Choose your favorite season to start your Eurail adventureChoose your favorite season to start your Eurail adventure
November 26, 2013

When to go on a Eurail trip

by Stephen Bugno in Travel tips

Despite the popularity of the summer, travel in Europe has advantages in all seasons. Now to decide when to take your Eurail trip! Ample holiday time and good weather lead to heavy crowds in the cities and booked-up trains across the continent. The winter brings cold temperatures for much, but not all, of Europe. However, opportunities abound for winter sports and fewer tourists make it easier to get around. The spring or autumn shoulder season is an excellent compromise. Your Eurail Global Pass gives you a lot of flexibility for each season.

Summer

Enjoy the summer sun in one of Europe's cities

Undoubtedly, Europe is most popular in the summer. Imagine parks filled with people soaking up the sun, cafes spilling onto city squares, hiking across the greenest pastures high in the Alps. There’s no fighting the allure: the weather is good, moods are positive, everyone is laid back.

Summertime in Europe can be crowded. You’ll most likely have to book accommodation, night trains, and long-distance trains well in advance. In France, know that the TGV trains have limited seat allocation for pass holders. You might also have some early mornings lining up to beat the masses into the museums.

The good news is you’ll have extended timetables at attractions and longer daylight hours — especially in northern Europe where it stays light past 10 p.m. in the summer. Temperatures across most of the continent are agreeable from May to September, but may be scorching in some parts of southern Europe. June, July, and August are the heaviest travel months.

Two classic scenic train journeys are worth making an effort to get to: the Rauma Line and the Flam Railway, both in Norway and both especially alluring in the summer.

Winter

Be ready for some spectacular winter scenery

Traveling Europe in winter will give you an opportunity to do some skiing in Switzerland, Austria, or Italy, or even something a little more exotic, like dog sledding in Finland or sleeping in an ice hotel in northern Sweden. Ever seen the northern lights in Norway? Now’s your chance.

Truth is, you’ve got to be a winter person for all that — and pack quite a bit more winter travel gear. In southern Europe, especially Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, Greece, and Turkey, the warm temperatures might have lingered long enough to steal a day at the beach. Even if they don’t, the Mediterranean climate stays mild through the winter, pleasant enough to enjoy the Greek ruins in Turkey, eat and drink yourself into a coma in Sicily, or imbibe Spain’s Moorish past.

Winter is  low season for tourism in most of Europe, so you’ll find better deals on accommodation and your high-speed train reservations won’t need to be planned so far in advance, or in some cases not at all. This will allow you to be more spontaneous with your plans.

For a great wintertime scenic rail journey, try the Semmering Railway of Austria, a historic feat of engineering and the world’s first railway on the world heritage list. Unlike the more famous Glacier Express through Switzerland, your Eurail pass is valid on the Semmering line. No supplement or reservation is required.

Spring and Autumn

Visit Füssen, Germany in autumn for some beautiful views

The shoulder seasons of spring and fall offer an excellent compromise if you can get the time off from work or study. The weather is still favorable across most of the continent, the sights aren’t congested, trains won’t be as full, and you can probably get discounted rates on accommodation. It also gives you the chance to witness Europe in the bustle of back-to-work mode. In addition, many of Europe’s local festivals take place at this time.

Spring and autumn are an excellent time to visit France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, and other countries for all the reasons listed above. This is a nice time of year for the scenic Rhine Valley line in Germany, which runs past the fairytale castle-studded landscape between Koblenz and Mainz. Your Eurail pass is not only valid for use on this route, but also for the river boats operated by KD Rhine line!

I’ve traveled Europe in all seasons, each has its advantages, and I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences. Which is right for you depends entirely on your tolerance to crowds and extreme temperatures as well as what kind of activities you hope to do. Your experiences and the amount of clothes you have to wear may be different, but you’re bound to have a good time whenever you go to Europe.