Ah...a train trip through Europe. What a lovely way to travel. Quite possibly the best way to travel around Europe.
With so many options and places to go, I asked these well-travelled bloggers for thoughts on the best travel destinations in Europe by train as well advice on what to take, how to get through a busy station and tips for interrailing around Europe.
Toot Toot *blows whistle*
1. Plan wisely and don't bring more than you can carry
When travelling Europe by train, especially if your itinerary includes several countries like a Eurail trip or a grand tour of the best European Christmas markets, it’s important that you do some research first and plan wisely says Laura from Travelers Universe.
It might be tempting to jump all over the map, but any big city in Europe has its wealth of other nearby towns and villages worth seeing and it would be a pity to miss them.
Visiting in clusters will save you a lot of time you’d otherwise spend on trains. While Europe has many scenic routes, you’ll probably still want to spend most of your holiday sightseeing rather than seeing crop fields through a window.
Finally, keep in mind that many train and metro stations in Europe don’t have an elevator and running with large luggage through a busy train platform is no fun. So pack light and work out what your essential items to take interrailing are.
When considering which things to take interrailing bear in mind that you can buy many items on an as-needed basis.
2. Create a memento of your journey
Often when we travel we take photos of the big events but sometimes it's the small moments that can trigger the biggest memory.
Without realising it we keep hold of items that can be future memory makers such as the coaster from the (ridiculously expensive) cafe over-looking the Seine, your entry ticket to Buckingham Palace or the label carefully peeled from that fab Belgium beer.
We do this because we want to freeze time. Yet too often we do nothing with them when we return or worse, we lose them and the moment might be gone forever.
This Europe specific travel wallet and keepsake tin set is one of the best travel accessories and an essential item to take interrailing. You can use it to easily and quickly create a memento of your European trip.
Made from tough yet lightweight Tyvek® you can plot your journey on the write-on atlas-quality map cover and make important notes inside.
And with pockets for your passport and other small documents and travel keepsakes, you'll feel more organised knowing that everything is in one place. It's essential for your interrailing kit list.
The keepsake tin is the perfect place to store your travel stash when you return and with lots of other travel wallets available, you can collect the set!
3. Travelling within Italy? Get around quicker on the La Frecce High-Speed Train
Travelling in Italy is fast and easy on La Frecce, the high-speed trains operated by Trenitalia says Lesley from Freedom 56 Travel
There are 3 different speeds of service, the fastest of which is the Frecciarossa. These trains operate at speeds up to 300km/h!
We took the Frecciarossa from Rome to Pisa and the 355km trip took a quick 2 hours. It really made the day trip from Rome to Pisa possible.
Frecciargenta trains operate at speeds of up to 250/km/hr and Frecciabianca trains go up to 200km/h. It’s a bit odd at first to realize how fast the train is going but it soon becomes routine as the Italian countryside whizzes by.
La Frecce offers four classes of service, from Standard to Executive.
We tried standard and premium and found Standard service very comfortable with great seats with plugins and excellent Wifi. Premium service was very nice and included at-seat catering and wider leather seats.
4. Keep your belongings safe
Train travel in Europe is relatively safe although, as with anywhere, you need to be vigilant says Lee from Travel Scribes.
We’ve unfortunately been the victim of train theft three times – twice on the train itself (a Montblanc pen lifted very easily from our backpack being the worst), and our external hard drive was taken from a coffee shop in the station itself.
Stay alert, try to keep all your valuables close to you, if packing a larger suitcase that might be put in the doorway then put your important documents and items in a small sling bag.
If you can afford it, we’d highly recommend a Pac Safe backpack as an essential item to take interrailing. These backpacks are made with reinforced fabric and sturdy locking systems that are almost impenetrable, whether by a pickpocket or even with a bolt cutter!
5. Getting around Ireland by train
Landing in Dublin without a car and want to visit Galway, Cork or Belfast? Kathleen Lyons from The Ireland Expert suggests using Irish Rail and has given a list of travel options by train as well as recommendations for when you're there.
Dublin-Belfast: From Dublin’s Connolly Station, Enterprise Service reaches Belfast in a little over 2 hours. There you can see the Titanic Centre, eat at Deanes Love Fish, splurge at the Fitzwilliam Hotel or save at Lagan Backpackers hostel.
Dublin-Cork: From Dublin Heuston, venture to young and lively Cork. Walk to Bru Hostel or the Hotel Metropole, enjoy BBQ at White Rabbit, kiss the Blarney Stone!
