Racks above your head on most European trains will take small & medium bags, holdalls & suitcases up to & including backpack-sized. This is a London to Paris Eurostar...
Racks near the entrance doors will take larger items. This is Eurostar.
As well as car-end & overhead racks, on many trains you can fit a medium suitcase, backpack or holdall between the seat backs... This is an Italian high-speed Frecciarossa...
Many trains now have luggage stacks inside the seating area. This is a German ICE train...
Luggage on trains: It's so simple, don't over-think it...
With train travel, you keep your luggage with you throughout your journey, putting it on the racks above your seat, between the seats or at the end of the car - there is usually no separate baggage car. Unlike travelling by air, you do not check your bags in, nobody weighs them, measures them or argues with you about their size or weight. You can access to your bags throughout the journey, and they don't end up at an airport a thousand miles away from your destination.
So, just to recap: You step onto the train with your bags and put small and medium sized bags on the luggage rack above your seat, larger items on the racks at the end of the coach or between the seats inside the coach seating area. And on some regional trains, it just goes on the floor next to you. It really is that simple - though I find many people (especially overseas visitors unfamiliar with the simplicity of train travel) worry about luggage unduly because they over-think it...
Luggage limits on trains...
Unlike airlines, there is generally no weight limit for luggage on European trains - or in the handful of cases where there is, it's in the small print and nobody cares or weighs or measures your bags anyway. Just remember that you will have to carry (or pull along on its wheels) whatever you bring. Eurostar theoretically limits luggage to two large items per passenger, with a maximum 85cm in any one dimension, plus a small item of hand luggage, but fortunately in practice they're not fussy about it and won't measure your bags if they're a bit over that, nor worry about an extra carrier bag or whatever. There is room for luggage on Eurostar on the luggage racks above the seats and for larger items on the racks at the end of each coach. Porters are a thing of the past, but most major stations have self-help luggage trolleys. Sometimes these require a coin to release them, which is returned when you return the trolley. Eurostar website baggage information page.
Labelling your bags..
It is now compulsory to label all your bags when travelling on Eurostar or on any French train, with your first name and surname. Paper labels are normally supplied with your Eurostar tickets if you need them (look in the ticket wallet or ask at the information desk inside the Eurostar terminal), but it's better to buy proper ones and keep them attached to your travelling bags.
Some travellers worry about the safety of their bags, especially overseas visitors who are unfamiliar with train travel. There's no need to worry, and no need to padlock your bags to the racks. Luggage theft on trains is as rare as theft of airline baggage - simply use the racks directly above your seat wherever you can (the overhead racks will usually take even backpack-sized bags) or use the racks inside the seating area if there are any, right next to where you're sitting. This should be obvious, but in case it isn't, laptops, passports, iPhones, cameras, wallets and tickets should all be in your daypack kept with you in your seat, never left in a suitcase by the entrance door. You then take your day-pack with you to the toilet or buffet car, unless you're travelling with someone else who can keep an eye on it for you.
It goes without saying that firearms & explosives are prohibited on Eurostar (there are special arrangements for sending licensed sporting guns by registered luggage). But annoyingly several 'normal' street-legal items are prohibited which can catch people out. These include gas canisters (admittedly a potential fire hazard in the Channel Tunnel) and knives with a blade longer than 3", which catches out people who buy a nice set of Sabbatier kitchen knives in Paris (but knives with a blade shorter than 3", for example small penknives, are fine). You are allowed to take your own wine or beer on board, but Eurostar may confiscate any 'excessive' alcohol, for example if you look as if you're going to cause trouble. Mountaineering ice axes have theoretically not been permitted on Eurostar, but in practice have not been a problem, see the traveller's report here, and I'm glad to say that a policy change in late 2013 now means that ice axes properly packed away in your luggage are now officially (as well as in practice) fine on Eurostar.
Registered baggage on Eurostar...
Eurostar passengers may send up to three items from London to either Paris or Brussels as registered baggage, at an extra charge (approximately £12-£20 per item). See the Eurostar website baggage information page for details. However, this service only operates between London, Paris and Brussels, not to other destinations beyond Paris or Brussels. To send luggage in advance from your home address to other EU countries, see the next paragraph...
Luggage storage at stations: Click here...
At most major European stations, you can leave your bags in left luggage lockers or a staffed left luggage office, leaving you unencumbered to explore the city between trains. You'll find details of which stations have (and don't have) left luggage facilities, prices & opening hours, on the left luggage at stations page.
Send your luggage in advance with www.luggagemule.co.uk...
If you live in the UK, you can enjoy a train ride to almost anywhere in Europe without heavy luggage - send it to your destination with Luggage Mule, www.luggagemule.co.uk.
Luggage Mule will collect your suitcase from your home or office in the UK around 5 working days before you leave. Your suitcase will be waiting at your hotel when you get to your destination. They send bags to destinations all over Europe.
After your stay, leave your suitcase at your hotel reception when you check out. Luggage Mule will collect & deliver to your home within 5 working days or so.
Online reviews of Luggage Mule rate them very highly indeed - though I have yet to have feedback myself. If you use them, please let me known how they performed!
Example prices: 20Kg bag from any UK address one-way to any address in: Avignon or Nice £28.99; Barcelona or Alicante £29.99; Florence or Rome £31.99; Prague or Venice £49.99; Athens or Corfu £54.99. Check current prices to any destination at www.luggagemule.co.uk.
What luggage would I recommend?
Everyone's needs and preferences are different, but for what it's worth I can tell you what suits my wife and me. We each have an excellent Eagle Creek Switchback. This is a roll-along bag with wheels and extending handle which converts to a proper backpack with proper back strap system for when the going gets tough. It has a detachable daypack which we use for cameras. documents, reading book and so on. Being back-pack-sized they hold a lot, but are just small enough to fit on most trains' overhead racks above your seat rather than the racks at the end of the car. They aren't cheap, but they're top quality and tough, we've used and abused them for several years now and not a stitch out of place. If we travel with kids, each kid gets a small holdall which can be slung on a shoulder strap or sat on top of the Eagle Creek bag against the handle.
Pictured right: An Eagle Creek Switchback, handle extended, daypack removed.
Buy in the UK at www.eaglecreekluggage.co.uk