you’re Austria-bound, it’s worth remembering that the train splits in the Austrian city of Wörgl, before serving two different skiing hotspots: Austria’s Tyrol and Salzburger Land regions.

Liège to Maastricht via Aachen with Arriva, SNCB and NS

Launch date: december 2023.

This particular train, which will operate a tri-country route between Belgium , the Netherlands and Germany , and is a collaboration between three train companies, has been a long time coming. The route was unveiled in 2019 but Belgian authorities scuppered plans for it to pass through the country due to safety concerns – more specifically, the insistence that all trains would need a European safety system known as ETCS. It’s finally being rolled out in December 2023, and Liège and Aachen’s status as major hubs for high speed trains means the service will make it much easier for travellers to access a large number of additional cities, including Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels and Paris.

Brussels to Amsterdam with SNCB and NS

Launch date: december 2024.

Full disclosure – this one has been around for a while, but its status as one of Europe ’s most popular train routes is the reason train companies Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) and Belgian carrier SNCB have announced the number of services will be doubled this time next year. New trains have also been ordered for the route, and fewer stops on the additional services launching in December 2024 will mean shorter journey times. Passengers can expect to travel between the two cities in just under two hours, slashing 45 minutes off the current travel time.

Rome to Cortina d’Ampezzo with FS Treni Turistici Italiani

Launch date: 15 december 2023.

Getting to Italy’s powder stashes is much easier from winter 2023, thanks to a new night train which connects Rome with Cortina d’Ampezzo, one of Italy’s most snow-sure ski resorts. Cabin options on this new route range from single-bed cabins to six-person sleepers, and the train has a dining car and bar. The 220-bed sleeper train will leave Rome at 9.40pm every Friday, arriving in Calalzo, a short bus ride from Cortina d’Ampezzo, at around 8am the next morning (this early start is why we suggest resisting grappa-fuelled all-nighters at the train’s bar).

Paris to Madrid with FS Italiane Group

Launch date: late 2024.

The exact launch date of this new service is yet to be confirmed, although we know it’s currently due to launch in late 2024 and will be run by Italy’s national state-owned railway, Trenitalia – a subsidiary of FS Italiane Group. Trenitalia’s high-speed Frecciarossa (meaning red arrow) trains will be used for the route and with a top speed of 249mph, it’s thought journey times will come in at just under seven hours. Brioche for breakfast and torrijas at tea time? Sounds like a no-brainer.

Northern and southern Italy with Orient Express

First, to clear things up: this particular Orient Express isn’t the Orient Express company which became Belmond in 2014 but a separate entity (owned by hotel behemoths Accor) which specialises in luxury trains and will soon branch out into hotels.  Confused? Us too. But back to the important stuff. Orient Express will launch a new seriously luxurious train, La Dolce Vita , in 2024. The exact dates are yet to be confirmed, but there will be six routes on offer and this luxury train line won’t be about high-speed train travel , but about carefully curated itineraries which meander between destinations in northern and southern Italy, including Rome and Venice , where the Orient Express group will unveil its first hotels in 2024.

Read more on our selection of rail trips

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Rome to Cortina d'Ampezzo with FS Treni Turistici Italiani (13).JPG

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COMMENTS

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    3. Amsterdam to London, the Netherlands and the UK. In less than four high-speed hours, Eurostar trains whizz direct between Amsterdam and London. Running up to four times a day, the route is a popular alternative to flying. However, from June 2024 the route will go on an enforced hiatus for the rest of the year.

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    Even if you decide not to book tickets right away, you'll at least know whether you should be taking the train, or if a bus, flight, or car rental makes more sense. 2. Look into whether you should get a rail pass. Rail passes act as train tickets, and they're sold in increments of "travel days.".

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