Exploring Europe by Rail: What You Need to Know3 min read
Traveling by train through Europe is an enjoyable and economical alternative to flying from country to country. Not to mention, you’ll see some of the world’s most magnificent scenery right outside your window instead of 20,000 feet below. However, it’s not quite as simple as just buying a ticket and hopping on the next available train. You’ll need a carefully planned itinerary, an efficient packing strategy, and a sense of adventure.
If you decide to skip the airport in favor of the train for your next trip through Europe, here are some of the basics you should think through before embarking.
Buying Your Ticket
It’s important to spend some time reviewing your options for train tickets. The most popular is option is Eurail, which will help you save money in certain situations, but not all. You’ll need to decide which type of pass we’ll best suit your needs and plans. The options for Eurail are:
- Global Pass: Global passes offer unlimited travel on all railways in Europe (United Kingdom excluded). This pass gives you access to 28 countries and is a great option for extended travel and longer stays.
- Select Passes: Select passes are great if you want to explore regions in Europe, and are available for travel between two, three, or four countries.
- One Country Pass: If you’re planning to stay within one country for your entire stay, the one-country pass is your best bet for access to regional and high speed trains that will take you from city to city.
First and Second Class Travel
You’ll also have to decide on first or second class travel if you’re 25 years old or younger (all adults over 26 years old must purchase a first class ticket). The amenities are a little better in first class, including Wi-Fi access, snacks and drinks, larger seats, and smaller crowds.
A Eurail pass offers other benefits beyond the train as well, including discounts on ferry routes, hotels, and museums.
Making the Most of the Night
You can save valuable time by traveling through Europe at night, but keep in mind that most night trains require a reservation at an additional cost. Most European trains have several options for sleeping: a private cabin (1st class), a couchette, which is a cabin that accommodates up to six people (2nd class), or a reclining seat (2nd class). If you reserve a cabin or couchette, pillows and blankets are provided for your comfort; if you opt for a reclining seat, which is similar to an airplane seat, bring your own pillow and blanket.
Dining Options on the Train
Most long-distance trains will have a dining car where you can purchase breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The food is high quality but can be expensive. Trains traveling shorter durations will frequently have snack carts offering light fare. If you’re a particularly picky eater or on a budget, you may want to buy food at the station or in a local market before boarding the train.
Finally, keep in mind that most Europeans travel light so space for your luggage will be limited on a train, especially if you’re traveling in 2nd class. You will have a little more room in 1st class, but generally still less space than you would on an airplane. Pack accordingly.
Traveling by train can be a great option in Europe since countries are relatively close together. You can have breakfast in Munich and dinner in Barcelona if you plan carefully, save the time you would spend in security lines at the airport, and see the continent from an entirely different perspective.
Image courtesy of Huffington Post.