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It's best & cheapest to buy European train tickets online, especially if you live outside Europe.  But if you live in the UK or Ireland and would prefer to book tickets by phone or in person, this page will tell you who to call or where to go depending on the journey you want to book.

Just remember that if you book by phone or in person you'll normally pay a booking fee, and the agency you use may not be able to access the cheapest rates for your journey if they don't have a direct connection to that operator's ticketing system.

  How to buy tickets in person

There are very few places in the UK where you can buy European train tickets over the counter.  The Eurostar ticket office at London St Pancras only sells tickets as far as Paris or Brussels plus a few major cities in France, Germany & the Netherlands.  Most British railway stations do not sell international tickets at all except for train & ferry tickets to the Republic of Ireland.  But there is one or two exceptions worth mentioning:

  How to buy tickets by phone

It's easy to buy European train tickets by phone in the UK or Ireland, but choose your agency carefully, as some agencies are better for some journeys than others because of the specific ticketing system(s) which they use.


International Rail

0844 248 248 3

Lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.

From outside the UK call +44 844 248 248 3

 

 

Recommended for:  Most train journeys all over Europe.

Phone lines open:  09:00-17:00 Mondays to Fridays, closed weekends.

Personal callers:  Yes, in London at the International Rail desk inside the STA travel centre at 52 Grosvenor Gardens near Victoria station, open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday, appointment needed, make one at www.internationalrail.com/9d-london-rail-desk.  They don't take personal callers at their head office in Ropley, Hampshire.

Websitewww.internationalrail.com    

Email sales@internationalrail.com

Plus points:  International Rail are equipped with multiple ticketing systems, including the French (SNCF), Spanish (Renfe), Italian (Trenitalia), German (DB) & Belgian (SNCB) rail ticketing & reservations systems.  That means they can access the cheap tickets for most of Western Europe and much of eastern Europe, unlike some other agencies equipped with only one country's system.  Can send tickets anywhere in the world.

Limitations:  Only open office hours.

Booking fee:  They charge a 10 booking fee for bookings under 100, 20 for 100-300, 30 above 300. 

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent to any address worldwide.  10 courier fee for overnight delivery to UK addresses.  However, Eurostar and many European tickets can be emailed as e-tickets, saving time and courier fees.


Voyages-sncf

(formerly

Rail Europe)

0844 848 5 848

Lines open 09:00-19:00 Mondays to Fridays, 09:00-18:00 Saturdays.

Recommended for:  journeys from London to France, Switzerland.  Uses the French railways (SNCF) reservation system.

Phone lines open:  09:00-19:00 Mondays to Fridays, 09:00-18:00 Saturdays.  No longer open Sundays.

Personal callers:  No.  Their Piccadilly travel centre closed in November 2015.

Website uk.voyages-sncf.com (formerly www.raileurope.co.uk)

Email:  via website.

Plus points:  UK Voyages-sncf is the UK's biggest European rail agency, owned by the French Railways (SNCF).  They use the French Railways reservation system, so are good for journeys to France and via France using direct trains to major cities in Spain, Italy, Switzerland.  Their phone lines are open in the evenings and at weekends, and unlike smaller agencies, the staff are online to the reservation computer during your call, and can quote you train times, fares and availability there and then, rather than having to call you back.

Limitations:  UK Voyages-sncf are only equipped with one ticketing system, namely that of French Railways (SNCF).  So they can sell all the cheap fares for Eurostar, and within France, and for direct trains from France to neighbouring countries, but can't always sell the full range of cheap fares for travel within Italy, Spain, Germany and so on, only the more expensive flexible 'TCV' fares advised by those countries to French Railways.  UK Voyages-sncf will only send tickets to UK addresses.

Note that their UK call centre closed in 2015, you are now talking to a call centre in Barcelona.

