Beginner’s guide to Eurail passes

Eurail or Interrail?

Before we start, which of Europe’s two great railpass ranges applies to you?

small bullet point  If you live in Europe including the UK you qualify for Interrail, so hop over to the Interrail page.

small bullet point  If you live in America, Australasia, Asia or Africa you qualify for a Eurail pass, read on…

What is a Eurail pass?

Eurail is the railpass range for overseas visitors, giving unlimited train travel across most of Europe with a global pass, or in the country of your choice with a single-country pass.  This page talks you through buying & using a Eurail pass, and whether a Eurail pass or point-to-point tickets is best.  I’ll tell it like it is, you may find cheap train tickets a better deal.

small bullet point  Download the Eurail map showing train routes in the participating countries.

small bullet point  Eurail reservations guide:  Which specific trains & operators are covered in each country?  Which specific trains need a reservation, how much does it cost & can it be booked online?

Useful train travel information…

small bullet point  General information for train travel in Europe

small bullet point  Where to buy cheap point-to-point tickets

small bullet point  1st class versus 2nd class

small bullet point  Luggage on trains & luggage storage at stations

small bullet point  Sleepers & couchettes explained

Trains, buses, flights or hire car?

Whether you use a Eurail pass or buy cheap advance-purchase tickets, the train is the best way to tour Europe in comfort, relaxed, seeing a lot in a short time.  It’s not just about transportation:  Train travel is part of the European way of life, the train rides are an experience in themselves – in some cases a highlight of your trip.  A Eurail pass gives you freedom & flexibility, or you can buy ‘budget train fares’ by booking in advance, just as you would with a budget airline.

Europe with a Eurail pass: German ICE train at Brussels   Seeing Europe with a Eurail pass:  A 2-bed City Night Line sleeper as used Amsterdam-Prague or Paris-Berlin   Europe by Eurail: Restaurant car on an ICE from Vienna to Frankfurt   Europe with a Eurail pass:  Scenery from Milan-Paris TGV train

Speed & practicality…

European trains link almost every city & town at up to 200 mph, often faster than flying as there’s no trek to the airport, no 2-hour check-in, no airport security hassle.  A ‘1 hour flight’ takes 4 hours.  Paris-Amsterdam now takes 3h20 by train, Paris-Geneva 3h05…

 

Comfort, relaxation,

a chance to chill out…

…unlike flying, train travel is relaxed & hassle-free.  Unlike bus travel it’s high comfort.  Aren’t you on vacation?  On trains, you get space to move around, lots of legroom and often a café, bar or even restaurant.  Overnight sleeper trains cover huge distances such as Zurich to Prague or Paris to Venice, effectively faster than flying and it saves hotel bill, too.  The train journeys become a welcome chance to chill out between cities…

 

Scenery & the experience…

…and there’s often superb scenery.  Your train journeys are an integral part of the European experience, something to enjoy for their own sake, giving you a ground-level feel for the countries you’re visiting…

Above:  Scenery from a Milan-Paris TGV, feet up & glass of wine to hand.

Things to consider…

  • In Europe, cars and city centres don’t mix.  Hiring a car is a great way to explore the countryside, but to visit cities such as Paris, Rome, Prague, Barcelona or Budapest, hiring a car is a big mistake.  It’s not like driving in the States.  In overcrowded Europe, driving on busy motorways is tedious.  European cities are congested, parking non-existent or expensive.  There may be fines for entering traffic-free zones.  Some car hire companies won’t let their cars cross borders, others charge prohibitive fees for one-way cross-border rentals.

  • A 1-hour flight takes 4 hours when you include bus or train to the airport, 2-hour check-in, flight, then more airport hassle and another bus, train or taxi into town.  If you fly you miss out on the European journey experience:  The train lets you chill out, read, chat, work, meet people and experience Europe – it can even be a highlight of your trip.  If you fly you must factor in the significant extra cost of airport transfers & baggage fees. And don’t forget that short-haul flights cause disproportionate environmental damage.

  • Long distance buses are usually the poor man’s choice in Europe.  Buses travel along ugly motorways which spoil the scenery they pass through.  A 3-hour train ride at up to 186 mph with regular departures might be an 8-hour endurance test by bus with just two buses per day.  You’re stuck in a bus seat for hours, no restaurant or cafe-bar and at night you sleep slumped in a seat.  Unlike trains, you’re usually not allowed to bring your own food & drink on buses, let alone alcohol such as a nice beer or glass of wine.  Avoid…

  • Relax by train, city centre to city centre on a vast rail network covering almost every town & city, with a range of departures every day.  Trains run at up to 320 km/h (199 mph), faster than flying for journeys such as London to Paris (2h20), Paris to Amsterdam (3h20), Paris to Geneva (3h05), Barcelona to Madrid (2h38) or Rome to Venice (3h45).  Even Paris-Barcelona (6h20) is better by train, with great scenery centre to centre compared to 5 hours of RER train, airport, soulless flight, airport, then metro train.  Sleeper trains are an experience, covering huge distances while you sleep, such as Amsterdam-Vienna, Zurich-Prague or Prague-Krakow, city centre to city centre, saving a hotel bill & avoiding the 4 or 5 daytime hours wasted by flying.  Trains are low-hassle, low stress, with loads of legroom, you can wander to the bar or restaurant.  Or feel free to bring your own picnic and your own bottle of wine or beer, it’s allowed on trains!

Back to top

What is a Eurail pass?

  • Eurail is the brand name for the range of railpasses offered to overseas visitors giving unlimited travel on trains run by over 30 European train operators, see the list of participating countries below or see the Eurail map.

  • Eurail is not a train operator and there no special ‘Eurail’ trains.  You use the regular scheduled trains run by the participating train operators, the same trains that we Europeans travel on.

  • The national train operators who participate in the Eurail scheme have created a Eurail scheme management company, with a small marketing organisation based in Utrecht in the Netherlands to manage both the Eurail & Interrail schemes.  The team in Utrecht run the official Eurail website www.eurail.com.  As it happens, I’ve been there to discuss scheme improvements with them, nice people!

  • You can choose a Eurail pass giving unlimited travel for various periods of time on the national rail networks of just one of the 33 participating countries (a one-country pass) or all 33 countries (a global pass)The different types of Eurail pass are explained here.

  • You need to pay a small fee for a seat reservation on many long-distance & high-speed trains and a larger fee for sleeping berths on overnight trains.  The cost of reservations on specific routes is shown on the Eurail & Interrail reservations page.

  • To understand how Eurail passes work, which trains they cover, and how reservations work, see how a Eurail pass works here

  • There are a handful of other railpasses worth knowing about as they are sometimes better value than Eurail, for example the Swiss Pass, German Railpass, Trenitalia Pass & Renfe Spain Pass.  These non-Eurail passes are explained here.

Who qualifies for a Eurail pass?

  • It’s residence that matters, not nationality:  You can buy a Eurail pass if you are resident outside Europe, for example in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Asia or Africa.

  • If you live in Europe or in Turkey, Russian Federation, Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia you cannot buy a Eurail pass, you qualify for the Interrail pass range instead.  Interrail passes cover exactly the same countries & trains as Eurail, with the same fees for the same reservations, so an American and a British traveller can easily travel together, one using a Eurail pass, the other an Interrail pass.

  • Over recent years Eurail passes for overseas visitors and Interrail passes for European residents have converged.  Pass types & prices are now almost identical.  The way the Eurail & Interrail passes operate in terms of trains covered and the need for (& cost of) reservations is identical.

  • The countries participating in the Eurail pass scheme are:

    Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia (new from 2020), Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia (new from 2020), Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey & (new in 2019) the United Kingdom.  Eurail does not cover the Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia or Moldova.

Back to top

Eurail pass types explained

 

It’s quite simple, even simpler since 2019 when selectpasses & saver passes were discontinued, leaving just One-country or Global Eurail passes, in 1st or 2nd class, for each passenger age group:  Adult, youth, senior, child…

Who’s going?

