europe train travel

Does the idea of Euro trip sounds appealing to you?

Have you ever thought about touring Europe by train?

I know there are many confusions and black spots in information about it. But it is OK, don’t worry, I have it all covered! 😉

When I used my 1 month unlimited pass, I noted all questions and difficulties that I had on the road in order to write a perfect post for you to use in your trip!

ATTENTION: Eurail currently holds a great promo with up to 5 FREE travel days!

Use this table of contents to help you navigate this huge post:

Introduction

Interrail pass

When I was preparing for my Eurail trip, I couldn’t find any good structured post that would answer all my questions.

I had to go through tons of info, and, as I still could not find some answers, I had to do it through trials and errors.

That is why I decided to write a step-by-step guide that can probably cover all of your questions.

In this post I will tell you not only about

  • if it worth to buy the pass (though, we will be covering all of that in details),
  • but also we will talk about how to use the pass properly,
  • how to make the most of it
  • and how to avoid the most common mistakes tourists usually do.

Let’s begin:

Interrail Eurail pass is it really worth it

1. Choosing and buying the pass

What is Interrail (Eurail) pass?

Interrail (or Eurrail) pass is a travel document that allows you to travel in Europe BY TRAIN. The idea is that you have just one ticket (your pass) and unlimited amount of options to travel in Europeans countries at any time your pass is valid!

Depending on the type of your pass, it can be a pass that allows you to travel in only one specific country of your choice, or it can be an unlimited travel of 28 European countries in a specific period of time.

What is the difference between Interrail and Eurail?

interrail-eurail-map

Actually, it is pretty much the same thing, don’t be confused!

If you are from Europe (citizen or have a residency) you should apply for Interrail pass (it is also cheaper, because as a citizen, you pay taxes in Europe).

If you are not from Europe, you should buy Eurail pass.

Let’s make it even easier – take a look at the picture above:

You are from a blue countrybuy Interrail

You are from a green countrybuy Eurail

As the majority of my readers are non-Europeans, I will call the pass Eurail for simplicity. But remember, if you are a European citizen, your pass will be called Interrail (which is pretty much the same thing as I said, the only difference is the price).

NOTE: if you are, let’s say from Italy, and you want to buy the Interrail pass, you cannot use it in the country of origin.

If still in doubt, check if your country is eligible for Interrail here.

What are the types of passes which are available?

Oh, there are so many types! You can choose depending on the amount of countries, duration of your trip, your age, family packages… Check it out here (Eurail) or here (Interrail).

  • One country pass – as the name implies, you can only use it for 1 country. You can get it for a specific amount of days to use in a set period of time (Example – Italy pass 5 days to use in 30 days).
  • Regional pass (2 countries) – you can combine 2 bordering countries of your choice. Very good for those who want to concentrate on a specific region.
  • Select pass (4 countries) – the only difference with the previous pass is that you have 4 countries, not 2. They have to be bordering each other too though.
  • Global pass (up to 28 countries) – the most popular option and the one that I got too! With this pass you can take a train unlimited amount of times almost anywhere in Europe. If you don’t have much time to travel you can go for 5 days within 10 days travel pass. If you want to make the most out of it, you can get 1, 2 or 3 continuous months. The last option is a pretty good deal, check it out!

Do not forget that if you are a student you can get a good discount! 😉

How do I pick the pass that fits me best?

There are many options and sometimes it is hard to choose. Let’s count a bit.

In order to understand if the pass will be a good deal for you, you will have to do an estimation.

How many days you want to travel in Europe, which countries are you thinking to visit and more or less how many cities?

How long is the duration of the pass?

The passes can be taken on periods of 5, 10, 15, 21 days plus 1, 2 or 3 months. More info about these passes here.

NOTE: If you buy the continuous pass for 1 month, the duration of the pass will be exactly 1 month.

EXAMPLE: from 3rd of Sept to 2nd of Oct, from 3rd of February to 2nd of March (even if there are less days in that month)

Are there any discounts?

Yes, there are always discounts for people under 26. Hurry up if you are a youngster, because they give you a very good deal!

If you are older than 26, don’t be sad, check out this page, they sometimes have promotions and give 10 to 20% discounts on the passes.

What is the difference between the 2nd and the 1st class?

European trains inside

The first class one is a bit more comfy, it will make your journey more enjoyable. There is more space in between the seats, sockets and often free water, and it is generally less crowded.

Remember that if you are over 26 years old, you can only buy it for the 1st class. That is the one I had as well.

