Everything You Need to Know About Planning, Booking, and Enjoying The Perfect Train Trip
Have you been thinking about embarking on a journey by train, perhaps to an exciting destination or simply to enjoy the scenery of a long-distance trip? If so, this train travel guide is for you.
In our in-depth guide to train travel we’ll share all the information you need about train travel in Europe and the USA … two of our favorite destinations to explore by train.
Let’s get started!
We cover a lot of helpful information in this in-depth train travel guide, and to help you find exactly what you need we’ve added this navigation menu.
Just click a link in the menu below to find the information you want, or keep scrolling to read our entire train travel guide and become an expert at riding the rails!
Train Travel Guide Navigation Menu
General Train Travel Information
- Why Travel by Train?
- Types of Rail Travel & Train Cars
- Train Tickets vs Rail Passes
- Essentials You Should Pack for Your Train Trip
- General Tips to Have a Great Train Travel Experience
Guide to Train Travel in the USA
- An Intro to Amtrak Train Travel in the USA
- Map of Amtrak Routes
- How and Where to Buy Amtrak Tickets
- Amtrak Rail Passes
- How to Save Money on Rail Travel in the USA
- What are Amtrak Trains Like?
- What to Know About Luggage When Traveling by Train on Amtrak
- Popular Train Travel Routes in the USA
- International Train Travel (USA to Canada)
- Amtrak Sleeper Cars
- Amtrak Dining & Bar Cars
- How to Find & Use Lounges in US Rail Stations
Guide to Train Travel in Europe
- An Introduction to Rail Travel in Europe
- How and Where to Buy Rail Tickets in Europe
- European Rail Passes
- What are European Trains Like?
- Getting on the Right Train in Europe
- Do I Need Seat Reservations?
- What to Know About Luggage When Traveling by Rail in Europe
- Planning Your Train Trip in Europe
- Taking Your Bike on the Train in Europe
- Taking Your Dog or Pet on the Train in Europe
- Couchettes & Sleeping Cars on European Trains
- European Train Dining and Bar Cars
Why Travel by Train?
Long a fundamental part of daily travel in Europe, trains are becoming progressively more popular in the United States as well. There are many reasons for this. After all, trains offer many advantages where traveling by plane or car simply come up short. Perhaps chief among these reasons is convenience. It’s logistically easy to travel within or between major metropolitan hubs by rail, and even first-time travelers can figure it out without much trouble (even in a foreign country).
Traveling by train in the United States can be especially advantageous if you are traveling a relatively modest distance, but eliminating the stress and time of an extended road-trip by riding a train can have many benefits as well.
Let’s talk about some of the reasons why you should consider traveling by train:
- Rail Operators Tend to Have Much Lower (and more stable) Ticket Prices: One of the most stressful elements of arranging to travel by plane is figuring out the best time to buy your tickets in order to get the lowest possible price. One of the advantages of choosing train travel instead is the fact that train tickets have stable prices. There may be increases at times, such as over the holidays or at peak times, but the change in prices should be modest compared to what you would encounter in air travel. There are sometimes sales on train tickets, too. Train tickets are generally much less expensive than plane tickets.
- More Hospitable Baggage Rules: While airlines have become notorious for their growing baggage fees and stringent rules, Amtrak has a generous baggage allowance allowing two carry-on items (each can weigh up to 50 pounds each, and these are in addition to personal items such as purses, diaper bags, and strollers) and as many as four checked bags that can weigh up to 50 pounds each. The first two of these four checked bags are free of charge. If you want to bring a third and fourth, you will be asked to pay about $20 each.
- The Journey Can be the Destination: Trains give you a travel experience that makes the journey often as enjoyable as reaching the destination itself. This is because of the experience that trains provide, as well as the wonderful and fascinating scenery you will see through the window. Train travel gives you the chance to get a better feel for the country you are exploring.
- Trains are Relaxing: Trains are not only comfortable but very relaxing, too. Rail travel is known to be among the most relaxing modes of travel available. For obvious reasons, it’s much less stressful than driving and it provides more leg room and amenities than most mainstream air travel. Overnight trains still provide dining cars with not only full meals but polite, uniformed staff. Compare that to what you get in economy class on planes these days!
- Trains Offer Greater Flexibility to Travelers: Short train journeys often don’t require any sort of reservations. In many cases, you can just arrive at the train station on the same day you want to travel and buy a ticket if any are available, and you shouldn’t be charged a last-minute fee. Keep in mind, though, that it’s common for long-haul trains to require reservations.
- Trains are Friendlier to the Environment: Trains have greater energy efficiency per passenger mile than cars and planes. This not only makes them more environmentally friendly but also means that rail fares are much less likely to go up as a result of fuel price increases. Additionally, trains do not emit their carbon emissions directly into the sky like planes do.
- You’ll Have Less Hassle to Deal With: We all know how early you have to arrive at the airport for plane travel. You’ve probably felt a bit frustrated with all the stringent rules and requirements, as well. When you choose train travel instead, you’ll only need to get to the train station about 30 minutes before your time of departure. Making rail travel even more attractive, most train stations are located in central areas of cities. This means that you’re much less likely to have to pay for a long taxi ride to reach your hotel.
