December 17, 2017

Musings on European Rail Travel

There are many ways to travel around Europe.  One of my favorites is using the train!  Train travel evokes mythical and magical feelings in me.  Train trips always seem so exciting, serene and romantic but why?

I suppose it has to do with the fact that there isn’t much opportunity to travel by train in California.  Yes I have been on the Amtrak train from Orange County to Los Angeles (yup that was a long trip) but somehow Amtrak just doesn’t seem to compare with trains in Europe.

This infatuation could be due to all the movies and books portraying train travel as adventurous, daring and romantic.  Doesn’t everyone find love on a train?  Spies abound on trains, right?  What about those long lustful goodbyes on the platform?  Or even chasing the train to have one last glimpse. . .

European Rail Travel

by Wootang01, on Flickr

No matter where it comes from, I relish the opportunity to travel by train in Europe!

So I am very excited to be traveling this summer solely by train.  In preparation I have been thinking about past train travel and the tips I have learned along the way.

The first tip is to PACK LIGHT! I learned this lesson the hard way on my first trip to Europe way back in 1981.  For a 3 week solo trip I had one LARGE suitcase, 1 hanging garment bag, 1 overnight case and a large bag/purse plus the bags of souvenirs I collected along the way.  I swear my arms are longer today because of this trip!  The thing I didn’t know about train travel is there are a lot of walking and stairs involved.  Stairs that go down under the track, stairs that go back up to the platform and then more stairs to get on the train.  Ugh, I’m tired just remembering this.  Some of the newer trains are actually at platform level so that makes it a little easier but there is still quite a bit of walking and stairs.  So PACK LIGHT!

The last time I traveled solely by train was in Switzerland and for this trip I had a rail pass.  The pass made it extremely easy because I didn’t have to arrive early to purchase tickets so I just got on what ever train I wanted.    Just as a train ticket, the pass doesn’t guarantee me a seat.  If you want a guaranteed seat, then you need to purchase a reservation.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

The pass I had allowed me first class seats but I could sit in 2nd class if I wanted, however, it doesn’t work the other way around!  Also some trains require seat reservations so make sure to check this if you are traveling with a rail pass.

This summer’s trip is pricing out quite a bit less if I buy point-to-point tickets so that is probably what I am going to do.  The one thing I haven’t decided is if I will purchase some ticket prior to departing the US.  Any suggestions?

There is a price difference between 1st class seats and 2nd class seats and sometimes this difference can be quite a lot.  The differences between the classes are pretty much the same as in airplanes – roomier seats, more comfortable seats etc. It is my experience that if you want to travel with locals then travel in 2nd class.  One note to mention, 2nd class can be very full during rush hours so a seat may not be found.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

My last tip is to arrive early at the station so that you have time to find the platform your train will be departing from.  I hate rushing around at the station at the last minute.

Here are a couple websites I find useful for looking up train schedules and even pricing.

Deutsche Bahn (Germany)

Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) (Austria)


What train experiences have you had?  Any tips you’d like to share?

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  1. Rachel says:

    When I was a child, we used to take the Amtrack from Fort Worth, TX, to Austin. It was a trip that could have easily been made by car, but we did it for the experience!

    Now, I live in Asia, and train travel here is done more out of necessity than enjoyment. People view it as the more economical choice, and with infrastructure so well-developed in terms of tracks, it is quite accessible. Even though the local people don’t really see the “romance” in taking trains, it still has that special feel for me, as well. Despite the less sanitary and overcrowded conditions on trains here, I still love a could train ride and would choose it over traveling by plane any day of the week. 🙂
    Rachel recently posted..Giving Birth in China- Part 1

  2. Rachel says:

    When I was a child, we would take the Amtrack from Fort Worth, TX, to Austin! It was a trip we could have easily done by car, but we loved the train so much, we did it for the experience.

    Now, I live in Asia, and train-travel is on a whole different level in a place with a population of 1.3 billion. Most people here take trains because it is a more economical way to get from Point A to Point B. However, I still find traveling by train here in Asia exhilarating! Even though the conditions are a tinge less sanitary and quite a bit more crowded than I am accustomed to, it is still an exciting, “romantic” experience!

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      I love childhood memories! They make me feel all warm and cozy. Sometimes it isn’t about the speed we get somewhere, it is the experience.

