How to use a Eurail pass

Buy a Eurail train pass online

Buy a pass from Eurail.com

Buy a pass from Rail Europe

Buy a pass online at www.eurail.com or www.raileurope.com, load it into the Railplanner app and activate any time in the next 11 months.  More info.

Click here for the Eurail reservations guide.

Download the Railplanner app

Download the Eurail map.

 

Eurail or Interrail?

Before we start, which of Europe's two great railpass ranges applies to you?

small bullet point  If you live in Europe including the UK you qualify for Interrail, so hop over to the Interrail page.

small bullet point  If you live in America, Australasia, Asia or Africa you qualify for a Eurail pass, read on.

What is a Eurail pass?

Eurail is the railpass range for overseas visitors, giving unlimited train travel across most of Europe with a global pass, or in the country of your choice with a single-country pass.  This page talks you through buying & using a Eurail pass, and whether a Eurail pass or point-to-point tickets is best.  I'll tell it like it is, you may find cheap train tickets a better deal.

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Why see Europe by train: train vs. car, flight, bus

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What is a Eurail pass & who qualifies?

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Eurail pass types explained

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Eurail pass prices

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How to buy a Eurail pass

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Is Eurail cheaper than point-to-point tickets?

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How does a Eurail pass work?

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When do you need a reservation?

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Using a pass on overnight trains

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How to use a mobile pass

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How to use a hard-copy pass

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How to make reservations

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Other useful railpasses: Swiss, German & Spain passes

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Recommended timetables, maps & guidebooks

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Tips for booking hotels & accommodation

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Travel insurance, mobile data, VPN & other tips

small bullet point  Download the Eurail map showing train routes in the participating countries.

small bullet point  Eurail reservations guide:  Which specific trains & operators are covered in each country?  Which specific trains need a reservation, how much does it cost & can it be booked online?

Useful train travel information

small bullet point  General information for train travel in Europe

small bullet point  Where to buy cheap point-to-point tickets

small bullet point  1st class versus 2nd class

small bullet point  Luggage on trains & luggage storage at stations

small bullet point  Sleepers & couchettes explained


Trains, buses, flights or hire car?

Whether you use a Eurail pass or buy cheap advance-purchase tickets, the train is the best way to tour Europe in comfort, relaxed, seeing a lot in a short time.  It's not just about transportation:  Train travel is part of the European way of life, the train rides are an experience in themselves - in some cases a highlight of your trip.  A Eurail pass gives you freedom & flexibility, or you can buy 'budget train fares' by booking in advance, just as you would with a budget airline.

Europe with a Eurail pass: German ICE train at Brussels   Seeing Europe with a Eurail pass:  A 2-bed City Night Line sleeper as used Amsterdam-Prague or Paris-Berlin   Europe by Eurail: Restaurant car on an ICE from Vienna to Frankfurt   Europe with a Eurail pass:  Scenery from Milan-Paris TGV train

Speed & practicality

European trains link almost every city & town at up to 200 mph, often faster than flying as there's no trek to the airport, no 2-hour check-in, no airport security hassle.  A '1 hour flight' takes 4 hours.  Paris-Amsterdam now takes 3h20 by train, Paris-Geneva 3h05.

 

Comfort, relaxation,

a chance to chill out

...unlike flying, train travel is relaxed & hassle-free.  Unlike bus travel it's high comfort.  On trains, you get space to move around, lots of legroom and often a cafι, bar or even restaurant.  Overnight sleeper trains cover huge distances such as Zurich to Prague or Paris to Venice, effectively faster than flying and it saves hotel bill, too.  The train journeys become a welcome chance to chill out between cities.

 

Scenery & the experience

...and there's often superb scenery.  Your train journeys are an integral part of the European experience, something to enjoy for their own sake, giving you a ground-level feel for the countries you're visiting.

Above:  Scenery from a Milan-Paris TGV, feet up & glass of wine to hand.

Things to consider

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What is a Eurail pass?

Who qualifies for a Eurail pass?

Which countries participate in Eurail?

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Eurail pass types explained

 

It's quite simple, even simpler since 2019 when selectpasses & saver passes were discontinued, leaving just One-country or Global Eurail passes, in 1st or 2nd class, for each passenger age group:  Adult, youth, senior, child.

Who's going?

Where are you going?

How long for?

You can buy Eurail passes giving unlimited train travel for various periods of time.  But you need to get your head around two different concepts.

1st or 2nd class?

Other railpasses

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Eurail pass prices

They're priced in euros, but obviously you can buy in your own currency.  You can check these prices and buy online at the Eurail website www.eurail.com or at www.raileurope.com.  As I write this, 1 USD = €0.88, 1 AUD = €0.61.  Check current exchange rates.

 Eurail global
 pass prices 2024
2nd class 1st class

Adult

(aged 28-59)

Youth

(under 28)

Child

(under 12)

Senior

(over 60)

Adult

(aged 28-59)

Youth

(under 28)

Child

(under 12)

Senior

(over 60)

4 days in 1 month (flexi)

€283

€212

€0

€255

€359

€269

€0

€323

5 days in 1 month (flexi)

€318

€239

€0

€286

€404

€303

€0

€364

7 days in 1 month (flexi)

€381

€286

€0

€343

€484

€363

€0

€436

10 days in 2 months (flexi)

€447

€335

€0

€402

€568

€426

€0

€511

15 days in 2 months (flexi)

€553

€415

€0

€498

€702

€527

€0

€632

15 days continuous

€476

€357

€0

€428

€605

€454

€0

€545

22 days continuous

€586

€440

€0

€527

€744

€558

€0

€670

1 month continuous

€696

€522

€0

€626

€884

€663

€0

€796

2 months continuous

€826

€620

€0

€743

€1,049

€787

€0

€944

3 months continuous

€956

€717

€0

€860

€1,214

€911

€0

€1,093

You can check one-country pass prices at www.eurail.com or www.raileurope.com

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How to buy a Eurail pass

Buy a pass direct from www.eurail.com or www.raileurope.com and load it into the Railplanner app on your phone. More info.

