8 tips for travelling by train in Europe

Jools Stone

written by
Jools Stone

updated 28.11.2018

Let's be honest, budget flights have their uses, but they're a boring way to travel in Europe, and who wants to navigate motorways or be stuffed into a clammy bus when crossing the continent?

You'll see and experience far more by hitting the rails and embarking on a European train adventure, while the InterRail (AKA Eurail) system rewards travellers intent on conquering multiple countries and cultures in one epic trip.

1. Know your passes

If you're planning to see a fair chunk of the continent it may be wise to consider investing in an InterRail pass (or Eurail as they're known outside of Europe).

Sadly InterRail is not the bargain it once was, thanks to supplements applied to many routes, so individual tickets may work out cheaper (especially if you're mainly travelling east of Germany), so it pays to do some research before you go. Websites like Seat 61 and Loco2 are indispensable resources to help plan your trip across Europe.



2. Experience a night train

Europe's network of night trains isn't as extensive as it used to be – thanks to the axe falling on several in recent years – but there are still plenty of options. These days night trains will whisk you from the likes of Amsterdam to Zürich, and from Paris to Venice, via Milan.

A night on the Euro-rails needn't cost the earth either. You can bag a bunk in a shared single-sex cabin from as little as €30 if you book in advance. And if you're prepared to splurge you can enjoy a private cabin with toilet and shower, and a continental breakfast delivered to your cabin by your steward – who'll happily wake you in good time for your stop.

The main advantage of sleepers is that you can save travel time by zipping around the continent while you sleep, but equally they're a fun travel experience which deserves a place on your bucket list. The feeling of putting your head down in Prague and waking up as you pull into Krakow is hard to top, even for the most seasoned rail travellers.

Train station at night

Pixabay /


3. Decide whether to go slow or high tail it

Europe's plethora of high speed services is a serious boon for rail travellers, making it easy to traverse entire regions and borders in an afternoon. Most countries in western Europe have excellent operators such as Germany's ICE, the Low Countries' Thalys, France's TGV and Italy's Thello.

But if you're not gallivanting at pace (and why would you be, if you've chosen trains over planes?) do bear in mind that slower routes often reward you with superior scenery.

Some of Europe's most scenic journeys include Portugal's Douro Valley line, Norway's Flam Railway and the Centovalli Railway through the Italian and Swiss Alps.

So whether you take it slow and stop to smell the proverbial flowers, or dash around the map notching up destinations, boils down to your personal travel style.



4. Stay safe

Statistically speaking, rail travel is still one of the safest modes of transport, with trains claiming on average only seven passenger lives per year, according to one recent study. (Despite the headline-grabbing disasters, planes are still statistically twice as safe, you may be surprised to learn.)

Providing you take all the usual common sense precautions, European rail travel is generally safe, but it pays to be vigilant at major stations, especially at night, and keep an eye out for your bags, stowing away all valuables.

If you're using night trains it might be worth investing in a basic bike lock to tether your luggage to something sturdy for total peace of mind, as opportunistic bag theft is probably the greatest threat you'll face.



5. Get a room near the rails

Once you travel through continental Europe you may be pleasantly surprised to see the range of accommodation options that open out to you, from the opulent grand hotels originally built for the railways' Victorian-era boom, to cheap and cheerful hostels, Airbnb-style rentals and quirkier options such as boats, former lighthouses and windmills.

Many can be found within easy strolling distance of city stations, though you may prefer staying a little further out from all the clamour which these busy transport hubs inevitably bring.

6. Mind your Language

Brush up on your basics with an app like


and study the public transport section of your phrasebook. Even the most fleeting familiarity with the vagaries of the Cyrillic alphabet will be useful for large areas of eastern Europe, especially when it comes to deciphering those all-important station signs and departure boards.


© Aleksandr Kurganov/ Shutterstock

7. Dinner in the diner: nothing could be finer

Another of rail travel's simple pleasures is savouring a leisurely meal in the dining car.

Most continental trains worth their spicy sausage will offer meals, some serving surprisingly high quality cuisine, with Pullman-style dining on actual china tableware, so make sure you get to enjoy your Weiner Schnitzel while the Tyrolean scenery scrolls serenely by.

That said, it's worth doing your homework in advance for longer journeys and maybe bringing a packed lunch, as some trains (especially in the Balkans and other parts of eastern Europe) offer no onboard catering whatsoever.

8. Pack some Print

Apps and websites are useful, but for those times when you need to conserve your precious smartphone's battery or when you just can’t get reliable wi-fi, a hard copy of the Rail Map of Europe and the European Rail Timetable will stand you in good stead – particularly if you're planning your journey on the hoof and need to see at a glance how different routes interconnect. And, of course, always pack your favourite trusted guidebook.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Header image Pixabay / CC0.

Jools Stone

written by
Jools Stone

updated 28.11.2018

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