9 Essential Eurail Travel Tips & Questions (@Eurail)

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Friendly Bahn train conductor, Hamburg, Germany.

German Bahn train conductor & traveller, Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Lily Leung.

I started my first ever backpacking trip to Europe over 4 months ago in Bulgaria and Romania. Since then I’ve,

  • Looped and zigzagged around Europe, travelling over 11,000 km by rail (see my route below)
  • Visited 17 countries, 28 cities/towns, from Varna, Bulgaria on the Black Sea on the east, to Barcelona on the west, Copenhagen on the north and Rome, Italy on the south.
  • Used 20+ travel days on two Global Eurail passes, each with 15 days of travel within two months.


Thinking about how much I’ve learned about Europe rail travel this summer, I was thrilled when Eurail.com asked if I could answer a few traveller questions from their Facebook page.

In this post, I’d like to share:

  • A free essential tool I swear by, to plan rail routes
  • How to know if a reservation is required
  • Easiest countries to travel by rail
  • Info on border crossing, luggage storage and accessing cash

My rail route through Europe

Here are the major legs of my rail journeys. Next to each trip, I’ve listed whether a reservation was required (I’ll talk more about this below).


View Larger Map

Country/route Reservation
required?
Sighisoara to Budapest (Romania to Hungary) Yes
Budapest to Vienna (Hungary to Austria) No
Vienna to Prague (Austria to Czech Republic) No
Prague to Berlin (Czech Republic to Germany) No
Berlin to Copenhagen (Germany to Denmark) No
Within Germany, e.g. Berlin-Hamburg, Berlin-Munich No
Munich to Venice (Germany to north Italy) No
Within Italy, e.g. Venice to Rome, Rome to Florence, Florence to Venice Yes
Venice to Salzburg (north Italy to Austria) No
Salzburg to Ljubljana (Austria to Slovenia) No
Ljubljana to Zagreb (Slovenia to Croatia) No
Zagreb to Belgrade (Croatia to Serbia) Yes (Serbia not covered by Global pass)
Novi Sad to Vienna (Serbia to Austria) Yes for the Serbia portion (Serbia not covered by Global pass)
Within Austria, e.g. Vienna-Innsbruck, Innsbruck-Salzburg No
Innsbruck to Interlaken (Austria to Switzerland) No
Interlaken to Nice (Switzerland to France) Yes
Nice to Barcelona (France to Spain) Yes
Barcelona to Paris (Spain to France) Yes
Paris to Brussels/Brugge (France to Belgium) Yes
Brussels/Brugge to Amsterdam (Belgium to Netherlands) No
Utrecht to Berlin (Netherlands to Germany) No

First, a Europe rail travel essential

What have been your best sources of information on how to best travel from place to place? (from Jason Tsang)

The German national railway website Bahn.com and free iPhone app) has been the ultimate tool for planning train journeys.

In addition to German train routes, it:
– Has schedules for all the trains in Europe
– Shows if a reservation is required
– Lets you search for routes with or without high speed/regional trains (helpful for avoiding reservations, if applicable)
– Lists intermediate stops, connections, border crossings

I can’t emphasize how useful this website and iPhone app has been for my rail travel planning!

Reservations

It took me some time to understand reservation fees when I first got my Eurail passes, fortunately it’s become clearer in the last few months.

1. How do you know if the route requires a reservation?
Go to the bahn.de website, enter your start and end destinations. If part, or all of your trip, requires a reservation there will be white R on a grey background next to the route (see image below).

Munich-Venice train reservations

2. What trains don’t need reservations?
The high speed German (ICE) & Austria (RailJet) trains don’t require reservations and they also go to/through surrounding countries such as Switzerland, north Italy, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia. The Dutch and Belgian trains also don’t require reservations.

As you can see from my trip above, I didn’t need reservations for the majority of my routes, only for France, Spain, some of Italy and eastern Europe.

3. How much are reservation fees? On average, daytime train reservation fees are 10 euros or less. See the Eurail.com site for domestic fees (train travel within a country), international trains (train crosses a border) and night train fees. All night trains have compulsory reservations.

4. How do I make a reservation?
I’ve only made reservations at the train station at a kiosk or with an attendant, on the same day or a few days before travel. For in-person reservations, sometimes you can’t make reservations for a train unless you are in the country. For example, for Barcelona to Brussels (via Paris), I could only reserve the Barcelona to Paris segment while in Barcelona, and would’ve had to make the reservation for Paris to Brussels from inside France.