Types of Rail Travel and Rail Cars
There are many different types of rail cars, classes of rail travel, and you can even purchase tickets in different ways when you plan to take the train.
We’ll explain all of that in this section.
Passenger Rail Service: Different Types
There are primarily three different types of passenger rail service that you may choose from when traveling by train. These are:
- Long Distance Passenger Rail Service: Long distance passenger rail service trains travel between cities and regions of the country in which it operates. It might also cross into foreign countries. These trains frequently have dining cars or even restaurants. If the train is traveling overnight, it will probably have sleeping cars.
- Intercity Passenger Rail: In the United States, 15 states currently operate intercity passenger rail. Intercity passenger rail operated by the states comprises almost 50 % of Amtrak’s total ridership.
Heritage Trains: If you’re an enthusiast of rail history, you might want to experience a heritage train. These trains are generally operated by volunteers. They are made from historic trains that are no longer a part of national commercial operation.
- Light Rail: The word “light” in Light Rail refers to the number of riders that the train is able to carry. Light rail services have passenger service within individual cities and their suburbs. These rail companies operate on their own track, not sharing tracks with Amtrak. Light rail trains usually run extremely frequently and are available not only during traditional commuting hours but during evenings and weekends as well.
Coach vs Business Class vs First Class
There are three levels of service on Amtrak trains: coach (the standard), business class, and first class. Let’s go over some of the features of each here, to help you choose which is best for you:
Coach class is the standard level of service that you can expect on Amtrak trains.
Business class is the level you might want to choose if you want an upgrade from regular seating and service. In business class, you’ll enjoy more leg room as well as access to fold-down tray tables and even conference tables if you reserve them. There are also reading lights, complimentary beverages, and electrical outlets.
If you want to get even more service and comfort than you do in business class, consider going first class for your Amtrak journey.
In first class, you’ll enjoy at-your-seat service by attendants. There is also an exclusive section where you can enjoy an exclusive selection of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Be aware that all sleeping cars on trains are considered a first-class service, so if you’re in a sleeping car, you’ll enjoy many of the perks first-class passengers do. Also when you book first-class for your general journey, you will automatically be given a flat sleeping service. For longer trips, we recommend it.
Train Tickets vs Rail Passes
An Amtrak Railpass may be worth considering getting if you’re going on a very long-distance journey. Amtrak Railpasses begin at $459 and cover a maximum of eight journeys (these are also referred to as segments) taken over 15 days. If you’d like a more expansive pass, you can get one for $899 that covers 45 days of travel and 18 trips (or segments).
If you choose to just buy tickets, it’s best to buy them in advance. On Amtrak’s website, you can put more than one journey on a single ticket, which is convenient and will save you time at the station.
Be aware that if you’re traveling in coach, you probably won’t be able to reserve a specific seat. Rather, you will be assigned a seat by train staff on the platform when you board.
Essentials You Should Pack for Your Train Trip
There are a number of things that you will need to remember in order to make sure your journey is a pleasant one. Let’s go over them below:
- Identification: Make sure to bring and be ready to present your photo ID, passport or other travel documents accepted by Amtrak. You also need to add an ID tag to each piece of luggage you bring.
- Your bags: You can bring two pieces of luggage aboard per passenger. If you want to bring checked baggage, you need to ensure that this option is available on your train in advance.
- Fully charged device to show your eTicket: Make sure your electronic devices are fully charged so that you are able to show your eTicket to the station personnel or conductor. If you have paper tickets, make sure to bring those. It’s also vital that you might sure that your electronic devices are fully charged before getting on the train because you might find there is a serious lack of electric outlets. This can vary from train to train.
- Wet wipes and extra toilet paper: You will be glad you brought some wet wipes when you want to freshen up and perhaps don’t have access to a shower (at least at that moment). And why should you bring toilet paper? It’s because the train might be running low of it towards the end of the journey. So be prepared!
- Snacks: Even though your train might have a dining train and there will probably be snacks available to purchase, you might not like much that is on offer. If that’s the case, you’ll be happy you brought along some of your own favorite snacks.
- Comfortable shoes: While you might want to take your shoes off while you’re sitting down or in the observation car, you should definitely make sure to put them back on before getting up and walking anywhere. It’s especially vital that you have shoes on when you use the bathroom. The floor will probably not be as clean as it should be.
- A sweater, sweatshirt, or blanket: You might find the train quite chilly, even if you’re traveling through somewhere hot as the air conditioning is generally on a high setting. Bring along a sweater, sweatshirt, or blankets to make sure you stay nice and cozy.
Remember that if you will be traveling by Amtrak across the Canadian border, you will be required to give Amtrak more detailed information when you buy your ticket.
Tips to Have a Good Train Travel Experience
Below are some tips to keep in mind that will help you have the best possible train-travel experience:
- If you tend to feel chilly, make sure you have a cardigan or something else to put on in case the air conditioning is a bit too cool for your taste.
