Train in Europe

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From a young age, I would fantasize about adventuring through Europe alone, exploring the continent freely with no bounds, no itinerary, and no one telling me what to do. I craved the ease and flexibility of train travel, something that was so foreign to what I had available in America. Previous travel experiences had involved meticulously planning itineraries, buying flights months in advance, and not leaving much room for spontaneity.

Thanks to Eurail, an all-in-one train ticket company that gives you access to nearly all trains across Europe, my fantasy came true this past month. I was able to visit 17 different cities and eight countries exclusively by train.

Read about my epic solo Eurail adventure here

In this Eurail Guide, I will be detailing what a Eurail Pass is, how to use it, and my advice based on my own experience using the pass.

Eurail train in Italy. Photo by Isabella Miller
Eurail train departing from Bolzano, Italy. Photo by Isabella Miller

What is Eurail?

Eurail provides freedom for people traveling Europe like no other. It allows the opportunity to seamlessly reach 33 countries across Europe quickly, easily, and efficiently. Unlike plane travel, where everything has to be planned far in advance, Eurail allows the freedom to hop on a train the day of.

It is your ticket to a journey that allows room for unplanned adventures. If you meet people along the way, it is easy to change plans to travel with them to the next destination or go somewhere else they recommend. Whether you want to plan your trip ahead of time or fly by the seat of your pants, a Eurail pass is right for you.

Buy Your Eurail Pass

Eurail/Interail Pass Distinction

Eurail is a company with two separate names depending on where you’re traveling from. If you are a European resident, you would be purchasing an Interail Pass, rather than a Eurail Pass. Eurail passes are for non-EU residents.

Eurail’s Partners

Eurail works with a variety of train companies that allow for maximum flexibility for your European journey. Here are the companies they work with:

  • Deutsche Bahn (German Federal Railways)
  • OBB (Austrian Federal Railways)
  • Trenitalia (Italian Federal Railways)
  • SNCF (French Federal Railways)
  • Eurostar (High-Speed International Trains)
  • SBB (Swiss Federal Railways)
  • Renfe (Spain Federal Railways)
  • SNCB (Belgian Federal Railways)
  • SJ (Sweden National Railways – Operate Throughout Scandinavia)
  • Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways)

Types of Trains

Night Train Carraige
This is an example of what a carriage would look like in a night train. Some night trains provide you with private rooms and beds, while others do not. Check carefully when booking. Photo by Canva

Night Trains

Night trains are a great way to save both time and money during your travels. There are many options that you can choose from. Some come with reclining seats while others have private sleeping cabins. Most night trains are included with your Eurail Pass.

High-Speed Trains

High-speed trains allow for speedy transport around Europe. They are the fastest of the trains and go great distances. Usually, high-speed trains have the most comfortable seating options with many luxury features. All include a dining car as well.

Scenic Trains

Some trains are particularly scenic and take you through gorgeous mountains and nature. This is one of the highlights of train travel that you wouldn’t get with the flying experience.

View popular scenic train options here.

Regional Trains

Regional trains are a great way to reach off-the-beaten-path towns and rarely require a reservation. They allow you to explore the less touristy parts of Europe. Regional trains are the trains the locals tend to take – which means you’d be more exposed to the true culture of a place. Because reservations aren’t required, if you miss one, you could easily just wait for the next one. Be sure to bring food with you because regional trains are not equipped with a dining car.

Pro tip: Most European train stations have luggage lockers or a luggage office where you can temporarily leave your luggage. This gives you the freedom to explore places where you don’t have accommodation.

Ferries

Many ferries are also either included or discounted with your Eurail pass. This enables you to visit many beautiful destinations only reachable by sea. 

Read More on Types of Trains

How to Use Your Eurail Pass

Eurail’s site is set up in 4 clear steps for planning your trip and purchasing a pass.

  1. Plan Your Route
  2. Find Your Pass
  3. Reserve Your Seats
  4. Activate your Pass
Trip Planner Eurail
This is an example itinerary planned with Eurail’s Trip Planner. It’s easy to search destinations, reorganize the order, and see the estimated price for a pass. Screenshot from Eurail

Plan Your Route

First, you have to decide where you want to go and for how long. You don’t have to nail down any specifics if you want a more spontaneous adventure. If you do want to plan, use Eurail’s handy Trip Planner which allows you to view destinations and come up with a general itinerary. You do not need to have everything set in stone, you should just have a rough idea of how long you want to travel.

