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Top Tips for Rail Travel in Europe

by Hacked By ofırlamaadam on October 8, 2012

Top Tips for Rail Travel in Europe

Matt and I had the pleasure of visiting Europe this summer to promote the Return to Europe Giveaway. In just three weeks, we boarded 40 trains in 20 cities across 15 countries. Along the way, we missed trains, stood in long lines, showed up at wrong stations, got fined, blew our budget, and even got off a couple of times at the wrong stop. It was a whirlwind, a lot of fun, and certainly a reeducation of the European rail system.  

In this post, we share our top tips for rail travel in Europe.
Overview of Rail Travel in Europe. Check out the free Beginner’s Guide to Buying and Using Eurail and Other European Rail Passes on Matt has been known to be an over-planner and Seat61 satisfied every one of his many detailed questions. The section he loved the most was the Country-by-Country Eurail Guide, which includes specific supplement and reservation costs you can expect to pay throughout Europe. Great tool for the uber-budget planner. 
Basic Tips. Just because you have a rail pass doesn’t mean you can hop onto any train. Always make sure the train you plan to take is covered by your Eurail or other European rail pass. Always fill out the date of travel before the ticket officer requests to see your pass. Note that if your train departs after 7pm and arrives after 4am, use the date of the NEXT travel day. Finally, don’t forget to activate your rail pass at the station before boarding your first train.

Supplements and Other Fees. Supplements and other fees can really cramp your style if you don’t know to expect them in advance. For us, the biggest stinger was the cost of overnight and high speed trains, especially in France (the worst), Portugal, and Spain. To check whether your train charges a supplement or other fee, ask at the train station when you arrive at your departure city.

Seat Reservations. Some trains require that you reserve a seat. To guarantee your spot, check whether your train requires a fee and pay the fee in advance. You can do this at any railway station. and (see are helpful sites for researching reservation costs, which can vary greatly depending on your journey (sometimes as high as $80). 
Where to Book Your Tickets. At some point on your trip, you may need to book a ticket for travel in a country not covered by your rail pass. We found it easy and convenient to purchase tickets at the railway station instead of online. Since most of the railways work together, you can usually book onward travel from any city in Europe. Booking in smaller cities can save you the trouble of waiting in long lines in major cities like Paris or Berlin.
Wifi Access. Very few trains offer wifi for free. Some trains do have outlets so you’ll be able to charge your electronics. We don’t remember many train stations offering free wifi either so don’t count on it. Remember to write down directions to your hostel and other useful things like the currency exchange rate (if traveling to a country that doesn't use the Euro) before arriving at the train station.

Useful Links for Checking Train Schedules and Booking Tickets. Always check your train’s departure time before heading to the station. You can find schedules online at the Austrian Railway website (, which covers all of Europe, including small towns and international connections. Germany’s DB website ( is also a good resource.

Rail travel in Europe is synonymous with backpacking in Europe. The freedom and flexibility you'll have with a rail pass is convenient and liberating. There is simply no better way to see Europe. For your next trip, check to see which rail pass is right for you.