Traveling by train in Europe can be intimidating for those who haven’t ever traveled by train, any form of public transportation or ever traveled in Europe. What’s it like? Is it easy? Is it safe? Is it clean? Is it comfortable? How do I go about traveling by train in Europe? Is it recommended?
These are all valid questions, and for someone who have gone through these questions in my head before, I feel that I could definitely help you out in some ways.
First of all, traveling by train is not cheap! Especially if you travel in a group, it’s much cheaper to travel by car. Also, realize that budget planes in Europe can be vastly much cheaper.
If so, what are the key advantages of traveling by train?
1. It is convenient
This is by far the best reason for traveling by train in Europe. Most train stations are in the city center, so you won’t need to take anymore trains or taxis like from the airport.
2. It saves time
It’s related to convenience. You won’t have to spend some time wondering how to get to the city center, asking questions, figuring out how much more and actually taking more time to travel from the airport to your main destination. For instance, if you’re in Paris and you want to go to Milan, you’ll have to consider both the time and money you’ll spend to go to the airport from Paris as well as to Milan.
3. It is easy
All you have to do is know the schedule, buy the ticket and sometimes you’d have to book a reservation, print the ticket and you’re done! Depending on where you buy the ticket, your ticket can be immediately printed for you.
Where do I buy and reserve tickets?
Buy them in your local travel agents, in the local train stations in Europe, or you can buy them online.
Where can I buy anad reserve tickets online?
RailEurope and TGV-Europe are the best sites to buy tickets online.
Are the rates good?
TGV-Europe’s rate is better than RailEurope. Once you’re in Europe, the local rates are better than RailEurope’s.
Do I have to book?
If you have a pass, sometimes you don’t have to. However, please double-check. Most high speed trains, especially in France and Italy, require reservation. Some examples are Thalys, TGV, EuroStar, Fecciarossa, etc.
Where can I buy a pass?
RailEurope or Eurail.com should cover that. If you’re European, then you’d want to buy the InterRail pass instead.
How do I book offline?
There are three methods. First, go to your local travel agents. They are usually the best place to buy all your train tickets, especially those that require reservation. Secondly, by phone. Thirdly, in person.
If I am in a particular country, can I buy train tickets of a different country?
Usually, yes. However, don’t expect to buy the tickets in the local train stations. For instance, if you’re in Germany, and you’re looking to buy train rides within France, such as from Paris to Rennes, buy it from the SNCF store. When I was in Austria, though, I was able to buy tickets for other countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Please check.
Can I just skip the process of looking for tickets online if I go to a travel agent?
Yes, you can. However, be warned that travel agents have varying competencies. There was one time when I was looking for a night train from Nancy to Marseille, but when I visited a travel agent in my country, I was told that there was no such train ride. I told them that I’ve done the checking and all I just wanted to do was to book the ride. They apologized and double-checked it for me. I just don’t want you to go to a travel agent and take whatever they have to say without question.
How many days back can I buy the tickets?
90 to 60 days. Check.
Is it comfortable?
Mostly, it’s relatively comfortable. Don’t expect much from night trains.
Is it clean?
For the most part, yes. The toilets tend to be in a bad condition because people keep dumping tissue paper, especially the night trains. The high-speed trains are usually well-maintained.
Is it safe?
Mostly, yes. I had one incident when I was riding the train from Bruxelles to Amsterdam. I had my bag stolen. Apparently, Thalys trains and trains from Bruxelles were quite notorious in Amsterdam. However, I had many other rides in many other countries. I had no problem in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland and Croatia.
Is it worth it?
Yes, very much so! I can assure you that traveling by train is by far the most convenient way of traveling between cities in Europe. You don’t get stuck in traffic jams, you don’t have to drive, but there is of course a small risk for the trains to be late. The only reason why you wouldn’t travel by train is if it’ll take you more than 12 hours or if your destination doesn’t have a train station nearby.