Coming from archipelago country, one of the nicest perk of traveling in Europe is most of the time you don’t need to fly. You can travel from one country to another by train. It’s surprisingly easy, quick and comfortable to travel by train within Europe. The difficult bit is on how to do it and where to buy tickets which we will discuss here.
What you need to know when traveling by train in Europe:
No single website sells tickets for all trains in all countries.
Each country has its own national train operator with its own website and ticketing system. In fact, Europe has over 50 different rail operator websites selling train tickets for their own trains, even before considering third-party ticket resellers. You need to use the right website for the right journey
Here’s a list of country’s railway website from where you can buy train ticket directly:
German Railways: Bahn
Czech Railways: CD.CZ
Austria Railways: OEBB
France Railways: SNCF Connect
Swiss railways SBB
Italy Railways: Trenitalia
Spain Railways: Renfe
My favourite railway website is the German one: www.bahn.de because you can look up train times almost anywhere in Europe. But if you are not traveling from or to German you need to buy the ticket in that country website.
Not all trains in Europe is equal
We have always travelled second class on trains in Germany, Austria and Swiss and they all have airconditioning. Without a second thought I booked Train from Cinque Terre to Milan without paying attention to the type of the train. Apparently most trains leaving from Cinque Terre are regional trains and they do not have air conditioning. Imagine travelling without one in the peak of summer in July 😰
UK is an exception
Unlike other European countries who only have 1 railway company managing the whole train operation in the country, UK has 28 different train operators across Great Britain. So if you have a connecting train when travelling from one place to another sometimes it involves 2 train operators however you don’t necessarily have to to buy the ticket from 2 train companies.
Here’s a list of some of the Railway Companies which covers major destinations within the UK from London:
- Chiltern Railway: Operates a number of services between the UK’s major cities of London and Birmingham.
- Great Western Railway: Operates services from London to the southwest, west and West Midlands of England and most of Wales.
- Northern Railway: Operates local and long distance commuter rail services all across Northern England.
- Southern Railway: Operates services to and from London across the counties of East and West Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire
- Avanti West Coast: Operates services on the West Coast Main Line between London, the West Midlands, North West England, North Wales and Scotland. They connect six of the largest cities in the UK: London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh
- C2C rail Limited: Connecting London with rail destinations in Essex and Southend-on-Sea.
- East Midland Railway: connecting London to cities such as Liverpool, Nottingham, Corby, Derby, York, Leeds and Sheffield in the north.
How to purchase your train ticket
To buy a ticket go to the national train website for the country where your journey starts or where it ends. The price can be different. Each railway company manages advance-purchase price levels independently. So the price at bahn.de might be €39 (with cheaper €19 & €29 tickets sold out), whilst €19 tickets remain available for the same train at cd.cz. It pays to check both website. The same goes for fixed-price full-flex fare can differ between partner operators.
Your train tickets could either be printed or saved to our phone to show the conductor when they later inspect all the passengers for ticket.
Longer journeys often need to be broken down into stages
Many international journeys involve a change of train, often this means a change of operator. Operator websites may not be able to sell tickets for such journeys. For example Nice to Milan can’t be booked at the French Railways website www.sncf-connect.com, because SNCF can’t access prices or tickets for the Trenitalia train between Ventimiglia & Milan. In that case you need to break the journey and buy from two railway website (France and Italy). If you are willing to pay extra fee for convenience if buying ticket from one single website you can go to to www.raileurope.com and www.thetrainline.com.
Each countries have different regulation regarding children fee
Trains in Germany and Austria is free for children below 6 years old. From 6 to 15 years old is half price and from 15 years old full price. Czech is also free for below 6 years old but from 6 to 17 years old is half price and 17 years old and above is full price. However when we bought the ticket you still have to input your children’s name and printed their free ticket.
We would only know which platform our train is going to come from few minutes before departure on the board and the train will not stay long
If you are traveling with young children and have many suitcases you need to be efficient so not to be late to get to the train. Sometime instead of finding the right coach, just hop on to the train and look for the right coach and seat from inside the train.
Reserved Seat and non-reserved Seat
If you don’t reserve a seat on the train, find seats that doesn’t have destination written on the small panel on the wall above the seat.
F&B on the train
Train Station in Europe will have restaurants, cafe and sometimes supermarket. So if its is a long journey you can buy food and drink to be brought to the train. Some train have restaurant/cafe and dining area for a long journey train. For a shorter journey sometimes there will be food and drink trolley being offered
If you are going to go around Europe by train, it is a good idea to book accommodation near train station. Area near train station is usually fully alive with restaurants and supermarket. And you also save on transportation cost such as taxi if you bring heavy suitcases.
I hope this article helps in planning for your trip to Europe by train. Happy Train travel 🤓.