- Make sure you know the difference between regular stops and rest stops. Rest stops are the only stops during which you are permitted to alight from the train. Be careful not to try to get off during regular stops, as Amtrak has strict rules about this.
- Be aware of all transit options for when you arrive at your destination. While train stations are often in convenient parts of the city, this isn’t always the case. While many will provide metropolitan transport links, some do not and you will likely have to take a taxi.
- If you have any specific dietary requirements, you should check to make sure that these will be able to be accommodated on the train.
- If you have to bring any special dietary materials or medications, you will have to check out the guidelines with respect to this.
- Get travel insurance: Look into purchasing travel insurance and travel assistance services.
- If you’d like, you can book any hotel accommodations or rental cars through Amtrak, too. See the Amtrak website for more information.
- If you’re going to travel by train for more than one night, you should invest in a sleeper: While it’s possible to spend more than one night sleeping in your reclining chair, you’ll be sure to have a much better experience if you book a sleeper.
Amtrak Train Travel Guide
Train Travel in the USA with Amtrak
In this section of our guide we’ll get specific with information and tips you need to know about if you’re planning to travel the USA by train. Specifically we’ll share information about traveling in and around the U.S. on America’s famous Amtrak rail system. We’ll offer an overview of what it’s like to travel on Amtrak, the type of cars that you could ride on, tips for navigating train stations in the USA, and we’ll preview some of the most popular train routes in the country.
An introduction to train travel in the USA
Traveling by train in the USA is a fantastic option that too many people ignore. Train travel is not only a great option for travelling to specific destinations but also to see and enjoy the majestic scenery the country has to offer. Amtrak is the operator of the United States’ train system. Its official name is the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
Did you know that if you book far in advance, you can travel from coast to coast for as inexpensive a price as $232 (this converts to about €202 or £177).
While it’s true that the USA’s rail network is a skeleton one when compared with those that Europeans are used to, you’ll find that you can reach all the major cities and towns that you could want to visit.
Map of AmTrak Routes
You can find a route map here to see if traveling America by train will be right for you and if it will work with your travel itinerary.
You’ll discover that the very long-distance transcontinental routes are indicated in blue. There is one daily train for each of these, with the exception of New York to Florida, which has two trains a day, and the Sunset Limited, which runs three times weekly.
The Sunset Limited runs from New Orleans to San Antonio to Los Angeles. Red is the color to indicate important short distance routes (examples include Washington-New York-Boston and Los Angeles-San Diego. These routes have regular intercity services.
Traveling 3,000 miles across the country by train is an incredible experience.
Not only is this mode of transportation far more affordable than flying, it will also offer a unique chance to get to know America as you travel, feeling the rhythms of the communities you pass through instead of just flying over them.
It’s possible to book a ticket from New York to Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles for as little as $232, and this ticket will give you a roomy reclining seat (private sleeper rooms involve significant extra fees, but they include all meals and beverages such as fruit juice, coffee, and tea). Cross-country train travel is secure and comfortable, too.
When you’re on the train, you will have access to route guides that will let you know what you should look out for through the window. You’ll see scenery that you’re certain to remember for a lifetime. If you decide to go on the 3,000-mile coast-to-coast ride, you will ride for three nights with no stopovers. You can select your route from four or five options. Each of these options have their own advantages. If you want to stop anywhere along the way, keep in mind that you’ll need to make separate reservations/tickets for each part of the trip.
If you want to upgrade to one of the private sleepers for one or two people that we mentioned earlier, you will need to pay extra but the fee includes all meals and beverages.
You will find that Amtrak trains feature lounge cars and dining cars, as well. These are accessible to both sleeper and regular seat passengers. If you choose to book a bedroom (which is a step up from roomettes), you will have more room and probably a private enclosed toilet just for you. Some of them also have a shower.
If you decide to save money by simply sleeping in your coach seat, you certainly won’t be alone. Many people do this. The seats, after all, are large, recline back nicely, and have lots of legroom.
How and Where to Buy Amtrak Tickets
Go to www.amtrak.com to access Amtrak’s online booking system. You can also buy your tickets over the phone. A smartapp for smartphones through which you can purchase tickets is also available. If you buy e-tickets, you should print them out to bring on the day of the trip. If you have a tablet or smartphone that is able to read PDFs, however, you won’t need to print them. You’ll just need to open up the attachment so that the bar code on the ticket can be read.
You can also buy your tickets at any train station, even on the same day you wish to travel. If you want to save money on the cost, you can purchase your tickets in advance.
About Amtrak Rail Passes
If you’re planning to travel to several different places while on your Amtrak adventure, you should consider buying a USA Rail Pass. When you buy a USA Rail Pass, the only thing you have to decide on is the length of time you wish to travel on the train.
USA Rail Passes are available for purchase on Amtrak.com. You will need a major credit card in order to buy one. It’s also possible to buy one of these passes from a local travel agency (with agents that have direct online access to Amtrak passes and tickets).
