10 Tips for a perfect Eurail trip
Exploring Europe by train can really be the journey of a lifetime. Currently, there are 24 countries welcoming the Eurail Global Pass holders and the stunning diversity of cultures, cuisines and scenery is truly fascinating and remarkable. The pass is incredibly easy to use, which makes the trip tons of fun.
Given that Europe is packed with amazing places, be it world-famous cities or off the beaten path charming villages, there really is no better and more comfortable way to visit it all than by train. You can easily wake up in one country one day and go to bed in totally another one. And that is after spending a great day exploring a micro-state for example. But there are a few key elements that you need to take into consideration in order for your trip to be a success. So here are 10 tips that will surely help you plan and enjoy the perfect Eurail trip through Europe:
Combine world-famous with off the beaten path
Paris, Rome and Barcelona are some of the most popular bucket list items out there. They are a traveler magnet and while everybody should undeniably visit them at least once in a lifetime, many small, lesser-known towns can be full of charm as well. The modern European capitals are a fabulous mix of cultures that proves time and time again just how amazing cultural diversity is. But it is in the off the beaten path towns and villages where time-honored traditions and customs, age-old architectural styles, as well as the identity and soul of a people prevail. Finding the balance while tailoring an itinerary adapted to your personal interests and lifestyle is key.
Welcome the diversity
To make your trip a real success, it is recommendable to include a palette of experiences as diverse as possible. Explore the beaches, wonder in front of various architectural styles, discover new artistic trends, take pleasure in classical art, try the various local cuisines, let the universe unravel stunning sceneries in front of your eyes, witness sunsets and sunrises, make new friends, have a taste of the nightlife and party like a local. This will ensure you’ll have amazing pictures to share with your friends on the social networks and to show your mom when you get back home. It will help you build life long memories too.
Planning vs. going with the flow
While a general direction and a minimum list of places to cover always comes in handy, the beauty of Eurail lies in the fact that it always leaves spaces for creativity, innovation and flexibility. It is undeniable that when traveling during the busy summer months, it is wise to plan and book in advance, both trains and hostels. In France, for example, where there is a limited seat allocation on TGV trains for pass holders year round, it leaves no choice but to make your train reservations as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll have to pay the full-fare. Night trains should also be booked in advance to avoid disappointment. But most of the time you can just show up at the train station and hop on the next train. The Eurail timetable tool comes in handy when planning the next move, since it offers a comprehensive list of local and high-speed trains available, the intermediate stops, and additional information about reservations.
Reservations and how to avoid them
As mentioned above, all night trains and high-speed trains in certain countries (including France, Spain and Italy) require a compulsory reservation at an additional cost. If getting to your next destination as fast as possible is your priority, then it’s difficult to avoid them. However, an alternative route, by regional train and maybe with a change or two is often available. The regional trains have the advantage of not requiring a reservation, however, the journey time can be considerably longer. For example, the high speed AVE train connecting Valencia with Madrid in just 1 hour and a half, it has an reservation cost of 24 Euros for 1st class and 10 Euros for 2nd class. Alternatively, there is a regional train that won’t cost you an extra dime, but the journey takes a bit over 6 hours.
Take urban transportation
It’s always interesting to check if you can use your Eurail pass for moving around the urban area as well, not only in between destinations. Big cities, like Zurich, Brussels and Paris for example, have multiple train stations and you can use your pass to travel in between them instead of taking the metro line which is not covered by the pass. In Germany on the other hand, the Eurail pass is valid on s-bahn trains (suburban metro railways) that operate in the major cities. Many attractions are already situated within walking distance from the train stations, like the Prime Tower from Zurich, the highest building in Switzerland. Situated right next to Hardbrücke station, from its 35th floor Clouds bistro, some amazing views of the city, the mountains and the lake can be enjoyed.
Take the window seat for the diverse views
Whenever you can, opt for the window seat. There really is no better way to enjoy the ever-changing landscape. And no better seats to take photos of the outside world from. You can do quite a lot of sightseeing from train, and you can learn pretty much about the architecture and the way people leave in each region. Which gets us to…
Don’t shy away from regional trains
While high-speed trains are fast and can get you from point A to point B in less time, they also don’t pass nearby the cities. You can take the high-speed train and barely see any village in the distance. Or take the regional trains, which have the advantages of not needing a reservation, and you will not only have plenty of time to take in the scenery, but you will also pass through quiet towns as the train stops more often. Every now and then, this can be an incredible experience. Just imagine all the hanging laundry you could spot during your trip!
Hop off and store your luggage
Most train stations have lockers, which makes it very easy to stop in the middle of a longer route, drop your bags and stretch your legs for a few hours while making acquaintance with a new place. The Eurail pass is flexible, which makes it easy to decide your itinerary on the go and pack in extra places as the time and your mood permit. Spontaneity is a very rewarding feeling and you can always say ‘been there, done that!’. Keep in mind that in those countries where reservations are required, that you’ll often need to book well in advance, particularly during the busy summer months.
Get extras on high-speed trains
Sometimes, for example on the high-speed AVE train in Spain, when you pay for a 1st class reservation, a full meal is included as well. So you won’t only travel in style, in a comfortable, clean and not so crowded train car, but you will also get an enjoyable meal. This can save you both money and time once you arrive at your destination.
Get on board the night train
When traveling over long distances or when high-speed trains are not available, taking the night train can be a useful and enjoyable option. It’s not only a unique experience to be had, but it also has several advantages. In spite of the compulsory fee to be paid, at the end of the day you’ll most likely save money compared with spending the night in a hostel or hotel. Additionally, there’s nothing quite like watching the sun rising over the countryside from a rushing train. After all, you are taking this trip hoping your life will be enriched with new and surprising experiences, right?
If you’re considering experiencing the wonders of taking your own Eurail trip around Europe, check out the different Eurail pass.