Thousands of images from paintings to films featuring sweeping scenes of shiny black engines chugging along a bucolic countryside have sparked the wanderlust of many a prospective vacationer. There is probably no continent better situated for rail travel than in Europe. The proximity of countries and the ease of travel between borders allows you to experience many destinations in one trip while taking in the spectacle of an ever-changing landscape.
Here are some pro-tips I have put together that will make travelling across Europe by rail a breeze.
Why Choose Rail
As I mentioned before, Europe is uniquely suited for rail travel because of the relatively short distances between countries. However, the main reason to choose a rail journey in Europe is the scenery. There is no equal to seeing the beautiful European countryside from the window of a carriage. The bird’s eye view from an aeroplane diminishes the best features of the landscape and the scenes from the roadways of the continent cannot compare to the views to be had from a mountainside or remote valley. In addition to that, many of the major lines allow for stops in major cities. While there are many benefits to grabbing a cheap flight to Madrid, imagine getting off in the city centre, bags already in hand without having to navigate customs or hustle a taxi into town.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to grab a Eurail Pass if you plan to go to more than two countries during your European holiday. Point to point train travel is affordable but you will be saving loads more money by booking a pass that allows you to travel to multiple countries. The Eurail Pass also allows for travel during a large time window.
Local vs National vs International
If you have more time than money, consider taking a train with more frequent stops. In many European countries, there are local, national, and international trains. Local trains are the cheapest but stop at every station on a line. This can give you a great opportunity to experience a country like a local and see the cities and countryside the way they do. National trains are faster and provide express travel between major cities. They are faster and a little pricier than local trains but if you are time-poor, this may be the way to go. As the name suggests, international trains connect countries on the continent and often offer stops in the centre of major cities. These tickets are the most expensive but as I pointed out earlier, a Eurail Pass can offer amazing value if you plan to hit a few countries in Europe and want a bit of flexibility to do so.
Many persons seem to treat train travel with less urgency than air travel. Forget what you’ve seen in the movies, running after a train screaming “wait!” won’t make the engineer stop for you. It’s not fine to show up at the last minute to buy a ticket or arrive at the station with only five minutes to spare. If you are standing on the line waiting after the departure time, the train will roll out of the station without you. Planning can save you time, money and disappointment. If you travel at off-peak hours you will have the benefit of getting cheaper tickets as well.
If you can help it, travel with two carry-on size pieces of luggage at the most. Not being weighed down by excessive amounts of luggage makes travel more comfortable and getting on and off the train easier.
Reserve a Seat When You Can
If you are travelling between countries, nothing is a bigger pain than having to give your seat up for someone who has reserved theirs. Trust me, you want to be able to sit in a comfortable seat and gaze out of the window and not have to view the continent looking over someone’s shoulder while standing.
Train travel gives you the ability to be swept up in the romance of the European landscape while allowing you to access major cities with half the hassle of going through an airport. Booking a rail journey just requires a little planning and is so easy it can be done with ease by both the expert and novice traveller alike.