How to Save Money on Rail Travel in the USA
There are several different ways that you can save money for your travels on Amtrak. Sign up to be a member of the Amtrak email list, so that you receive advance notice of deals that are available. If you’re an AAA member, you will also be able to enjoy discounts. Members of the military also have discounts with Amtrak.
Also check out SmartFares, which is available from Tuesday through Friday. This program gives you the chance to get discounted ticket prices for trips as many as three weeks after purchase. If you are a member of the Guest Rewards program, you will get points that are redeemable for use in future travel. It will also allow you to take advantage of promotions from partner chains (examples include florists and hotel chains).
Purchasing a USA Rail Pass will also help you save money on your Amtrak travels. This is an especially good choice if you plan to travel quite frequently by train.
What are Amtrak Trains Like?
Trains running on long-distance (2,000 or 3,000-mile routes) may sometimes be half an hour to an hour or two late. For this reason, it’s best to avoid booking any connections that require it to be on time. If you want to find out how a specific train has done in terms of being on time over the past few weeks, check out the tool found at www.amtrak.com/historical-on-time-performance.
When you’re on the train, you should find the staff courteous and the service reminiscent of a simpler and more generous time. Your train’s dining car will probably open for multiple sittings and provide all three meals. Reservations are generally taken by attendants in advance. If you’re traveling alone or with only one other person, you will probably be seated with other passengers. This will give you the chance to meet new people while you enjoy the scenery.
Your train might have a Bar Car, too. It should be beside the Dining Car. You’ll enjoy its comfortable booth seating. The Bar Car is a pleasant place to relax and have a coffee or drink. If you’re riding during the summer months, you’ll likely see National Park Guides in the Bar Car. They provide educational brochures about your journey and will help you view the passing landscape.
If you will be on one of the well-known scenic routes, you might find that your train has a Dome Car. The Dome Car is the perfect place to enjoy the passing landscape through special panoramic windows. As you might expect, the Dome Car is extremely popular with riders, so make sure you get a seat as soon as you can when you want to enjoy this part of the train.
What to Know about Luggage When Traveling by Train on Amtrak?
Amtrak has generous carry-on luggage policies. You can carry on two pieces of luggage free of charge, as long as they are each under 50 lbs (23 kg) in weight and 28X22x14 inches maximum in size. If you will be traveling with infants under the age of 2, you’ll be pleased to learn that you will not be charged any extra fee for diapers bags and strollers. If you want to bring checked luggage, find out if the stations you will be using offer this service. Be aware that not every location and train offers this service.
Most Popular Train Travel Routes in the USA
Below are some of the most popular train travel routes in the United States:
Crossing the US by Train via Chicago
You can begin your journey of 3,000 miles across the United States in Chicago. It will take the train two nights to get from Chicago to Los Angeles, Seattle, or San Francisco. You’ll enjoy your ride of an a double-deck Superliner train. The coast-to-coast journey takes three nights without stopovers.
Crossing the US by Train via New Orleans
If you’d like, you can take the above trip with the addition of a stop in New Orleans. If you choose this option, you will spend a night in this city.
Boston to New York to Washington DC
It is easy to travel by Amtrak between the cities of Boston, New York, and Washington DC. On weekdays, there are several round-trips on the Acela Express between New York and Washington DC, in addition to a number of weekday round-trips between Boston, New York, and Washington DC.
New York to Florida by Train
The train journey from New York to Orlando, Florida is usually over 22 hours in duration, as you will be traveling a little over 939 miles. If you’d like, you can choose to take the Amtrak Silver Service, which often reaches Orlando in 21 hours and 34 minutes.
The Alaska Railroad
If you want to travel by train in Alaska, you will have to take The Alaska Railroad. Check out the railroad’s website at https://www.alaskarailroad.com for detailed information on routes, tickets, and so on.
The California Zephyr route runs from Chicago to San Francisco. It is famous for its especially glorious scenery and historic sights. If you’d like, you can take this route in connection with the Lake Shore Limited. The Lake Shore Limited runs from Boston or New York to Chicago. You can also take it in connection with the Capital Limited, which runs from Washington DC to Chicago.
The California Zephyr has been acknowledged as one of the best train journeys available in the world. It will bring you through spots such as farmlands in Nebraska, the Rockies stretching past Denver, Colorado river valleys, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The California Zephyr’s route includes a great deal of the first historic trans-continental route.
International Train Travel from the USA (NYC to Montreal & Toronto)
You can also travel from the USA over the border to Canada. If you decide to take the New York to Montreal and/or Toronto train, be aware that you will need to present extra information and documentation when purchasing your tickets.
Amtrak’s Adirondack line begins at Penn Station in New York City. This is the line you will need to take if you want a direct journey to Montreal. You can expect to spend 10 hours on the train for your trip from New York to Montreal. There are often delays, however. This is because of immigration procedures that need to be undertaken at the international border. Luckily, the Adirondack line has a café car.
