ThereByTrain.com has experienced the more stressful aspects of a multi-journey holiday by Train in Europe, follow our tips on how to avoid them and have the trip of a lifetime!
If you're confused by any aspect of European train travel and what we're talking about below our unique frequently answered question guide should tell you what you need to know.
1 - CONFIRM THE DETAILS OF YOUR SUBSEQUENT JOURNEY(S) ON ARRIVAL AT A DESTINATION
You've arrived after spending hours on a train and you're keen to find where you're staying and either dump your bags and explore, or crash out on a bed.
We know the feeling, but resisting the temptation and confirming the details of your next journey before you exit the station is right up there as our top tip and here's why:
Near the top of the stress list of any multi train-trip adventure is the mild sense of panic that can be experienced between heading off to the station and actually being on the train to where you want to go next.
Right at the top of the stress list is the sinking feeling when you realise that you can't actually get to where you want to go because you are:
- at a different station to the one where your train is leaving from
- still in that queue to make that reservation, that you didn't know you needed, when the train you wanted to take departs
- stuck because the train is operating an hour earlier than normal today because of work on the line
- told that all the seats/beds available to rail pass users on that train/day have sold out etc etc etc
Hence our suggestion to stop by an information desk when you arrive at a station (even if you have to wait in line), you can
- confirm that the next train you want to travel by is operating to schedule
- find out whether the next train you need to take is leaving from the same station you've just arrived at
If it's not, you can also find out how to get to the station that it will be departing from
- pay for any supplements/reservation fees if you're told that they’re required
- have more time to think through your options, if you don't want to pay these fees or if they're not available/sold out
- pick up a map of the city you've just arrived at (they're not always available, but often they are)
- ask about your public transport options, is there a 24hr pass that will save you money? etc
- plus you can often find out how to travel on where you'll be staying and cut down your chances of getting lost
2 - FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE DOMESTIC NAMES OF YOUR DESTINATION
On ThereByTrain we've striven to include the English language and domestic names of cities, we try to take the trouble to write place names as Florence/Firenze etc
For some reason English speakers now tend to use the domestic names of non-European cities as standard, so Bombay is always referred to as Mumbai etc, but for European cities we don't. Munich is rarely referred to as Munchen, and Firenze is rarely used in place of Florence.
This distinction matters when you're travelling by train in Europe, because the English names aren't generally used on train departure information at stations or in announcements on the train.
Its generally a good idea to know where you're going and when to leave the train, avoid being sat on a train thinking 'Firenze? Never heard of it, I thought we'd be in Florence by now'?
3 - CHECK WHETHER THE DAY TRAIN YOU WANT TO TAKE REQUIRES A COMPULSORY RESERVATION
Even though we say so ourselves, it's a good idea to take a look at those links and find out about these supplements because:
- if you don't want to pay them you can work out alternative routes or how to travel from A to B on trains on which they're not mandatory (in most instances there willl be a slower/better/cheaper alternative - check our Eurail Tips/Info Guide or InterRail Tips/Info guides)
- if you want to pay them them you can factor them into your travel budget for a trip
- you can avoid being stuck in a queue/line to make a reservation at the station, when the train you intended to board leaves you behind
- on certain trains, the reservations/supplements available to pass users may have sold out before the day on which you want to travel
- you will avoid the wrath of a train conductor/guard when they ask for proof that you've paid a supplement - hence Tip No. 4 below
Extra info for rail pass users
If you’re using a rail pass you cannot guarantee a seat on certain types of European trains.
Limited numbers of reservations are made available to rail pass users on these trains and they can sell out in advance of the day on which you were planning to travel.
The types of train that this applies to include:
If you have a Eurail or InterRail pass and want to use these trains avoid thinking, ‘I’ll pay for the supplement (reservation fee) when I get to the station’.
If the quota of supplements have sold out you’ll either have to pay for a separate full price ticket to travel by the high speed train, or travel by (much!) slower alternative trains and probably have to change trains multiple times.
Don’t let it stop you from using a rail pass, our suggestions for alternative routes are on the supplements guide.
