Eurail: What to Know about Rail Passes
A guide to buying, using and enjoying a Eurail pass to travel across Europe by Train
By Mary Govoni
Eurail is a tradition....it goes back 28 years and is the way many a traveler has experienced Europe for the first time. The Eurail pass allows travelers access to an extensive and complex railway system, which accesses 28 European nations.
But don’t be fooled -- Eurail is not a company itself, and it’s not a privately-operated train network. Rather, it’s a brand name that brings together the individually functioning railway networks of these 26 different European countries through the use of inclusive railway passes.
The Eurail passes grant you access to normally scheduled trains that are run by the national train operator. Because of this, the train systems in each country vary and can include high-speed, inter-city, overnight, regional, and suburban routes. The Eurail pass is the pass used by travelers visiting the European Union, citizens or residents of the European Union are required to use the Interrail Pass.
What Makes the Eurail Experience Worth It?
There are three primary reasons the Eurail Pass is such a convenient and unique way to travel across the European mainland:
1.Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency!
European trains link a significant number of cities and towns within each region, so traveling between destinations simply requires showing up at the train station with your pass.
Let’s face it -- flying between European destinations may seem simple when you hear a “1-2 hour flight”, but that doesn’t include the extra time and cash spent getting to and from the airports and through security. Get on the train in one culture and three hours later when you step off the train, you can feel like you’re in a completely different world.
Get on the train in one culture and three hours later when you step off the train, you can feel like you’re in a completely different world.
2. Comfortable and hassle-free
European train travel aims to make journeys between destinations comfortable as possible for guests in their entirety. When you’re on vacation or backpacking or heading off to visit some foreign friends, knowing your travels will be relaxed and hassle-free gives you all the more reason to go.
Unlike other public transit like buses and planes, you have plenty of legroom, space to move around, and cafes and restrooms on board. After a long day of exploring any of Europe’s most well-renowned landmarks, you can sit back and relax on the train ride to recoup and do it all over again in the next city.
3. The views from the window
Of course, the view from 32,000 feet is incredible but it's pretty far down there, but so is the view when you’re tucked somewhere in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains. Train routes cover an integral part of the European landmass. There’s a more legitimate sense of experiencing the landscape from within than from above. The picturesque routes are insurmountable and play an important role in seeing the lands that the country offers, aside from the major cities and towns.
Eurail Participating Countries:
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland (via ferry), Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Poland, Bosnia, Serbia & Montenegro.
The Eurail system does not cover UK, Albania, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia.
Other Eurail Pass Conveniences:
One of the major conveniences that all of the Eurail passes offer is the flexibility it offers. You don’t need to specify the date you want your Eurail pass to start when purchasing it; which comes in handy for backpackers that are traveling across Europe on a loose schedule. The pass can remain unused for an 11 month period after it is purchased.
When you do decide it is time to “validate” your pass, the process to do so is simple and efficient. You bring your pass with you to any European main railway stations and have it validated by a booking clerk in the ticket office before getting on your first train.
Different Types of Eurail Passes:
Because of the complexity and interconnectedness of the railway system, Eurail provides several types of passes to fit the needs of different travelers. In order to assure that you choose the correct Eurail pass, there are a few questions to ask:
Who are you? The Eurail pass is offered at varying rates for different people: Adults, Youth, Child, and Saver.
- Adult- self-explanatory.
- Youth- for those aged under 27 on the first day of pass validity.
- Child- those aged 12 and under. Children under 4 travel for free (no pass needed)
- Saver- Small groups (2-5 individuals) that are planning to travel together. You pay the adult rate with a 15% discount, but the pass only applies when every member of the group is present.
Where are your travels taking you? The options for Eurail passes consist of those covering 1, 2, 3, 4, or all 26 participating countries across the system.
- Global Pass- covers all 26 participating countries, travelers can plan for an unlimited number of train rides in however many countries they wish during the duration of their trip.
- Select Pass- This one has some options to it, too. Choose between 2, 3, or 4 European nations, as long as they’re neighboring countries.
- One Country Pass- Pretty self-explanatory, also. This one covers just one country of your choice. Each participating country now offers a One Country Eurail pass.
How long are you traveling for? These different passes allow you unlimited train travel for various amounts of time. And yes -- unlimited really means unlimited. You can use the pass as many times as you need during the pass’s validity.