Booking fee:  8 per booking for phone bookings, no fee for online bookings at uk.voyages-sncf.com.  They charge a 2.5% credit card fee, so use a debit card if you can, or book at www.trainline.eu instead, which has the same prices but in euros with no credit card fee or postage fee, and extra features such as seating options.  Only UK-issued credit cards are accepted online at uk.voyages-sncf.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent to any UK address (2.25 fee) or collected free of charge from the self-service machines at St Pancras or (if your journey starts in France) machines at most main stations in France including Paris.

Voyages-sncf.com is the re-branded Rail Europe Limited (formerly raileurope.co.uk), which should not be confused with Rail Europe Inc. in the USA (.com) & Canada (.ca), or Rail Europe 4A based in Paris and serving Australia (.com.au), NZ, Asia & Africa (raileurope-world-com), which are also owned by SNCF, but which sometimes different fares aimed at overseas travellers.


Deutsche Bahn 

08718 80 80 66

Lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday.

Recommended for:  journeys from London to Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, central & eastern Europe.  Naturally, they use DB's own (German) reservation system.

Phone lines open:  09:00-20:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday.  Overseas callers can call +44 8718 80 80 66.

Personal callers:  No

Website www.bahn.co.uk.    Emailsales@bahn.co.uk

Plus points:  This is German Railways' excellent telesales office, good for tickets from London to Germany as they use German Railways' reservation computer and can access all German Railways' special offers.  They are also good for Scandinavia, Austria, central & eastern Europe, including trains to Russia & the Ukraine.  They don't charge a booking fee.

Limitations:  Staff at a smaller agency such as European Rail (see below) can sometimes be more familiar with arranging complex bookings such as London-Istanbul or London-Romania/Bulgaria, etc. even though they charge a booking fee.  Note that these days, calls to DB's UK number are handled by English speakers in their telesales office in Berlin.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent free of charge to any UK or Irish address, or sent to overseas addresses for a small charge (about 8 to the USA, for example).

Booking fee:  None.  A 2% fee is charged for credit cards, no fee for debit cards.


Traintours4u

020 7619 1080

Lines open 08:30-18:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday.

 

Formerly known as European Rail, europeanrail.com.

Recommended for:  journeys from London to most destinations, including Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, central & eastern Europe.

Phone lines open:  08:30-18:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday, closed Sundays.

Personal callers:  No - but tickets can be picked up if necessary at their offices at Tileyard Road, London N7 9AH.

Websitewww.traintours4u.co.uk.    Email sales@traintours4u.co.uk.

Plus points:  They charge a 35 booking fee when DB's UK office doesn't, but their staff are usually much more familiar with complex bookings such as London to Istanbul, Romania or Bulgaria, so it's often worth those extra few pounds.  Traintours4u is an experienced and capable agency offering Eurostar, European rail tickets & railpasses.  They can also book the Dutch Flyer train & ferry service, as well as Eurostar.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent to any UK address, and they may also send tickets overseas by special arrangement, at extra cost.

Booking fee:  15 per transaction for tickets under 50, 35 per transaction for tickets over 50.


Trainseurope

0871 700 7722

Lines open 09:00-17:30 Monday to Friday

Recommended for:  journeys from London to most destinations, as they use the French, Belgian, Italian & German reservation systems.

Phone lines open:  09:00-17:30 Monday to Friday, closed Saturdays & Sundays.

Personal callers:  Yes:

London St Pancras International:  Trains Europe used to have a desk here, but it closed in 2017.

March railway station, Cambridgeshire (main office), open 09:30-17:30 Monday to Friday, closed Saturdays & Sundays. 

Leicester station office, open Monday-Saturday 10:00-16:00.

Their office at Cambridge railway station has closed. 

Websitewww.trainseurope.co.uk.    Email info@trainseurope.co.uk.   Member of AERA.

Plus points:  An experienced European rail agency offering Eurostar, European rail tickets, ferry tickets & railpasses.  Trains Europe can make seat, couchette & sleeper reservation for almost any train in Europe except those starting in Portugal, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova or the Baltic states.  Fax 01354 660444.  Will send tickets overseas if required - from outside the UK, call +44 1354 660222.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent to any UK address, may also send overseas by special arrangement, at extra cost.

Booking fee:  About 10-30 per booking.


