Europe starts on Eurostar at St Pancras...Lunch in London... Breakfast in Berlin...

There's no need to fly from the UK to anywhere in Europe.  It's surprisingly easy, quick and comfortable to travel overland by train from London to just about anywhere:  Spain, Italy, Greece, Prague, Helsinki, Moscow...  The difficult bit is finding out how to do it and where to buy tickets.  That's where Seat 61 comes in!

This website will tell you the best routes, train times & approximate fares from London to major destinations all over Europe.  It explains what the trains are like, and the best way to buy tickets.

Even if your journey doesn't start in the UK, this site will give you the basic tools to plan and book journeys all over Europe at the best prices.

Left:  Eurostar links the UK not just with Paris, but with destinations all over Europe.


  If your journey starts in the UK...   

If your journey starts elsewhere...   

 

Train times, fares & tickets for journeys all over Europe...

If your journey starts or ends in the UK, select your destination country in the upper drop-down box on the right, or pick a country from the menu on the left, to see the recommended routes, train times, fares & how to buy tickets from London to your specific European destination.

If your journey starts in another European country, select the city where your journey starts in the lower drop-down box on the right - if it isn't listed, select one nearest to it in the same country.  On the next page, select your destination city to see recommended routes, train times, fares & how to buy the cheapest tickets for that journey, direct from the train operators.

Return to this page for information & advice about luggage, crossing Paris by metro, taking your bike, and so on.


Planning your trip...

How to check European train times

 

Changing stations in Paris by metro or taxi

Wheelchairs & special needs

How to check European train fares   

 

Changing trains in Brussels

Recommended guidebooks

Maps of the European rail network

 

How early to arrive at the station?

Hotels & accommodation

Eurostar schedules, fares & information

 

How long to allow for connections?

Holidays & tours by train

Ferry alternatives to Eurostar

 

First class lounges at stations

 

Car hire when you get there

Should I travel 1st or 2nd class?

 

Real-time service updates

Travel insurance, credit cards, SIMs

Couchettes & sleeping-cars

 

What to do when things go wrong...

Buying your tickets...

How to buy European train tickets online

  Buying UK tickets to connect with Eurostar  

Railpasses & Eurail passes

How to buy European train tickets by phone

 

Senior fares for over-60s

 

Buying & using an InterRail pass

Must I book in advance?  Can I buy at the station?

 

Youth fares for under-26s

 

Rail staff priv travel in Europe

How far in advance can I book?

 

Child fares & travel with kids

 

Train seat numbering plans

Taking luggage, bikes, dogs & cars

Luggage on trains    Left luggage at stations    Taking your bike    Taking your dog or pet    Taking your car by train (Motorail)

Information about specific trains...

Eurostar from London to Paris & Brussels

 

Thalys trains Paris to Brussels & Amsterdam

 

Trenitalia's Frecciarossa

Overnight trains in France

 

City Night Line sleeper trains

 

Trenitalia's Frecciargento

TGV trains in France

 

Amsterdam to Prague by City Night Line

 

Trenitalia's Frecciabianca

TGV Lyria trains from Paris to Switzerland

 

Amsterdam to Warsaw by EuroNight train

 

NTV's Italo trains

TGV trains from Paris to Turin & Milan

 

Amsterdam or Cologne to Vienna by EuroNight train

 

German ICE trains

TGV trains from Paris to Barcelona

 

Thello sleeper trains from Paris to Italy

 

Austrian RailJet trains

Spanish AVE, Alvia, Altaria trains

 

Switzerland's Glacier Express

 

Munich to Prague by train

Berlin-Warszawa Express trains

  Switzerland's Bernina Express   Swedish SJ2000 trains

 

How to check European train times

You can find schedules for virtually any European train journey at www.bahn.de...