  • Adult – should be self explanatory.

  • Senior – for anyone aged over 60 on the first day of pass validity, at 10% less than the adult price.

  • Youth – for anyone aged under 28 on the first day of pass validity (raised from under 26 in 2017).

  • Child – for kids under 12.  Children 4-11 inclusive get a free Eurail pass when accompanying someone on an Adult pass, although they still need to pay any relevant reservation fees.  On some retailer’s website this is shown as ‘family’.  You have to have an Adult pass to get the free Child passes, you can’t get them with Youth or Senior passes.

  • Infants – children aged under 4 travel free on trains anyway and don’t need any pass, nor do they pay any reservation fees.  In some countries the age limit for infants is 5 or even 6, so don’t pay if you don’t have to, see the age limits for each European country here.

Where are you going?

  • A Eurail Global pass covers all 33 participating countries, see the list or see map of rail network in the Eurail countries.

  • A Eurail Single-Country pass covers just one country of your choice.  A Eurail single-country pass now exists for each participating country except Switzerland & Germany.  A one-country pass is cheaper than buying a global pass covering all the countries.  If you’re only visiting Switzerland you can use a Swiss Travel Pass instead, if you’re only visiting Germany buy a German Rail Pass.

How long for?

You can buy Eurail passes giving unlimited train travel for various periods of time.  But you need to get your head around two different concepts.

  • Continuous passes give unlimited travel every day for a continuous period of time, either 15 days, 22 days or 1, 2 or 3 months, starting on any date you like.  These give the ultimate in freedom and flexibility, but to make them worthwhile you need to be on a train every day or two.

  • Flexi passes are more economical if you plan to stay put for a number of days between each train ride.  Flexi passes give 4, 5, 7, 10 or 15 days unlimited travel within an overall 1 or 2 month period.  For example, take the 5 days in 1 month pass:  The overall 1 month starts ticking on the date you validate your pass at a station, you can then ‘spend’ each of your 5 days of unlimited travel any time during that 1 month period, on whatever dates you like, just by writing the date in one of the 5 boxes printed on your pass each time you want to use one of your travel days.  All the one-country passes are of this flexi type.  The 3-day pass was changed to 4 days in January 2020.

1st or 2nd class?

  • You can now choose 1st or 2nd class with any pass type.

  • 2nd class is absolutely fine, it’s the way we Europeans generally travel – unless the Company is paying!  Many local trains are 2nd class only, and on many (though not all) sleeper trains you can access all accommodation types (even deluxe sleepers with en suite toilet & shower) with just a 2nd class pass plus the relevant sleeper supplement.

  • But 1st class seating is available on most longer-distance trans and if you can afford it, 1st class is obviously nicer, with wider, plusher seats, more legroom.  In 1st class there are usually more businessmen tapping on laptops and fewer families with kids.  Don’t assume 1st class gets you any food or drink or free limo transfers or complimentary massages or whatever, this is not an airline.  Your default assumption should be that 2nd class seating is nice, 1st class seating is nicer, and it’s normally just the nicer seating with fewer people per car that you’re paying for when you go 1st class.  Sometimes a 1st class pass will get you into a first class lounge at a station, but more often than not it won’t.

  • What’s the difference between 1st & 2nd class?  That may help you decide!

Other railpasses for Switzerland, Spain & Germany…

  • As well as the large and well-known Eurail pass range, several countries do their own non-Eurail pass, which can be worth checking.  The Swiss Travel Pass is what you want for Switzerland as there is no one-country Eurail pass for that country.  The Renfe Spain Pass is worth considering as a better bet than the Eurail one-country Spain pass.  German Railways (DB) also offer a German Pass.  I’ve summed these up here.

Back to top

Eurail pass prices

They’re priced in euros, but obviously you can buy in your own currency.  You can check these prices and buy online at the official Eurail website www.eurail.com.  As I write this, 1 USD = 0.88, 1 AUD = 0.61.  Check current exchange rates.

 Eurail global
 pass prices
2nd class 1st class

Adult

(aged 28-59)

Youth

(under 28)

Child

(under 12)

Senior

(over 60)

Adult

(aged 28-59)

Youth

(under 28)

Child

(under 12)

Senior

(over 60)

4 days in 1 month (flexi) 246 185 0 221 328 246 0 295
5 days in 1 month (flexi) 282 212 0 254 376 282 0 338
7 days in 1 month (flexi) 335 251 0 302 446 335 0 401
10 days in 2 months (flexi) 401 301 0 361 534 401 0 481
15 days in 2 months (flexi) 493 370 0 444 657 493 0 591
15 days continuous 443 332 0 399 590 443 0 531
22 days continuous 518 389 0 466 690 518 0 621
1 month continuous 670 503 0 603 893 670 0 804
2 months continuous 731 548 0 658 975 731 0 878
3 months continuous 902 677 0 812 1,202 902 0 1,082

You can check one-country pass prices at www.eurail.com

Back to top

Interrail - Eurail pass logo

Buy a pass from Eurail.com

Hard-copy pass or mobile pass?

  • If you buy at www.eurail.com you can choose either the classic hard-copy pass sent to you at extra cost, or a mobile pass which which can be downloaded instantly to sit in an app on your smartphone.  The mobile option was introduced in September 2020.

  • Advantages of a mobile pass:  (1) You download it, so delivery is instant, there’s no delay while it is mailed to you; (2) It’s free, there’s no shipping cost; (3) You can start using the pass on any date you like within the following 11 months, keeping your options open, unlike a printed pass which arrives with your chosen start date already printed on it which cannot be changed;  (4) the pass is on your phone, you always have it with you, one less thing to carry around; (5) it’s easier to enter travel diary details legibly on a phone screen than write in biro on a flimsy printed travel diary on a busy station platform.  I’ve used a mobile pass myself, it’s easy to use, well-written and works well.  You need to connect the app to the internet (via WiFi or mobile data) at least every 3 days to keep the app updated and the pass valid.

  • Advantages of a hard copy pass:  (1) If your phone runs out of battery you can still show a paper pass (but an Anker battery pack solves this and is a good backup plan for your phone anyway); (2) If you drop your phone and it breaks you can still show a paper pass;  (3) You can keep the paper pass as a souvenir afterwards!

Back to top

  • Forgive me for saying so, but overseas visitors sometimes seem brainwashed into thinking that they have to buy a Eurail pass to use trains in Europe.  Of course they don’t.  They can buy the same cheap point-to-point tickets that we Europeans buy, at the same prices, using the same train operator websites that we use.

  • Many visitors are surprised to learn that European inter-city train fares now work like air fares, with dynamic pricing depending how far ahead you book and how popular that day or date is, with cheap fares if you book in advance & commit to a specific train.

    If you have a simple fixed pre-planned itinerary, buying cheap advance-purchase train fares is almost always the cheapest option, see the How to Buy European Train Tickets page.

  • Buying a Eurail pass isn’t usually about saving money, it’s trading up to a ticket that gives you the freedom to explore flexibly yet affordably in a world where most cheap airline or train tickets are inflexible with no-refunds and no-changes.  Let’s use a typical journey as an example…

A simple example…

  • How much does a point-to-point ticket cost?

    Let’s assume your itinerary includes a journey from Berlin to Prague:

    – 18.90 is the cheapest possible advance-purchase fare, limited availability, specified train only, no changes, no refunds, no flexibility.

    – 72.00 is the price of a fully-flexible ticket which can be bought at the station on the day, unlimited availability, good for any train.

  • How much does a pass cost?

    If you divide the pass cost by the number of days, you get a cost-per-day.  The longer the duration of the pass, the cheaper the cost-per-day:

    – 56.40 per day using a 5-days-in-1-month Eurail global pass (5-day price divided by 5)

    – 40.10 per day using a 10-days-in-2-months Eurail global pass (10-day price divided by 10)

    Or if you’re aged under 28 and can buy a youth pass:

    – 43.40 per day using a 5-days-in-1-month youth Eurail global pass.