Dublin-Galway: Less than 3 hours from Heuston Station is artsy Galway, featuring legendary music pubs, Claddagh rings and Aran sweaters. Bunk at Galway City Hostel or the swanky G Hotel and Spa; ferry over to the magical Aran Islands.
So book early, pack light, then relax and enjoy the ride!
6. Journey back in time on The Jacobite steam train, Scotland
Suzanne from Meandering Wild recommends The Jacobite steam train which runs from Fort William to Mallaig in the north west of Scotland. The journey takes just over an hour, usually being pulled by a steam engine.
Passing through deep glens and a number of steep hills before following the Scottish coast with views to islands, it is a magical journey.
Famous for its role in the Harry Potter movies Glenfinnan Viaduct is a highlight of the journey and worth leaving your seat in the old-fashioned carriages. Lean out of the window carefully and you will see the track snaking ahead of you.
To complete this journey you need to book a long way in advance. The seats sell fast when they are released but it is worth the forward planning for such a stunning journey.
7. Get an Interrail Global Pass for maximum flexibility
Karen, who blogs at 'Are we there yet kids' for her interrail Europe tip and she suggested to get the Interrail global pass if you want the freedom to move around with the added bonus that kids go free!
If you’re covering more than one country when exploring Europe by train then an Interrail Global Pass will probably give you the best value for money. Even better, it offers the most freedom and flexibility to go exactly where you choose for as long as you want. Like the look of a place, just hop off, they’ll always be another train!
Interrail has many different options depending on how long you can travel ranging from one country, one week, all the way up to 3 months. All you have to do is decide the best places to go interrailing and plan your route, the possibilities are endless!
We opted for a 3-week pass visiting 5 countries and many beautiful cities. The pass worked out far cheaper than flying or individual train tickets and it was wonderful to know that our tickets would be accepted on any train. Unlike other ways to travel, Interrail doesn’t wack up their prices during peak season and kids are free!
8. Take the Sleeper Train (while you still can)
One of the most efficient and perhaps nostalgic ways to travel across Europe is by sleeper train.
Falling asleep to the rhythm of the rails and waking up to sun breaking over new landscapes holds a special kind of magic for us say Ellie & Ravi from Soul Travel. Unfortunately, interrail night trains across Europe are becoming more and more of a “boutique” experience.
They are either being upgraded as luxury experiences or being scrapped completely. Last year, German operator Deutschebahn cancelled sleeper train routes from Amsterdam to Zurich, Munich and some other cities - which were key features of any journey from North to Southern Europe.
If you want to experience the nostalgia of the interrail overnight train, vote with your feet! The more people booking these trains, the better as it helps to keep them commercially viable in the age of cheap flights.
Sleeper trains can be a great deal on an Inter-rail pass too although they often require a supplement - hotel plus transport in one!
One of our favourite journeys is Amsterdam to Lisbon by train - you get to truly ride the Night train to Lisbon - and you get to see Lisbon Orient Station in the beautiful morning light.
9. The Glacier Express, Switzerland
Some countries are better than others when it comes to squeezing value from a Eurail/Interrail Train Pass.
But few countries are better in value than Switzerland, due to high prices in the country, but also the unbeatable scenery along the way is Allan Wilson's interrail Europe tip.
This includes the Glacier Express, an unbelievably scenic alpine train line crossing the Swiss Alps from Zermatt (a huge attraction in itself) to the resort ski town of Saint Moritz.
It is also known as being “The Slowest Fast Train in the World” due to the steep and windy mountain terrain covered when crossing the Swiss Alps.
The train journey takes nearly 8 hours in total and it passes various attractions including the highest point of the journey at Oberalp Pass, the start of the River Rhine at the Rhine Gorge, and even a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the iconic Landwasser Viaduct. Not to mention the unforgettable scenery of the Swiss Alps.
10. Experience a narrow gauge railway in Bulgaria
Sarah from A Social Nomad's recommends the Bulgarian Narrow Gauge Railway between Dobrinishte and Septemvri.
There are just four trains each way per day that traverse the route from Septemvri to Dobrinishte in the mountains of Bulgaria. This is the final remaining narrow gauge track in the country and the route stops at the highest railway station in the Balkans at Aramovo, 1267 metres above sea level.
This route is a delightfully quaint way to see life in the mountains of Bulgaria.
The track runs for 125 kilometres but takes 5.5 hours to complete the route. These are not just for tourist trains, but usually full of local travellers heading to and from markets.