4 - DON'T EVER BOARD A DAY OR OVERNIGHT TRAIN THAT REQUIRES A COMPULSORY RESERVATION WITHOUT HAVING RESERVED
Never think, 'I'll skip that reservation fee, what's the worst that can happen...? Well the operators of European trains, particularly in Eastern Europe, Italy and Spain, don't tend to distinguish between adopting that attitude and trying to avoid buying any ticket at all.
The 'I had no idea that I/we had to pay a supplement fee' protest usually falls on deaf ears, it's been used too often in the past by unscrupulous rail pass users.
Therefore the answer to the 'worst that can happen' can be:
- paying a fine
- having to buy a full fare ticket at the maximum price of the journey.
- being kicked off the train at the next station, including border stations in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night
- facing questions from a senior ticket inspector at a time/station at their convenience
All of which aren't particularly conducive to having that rail adventure of a lifetime and are frequently cited in 'never use a rail pass' posts online.
Check whether you need to pay a reservation fee/supplement and then either pay it or travel by a different train.
If you're not sure our advice is to make the reservation, not only will you not face an inquisition, you'll also have a guaranteed seat on the train.
5 - AVOID HAVING MISERABLE JOURNEYS ON CROWDED TRAINS
The benefits of paying supplements/compulsory reservation fees is that they guarantee you a seat or a bed for the (long) journey)
The flip side of trains on which you don't to reserve is that seats may not available when you board the train and comfortable standing room can also be hard to come by - particularly in 2nd class
Amongst the more crowded European trains, particularly in the summer months are (this is necessarily broad advice):
- IC and REG trains in Italy, particularly in the middle of the day and during the summer months
- EC trains on the Berlin - Prague- Vienna/Budapest route, particularly in the middle of the day
- trains that depart from major cities between 17:00 and 18:00
- trains to coastal resorts between 09:00 and 12:00
- departures on Friday and Sunday evenings between 15:00 and 20:00
If possible avoid these trains. If you can't opt to reserve seats, even though you don't have to!
6 - ARRIVE AT THE STATION IN PLENTY OF TIME BEFORE YOUR TRAIN DEPARTS
Speaking from experience, rushing through a large station in a panic looking for your train or the ticket booking office is not recommended.
On the evening before your departure check and check again the departure time of the train that you will be taking the following morning and don't do (what we have done more than once!) and mix up the 24hr clock.
Work out how long it will take to travel to the station and if you're taking public transport or a taxi allow an extra 15 mins to make the journey.
You may be glad of the extra time when you realise that you're travelling in the wrong direction on the tram/metro (yes we've done that too) and we also recommend not being at a tram or metro stop, thinking 'Sh*t, if this tram/train doesn't turn up in the next 5 mins we're...'
If you have a reservation, aim to be at a large station at least 15 mins before the train departs (it's highly likely that you'll have to buy another ticket if you miss the train you're booked on).It can take a minimum of 5-10 minutes to transfer from public transport to the train.
If you don't have a reservation/ticket be at the station a minimum of 30mins before the train departs, particularly in the summer when lines at ticket desks can be longer.
You also need to work out which platform/track your train is leaving from and how to get there. Not doing this against the clock increases your chances of getting on the right train.
In July and August, if you haven't got a ticket/reservation and it's your first time using these stations, we recommend arriving at the station at least 45mins before your train departs at:
- Barcelona (Sants)
- Berlin (hbf)
- Bologna (Centrale)
- Budapest (Keleti)
- Cologne/Koln hbf
- Milan/Milano (Centrale)
- Paris Gare de Lyon
- Paris Gare du Nord
- Prague/Praha (h.l.n.)
- Rome/Roma (Termini)
- Verona (Porta Nuova)
It you haven't reserved seats and/or reservations aren't available, you can maiximise your chances of finding a seat/alternative trains by arriving early at the station. This particularly applies if the train is commencing it's journey at the station you're departing from.
It's a good idea to be already at the station when the platform/track number of the train you're taking is announced/indicated, you can often beat the rush and board a nearly empty train.
7 - DON'T BE AFRAID OF CHANGING TRAINS
To make the most of a European train adventure don't think 'if I can't take a direct train from A to B, I won't go there'.
If you need to change trains there will be multiple sources of information on the platform that will tell you when and from which platform your next train will be leaving from.
You may simply have to stay where you are and wait for the next train to arrive at the same platform.