You can also reserve online or via telephone. See how to make seat reservations on Eurail.com.

5. How do I minimize reservation fees?
To avoid reservation fees, you can:
– Take only daytime trains (all night trains have compulsory reservation)
– Take regional (slower) trains instead of high-speed trains, see is it possible to avoid reservations or extra charges? Regional trains don’t have reservation fees, but the duration of the trip might be double or longer.
– See how to avoid reservation fees for alternate routes for Paris-Amsterdam, Paris-Frankfurt, Paris-Zurich, Paris-Milan, Paris-Nice that don’t require a reservation.

Border controls

Is there any immigration checking when you travel with rail from one to another country among Schengen area? (via Shuyi Lin on Facebook)

There is no passport control when travelling within the Schengen area.

If you’re travelling between non-Schengen & Schengen areas, you’ll get one exit stamp and then an entry stamp. Generally, you stay on the train for the border crossing.

Most countries in mainland Europe are in the Schengen area except the Balkans, Romania and Bulgaria. In general, Canadian, Americans & Australian have 90 days in the Schengen area per 6 months. See Wikipedia’s article on Schengen of countries.

Packing & luggage

We are traveling to Italy in October with a 6 yr old and 1 yr old. On the trains, is there a storage area for say a stroller or car seat and one large piece of luggage? (from Carla Gosline).

Yes, there plenty of racks and space for large items like luggage and strollers. There are also overhead shelves for smaller items like day packs. I’ve seen many families travel with children and did not seem to have problems with luggage space or with getting on and off the train. I’ve also seen railway employees on the platform and train attendants assisting passengers if needed.

Finances

How do you obtain your money? Are traveler’s checks a thing of the past? Is it only credit cards? Are you constantly going to banks to change money? or just when you get into the country the first time? (from Kim Simonds)

I use my debit card to withdraw money and use my credit card if it’s accepted. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted (even non-chip credit cards), but American Express has been more accepted than I excepted, for example I’ve used my Amex shopping at H&M in Germany, the Vatican Museum and for accommodations in Switzerland.

If I’m only staying in a country for a day or two, for example on my 1 day stop in Switzerland which uses francs as the currency and not euros, I paid for as much as possible with my credit card and converted existing euros to francs so I wouldn’t have to withdraw francs from my debit card. I’ve never used travellers’ cheques.

In total, I have 4 debit and credit cards (main cards and back-up cards). To minimize risk, I keep them in different places: on-hand, in my day pack and my large backpack.

Favourite experiences so far

Best countries for rail travel. I find the German, Belgian and Dutch trains to be the easiest to travel on. You don’t need reservations, they are punctual and the least crowded. The German & Austrian trains also go to Switzerland, Copenhagen, north Italy (e.g. Venice, Verona), Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Croatia.

Most spontaneous trip. Deciding at 10am in Berlin to go to Copenhagen for three days, and jumping on the 1:12pm train, and getting to Copenhagen at 8:10pm with light still in the sky. This trip was also one of the most interesting train rides I’ve experienced, because our train boarded a ferry while crossing the Baltic Sea!

Most scenic train rides. I saw some of the most beautiful blue rivers, green hills and snow-capped mountains on my train rides From Salzburg to Innsbruck; and Innsbruck to Interlaken (Switzerland). From Munich to Venice I also spotted at least 10 small castles in the mountains when the train was passing through southern Germany.

My favourite trains. The German ICE trains! If Steve Jobs designed trains, they’d be German ICE trains. These are sleek, white, shiny and fast, just like MacBooks ;) I’ve been on ICE trains that clocked over 250 km/hr (that’s over 1/4 the speed of a Boeing 747!)

External sources on Europe rail travel and Eurail passes:

My Europe rail travel passes was sponsored by Eurail.com, but all trip plans and opinions are my own. If you have questions about Europe train travel or passes, ask on facebook.com/eurorail. I also recommend you follow them twitter.com/eurail for regular promotions and deals.

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  • Andrea López Gómez

    Love this

  • Karen Sandberg

    My interest was very good fine,and you….have you gotten visit any-else country someday soon….European has many thoughts of phrases language’s,. not including Asian can will confused non-speaking official language,..?

  • Elise Glickman

    Lily, this is a wonderfully informative post. I do have a couple of follow up questions: this posting is several years’ old, are there any updates? Also, I like to be spontaneous, too. What do you recommend for booking places to stay? Do you use a mobile service? What do you recommend? What have you discovered are the best ways to meet likeminded people?

