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How to get the most out of Europe’s amazing rail system

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Are you looking to travel or migrate to Europe? Here’s everything you need to know on how to take advantage of Europe’s incredible train system. 

When it comes to where to travel Europe, you are spoilt for choice. So why not see as much of it as possible?

With one of the most modern and comfortable rail networks in the world, Europe’s trains are a quick and convenient way to travel. Although it may appear intimidating at first, its huge size works to your advantage with stations absolutely everywhere, from capital cities to remote towns. 

Here is everything you need to know about getting around Europe via train. 

Why choose rail?

Trains are a brilliantly quick way to get around Europe.With speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour and no airport hassle, trains are quite often even faster (not to mention cheaper) than travelling by plane. In addition, when you travel by plane you miss out on seeing the gorgeous countryside and city views which often prove to be the most memorable moments of any trip. Trains can be faster and easier than travelling by car or bus as well. In congested cities such as Rome, Budapest or Paris, it can take hours to simply get across the city. Trains are a perfect way to avoid traffic delays and ugly motorways in favour of an overall superior experience. 

Trains also have the additional benefit of travelling in comfort. Whilst many flights will find passengers packed in like sardines, when you travel by train you will have access to leg room, space to walk around, and quite often, even bars and cafes to visit. Large glass windows provide stunning views of the surrounding countryside you pass. If you want to meet the locals, this is a fantastic chance to make some friends. And if not, have some time to yourself to read, relax and enjoy your trip. 

Booking Tickets

The cheapest way to use the rail system usually depends on what type of travel you are looking to do. These are the three main options for the type of tickets you should book. Of course, feel free to apply a mixture of these methods depending on the nature of your trip!

Make sure to keep your eyes on the train timetables when getting around. The Eurail railplanner app is a good way to get online and offline access to train arrival and departure times.

 

  • RailPass

 

The Eurail travel pass gives you unlimited travel on any of the normal scheduled trains run by the national train operator. It covers high speed, overnight, local, regional and suburban trains. It also features great customisation options so that you can travel anywhere in 1, 2, 3, 4 or all 26 participating countries depending on your needs. A great tip is to not be afraid to mix and match several rail passes – if you are travelling in Italy for 5 days and then France for another 5, it may be cheaper to buy two separate RailPass’s rather than a dual Railpass for 10 days. 

The Railpass is quite expensive, but offer great flexibility and are perfect for when you want to do a lot of travelling. The key benefit is the ability to travel wherever you want, whenever you want. If you are under the age of 26, the Youth ticket is especially reasonably priced. 

However, this is not a good idea if you are doing only a few trips or very short trips. It is best applied to people wishing to do a lot of long distance travel and who like to have a lot of flexibility. 

 

  • Point to Point tickets

 

Many travellers don’t realise that the RailPass isn’t their only option. You can also simply purchase tickets at the station to hop from place to place. This is often much cheaper than buying a rail pass, especially for short local trips. It also allows you to keep the flexibility that some travellers need. 

However, if you plan on doing lots of trips or far distance travel, point to point tickets may not be ideal for you. It is best to compare the average daily costs of the RailPass to the cost of buying single tickets relevant to your itinerary. This should be done before making your decision. 

 

  • Buying Point to Point tickets online

 

The third option is to pre-purchase point to point tickets online. This is cheaper than purchasing it at the station and just like the regular tickets, can be a great way to get around if you are planning on short distance or infrequent travel. Sites such as loco2.com will help you find the ideal tickets that suit your needs, but don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal.

However, if you want to get the best prices you’ll have to commit to limited or no refunds and the inability to change your travel plans. If you have a complex itinerary or need flexibility, you may prefer one of the first two options. 

Should I book First or Second Class?

When booking your train tickets, typically you’ll be given two options: first or second class. First class is obviously more comfortable, but more expensive. For most travellers I would strongly recommend second class. There is adequate space and comfort without the extra cost. 

Sometimes, however, travelling first class can be very affordable. Train seats are sold according to variable pricing, so depending on availability and quotas you may be able to snag a first class seat for only a few extra euros. 

Overnight Trips

For people travelling around Europe, overnight trips are an experience in themselves. 

Overnight trips are often a fantastic way to take the boredom out of a long journey, and are far more comfortable sleeping options than flights or buses. There are typically two main options: couchettes and sleeper cars. 

Sleeper cars are basically hotel rooms on a train. Each compartment is fitted out with proper beds, carpets, washbasins and in some cases even private showers. Although you can book your own sleeper for yourself, if you book a bed in a shared room you can save a lot of money. Don’t worry – you will always be placed in a room with members of the same sex unless travelling with your partner. 

Couchettes, in contrast, are basic, inexpensive sleeping accommodation usually with 4-6 bunks per compartment. By day, it is a regular sleeping compartment but by night, the seats convert into sleeping bunks. 

Your choice of compartment will typically depend on your budget. Both are completely safe and secure, with plenty of room for luggage. 

Do I need to check in for a train? How early do I need to get to the station?

In most cases, unlike airports, there is no check in for boarding trains. Once you arrive at the station, you simply find your platform and get on the train. Tickets are generally only checked during the voyage, although it is usually smart to keep it on hand just in case you need help finding your way around the station. 

Many travel companies recommend getting to the station at least thirty minutes before departure, though realistically arriving 10 minutes early might be more practical for you. 

What if something goes wrong?

First things first. Stay calm!

Things will go wrong, whether you miss a connecting train, forget your tickets or leave your luggage at the station. If something like this does occur, just head straight to a customer representative. Most large stations will have employees who can speak your native tongue and sort out what you need.

In terms of avoiding problems, there are a couple of things you can do to make your trip as hassle free as possible:

  • Plan realistic connections
  • Make sure you have travel insurance
  • If travelling in a group, make sure that everyone knows where they should be going
  • And don’t ever leave anything to the last minute!

Want to share your experiences with travelling around Europe by train? Feel free to comment below. 

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