 

Click for an online
European train timetable...
The German Railways online timetable

   

If you only remember one European train travel resource (apart from seat 61, of course), make it www.bahn.de. This features an excellent online timetable for the whole of Europe provided by the German Railways, probably the most useful resource for European train travel on the net.  Try asking it for Palermo to Helsinki or Lisbon to Moscow and you'll see what I mean.  These tips may help:

  1. Which specific station to choose?  If the selection includes a city name in capital letters without any specific station name (for example PARIS or BERLIN), use this as the system will show trains serving any main station in that city.  However, sometimes the selection only includes specific stations in that city, and you may wonder which to choose.  Obviously, 'centrale' in Italian or 'centraal' in Dutch means central station, usually the best option.  In Brussels, select 'Brussel Zuid' as this is the main station in Brussels, also known as Brussels Midi or 'Brussels South Station'.  In Cologne, select 'Cologne (Köln Hbf)'.  In Barcelona, select Barcelona Sants unless travelling to or from Paris, when you're better off selecting Barcelona Franca.  It helps to know that 'hauptbahnhof' ('hbf') is 'main station' in German, 'Hlavni' is main station in Czech, 'Glowny' ('Gl.') is main station in Polish.  In Verona, select 'Verona Porta Nuova'.  In Venice, Venice Santa Lucia is on the Grand Canal in Venice itself, Venice Mestre is an industrial area on the mainland.

  2. How to find journey details:  When the results appear, click on the 'down arrow' to the left of each train service to see a detailed breakdown of the journey.

  3. To see an end-to-end timetable with calling points for a selected train:  In the detailed view, click on any train number and it will show you the complete origin-to-destination timetable for that train showing its days of operation & all its calling points.

  4. Major rail operators only:  This system holds data for all main European national rail networks, including many private train operators in Switzerland & Sweden, although it now no longer seems to know about Greece.  It does hold any data for some small private railways or for that matter, urban metro or tram routes in cities, notably it does not cover:

    - The Circumvesuviana Railway in Italy, Naples-Herculaneum-Pompeii-Sorrento.

    - Euskotren in Spain, for example narrow gauge local trains linking Hendaye to San Sebastian & Bilbao.

    - FEVE in Spain, who run narrow gauge local trains along the north coastal towns.

  1. Timetable changes in June & December:  It usually holds data only until the next Europe-wide timetable change, which happens twice a year on the second Sunday in June and December.  So don't be surprised if it shows no trains at all running in late December if you make an enquiry in August, as late December is beyond the mid-December timetable change.  Simply make an enquiry for a date this side of the timetable change instead, and assume that the times won't change that much.  Also remember that bookings for most European trains only open 90 days in advance, and for a few countries, only 60 days in advance.

  2. This system is very good, but some railways (often the Spanish, it seems) can often be late in supplying data, and data can be unreliable in some parts of the Balkans, for example.  If you get strange results you can try the railway operator's own website instead, for example www.renfe.com for Spain or www.ose.gr for Greece.  There's a complete list of rail websites on the useful links page.

  3. Interchange times for long journeys:  On the advanced search page you can set it to require longer interchange times between trains.  Remember that this is an automated system which allows the minimum theoretical time at interchange stations.  This is fine for short daytime journeys where there's another train half an hour later if you miss it, but for critical connections, for example with sleeper trains that you can't afford to miss, you should allow much longer than is allowed by bahn.de.  To give an extreme example, I would want at least 2 hours to connect in Bucharest when coming from Istanbul and connecting for Budapest to allow for long delays, but the system assumes that everything runs spot on time and allows only minutes.

  4. For British train times it's better to use www.nationalrail.co.uk as this will show any engineering work alterations and fares.

  5. Fareswww.bahn.de will show train times for virtually any journey in Europe, but will only show fares (or sell tickets) for journeys within Germany, also for most direct trains to or from Germany such as Munich-Verona, Paris-Munich or Berlin-Warsaw, and for German-run trains such as City Night Line sleeper trains from Amsterdam to Prague, Amsterdam to Zurich or Basel to Copenhagen.  If you want to check fares for other journeys, see the How to buy European train tickets page.

  6. This journey planner can also be accessed as http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/e, but it's a lot easier to remember www.bahn.de/en!

Station arrivals & departures:  Click here & enter a station...

 

Thomas Cook European Timetable - Click to buy online

What's inside?

To check scheduled train departures from (or arrivals at) any given station across most of Europe see www.bahn.de/ris.  This is an online equivalent of the printed departure posters displayed at stations.  It shows real-time information for stations in Germany if you pick today's date, but for 'real time' information in other countries, see the real-time section below.

The European Rail Timetable...   What does it contain?