Remember that some routes don’t have a first class at all. But the 2nd class is really not bad in many countries too.

If you are taking an ICE 1st class train in Germany, you will have free Wi-Fi. 1st class train in Austria and Czech Republic will provide you with free bottles of water.

How do I buy the pass?

You can buy the pass online, but as the pass itself is a travel document, it will be delivered to you by post.

Be sure to order it in advance! Mine were delivered to Romania (that is where I was at the moment) it took just day to deliver, fantastic! But the one for my sister was sent to Moscow and for some reason did not reach her from the first attempt, we had to contact the supplier and they reissued it for her again, it took about 5 days to receive.

That is why,  ask for the tracking number just in case to track your pass.

Alternatively, you can order to deliver it to the hotel of your first stay.

If you are from Europe order here!

If you are NOT from Europe here is the official website!

UPDATE! 

Eurail currently holds a promotion – if you buy the pass now you will get FREE entry to the official Eurail Summer Party in Budapest, Hungary. More details here!

Interrail (for Europeans) find out how to get the FREE Interrail boat party here!


2. Planning your trip

I took over 30 trains and visited, 5 countries, 21 cities, over 5 000 km on the road. The map is here.

You can also see my trip on Instagram.

Romania -> Croatia -> Slovenia -> Austria -> Czech Republic -> Germany -> Belgium -> France

map eurail trip 30 days

Which countries are the best to travel with the Eurail pass?

You can travel in almost all countries in Europe by Eurail, including even Ireland and Turkey.

  • Great for Eurail pass: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, Portugal are perfect for traveling with Eurail pass. These counties often have fast trains, connections to mostly everywhere in the country and don’t require the reservation fee.
  • Good for Eurail pass: Italy and France have great fast trains, but you will mostly have to pay a fee to use them. See “Train reservation section” where I show how to avoid those fees.
  • Not recommended for Eurail pass: I would not recommend going to Croatia with Eurail pass. While the country is amazing, for the moment it does not have many rail routes that are convenient for travelers. If you go to Croatia, you better take a car!

You can use route planner on the official website.

I bought the pass, how do I fill it in correctly?

Before your first time using the pass, validate your pass in any ticket office of any train station.

When in the train, fill in the info of your route like it is shown in the example below:

You will be checked by a ticket controller who will approach you some time during your trip. He might also ask you for your passport, but during 30 days of using the pass, it never happened to me.

ATTENTION: It is very important you fill in the information about your train ride BEFORE you are checked especially if you have a “One country” or a “Regional” pass. That is the only rule. Just write down the info right away after you sit in the train or while waiting for it on the platform. I have actually seen a person fined 50 EUR because he forgot to fill that info. Some controllers might be very strict with that, so please make sure to fill in that info!

This is my pass filled in after traveling non stop for 1 month:

Eurail Interrail how to fill in 1

 Eurail Interrail how to fill in 2

Plan connections and timetable

Rail planner appWhen you are already touring Europe a mobile app called Rail planner can come in handy.

Download it here – IOS, Android.

Rail planner will show you all the available time, type of train and possible connections for the city of your choice. The application is done by Eurail and the cool thing about it is that it is available offline!

I used only Eaurail App during my travels and was fully satisfied with it!

How do I understand the correct name of the station?

Usually they are called “Central, centrale,  centraal, hlavnyi”etc. but check the map just in case, sometimes the name can be different.

Check the application or a map for the list of stops all the way to your destination station.

What if I can’t find my station on Eurail planner?

Usually, it should not be a problem to find the station in the application, but sometimes the station can be called differently from the city.

If you are sure the city has a railway station, check in Google what it is called.

Example: the station belonging to the city Ghent is called Gand.


3. Train reservation

The reservation fee is another big thing that you have to consider before buying the pass.

Remember, if you are a lucky Eurail pass holder, it still doesn’t mean you can get on any train for free.

Why? Some of the trains will require you to pay a reservation fee.

Let’s talk about it in little more details:

 reserve seat train europe

When do I need to reserve the seat and how much is it?

There are 3 cases when you would reserve a seat on your trip:

  1. It is mandatory to book your seat on a night train;
  2. You normally have to book your seat when using a fast train (marked R on the application), but there are exceptions;
  3. It makes sense to reserve your seat only if you go a very popular route on a high season and not sure you will have a place.

NIGHT TRAINS

While reservation of some fast trains is optional, the reservation for the night trains is always mandatory.

Be sure to book your place in the wagon before taking the night train.

