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You don't see this on a plane

Watch our video to see what it’s like to fly around Europe by train. We blended our most popular European train journeys into one Instagram-worthy trip, which you can take to experience the beautiful, the historical, and the jaw-dropping. 

Fly around Europe by train

Flying may give you a bird’s-eye view, but to really get to know a country you need to see it from the ground. From your train window, you can imagine just how tall those snow-capped mountains are, or just how wide that forest stretches, as it whizzes past your carriage window. Travelling by train is an unforgettable part of your trip and something you shouldn’t miss out on.  

Our European trip – Five countries, four days

The adventure begins in Cologne, Germany, as the train heads south through the Rhine Valley and Black Forest. Scenic views of ripe vineyards and flowing rivers are yours for the taking here! Hop across the border and you’re in Swiss Alps territory, travelling the iconic Konstanz to Tirano route. 

Next up, it’s Tirano, in northern Italy, down to Ventimiglia – via fashion capital Milan, of course. Then, a coast-hugging train ride through the South of France, to Nice – just the ticket for views of traditional French villages, winding all the way down to Marseille. And, for the final leg of the trip, it’s another border crossing into Spain. From Barcelona to Madrid there’s a real change in landscape – we’re talking mountains, plains and even deserts.

Country highlights

Europe is small when you travel by train. Within just a few hours, you can get from the Mediterranean seaside to cool mountain ranges or soft green hills. Whether you enjoy the hustle and bustle of a city or prefer to go on walks in the countryside, we've got you covered.

UK & Great Britain 🇬🇧

Cosy pubs / Hikes / Food and Theatre / Castles

When visiting the United Kingdom, you'll soon realise that each country is unique in its own right. However, even with their distinct cultures, there’s still an intrinsic bond which holds England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland together – lingering over a pint next to a crackling fire in a cosy pub, a dry sense of humour, walks across windswept beaches, grumbling over the famously damp weather, an intrigue into all things royal and newspaper-wrapped chips.

Beyond these clichés, the UK offers much to those who make the effort to visit its emerald shores. Go hiking along coastal pathways and dramatic moorland, delve into London’s thriving food and theatre scene, step back in time at one of the countries’ castles or stately homes, taste drams of single malt whiskey or explore the quickly modernising cities that still offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

By riding the dense network of railway lines that criss-cross the islands, you can explore every nook and cranny of this green and pleasant land. As a bonus, we've picked our favourite scenic train rides in the UK, Europe and around the world. So you have somewhere to get started!

Find out more about trains in Britain

Italy 🇮🇹

Art / Cuisine / History / Cities

It’s hard to know where to start with Italy – home to some of the world’s finest artwork, extraordinarily good cuisine, a long and varied history that extends far beyond the Roman Empire, and an unquestionable need to live la dolce vita.

Iconic cities like Rome, Florence, and Milan bring you face-to-face with the artworks of Europe’s Renaissance masters – the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David, and da Vinci’s The Last Supper – while their streets are filled with pasta-making mamas, impeccably-styled fashionistas and espresso-fuelled locals.

Beyond the city walls, life slows down a notch or two so that the varied landscape that tumbles down from the icy reaches of the Alps to the azure ocean in the south can be fully appreciated. One thing is for sure – when you visit Italy, you will eat well. It’s easy to be tempted by thoughts of moving to Italia when you’re winding strands of tagliatelle al ragù smothered in Parmigiano-Reggiano around a fork. Maybe you should.

Find out more about trains in Italy

France 🇫🇷

Art / Cuisine / History / Cities

France sits at the crossroads between Northern and Southern Europe, and over its thousands of years of history, has absorbed the best of both.

Its elegance, gastronomy and cultural history are matched by few. Don’t take our word for it though, the numbers don’t lie. More than 85 million people* descend on France each year, making it the most visited place on earth. Those who come are seduced by its café culture, iconic landmarks and indulgent cuisine.