You can expect to see lots of memorable scenery on this route, as you will travel through the Hudson Valley and Adirondack Mountains.
Amtrak Sleeper Cars
If you’re planning a train journey that will require you spend one or more nights on-route, you will probably want to think about booking accommodations in a sleeper car.
Long-distance trains will often have a variety of sleeping arrangement options. Make sure to inquire before you book your tickets about which ones will be available on your train and how much they will cost.
Amtrak has two types of sleeper cars: Viewliner and Superliner.
- Viewliner cars are generally available for trains that travel to and from New York City.
- Superliner cars are generally used for a wide variety of other routes across the United States.
Let’s go over some of the options found on Amtrak Superliner cars:
- Roomette: The Roomette found on Superliner cars fit one or two passengers and feature a large picture window with comfortable seats beside it. The roomette does not have an in-room shower or toilet. You will need to use shared facilities.
- Bedroom: The Bedroom found on Superliner cars fits two (and in some circumstances, perhaps even three passengers, if two passengers are able to share the lower berth) and boasts an in-room toilet and shower. This is an especially good choice if you place a high value on privacy and convenience.
- Bedroom Suite: The Bedroom Suite found on Superliner cars is comprised of two Bedrooms that have been combined together. The Bedroom Suite will fit four people and has in-room showers and toilets.
- Family Bedroom: The Family Bedroom option found on Superliner cars occupies the full width of the car. It features two picture windows and a sofa. It also boasts comfortable (convertible to bed) seats. There are additionally two upper berths. These fold down from overhead. The Family Bedroom can fit two adults and two children. Please be aware, though, that it lacks an in-room shower or toilet.
- Accessible Bedroom: The Accessible Bedroom option on Superliner cars is specifically made for passengers who use a wheelchair. It is found on the lower level of the car.
Amtrak Dining & Bar Cars
Long-distance trains have dining and bar cars. These are great places to enjoy a relaxing meal and beverage, and take in the scenery through large windows. Make inquiries to find out which specific amenities will be provided on your train.
Many Amtrak trains offer at least one option for onboard dining. These can range from full meal service to informal café options. If you’re traveling on the California Zephyr, Auto Train, Coast Starlight, Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, Southwest Chief, or Empire Builder, you will find that there is a car offering traditional dining. Traveling in a sleeping car? Your meals in the dining car will be free of charge. If you’ve chosen Coach class instead, you will be able to pay for meals in the dining car. Amtrak’s Auto Train provides Coach customers with a dedicated car for snacks, beverages, and meals.
How to Find and Use the Lounges in Major Rail Stations
Passenger lounges are a great place to enjoy down-time during rail station transfers and connections. The size and quality of these lounges vary from station to station. If you have trouble finding the lounges, ask personnel in the station and look for signs.
Some lounges may only be open to first-class passengers. For example, a new premium lounge (called the Metropolitan Lounge) opened in Chicago Union Station in 2016. It is open only to sleeping car and business class passengers (in addition to members of the Select Executive Amtrak Guest Rewards and Select Plus programs). This lounge has comfortable seating and complimentary beverages and snacks, giving you the chance to relax and get rejuvenated for the next part of your trip.
European Train Travel Guide
Rail Travel in Europe
Crossing Europe and traveling between this continent’s famous cities by train is not only easy, it’s economical and fun. Europe’s rail system is excellent, safe, and affordable. Choosing to travel Europe by train is a great way to see as many sights and experience as many cultures as possible during a short trip, and we highly recommend planning your Europe itinerary to include rail travel. Many of our recommended Europe trips and tours on this site include train travel as the primary means of transportation.
An Introduction to Rail Travel in Europe
Rail travel is an extremely popular way to explore Europe. This is because most of Europe has extremely advanced and expansive rail networks that allow passengers to easily and quickly travel to many of the many world-famous destinations the continent has to offer.
Perhaps you already know that traveling by train is especially well-loved by young travelers exploring Europe, but did you know that it is just as viable and enjoyable an option for people of all ages. In fact, it is equally popular with the locals.
The rail network in most of Europe (with the notable exception of Ireland and a few other countries) is outstanding, so much so that it is often entirely unnecessary to fly while in Europe (that is, if you can afford the time of a train journey). The time a train journey will take will depend on where you are going and the types of trains and networks available on the specific routes available. There are high speed lines available in several places.
When traveling by train in Europe, you will appreciate that easy to navigate stations and schedules that are simple to find and understand. Traveling by train also offers the advantage of sitting back and relaxing while admiring beautiful and historic scenery through the window. Traveling by train will also let you enjoy a greater sense of spontaneity than you would have if you chose to go by plane.
How and Where to Buy Rail Tickets in Europe
Buying individual point-to-point train tickets in Europe is very easy. You might want to do this instead of a rail pass or in addition to one, depending on your itinerary.
Purchasing your train tickets in advance can be beneficial for certain destinations and trains. This is especially true if you have firmly set dates and you would rather not take any chances with tickets selling out for a specific journey. You might also be able to enjoy advance purchase discounts if you purchase early.