How much – Again, it depends which country and which route you are going to take. The average cost of the nice comfy overnight ride by train will cost you anything from 10-40 Eur, which might be even cheaper than spending your night in a hotel. You also save time on transportation while sleeping!

Example – I took a night train from Bucharest (Romania) to Budapest (Hungary), the trip was about 10 hours and cost me 26 Euros for a double sleeper.

See the full list of charges here.

See how a night train from Romania to Hungary looks like:

FAST TRAINS

The countries that have many fast trains are France and Italy. That is a good thing to consider when choosing a country to visit during your trip

While it is very convenient because you can cross the whole country in a couple of hours, it will be costly because of the reservation fee.

You can avoid paying that fee by using slow regional trains but it is usually quite inconvenient, require many changes and long waiting.

Also some routes are so popular, you should make sure you have a fixed place.

How much – it really depends from the train you are taking. It can be anything between 3 EUR to 30 Eur for a fast train reservation (depends on the country and the route)

Example – a fast Frecciarossa intercity train in Italy will cost you extra 10 Eur to book. TGV train in France is 9 Eur to book. It gets more expensive if you will travel from one country to another. To go from Paris to Barcelona, for instance, is 35 Euros for a 1st class and 27 Eur for a second class. (Even if you are a 1st class pass holder, you can of course book a ticket for the second class to save some money).

See the full list of charges here.

 

Why on Earth I have to pay more to reserve my seat?

I feel your pain here! Unfortunately, those are rules of some countries in Europe. It doesn’t allow you to just hop-in the train even if you have a pass.

How do I understand if I need to reserve the seat?

In the application where it says R-reservation compulsory you generally do need to reserve the seat.

Why generally?  For some not that popular routes even the guy in the ticket counter told me I don’t have to do it, though there was R on it.

Do reserve your seat even if there is no R, if there is high season and you feel like the probability that the seats will be sold out is high.

But in the worst case you should be allowed in the train if you are desperate to go somewhere standing.

How do I reserve my seat?

In the ticket counter, to avoid a queue do not go to huge stations and peak times, choose small ones instead.

I think there is an option to do it over the phone.

Reserve your seat online here.

What if I don’t reserve my seat?

Seat reservation trains Europe

If you don’t reserve the seat and seat randomly, it might be someone’s seat who bought the ticket normally.

In some countries, you should pay attention to the signs above the seat. If there is a paper or an electronic display with a route / name, the seat is reserved.  You should take the unreserved one and then no one will bother you! People don’t understand it sometimes and complain that the system is unorganized, but you actually just have to look up and find an unreserved seat, that s it!

How do I avoid trains that need to be reserved?

Rail planner compulsuro reservation avoid2You can totally avoid that annoying reservation fee if you only use regional trains. How do you plan your trip according to that criteria?

In order to avoid the trains that you need to pay extra for reservation, use the mobile app called Raill Planner App, that I talked about above.

It might not be obvious, how to make it show only the trains without “R”, but no fear, you are reading this post for that! 😉

  1. You open the app ->
  2. go to “Planner” ->
  3. scroll down and press “Extended” ->
  4. Tick “Trains without compulsory reservation”

And voila! It will show you only the regional trains, so that you avoid the reservation fee.

Example: to go from Brussels to Paris with a direct train for the last leg of my trip, it would take my only 1 20 minutes, but I would have to pay about 30 EUR reservation fee.

If I choose tick that “No compulsory reservation” option, the app will give me an option to go with regional trains. In this case I would have to change 2 or 3 times and it would take me longer – about 4 hours, but this way I can save my 30 Eur!

If I lost a connection train, do I have to pay again for the reservation of my sit?

Unfortunately, yes. It happened to me ones because my other train was late.

In this case, you reserve a particular seat on a particular train, so even if the train was late and it is not your fault, you will have to pay again to reserve another train.

Thus, try to avoid short connections and don’t be late to the trains you have reserved!


4. Difficulties you may encounter

Taking trains sometimes can go not as smooth as you planned. Here are the most common problems and tips what to do if it happened:

Missing the train

missing the train Europe

The great thing about the Eurail pass is that you can take any later train you want for no extra cost to you!

If you missed the train you were intended to take, just use your offline app called Eurail planner (explained above).

Missing the station

Well, my friend, you will have to go back. Again, you do not have to pay for that, that is what I love about the pass!

I know that sometimes it can be quite hard to hear the name of the station or even read it, and it is easy to miss your stop, especially if it is not a big city. Here is how to avoid this mistake:

In the planner app you can press on line details and see the times you arrive on each station, and note the name of the station before yours.  This way you will not miss your stop for sure.  Even if the name of the stop is announced in some weird language and you didn’t understand what the loud speaker said.

