10 Hacks for an Epic Eurail Trip
Finally: your Eurail Pass arrives in the mail, and your imagination runs wild with the adventures you’re about to experience. Rolling into Seville at dusk and drinking tinto de verano while being seduced by the art of flamenco. Stopping off at Kutna Hora on the way to Prague to explore the Sedlec Ossuary, or “Bone Church,” one of Europe’s eeriest sights. On the night train to Montenegro, meeting a fetching stranger in the bar car who teaches you that indispensable phrase — check, please — in six languages.
Of course, maximizing adventure takes a bit of strategic planning. Here are a few easy ways to stretch the possibilities of your pass.
Plan an epic Eurail trip
1. Travel in the dark
Don’t underestimate the potential adventure — or efficiency — of hopping on a night train.
Recently, I booked an economy sleeper (a 55 euro supplement) on the CityNightLine to Zurich to avoid wasting daylight hours in transit. After a glass of Riesling in the bar car, I snuggled up with a film in my cozy economy cabin, complete with foldout vanity and fluffy duvet. In the morning, the friendly cabin attendant delivered pastries and a steaming café latte. Heaven.
Reservations on night trains are compulsory, and many routes require you to book a sleeping compartment. Book at most stations, or online at regional rail sites (www.bahn.com, Germany’s national rail site, is the most comprehensive). Eurail.com also offers a convenient Reservation Service for its customers.
2. Go underground
Don’t miss taking advantage of free or discounted local transport with your pass, especially in urban areas: think subways, buses and trams.
When I arrived in Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, I breezily transferred to the S-Bahn (Berlin’s urban metro system) straightaway, without buying a ticket — it was free with my Eurail Pass — and was kicking back at my hotel in 20 minutes.
To check out the myriad deals on local transport with your pass, consult the ‘Pass Benefits’ section of your Rail Planner app.
3. Natural highs
Headed for the hills? Check out the deals on Europe’s most photo-worthy journeys, such as the cog railway or aerial panoramic gondola to Mount Pilatus in Switzerland. Gape at stunning waterfalls framed by mountains as you traverse the Flåm Valley in Norway, home to Europe’s deepest and longest fjord. Or take the tempting Chocolate Train from the Swiss Riviera up into the Alps. All of these options offer a 30% discount to Eurail Pass holders.
4. Stopover in style
Use your stopovers wisely. With less than an hour to kill, stick to the station: many offer buzzing café scenes and local food. Case in point: I ate the best frites of my life, and then sipped koffie verkeerd in an elegant grand café, all within Antwerp’s Central Train Station, a neo-Baroque monument dubbed the “Railway Cathedral.”
To relax in a swank atmosphere, head to the 1st class lounge to sip a cappuccino or Pinot Noir while browsing complimentary Wi-Fi and newspapers. In most major stations (Germany is an exception) a 1st class pass gives you access.
Have more time to burn? In many stations, tourist offices dispense free local travel information and city maps.
5. Get nautical
Imagine this thrilling arrival: as you sip an espresso on the deck, your ship glides into the harbor while dawn breaks over one of the world’s largest ports.
This was the awe-inducing scene of my last trip from England to the Netherlands using the Stena Line service. This journey included a 30% discount. My mod little cabin offered a flat screen TV, a sparkling bathroom and a surprisingly dreamy mattress.
Whether you want to cross the Balearic Sea, the English Channel or the Gulf of Finland, pass holder discounts on boat travel abound. Check out the Eurail ferries section for ideas.
6. Seat yourself
Seating-wise, there’s often a choice even within classes. In addition to standard open compartments, many trains, such as those in Germany and Austria, offer private compartments with sliding glass doors — perfect if you’re traveling with friends.
Feel like reading that suspense novel in eerie quiet? The French and Dutch rail systems are two of several that offer the peace of “silent” cars.
7. Slow down
Maybe you’ve met this traveler: the one who hits 10 big cities in the span of two weeks, with a breakneck pace on high-speed trains that spells burnout — and little chance to unwind with locals.
To dive into local culture and savor the landscape, regional trains trump high-speed. Think zero reservation fees, more spontaneity, and plenty of opportunities to stop over in off-the-radar destinations that high-speed networks skip entirely. (You can usually change reservation times, but don’t expect a refund.)
Plus, the long way can be shorter than you think. From Brussels to Amsterdam, the regional Dutch train takes only an hour longer than the high-speed Thalys train. Might that 39-euro reservation fee (55 euros for 1st class) be better spent on Belgian chocolates?
8. Know your comfort level
1st class is wonderful and 2nd class is wonderful. But keep in mind that they are different kinds of wonderful. 1st class is usually quieter and roomier, but less social. For a more laid back and local experience, choose 2nd class.
When it comes to night trains, a couchette is to a 1st class sleeper as a hostel bunk is to a suite at a 3 star hotel. Both are perfectly lovely ways to spend the night, but offer vastly different experience. Do your homework, and sort your budget.
Couchettes are essentially padded bunks that sleep either 4 or 6 people. Sleeper cars come in economy and deluxe configurations that vary in price and amenities, and usually include breakfast. A regular seat—whether in 2nd or 1st class — is usually the least comfortable or secure of the options, and not available on some night trains. Find which class is for you.
9. Wine and dine
Trains vary wildly in terms of the amenities they offer. Free Wi-Fi, paid Wi-Fi, or no Wi-Fi. A full dining car where waiters serve three course meals with wine, or a rolling cart plying candies and coffees.
One not-so-secret secret: when in doubt, bring your own. It’s perfectly acceptable to pick up a baguette and cheese (or even a bottle of wine) to bring on the train. Beware of hopping on a regional train without a bottle of water — you may go thirsty.
10. Save a day
Running out of travel days on your pass? Figure out where the shortest or cheapest leg of your trip will fall, and buy a point-to-point ticket that day. On a day trip from Amsterdam to stroll the double-decker canals in Utrecht, go for a round trip ticket (14 euros) and save your pass for a longer haul journey.
Want to find the out more about the Eurail Pass? Get the lowdown here.