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Rail Europe – travel in style

Rail Europe – travel in style
A train journey through Europe. Going on a big rail trip is a dream I had since I was young and the Trans Siberian is still on my list. Traveling by train is charming and it can take you back in time. Europe is a perfect area for a continental rail trip. High-speed rails connect most capitals in Europe. Other cities are all connected with thousands of kilometers of railroad. Everything is available for a legendary rail journey through this wonderful continent.

High-speed Trains

Most capitals in Europe are connected by high-speed rail. These don’t really take you back in time. 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 pretty quickly. 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 Trains

There are plenty of night trains between cities in Europe. This list on the Interrail website is pretty complete. 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 and save money on accommodation. Night trains are a unique way of traveling and it reminds me of games like “Orient Express” which can get your imagination go wild.

City Night Line – Our experience – This train doesn’t run anymore

The City Night Line runs different routes in Europe. We took the CNL from Prague back to Cologne. It’s 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.

Jan Kiepura – Our experience – This train doesn’t run anymore

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.

Regional Trains

Regional trains vary greatly between different countries. Some countries have a wonderful railway system, like Germany. The Deutsche Bahn has a great website and a great train network. Other countries are slower to travel 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 into local scenery, sometimes it’s easier to find a bus than to travel great detours to get to a destination.

Great Scenery

Europe offers a lot of scenic train rides, many of which we still need to travel. This web page lists a lot of the scenic trains in one place. 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.

Sit or sleep?

Most trains in Europe have options to sit in first or second class. If the train is crowded, you might be sitting on the floor or stand in between seats. This depends on the traject and the timing of your trip. We’ve been on an extremely crowded train between Budapest and Prague. For day travel, only seated options are available. Night trains have sleeping options as well as sitting options. We don’t recommend traveling a night train seated and would always choose to sleep during an overnight trip.

Sleeping car

Sleeping car cabins are private and can have a variety of beds. You can buy tickets in 2, 3 or 4 person cabins. Tickets get cheaper if you share your accommodation with more people. So if you pay a little more, you can have a romantic night in a small, private bunk bed cabin which has everything you need. Bathrooms are usually shared.

Couchettes

Couchettes usually sleep six people and are the most economic way to travel by night. Like dorm bunk beds, you can buy a ticket for a bed and five random travelers will join you. Couchettes are great for budget travel and solo travelers. It’s a good way to meet other travelers on the road and save on accommodation.

Interrail – Eurail

Interrail is a European enterprise which makes train travel in Europe less complicated. While each country has it’s own railway system, website and booking system, Interrail combines everything in one pass. Not completely hassle free, the Interrail option is less complicated, but it will probably cost you more than traveling independent. If your amount of time is limited, Interrail is a good option to take care of transportation and bookings in one place, instead of losing precious time on translating different websites.

The pass

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.

Other costs

After buying your Rail Pass, it will be sent to you by email. 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, 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

Reservations need to be made days before the trip. This takes away all spontaneity of your travels, but most long distance trains require a reservation. The price of the reservation depends on the country and the type of ticket. Night trains and high-speed trains are more expensive. After booking your tickets, a seat will be assigned to you.

How to use it

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.

The app

The Interrail app is a great asset for traveling. You can use it offline and it has pretty accurate timetables of all trains. The app shows you 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.

Keeping it cheap

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.

Useful links

The man in Seat 61 

This website is by far the best resource for train travel all over 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.

Interrail for Europeans

If you’re European or have an address in Europe, you can buy an Interrail pass.

Eurail for non-Europeans

People who don’t have a European passport will have to buy a Eurail pass.

Find train schedules in Europe

These gadgets are useful for long train rides!

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About The Author

Inge

My name is Inge. I’m a traveler, writer and photographer. All those things I want to share with you. I’ve traveled a lot and wish to explore some more unknown territory.

34 Comments

  1. Kavey at Kavey Eats

    What a great overview of the joys and practicalities of train travel in Europe. I love fast speed train travel in particular!

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting! High speed trains are the best 😀

      Reply
  2. Sam the Writer

    This is an incredibly useful post – I have bookmarked it and I will certainly be using it for my plans! ❤

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you like it 😀

      Reply
  3. Kat

    Thanks for this great post, I wouldn’t know where to start if I was trying to it out on my own. I caught trains in Italy and got in trouble because I accidentally sat in the first class carriage (it looked exactly the same to me!).