    – 30.10 per day using a 10-days-in-2-months youth Eurail global pass.

    A pass gives you unlimited travel, so you can use any Berlin-Prague train you like, just like the 72 flexible ticket.  Better, in fact, as you could go up & down on trains between Berlin & Prague all day if you wanted, or change your mind and carry on beyond Prague to Bratislava or Vienna.

  • So is a Eurail pass the cheapest option?

    No, the 18.90 advance-purchase ticket is cheapest option.  It’s not a trick question!

    And easiest too, simply buy online at the German Railways website and print it out or shown on your smartphone.  Click, click, booked!

    If you’re only planning 2, 3 or maybe 4 such trips and your dates are confirmed, your accommodation is pre-booked and you’re happy to commit to a specific train a month or two in advance on a no-refunds, no-changes basis, then advance-purchase tickets are the cheapest option.  I explain the best way to buy tickets for specific routes on the how to buy tickets page.

    Just bear in mind that 18.90 is the cheapest possible price, these advance-purchase fares have limited availability and vary in price like air fares.  On your date it might cost 24.90 or 27.90 or 34.90, depending when you book and how popular that date or train is, just like flights.

  • But a Eurail pass makes sense if you value flexibility…

    A pass makes sense if you value flexibility, because it’s significantly cheaper than the 72 full-flex fare.

    With an advance-purchase ticket you’re nailing your plans to the floor months in advance.  Trading up to a Eurail pass gives you the freedom to travel when you want – or even where you want, you can decide on the spur of the moment not to go to Prague after all, but to Budapest instead.  And as a pass gives you unlimited travel all day, you can make additional journeys before or after this one if you need to.

    For a longer and more extensive tour of Europe, using a stack of advance-purchase tickets would be risky:  If a flood, fire, landslide or national strike knocked out one journey, the rest of the trip could come crashing down like a house of cards because advance-purchase tickets become worthless if you miss the train.  A Eurail pass gives you the flexibility to re-plan, re-schedule or even re-route as necessary.

    For example, Mrs 61 and I once travelled to Italy from my in-laws’ house in the Netherlands using a pass.  The day before we were due to return, a train accident in Belgium completely blocked our planned Milan-Paris-Rotterdam route, but with our passes we could easily divert via Milan-Zurich-Cologne-Rotterdam.  That flexibility can be worth paying for, a form of built-in insurance.

  • Let’s take a more expensive example:  Amsterdam-Berlin:

    How much does point to point cost?

    – 37.90 is the cheapest possible advance-purchase fare, specified train only, no changes, no refunds.

    – 126 is the cost of a fully-flexible ticket which can be bought at the station on the day, good for any train.

    How much does a pass cost?

    – 56.40 per day using a 5-days-in-1-month Eurail global pass (adult price divided by 5)

    – 43.40 per day using a 5-days-in-1-month youth Eurail global pass (youth price divided by 5)

    – 40.10 per day using a 10-days-in-2-months Eurail global pass (adult price divided by 10)

    – 30.10 per day using a 10-days-in-2-months youth Eurail global pass (youth price divided by 10)

    In this case, the 10-day adult Eurail pass is only a little more per day than the cheapest advance-purchase fare, and the 10-day youth Eurail saves money over that fare.  And all adult & youth Eurail passes save a lot of money over the full-flex fare.

  • But don’t use a pass for a short hop…

    Vienna to Bratislava only costs 11 or so, full-flex, bought at the station on the day.  Florence to Pisa is only around 8 each way.

    It’d be cheaper to buy a 4-days-in-1-month pass plus a normal ticket for a short hop like these, than to buy a 5-days-in-1-month pass.  Common sense, surely?  You can check prices for specific journey by selecting the starting city here.

  • Remember to factor in the passholder reservation fees…

    When comparing point-to-point fares with a Eurail pass, the point to point fares you see online always include the cost of any compulsory reservation.  But if you use a pass, you sometimes have to pay a reservation fee in addition to the cost of the Eurail.  Here’s a rule of thumb:

    In France, Italy, Spain, reckon on paying a 10 reservation fee for every train other than purely local ones, in addition to the cost of the pass.

    You need to pay a passholder fare to use Eurostar between London & Paris, Lille, Brussels or Amsterdam.  This costs 30 in 2nd class or 38 if you have a 1st class pass, see Eurostar passholder information here.

    On overnight sleeper trains you need to pay for a sleeping-berth, typically 34 for a couchette or 94 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.

    However, in Benelux, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Denmark & most of eastern & central Europe, there are usually no fees to pay (unless you want a sleeping berth), you can just board a train, sit in any empty unreserved seat, and show your pass when the conductor come along.  That’s a generalisation, but in these countries, even if a seat reservation is required, it’s typically only 2 – 5, the same as any other ticket-holder would pay to reserve a seat.

    There’s a full list of Interrail reservation requirements & costs in each country here.

My advice, without doing the maths…

  • You must decide if you want freedom & flexibility, or are happy to commit to specific trains well in advance.  It’s a 4-way decision:

    (1)  Buy a Eurail pass for unlimited flexible travel, remembering that a reservation fee must be paid for certain trains;

    (2)  Buy full-flex point-to-point tickets as you go – cheap for short hops, expensive for longer distances;

    (3)  Buy cheap advance-purchase tickets direct from the operator, limited or no refunds or changes to travel plans allowed;

    (4)  Mix & match these options:  Combine a Eurail pass with regular tickets for short hops or pre-planned longer journeys.

    It’s risky to generalise, but I’ll have a go, for those without the patience to do the maths as explained in the next section…

  • For a few short train rides….

    Don’t buy a pass!  Nice to Cannes is just 3, Florence to Pisa 8.  A railpass is overkill for a few short local journeys.  Obvious, I hope…

  • For 2, 3 or even 4 long train rides where your dates are known & fixed….

    Don’t buy a pass!  If you can book 2-3 months ahead, have a fixed itinerary with all your accommodation pre-booked, the cheapest option is to commit to specific trains on a no-refunds-no-changes-to-travel-plans basis using advance-purchase point-to-point tickets bought direct from the relevant operator, following my route-specific advice here.

    If you don’t really need the unlimited train rides, unlimited distance and unlimited flexibility of a pass, you can save a lot of money this way.

    Just remember that if you need to travel tomorrow with all the advance fares sold out, a pass could still be cheaper.

    Overseas travel agents often don’t know about these cheap advance-purchase train fares, and overseas agency sites often can’t access the cheap fares for every route.  For example, the ONLY website that can sell those 21 tickets from Prague to Budapest is the official Czech Railways website – I say again, follow my route-specific advice here!

  • For a few long train rides where you DON’T want to nail your plans to the floor…

    Cheap advance-purchase tickets commit you to specific dates & trains with limited or no changes to travel plans allowed.  A pass may well save money over longer-distance full-flex fares bought at the station, if you travel far enough each day, even if it costs more than cheap advance-purchase fares.

  • For an extensive itinerary with many train rides covering several weeks…

    For a longer trip, say several weeks exploring every major city in Europe or a very long journey such as London to Istanbul, I’d buy a railpass even if advance-purchase fares were cheaper.  A Eurail pass allows you to flex your dates, trains and routes as necessary.

  • If you’re under 28 years old, consider a pass…

    The youth Eurail pass compares well with even the cheapest advance-purchase fares.  For one or two or three specific journeys, I’d still buy advance-purchase tickets, but for anything more than that consider the pass.  Even if it costs a few euros more, the extra flexibility is worth it, giving you the ability to change your mind or divert via another route or train if something goes wrong with one leg of the itinerary.  Incidentally, the age limit for Youth passes changed in 2017, anyone under 28 now qualifies for a youth pass, previously it was under 26.