Popular destinations like France, Italy, and Spain, usually require seat reservations. If you plan on traveling in those countries, it would be beneficial to plan ahead of time so you can get a guaranteed seat. On the map, it highlights all the main cities, but you can type in any number of smaller cities to add to your itinerary too.

You can also view some of Eurail’s crafted itineraries for inspiration.

Find Your Pass

After you have a rough idea of where you’d like to go and how long, navigate to the Pass Guide page. There are two distinct pass choices, the Global Pass and the One Country Pass.

Global Pass

A Global Pass allows you to journey to over 30,000 destinations across Europe. It’s flexible enough that you could either plan your itinerary or decide the day of. If you choose the global path, your next decision to make is the length of time you want to travel. Here are the options:

  • 10 days within 2 months: $254
  • 15 days within 2 months: $312
  • 15 days in a row: $280
  • 22 days in a row: $327
  • 1 month in a row: $427
  • 2 months in a row: $462
  • 3 months in a row: $571

For the ’10 or 15 days within two months’ options, you can choose when you’d like to “spend” a travel day. You can choose any day within a two-month span of activating your pass. One travel day is 24 hours from midnight to 11:59 pm the day of.

For the ‘in a row passes,’ you have an unlimited number of travel days within whatever span of time you choose. You can use them consecutively or spread out. This option allows for the most flexibility.

Keep in mind prices are shown with current Black Friday discounts. Buy your pass now because the deals end on 11/28.

One Country Pass

A One Country Pass allows you to focus on travel within one country. Then, you can choose the amount of travel days you’d like to have within a month:

  • 1 day within one month
  • 2 days within one month
  • 3 days within one month
  • 4 days within one month
  • 5 days within one month
  • 6 days within one month
  • 7 days within one month
  • 8 days within one month

Prices change depending on the country you choose. Keep in mind for popular countries, you’d still have to make seat reservations which cost extra.

Class Distinction

Eurail offers two class distinctions: 1st class and 2nd class. A 1st class pass is more expensive than a 2nd class pass but offers more comfortable seating with more space and sometimes includes free food and beverages.

More Info on Classes

Eurail Seat reservations
This is an example of what a seat reservation search would look like. There are a couple of times of day to choose from, both clearly marked with whether you would need a seat reservation or not. The journey and transfers are detailed on the right side. Screenshot from Eurail

Reserve Your Seats

Use this Link to Book your Seat Reservations

First, I advise plugging your general itinerary in the app, Rail Planner, because it clearly tells you which trains require seat reservations and which don’t. That way, you only have to search the destinations that require them. From there you can browse the different times and purchase reservations. Prices range in cost, but rarely go above $30. Most are within the $10-$15 price range. Seat reservations are often required for the most popular routes.

Eurail App
This is what your itinerary would look like in the Rail Planner app. Turn on the ‘Travel Day’ toggle to access your QR code pass for the day. Screenshot from Eurail

Activate Your Pass

The day you are ready to start your trip, you can activate your pass in the app. Prior to doing so, plug your itinerary into the app (however much you have planned by that point). Make sure the dates and times align with the seat reservations you made. Then, mark each day you want to use the pass as a travel day. There is an option to toggle it on. This applies if you have a limited number of travel days. Then, your QR code pass becomes accessible.

Unfortunately, you can’t access seat reservations within the app. It can be accessed on the website here. Locate your reservation ahead of time and look at the train car and seat number. Once you’re on the train, the conductor will ask for your seat reservation ticket first, and then your Eurail pass. I advise accessing the tickets ahead of time and screenshotting them in case you have any internet issues.

If you need help, Eurail has a helpful video guide: How to Set up Your Mobile Pass

Personal stats
This is a cool feature on the Rail Planner app that shows your personal train statistics. Screenshot from Eurail

Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions

When should I arrive at the train station?

Arrive at your Eurail station a half hour early at least. I always leave myself 10 or so minutes of wiggle room for getting to the station as well. Sometimes platform information isn’t shown until 15 minutes prior to departure.

When would I need to make seat reservations?

Seat reservations are required for France, Italy, and Spain. They are often required for popular tourist routes (e.i. Madrid to Barcelona). Think of a seat reservation as a guarantee for a spot on the train.

