Traveling By Train In Europe– One of the things I like most about traveling around Europe is that you can get everywhere by train. It is the most important means of transport and, personally, my favorite to travel the continent.
In this post I will answer the most frequent questions that come to me about traveling by train in Europe: where do I buy the tickets? Should I get a pass? How do I check the schedules? How do I cross from one country to another? What are night trains like?
Why choose a train?
The train is the most widespread form of transport in Europe, although not the cheapest. There are also low-cost airlines, buses, carpooling, and the option to rent a car, bike, or hitchhike.
Trains, for me, are the most comfortable option: they leave the city center, they arrive at the next city center, they are punctual, they are very frequent (they leave several times a day), they are spacious and comfortable and they go through landscapes through the that no other means of land transport passes.
Traveling by train has a special magic.
How to check the schedules and prices of European trains
Although the whole of Europe is linked by a very extensive train network (imagine a large metro system, like that of any capital, but with stops throughout Europe), each country has its own railway company that has its website with schedules and rates.
- If you want to travel by train within the same country, without crossing any border, I recommend going directly to the website of the national train company.
If you don’t know what it is, Google will give you the answer.
Almost all the websites have an English version, so it is easy to navigate them and check the schedules.
- If you want to travel by train from one country to another (always within Europe), I recommend you search for the route in an app such as GoEuro or Trainline (those are the two that I always use: Trainline only shows you train journeys, while GoEuro compares you how much it costs to make the journey by train, plane, and bus), or on the website of the train company in the country of departure.
Where, when and how it is convenient to buy the train tickets
Some train passages (especially high-speed and those that connect capitals or large cities) tend to increase in price when the departure date approaches, there are others (local trains and those that connect nearby cities) that always keep the same price. In case you are traveling from capital to capital, the best option is to buy the ticket a few weeks in advance if you want to get the best price.
There are two ways to buy tickets:
- Through the web: in my experience, any European train ticket can be purchased online. It is the fastest and most comfortable. In general, you can pay by card or PayPal. I usually buy through the train websites of each country, or else through the apps, I mentioned before.
- At the station: you can also go to the station and buy the ticket at the window or, in some cases, through machines. In Russia, for example, I ended up buying some tickets at the stations because the credit card was rebounding from the train website.
Should I print the tickets if I buy it online?
In my experience, no. If you buy them through the apps (many European train companies have their own app too), an electronic ticket with a QR code will be generated for you to show the controller from the screen of your phone. The only ticket I had to print was the Paris – Moscow train, but I did it a while before the train left, through the station machines.
How to get to the station
The good thing about traveling by train is that the stations are usually in the center of cities and are easily accessible by metro, bus or on foot. You don’t have to travel an hour to go to an airport (unless you are on the outskirts of the city, although in general it never takes that long). In case you are traveling with little luggage, you can opt for public transport. If you are very loaded, maybe a taxi is the best option (although that taxi may cost you more than the train trip!).
It doesn’t hurt to say it: there are cities that have several train stations (for example, Paris) so always pay attention to which one your train leaves from. In some cases, it might happen that you have to transfer from one station to another.
How to find my train at the station?
In the train stations, there are screens indicating the departures and arrivals. There you will be able to see from which platform your train leaves and if it is delayed (you recognize it by the time and the train number). The stations of the towns have from two to six platforms, the stations of the big cities can have between ten and twenty platforms.
If you have an assigned seat and car on your ticket, respect it. (It happened to me once to get on the wrong car, to arrive in a hurry, and to find out in the middle of the trip that at the next station the train separated and one part went to one side and the other to the other, so it is important to get on the corresponding car).
European trains are very punctual
European trains leave at the exact minute (unless there is a delay for some weather reasons). I recommend getting to the station about 15-20 minutes before, for anything (to get on some trains you have to go through security and if there are many people you can lose it). Keep in mind that there are trains that are very long and, if your car is, for example, 18, you will have to walk a lot to get to the end of the platform (it happened several times to finish running so as not to miss the train).
The distance between one city and another does not usually last more than a few minutes. If you take the train at the first station, you can generally get on it about 10 minutes before it departs. If you get into an intermediate station, make sure you are standing on the correct platform a few minutes before it arrives.
Things to remember when you get on the train
When you get on the train, remember to validate your ticket, have your pass handy or you can buy a ticket inside.
- If you are traveling with a pass (I will talk more about passes below) , you will have to write the date and route in the space provided for that and have your passport handy to show both things to the driver when you pass by your seat.
