My favorite mode of transportation in Europe is the train. Not only are you more likely to have a much more scenic view when going from one place to another, it’s just easier, and more efficient (especially when you’re crunched for time).
Having navigated trains in several countries, I’ve learned that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to taking trains between cities/countries, but there are several things you can do to ensure a smooth experience. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for train travel in Europe!
Check Schedules + Book Ahead
I’m a planner by nature, but even if you’re more of an impromptu traveler, this is incredibly helpful. If you’re traveling within a country, trains operate a little more frequently, but if you’re planning to travel to another country, you’ll definitely want to be mindful of the timetable. Also, if it’s a peak travel season, chances are the train will fill up quickly! So if you can book ahead, I highly recommend it!
While seat reservations are not always required, it is helpful to make them (especially during peak season travel). While you could board a train and be perfectly fine in your seat, if someone boards mid-journey and reserved the seat you’re sitting in, you’ll have to gather your belongings and move. Unfortunately, there’s nothing above the seat(s) to let you know if it’s reserved, so better to be safe and just pick your seat in advance so you don’t have to worry!
It’s also worth noting that with some trains you’re able to print your tickets out at home, and others you need to print them at the train station kiosk. You’ll be given this information at check-out (if you buy online), so you can prepare accordingly.
Know Your Train Station
This might sound like a no-brainer, but some cities actually have more than one train station! We almost learned this the hard way when we were in Vienna! Fortunately, we made our train and it wasn’t an issue, but the city’s two stations were on the opposite ends of town. Plus, the names can really throw you off if you’re in a new city (or country)! To put it in perspective, the two main train stations are named Westbahnhof and Hauptbahnhof. Make sure you pay attention!
Arrive Early + Pay Attention to the Track
Train travel is much different than by plane! When traveling by plane you can sit at the gate and follow a streamlined boarding process. When traveling by train, it’s imperative that you pay attention to the boards, announcing which track your train will be arriving. And with a 90%+ on-time rate, you don’t have much time to dillydally when it comes to making your train. If you’re unsure where you need to go, ASK! As a general practice, I usually confirm with one of the staff AT the train I’m boarding, “this is the train to XYZ, correct?” (XYZ being the destination).
With a 90%+ on-time rate, you don’t have much time to dillydally when it comes to making your train. If you’re unsure where you need to go, ASK! As a general practice, I usually confirm with one of the staff AT the train I’m boarding, “this is the train to XYZ, correct?” (XYZ being the destination). There’s usually a sign next to the platform to let you know, but there can be last minute track changes or a train coming in quickly before yours does!
As I mentioned earlier in this post, trains usually operate on time. Which means boarding and un-boarding happen FAST! If you’re traveling by train, it’s better to travel light, so you don’t have problems getting your suitcase on or off the train. And with that, you definitely want to limit the number of bags you’re carrying! Keep it to a small suitcase/duffel and a backpack/purse if you can!
Always important with travel! You never know if you’ll experience a delay or what kind of snacks (if any) will be available to you during your journey. If you’re on a long-haul train/traveling between countries, you can usually count on a snack car being available, but if you’re on a regional one (traveling within a country), probably not.
Some trains do have meal service included with the ticket, so if you’re on a longer journey that’s definitely something to consider when you’re booking your ticket. On our train from Copenhagen to Stockholm, we opted to pay a little extra for first class seats (which included a hearty breakfast), since the journey was a little over 5 hours.
Have you traveled by train in Europe? What tips do you have to add? Any favorite scenic journeys you recommend?