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How to travel by train in Europe – Quick Guide 2024

This guide on How to travel by train in Europe will give you valuable information and key tips for planning your travel itinerary.

Carolina S.

January 1, 2024

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The reason why you’re reading this post is because your trip to the European continent is just around the corner. That’s why we have put together this quick guide on how to travel by train in Europe so that you can include it in your travel itinerary, mainly if this is the first time you’re using this means of transportation to explore the most popular tourist destinations on the continent.

Here we will tell you what you should know before traveling, how the train system works, what the requirements are that you must meet as well as the instructions to avoid missing any detail of your trip.

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Everything you need to know before traveling by train in Europe

The train is one of the best alternatives to travel through different cities, countries, and regions at your own pace. However, for the best experience, you have to spend time researching and planning the destinations, schedules, routes, types of passes, and reservations you may need so that you don’t run into surprises and issues abroad.

For starters, we invite you to take a look at the most frequently asked questions from travelers about how trains work in Europe, which will give you the basics you need to plan your trip.

What’s the name of the train that travels throughout Europe?

Broadly speaking, it is not just one train that travels all over Europe, but several railway companies are operating in different regions of the continent. Each of them offers varying types of coverage (local, regional, and international), so keep this in mind when planning your routes and buying your rail passes.

Here is a list of the most important rail operators by country:

  • Deutsche Bahn – Germany
  • Österreichische Bundesbahnen – Austria
  • National Railway Company – Belgium
  • Renfe – Spain
  • Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer – France
  • Trenitalia – Italy
  • Italo (high-speed trains) – Italy
  • Nederlandse Spoorwegen – Netherlands
  • National Rail (multiple operators) – United Kingdom
  • Eurostar (high-speed trains) – United Kingdom
  • Swiss Federal Railways – Switzerland

So, as you can see, every country has its own national (and/or private) train enterprise, making it convenient because when buying a ticket or rail pass, you only need to look for the company’s website and purchase online; or, go to the train stations.

Types of rail pass in Europe and how to differentiate between them

There are two (2) main types of rail passes in Europe and you can easily distinguish them according to the target audience. The first one is called Interrail Pass and they aim services for European citizens and residents. Secondly, there is the Eurail Pass for local and international travelers. Each one has different types of passes, services, coverage, and fares.

Eurail-Pass-to-travel-by-train-around-Europe
Types of rail pass in Europe / Source: eurail.com

With Interrail Pass, Europeans and residents have two options: 1. Interrail Global Pass to travel through 30 European countries; and 2. Interrail One Country Pass to travel to a single country, within the covered destinations.

Meanwhile, Eurail Pass offers travelers three types of passes: 1. Global Pass to travel through 33 European countries; 2. Select Pass to travel through 2, 3, or 4 countries; and 3. One Country Pass to visit only one country.

Types of trains in Europe

As per information found on eurail.com, Europe has different types of trains. There are high-speed modern trains; night trains for those travelers who don’t want to waste time while resting; regional trains that travel all over Europe; and scenic trains for tourists who want to find the most beautiful landscapes.

Types-of-train-in-Europe
Types of trains in Europe / Source: eurail.com

For high-speed trains, each country has adopted an acronym to differentiate them from other types of trains. That’s important so that you won’t be confused by thinking that it might be a particular train company.

In Germany (ICE), Belgium (Thalys), Spain (AVE), France (TGV), Italy (FR, FA, FB), Netherlands (Thalys, IC Direct), United Kingdom (Eurostar), Switzerland (TGV Lyria, Railjet).

You may also be interested in how to buy one of the eSIM plans available for your trip to Italy.

Where to find train stations in Europe?

In Europe, train stations are typically located downtown. Also, they offer direct connections to other means of urban transportation. However, finding the right station, based on the destination and schedule you selected for your trip, can be confusing, particularly if there are last-minute cancellations or disruptions.

Therefore, railway experts recommend checking the schedule on the website of the selected company or contacting the service staff at each station for assistance. In this case, language may be a communication barrier that you should consider.

What are the requirements to travel by train in Europe?

  • Have your travel documents up to date because you may be asked to present them on the train.
  • Buy your rail passes or train tickets, we will talk about this later.
  • Reserve the seats that may be necessary for each trip.
  • Get your luggage ready, verifying that you meet the company’s policy.
  • Have enough time to connect and transfer as needed.
  • Check departure times and routes to avoid any inconveniences.
  • Have a valid payment method or cash (local currency) with you.
  • Review the requirements of each rail company so that you travel with peace of mind.

What are the internet options on a rail trip?

Like any other type of travel, you have multiple options to access the internet while traveling the world. For long-distance travel, European train companies offer WiFi service on board; however, for other routes, you should confirm whether this service is included.

To avoid any setbacks, we recommend Holafly’s European eSIM with unlimited data. In this way, you’ll be able to travel peacefully, knowing that you enjoy a data plan to access your travel apps and more!

With this option, you have coverage in more than 32 destinations throughout Europe. Some destinations, such as the United Kingdom, have their own UK tourist eSIM card options.