You’ll normally only find 3 carriages and it’s a fabulous opportunity to bring a picnic and some good Bulgarian wine to enjoy during your journey.
The most famous stops on the route are the ski resort of Bansko (Bulgaria’s largest) and Velingrad, the Bulgarian spa town.
It’s a glorious ride through the countryside of Bulgaria – valleys and mountains and a fabulous slice of rural life.
11. Book a compartment when travelling as a family
Diana from The Elusive Family says that family train travel in Europe can be very accommodating depending on where you are travelling and how you book your tickets.
There are several train lines that have family compartments for short and long-distance travel. In Germany, families are able to book family compartments for train travel across the country and they are often only a few extra euro per seat when booking tickets
The compartments are private with six seats and a table in a room adjacent to the main compartment and separated by a door. This kind of privacy is immensely helpful to parents of small children who require extra privacy.
12. Overnight in a historical library in Wales, United Kingdom
Laura from Ottawa Road Trips recommends spending a day and night in a historical library.
You can step aboard a train at London’s Euston Station and, several hours later, find yourself a century in the past—at least in spirit.
Each day, Virgin Trains runs about a dozen trips between Euston and the small English city of Chester, and the journey takes roughly two hours (direct).
From Chester, it’s a six-mile (10 kilometre) trip by bus or cab to the village of Hawarden in North Wales. And why would you go to Hawarden? For the unique chance to live in a historic library.
Victorian prime minister William Gladstone laid the groundwork for Gladstone’s Library in his home village; it opened in 1902, four years after his death.
In 1906, a residential wing was added, meaning that scholars, book lovers and the just plain curious can live in dorm-like rooms and read vintage volumes - many from Gladstone’s own voluminous collection - from morning to night.
13. Take a journey by train through Spain
Nuria from Sube a la Nabe recommends tourists get a Renfe Spain Pass. There are different passes available depending on the number of trips you want to make: 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 trips.
In addition, with this pass, you can also use free Cercanías trains. If taking short journeys, it's important you validate your ticket to avoid fines - some can be more than 100 euros!
Although Spain is a safe country, and it's unlikely anyone will steal your luggage, it is advisable to have your most valuable personal items in sight.
If you need to buy food for a long trip, it's better to purchase it before you get on the train as it's much cheaper.
In general, the seats are comfortable on most trains but if you have a night journey, you can sleep in a bunk car, it will be more comfortable - although somewhat more expensive.
14. Seek out Vienna's new station - it may surprise you
The Vienna Main Train Station was recently rebuilt to be one of Central Europe’s most important transport hubs.
You will find here an information desk for trips you can take around Austria, in addition to the main ticket office, as well as several ticket vending machines.
For locals, the station itself is becoming increasingly useful as a shopping venue – from supermarkets, drugstores, pharmacies, clothes-, book-, flower- and jewellery stores, to bakeries, fast foods, and a Starbucks, one can find here one of the city’s best-serviced shopping venues.
The advantage is that at least some of these shops are open late in the evenings and on Sundays when pretty much everything else is closed in Vienna.
The station is connected to the city centre by the metro line U1, which makes it an ideal place to stay in Vienna.
There are several high-quality hotel chains around, like Motel One or the Novotel.
A direct train takes you from here to the airport in less than 20 minutes.
No matter when you visit Vienna, the local railway company will have season-specific day trips by train available to you so you can see the Wachau Valley in spring, visit Hallstatt in autumn, or drop by the Salzburg Christmas market while in Vienna. Just make sure to visit their information desk.
15. Get out of the city!
Sinead from Map Made Memories feels that when travelling through Europe by train, many travellers tend to visit the principal major cities and often overlook rural parts of the country.
Most European countries have extensive train networks so getting out and about into the countryside is easier than you may think.
We travelled through Europe by train with our three children and became jaded with visiting busy, expensive cities.
We decided to take two consecutive train trips into rural Switzerland, connected with a cable car and spent a glorious week 1, 200 metres up the side of a Swiss mountain in a tranquil car-free village!
We met more local people and learned more about the local culture than we had in any of the cities we had previously visited.
I hope you've found lots of ideas for your trip to Europe and agree that travelling by train is one of the best ways to travel around Europe.
Do check out the Europe Travel Wallet so you create a special memento of your journey.
Before you go, you might enjoy these articles:
- How to keep yourself entertained on a long flight
- Useful gifts for someone going travelling
- Considering a group trip? Find out if group travel is for you
- Ways to save money on travel mediation & vaccinations
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