The world-famous European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable) is the train traveller's bible, with route maps and up-to-date timetables for trains, buses and ferries for all European countries, plus trains in Asian Turkey and Russia including the Trans-Siberian railway, ferries to North Africa & the Mediterranean islands.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook pulled the plug on their entire publishing department, and the August 2013 edition was the last to be published by Thomas Cook.  The good news is that the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team have set up a private venture and a reborn European Rail Timetable is now available as from March 2014, on sale at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu for £15.99 with shipping to any country worldwide.

Each country's own printed timetables...

If you really think you need it, you can buy the printed national timetable book for almost any European country from the Timetable Distribution Centre, www.timetables.ch, email sales@timetables.ch.


How to check European train fares

OK, so you can find European train times all in one place at www.bahn.de.  But there isn't a single website that can sell tickets at the best price for all journeys in all countries - even if some agency websites suggest that they can!  You need to use the right website to check fares or book the right train, and sometimes it's cheapest to use two or more websites for different parts of one journey.  Sounds complicated?  Not really. 

To check fares & buy train tickets for journeys wholly within one country...

You can check fares & in many cases buy tickets online for journeys wholly within one country at the railway website for that country, see the links page for a complete list.  For example:

UK

 - See the UK page

France

 - www.voyages-sncf.com or (for UK residents) uk.voyages-sncf.com.

Italy

 - www.trenitalia.com (see advice on using it) or www.italiarail.com.

Switzerland

 - www.sbb.ch (trains in Switzerland generally don't need pre-booking, easy to buy tickets at the station)

Spain

 - www.renfe.com (but first see the advice on using this system)

Portugal

 - www.cp.pt

Netherlands

 - www.ns.nl (trains in the Netherlands don't need pre-booking, so easy to buy tickets at the station)

Belgium

 - www.b-rail.be (trains in Belgium don't need pre-booking, so easy to buy tickets at the station)

Luxembourg

 - www.cfl.lu

Germany

 - www.bahn.de

Austria

 - www.oebb.at

Denmark

 - www.dsb.dk

Sweden

 - www.sj.se (also try www.bokatag.se)

Norway

 - www.nsb.no (see advice on using this system)

Finland

 - www.vr.fi

Czech Rep.  - www.cd.cz/eshop
Hungary  - www.mav-start.hu
Romania  - www.cfrcalatori.ro
Poland  - www.intercity.pl

To check fares & buy train tickets for international journeys...

There's a more detailed account of how to check fares and buy tickets online for any given international train journey in Europe on the How to buy European tickets page.  But here's the quick answer for which website to use or which agency to call for which journey:

Online...

By phone...


Where to find maps of European rail routes

     
 

See map sample.

 
 

 
 

+ €5.50 postage worldwide

Click to see sample

 

Free online rail maps...

Printed rail maps...

However, for a decent map of all European train routes which you can carry with you, you really need to invest in a printed map.  Here are two excellent rail maps of Europe, and a more detailed atlas.

A Travellers' Railway Map of Europe:  Click here to buy...

The Rail Atlas of Europe...

The Thomas Cook Rail Map of Europe...

 


Real-time information for European trains

Are the trains running on time?  Are there any delays, incidents or disruptions?

As with buying your ticket, there's no one website where you'll find out about delays, strikes or other problems affecting all European trains.  You need to know which website to look at, so here is some guidance:


Travelling by Eurostar

London to Paris or Brussels:  See the Eurostar page...

Eurostar is the excellent high-speed passenger train from London's St Pancras station to Paris & Brussels through the Channel Tunnel.  Most journeys to Europe now start with a trip on Eurostar to Paris or Brussels.  All 1st class fares include complimentary drinks and a meal, and all passengers have access to a bar car serving drinks and snacks.  Remember that you need to check-in for Eurostar trains at least 30 minutes before departure (10 minutes for passengers with certain types of premium 1st class ticket, 60 minutes for Eurostars to Avignon or the French Alps) to allow for an airline-style security check.  Eurostar does not run on Christmas Day.

A Eurostar at St Pancras International...

A Eurostar at St Pancras...

 

Eurostar first class

Eurostar 1st class...

 

Eurostar second class

Eurostar 2nd class...


Changing trains & stations in Paris...