    • Hi Elise,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I did go back to Europe again for about 6 weeks between this trip and now, but I think the process for taking the trains and using the Eurail pass was the same so I don’t have any updates on that front. Here are my questions to your other questions though.

      1. Booking places: I mostly stayed at hostels during this particular trip and booked it through hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com. Some hostels have both dorms and private rooms, so if you’re traveling with others, you can sometimes book a room just for your group.

      2. Mobile: I only used wifi on this trip on my iPhone, but on more recent trips, I got my iPhone unlocked and bought SIM cards if I was going to stay in a country for longer than a week so that I have more service. I’m sure there is more wifi service now compared to a few years ago, so I think wifi is enough as long as you have a smartphone or tablet with apps for maps, making calls, etc.

      3. Meeting people: I met a lot of people at the places I stayed (I wasn’t a big partier or drinker, so I’d always look for hostels that looked more orderly and clean). I also met other travellers during tours, such as walking tours, day tours or longer tours. FYI, many European cities also have free walking tours (e.g. http://www.neweuropetours.eu/).

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have more questions!
      Lily

  • Thanks, the post is really useful for those who plan traveling to Europe in future. I won’t say that using only trains is the best decision for the most exciting trip (sometimes, using the plane/renting a car is better), but, it’s a decent choice, too.

  • Cassie

    Hi Lily,

    Can you tell me… How did you know if the trains were included in your Eurail pass? I’m trying to research a Europe trip at the moment and struggling to figure out which ones are and which ones aren’t.

  • Nooraini

    Thanks. Very useful for my future travel plans. By the way, where there are not reservation required, does this mean there is a chance you don’t get a seat?

    Nooraini

    • Hi Nooraini,

      If reservations aren’t required, sometimes it’s still possible to make a reservation to guarantee you get a seat. Otherwise, yes, it’s possible that you may not get a seat. That happened to me once or twice during my five months in Europe where the train was quite full (I believe I was on a German or Austrian train) so I just stood at one of the areas of the train instead with other people who didn’t get seats. It wasn’t a big deal though, the trains I were on still let us board even though it was full already.

      Hope that helps! If you have more questions about Europe rail travel, you can also post the question on Eurail’s official Facebook page at facebook.com/eurorail

      – Lily

  • Incredibly useful insights and very helpful tips for anyone traveling through Europe.

  • You did great job.thank you for sharing.This really helpful.

  • Pingback: Best of 1st Class Europe @Eurail Train Travel [Photos]()

  • Hi Lily, found this post really interesting. I’m preparing for a trip to Europe in 2012 and will definitely be travelling by train. Lots of detail and good tips, so thanks!

    • Hi Alison,

      Glad you liked the post and good luck with your Europe trip next year. Travelling by train is a great experience in itself :) If you have any questions feel free to ask.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      – Lily

  • Kash_comp

    Is there any need to make advance reservations with a Eurail pass…or we can just get to a station and will be given the reservation at the moment we want for any train.. Would like to know about the train travel scenarios in countries like Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France Spain…generally in the month of April/May or Sept/Oct. If we need to make reservations in certain countries, then please suggest how to do it in advance….Please help with this.. Thanks in advance..

    • Hi Kash,

      If you read the “Reservations” section above I’ve listed the bahn.de website for checking  train schedules and it also shows if you need a reservation or not. In general, the high speed trains in Austria and Switzerland do not require reservations; and in France, Spain and Italy they do.

      Here’s a Eurail.com page about making reservations: How to make Eurail train seat reservations.

      If you have more questions, try asking at the Eurail.com Facebook page: facebook.com/eurorail. They’re really friendly and helpful :)

      Thanks for stopping by!
      – Lily

  • Great, practical information!

    • Thanks for stopping by Erik!

      – Lily

  • Wow, fantastic info on traveling around Europe on the train.  It’s my favorite way to travel in Europe but I have only done a few trips here and there.  Great information!

    • Hi Jeremy,

      I think rail is my favourite way to travel around Europe too. It’s been so relaxing to watch the scenery pass by from the comfort of my seat :) The Eurail pass is a really good deal, especially if you’re travelling in western Europe!

      Let me know if you need any other rail info ;)

      – Lily

  • Peng Leong1

    Wow!Great information!
     