There are three ways of purchasing point-to-point tickets. You can buy them by way of a US-based retailer before you depart on your vacation and through the website of the relevant European railway(s). And of course, you can also buy them at the train stations in Europe once you arrive on the continent. Some of the best discounts can be achieved as many as three months ahead. You need to be aware, though, that tickets bought in advance will be non-changeable and non-refundable.
If you choose to buy tickets through a US retailer before you leave on your vacation, you might end up paying a little bit more than you would if you were to get them at a European train station. If there is a specific train journey at a specific time that you want to avoid missing out on, though, the extra cost might be worth it.
You should know that even if you have a railpass, it might be possible that you will still require seat reservations and/or tickets on specific trains. Some examples of trains where this is a possibility include Eurostar, TGV, and Thalys. In this case, it’s best to buy your tickets through a site based in the United States. This is because these types of tickets can sell out very quickly.
An advantage of buying your tickets online through websites of European national rail companies is that you might be able to get the prices charged in Europe. This is especially useful for the faster trains that require or recommend reservations.
If you want to buy your tickets at the train station after you arrive in Europe, you can do this either in advance or on the day of travel. Buy in advance if you are worried that it might sell out. Depending on the country, you might buy able to buy tickets from points to points in other countries.
In many countries (such as Sweden, Spain, France, Britain, Austria, Germany, and others), buying your tickets in advance can save you a lot of money. If you want to buy in advance, be aware that the date on which tickets start to be sold can be from around two to four months before travel. With the Eurostar, it can be six months ahead.
In some countries (such as Spain and the UK), round-trip tickets are less expensive than one-way. In the UK, a round trip ticket that is used within one day is called a “day return.” This kind of ticket can cost a little bit more than a one-way ticket.
If you’ll be traveling with kids, you should know that children are given discounts in most European countries. This discount is usually significant, often half-off the regular price for kids ages 4 through 11. Children under 4 years old generally travel for free if they’ll be on your lap.
If you’re a “youth” (generally between ages of 12 and 25), you can look for special discount cards in countries such as Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, and Britain. If you’re a senior, there are also discounts available. The minimum age for senior discounts is usually between 60 and 67.
If you travel during off-peak times, there are also discounts you can access. This is mostly true in France and the UK.
To look for European train timetables, look online. You can find user-friendly schedules that show you the length and frequency of all train trips and how to make the most efficient connections. You can also easily learn whether reservations will be needed. Remember how important knowing schedules is to planning an effective itinerary.
An extremely useful resource is the Deutsche Bahn website. This website, of course based in Germany, will help you no matter where you will be traveling in Europe. This is because of the extensive timetable information it offers. Also check out the DB Navigator app. It can be a fantastic tool in planning all your connections for your excursions and journeys in Europe. Remember, too, that there is a website for each country’s national rail company. You’ll find schedules there, too.
European Rail Passes: Will They Help You Save Money?
Whether or not you should just stick to point-to-point tickets or buy a rail pass depends on your exact itinerary (the places you plan to visit and how quickly you want or need to reach them). If you decide you want to buy a European rail pass, you might have to buy it while still outside of Europe, so you’ll want to make all these decisions well in advance.
Point-to-point tickets are simply individual train tickets that you buy in advance of each individual journey. The easiest way to get these tickets is to purchase them at train stations as you make your way around Europe. You can also buy them online (this is important if you want to secure an advance reservation for a specific leg of the journey).
Rail passes provide you with train travel in one or several countries for a specific number of days. These days can be continuous or they might be distributed over a set period of time. If you want to try to figure out whether you should buy a rail pass, think about and evaluate the following factors:
- What is the number of countries you want to visit by train? You’re more likely to save money buying a rail pass if you’re planning to travel to several countries rather than just one or two.
- What is the number of days you plan to ride the train? The greater number of days you want to be on the train, the more likely it is that buying a rail pass will be the more economical choice.
- Find out specifically about the cost of rail passes and how much rail passes cover in the specific countries and areas you want to cover in your travels. Research how much it will cost to purchase a pass that will cover the region you will be in and the specific number of days you plan to be on the train. Why? It’s because some countries (especially in southern and eastern Europe) have point-to-point train ticket prices so low that it will be cheaper or the same price to buy them as it would to buy a rail pass overall.
- Determine if you want to visit a lot of places that trains cannot reach or rail passes do not cover. There are some spots, such as in many areas of Scotland, in Ireland, and in Greece, coastal Croatia, and southern Spain that trains do not reach.
- Find out if you will need to pay any extra fees on top of your rail pass in the places you want to visit. This might be possible in places that have high-speed trains. An example of this is in Italy, where there is an additional fee of $15 per ride for reservations on a fast train for some of the most useful connections between popular tourist cities. Also, on the Thalys train that provides direct service connecting Paris and Brussels (as well as Amsterdam), you will need to pay a fee of as much as $35 if you’re in second class and even $45 if you’re riding first class.