Changing trains & stations in Paris:  See the Paris metro page


Changing trains in Brussels...

 

Visiting Central Brussels:  If you've time to spare between trains, it's a 25 minute stroll from Brussels Midi station to the famous Grand Place (Grote Markt) in the city centre.  Or hop on a train from Brussels Midi to Brussels Central, a transfer is free with a Eurostar ticket.  For somewhere to eat, try the 'Aux Armes de Bruxelles' restaurant (www.armebrux.be)...

  The escalators down to the couloir sud...

When changing trains in Brussels:  Arriving by Eurostar with an onward train to Cologne or Amsterdam, don't trail after the crowds shuffling slowly to the station exit!  Nip down the escalators marked 'Connections' level with car 11.  This descends to the 'Couloir Sud' subway between all platforms, a handy short cut to all other platforms...

  Changing trains at Brussels Midi...

The main concourse at Brussels Midi station, a subway underneath the tracks...

  The Eurostar terminal at Brussels Midi

Entrance to the Eurostar Terminal at Brussels Midi, now marked 'Channel Terminal'...


Sponsored links...

 

Travelling by train + ferry

Most people now start their journey to Europe by Eurostar, but the ferry alternatives can be well worth considering.

If you prefer train+ferry travel, simply substitute the rail-sea-rail times shown on the London to Paris by train + ferry page or Netherlands page for the Eurostar times to Paris shown on the Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland pages, or use the all-Europe online timetable at www.bahn.de to find train times from the port (for example, Hoek van Holland) to your final destination.


Should you go 1st or 2nd class?

  2nd class seats on top deck of a TGV Duplex

2nd class seats, arranged 2+2 across the car width.  This is a TGV Duplex.

  1st class seats on a TGV Duplex

1st class seats on the same TGV Duplex, arranged 2+1 across the car width.  Fewer seats per car, more leg & elbow room.  Tables for 2 as well as tables for 4.  That's it.

2nd class is perfectly adequate for most travellers throughout Europe.  You don't need to pay for a 1st class ticket to travel in comfort these days, even in Eastern Europe, especially on the fast modern air-conditioned express trains.  If you're on a budget, don't bother with 1st class unless you are offered prices that make it very cheap to upgrade.

What extra do you get if you go 1st class?  First class gets you wider seats, plusher seats, more leg and elbow room, and fewer passengers per coach.  In most cases, you should assume that's all.  Luggage room is exactly the same, although with fewer passengers per coach using it, of course.  On a few premier trains including Eurostar, Spanish AVE, Alvia & Altaria trains, Thalys & Lyria, 1st class fares include an at-seat service of food and drink.  But these trains are the exceptions.  Unless you're told otherwise, you should assume that a 1st class ticket simply gets you a nicer seat with more leg and elbow room, surrounded by more business laptop users and fewer families and kids.  On German ICEs and Austrian Railjets, food and drink is not included so costs extra, but in 1st class your order will be taken and refreshments served at your seat by a steward, whereas in 2nd class you'll have to go to the cafe or restaurant car yourself.

1st class travel can be an affordable treat.  Don't decide until you see the price!  Many train operators have adopted airline-style variable pricing, and you might find 2nd class for (say) €40 and 1st class for (say) €45 because of the way the price quotas have worked in each class.  In these circumstances, you'd be crazy not to pay a bit extra to treat yourself to the extra comfort.

Table for two?  First class cars generally have seats arranged 2+1 across the width of the car (meaning 2 seats abreast, then aisle, then one solo seat), hence the wider seats with more elbow room compared to 2+2 seating in 2nd class, see the photos on the right.  So in a typical first class car you'll find tables for two as well as tables for four - if you're a couple, facing each other across an intimate table for two, both of you getting a window seat that's also an aisle seat is a key advantage of going 1st class.  As is booking a 'solo' seat if you're travelling alone.

Train seat numbering plansClick here for train seating plans

On overnight trains, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class ticket is almost irrelevant, as your comfort depends on the type of sleeping accommodation you pay for:  Ordinary seat, couchette, or sleeping-car.  A 2nd class couchette is more comfortable (and more secure) than a 1st class seat.  A 2nd class sleeper is more comfortable than a 1st class couchette.  In fact, on many routes only a 2nd class ticket is now needed even for a 2-berth sleeper.  The options for travelling on overnight trains are explained in the next section.