- Continuous Pass- unlimited travel every day for a continuous period of time. In this sense, in order for the continuous pass to be effective, you would have to be traveling at least once a day by train in order for it to be worthwhile.
- Flexi Pass- the more economical option for travelers looking to spend more than a day in each of the countries they are visiting along their route. All Eurail Select Pass and Eurail One Country passes are Flexi passes. These equate to a set number of days for unlimited travel with a longer overall period of times. Therefore, the pass is valid for a number of days, but the days in which they are used do not need to be consecutive, they can be used over a longer period of time.
Rail Europe offers a comprehensive and interactive website to help you decide which rail pass or a combination of passes would be best for you, depending on your travel plans. The hyperlinks for each country are included, click on your home country to be directed to the Rail Europe site:
2017 Eurail Pass Pricing
Prices vary depending on the number of countries you wish to travel through and your age.
The average price for a single country is $150 and the prices go up from there when more countries are added on. A popular combination of 4 countries is France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland with prices starting at $309. The pass allows 10 flexible days of travel which can be used over a 2-month period. You are also allowed to take multiple trains a day, so you never have to worry about limiting yourself to only one train a day.
Another popular combination is the 2 country pass allowing you to visit France and Italy starting at $231 and includes everything the 4 country pass has to offer such as the 10 flexible days of travel.
Additional Fees and Pricing*
If you plan on traveling on a high-speed train there are important reservations and additional fees that you must be aware of. Spain's high-speed rail, AVE requires you to reserve your seat either through their reservation service online on the Eurail website or at the train station. However, there's a possibility the train will be full during busy times, which is why it's recommended to make reservations beforehand. 1st class seats are $25 and 2nd class seats are $10.
For France's high-speed train, TGV seat reservations are required but the price is included in the ticket price, no additional fee is needed.
It's important to look into the additional fees and reservation requirements as most of the high-speed trains in Europe have them. Other countries include Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Austria to name a few. Some of the lines recommend booking your seat up to 2 months in advance, although we feel that unless you are traveling during a major holiday or event it is not necessary.
None of the additional fees are over $30 and I wouldn't worry about not being able to reserve a seat, however, these are minute details could be easily forgotten when planning your next trip to Europe. So if you plan on traveling on a high-speed train specifically, make sure to check out the individual countries rail page on Eurail.com
Some Eurail Tips & Tricks, Do’s & Don’t’s
- Do not pre-date all your boxes on your Eurail pass at the beginning of your trip. Trip dates and itineraries almost always go awry, and filling in these dates and not being able to make it to the train station that day, or simply just wanting to spend more time in a certain place, will waste a date. These dates cannot be changed, so write the dates as you go.
- Keep in mind the standard rates for certain trips. Sometimes, it will be smarter to pay the standard flat rate for a short, in-country trip than it would be to use one of your Eurail days. Try and save your pass days for the trips that are longer and are more expensive.
- Download Rail planner on your smartphone ahead of time. This app is a free train timetable that can update itself offline. With this, you can check train times and train calling points without stopping to have to connect to Wifi.
The Eurail Pass & Sleeper Trains:
Traveling on an overnight train in all countries requires both making a reservation and paying an additional supplement. Supplements range between approximately $20-$60 in a 5-6 bunk compartment and between $65-$100 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper. Overnight trains leave at 7 p.m. and are marked on your Eurail pass as running on the following day, so it only uses up one day of your rail pass.
First and Second Class Differences:
2nd class Eurail passes provide the necessary comfort and convenience that most travelers consider adequate.
The trains are fast, modern, well-design, and air-conditioned. Budget travelers will swear by second class seats, saving their money to do other activities in Europe. Second class is certainly the norm for most travelers.
1st class Eurail passes do offer some benefits to maximize comfort. The seats are wider and plusher. There is more leg and elbow room, and fewer passengers per coach.
With fewer passengers per coach, there is more luggage room and more privacy. Some of the railway systems offer in-seat food and drink services, but these vary between countries, and the food and drink are an extra cost as well.
The seating in the first class cabins is arranged in a way in which all seats are next to both a window and an aisle. Tables are provided as well so that a group of two or four, traveling together can sit facing each other with a table in between them.
Mary Govoni is a freelance writer from Cape Cod, Mass. She loves traveling to find food, good conversation and good company.