  • If you’ve kids under 12, consider a pass…

    The free Eurail passes for children under 12 may swing the balance towards buying a pass, even for a pre-planned itinerary.  Now you really have to do the maths, as shown in the next section.

  • You can mix-and-match a pass with point-to-point tickets…

    For example, for 11 days of train travel in Europe, it’s cheaper to buy a 10-day Eurail pass plus one point-to-point ticket for the shortest/cheapest of all your train rides, than to buy the next size up, a 15-day pass.  Or if the start of your trip is known and fixed, but you want to stay flexible for the rest, you could buy a cheap ticket for the first journey or two, then use a railpass.  And if your plan includes a few short local hops, use point-to-point tickets for those, and buy a cheaper pass with fewer unlimited travel days to cover the longer journeys.

  • To sum up…

    Perhaps you came to this page thinking that railpasses save money, but these days they often don’t.  It’s more accurate to think of them as trading up to affordable go-as-you-please flexibility.  Stands to reason, really.  A pass giving unlimited flexible travel all over Europe ought to cost more than a cheap budget ticket for a specific route & train booked two months in advance.

To work it out accurately, do the maths

  • Step 1, work out what a Eurail pass costs per day…

    Working out the cost per day makes it easier to see if it’ll save money over the point-to-point prices.  Just divide the pass cost by the number of days travel it gives you (or, for a continuous pass, by the actual number of days you think you’ll be using it).  I’ve worked it out for you with 2nd class flexi passes here:

     Eurail global pass
    2nd class

    Adult

    (aged 28-59)

    Youth

    (under 28)

    Senior

    (over 60)

    4 days in 1 month (flexi)

    246 =

    62 per day

    185 =

    46 per day

    221 =

    55 per day

    5 days in 1 month (flexi)

    282 =

    56 per day

    212 =

    42 per day

    254 =

    51 per day

    7 days in 1 month (flexi)

    335 =

    48 per day

    251 =

    36 per day

    302 =

    43 per day

    10 days in 2 months (flexi)

    401 =

    40 per day

    301 =

    30 per day

    361 =

    36 per day

    15 days in 2 months (flexi)

    493 =

    33 per day

    370 =

    25 per day

    444 =

    30 per day

  • If you have kids, they get a Eurail pass for free (but still have to pay any reservation fees), this might tip the balance towards a pass.

  • Step 2, factor in any likely Eurail reservation fees…

    You need to pay reservation fees for certain trains in addition to the cost of the pass.  The cost can be significant if you’re visiting the pass-unfriendly countries, but might be negligible if you’re visiting pass-friendly countries.  For planning purposes, here’s my rough – but still pretty accurate – rule of thumb again:

    Pass-unfriendly countries:  For almost any inter-city journey to, from or within France, Italy, Sweden, Spain & Portugal, a reservation has to be made and a fee paid, which you can reckon as 10 per train.  For international journeys to or from France, make that 13-30.

    Pass-friendly countries:  On the other hand, in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, central & eastern Europe, seat reservation is usually optional with nothing more to pay unless you want a reserved seat, or a couchette or sleeper.

    If you’re travelling to or from London, Eurail passes cover the London-Paris & London-Brussels Eurostar with a special passholder fare of around 30, see the Eurostar passholder reservations page.

  • Step 3, work out what point to point fares would be…

    Go to the How to buy European train tickets page and select the starting city for each journey you plan to make.   On the following page, select the destination city.  I’ll tell you the best routes and trains between those cities and which website to use to book (or price) it.

    European trains normally open for reservations 90 days before departure or in a few cases 120 or 180 days and in eastern Europe only 60 days, If your European trip is still many months away, pick a random date in the next 60-90 days and check fares for that date.  The prices won’t change much!

    Don’t rely on a ticketing agency in your home country to tell you point to point fares, or believe ‘point to point comparisons’ made by people trying to sell you a railpass.  Overseas agencies often can’t access the cheap fares for every operator.  For example, the only place you can buy a 20 fare from Prague to Budapest or a 15 fare from Munich to Prague is the Czech Railways website, absolutely nowhere else.  So I repeat, follow the advice on the How to buy European train tickets page.

  • If you know your dates, have a fixed itinerary and are prepared to commit to a specific date & train, you can compare the pass with the cheapest advance-purchase rate you see on the online booking systems, which will usually be train-specific with limited or no refunds or changes to travel plans.

  • You’ll usually also see a more expensive fare called standard or Standardpreis or Flexpreis or Base price or similar, which is the top-of-the-range fare which you’d pay at the station on the day.  So if you demand flexibility, this is the price with which to compare the cost per day of a pass.  Yes, a Eurail may well save money over these expensive on-the-day full-price fares, depending on how far you travel.

  • Eurail passes only make financial sense for Italy if you plan to travel a significant distance every day, or perhaps make two medium-distance trips every day, which few people do.

  • I find people typically go from Naples to Rome, then Rome to Florence, then Florence to Venice, then perhaps Venice to Milan or Cinque Terre, 1 trip per day.  Even at the full-flex Base fare bought on the day, this doesn’t justify a Eurail pass once you add the 10 passholder reservation fee for every Italian fast train.  And if you’re prepared to forego flexibility and book cheap no-refunds no-changes advance purchase fares you can save a lot of money over the cost of a pass.

  • So for Italy, only buy a Eurail pass if you have done the maths and factored in the 10 passholder reservation fee for every fast train.

Typical Eurail pass example:  Berlin – Prague – Vienna – Budapest

  • If you book a cheap no-refunds no-changes advance fare a couple of months in advance, Berlin-Prague starts from 18.90, Prague-Vienna from 15, Vienna-Budapest from 19.90.  This is the cheapest way to make such a circuit if you can book ahead and don’t need flexibility.

  • If you want to stay flexible, a Eurail pass can save money over full-flex on-the-day prices.

Typical Eurail pass example:  London – Paris – Brussels – Amsterdam

  • Eurail passes now cover Eurostar (London-Paris), but with a passholder fare of 30 in standard class or 38 in standard premier.

  • Thalys (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam) charges a 20 passholder reservation fee for Paris-Brussels or 25 Paris-Amsterdam, with even these passholder places limited by quota, meaning you’d better book in advance even with a pass in case the quota runs out.  If you book this through an agency, they’ll charge you a 10 fee for selling you the 20-25 fee.

  • Booked 2-3 months ahead at www.thalys.com, you can buy Paris-Brussels Thalys tickets from just 29 or Paris-Amsterdam tickets from 35 including reservation.  I would think long and hard before choosing to make a London-Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam circuit using a pass rather than advance-purchase tickets.

Back to top

How does a Eurail pass work?

  • A Eurail pass gives unlimited travel on national & international train services…

    A Eurail pass gives unlimited travel on all the train services run by the national train operator in all of the countries it covers. 

    These aren’t special ‘Eurail trains’, these are the normal, regular, scheduled trains in each country, including high-speed trains, sleeper trains, intercity trains, suburban trains & local trains.  It includes both domestic and international trains.

    Unlimited means unlimited:  You can take as many trains as you like, 1 train or 20 trains, 8 miles or 800 miles.

    Eurail passes also cover certain private train operators, and even a few ferry services.  The country-by-country guide explains what train & ferry operators are covered in each country.

    You need to make a reservation for a small fee on some trains, more about that below, and pay for a berth on night trains if you want one.

  • Eurail passes does not give free travel on metros, cable cars, trolleys, trams or buses in big cities as these are usually run by an urban transit authority.

    Nor on some minor private train operators such as Euskotren narrow-gauge trains in Spain or the Circumvesuviana Naples-Pompeii-Sorrento.

    Passes also don’t cover a few private operators who now compete with the state-owned national operator on a handful of routes, such as Italo high-speed trains which competes with Italian national operator Trenitalia, or lo-cost Ouigo trains in France or Avlo in Spain as although both are subsidiaries of the national operator, they’ve been set up as a separate companies.  If in doubt, see my country-by-country guide.