- Be aware that if you buy point-to-point tickets in advance, you might be able to enjoy advance-purchase discounts. Remember, though, that these discounts will probably mean that your tickets cannot be exchanged and are non-refundable.
If you decide to buy a rail pass, you’ll also have to decide what kind of rail pass you will purchase. The options are: a Global Pass, a multi-country regional pass, or a single-country pass. The one you choose will depend on your needs and which specific passes are available in the specific country or countries you want to explore.
Global Passes provide you with unlimited travel on most of Europe’s public railways. Global Passes tend to be an excellent option even if you’re only planning to travel in only two countries, as it probably won’t be any more expensive than trying to combine two single-country passes. Scandinavia and some parts of Europe offer multi-country regional passes that you might find are less expensive than a Global Pass.
If you decide to buy a single-country pass, you should look into what each pass costs. Single-country passes can provide the convenience of avoiding some extra hassle in countries where reserving seats is most often not required. Some single-country passes also offer special perks. For example, Germany’s single-country pass additionally gives you access to some international routes.
You might also want to see if the pass you choose to buy has a flexipass option. Flexipasses give you the opportunity to only pay for the specific days that you travel. You won’t be required to decide on the days in advance. However, you will have a specific window during which you will need to utilize your travel days. Most of the time, that window is one or two months after the first use of the pass. With a flexipass, you will probably also be able to go on as many train trips as you want each day of travel.
Some passes also have the option of selecting a continuous pass. A continuous pass can help you spend less money if you are planning to travel daily or almost daily or you want your journey to cover a very long distance. A flexipass is a better choice if you want to stop off at different locations, as the continuous pass requires continuous or almost continuous travel.
What are European Trains Like?
As mentioned in an earlier section, Europe’s trains are generally very comfortable and are an extremely popular travel option with locals and tourists alike. Taking the train to different parts of Europe is a great way to not only visit more parts of the continent but see more of it (through expansive windows) as you go.
European trains have comfortable, relatively large seats and a friendly atmosphere that will help you make wonderful memories of your European adventure.
Getting on the Right Train in Europe
Many European train stations are very large and you might well find them a bit difficult to navigate. That is why it is often better to get there early so that you have time to find your way around and figure out what you have to do and where you need to go.
With things being so potentially confusing, you might be worried about the possibility of accidentally getting on the wrong train. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent this possibility. One of them, getting to the station early so that you know where to go, we’ve already gone over. Let’s go over some others here:
Make sure you go to the correct station
This might seem basic but this really cannot be overemphasized. Some cities, especially large ones, have a few or even several different train stations.
Find out your train’s track
It’s possible that the track number will be listed in the train schedules. However, in most cases you will have to find out your platform information yourself after you arrive at the train station. Look for the large boards where you can find displays of upcoming departures. Track information is usually posted on these boards about 30 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart.
Watch what other people are doing
Keep an eye on what other people around you are doing. If there’s an announcement on the loudspeaker and everyone waiting with you suddenly goes to another platform, it’s probably the case that the train’s track has changed and you need to follow.
Ask other people waiting
Ask other people waiting around you whether the train is going where you think it is. You should also speak to train personnel (they will be in uniforms). Make sure to speak in very simple language in order to avoid being misunderstood.
Be aware that large stations often have completely separate sections for long-distance and local trains. Some stations also have gigantic sections specifically dedicated to subway trains (as well as regional buses).
Do I Need Seat Reservations?
Whether or not you will need seat reservations depends on the rail line and train on which you are traveling. Remember that even if you’re traveling with a rail pass, it’s possible that you will occasionally need a seat reservation.
There are certain kinds of trains that tend to require seat reservations for all passengers. While most European trains do not require reservations, some of the most popular trains on the continent do. Some of these are the Eurostar and the Thalys (which is based in Brussels). Some trains intended only for tourists require seat reservations, too. You’ll need to look into the requirements for your specific train(s). It’s important to do research for yourself, as some American agents urge their clients to always buy reservations in order to make more money.
Check out Deutsche Bahn’s site to find out whether your train requires reservations. There are several European countries that require reservations for a category of their high-speed trains. Some of these countries include Sweden, Spain, France, and Italy. There are also some long-distance routes in countries such as Poland, Norway, and Finland that also call for seat reservations.
If you’re planning to spend a night or two on a train, be aware that almost every European overnight train requires seat reservations.
What to Know About Luggage When Traveling by Rail in Europe
One of the many wonderful things about luggage on European trains is that you don’t have to worry about it very much! Many European trains don’t have any sort of luggage limit at all (in other words, you won’t run into any objections or trouble as long as you don’t go drastically overboard with what you bring) and you just put your luggage above you on racks above the seats.
Some trains (such as the Eurostar) do have limits, but they don’t tend to be enforced very strictly at all. The theoretical maximum is two large items per passenger and a small item of hand luggage. As long as you stay within this and do not try to overpack any one piece, you should be fine.
Planning Your Train Trip in Europe
Planning a train trip to Europe is an exciting undertaking, but there are some important things to remember to make sure that your travel itinerary doesn’t have any hiccups.
