The Ultimate Guide to European Train Travel With a Eurail Pass

what is the train that travels around europe

Are you planning a multi-city tour of Europe this summer and relying on trains to get around? If so, you should consider purchasing a Eurail Pass. Maybe you haven’t thought about buying one since your backpacking days, but let me tell you why it’s still a great option. As a college student back in 2007, I bought a Eurail Pass for around $500, which I saved from my part-time job as a barista. This pass allowed me to ride a dozen trains across Europe, from Amsterdam to Paris and Madrid, over the course of a month. Not only did it save me money, but it also saved me time by avoiding long ticket lines.

For beginners to European train travel, a Eurail Pass is a single document that grants non-European citizens the ability to travel by train multiple times across 33 European countries. It eliminates the need to purchase individual point-to-point tickets and provides flexibility and time-saving benefits. Additionally, it can save you money depending on your travel plans.

Now, let’s dive into everything you need to know about Eurail Passes before you make your purchase.

How do Eurail Passes work?

There are two types of Eurail Passes: One Country Pass and Eurail Global Pass. The One Country Pass covers train travel within a single country, while the Eurail Global Pass allows for unlimited train travel across all 33 countries in Europe, using their national railroads. Within each pass type, there are options for different age categories such as children, youth, adults, and seniors. You can choose between first- and second-class options.

The passes also offer different trip lengths. If you’re going on a shorter getaway and won’t be taking trains regularly, the flexible four-days-in-one-month pass is ideal. On the other hand, if you’re planning a fast-paced trip and intend to cover a lot of ground over an extended time, the pass with three months of unlimited travel is perfect.

The flexible passes have various validities, ranging from four to 15 travel days within one or two months. There are also passes available for unlimited travel days during set periods of time, such as 15 days, 22 days, one month, two travel months, and three travel months. Each travel day covers as many trains as you’d like to take within a 24-hour time window from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on the same calendar day. However, if you take a night train that spans across two days, it will only count as one travel day.

To find the ideal pass for your trip, Eurail has developed an online tool. By inputting your travel plans, including the countries you plan to visit and the duration of your trip, the tool recommends the pass that best suits your needs.

Where can you buy a Eurail Pass?

You can buy a Eurail Pass online from Eurail.com, but there are also other authorized vendors like RailPass and Rail Europe. These vendors offer Eurail Passes at similar prices to Eurail.com, with slight variations in terms of insurance and service fees. It’s recommended to check all available options to ensure you’re getting the best deal. While you can also purchase Eurail Passes at train stations in Europe, it is generally more expensive than ordering them online in advance.

How much does a Eurail Pass cost?

The cost of a Eurail Pass depends on the type and duration you choose. As of 2023, a Eurail Global Pass starts at $276 for second-class fares and $351 for first-class seats with a four-days-in-one-month validity for adults. If you opt for a 15-day unlimited pass, it currently ranges from $498 to $631.

The most expensive pass is the three-month unlimited pass, which starts at $1,013 and goes up to $1,286. However, if you consider that a two-month unlimited pass costs between $822 to $1,043, paying a few hundred more for an entire extra month of unlimited train travel seems like a great deal.

One Country Passes are slightly more affordable and vary in price depending on the country. For example, adult passes for Italy range from $142 to $270 for second class and $181 to $342 for first class.

Additionally, Eurail offers passes for specific regions, such as the Benelux Pass (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) and the Scandinavia Pass (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden). However, it’s important to note that Eurail does not offer One Country passes for certain countries included in the Global Pass, such as Switzerland, Montenegro, and Bosnia.

Are Eurail Passes worth it?

The value of a Eurail Pass depends on your travel plans and preferences. If you know you’ll have at least four travel days within a one-month period, a Eurail Pass can save you money. For example, if the cost of a single train ticket exceeds the daily price of the pass, or if you plan to take multiple trains within a day, it’s worth buying the pass. However, if you only need a cheaper regional train to travel between nearby cities, it may not be the most cost-effective option.

While budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet may offer cheaper and faster flights between cities, it’s important to consider additional factors. When you factor in the time spent at the airport for security checks and potential baggage fees, train travel can be more time-efficient and cost-effective. Moreover, train travel is known for being more sustainable and offers beautiful scenic views that flights cannot provide.

Do you need reservations with a Eurail Pass?

In some instances, yes. For popular countries like France, Spain, and Italy, especially during the summer, you will need to make advance seat reservations at an additional cost, even if the fare is included with your Eurail Pass. Night trains and most international high-speed trains throughout Europe also require a supplemental reservation fee.

Certain scenic trains, such as the Bernina Express in Switzerland, also require reservations. To find out if you need to make a reservation for your desired route, you can use the Eurail Timetable, which indicates whether or not a reservation is necessary.

Reservation fees vary between countries and train services, and they must be paid directly to the railway carriers. Payment can be made at the train station, online through the websites of national railway companies, by phone, or through Eurail’s Rail Planner app. To secure a seat, it is recommended to make train reservations at least two months in advance during the summer and ahead of holidays.

Alternatively, you can choose to ride on regional trains, which generally do not require seat reservations. Although these trains may be slower, they offer the opportunity to explore charming villages along the way that you may have missed on high-speed routes. To find trains that don’t require reservations, simply check the “no seat reservations required” box when using the Eurail Timetable.

What European countries does the Eurail Pass cover?

Currently, there are 33 countries in Europe where rail carriers accept Eurail Passes. Great Britain’s train operators almost withdrew from the agreement in 2019, but negotiations with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) allowed travelers to continue using their Eurail passes within the country.

Here is the full list of the 33 countries covered by Eurail: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

How far in advance do you need to buy a Eurail Pass?

You can purchase a Eurail Pass up to 11 months in advance of your trip, as long as you activate it at a European train station within that 11-month period. Alternatively, you can preactivate your pass for a specific date when checking out at Eurail.com, avoiding the need to wait in line at the train station.

In 2020, Eurail introduced its first-ever mobile version of the Eurail Pass through the Rail Planner App. With this app, you can skip the wait for physical documents to arrive in the mail and simply download and load your mobile pass onto the app as soon as you receive the order confirmation email.

Are Eurail Passes just for college students?

Contrary to popular belief, Eurail Passes are not limited to college students or budget backpackers in their 20s. These passes are available to all age groups. While previously only those 27 and under were eligible for discounts, Eurail introduced a 10 percent discount for people over the age of 60 in 2019.

Eurail Passes are also great for families. Children aged 3 or younger can travel for free without a pass, and children aged 4 to 11 are eligible for a free Child Pass. Up to two children can travel for free with one adult. For more information on family discounts, visit the Eurail website.

What are other benefits of having a Eurail Pass?

In addition to unlimited train travel, Eurail Pass-holders enjoy discounts on select museum tickets and boat tours throughout the entire 33-country network. One major benefit of having a pass that includes night trains is the opportunity to save on hotel costs. By sleeping on a train, you can travel from one destination to another and save money on accommodation at the same time.

Eurail Passes are not limited to train travel alone. They can also be used on ferries and public transportation in some countries. For a full list of participating train, ferry, and public transport companies that accept Eurail Passes, refer to the official Eurail website. For those interested in island-hopping, the Greek Islands Pass offers ferry service to 55 islands.

Remember, this article was originally published in 2019 and was updated recently to provide you with the most current information. So, get your Eurail Pass and start exploring the wonders of Europe by train!

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