Boarding a train to take you from city to city is without a doubt the best way to travel through Europe. It’s romantic, magical and inspiring — not to mention the fact that it can save you a fortune on flying between cities or countries! That’s the best thing about European train travel: you can have breakfast in Paris, lunch in Brussels and dinner in Rome, all while enjoying the breathtaking views.
While it promises to be the trip of a lifetime, you do need to keep a few things in mind before you head off on your adventure. Unfamiliar cities, stations and languages could all potentially derail part of your journey, so I’ve decided to share some essential tips that will explain everything you need to know to confidently travel by train in Europe.
Essential Guide To Train Travel In Europe
Pack Light, Travel Light
Mobility can be a game changer when traveling on Europe’s rail network and your trips will be less stressful if you’re not battling to haul your luggage on and off unfamiliar trains every few hours.
Packing reasonably and using a small to medium sized suitcase will mean you can store your bags in the overhead racks on trains instead of at the end of the carriage. On a busy train with a short stop at a station, the last thing you want is to get trapped while trying to reach your bag on the far side of the car!
Packing light also means you’ll have more freedom to explore short layovers; whether it’s a charming village or bustling city, less weight equals more flexibility.
Read more: The Ultimate Carry-On Packing Guide
Even though it might already be a permanent item on your packing list wherever you go, this wouldn’t be a complete guide without including an E-reader (or cordless headphones if you prefer to listen to books on Audible directly from your phone).
The stunning scenery around European rail routes is famous for its mountain landscapes, especially around the Alps and in many parts of Norway and Sweden and this unfortunately means one thing…tunnels! The Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland can take up to 25 minutes to cross, so bringing something to occupy your time will make these trips that much more enjoyable.
Read more: How to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
To Buy or Not to Buy a Rail Pass
This one depends mostly on which countries you’ll be visiting during your travels. However, you can still buy rail passes for just one specific country. For instance, if you’re only going to be travelling France by train and nowhere else, then opt for a France Rail Pass, but if you’re going to be covering 4 or 5 countries in Europe then think about getting a Eurail Pass.
These are hard to beat in terms of value, valid in 28 countries and can be stretched out for up to two months!
Read more: 10 Best Tips for Traveling Europe
Should I Reserve a Seat?
Though not every train asks you to pre-book your exact seat before travelling, it’s a good idea to do so in certain countries, particularly Spain, Italy and France. These are some of the most popular countries to travel in and their railways don’t always save seats for rail pass holders.
The last thing you want is to be asked to give up your seat because it’s reserved on someone else’s ticket and then find there are no more seats! A quick visit to the rail line website will outline reservation costs and requirements.
Although spontaneously grabbing tickets at the station and venturing off to a new place every day may seem like a romantic idea, it isn’t entirely realistic — or economical. Planning ahead should start with figuring out your route and which countries you want to visit.
Buying your pass online will save you money, time and most importantly, you’ll be confident that you’ll get to your destination rather than running the risk of tickets getting sold out and having nowhere to stay for the night.
Read more: How to Travel Expensive Countries Affordably
Opt for Night Passes
There’s a certain magic to being gently rocked to sleep in a comfortable carriage and waking up to Europe’s fairytale landscapes. An experience in itself, booking a sleeper train is also practical for a number of reasons.
It will save you money on booking a hotel for the night and you’ll be rested for the next day. Make sure you decide whether you want a couchette setup, which are shared cabins, or a sleeper, which is a private cabin. Remember that some railways have exclusively male or female cabins and always check whether a night journey counts as just one or more than one day of travel on your rail pass!
Know Your Station
Although the same goes for airports and general city traveling, when it comes to European rail stations, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to get lost and miss a connection.
With one of the largest train station densities in the world, it’s always handy to place your station on a map so you know what is nearby if you’re going to explore, or run to another station to grab your next train. For instance, Basel in Switzerland has two stations of the same name in completely different places, so always know where you’re headed!
Be Aware of Your Luggage and Pickpockets
Again, this goes without saying wherever you are in the world but with all the excitement of rushing to catch trains on time in crowded stations, it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of your luggage or your other personal belongings. Europe is an extremely civilized place and the trains themselves are a dream, but it’s always a good idea to keep a close eye on your belongings.