First class lounges at stations

  The first class NS Hispeed lounge at Amsterdam centraal railway station.
 

A typical first class lounge.  This one is the NS International 1st class lounge at Amsterdam Centraal, available for anyone with a valid first class international ticket or railpass.  It offers complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine & beer...

In some countries, you'll find first class lounges at stations, usually with complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks or even beer and wine available.  WiFi and an internet PC may also be available.  Sometimes the lounge is for anyone with a first class ticket (including a first class railpass), but in some countries the lounges are only for holders of the most expensive business-orientated first class tickets or for holders of that particular train operator's special frequent traveller card.  Opening times vary, the lounges may or may not be of use when catching a late-night sleeper.  Here's a quick guide:

Eurostar first class lounges in London, Paris & Brussels...

Eurostar has first class business lounges at London St Pancras, Paris Nord & Brussels Midi.  These are open to holders of full-price Business Premier first class tickets, but not to holders of Standard Premier first class tickets, or to first class railpass holders.  The Eurostar business lounges offer complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine, beer, and snacks.

Lounges open to all 1st class ticket holders...

The following countries have lounges for first class passengers at their major stations open to anyone with any first class ticket including reduced-rate ones and (in a few cases) first class Eurail or InterRail passes.  The lounges have complimentary refreshments and other benefits such as WiFi.

Netherlands:  At Amsterdam Centraal, Schiphol, Rotterdam.  Follow signs for 'NS International Lounge', formerly called the NS Hispeed lounge.  Search www.nsinternational.nl for opening times.  Tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and snacks available.  For anyone with a 1st class international ticket including 1st class railpasses, but not Dutch domestic tickets.

Switzerland:  At Zurich Hauptbahnhof, located upstairs, follow signs for SBB Lounge.  Open to holders of any international 1st class ticket including 1st class railpasses but not Swiss domestic tickets.  Tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks available.

Germany:  At Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt Main Airport, Hamburg, Hanover, Cologne, Leipzig, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart.  Usually open 07:00-21:00 daily, follow signs for 'DB Lounge', search www.bahn.de for details  These German lounges are not open to railpass holders.  Tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and snacks available.

Austria:   At Vienna Westbahnhof, Salzburg, Innsbruck.  Not open to railpass holders.  Follow signs to ÖBB Lounge.  Soft drinks and snacks available, alcoholic drinks only after 18:00.

Spain:  At Madrid Atocha, Madrid Chamartin, Barcelona Sants, and several other stations.  Open to anyone with a Club, Preferente or Gran Clase domestic or international ticket, including Promo+ tickets but excluding Promo tickets.  Typically open from 06:00 to 22:00 every day.  You can use them from 2 hours before your train leaves until departure.  Tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and snacks available.

Hungary:  Budapest has a business lounge near platform 9, open 06:00-21:30 daily open for anyone with a 1st class international ticket to. from or via Budapest.  Not open to railpass holders.

Lounges only open to certain first class ticket holders...

In France, Belgium, Italy & the United Kingdom there are first class lounges at major stations, but only for holders of full-price fully-flexible business-orientated first class tickets and/or holders of certain frequent traveller loyalty cards.  They cannot be used just by anyone with a 1st class ticket.

If you are a 1st class passenger on Thalys and want to use the Grand Voyageur lounge at Paris Gare du Nord or the Thalys lounge at Brussels Midi with armchair seating and free drinks:  Thalys trains run on the Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam and Paris-Brussels-Cologne high-speed routes.  If you intend travelling on Thalys in 1st class, go to www.thalysthecard.com and apply online for a free 'Thalys TheCard' before buying your Thalys ticket.  Then buy your 1st class Thalys tickets at www.thalys.com using your TheCard number.  Your actual card will only be sent to you by post after you make the first booking using your TheCard number.  Then you can then access the Thalys lounge at Brussels Midi (located in the Couloir Sud) or Grand Voyageur lounge at Paris Gare du Nord by showing your Thalys Card and any 1st class Thalys ticket for that day.