  3. Sebastian says:

    I also think that Train rides are very nice and very relaxing compared to driving or all the stress at the airport but if you travel with a lot of stuff it can be very tiring….
    In Germany you can travel very cheap with trains if you book in advance and they often have special promos.
    Sebastian recently posted..When a dinner goes bad!

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      I have seen the different rates if booking trains early and will probably book some early and then leave some for closer to travel time.

      There are definitely times when traveling by train is not the best option!

  4. Great tips! We’re thinking of taking the train from London up to Edinburgh, as I’ve heard it’s a beautiful trip. We met some folks from the U.K. while we were in New Mexico (so random) and they told us that rail tickets are SO much cheaper if you buy them in advance.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Photo Essay- The Oregon Coast

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      That sounds like a great train trip and should be very beautiful! I’ve noticed that the tickets are quite a bit less expensive the earlier you buy so I may just go ahead and purchase post of them ahead of time.

  5. Sabrina says:

    I enjoy travelling by train as well – probably because I didn’t do it a whole lot growing up. I have commuter friends who dislike any kind of public transportation because they’ve had enough of it 🙂 For me, trains (like planes) mean one thing: VACATION. What’s not to like? Plus, sometimes I prefer trains over planes since you don’t have to check in that early, you can walk around in the train, you usually have more space, there might be a restaurant on board, … The only annoying part is lugging your luggage with you.
    Sabrina recently posted..The Ribbits Found Something – Remembering Our Cairo Layover Tour

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      True for me too – trains=vacation! I actually like flying for that same reason. I know a lot of people who travel for their job and just hate it. Different outlooks.

  6. Laurel says:

    I love traveling by train as well. The other tip I have is make sure you’re on the right section of the train. I was recently on a train from Munich to Stuttgart, but it split it off in 3 different sections en route, so if I was in the wrong section I would have ended up in either Amsterdam or Paris.
    Laurel recently posted..Stuttgart Lapidarium – One of Stuttgart’s Quirkiest Attractions

  7. Katie says:

    Hi Debbie – I actually just did a post about saving money on European train travel, looking at the value of getting a pass versus booking individual tickets and using Rail Europe versus the individual country’s rail sites. You can find it at

  8. Skye says:

    Did a train trip all around Switzerland and thoroughly enjoyed it!!! A man at the travel agency at the train station booked our whole trip – stayed in some amazing towns/hotels/rooms all except the one in St.Moritz – it was far too modern… is a fantastic way to see the country in comfort – the trains are amazing – we were booked in first class and some of the time had the whole carriage to ourselves (must have been the time of year we travelled?)….would recommend travelling by train to anyone…..sit back, glass of wine and enjoy the amazing scenery!!! ONLY WAY TO GO!!!!

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      Switzerland by train is awesome! It was like a movie was playing outside the window the entire trip 🙂

  9. Renee says:

    I’ve only experienced railway transportation in France….from Paris to Tours. Thanks for the tips on packing light….I’m trying to do that anyway, but you’ve given me definite incentive!
    Renee recently posted..Flying high with the Loews in New Orleans!

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      Well hopefully you’ll be able to experience more train adventures soon and your new found habit of packing light will be rewarded!

  10. if i were to add a tip, it would be remember that cities in europe are a lot closer together than in other continents! the amount of stops i nearly missed because of what i thought would be a few hour journey was actually a few minutes.
    im totally down with you on arriving early, not that it ever seems to happen for us!

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      Great tip! It is very important to have a general idea of where you’re going and when you are supposed to arrive.

  11. Love Europe’s rail system! Only wish the US had something like this as well! Taken rail a few times in Europe but even if you aren’t traveling long distances, the city metros and subways are awesome as well!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..38th Annual Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee- a video introduction- overview- and history

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      Completely agree with you Jeremy! The first subway I ever took was in Paris and that was an education but it has made traveling other subway systems much easier 🙂

  12. Jan Ross says:

    No train experience yet, but I would love to try it. Especially some of the trains that cover the west in the United States. Oh, wait – I just remembered we took the train from the airport in Amsterdam to Central Station. What an awful experience with big suitcases. We were traveling as light as we could for a three week trip that included a variety of climates and getting those suitcases up the stairs was a nightmare. I had a bruise on my hand for a week!!
    Jan Ross recently posted..Sushi Bar on Carnival Liberty

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