Travelling Europe by train:
We’ve already talked about the advantages of travelling Europe by train vs budget flights or coach in our ultimate guide to travelling Europe. We have to say it: the convenience, comfort and flexibility give train travel the edge for many European routes.
But working out the world of train tickets, Eurail/Interrail passes, seat reservations and supplements can be a minefield. As European rail travel experts, we spend our time working out the cheapest and most efficient ways to get our clients from A to B while they’re travelling Europe by train. So trust us when we say we know our stuff.
In this guide, we’ll explain all the options for getting around Europe by rail. We’ll also talk about how you can use them to get the most out of your travels.
- Interrail and Eurail Passes
- Seat reservations & supplements
- Night trains
- Advance tickets
Let’s kick off with that backpacker favourite…
The Interrail or Eurail pass:
What is Interrail/Eurail?
Interrail and Eurail passes are two types of European rail pass, used for travelling Europe by train.
Both types of pass are very similar in usage – your nationality or residence decides which sort of pass you need.
Each pass allows you to travel within and between European countries by train. The passes are valid for a set number of travel days within a usage period.
Should I buy an Interrail or a Eurail pass?
You are eligible for an Interrail pass if you’re:
A. A European citizen (or if you have dual citizenship) and you hold a European passport.
B. A non-European citizen who has lived in a European country for at least 6 months.
You need a Eurail pass if neither of these rules applies to you.
What kind of Interrail/Eurail passes are there?
Both Interrail and Eurail passes come in different types, and are available for people of all ages (so not just students!).
There is a reduction in price for under 28s and for over 60s – so make sure you buy a pass for the correct age group, or it won’t be valid. Don’t think you can pay less by “looking young” – unfortunately, your passport number and date of birth will be printed on the ticket – so you probably won’t get away with it!
One country vs. global passes:
Interrail and Eurail passes come in a variety of different prices, and you can buy either a “single country” or a “global” pass. For the global pass, you’ll also need to choose how long you want to use the pass for:
- You can buy a single country pass which is always valid for 1 month, but only within one country (or a selection of countries in the case of the Benelux pass).
- Or, you can buy a “global” pass which is valid across the whole of Europe (or, at least most of it). You can choose how long you want to use them for: up to 15 days, 22 days or 1 month. Each option has a different price.
As well as choosing how long you want the pass to be valid for, there is an option to select how many “travel days” you want.
What is an Interrail travel day?
An Interrail “Travel day” is a day when you will be using your pass to travel by train from one of your destinations to the next. There is no limit on the number of trains you can get within the 24 hour period.
Within the usage period (of up to 30 days) you will be asked how many “travel days” you want to have.
For interrail the options (from cheapest to most expensive) are:
- 5 travel days within a period of 15 days
- 7 travel days within a period of 30 days
- 10 travel days within a period of 30 days
- 15 travel days within a period of 30 days
- Travel every day within a period of 22 days
- Travel every day within a period of 1 month
For Eurail the number of days are slightly different, but the principle is the same. Already got your Interrail or Eurail pass and not sure how to use it? Check out our step by step guide on how to use your Interrail/Eurail pass.
How do I know what kind of Interrail/Eurail pass I need?
For most people, the best way to work out what kind of pass you need is to first work out your route and then plan how long you’ll be travelling Europe by train. Next, work out how many travel days you will be taking. Then you need to work out which journeys will require additional seat reservations, and work out how much it will cost to buy those on top.
Unfortunately, the addition of Interrail reservations can make choosing your pass quite confusing. Sometimes the high cost of certain interrail reservations means that it makes more sense to choose a cheaper pass and buy a few extra tickets at full price, but then you’re into all sorts of comparisons and calculations… So where do you start!?!
Let’s talk more about these pesky reservations…
Interrail/Eurail seat reservations and supplements:
What is an Interrail/Eurail seat reservation?
Interrail or Eurail seat reservations are extra bookings required on certain trains when travelling Europe using an Interrail or Eurail pass. They are not tickets, but are used together with your rail pass to allow you onto certain services.
As well as being compulsory to board certain services, they also guarantee you a seat on the train that you’ve selected. That can be a bonus in peak season when trains get really busy!
Once you’ve purchased a reservation, you’ll need to stick to the train time you’ve selected, as the reservation is only valid for that departure.
Do I have to buy an Interrail reservation?
If the reservation is compulsory, unfortunately, you must buy one. If you do not present a reservation with your ticket when your ticket is checked, you’ll be asked to either leave the train at the next stop or pay a fine of up to 50 euros. Nobody wants that, so make sure you do your research before you go!
How do I know when I need one?