Travelling overnight

Many long-distance expresses run overnight, a very time-effective and romantic way to travel.  Huge distances can be covered while you sleep, using up less daytime time than flying and often saving a hotel bill too.  Forget the terms 'first class' & 'second class', these can actually be misleading when dealing with sleeper trains.  On overnight trains, your comfort depends on whether you choose an ordinary seat, an economical couchette, or a comfortable berth in the sleeping-car.  A 2nd class sleeper is more comfortable than a 1st class couchette!

  A 2-berth German sleeper The same German sleeper - daytime seats mode
 

2-berth sleeper:  A typical 2-berth sleeper, berths made up.

The same sleeper, converted to a sitting room for evening/morning use.

  Couchette compartment on train NZ 243 CityNightLine couchette (4-bunk)
 

Couchettes, 6-berth, with the bunks folded out.

Couchettes, 4-berth:  Much more room per passenger!

Incidentally, trains don't have sterns or bows, or port or starboard.  They also don't have cabins, as they are not a ship.  The correct term is sleeper or couchette 'compartment'.

Click for sleeper & couchette car berth numbering plans - answers the regular worry 'We have berths 21 and 25, are we in the same 2-berth compartment?' (yes, you are!)

...in a sleeping-car

A sleeping-car is the equivalent of a hotel:  A cosy bedroom, with comfortable beds, washbasin, and room service.  For the daytime parts of a journey, the beds fold away to reveal a sofa.  Sleepers come in 1, 2, 3 and (in a few cases) 4-berth varieties, depending on the route, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class ticket, and the price you want to pay.  If you are travelling alone and don't want to pay for a 1st class single room, you can normally book just one berth in a 2 or 3-berth room and share with other passengers of the same sex (though this is not possible in Spanish 'gran classe' sleepers).  In addition to the normal lock, sleeper compartments have a security lock which cannot be opened from outside even with a staff key, so you'll be both safe and snug.  The most modern sleepers now have CCTV in the corridor, too.

A sleeper typically costs about £35-£45 in western Europe or £20-£35 in eastern Europe per person per night for a bed in a 3-berth compartment in addition to a 2nd class ticket or railpass.  A berth in a 2-berth costs about £45-£65 per night in western Europe, £30-£45 in eastern Europe, plus either a 1st or 2nd class ticket or railpass depending on the route & type of sleeper.  A single room costs around £70-£100 per night (£50-£70 in eastern Europe) and you must normally have a 1st class ticket or railpass.  On an increasing number of routes (e.g. Paris to Madrid, Barcelona, Italy, and Brussels to Berlin), good-value inclusive fares are now charged, covering travel, sleeper & breakfast.

There's more detailed information about what to expect when travelling by sleeper on the Travelling by Sleeping-car or Couchette page.  For more specific information about particular types of sleeper train, see the City Night Line page if your journey involves a City Night Line sleeper train such as Paris to Berlin, Paris to Munich, Amsterdam or Cologne to Prague or Copenhagen.  See the Thello sleeper train page if it involves the 'Thello' sleeper trains from Paris to Italy.  If it involves the Austrian EuroNight sleeper train from Cologne to Vienna see the ÖBB EuroNight sleeper train page.

...in a couchette

A couchette is rail's answer to a youth hostel or 'pensione':  Economical and comfortable, it's an ordinary seating compartment for six people by day, with fold-out padded bunks for six people by night, each with sheet, rug & pillow which you arrange yourself.  Male and female passengers normally share the same compartment (although there are 'ladies only' compartments on most routes), and apart from removing shoes & jackets,  passengers do not normally undress.  A berth in a 6-berth couchette compartment costs around €27 (£23) per berth per night, in addition to a 2nd class ticket or railpass.  In addition to the normal lock, couchette compartments have a security lock which cannot be opened from outside, even with a staff key, so you'll be quite safe.  On most routes you can pay a higher supplement (about €37 or £32) to travel in a less crowded 4-berth couchette compartment, which is well worth the extra cost.  1st class couchettes, with four berths per compartment, are rare - they are basically only operated in France.

There's more detailed information about what to expect when travelling by couchette on the Travelling by Couchette or Sleeping-car page.  For more specific information, if your journey involves a City Night Line sleeper train see the City Night Line page.  If your journey involves a French domestic Intercité de Nuit overnight train, see the Intercités de Nuit page.  If it involves the Paris to Italy Thello sleeper train, see the Thello sleeper train page.  If it involves the Austrian EuroNight sleeper from Cologne to Vienna see the ÖBB EuroNight page.

