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Know Before You Go: Traveling by Train in Europe

Planning an adventure across Europe via train? Here’s everything you need to know before you go.

A train runs through the mountains of Europe.
Hi, I'm Georgie!

Bali-based Georgie Darling is a freelance travel writer from London, UK, with bylines across The Guardian, Fodor's Travel, ELLE, VICE UK, and more. When she's not exploring new places, she's scuba diving, strength training, and helping hotels with their copywriting and social media presence.

Riding the rails in Europe offers many advantages: beautiful views, space for all of your luggage, and the convenience of arriving right in the heart of your next location.

Plus, trains are an easy and affordable way to get around the continent which is home to snow-capped mountains, golden sand beaches, ancient history, and endless delicious types of cuisine along the way. Here’s everything you need to know about traversing Europe by train.

Why you should opt for train travel in Europe

The Eiffel Tower by the River Seine in Paris.
There are many ways to get around Europe.Photo Credit: Pierre Morel / Viator

It’s comfortable, sustainable, and fun.

The well-connected nature of Europe means you can have a pain au chocolat in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris for breakfast, dig into Belgian beer and chocolates for lunch, pop over to Germany for dinner, and then catch a night train through the Swiss Alps and wake up with a cappuccino in Italy the following morning.

As well as the countless opportunities for discovering new places and exploring different cultures, European train travel also has a few other perks. It’s usually smoother and significantly more scenic than traveling by bus or plane (think: countryside views rather than endless highways or clouds) and is far better for your carbon footprint than flying. It can also offer more spacious or more comfortable seating, especially when it comes to getting some sleep.

Did you know? The entire European train network is easy to navigate and doesn’t require much planning in advance, which makes spontaneity easy.

How to travel by train in Europe

A train pulls into a European railway station.
Get to know your railway stations.Photo Credit: Pagina / Shutterstock

Plan it all out ahead, or go with the flow.

There are a few different ways to buy tickets for your European train travel, depending on your level of organization. If you're traveling around with no fixed route, the best way to book your ticket is through the Eurail Pass.

If you'd prefer to plan a little more in advance, websites such as Trainline, Rail Ninja, and Omio are great for showing you different ticket prices and routes in English.

Travelers on a budget should know it's usually cheaper to book directly on each individual rail company's website. A hack for doing this without having to navigate multiple websites in a range of languages is to plan your route through a website such as Trainline, then search for it directly on each individual company's site.

How expensive is train travel in Europe?

A French train rides through the green fields of the countryside.
See Europe's countryside by rail.Photo Credit: olrat / Shutterstock

The answer isn’t always cut and dry.

Trains in Europe vary in price depending on the route and the country. If you're traveling Europe with a Eurail Pass or similar, you can select one based on the number of journeys or days. This is the most flexible option, but it does cost a little more.

Norway, Austria, France, and the Netherlands are the most expensive countries for train travel, according to a Euronews study.

Countries including Poland, Latvia, Hungary, and Slovakia are some of the cheapest, with single rail tickets usually costing less than $5 to travel across the country. Mid-range countries such as Italy and Spain cost around $20 for a single regional journey.

Most European countries offer discounts on train travel for students, seniors, young adults, and children. Enter your age when you book, and you may get a discount.

Other ways to save money when traveling via train in Europe include booking night trains, traveling on a slower train, opting for off-peak tickets, and buying your tickets in advance.

Insider tip: Roundtrip journeys are often cheaper (on a per-train basis) than one-way tickets.

How safe is traveling by train around Europe?

A woman looks out at the Eiffel Tower in Paris from the train window.
Europe was made for staring out of train windows and daydreaming.Photo Credit: Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock

Take basic precautions and you should be just fine.

Traveling by train in Europe is generally very safe for all kinds of travelers. But to ensure your safety, consider the following tips:

  • Keep valuables close: When storing your big bag on the luggage rack, make sure you take out any valuables and keep those close by during your journey. If you’re taking a night train, keep a tiny bag with your passport and other important documents under your pillow.

  • Invest in brightly-colored luggage or tags: This way, no one picks up your bag by accident instead of their own. For extra precautions, buy a few Airtags or similar and keep one in each bag.

  • Stick to daytime connections: Aim to book trains that don’t have long layovers overnight. If you do have hours to wait between trains, research the station beforehand to see what’s open overnight (coffee shops, nearby hotels, sleeping pods).

  • Stay vigilant in train stations: Sometimes, train stations are the diciest part of train travel, where pickpockets may take advantage of travelers that are confused, lost, or struggling with baggage. Be alert and keep an eye on your belongings, and try to look like you’re a savvy traveler (even if you’re not!).

Mobility and age requirements for European train travel

A toddler points out of a European train window.
Trains are fun, no matter what your age.Photo Credit: FamVeld / Shutterstock

Everyone is welcome on European trains.

European train travel is suitable for all kinds of travelers, from families with young children to solo women and elderly travelers. Most trains have space for strollers and wheelchairs, although it’s worth double-checking with each individual train to be on the safe side. When booking, make sure to check the age requirements, as some trains have discounts based on age.

Some stations have larger gaps between the platform and the train, so if you’re a wheelchair user or have other mobility requirements, do some extra research to ensure you’ll be comfortable.

Insider tip: Many stations offer assistance for those traveling with children, anyone that has mobility requirements, or the elderly, so if you need extra help, contact your train provider.

Where can you go by train in Europe?

A view of Malaga in Spain and its huge bay on the ocean.
Malaga is just one of the places you can visit by train.Photo Credit: KikoStock / Shutterstock

Head from Sweden to Turkey to Ireland to Spain.

You can travel as far north as Kiruna in Sweden, as far east as Ankara in Turkey, as far south as Malaga in Spain, and as far west as Westport in Ireland. With the Eurail Pass (or individual trains across the network) you can enter 33 countries with more than 40,000 stops in total.

You'll find that there are certain popular starting or transiting points throughout Europe, including Gare Du Nord in Paris, Hamburg Hbf in Germany, and Rome Termini in Italy.

Many less popular routes may require changing at one of the above stations, but if you're there for a while, you'll find restaurants, stores, coffee shops, and charging points to keep you entertained. The bigger stations also have luggage storage, so if you're not pressed for time, you can even spend a day exploring the places above without dragging your big bag around with you.

Related: 7 of the Top European Train Travel Itineraries

Documentation needed for European train travel

Passports spread out across a map of nations.
When you're crossing borders, don't forget your passport.Photo Credit: Aleksandr Ryzhov / Shutterstock

Make sure to have the proper identification documents.

You’ll need to carry your passport and, ideally, another form of ID when traveling via train in Europe. If you’re traveling outside of the Schengen zone (which is most EU countries), you may also need to apply for an individual visa, depending on the country. For example, US citizens need an e-visa to enter Turkey.

If you’re just sticking within the Schengen zone, you don’t need to worry about individual visas, but be mindful of your 90-day limit.

Insider tip: Apps like Schengen Calculator are ideal for keeping track of your 90-day Schengen zone limit.

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