Other UK agencies...

 

Other good agencies include:

Ffestiniog Travel: www.ffestiniogtravel.com (Unit 6, Snowdonia Business Park, Minffordd, North Wales, call 01766 772050 email info@ffestiniogtravel.co.uk, member of AERA).

Rail Canterburywww.rail-canterbury.co.uk (39 Palace Street Canterbury, call 01227 450088, e-mail rail@rail-canterbury.co.uk).

Railbookers www.railbookers.co.uk (for custom-made tours with combined train & hotel arrangements, e-mail info@railbookers.co.uk or call 020 3327 0761, member of AERA).

The Travel Bureauwww.thetravelbureau.co.uk (office in Wombourne, West Midlands, 08448 156 212).


RailShop.ie

(01) 866 5841

Lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday

 

 

Recommended for:  Most European journeys, as they have the French, German, ACP & UK ticketing systems.

Phone lines open:  09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday, closed Saturdays & Sundays.

Personal callers:  No:

Websitewww.railshop.ie.    Emailrailshop@atts.ie.

Plus points:  A small expert agency based in Dublin.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent to any Irish address, may also send overseas by special arrangement, at extra cost.

Booking fee:  About 10 per booking.


Irish Rail

(01) 703 1885

Lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday

 

 

Recommended for:  Most European journeys.

Phone lines open:  09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday, closed Saturdays & Sundays.

Personal callers:  Yes, but only at the largest Irish rail stations.

Websitewww.irishrail.ie.    Emaileuropeanrail@irishrail.ie.

Plus points:  You're booking direct with a train operator.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent to any Irish address.

Booking fee:  Not known.


Deutsche Bahn 

00 44 8718 80 80 66

Lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday.

Recommended for:  journeys from London to Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, central & eastern Europe.  Naturally, they use DB's own (German) reservation system.

Phone lines open:  09:00-20:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday.

Personal callers:  No.  Although based in Britain they will send tickets to Irish addresses.

Website www.bahn.co.uk.    Emailsales@bahn.co.uk

Plus points:  This is German Railways' excellent UK telesales office, but they'll send tickets to Irish addresses.  They're good for tickets from London to Germany as they use German Railways' reservation computer and can access all German Railways' special offers.  They are also good for Scandinavia, Austria, central & eastern Europe, including trains to Russia & the Ukraine.  They don't charge a booking fee.

Limitations:  Staff at a smaller agency such as European Rail (see below) can sometimes be more familiar with arranging complex bookings such as London-Istanbul or London-Romania/Bulgaria, etc. even though they charge a booking fee.  If you call DB's UK office outside Monday-Friday office hours your call is handled in Berlin.

Ticket delivery & collection:  Tickets can be sent free of charge to any Irish address.

Booking fee:  None.  A 2% fee is charged for credit cards, no fee for debit cards.


Recommended guidebooks

Paying for a guidebook may seem an unnecessary expense, but it's probably just a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see so much more, and know so much more about what you're looking at, 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..!  Alternatively, the 'Europe by Rail' guide combines country information with basic train information.

Click the images to buy at Amazon.co.uk...

Rough Guide to Europe - click to buy online at Amazon   Lonely Planet Western Europe - click to buy online   Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - buy online at Amazon.co.uk   Europe by Rail - click to buy online at Amazon   Lonely Planet Europe on a shoestring - click to buy online

Finding hotels in Europe

Find hotels all across 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 has been named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site in the World Travel Awards and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling the same hotel at a cheaper rate.

►► My recommended booking site:  www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site, and unless HotelsCombined throws up major price differences I prefer doing my bookings in one place here. 

You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a great feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

Other hotel sites worth a look...

Budget backpacker hostels...


Travel insurance & health card

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without proper travel insurance from a reliable insurer with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash & belongings (up to a limit), and trip cancellation.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year - I have an annual policy myself.  However, don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get an EU health card, it's free...

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 ww.nhs.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for travel with no currency exchange loading & low/no ATM fees

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.

 



'Rail travel to Europe' general information page

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