A quick guide to traveling in Europe by train

So now that you have general information about traveling in Europe by train, you can take a look at the guide we have created to help you organize and plan your next adventure. Take note!

scenic-train-europe
Explore Europe by train and discover wonderful landscapes / Source: conocedores.com

Step 1: Research and Plan your rail trip

Research the destinations you would like to visit, then arrange them according to your planned route, including the estimated time you’ll spend at each destination; lastly, check the train schedules and routes you need for your trip on the internet. This will help you find out which connections you need to make on each route.

In case you need assistance in planning your travel itinerary, you can use the Eurail online planner, available in the travel itinerary section, by entering the country or city you would like to visit. You can also download the Eurail app.

Eurail will show you the most popular itineraries for that destination. For example, if you want to visit Spain, the company will recommend the following itineraries:

itinerary-spain
Example of how to search for travel itinerary recommendations / Source: eurail.com

Once you’re ready with your destination and how long you’ll be there, you can now fill in your travel itinerary with the plans you can make in Spain and any other city you’d like to visit.

Step 2: Buy train passes

Buying a rail pass or train ticket is as easy as buying a flight ticket, except that in this case you can choose several destinations at the same time, according to your travel itinerary. The best thing to do is to enter the city or destination that will be the starting point, indicating the start and end date of your trip, plus the number of passengers.

plan-your-trip
Interrail travel planner / Image: eurail.com

When you click on the yellow button that says: Go, you will see a map with a small search engine to add other destinations and when you click on the button that says: Show Results, you’ll see the type of pass recommended for your trip.

As we mentioned above, you can buy the Eurail pass that best suits your travel itinerary, either online or at a station if you are in Europe, with any of the following options:

1. Eurail Global Pass to travel through 33 countries
2. Eurail Select Pass to travel through 2, 3, or 4 countries
3. Eurail One Country Pass to visit 1 country

For flexibility, it’s best to buy the Eurail Global Pass so you can travel from one country to another, in the covered destinations:

Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, SpainSwedenSwitzerland, and Turkey.

In the following picture, you can see the countries covered on the Eurail rail map:

eurail-map
Eurail 2023 rail map / Source: eurail.com

Before proceeding to the next recommendation, you should know that there are apps like thetrainline.com to buy, book and compare prices offered by different train companies so you can find the best options, in case you’re looking for the most affordable options.

Step 3: Reserve your seat on the train

Similar to any other plane or bus trip, you have the option of reserving your seat on the train. This is optional in some cases, while in others it’s mandatory. For example, on high-speed trains or night trains, seat reservations are a requirement, while on regional and local (or city) trains they are not.

Surely, at this point, you’re wondering how to know when to make a reservation and for that, keep in mind step 1 of this quick guide to traveling by train, as it all depends on the route and schedules you have selected because this way you’ll know the transfers you need to make.

By checking the travel route with the Eurail trip planner, you’ll get the details of the route (stops, waiting times, and train changes). Moreover, you’ll be alerted in case you need a seat reservation to board, as shown in the picture:

seat-reservation
Example of when to buy a train seat reservation / eurail.com

Step 4: Get ready for your train trip

When preparing for your trip by train, get your travel documents ready; and secondly, pack your belongings following the luggage policy of the railway company that applies to the route you are taking. As it happens when boarding a plane, the train will check that you meet the requirements of your baggage allowance and the way to carry it.

Step 5: Arrive at the train station

A proper train travel experience also requires excellent time management. Failing to get your calculations right could end up in a lot of stress that could end up ruining your trip. So, to avoid unnecessary waiting times, make sure you arrive in time to get your bearings and board without rushing.

Step 6: Enjoy your rail trip

After accomplishing the above steps, you can relax and get ready to enjoy the breathtaking scenery that awaits you on each leg of your trip. Remember that this is the most comfortable way to travel around Europe and get to know it at your own pace.

Tips for traveling by train in Europe

Upon reviewing this quick guide on how to travel by train in Europe, we understand that planning, organization, and time management are essential to have a good travel experience and focus on what is truly worthwhile: enjoying the beauty of its landscapes.

Also, on each arrival at the train stations, you will have the chance to get to know the heart of each city and immerse yourself in its culture, gastronomy, and, in general, its lifestyle as if you were a local.

Last but not least, we recommend you bring a European unlimited data eSIM card with data sharing, as it is the most helpful way to access the internet on your cellphone, using the train travel apps at each destination, and have 500 MB per day for hotspots, whenever you need it.

FAQs on how to travel by train in Europe

How can you travel to Europe by train cheaply?

You can look for deals on rail passes such as the Eurail Pass. You can also find travel deals on apps like trainline, where you can compare prices and find the best option for train travel in Europe.

Do I have to activate the rail pass in Europe?

Yes, you can activate it when you buy your rail pass on the train company’s website; also, through the train travel app, or when you arrive at the train station in the city where you start your trip.

How many types of trains are there in Europe?

In general, there are high-speed trains, night trains, regional trains, and scenic trains. High-speed trains can be identified by the acronyms used in each country.

How to plan a rail trip in Europe?

You can plan your train travel by yourself, through a tour company, or by downloading train travel apps with Europe’s main railway companies.

Which internet options are available for train travel?

Free WiFi is one of the services included on trains for long-distance travel. You can also activate roaming, but it can be pricey. To stay connected while traveling, we recommend Holafly’s eSIM for Europe travel, which includes unlimited data. Or you might prefer an eSIM for each destination you visit, such as the eSIM for Portugal.