However, be more wary of connecting between long distance trains and allow a minimum of 30 mins to change between long distance express trains. If your first train is running late then the second train may not wait for you (we've striven to indicate where connections between trains are 'guaranteed on ThereByTrain.com).
If you're connecting into a very infrequent service, such as the only overnight train, then allow a minimum of one hour to change trains.
In these circumstances it can often be a good idea to take the train from your starting point that departs BEFORE the suggested connection on a timetable.
If you're using the D-Bhan online journey planner increase the connection times beyond the default using the drop down menu that makes this straight forward.
8 - DON'T RUSH FROM A TO B, BREAK UP THE JOURNEY
If you're travelling on a point-to-point ticket and have to change trains, check whether you can leave the station between trains, but if you have a rail pass exploit one of its less obvious benefits and get out of the station.
If you have time before your next train leaves find a bar, café or beach
Or if you have a rail pass and your journey takes you through a must see city, break the journey there and take an onward train later that day.
If you have time to spend an entire afternoon between trains, use a left luggage facility and then set off to explore.
- Amsterdam (Centraal)
- Antwerpen (Centraal)
- Bruxelles (Central) - not Nord or Midi
- Cologne/Koln (hbf)
- Florence/Firenze (S.M.N)
- Hamburg hbf
- Stockholm (Central)
- Venice/Venezia (St Lucia)
Stations that have particularly easy, direct Metro (M); Tram (T) or local/other train (L) links to must see city centre sights include;
- Amsterdam (Centraal) (T = lines 4, 9, 16, 24 and 25 to Munt Plein)
- Basel (SNCF) (T = lines 10, 11 and 8 to Marktplatz)
- Berlin (M = line U55)
- Brussels/Bruxelles (Midi) (L = local train to Bruxelles (Centraal)
- Budapest (Keleti) (M = line M2 three stops to ‘Deak Ferencz Ter')
- Madrid (Atocha and Chamartin) stations (L = 'Cercanias' train lines C3/C4 to 'Sol')
- Milan/Milano (Centrale) (M = line 3 to 'Duomo')
- Munich/Munchen (hbf) (L = S-Bahn lines S1/S2/S3/S4/S6/S8 to Marienplatz)
- Rome/Roma (Termini) (M = Line A to Ottaviano S.Pietro, nearest station to St Peters and The Vatican or line B to 'Colosseo')
- Vienna/Wien (Westbahnhof) (M = line U3 to 'Stephen Platz')
9 - Take your own food and drink on long journeys
Three reasons why we suggest this:
(1) - Not all long distance day and night trains convey restaurant/food/drink counters and taking your own supplies with you ensures that you won't be hungry or thirsty
(2) - Even when food/drink is theoretically available it may in fact not be. ThereByTrain.com was on a 9 hour journey on an EC train and the advertised refreshment bar was closed because the attendant wasn't on the train, on another journey they counter had virtually sold out of food.
(3) - If you're on a budget and find yourself on a train with a restaurant it won't be a cheap option.
10 - Take care when selecting the location of your overnight accommodation
Certain stations aren't close to the tourist sights of the city centre and other stations aren't in the best part of town, for some reason stations and red-light districts often share a location - which is why many hotels near stations can be good value.
If staying within walking distance of the station doesn't suit your plans, try to pick a hotel/hostel that is near to a station/stop on a Metro or Tram route that operates direct to/from the station.
One of the down sides of exploring Europe by train is the regular need to transfer between hotels/hostels and stations.
That deal in a hotel or hostel may not seem such a good idea, when you've spent 45 mins getting there from the station because you needed to take a Metro, then a bus and got lost on the way.
If you've picked a hotel because its a 10 min walk from the station, have access to a map with your hotel's exact location.
ThereByTrain once walked around Cologne for 40 mins trying to find the hotel that was in fact a 10 min walk from the station.
We also once spent 20 mins in Brussels trying to find a hotel that was selected because it was next door to the station, we left by the wrong exit at the station and confusion soon set in!
Yet more tips and helpful information
These facts are worth knowing when you're considering a trip by train in Europe
Consisering a multi-journey holiday by train whether you want to be spontaneous or need to know exactly where you will be when.
Yet more tips and useful information will tell you more about, train catering, overnight trains and tips that will enhance your journeys by train