...in a seat

Although it's the cheapest option, travelling overnight in an ordinary seat is a false economy and not recommended however tight your budget, either for comfort or security.  There's no lock on the compartment door, and no staff on duty.  Think of it as the equivalent (almost!) of sleeping in a shop doorway.  Always budget for at least the couchette supplement for a comfortable night's journey.  Some trains have reclining seats (French overnight trains, some German overnight trains, and some Spanish overnight trains), but although better than a normal seat they still don't offer the flat bed and safely locked compartment of a couchette or sleeper.


How early to arrive at the station?

  Train composition display on station platform in Germany
 

Train formation display, showing where along the platform each car of a train will stop.  This saves you running up and down looking for your car.  You can be waiting in the right place when your train comes in!  Above is a printed German version.  Below is an electronic French railways version.

Composition des Trains

Do you need to check in for a train?

On international trains, is there passport control before boarding?

Eurostar is an exception, minimum 30 minute check-in...

Spanish high-speed trains...


How long to allow for connections between trains?

Train connections 101...

It usually takes just a minute or two to change trains...

If your onward connection is a local unreserved train...

If your onward connection is a long-distance reserved train...

If your onward connection is an overnight sleeper train, or part of an epic journey...

If you are connecting out of an overnight sleeper train...

Do you have a through ticket, or separate tickets?

Recommended connection times when changing stations in Paris...

Travel tips...

What happens if you miss a connection?


 


When things go wrong...

  Derailment!  This is in fact the train from Damascus to Amman!

Oops!

It's remarkable how well European train travel normally works.  High-speed trains in western Europe typically exceed 90% on time or within 15 minutes, whilst competing short-haul airlines struggle to reach 68%-78%.  Over the last few years I've travelled back from Croatia to London by train whilst volcanic ash grounded all flights for a week, I've taken the ferry to the Netherlands for Christmas spot on time with our in-cabin TV showing endless news about Heathrow's closure due to snow, I have travelled to Seville in Spain by train and got there ahead of airline passengers who found Heathrow closed for several days due to fog.  The most usual feedback I get is that people's trips around Europe by train all worked like clockwork, until they got back to London and their train home was 45 minutes late!  But things do occasionally go wrong, so here's what you should know.

What to do if you miss a connection...

Your rights:  The CIV conditions of carriage... 

The Railteam Promise...

Missed connections in Brussels...

Traveller's report...

A traveller reports:  "I got to my local station and there were no trains going anywhere!  There had been an emergency that stopped all trains for half an hour or so in the early morning rush hour, just when I needed to get to London for the 8.30am Eurostar to Paris and TGV down to Toulon, with train-specific tickets all the way.  So what do you do?  I just went to the ticket office when I reached London - they had the emergency flagged up on their computer screens and just wrote me a docket/stamped and signed it and on I went.  At St Pancras, I did the same - went to the Eurostar ticket office and they stamped the unused tickets, issued new ones and off I went.   At Gare de Lyon, I went to the ticket office, showed them all the dockets, stamped, stapled and initialled tickets and again they just issued me a ticket for the next train."


Holidays & escorted tours by train

If you want a holiday to Europe by train, but want someone else to organise all the train tickets & hotels for you with no hassle, several good specialist companies do just that.  Railbookers offer tailor-made individual holidays with departure on any date you like and an itinerary adjusted to suit your requirements, whereas Treyn Holidays & Great Rail Journeys offer escorted tours with specific departure dates and you travel in company with a group of like-minded travellers and a professional tour manager.  Either way, you get a stress-free holiday to Italy, Switzerland, Spain, France, eastern Europe or even Morocco overland by train, with regular departures from London by Eurostar, no flying, no airport hassles and no whole days spent in cramped coach seats on motorways.  Seat61 gets some commission to support the site if you book your holiday through these links or phone numbers, please quote 'seat61' when booking.

Railbookers, www.railbookers.com...