Beyond the cobbled streets, Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Élysées in old Paris lies a quiet, peaceful and varied land. The rocky windswept coastlines and rolling green pastoral lands to the north are a stark contrast to the sun-baked Mediterranean shores to the south and the snow-capped Alpine region to the east. Eating in France is a national pastime, and when you’re working your way through a bowl of coq au vin, tearing through a crispy confit de canard or eyeing up local produce at the local markets, you’ll see why. Of course, it’s unthinkable to do any of this without a glass or two of vin rouge.

Find out more about trains in France

*Based on World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2013 data

Spain 🇪🇸

Beaches / Cuisine / History / Art

The sultry sun-soaked shores of Spain have long been a magnet for Northern Europeans who come to escape the dismal weather back home.

Away from the overdeveloped coastal tourist spots lies a passionate country whose distinctly diverse cultures are held together by a love of good food, family and a shared belief that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s the small things that will charm you most – the sweep of a flamenco dancer, the sound of an Andalusian classical guitar, the clink of cerveza glasses or a humble tapa. Spaniards need little excuse for a fiesta, so you’ll quickly be swept away by an impromptu midnight street party or lively annual event.

Signs of Spain’s extraordinary history can be found in the remnants left by Roman and Moorish rule. Expect ancient castles, amphitheatre ruins and exquisite examples of Islamic architecture. Outside the cities, you’ll discover why the landscape has inspired artists for so many years. The snow-capped Pyrenees give way to a land of forested valleys, secluded coves, long stretches of golden sand and lines of olive groves and vines.

Find out more about trains in Spain

Germany 🇩🇪

Cool / Tech / Culture / Countryside

Germany is the powerhouse and driving force behind Europe. Its cities may not be as pretty as its neighbours, and its cuisine is little understood outside the Fatherland, but it has arguably left the most indelible mark on the continent’s culture.

Remember, this was the country that gave us Albert Einstein, Karl Lagerfeld, Beethoven, Hans Zimmer and Karl Marx to name just a few. While one of the most exported traditions of German culture is Oktoberfest, there’s more beyond the clichés of lederhosen knee-slapping locals and frothy steins of (very good) beer at the annual Bavarian festivities.

Take Berlin for instance, Europe’s undeniable capital of cool. This gritty trend-setter is leading the way in youth culture, from tech start-ups, to urban artwork and 24/7 parties.

While other German cities have some cool catching to do, they have their own merits – fascinating museums, period architecture and unique gastronomy (yes, there’s more than just sausages and schnitzel). Don’t discount the often-undersold countryside which rivals any in Europe. Expect pristine rivers that wind around snow-capped Alpine mountains, stretches of vineyards, and past steep forested valleys dotted with the odd fairy tale castle on their way out to the German coastline.

Find out more about trains in Germany

Good to know

Wondering if you should buy a Eurail pass or how much luggage you can take aboard European trains? Read on to find answers to all your questions around train travel in Europe. 

Eurail offers great value for money and allows you to discover Europe at your own pace. However, if you'd like to visit just a few cities and take more time to discover each one of them, booking single journeys might make more sense. 

If you've come across the term 'Interrail' and are wondering what the difference between Eurail and Interrail is, it's quite simple: both passes offer exactly the same options, Interrail is simply the name of the rail pass available for European citizens, while the offer for travellers from outside Europe, such as the US, is called Eurail. If you'd like to book a Eurail pass, visit our Eurail page to see all the options available. 

Travelling with a Eurail pass gives you the flexibility to travel whenever you want – you can simply jump on a train and go without having to specify a time or date for your journey. Just keep in mind that high-speed trains in most countries require a seat reservation, even if you travel with a Eurail pass.

Planned a stay in a city, but end up not liking the vibe? Just get on a train and check out the next place on your list. Eurail passes come in many shapes and forms, from the Global Pass that is valid for travel in up to 30 European countries to the Select Country Pass that lets you select up to 4 countries to visit and the One Country pass with which you can enjoy unlimited train travel within a country of your choice. 