Border crossing

You probably will be checked a couple of times during your train ride, for sure as you cross the country border, and sometimes and you pass by a big city, they change controllers and you have to show your ticket again.  I was never asked to present my passport too though.  (Although, they can ask for it)


5. Price comparison

Here is the price comparison my the trip that you have been waiting for!

Attention: During my trip sometimes I used also buses (because there were no trains for my route). These routes are marked yellow.

table price comparison

As you can see from the table, I have paid some extra because I did not do my homework and did not know there are not many trains in Croatia. So, I had to spend 60 extra euros for buses because there were no trains.

To see the list of countries perfect for traveling by train, see the first section of this post.

The total cost of my trip WITH the pass was 1002 EUR (917+60+25) or 1090 USD.

Which means that by using the pass I saved 256 EUR. Is that a lot?

Certainly, I can find ways of spending those money better than just uselessly giving them to the railway companies!

If you are less than 26 years old, you can buy a Youth pass for a 2nd class. (For those, who are older than 26, you can only buy a 1st class as I said before).

Youth price is 598 EUR for the second class pass.

That means, that if I would be less than 26 (but, tsss, nobody should now I am older! 😉 ), I would save 289 EUR for the route I took.

Depending on which type of pass you get will greatly affect how much you save.

So, did I save money?

Definitely! But you can save even more if you don’t repeat my mistakes. Let me explain you why:

  1. In my case, I visited many cities that are close to each other, my stops were shot distanced. If you will go larger distances you will definitely save even more money.
  2. I had to spend at least 60 Eur useless – I paid for transportation in the bus, because there were no trains.

But even in this case, as the table shows, I saved 256 Eur comparing to the price I would pay If I would buy each ticket individually. If I would have chosen the same number of countries, but the ones that have more developed train system and I would go to more far away destinations, I would probably even save more than 400 EUR.

Don’t repeat my mistakes – make at least a little research about the country you are going to go – is the train system developed there? And if yes, are there mostly high speed trains there? (high speed trains have a reservation fee, remember?)

If I would go for the second class, in my case, it would be cheaper to get the individual tickets. But that is because I paid for the buses and I used the pass for relatively short distances. In your case it might be the opposite. Make a rough estimation using this awesome chart to understand if the pass if what you need or it is better to buy the tickets individually.


6. Advantages and disadvantages of using the Eurail

Disadvantages

bus travel europe

1) Remember, you can’t go everywhere by train. While in some countries, like France or Germany, almost everything is reachable by train, in some countries you will have to take a bus and pay additionally (like when I had to get to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb or to Split in Croatia).

2) The only big disadvantage I had to face were the damn reservation fees. That, as I said, you have to pay extra to the cost of your trip. In some countries, as I mentioned before, it can be ridiculously expensive.

Advantages

railway city center europe

There are plenty of advantages, here is what comes in mind:

  • Unlike the plane, no check-in required, you do not need to arrive to the train hours in advance;
  • Unlike in airports, there no need to do the boring passport and x-ray control;
  • No airlines restrictions, your luggage can be huge and contain all the liquids you want!

All you need to do is sit and relax, enjoy the fabulous sceneries! 🙂

Trains in Europe inside work plugs

As a person working on the road, I sometimes worked in the train. Just opened my lap top and used one of the plugs, they have it in most of the trains.

You can watch a movie, read a book or just spend some time over a nice chat.

One more great advantage is that the train arrives in the city center, so you do not have to spend time (and money) getting out from the airport. The train stations are usually greatly connected with the rest of the city, so it will be very easy for you to get to your hotel.

And finally, the main advantage of the pass in my opinion is the flexibility!

In this way, Eurail pass is just perfect! No need to book anything in advance!

  • If you like staying in one city for longer – you can do that!
  • If you did not like a city – no problem!
  • You wanted to leave in the morning but overslept? You did not lose any money, just hop op the next train!

The trains come often, especially in the Western Europe, so you have the absolute freedom with your travel schedule.

In my opinion, it is a fantastic way of traveling, much better than buses and often faster and less hustle than planes!

PRO TIP: Not only that, but also Eurail pass holders have some bonuses – there are many discounts to museums and some ferries! See the whole list of discounts by country here!


7. Other useful tips

Interconnection time

If you are changing trains, make sure to make it at least 20 mins (I’d make it 50 actually).

If you are using the Eurail app and it tells you you have to change a train, check how many minutes is the connection time.