  • Flexi & Continuous Eurail passes…

    Continuous passes are valid for a continuous period starting on the date you activate the pass.  For example, if you activated a 1-month pass on 10 July, it would give continuous unlimited travel from 00:00 on 10 July until 23:59 on 9 August.

    Flexi type passes have an overall validity which starts ticking on your first travel day, a date you choose when you activate the pass.  You can then spend each of your remaining travel days on any dates you like within that overall validity period.

    For example, if you activated a 5-days-in-1-month pass on 10 July, your first day of unlimited travel would be 10 July, you can spend each of the remaining 4 days unlimited travel on any dates you like until 9 August, let’s say 12 July, 17 July, 23 July and 2 August.  Whatever!

    Each pass day is good for as many trains, journeys & kilometres as you can cram in from 00:00 to 23:59.  In fact, a pass day can cover you beyond midnight if using a sleeper train.

    Tip:  No-one forces you to use a pass for every train.  For example, suppose you plan to make a day trip from Florence to Pisa.  It’s cheaper to buy a normal 16 ticket for that trip + a 4-days-in-1-month pass than to buy a 5-days-in-1-month pass to cover everything.  Engage brain!

  • How to find train times around Europe on which you can use your Eurail pass…

    Use the excellent German Railways online timetable at www.bahn.de/en.  It covers pretty much the whole of Europe.  As a general rule, any train shown in its database can be used with a Eurail pass, although passholder reservation fees must be paid on some.  It will also show which trains have compulsory reservations.

    …or download the Railplanner app.  Go to www.eurail.com/en/plan-your-trip/rail-planner-app and download the Railplanner app for your smartphone (please let me know if that link stops working).  This is this a great Europe-wide timetable app which you can use to check train times whilst on the move as the timetable works offline, with no mobile data costs.  The app also does passholder reservations for Eurostar, Thalys & Trenitalia high-speed trains.  If you buy a Eurail mobile pass, the pass sits in the Railplanner app on your mobile.

  • What about ferries, for example Italy to Greece?

    A Eurail global pass also gives free travel on Superfast Ferries, Minoan Lines & Blue Star Ferries between Italy (Bari, Brindisi, Ancona or Trieste) and Greece (Corfu, Igoumenitsa or Patras for the train to Athens).  A few euros for port taxes needs to be paid, and cabin berths are extra.  Superfast and some other ferry operators charge a small summer supplement (about 10 or so), you pay at the port.  A Eurail pass also gives a significant discount (typically 30%-50%) on normal fares for some other shipping operators, for example, Silja Line (Stockholm-Helsinki or Stockholm-Turku).  There is no longer any discount on Trasmediterranea (Barcelona to Ibiza, Majorca & Minorca and Algeciras to Tangier).

 

Where do you need reservations?

…an easy rule of thumb

 

Map showing where Eurail pass reservations are required

 

Green = Travel freely!  Pass-friendly countries, seat reservation usually optional.

Yellow = Travel easy!  Also pass-friendly, reservation often required, but no big deal, the same 2-5 that any passenger with a full-price ticket pays.

Red = All inter-city trains require a special passholder reservation, budget for 10 a pop. Some international trains to/from France charge 20-40.

  • The country-by-country reservations guide explains which specific trains require a reservation in each country, how much it costs & how to reserve.  But here is my rough – but pretty accurate – rule of thumb…

  • Local, regional & suburban trains…

    In virtually all countries, you can just hop on any local, regional or suburban train at any time, sit in any empty seat and show your Eurail pass to the conductor when asked.  Easy!

  • Pass-friendly countries…

    Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Denmark & most of central & eastern Europe

    In these countries, seat reservation even on long-distance trains is usually optional and there’s nothing extra to pay unless you want a reserved seat, or couchette or sleeper on an overnight train.

    You can just hop on any train without a reservation, sit in any unreserved empty seat, and show your Eurail pass when asked by the conductor – even premier high-speed trains like Germany’s superb ICE or Austria’s excellent railjet trains.  Trains cannot ‘sell out’.

    If you want a reserved seat (a sensible move for a long journey to having to stand at busy times) it only costs 3-4.50.  Passes retain their ‘hop on any train’ convenience factor for travel in and between these countries.

    The key exceptions in these countries are as follows:  International journeys to or from France or Italy do require compulsory seat reservation with a fee to pay.  Thalys high-speed trains between Brussels & Amsterdam and between Brussels & Cologne have compulsory reservation & a fee for passholders.  A few scenic tourist trains in Switzerland require a seat reservation & small supplement, such as the celebrated Glacier Express & Bernina Express.  Poland, Slovakia, Hungary & Romania require seat reservations on all their inter-city trains, but these are just normal seat reservations for a euro or two, no big deal.  All this is explained in the country-by-country guide.

  • Pass unfriendly countries…

    France, Italy, Spain, Portugal & Sweden…

    In these countries, passholders must make a reservation and pay a fee for almost every inter-city journey, including international journeys starting or ending in these countries.

    Reckon on paying 10 for every train ride in these countries, sometimes less, sometimes more.  On French TGVs it’s 10 (limited quota) or 20 when the 10 places sell out.  Thalys Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam is 15-25. TGV-Lyria 30-70, Paris-Milan TGV 31, Paris-Barcelona TGV 34.

    There are limited quotas for passholder places on Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam Thalys, Paris-Turin-Milan TGVs & Paris-Barcelona TGVs which can sell out if you don’t reserve seats soon enough, but for other trains including French domestic TGVs, TGV-Lyria and Spanish or Italian high-speed trains, passholders can always get seats unless the train is physically full, which might happen at Christmas or Easter or on a busy Friday afternoons, but generally there’s always places available.

    See the country-by-country guide for details of which trains need a reservation, what these cost, and how to make them.

  • Sleeper trains…

    You’ll need to make a reservation & pay the appropriate fee for a sleeper or couchette on overnight trains, typically perhaps 34 for a couchette or 94 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper, less than this in eastern Europe.  Remember that with a flexi type pass, an overnight train only uses one pass day, the date of departure, see the explanation hereSee the country-by-country guide for costs for specific sleeper routes.

  • Reservations and your Eurail pass are two separate things…

    Let’s be clear, reservations are entirely separate from your pass.  You don’t use up a pass day merely by making reservations, indeed you can make one or more reservations without even activating the pass, you usually just need the pass number and some cases not even that.  They are not linked in any way.  You can make multiple reservations for the same day if you need to, for example if you’re not sure which train you’ll catch, or if you make a reservation then change your plans.  Use the one you want, throw the other in the bin  – it doesn’t affect your pass.  You only add the journey in question to your pass when you actually board the train!

Can I avoid paying reservation fees?

  • Sometimes you can avoid paying a reservation fee fairly easily if you don’t mind a slower or less comfortable journey.  For example, from Rome to Florence there are fast & frequent high-speed Frecciarossa & Frecciargento trains with a 10 reservation fee, but also a few comfortable and fairly fast InterCity trains with only a 3 reservation fee, and some slower regional trains with no reservation at all.  Between Brussels & Amsterdam there are high-speed Thalys trains taking 1h49 with a 15 passholder fee or hourly InterCity trains taking 2h52 with no reservation necessary.  The choice is yours!

  • In other cases avoiding a fee is more trouble than it’s worth, as it would mean a relay-race of local trains taking hours longer and involving umpteen changes of train.  Just bite the bullet & pay the fee!  I’d put Paris-Brussels, Paris-Amsterdam, Paris-Nice, Paris-Italy in this category.

    Tip:  To see if there is a reasonable no-fee alternative, try using the Europe-wide online timetable at www.bahn.de/en, but click More means of transport  and un-tickthe ICE & IC/EC boxes.

 

A 2-berth sleeper

 

Couchette (4-bunk)

 

2-berth sleeper:  A typical 2-berth sleeper, berths made up.  More info.