You can book your European rail pass with Trainline - simply choose the best out of the many options available.

While specifics vary depending on the train operator and country, most European train tickets are divided into two categories: advance purchase versus on the day. It's usually possible to buy train tickets on the day of travel, however, tickets are generally much cheaper when you book them in advance. As an example, booking an Advance ticket in the UK can help you save a significant amount vs. buying tickets on the day of travel. As this is the case with most train operators, we advise you to plan ahead and book in advance wherever possible. Depending on the railway operator, booking windows open between 3-6 months in advance. You can subscribe to our ticket alert for journeys in the UK - all you have to do is enter some details about your trip and we send you an alert as soon as tickets become available. 

In addition to a ticket being booked in advance or on the day, there are country-specific features that vary depending on the train operator. In the UK, tickets are divided into categories depending on the time of day - you can book peak, off-peak and super off-peak journeys. This segmentation is based on how busy trains are likely to be, with tickets during less popular travel times being cheaper than those for peak travel times. For more information, check our Off-Peak train times page.

In most other European countries, train tickets are categorized by what type of train you're travelling with: while tickets for long- and medium-distance trains can be booked online and at the station in advance, tickets for short-distance, regional trains are only sold at the station. Those don't have to be booked in advance as they can never sell out - because you can't reserve a seat - and the price of a ticket is always the same, no matter what time or date you choose to travel. More information on that can be found on the individual country pages below. 

The easiest way to book train tickets in Europe is online. Check train times and find the best prices available on trainline.eu or via the Trainline App. When using the app, you receive a mobile ticket including a QR-code that ticket inspectors on the train can scan - no need to print out a paper ticket. If you book from your computer, you'll receive a booking confirmation email with instructions on what to do next - usually that's printing out the ticket at home. In some countries, you can collect tickets that you've bought online at the train station, for example in the UK where you receive a code to collect them from a ticket machine. 

For those who prefer booking train tickets in person, most large train stations in Europe have a booking office where you can book both Advance and on the day tickets. Most station staff speak English and are happy to help you with any questions you might have. Just make sure to arrive at the train station with some time to spare since there are often queues in front of information and booking desks. 

Find more information on ticket types and how to save when booking trains in Europe on the individual country pages:

Trains in France

Trains in Germany

Trains in Italy

Trains in Spain

Trains in the UK

Trains in Belgium

 

Yes. Trains are a very safe option for travelling around. Most trains in Europe are equipped with modern technology and staff to help you out should any questions arise.

As long as you follow common sense, such as not leaving your luggage unattended and keeping your valuables with you at your seat, you should not run into any problems. Also, keep an eye on your luggage when navigating your way through busy train stations to avoid pick pockets as you would in any large city. Most big train stations are open 24 hours and are monitored by CCTV or onsite security. Should you have any concerns or problems, there is usually a police office somewhere at the station, and an information desk with English speaking staff to help you out.

The best way to save when booking European trains is to buy your tickets in advance. A great way to save when booking European trains is to buy your tickets in advance. Prices could be higher on the day of travel, so it helps to book ahead to get great offers. Train prices are often defined in tiers, with a specific number of tickets available at a discounted price, and when those sell out for your preferred time and date, you'll be offered the next-lowest European rail operators offer discounted advance tickets, which will be displayed when you search for any ticket.

You can also enter your age when searching for train times and tickets, and we'll automatically display any available discounts such as child, youth, or seniors fares. But as long as you book well in advance, you're more likely to score a cheap train ticket for your journey.