    • Thanks :)

      – Lily

  • Wow!  You covered a lot of ground.  Great detail in this post.

    • Thanks for stopping by Stephanie :)

      – Lily

  • Anonymous

    Makes me wish I was organised enough to get a pass. I’ve just been doing point-to-point, and I’m sure its costed more than I think — I’m afraid to look!

    • Hi Ian,

      There’s always next time right? ;) 

      – Lily

  • Anonymous

    Wow Lily,
    Only 3 months, 11000km, 17 countries, 28 destinations, and ~20 travel days.
    I’m gonna need more information on how you made this happen. How many hours do you spend on trains? I had a friend meet me in Split, Croatia — who came by Eurail from Lille, France. It took her 2 days, and many connections, but didn’t cost very much at all.. thanks to Eurail.

    • Hi Ian,

      Wow, reading back the stats you (re)quoted me makes the trip sound so epic! 

      My longest train rides were around 12 hours (Barcelona to Belgium, Interlaken to Nice, Sighisoara to Budapest). Luckily the high speed trains are usually pretty comfortable, so with a self-packed picnic, it’s a day of watching movies, reading or catching up on writing – but 12 hours hardly compares to your friend’s 48 hour ride! She’s a trooper :)

      I’ve also had short trips too, like from Amsterdam to Utrecht (30 min), so it the time varies. Yeah, I love my Eurail pass, it’s such great value, especially for the high speed trains!

      – Lily

  • Great (and thorough) list!  I had a Eurail pass years ago and it saved me a ton.

    • Hi Raymond,

      The Eurail pass is a great deal, especially if you are travelling in western and central Europe. Plus sitting in 1st class on the high speed trains, like the German ICE, Austria Railjet, French TGV etc, is such a treat!

      – Lily

  • Such a helpful post! I regret that we didn’t buy a pass as we weren’t sure how many days we were travelling and then found out we couldn’t buy them once we were actually in Europe. Probably would have saved some money!

  • This guide is so helpful, Lily!  We used a eurail pass years and years ago and had a really positive experience.

    • Hi Christy and Kali,

      I’m having a great experience with my pass too. I especially love the trains that don’t require reservations (like the German and Austrian trains). It’s so great to just show up and hop on. 

      – Lily

  • Anonymous

    Your journey/itinerary looks very impressive! Also a great writeup on eurail travel. I have a friend planning a trip to Europe by train end of the year. I’ll be sure to forward this to her. Very useful article. Thanks!

    • Hi Jeremy & Shirlene,

      Good luck to your friend planning his/her Europe trip, it’s been such a relaxing but exciting experience. If there’s anything I might be able to help them with, just let me know too!

      – Lily

  • Nishanthe

    Regarding Border crossings.. although theoretically it doesnt have border controls, we had encountered many hassles when crossing borders between Schengen countries.
    Eg. Germany – Check Border
    Swiss – Italy Border

    -Ruwan

    • Hi Ruwan,

      Thanks for mentioning this about the Schengen border crossings. I didn’t have my passport checked at those two borders, but it’s a good heads-up for other travellers to know there is a possibility you might be checked. 

      – Lily

  • Amazed how many countires you have visited in such short time. I bet you’re having so much fun too. The map looks like you had took over the whole Europe. haha

    • Hi Sarah,

      I was just looking at this map again, and I did do a pretty good job of covering most of main land Europe didn’t I? ;) The 90 day Schengen visa is such a limitation, but I guess that just means more future visits. I could probably spend a month just in Spain and another in the other Eastern Europe countries I didn’t visit this time like Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, etc.

      – Lily

  • Solid tips, took the Eurail all over in 2010 it was amazing. Anyone thinking of doing it will definitely appreciate this! Keep having fun out there Lily, enjoy following your progression!

    • Thanks Rob! This was my first time really travelling in Europe and five months ago I didn’t even know how to check train schedules aside from using the print timetable I got with my Eurail pass. Hopefully these tips will help the aspiring Europe rail travellers out there :)

      Thanks for stopping by!
      – Lily

  • Anonymous

    This is an amazing list list of how to travel on the Eurail system. They were wise to give you a pass.

    • Hi Ted,

      Thanks for the kind words. It’s been such a privilege to see beautiful western, central and eastern Europe these past 5 months. Being able to train by train has been especially interesting because of the countryside I normally wouldn’t have been able to see, like the mass stretches of windfarms in Germany or little villages in Switzerland. So beautiful :)

      – Lily