 

Couchettes, 4-berth:  Much more room than 6-berth!  More info.

  • What’s the difference between a couchette and a sleeper?

    Couchettes are basic bunks with rug & pillow, 4 or 6 per compartment, a sort of youth hostel on rails.  Sleepers are hotels on rails, with proper beds & washbasin, 1, 2 or 3 beds per compartment.  Couchettes & sleepers are explained on the sleeper page.

  • How much does it cost?

    You need to pay a fee to use a couchette or sleeper with your pass.  To give you an idea, here are the passholder supplements for the most common type of sleeper train, a Nightjet.

    Seat 14, couchette in 6-berth 34, couchette in 4-berth 44, bed in 3-berth sleeper 54, bed in 2-berth sleeper 74, bed in single-berth sleeper 114, berth in 2-berth deluxe sleeper 94, berth in single-berth deluxe sleeper 134.

    Berth fees for specific routes are listed in the Eurail pass reservation guide.

    The fee is per person per bed, one ticket = 1 bed.  If you are alone and book a single sleeper you get the whole compartment to yourself, if you book a bed in a double sleeper, you get one bed, some other passenger of the same gender gets the other bed and you’ll share with them.

    Only a 2nd class ticket or pass is needed for all accommodation types on Nightjet, even single or double deluxe sleepers.  However, in much of eastern Europe, a 1st class pass is necessary to travel in a single-berth sleeper, a 2nd class pass is OK for berths in a double or triple.  On Italian domestic sleeper trains a 1st class pass is necessary for single & double sleepers, a 2nd class pass is OK for a bed in a triple or for couchettes.

  • Using a pass on a sleeper train…

    If you have a flexi-type pass, an overnight train only uses one day on your pass, the day of departure.  Here is the new rule, which replaced the old ‘After 19:00’ rule in January 2019:

    A Flexi pass day normally runs from midnight to midnight.  But if you board any overnight train before midnight, and do not change trains after midnight, you only need to use one day on a Flexi pass, the day of departure.

    It no longer matters what time your sleeper train leaves on day 1, or what time it arrives on day 2.  The date you enter on your pass is that of day 1.  As normal, you get unlimited travel from midnight to midnight on day 1, so can take other trains on day 1 in addition to the sleeper train, all on the same pass day.  You can then continue your journey on that direct overnight train until you get off at your destination on Day 2.  The only proviso is that you cannot change trains after midnight, and that both the departure day and arrival day must fall within the overall validity period of the pass.

    For example, if you wanted to take the Dacia Express leaving Vienna at 19: 42 on the 1st August and arriving Bucharest at 16:06 on the 2nd August, you’d use 1st August as one of your unlimited travel days, this covers the whole of the sleeper journey, even the part on 2nd August – in this example well into in the afternoon.

    This gives you unlimited travel all day on 1st August, so it would also cover any other journeys you wanted to make on that day, for example a preceding journey from Prague to Vienna to connect with the sleeper.

    On the other hand, if you wanted to take an onward train from Bucharest to Constanta on 2nd August after getting off the sleeper, that means using up another travel day, this time dated 2nd August.

    But even if you don’t use any other trains on 2nd August, that day of arrival still needs to fall within the overall validity period of your pass, in other words, if you had a 5-days-in-1-month flexi pass the 2nd August must be inside the 1 month period, it cannot be Day 32 just outside it.  Got it?

    The country-by-country reservations guide explains how to make sleeper or couchette reservations for specific routes.

How to use a mobile pass

  • Mobile Eurail passeswere introduced in September 2020 and once you get the hang of it they’re really easy & convenient to use.  The mobile pass sits in the Railplanner app on your smartphone, and instead of a printed travel diary, you simply use the app’s journey planner to add a journey to your trip, and then (when you actually take that train) to your pass.  The in-app instructions are very clear and well-written.

    The mobile pass works on Apple devices iOS 13.0 and later and Android devices 6.0 and later.

  • Buy the pass:  You can buy a Eurail pass up to 11 months in advance.  You do not need to decide exactly when you will use the pass, it can be activated on any date you choose within the next 11 months.  So if your plans alter or your trip is postponed, no worries.  How to buy a pass.

  • Download the app:  Get the Railplanner app for iPhone or Android at www.eurail.com/en/plan-your-trip/rail-planner-app.

  • Step 1 of 3:  Load your pass into the app:  After buying the pass, you are sent a confirmation email with your pass number.  Follow the instructions to load the pass into the app by entering your pass number.

  • Step 2 of 3:  Connect your pass to a trip  The next step is to create a Trip and connect the pass to it.  Think of a Trip as a personal in-app folder in which you can store interesting journeys (individual trains or journeys involving multiple trains) found using the app’s journey planner that you may or may not end up taking with your pass.  You can call the trip anything you like, My Big Eurail Trip, Mark’s European Adventure, whatever.  Your trip lives in the My trip tab on the app.  A pass can only be connected to one trip.

  • Step 3 of 3:  Activate your pass:  When you know for sure when you want to start using your pass, follow the in-app instructions to activate it, entering your passport number and desired start date.  With a flexi-type pass, you choose the date of your first unlimited travel day and the overall validity period (the overall 1 or 2 month period) starts ticking from that date.  Even after doing this, you can still change your mind – you can alter the start date any time until 23:59 the day before, Central European Time.  However, once the first pass day has started at 00:00 CET, you can’t change your mind.

  • Look up trains using the app’s planner…  Open the app, click on Planner at the bottom and use the journey planner to look up train times.  In the search results, find a departure that suits you, click on it for details, then click Save journey to add it to your Trip.

    You can add as many journeys to your Trip as you like, journeys added to a Trip are not connected to your pass and there is no obligation to actually take them.  As I said, a Trip is just your personal library of trains you might be interested in, and you can edit the list at any time.  I wasn’t sure if I’d leave Engelberg at 09:02 next morning or finish breakfast early and make the 08:02, so I added both journeys to my Trip (which I’d called Engelberg as that’s where I was going) to have them both handy.

  • When you board a train, find the journey in your Trip and slide the grey toggle next to it to add it to your pass.

    If you now click on My pass you’ll see that journey added to your pass, and if you click on Show ticket you’ll see all journeys added to the pass for that day listed underneath the QR code.  If you make a mistake or change your mind at the last moment, don’t worry, you can un-toggle the train to remove it from your pass.  It’s that simple!

    As it happens, I made the 08:02 from Engelberg, so went to My trip, opened Engelberg and toggled the 08:02 to add it to my pass.  I then swiped left on the 09:02 to delete it from Engelberg (although I could have just left it there).

  • Showing your pass to the conductor…  When a conductor comes along, open the app, click on My pass, pass details appear.  Click on Show ticket, the pass QR code appears.  The conductor will scan the QR code.  Most times, that’s it.

    Sometimes you’ll be asked to show your passport.  Sometimes the conductor will ask you to scroll down from the QR code to the list of journeys which have been added to the pass that day (he’s making sure you’ve correctly added that train to your pass so that the rail operator ultimately gets their share of pass revenue).  So don’t forget to add each train you take to your pass!

    Tip:  If you ever experience problems showing the Interrail ticket QR code, try putting your phone into Aeroplane mode.

  • How to add a train manually if Railplanner can’t find it…  Very occasionally, Railplanner’s journey planner can’t find a train you want to take, but you can add such journeys manually.  For example, Eurail is valid on the local trains between Latour de Carol & Barcelona, but Railplanner can’t access the database they’re listed on.  You may then see an Add journey manually link.  However, in this case it offers a round-about route via Toulouse & Narbonne so you don’t get offered that link.  Solution?  Run an enquiry from ‘Mickey’ to ‘Mouse’.  It definitely won’t find that, and offers the Add journey manually link.  You can now add Latour de Carol to Barcelona to your trip and then to your pass.

  • See the screenshots below:  OK, so these show an Interrail pass, but Eurail passes work exactly the same way, same app, same everything.