Railbookers can tailor-make a holiday or short break by train to most European countries for you, with train travel & carefully-chosen hotels, for however long you like, leaving on any date you like.  If you tell them what you want, they'll advise you on the best trains, routes & hotels and sort it all out for you.  They look after their customers well and get a lot of repeat business, so I've no hesitation in recommending them.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.railbookers.com.

Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

Treyn Holidays, www.railholidays.com, 01904 730 727...

Treyn Holidays run escorted group tours to a number of European countries, with 3* or 2* hotels and overland travel from the UK by Eurostar and high-speed TGV.  Popular tours include:

Great Rail Journeys, www.greatrail.com, 01904 527120...

Great Rail Journeys runs five-star inclusive escorted tours from the UK to many European countries, with 1st class train travel and 5* or 4* hotels. Check the tour details online, then call 01904 527120 to book or use their online booking form.  Tours include:


Recommended guidebooks

Rail travel guides...

There are several good guidebooks specifically to help you travel by train to and around Europe, including my own book published in June 2008 and revised in April 2010.  Based on this site, it's a handbook for travel by train or ferry from the UK to almost anywhere in Europe.  Then there's 'Flight Free Europe', packed with ideas for short breaks & longer holidays in Europe by train rather than air.  'Flight-free Europe' even includes a picture of yours truly in a text box about seat61.com a few pages in, but don't let that put you off.  Finally, 'Europe by Rail' combines city guides with train information for a tour of Europe.

   
         

General country guidebooks...

People sometimes think a guidebook is an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see and understand so much more if you have a decent guidebook.  For the independent traveller, I think the best ones out there are either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both guidebooks are excellent, and you won't regret buying one!

Click the images to buy at Amazon.co.uk or buy in the USA at Amazon.com...

Rough Guide to Europe - click to buy online at AmazonLonely Planet Western Europe - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Eastern Europe - buy online at Amazon.co.ukLonely Planet Europe on a shoestring - click to buy online

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hotels & accommodation in Europe

Find hotels anywhere in Europe...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Hotels near Paris Gare du Nord & other Paris stations:

Backpacker hostels...


Car hire

Take the train into Europe, then hire a car:  www.holidayautos.co.uk

City centres and cars don't mix well, so stick with the train for city-based tours.  But if you want to get out of the cities and into the countryside, hiring a car can be a great idea.  Start by trying Holiday Autos, www.holidayautos.co.uk, they're part of Lastminute.com so are reliable and have a wide range of locations and very good prices.

Compare 50 different car hire companies:  www.carrentals.co.uk

The award-winning website www.carrentals.co.uk compares many different car hire companies including Holiday Autos, meaning not only a cheapest price comparison but a wider choice of hire and drop off location.


Travel insurance & health card

Get travel insurance...

Never travel without insurance from a reliable travel insurer.  It should give at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover, cover loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings, and cancellation.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links.

If you live in the UK, get quotes from Columbus Direct or Go Travel Insurance, or go to Confused.com to run a price comparison on a whole range of travel insurance providers for your dates of travel, seeing their policy's features at a glance.

Post Office Travel Insurance:  You can buy cheap travel insurance from Post Office®; single trip and annual multi trip travel insurance offering you comprehensive cover with a range of additional options.

 
   
 
   

Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, but European international rail conditions of carriage (known as the CIV) contain consumer protection provisions that may safeguard connections, see the advice aboveFeedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, see Columbus Direct Australia.

   If you live in the USA or Canada, see Travel Guard USA.

Get an EU health card...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Get a credit card for foreign travel with lower currency exchange rates & lower or no ATM fees...

Taking out an extra credit card and keeping it separate from your other cards means you won't be stranded if your wallet is stolen.  Some credit cards are better than others for overseas travel.  You can save money on ATM charges and exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency MasterCard, or indeed the multi-currency Global Traveller MasterCard, find out about these cards & sign up here.  See www.moneysavingexpert.com for advice on the best credit cards to take on your travels overseas (select 'travel').  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com explains which credit cards have the lowest commission rates when you buy something in a foreign currency, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Martin Lewis's advice can save you quite a lot!

Get an international SIM card...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, but if you buy a global SIM card for your mobile phone from a company such as www.Go-Sim.com you can slash the cost by up to 85%.  It cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also allows cheap data access for laptops & PDAs.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not used between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.


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