Sometimes, it shows the connection with as little as 3 minutes!

The possibility of the train being just a bit late is very high, so do not take this kind of connections. Or at least check if there is a plan B in case you are missing that train.

2 nights in the city are not 2 days in the city!

Yes, I know it sounds obvious!

But please take that into consideration when planning your trip. I know it is tricky, but do not try to fit in as many cities as possible!

Remember that the transportation in between cities will take you around 4 hours (on average) plus the time to get to your hotel.

That takes half a day on average and exhaust you quite a bit.

Saving on transportation INSIDE the city

public transport with eurail pass

Don’t forget that you can also use local trains inside the city. For example, I could save significantly by using U-bahn for free in Berlin! Or RER in Paris is also free!

Only the city trains are included in your pass, the metro is not 🙂


8. Myths about Eurail/Interrail

There are some myths that I keep hearing from many people, both positive and negative. There are not true and here is why:

It is hard to cross the border

Even if the European Union has no visa restriction in between the member countries, you might be traveling in Schengen zone and out of it. And that is where you will be checked by immigration police.

But no fear, border crossing is actually very easy! There is an immigration officer who will come to where you sit, and put a stamp in your passport that you have left/entered the Schengen zone.

It is not good for kids

In my opinion it is way better than buses, in some countries even perfect, they have special wagons for kids!

The pass only works for trains

NO, there are also some buses that work in cooperation with Eurail (mostly substituting trains where there is no railway). There are also ferries that you can use for free. But most of them are discounted for Eurail pass holders.

The Eurail App is all you need

It is true, the app is good, because it works offline! But, honestly, for long complicated routes, I would suggest to compare it with more sites like bahn.de For instance, one of the routes I needed to take could not be found on the app.


9. Conclusion

Why the pass worked

Eurail passBuying the pass was more profitable for me, than buying individual tickets each time.

My experience showed that even if

  • there are these reservation fees,
  • you are traveling long distances,
  • you are taking many last minute trains
  • you are going with high speed trains

is still a good money saver!

After all, the pass would not be so popular if it was a major rip off, right?

Traveling with Eurail is way more flexible then traveling by bus or planes. It is hustle free, just sit back, relax and enjoy the view on tiny villages and landscapes passing by!

So, to answer the first question (the topic of the article) –Yes, it is worth it if you are planning to visit many cities in one country or many countries in Europe.

Just that you have to make a small research beforehand in which countries there are only fast trains (thus, paying extra) or where the railway is not that developed. (Please see the list of countries above in this article).

After all, it is even not about saving your money, it is about the experience!

There is no better way to see and experience Europe than by train, believe me! Seeing those fabulous landscapes and tiny European villages passing by, making friends with people on the seat in front of you, going with the flow and maybe even changing your itinerary completely – that is what Eurail pass is all about!

When it is not worth it to buy the pass?

If you want to just visit a couple of cities, there is no point to buy a pass, in my opinion. Just buy a simple A to B ticket that will be cheaper for you.

But if you want to flexible and you are going to travel a lot in Europe, the pass should save you some money! (Especially if you have many cities located far away from each other).

So – if you have a lot of time, you are planning to visit many European cities, you can take the Global Pass and you won’t regret!

If you are only visiting one country and your time is limited, don’t be lazy and compare the prices. Even if you save only 100 euro, it still makes sense to buy the pass, you can use this money for something more fun!


Traveling by train Europe

To sum up

By comparing the price we figured out that the pass is worth buying in some particular cases, especially if you like to go with the flow and you are generally very open and might change the itinerary of your Eurotrip the last minute. Then the pass is a good fit!

We compared the prices – how much would it cost me to buy tickets for the same routes individually vs the price I paid with the pass plus extra charges.

Even if I made some mistakes in planning, the pass turned out to be more profitable for me. (see the table above).


That is it, you have finished reading this loooong post, congrats! 😉

I ended up writing a 5000 words piece (you are welcome!) that hopefully will cover all the topics not clear in your Eurail trip. If you have any additional ones, please post them in the comment section below and I will be happy to reply!

If you go through Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic or Germany, keep reading my blog, I have some great tips for you!

If you liked this article, please consider buying the pass through this link. This way I will receive a small commission for NO EXTRA cost for you!

Disclaimer: the pass was given to me complimentary, but I used my own calculations and described by honest opinion from using the pass.

Do you think it is worth it for you? Did you travel in Europe by train?

Yulia

Remember : non Europeans need the Eurail Pass:

Europeans need the Interrail Pass

 


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