Interrail - Eurail pass logo

Buy a pass from Eurail.com

Buy a pass from Rail Europe

Hard-copy pass or mobile pass?

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Is Eurail cheaper than point-to-point tickets?

 

A simple example

My advice, without doing the maths

To work it out accurately, do the maths

Typical Eurail pass example:  Rome - Florence - Venice

Typical Eurail pass example:  Berlin - Prague - Vienna - Budapest

Typical Eurail pass example:  London - Paris - Brussels - Amsterdam

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How does a Eurail pass work?

When do you need a reservation?

 

Where do you need reservations?

...an easy rule of thumb

 

Map showing where Eurail pass reservations are required

 

Green = Travel freely!  Pass-friendly countries, seat reservation usually optional.

Yellow = Travel easy!  Also pass-friendly, reservation often required, but no big deal, the same €2-€5 that any passenger with a full-price ticket pays.

Red = All inter-city trains require a special passholder reservation, budget for €10+ a pop. Some international trains to/from France charge €20-€40.

Can I avoid paying reservation fees?

 

A 2-berth sleeper

 

Couchette (4-bunk)

 

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

 

Couchettes, 4-berth:  Much more room than 6-berth!  More info.

Overnight trains

How to use a mobile pass

Interrail mobile pass - planner   Interrail mobile pass - My trip   Interrail mobile pass - My pass   Interrail mobile pass, ticket   Interrail mobile pass, ticket lower

1. Planner:  Click Save journey to save a journey to My Trip.

 

2. My Trip:  Edit as you like.  Toggle to add a journey to your pass.

 

3. My Pass:  Click Show ticket when the conductor comes along.

 

4. Interrail ticket, upper.  The conductor will scan the QR code.

 

5. Interrail ticket, lower, showing list of trains added to pass.

How to use a hard-copy pass

Example Interrail pass   Interrail pass travel diary

Hard-copy pass:  This is a 10-days in 2 months Interrail global Flexi pass, Eurail passes are virtually identical.

 

The Eurail train travel diary: You need to fill this out each time you board a train.  Larger image.

How can I find out more?

Personal 'Travel architect' service:  DiscoverByRail.com

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How to make reservations

'Pass' and 'reservations' are two totally separate things

Option 1, online at the train operator's website

Option 2, online using the Eurail reservation service

Option 3, online at b-europe.com (Eurostar only)

Option 4, in person at the station

The Railplanner App

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Other railpasses worth knowing about

Eurail is the main pass range for overseas visitors to Europe, but several countries also have their own national railpasses which can be worth knowing about as they can often be better value if you are just visiting that specific country.

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Timetable & map

European Rail Timetable -  click to buy onlineRail Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail timetable has train, bus & ferry times for every country in Europe (eastern and western) plus currency and climate information.  It is definitely worth buying if you're planning an extensive tour with a Eurail pass - having your own comprehensive timetable puts you in control of your own trip, and will save you hours in queues for station information desks or struggling with station timetables which show only the most basic information.  It costs around £15.99 from www.europeanrailtimetable.eu.

The European Rail Map of Europe is easily the best and most comprehensive map of train routes all over Europe.  High speed and scenic routes are highlighted - well worth buying to go with your rail pass!  Buy online at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu (with worldwide delivery).  There are other maps & even two good European Rail Atlases, see here.

The all-Europe online timetable:  You can check train times for almost any European train journey online at int.bahn.de.  This is an extremely useful resource for trip planning, provided by the German Railways.

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Recommended guidebooks

Amazon logoIf you're planning a grand tour, I strongly recommend investing in a European Rail Timetable for in-depth train information, and the relevant Lonely Planet Guide for in-depth country information on the sights to see, places to stay, places to eat.  Alternatively, the Europe by Rail guide combines basic train info with country information.

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.com (USA) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK)

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

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Hotels & accommodation

Tips for booking hotels in Europe

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search: www.booking.com

Booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally use it to book all my hotels in one place.  I've come to trust booking.com's review scores, you won't be disappointed with any hotel that scores 8.0 or more.  Crucially, booking.com usually lets you book with free cancellation, which means you can confirm accommodation risk-free before train booking opens and/or you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when planning a trip.  I never book hotels non-refundably!

Backpacker hostels

www.hostelworld.com:  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in Paris and most other European cities at rock-bottom prices.

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Travel insurance & other tips

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Columbus Direct logo

Always take out travel insurance

You should take out travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with Staysure.co.uk myself.  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, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flag  www.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection and gets 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot.

UK flag  www.columbusdirect.com is also a well-know brand.

US flag  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Maya.net logo

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a European mobile data package and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility list.  There's no need to buy a physical SIM card!  Maya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data.

 

Curve card

Curve card

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than getting a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card, they'll give you £5 cashback through that link.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  Why you need a VPN

When travelling you may use free public WiFi which is often insecure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using this link you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I also get some commission to help support this site.

 

Anker Powerrbank

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, hotel bookings and Interrail or Eurail passes are often now held on your mobile phone.  You daren't let it run out of power, and you can't always rely on the phone's internal battery or on being near a power outlet.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Buy from Amazon.com.

Touring cities?  Use hill walking shoes!

One of the best things I've done is swap my normal shoes for hill-walking shoes, in my case from Scarpa.  They're intended for hiking across the Pennines not wandering around Florence, but the support and cushioning for hiking works equally well when you're on your feet all day exploring foreign cities.  My feet used to give out first and limit my day, now the rest of me gives up before they do!


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