Travelling through Europe by train
Since the Golden Age of European rail travel in the nineteenth century, the idea of boarding a train for exotic far-flung corners of Europe has held a certain allure. From luxuriously-fitted out coaches to decadent onboard dining, and even the vastly soaring architecture of the railway stations themselves, a rail journey represented something a bit special; something that cut-price airfares and mass-market coach tours can’t hope to replicate.
TravelManagers’ personal travel manager Nicole Edgar has experienced travelling through Europe by train with her family, taking in eight countries and thousands of kilometres of track. She believes that rail travel remains a very attractive option for both independent travellers and families, especially those who are returning to the Continent for their second or third time. She’s put together a list of her top reasons to choose train travel for your next European holiday.
- Compared to flying, trains tend to have fewer delays and cancellations because they are less affected by adverse weather events. European rail operators have an excellent reputation for being on-time, which makes it much easier to plan the other details of your trip. And with speeds of over 300 kilometres per hour, rail travel is a fast and efficient way to get around Europe.
- Rail travel represents excellent value for money. If you’re going to include three or more rail trips in your holiday, talk to Nicole about whether it’s more cost effective to purchase a prepaid rail pass and your seating reservations. Extra discounts often apply for two or more people travelling together, and for senior/child/youth travellers, all of which make it easier to plan and budget ahead of time.
- With over 250,000 kilometres of train tracks cris-crossing Europe, not to mention frequent departures, you’ll have a lot of flexibility when planning your holiday.
- On many trains you can choose first or second class seating. Clean, comfortable, modern carriages with reclining seats are the norm, while fold-out tables, power sockets and air-conditioning are common on many networks. There’s no in-seat entertainment, but some trains offer Wi-Fi onboard so you can use your electronic devices instead.
- For once, no one has to miss out on the views – someone else is doing the driving and you’re travelling through the scenery rather than flying over it. There’s lots of leg room and you can freely walk about the train carriages, including the buffet car, giving you access to some of the most amazing terrain which is inaccessible by car or on foot.
- You don’t have to worry about hiring or leasing a car, navigating unfamiliar roads, road tolls, parking hassles, fuel costs, traffic jams, driving on wrong side of road/car and different road rules. Just sit back and enjoy the view, knowing that you’ll be delivered to your destination in comfort.
- Quick check-in process – in most cases you can arrive at the railway station just fifteen minutes prior to departure and board immediately, as your tickets are checked onboard by conductors. There are no baggage weight limits, for hand luggage or for checked-in luggage. Upon arriving at your destination, there are no delays with baggage carousels – just take your luggage off the train with you, and go forth and enjoy your holiday.
- Trains depart and arrive from central city locations. This will save you plenty in transfer costs and travel times. You may also want to consider timing your longer journeys for overnight, as many trains offer the option of sleeping in compartments or couchette carriages, saving you the cost of a hotel night’s accommodation. This works particularly well if you’re covering ground already travelled so you don’t miss any unseen views.
- Trains are a sociable form of travel – it’s easy to strike up a conversation and share stories with other like-minded passengers from all over the world.
- Train stations are often tourist attractions in their own right: ranging from the red-brick Gothic splendour of London’s St Pancras, to the lush tropical gardens of Madrid’s Atocha, and the light-filled modern steel and glass of Liege in Belgium.
As wonderful an experience as rail travel can be, Nicole offers a few caveats of which to be aware:
- While railway stations are generally centrally located, after dark, the surrounding streets can be slightly less salubrious, so be sure to plan your departure and arrival times appropriately.
- It’s not possible to pre-request or pre-assign specific seating preferences such as window or aisles seats.
- Most seats have cabin-bag luggage racks overhead, and some trains have larger luggage racks located near the train doors at either end of the carriage, but some don’t have racks at all, so you have to be prepared to have your luggage at your feet or next to your seat. A good tip is to put a bike padlock through your multiple suitcase handles for your larger suitcases that are out of sight.
- Unless you’ve mastered the art of packing extra light, you should be prepared for a workout. Given that many European train stations are hundreds of years old, they won’t always come with modern conveniences like lifts and escalators to get you from street level to platform. Be prepared to carry your luggage up and down staircases using nothing but good old-fashioned elbow grease. Likewise, many platforms aren’t at the same level as the train floors, so you’ll have to lift your luggage on and off the trains too.
- Local buskers sometimes move through the carriages during the journey, playing a tune and collecting tips as you travel from A to B. This is especially common on regional trains, so have some small denomination local currency ready and enjoy the cheap entertainment.
With all that in mind and with a little assistance from Nicole or your nearest personal travel manager, you’ll find that travelling by train offers great flexibility and choice to tailor-make a holiday that suits your needs, wants and budget. Rail travel is a great way to see Europe, but be warned – it may become addictive!