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting 😀 it can get complicated if things like that happen 😉

      Reply
  4. Megan Rose

    This is a great article, very informative. I live in Spain and we use the Renfe, with the AVE being the highspeed version. It has been such a time and money saver, as cheaper flights for us moving back and forth between Europe and North America always land in Madrid. With the train we can make it to the other cities in no time and way cheaper than the flights!

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting! Sounds like a solid reason to use high speed trains 🙂

      Reply
  5. 100cobbledroads

    I think train journeys are simply the best way to travel. Lots of useful information in your post. Will surely check out ‘The man in Seat 61’

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting. You should find everything you need to know about trains on that web site!

      Reply
  6. danik

    I love train travel in Europe and always take a bed for the night trains. Trains in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are interesting./…. best to get drunk on those and hope for the best 😀

    Reply
    • Inge

      😀 thanks for commenting! Same counts for China! Just get drunk 😋

      Reply
  7. kidsandcompass

    Very useful post; I wouldn’t have expected a shower on a train, nor a 3 storey bunk bed! I’ve always liked the idea of inter railing in the summer and your tips are great. Agree that Man in Seat 61 is super useful too.

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for your comment! I didn’t expect the shower either. It was a fun extra 🙂

      Reply
  8. SherianneKay

    I have thought about taking a night train but have not. Not loving the idea of getting out of the top bunk at 3 am for the restroom!

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for your comment! I guess you can get a sleeper with two beds, or just take the bottom bed 🙂

      Reply
  9. kjaroundtheworld

    Great information to know. I’ve never done Europe by train, seems like an interesting way to travel. I did the overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, so this would be a great way to see Europe on a budget.

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting! We haven’t used an overnight ferry before. I guess we should try that 🙂

      Reply
  10. Tom

    Train travel is still the best, much better than any other type. I wish for the days of long train voyages across the continent, with steamer trunks and inspector Poirot in the next compartment.

    Reply
    • Inge

      Great comment! Thanks! I’m with you on that one. Those long cross continent voyages are still there. You could travel from Paris to Vladivostok without ever leaving the train or train station 🙂

      Reply
  11. wanderlust vegans

    The rail pass looks like a great way to travel. We never did a night train but it looks like it is pretty fun. The top bed looks like ti is pretty high up.

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for commenting! It’s an interesting way of travel indeed. And the third bed is very close to the ceiling… So very high up!

      Reply
  12. Lara

    Traveling with trains may be slow sometimes but it has that romantic touch and it is the best way to see the country scenery. Love your post, very informative, thanks!

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked it 🙂 It’s a romantic way to travel. We loved it 🙂

      Reply
  13. WorldGlimpses

    I loved to travel by train when I was a kid, and it reminds me ever since on those family trips, sleeping on the train and waking up to some place at the seaside or to charming unknown cities. That is probably why I still enjoy traveling by train, even though I don’t do it that often any more. But when I see a post like yours… Oh well, it makes me want to book one first thing! 🙂

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for your comment 😀 I’m glad to hear you liked it! Maybe it’s time to go on another train adventure!

      Reply
  14. Ana Ojha

    What a great rail-connectivity Europe has! I wish if the same would have been scene in the US! I took the AMTRAK few years back when I was traveling from Niagara to NYC!

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for your comment! The US seems more inviting for a road trip, which is on our list too 😀

      Reply
  15. woodyworldpacker

    Being originally from the Netherlands I did quite a few train trips through Europe, but one on our bucket list is definitely Euro Tripping by train. I think travelling by train is just a very relaxed way to travel.

    Reply
    • Inge

      Thanks for your comment. It is very relaxed indeed… Better than navigating a car through Barcelona or another big city. The train drops you right in the city center, hassle free.

      Reply
  16. Birthe (from Wandering the World)

    We were thinking about a road trip through Europe, but maybe we should consider a rail trip instead. Europe is indeed known for its extensive rail network, so maybe it’s silly not to use it? We do travel regularly by train in Belgium: we used to travel to Leuven every week to study and now we’re often going to the airport by train, or maybe to Antwerp or the coast. We did travel to London by train once and are heading to Paris by train in a couple of weeks!

    Reply
    • Inge

      Sounds great! We choose the train over our car a lot when traveling in Belgium. We really like it being hassle free and a relaxing way to travel. Same goes for travel to the airport. It’s so easy 😀 Have fun in Paris!

      Reply
  17. Erika

    This post made me nostalgic! So many great tips and resources too! Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Inge

      It’s great to hear that! Thanks 😀

      Reply

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