Interrail mobile pass - planner   Interrail mobile pass - My trip   Interrail mobile pass - My pass   Interrail mobile pass, ticket   Interrail mobile pass, ticket lower

1. Planner:  Click Save journey to save a journey to My Trip.

 

2. My Trip:  Edit as you like.  Toggle to add a journey to your pass.

 

3. My Pass:  Click Show ticket when the conductor comes along.

 

4. Interrail ticket, upper.  The conductor will scan the QR code.

 

5. Interrail ticket, lower,showing list of trains added to pass.

How to use a hard-copy pass

  • Activating your pass:  When you get to Europe and want to start using your pass, you need to activate it at any main station before you get on your first train. You do this at the ticket office, the booking clerk will enter the start date on your pass and rubber stamp it. Your Eurail pass is then ready to use and the overall pass validity period starts.  So if you had a 10-days-in-2-months pass, the overall 2 month period would start from that date.  Alternatively, if you’re absolutely sure of the date when you want your overall pass validity to start, you can specify that date when you buy your pass.  It then arrives pre-activated from that date and there’s no need to activate it at a station.

  • Using the pass:  The classic hard-copy Eurail pass is printed on blank ATB-size international train ticket stock with a security background.  If it’s a flexi-type pass it will have boxes printed on it for each travel day.  When you want to use a travel day, you simply write the date in indelible black or blue ink in one of the boxes, using each box in turn.

  • Filling in the travel diary:  The pass comes with a blank travel diary.  Each time you take a train, you need to write the date, where it’s from and where it’s to, in black or blue ink.  If you run out of space, you can ask for more pages at any main station.  You send it back to them after your trip (free postage) and it’s used for market research, it helps allocate Eurail revenue between operators.

  • To make it clear, Brussels to Nuremberg with a change in Frankfurt requires two separate entries, Brussels-Frankfurt and Frankfurt-Nuremberg.  However, if a conductor found you had made only one entry, Brussels to Nuremberg, they should point it out (and maybe ask you to change it) but that’s all.

  • In theory you could be fined if the conductor finds that you haven’t filled in your travel diary, but in practice most conductors will simply ask you to do so if you forgot.  However, there’s always the risk that you’ll meet a jobsworth, so play safe and fill it in while you’re waiting for the train or as soon as you get on.

Example Interrail pass   Interrail pass travel diary

Hard-copy pass:  This is a 10-days in 2 months Interrail global Flexi pass, Eurail passes are virtually identical.

 

The Eurail train travel diary: You need to fill this out each time you board a train.  Larger image.

How can I find out more?

  • You can find out more about Eurail passes at www.eurail.com.  This is the site run by the Eurail organisation themselves, who run the Eurail scheme on behalf of participating operators.

Personal ‘Travel architect’ service:  DiscoverByRail.com

  • For a modest fee, DiscoverByRail.com offers expert help and can put together an itinerary to your specifications, with suggestions and advice on routes, trains, hotels, excursions.  Andy charges around £35 per trip.

Back to top

How to make reservations

Option 1, online at the train operator’s website…

  • If it’s possible – unfortunately, it seldom is – making reservations at the train operator’s own site is ideal as you pay no booking fee (just the reservation fee) & you get a wide choice of seating options, sometimes specific seat selection.

    Unfortunately, most train operator websites don’t sell passholder reservations, only normal tickets.  Eurostar, SNCF (French Railways) & Trenitalia used to sell passholder reservations, all 3 stopped because it was abused by fare-evaders without a pass.

  • Operators that can sell passholder reservations on their websites include:

    – The ÖBB (Austrian Railways) website www.oebb.at sells passholder reservations for Nightjet sleeper trains, Nightjet partner sleeper trains, and Vienna-Italy railjet trains.

    – The SJ (Swedish Railways) website www.sj.se sells passholder reservations for Swedish domestic trains and Copenhagen-Stockholm, Stockholm-Oslo international trains.

  • There are also routes where trains are reservation optional, where passholders don’t have to pay a special passholder reservation fee, just make a normal seat reservation if they want one like any other ticket-holder.  Some operators allow reservation-only bookings to be made on their website for anyone with an existing ticket, including a pass:

    – The DB (German Railways) website www.bahn.de can do ‘seat-only’ bookings for German domestic trains and international trains between Germany & Amsterdam, Brussels, Prague or Switzerland, with specific seat selection on key routes.  Passholders can use this facility.

    – The ÖBB (Austrian Railways) website www.oebb.at can do ‘seat only’ bookings on trains between Austria & Prague, Budapest, Germany or Switzerland, sometimes with seat selection.  Passholders can use this too.

    – The Czech Railways website www.cd.cz can do ‘seat-only’ bookings for many routes out of Prague, often with specific seat selection.  Isn’t it great being able to choose your seats from a plan?

  • To check if this is an option for a train you want to book, go to the Eurail reservations page & click on the country where the journey starts.

Option 2, online using the Eurail reservation service…

  • If you can’t book online direct with the train operator, the next best thing is to book online using the official Eurail reservations service.

    You need to buy a pass before you can access this service, as a pass number is required even to run enquiries.

    There’s a booking fee of 2 per reservation in addition to the reservation fee.  The prices shown include the booking fee.

    One downside, you aren’t offered any seating choice, not even ‘aisle’ or ‘window’, you basically have to take what the system gives you.

  • How to use it:  Go to www.eurail.com, click Seat reservations at the top, yes you have a pass, no you don’t have an account, create an account, enter your pass number.  Now you can use the reservation system journey planner to bring up train departures for the route you want.

    You’ll see the abbreviation IRT a lot.  This stands for Integrated Reservation Ticket, and simply means it’s a ticket combined with a compulsory seat reservation (the way France, Italy, Spain do ticketing), as opposed to a stand-alone optional seat reservation designed to go with a separate travel ticket (the way Germany, Austria, Switzerland usually do ticketing.  A distinction too subtle to concern most travellers!

  • Trains it can book, with an e-ticket:  Reservations shown as e-ticket are automated and usually emailed to you within minutes.

    Reservations can be made until 3 hours before departure, you can use their mobile website if you’re already on the move.

    For example, the system can e-ticket passholder reservations for Eurostar, domestic trains in France (TGVs, Intercités, Intercités de Nuit couchettes), Paris-Turin-Milan TGVs, Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam/Cologne Thalys, Paris-Switzerland TGV-Lyria, Paris-Germany ICE & TGV.  Domestic trains in Italy (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca, Intercity, ICN sleeper trains), Switzerland-Italy EuroCity trains.  Copenhagen-Stockholm X2000 trains.  It will also book optional seat reservations in countries such as Germany or Austria, but you can make those without any added fee using the train operator’s own website.

  • Trains it can book, with a paper ticket that has to be posted to you:  Reservations shown as paper ticket have to be posted to you for an extra fee (perhaps 10 with tracking).  Tickets may take 2 or more weeks to arrive, so allow plenty of time.

    For example, the system has to send paper tickets for Paris-Barcelona TGVs, Lyon/Marseille-Barcelona AVEs, Prague-Krakow trains, Budapest-Bucharest daytime & sleeper trains, Berlin-Warsaw & Berlin-Krakow EuroCity trains, Norwegian trains.

Option 3, online at b-europe.com (Eurostar & Thalys only)…

Option 4, in person at the station…

  • You can make reservations at station ticket offices either in advance or on the day of departure, sometimes up to an hour or two before the train leaves, sometimes right up to departure time.  Just show your rail pass at the ticket window and ask for the reservation.  Many European railway staff speak some English, but if you don’t speak the language, just write down what you want and show it to the booking clerk.  Easy!

The Railplanner App…

Back to top

Other railpasses worth knowing about…

Eurail is the main pass range for overseas visitors to Europe, but several countries also have their own national railpasses which can be worth knowing about as they can often be better value if you are just visiting that specific country.

