If you're planning a trip to Europe and wonder what's the best way to get around, why not try exploring by train. You may be uncertain about using the European rail network, simply because you don't know what to expect and don't understand how train travel works. You may worry about how to get around rail stations, what to do with luggage, how to read timetables and, most importantly, how to find the right seat on the right train. You'll soon see that European rail travel is a very convenient, affordable and amazing experience. Let's start at the beginning.
A good idea is to fly into a European airport that has direct links to the center of your first city of travel. Train stations are located within many European airports. This includes Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona Prat, Berlin Schoenfeld, Birmingham, Brussels Nationaal, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Genève Cointrin, London (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted), Malaga, Manchester, Munchen Strauss, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Rome Leonardo da Vinci, Stockholm, Stuttgard Echterdingen, Wein Schwechat and Zurich Kloten.
The Train Station
The adventure begins in the European train stations. In most cases, these create the first impressions visitors have of each city on their itinerary. Each station is unique, often picturesque, with its own distinct personality. Most are centrally located and have a full range of convenient services and facilities to make transit passengers feel at ease. Remember: When you can't find your train or need help in a European train station, you should look for the "i", the universal symbol for "Information."
Timetables and Finding Your Train
In most stations poster timetables show departure, arrival and platform numbers. They can be recognized easily by the background color. As a rule, departure timetables are printed on a yellow background. Arrival tables are on a white background. Major European rail stations provide this information on computerized boards. All trains are listed chronologically from 0 to 24 hours. Fast trains are shown in red rather than black ink. Next to the time you'll see the name and number of the important intermediate stops, as well as track and platform number at which the train departs and arrives.
European Rail Accommodations
To make sure your adventure is all you want it to be, it is important that you understand the different seating options on European trains, and which ones are appropriate for each leg of your trip. Here are the seating choices, and other services you can look forward to on your train trips:
First-Class or Second-Class?
The class of travel you choose depends on your budget and personal preferences. First-class is generally quieter and roomier, and unlike the difference between service levels on airplanes, first-class rail tickets are only moderately more expensive than second class. There are usually fewer seats per car/compartment in first class, and more space for luggage than second-class. On some Premier Trains, a meal will be included in the price of a first-class ticket.
With a pass or a ticket you may board the train, but you are not guaranteed a seat. It is always necessary to make a reservation if you want to guarantee a seat for a specific train at a specific time/date. It is also essential to make a reservation for any sleeper or couchette accommodations. And reservations are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, so you should reserve in advance. Reservations can generally be made up to 60 days in advance.
Riding the European rail isn't difficult, but planning well will save you precious vacation minutes. There are many rail specialists in Europe (such as Europe Train Ticket, Eurail Passes and others), who can help you with all the necessary information and ticketing for European rail travel.