- If you just bought the ticket at the station and you have it printed, you may have to validate it before boarding (in France, for example, you always have to validate paper tickets). When this is the case, you will see some machines near the platforms that serve that purpose. If you do not find them, do not worry, when the controller passes by your seat you have a second opportunity to do the validation.
- If you got on without a ticket because let’s suppose, you arrived on time and you couldn’t buy it, the best thing is that you look for the controller, explain the situation and buy it from him on the spot. Note that they may only accept cash and that it is more expensive than at the station. If the driver passes by your seat and you don’t have your ticket, he will charge you a fine.
- Eat on the train. If you are going to make a trip of several hours, stop by the closest supermarket to the station and make yourself a sandwich or take something prepared to eat on the trip. Many trains also have a dining car that can be helpful, but they can be quite expensive.
- Are there bathrooms? All (or almost all) trains have toilets inside. Until now I have not been on one that did not have, but it may exist.
- The luggage. Unlike the plane, on the train, you don’t have to dispatch your luggage. You can carry everything with you and you don’t have to pay extra. There is space to store things under the seats, above or at the bottom of the car.
- Night trains. Sleeping on the train can save the cost of a night’s accommodation. And what’s more? You wake up in a new city! Night trains are reserved in advance and have several cabin options: sleepers (private cabins with 2 or 4 beds), couchettes (shared cabins with up to six beds), or reclining seats. In my experience, they are comfortable and you sleep well.
- Border crossings. If you are traveling within the Schengen Area, chances are you will cross the border and not even know it. If you leave Schengen, then the immigration officers of each country will get on the train to stamp your exit and entry in your passport.
Should I buy a train pass?
Eurail rail passes can be a good option for those who want to travel much of Europe by train in a few days. The pass is a prepaid ticket that allows you to make all the train trips you want within a period of time and in certain countries. It is bought before traveling and there are several types, such as:
- – the 15-day continuous global pass: It allows you to get on all the trains you want for 15 consecutive days
- – the 15-day global pass within two months: It allows you to travel unlimitedly for 15 non-consecutive days, distributed in the range of two months
It is important to know that there are certain routes that require a compulsory reservation even if you have the pass, such as night trains, high-speed trains, and international trains. This reservation can be made from ninety days before by internet, or up to a few hours before at the train station. The extra amount to be paid will depend on the route. However, if you are not in a hurry, you can avoid the high-speed train, take the local trains and forget about reservations.
So, is it convenient or not to buy it? In my experience, if you want to visit several countries in a few days, the pass can be a good option. But if you plan to travel through a single country, stay a long time in each place and do short stretches, it is surely convenient to buy the tickets separately. To be sure, it is best to do the math: find the prices of the sections you plan to do and compare the total with the cost of the pass.
Are Trains Expensive? & The Alternatives
Getting around in Europe is expensive and trains are usually not the cheapest option, although prices vary by country. I moved around France a lot and, for example, I managed to get the Biarritz – Paris section (4 hours on the high-speed train) for € 40 (usually costs between 60 and 100) and many 10/15-minute journeys cost me about € 5. In general, the most expensive is to go from one capital to another by train
If you want to spend as little as possible, it will be best if you compare the options available to make that journey and make the decision based on your preferences:
- Car sharing (through websites like Blablacar) is usually the cheapest option for getting around Europe. I use it a lot. The downside is that sometimes it is not easy to get the trip you are looking for since in certain places there is not as much offer.
- Low-cost flights. Europe has many low-cost airlines that offer very cheap flights (once we flew from Biarritz, France, to London for € 10 round trip). However, low-cost airlines usually have hidden costs that increase the final price of the ticket: transportation to and from the airport (in general, the airports for low-cost flights are outside the city —or in another city— and not You can get there by subway, you have to go by bus or taxi), the cost to dispatch the luggage (this can cost about 25 euros more), the food (which is not included) and the time it takes to take a flight (you have to be an hour and a half before approx., plus the time it takes to get to the airport). Sometimes it ends up costing the same to go by train, and sometimes it is still cheaper to fly, so it is a matter of comparison in each case. For very long distances,
- There are several bus companies that cross Europe and that connect capitals or cities within the same country. They are cheaper than trains, although they can take two or three times more, they are less frequent, and they are not as comfortable. If you travel on a budget and you are not in a hurry, it may be a better option.
Name- Lokesh Vashishth
Bio- Lokesh is the founder of Chandan Roli. His passion for traveling and art made him bring the best travel facilities in India for Indians and for all who want to explore the beauty of Indian temples with great customer services.
If you want to make a trip by train to Europe, this article is for you. Thanks for sharing that information.