Train travel speaks to the imagination and has the power to take you back to times that are long gone. European train travel is no exception to this. It is actually the best place to experience train travel the way it’s supposed to be!
Even though a lot of options for high-speed train travel in Europe are available now, it’s still very easy to find an old-school, wobbly train in Europe. Everything is available for a legendary train journey through this wonderful continent.
In this Europe train travel guide, we explain the best way to travel Europe by train. We also talk about the Europe train pass options, like the Interrail Europe rail passes.
Keep reading to learn more about how to travel Europe by train.
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Europe rail passes
How does interrail works
Interrail is a European enterprise which makes train travel in Europe easy and straightforward.
While each country has its own railway system, website and booking system, Interrail combines everything in one Europe train pass.
If your amount of time is limited, Interrail is a great option to take care of transportation and bookings in one place, without losing precious time on translating different websites.
Interrail plan your trip
Pass prices vary depending on the formula your itinerary requires. Do you want to visit one country or more? How many days will you be traveling? This website has a nice overview of the possible passes and prices.
There is a nice selection of possibilities. You can choose to travel to one country, multiple countries of your choice or travel the entire continent with one single pass and their convenient rail planner app.
Tips for the interrail Europe rail passes
Extra cost after getting your rail pass
After buying your Rail Pass, it will be sent to you by mail.
You’ll still be required to make reservations for a lot of trains. These reservations are not included and you have to pay a reservation fee and an extra fee for the seat or bed you’re booking.
There are options to travel just for the price of the pass, without taking train lines that require reservations, but it allows you to only travel on trips that don’t require reservations. For night trains or high-speed trains, you always pay extra.
Reservations and train status
Reservations need to be made well before the trip. This takes away some spontaneity of your travels, but most long-distance trains require a reservation.
It might be necessary to book your seat on some train lines, because of the number of travelers that use the train. If you’re late with booking, the train status may have changed and all seats might be sold.
How to use the interrail pass?
For each train you embark, you need to write down your location and destination. The date must be entered as well. Once you started a travel day, you can get on and off as many trains as you like during the entire day. So the best practice is to make a travel day really a travel day.
For night trains, special rules like the 7 PM rule, apply. This rule allows you to use only one day for a night train instead of two days. Read more about the 7 PM rule here.
How to use the rail planner app?
The Interrail / Eurail rail planner app is a great asset for train travel in Europe and it is the best rail planner app I’ve used so far. You can use it offline and it has pretty accurate timetables and train times for all train lines in Europe. If you’re online, you can see live train times and casual delays.
The app shows you the train status and if you can get on the train for free or need a reservation. We thought the app was a great resource and we used it a lot during our trip. It’s convenient for all train schedules and not just the night trains and high-speed trains. This app doubles as a train journey planner.
Cheap train tickets
Taking trains without a reservation is definitely cheaper, but not always the best option. If you’re on a tight schedule, you don’t want to take 6 trains when you can do the same trip with a single train. But you’ll probably pay more.
Depending on your itinerary, you can choose the perfect rail pass to match your train journey. Passes for one country are often cheaper than continental rail passes.
Types of trains in Europe
High-speed train travel in Europe
Most capitals in Europe are connected with high-speed train line. These don’t really take you back in time, but they do take you to your destination pretty quickly.
The high-speed trains are modern and sleek. You can travel between Berlin, Prague, Rome, Paris and many other metropoles in a few days. While a TGV, Thalys, Eurostar or ICE train can set you back a few euros, you can be sure to reach your destination in a very short amount of time and train schedules are accurate.
Fast train lines offer accurate train schedules on state-of-the-art train lines and with regular departures and train times.
High-speed trains cover a lot of ground in just a few hours and are perfect for capital hopping in Europe. Once you try to get more rural, you’ll have to switch to the slower, regional trains.
Night train travel in Europe
There are plenty of night trains between major cities in Europe. Recently, a lot of night trains have changed ownership and things have changed in the world of night trains.
The great thing about night trains is going to sleep in one place and waking up hundreds of kilometers further in your journey.
I do miss watching the landscape change, but it’s still a great way to cover a lot of ground quickly while saving money on accommodation.
Deciding on how to travel night trains: sitting our sleeping, can be difficult too.
Check our guide on night trains to make a decision!
Travel back in time - Deprecated night train Jan Kiepuru - Our experience
We took the Jan Kiepura from Cologne (Germany) to Poznan (Poland). The train seemed pretty old but sufficient. We shared a 3 person cabin with another traveler who joined us in Berlin. This gave us time to arrange our stuff and clear the small cabin before a third traveler had to get her luggage in. Getting into the top bed is not easy. Getting out of it is even harder, especially if you’re trying not to wake other passengers. Descending three floors into a dark, narrow cave on your way to the bathroom at 3 AM: not recommended.
Travel back in time - Deprecated night train City night line - Our experience
The City Night Line ran different routes in Europe. Currently, it’s not called City Night line anymore since it has been taken over. Now you can take the NightJet and EuroNight trains instead. We took the CNL from Prague back to Cologne. It was obviously newer and better equipped than the Jan Kiepura. We slept in a private double cabin which was more luxurious than a three-person cabin we took a week before. A few doors next to us was a real bathroom with a shower. Even if you don’t really need a shower, I must admit that it’s impossible to resist. Taking a shower on a train: check! It’s a bit wobbly and your shoes might get wet, but it’s a very cool thing to do.
Regional and National train travel in Europe
Regional trains greatly vary between different countries. While some countries, like Germany, Spain, and Italy have a wonderful railway system. Other countries are slower to travel by rail once you leave the capital, like Hungary or Slovakia.
Try to get from Zakopane in Poland to Debrecen in Hungary.
Although slow travel has a lot of charm and indulges you in local scenery, sometimes it’s easier to find a bus than to travel great detours to get to a destination.
Top scenic train rides in Europe
Europe offers a lot of scenic train rides, many of which we still need to travel.
Check out our article about the most scenic train lines in Europe to find out more interesting train trips.
The Bernina Express takes you over the bridges and through the tunnels seen in the Harry Potter movies and is a must travel trip when in Switzerland.
The sceneries on these trips take you through tunnels, over bridges and through all kinds of stunning landscapes.
Europe also has a few interesting record-breaking train lines and takes on extreme rail tracks, long tunnels, and desolate train stations.
Useful train travel links
The man in seat 61
The man in Seat 61 is the resource to fall back to before traveling by train.
This website is by far the best resource for train travel in Europe and the rest of the world. We check it whenever we even think about taking a train outside of our home country.
The owner, Mark, has a passion for trains. He’s put a lot of work into this great website and it shows.
GoEuro is one the best and easy-to-use rail planners for Europe. They have platforms for planning train trips as well as checking prices for airplane tickets and bus tickets across the entire continent of Europe.
Loco2 is a train planner website where you can book your international train tickets for all of Europe. The Loco2 website and train route planner are easy to use and convenient because you can check your train travel itinerary and buy your train tickets at once.
Interrail for European citizens
If you’re European resident or have an address in Europe, you can buy an Interrail pass. The Interrail pass is perfectly suited for train travel in Europe. It’s the exact same thing as the Eurail pass. Choosing which one to buy isn’t really choosing as it entirely depends on your residency. Get your Interrail Pass here!
Eurrail for non-European residents
People who don’t have a European passport or you’re not a European resident, you will have to get a Eurail pass. The Eurail pass is the non-European solution for the Interrail pass and it’s great for train travel in Europe. Get your Eurail pass here!