Good question, and unfortunately that can be tricky. The rules change regularly and the information is not always easy to find. As a general rule, you will need one on any high-speed train in Western Europe, and on any sleeper train.
On local and regional trains it’s usually not necessary to have a reservation. For our full guide on this, head to our Interrail reservations guide. When you book with us, we’ll buy you all the passes, tickets and reservations you need, tell you which ones to use and when, and let you know where you can travel without any. Easy!
How much does an Interrail/Eurail Reservation cost?
The cost varies depending on each country’s rail services but generally falls between 5 euros and 30 euros.
If you’re looking to save money and you aren’t short of time, it might be worth seeking out slower journeys so that you can avoid paying for reservations on certain routes – plus, you might get an awesome view!
When we book trips for our customers, we work out the most cost and time efficient way to do each journey. Using our comparison software, we find the best possible combination of full fare tickets, rail passes and reservations. This means we can work out the cheapest possible cost. That means we reduce the cost for you guys, while booking the journeys that make most sense for your trip.
Travelling on Night Trains
Overnight transport can be a great way to maximise your time when travelling Europe by train. All night trains will require an extra supplement to be paid, on top of your Interrail or Eurail pass.
As we’ve mentioned in our video guide, here are a range of different options for overnight travel. You can choose based on your preferred comfort level and budget between the following:
- Seat – the cheapest option, you’ll have a seat in a normal carriage, which reclines back a little bit.
- Couchette – you’ll share a cabin with other travellers. Couchettes are normally for 6 people, and offer a small bed with sheet and blanket for you to use. A more comfortable option than a seat, but cheaper than a sleeper.
- Sleeper – depending on you group number, you’ll share your cabin with other travellers. Sleeper compartments are for up to 3 people, with a comfy bed, duvet, sink and space for hanging clothes. Often refreshments and breakfast are included.
- Private sleeper – the same as a sleeper, but you book out the whole cabin for yourself and/or your group. This is the most expensive option, offering the highest level of comfort.
How much does a night train supplement cost?
The costs vary a huge amount; a seat or couchette could start from as little as 10-30 euros. A private sleeper could set you back over 200 euros!
Some overnight trains – such as the night train from Venice to Paris – don’t offer Interrail reservations. Instead they just offer you a discount of around 25% off full price tickets with your pass. These might be best avoided if you’re looking to save money.
After all this talk of Interrail and Eurail passes, it’s easy to forget that these passes aren’t the only way to travel Europe by rail! In many cases rail passes provide great value, but not always. If your journey is short, or will involve a lot of costly reservations, it might actually be cheaper to buy your tickets individually.
Advance tickets can be even cheaper than a pass – particularly if you check different booking sites for deals. The only down side is that booking in advance means losing some flexibility. For the cheapest fares, you generally have to stick to the chosen service. If you miss it, you will be asked to buy a new ticket!
We’d advise booking as early as you can manage – at least 2 months is best in most cases. This will give you the greatest choice of times at the best prices. Different providers have different bookings horizons, so you’ll need to keep your eye on the ball to keep track of availability. You can use the handy DB Navigator app to reliably check which times are available across most providers.
It’s also worth noting that a large percentage of European train tickets are not available as E-tickets. Remember that you’ll need to factor in P&P processing time and costs – or use a local agent in you home country.
Preparing to travel Europe by train is super exciting, but it can also be stressful. Unless you’ve got a lot of time to spend researching and comparing prices, getting the cheapest possible deal can be tricky! You’ll need to do your research. That means visiting different booking sites to check prices and book individual tickets.
If you’re smart, a combination of all the above ticket types can be the way to get maximum value from your trip. Remember to ensure you follow all the rules of travel too – to avoid any unnecessary costs.
Make sure you think about the type of experience you want too. For some people a rail pass may still be the best option, even if it’s not the cheapest. That’ll certainly be the case if you want a bit of flexibility in your Europe trip. Making last minute changes to your advance tickets will cost you a fortune, and the trip is supposed to be fun at the end of the day!
If you already know where you want to go, but don’t know where to start with booking all the tickets, we have a variety of options to suit.
Euroventure are a Deutschebahn ticketing agency, as well as an ABTA accredited tour operator. If you’re already busy planning, we sell individual European rail tickets, Interrail & Eurail passes and reservations. Or, if you’d prefer a zero stress option, we offer self-guided European rail trips including transport & accommodation, as well as small group tours.
If you know you want to travel Europe, but don’t know where to start – that’s cool too! We have a range of tools to help you plan your trip. Plan your Europe trip with our custom route builder. Get inspired with our pre-set routes, or check out our help and advice section for more tips.
You can also contact us any time – no question is too big or too small.
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