Here are our tips for success and instructions for the major aspects of European rail travel booking and planning.
How to Check European Train Times and Fares
You can check European timetables online on Germany’s Deutsche Bahn site or on individual European rail company sites. While Deutsche Bahn’s site is very useful for checking timetables, it does not provide information on fares for tickets sold outside of Germany and Austria. If you want to find advance pricing discounts, check out the individual sites of individual European rail companies.
How Far Ahead Can (and Should) You Book Your Train Tickets
While you can easily buy your train tickets at a European train station (as long as they have not sold out), you may find that buying your tickets in advance will give you a discount. Check out the individual rail companies to find out whether buying in advance will be helpful.
Should I travel 1st or 2nd Class on Trains in Europe?
There aren’t very many significant differences between first and second-class train travel in Europe. Generally speaking, everyone travels second-class unless they are specifically traveling for business. Second-class seats are generally just a little bit narrower than first-class, but still very comfortable. First-class areas have larger aisles.
How do First and Second Class Seats on European Trains Differ?
There really aren’t many differences between first and second class on European trains. At least not any that will make much of a difference to your experience. The seats and aisles in first-class are only a little bit wider.
The main difference between first and second-class is who is traveling and how many empty seats there usually are. First-class tends to be popular with business travelers eager to get work done and always has more empty seats.
The other difference, of course, is the price. Second-class seats are usually about a third less expensive than first-class ones. It is true that first-class compartments are more likely to have amenities such as air conditioning.
How Much Time Should I Leave for Connections?
We recommend that there are at least 10 minutes between each connection, in case your first train runs late.
What to Do About Wheelchairs & Special Needs
If you want to take a Eurostar train at any point, you’ll find that this railway has excellent provisions for people with disabilities. For example, all Eurostar trains from London to Paris, Brussels, or Lille have specific space for wheelchairs in a number of first-class cars. These are situated adjacent to a wheelchair-accessible toilet that has push-button access. You will find that Eurostar offers special fares for passengers traveling in wheelchairs and one companion. These fares provide a first-class journey at second-class fares.
If you have a disability and are planning to travel on a Eurostar train, contact Eurostar in advance. You will find that Eurostar offers assistance to all passengers with special needs (this may or may not involve being in a wheelchair) at departure and arrival stations, as well as during the train journey.
Make inquiries with other European railways about what their situations are with respect to travelers with disabilities. One of the most important things you can do as a person with a disability who wants to travel by train in Europe is to plan well in advance.
Holidays & Tours by Train
There are many train holidays and tours with set itineraries available on European railways. If you like the idea of pre-planned itinerary, enjoying one or more of these adventures would probably be a great choice for you.
How to Access First-Class Lounges at Major European Rail Stations
You are likely to find well-appointed first-class waiting rooms in many stations. Being able to use these spaces is one of the perks of having a first-class ticket.
Taking Your Bike on the Train in Europe
If you’d like to bring a bicycle along with you on your train travels through Europe it’s usually possible. Each train and train line’s specific arrangements will vary, so ensure you make inquiries in advance. Happy bicycling!
Taking your Dog or Pet on the Train in Europe
It’s possible to have a pet travel with you on many European trains. Make inquiries well in advance to find out each company’s policies. Be aware that the Eurostar only allows service dogs that are traveling with visually impaired passengers.
Bringing a dog, cat or ferret across a border between countries? You will usually be required to have at minimum one current rabies vaccination. Administer this after a microchip has been implanted and within 21 days prior to travel. Again, it’s crucial that you contact the railways in question to find out their exact policies.
Couchettes & Sleeping Cars on European Trains
Going for a journey that will involve you traveling overnight on a European train? We recommend that you book a couchette or private sleeper. Depending on the train, you might end up having a very unpleasant and sleepless night if you do not!
A couchette is a sleeping berth found in a communal car, usually with four other berths. This means, of course, that you will be sleeping in the same room with other people. A surcharge of $35 is required for clean linen and sheets, a pillow, and blankets. When you book your couchette, you can request your preference of a top, middle, or bottom berth. If you’re tall, make sure to ask about bed lengths. The top berth will probably be shorter. Please be aware that couchette compartments may be co-ed. This depends on the route.
Prefer a more comfortable private sleeper? Book one just for yourself or one to share with your travel companions. When you book a compartment with two or three beds, you will probably pay between $40 to $150 per person. If you book a private sleeper just for yourself, expect to pay a $70 to $190 surcharge.
Dining & Bar Cars on European Trains
Many passengers on European trains bring along snacks to enjoy while they travel. The food available for sale (for example, on sandwich carts) on trains tend to be more expensive.
If your train has a sit-down dining car and/or a bar car, it is typically on the train schedule.
If you’re traveling with a first-class ticket, you might find that there is a meal available free of charge, but if you’re in for a long trip by rail across Europe, I recommend trying to find a train that has a nice dining car and enjoy a full meal while taking in the European Scenery.