  • Paris Visite card:  Unlimited travel on the Paris metro, and more.  Eurail passes for France cover the national rail operator (SNCF) but not the Paris metro.  Check details, prices & buy a Paris Visite card at www.raileurope.com (if you live in the USA or Canada) or www.raileurope-world.com (if you live in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia/NZ).

  • The Swiss Travel Pass for Switzerland.  This is Switzerland’s own-brand railpass, there is no single-country Eurail pass.  Unlike many other railpasses you don’t have to rack up a huge mileage to make a railpass worthwhile in Switzerland.  And as virtually no Swiss train requires a supplement or reservation, a railpass still gives you that wonderful hop on, hop off convenience that railpasses have lost in France, Spain or Italy where every long-distance train now requires a reservation.  Choose between a Swiss Travel Pass giving continuous free travel or a Swiss Travel Pass Flex giving so many days in a month.  There’s more advice on Swiss Passes here.

    You can check Swiss Pass prices & buy a Swiss Pass at www.switzerlandtravelcentre.com – prices in CHF, USD, GBP or Euros and you simply print out your own pass.

    You can check Swiss point-to-point fares at www.sbb.chMap of the Swiss rail network

  • German Rail pass for Germany.  Only for people not resident in Europe, Russia or Turkey.  A good deal, as no supplements or reservations are required on most German trains, you just hop on and show your pass.  For comparison, you can check German point-to-point fares at www.bahn.de/en, there are some amazingly cheap point-to-point fares available if you’re prepared to pre-book and commit to a particular date and train.  You can check German Rail Pass prices and buy online at www.bahn.com/…/german-rail-pass.

  • Spain Pass for Spain.  Renfe (Spanish Railways) offers its own Spain Pass, not to be confused with the single-country Eurail pass for Spain.  Renfe’s Spain Pass works differently from the Eurail Spain pass, as it gives a set number of journeys, not unlimited travel – you can pay for between 4 and 12 journeys in a one-month period.  However, the Renfe Spain Pass is usually better value than the Eurail Spain pass as reservations are included, there are no hidden extra reservation costs as with Eurail.  Eurail holders must typically pay a 6 to 10 reservation fee per journey on almost all long-distance Spanish trains, but with Renfe’s Spain Pass it’s all included, reservations are free and can be made online.  You can buy a Spain pass either online at www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/ viajes_internacionales/spainpass (no fee, but can struggle with some payment cards) or www.petrabax.com (small mark-up but in plain English with no payment problems).  The pass is emailed to you.  For comparison, you can check Spanish point-to-point fares at www.raileurope.com (in €, £ or $) or www.renfe.com (in ) or www.petrabax.com (in US$ with a small mark-up) – the fares quoted online include the necessary reservation.

  • Portuguese Rail pass for Portugal.  You can check Portuguese point-to-point fares at www.cp.pt.  Most Portuguese long distance trains require reservation before boarding.  Check details, prices & buy at www.raileurope.com (if you live in the USA or Canada) or www.raileurope-world.com (if you live in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia/NZ).

  • BritRail Pass for Britain.  Search for Britrail at Check details, prices & buy at www.raileurope.com (if you live in the USA or Canada) or www.raileurope-world.com (if you live in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia/NZ).  Reservation is never compulsory on British trains, and there are no supplements to pay, so you can always just hop on and show your pass, making BritRail passes very easy to use.  For comparison, you can check British point-to-point fares using the online form here or at www.nationalrail.co.uk.  There’s advice on understanding the different types of UK rail fare on the Train travel in Britain page.  For unlimited travel on the London Underground for 3 or 7 days when staying in London, you can get a London Visitor Travelcard, easily bought in London at an Underground station.

  • The Benelux Tourrail pass covers the Netherlands, Belgium & Luxembourg.  Check details, prices & buy at www.raileurope.com (if you live in the USA or Canada) or www.raileurope-world.com (if you live in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia/NZ).

  • The Eastern Europe pass covers Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia.  It used to cover Poland too, but I believe they pulled out.  Available to anyone except residents of the countries it covers.  You can buy this pass at www.acprail.com (wherever you live, including UK – enter European East Pass in their searchbox) or www.raileurope.com (if you’re in the USA & Canada) or www.raileurope-world.com (if you’re in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia/NZ).

  • The Balkan Flexipass gives unlimited 1st class travel on the national rail networks in Bulgaria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Montenegro, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, The Serbian Entity of Bosnia Herzegovina, and Turkey, with a choice of 5, 10, or 15 days of unlimited train travel in a one-month period (Romania ceased to be a participant from 2017).  You can buy one at www.acprail.com (wherever you live, including UK – enter Balkan Flexipass in their searchbox), www.raileurope.com (if you live in the USA or Canada) or www.raileurope-world.com (if you live in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia/NZ).

    The Man in Seat61 says, “Train travel is cheap in the Balkans, like Belgrade to Sofia 30, Sofia to Bucharest 30, so don’t blindly buy a 140 railpass without being reasonably sure it will save you money for what you plan to do with it.  You need to be doing quite a lot!”

Back to top

European Rail Timetable -  click to buy onlineRail Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail timetable has train, bus & ferry times for every country in Europe (eastern and western) plus currency and climate information.  It is definitely worth buying if you’re planning an extensive tour with a Eurail pass – having your own comprehensive timetable puts you in control of your own trip, and will save you hours in queues for station information desks or struggling with station timetables which show only the most basic information.  It costs around £15.99 from www.europeanrailtimetable.eu.

The European Rail Map of Europe is easily the best and most comprehensive map of train routes all over Europe.  High speed and scenic routes are highlighted – well worth buying to go with your rail pass!  Buy online at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu (with worldwide delivery).  There are other maps & even two good European Rail Atlases, see here.

The all-Europe online timetable:  You can check train times for almost any European train journey online at www.bahn.de/en.  This is an extremely useful resource for trip planning, provided by the German Railways.

Back to top

Recommended guidebooks…

If you’re planning a grand tour, I strongly recommend investing in a European Rail Timetable for in-depth train information, and the relevant Lonely Planet Guide for in-depth country information on the sights to see, places to stay, places to eat.  Alternatively, the Europe by Rail guide combines basic train info with country information.

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.com (USA) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK)…

Back to top

Hotels & accommodation…

Tips for booking hotels in Europe…

  • Location, location, location:  For a night between trains, I’d pick a decent hotel near the station.  For a longer stay, I’d want to be close to the sights, for example if we’re talking somewhere like Prague, I’d want a hotel right in the old town.  That sometimes costs more, but you see more – if you’re right there, you can wander out again after dinner, for example.  In a cheaper hotel 3 miles out, you probably wouldn’t…

  • Hotels will almost always look after your bags for free if you need to check out and catch an afternoon or evening train, or if you arrive in the morning before you can check in to your room.

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation – this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve – a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores – you won’t be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there’s not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

Other hotels sites worth trying…

www.tripadvisor.com is a huge resource, and a good place to browse independent travellers’ reviews of all the main hotels.

Backpacker hostels…

www.hostelworld.com:  If you’re on a tight budget, don’t forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in Paris and most other European cities at rock-bottom prices.

Back to top

Travel insurance & VPN

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Confused.com logo

Always take out travel insurance…

You should take out travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you’re covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn’t invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I use an annual policy myself.  Don’t expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flagwww.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & covers you even if the FCDO advises against non-essential travel.

UK flag

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com.

UK flagYou can use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

 US flag If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card to save on foreign transaction fees…

Banks often give a poor exchange rate, then charge a currency conversion fee as well.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they’ll send you a Curve MasterCard – they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I use a Curve Blue card myself – I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I’m recommending it here because I think it’s great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card – they’ll give you £5 cashback through that link, too.

 

Express VPN

When you’re travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply – for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you’re not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself – I’ve signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.

Back to top

Back to home page

Source

Leave a Reply