It is important to make these ahead of time, especially during tourist season (May through September). Eurail advises booking popular night trains and high-speed trains 2-3 months in advance. I traveled during the off-season and had luck booking some high-speed trains a week in advance. It greatly depends on the time of year and route you take.

For Eurostar trains and international TGV trains in particular, there are a limited number of seats for Eurail pass holders. Keep this in mind when you reserve seats.

If you want to find routes that don’t require seat reservations, there is a way to filter this in your search. About two-thirds of my journey required seat reservations but I was mostly traveling in France and Italy.

What is considered a travel day?

One travel day is 24 hours. Between midnight the day of to 11:59 pm, you can take as many trains as you’d like and have it count as 1 travel day. For night trains, if the train leaves before 11:59 the day before, only one travel day is used (even though the train travels into the morning of the following day).

How much time should I allow for transfers between trains?

Allow yourself more time than you think for transfers. Every train station is different. Some are much smaller than others so they are easier to transfer within. Others are massive, so transfers would take much longer. It is not 100% guaranteed that the trains will be perfectly punctual. My train was late so I missed a really short transfer. Usually, when you are planning your trip, Eurail will warn you if the transfer is short. I’d leave myself at the bare minimum, 20 minutes. Even that is cutting it short sometimes.

Train station in Strasbourg, France
Train station in Strasbourg, France. Photo by Isabella Miller

Tips and Tricks

  1. Be careful which station you book in big cities. Many larger cities have multiple stations, and it isn’t always obvious which one is the “main” station. Sometimes you can end up on the fringes of cities where it’s challenging and more expensive to get to your accommodation. When I was going to Venice, I booked my Eurail seat reservation for the wrong station. Venice has two major train stations: Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, the one on the island and Venice Mestre off the island. I had to go back the way I came to get to my hostel. Luckily, the mistake was fixable, but it can be a nuisance trying to reverse small mistakes like that.
  2. Depending on your location, the train platform might not even show up on the screen until 15 minutes before it is set to depart. If it has not shown up by then, find the nearest assistant and see if they have any information. Sometimes, the information screen isn’t reporting the platform because something about the train has changed. It’s better to find this out fifteen minutes early rather than 2 minutes late (me).
  3. The Trip Planner feature on Eurail’s website only highlights the main cities. There are in fact many other smaller cities it routes to. Eurail is partnered with the train companies I listed above. If you can find a ticket on each company’s site you’d be able to use it for your Eurail pass. If you need help, email Eurail customer service.
  4. Pack lightly. There will be an inevitable moment when you’ll have to bolt through a crowded station up 3 flights of stairs. Having a heavy bag makes this so much more difficult. Some stations don’t have escalators. Elevators take significantly longer and are backed up if there’s only one or two available.
  5. Get creative. If one route doesn’t work, there are usually many other ways to get there. Contact Eurail via email and they will help you figure out solutions if you are having any problems.
  6. Even if trains say they have WiFi and other amenities on the rail planner app, expect that they won’t. There were many occasions where I wrongly assumed there would be WiFi when there wasn’t. Some trains either have limited bandwidth, their WiFi doesn’t work or any other number of reasons that prevent WiFi from being guaranteed. Some trains will not have outlets, either. Bring a portable charger and use Airalo to purchase data.

Deals and Discounts

If you fall into any of the categories below, you qualify for a discount:

  • Travelers aged 27 or younger get a 25% discount with a Eurail Youth Pass
  • Travelers aged 11 or young travel for free with a Family Pass
  • Travelers aged 60 and above get a 10% discount on all Eurail Passes

Buy Your Eurail Pass

Eurail benefits
Not only can you view your journey in map form in the app but you can see your benefits in applicable places along the way. For example, Eurail Pass holders can get 10% off tours with GetYourGuide. Screenshot from Eurail

Additional Benefits

Eurail offers discounts on many activities for destinations all over Europe. You can get anything discounted from ferries to museum tickets. You can search by country to find the best deals.

Some deals include:

  • 10% off Disneyland Paris entry ticket
  • 20% off top attractions in Rome
  • 10% off GetYourGuide Activities
  • 5 Euro Discount on Hostelworld bookings
  • 10%-50% discount on Viking Line Cruises

View Eurail’s Benefit Portal to see more.

Eurail is also happy to help you book your accommodations. They offer free cancellations on most accommodations, 24/7 customer support in 40 languages, and no booking fees. This is all possible when booking through Booking.com.

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