In most cases, it's cheaper to buy train tickets in advance and not at the station. Train operators release their tickets up to six months in advance, and the cheapest tickets will most likely be sold out by the date of travel, leaving only the full-fare, non-discounted tickets for purchase. The booking window varies depending on the train operating company, this is an overview of some of the major European countries/operators:

Great Britain – 3 months in advance

Germany - Deutsche Bahn - 6 months in advance

Italy - Trenitalia - 6 months in advance

France – SNCF - 3 months in advance

Spain – Renfe - variable

Austria - ÖBB - 6 months in advance

Switzerland – SBB - 3 months in advance

 

One of the benefits of travelling by train versus plane is that there aren't any immediate luggage restrictions. As long as you're taking with you only what you can carry, you'll be fine on most trains. There's plenty of storage space on European trains, both around the entrance of the carriage and under and above your seat. You'll usually find large luggage racks for suitcases near the doors as well as in the middle of carriages; hand luggage and coats can be stored on a smaller rack right above your seat or in the footwell. When in doubt, please check luggage information for individual carriers, e.g. if you're planning to travel with larger items such as bicycles. 

Driving around Europe certainly gives you maximum flexibility, however if you take into account the inevitable stress of renting a car, waiting in traffic jams and finding a parking space in crowded city centres, it might not be the best way to travel. The cost of car rentals and gas in Europe are much higher than in countries like the US, so in most cases, booking a train will allow you to save money on top of all the other benefits of train travel.

Europe's rail network is so well connected that you can virtually go anywhere within a few hours by train. Modern high-speed trains travel between large cities, and tickets are very affordable when booking in advance. Train travel reduces your carbon footprint, and you can relax while being taken to your destination. Most train stations are in city centres, so you can jump off the train and immediately start taking in the sights your destination has to offer. Usually, flying from point A to B in Europe takes the same amount of time or more than taking the train, after you include the time to get to and from the airport. In addition, you need to pay attention to luggage restrictions and fees on most flights in Europe. Taking the train is really the easiest and most stress-free way to travel in Europe

The main airports in Europe either come with their very own train station or are well connected to the local rail network. When looking for airport transfers to city centres, trains are usually the easiest, fastest way to go. It's worth checking with your flight provider if airport transfers are included in the ticket price - this option is available with many European airlines. 

You can book your airport transfers in advance via the Trainline website and app. Enter your airport and destination and select the right option from the suggestions. We'll always show you our best available price - make sure to book a ticket that leaves enough time for you to get from the train station to the right gate at the airport or from your gate to the train station. 

Train models and on-board facilities differ between European rail operators, but the types of trains in use are very similar across all countries. Most companies offer high-speed services (e.g. ICE, Frecciarossa, TGV, AVE), slightly slower medium-distance trains (IC, EC) and regional and commuter trains. You can find more in-depth information on train types in European countries on our train company pages

Many high-speed lines don't just run across one country but are connected to neighboring countries' rail networks. This makes it easy to travel from the UK to France, from France to Germany and Spain, and from Germany to Italy, Austria and Switzerland. 

Thanks to an agreement between most states in Europe, travelling between countries within the Schengen Area is usually possible without having to stop for border controls or passport checks. In most EU countries, you can book train tickets and board a train without showing your passport, but you must always carry your passport and any visa documentation with you at all times. Officials might board trains near borders to perform spot checks as the train travels on. 

In Europe, you can usually turn up at the station and board the train as ticket checks are done after the train has set off. The only exceptions are Eurostar trains in the UK and France and Spanish high-speed trains AVE. 

Before boarding AVE trains in Spain, security will check your luggage - plan some extra time at the station for that. 

When travelling by Eurostar from London to Paris or Brussels and back, passengers have to pass a number of check-in procedures such as security checks and passport control. Therefore, it is advised to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure of your Eurostar, 45 minutes when travelling at peak times or during the holidays.

Before booking your tickets and travelling, we recommend that you check with your visa requirements and travel restrictions.  

Depending on the type of train, ticket and the company you're travelling with, it‘s advisable or might even be mandatory to reserve a seat. Please check individual train operator pages for details. As a rule of thumb, the longer the train journey, the more likely it is that you will need to reserve a seat. Local and commuter trains don't require a seat reservation, whereas it is recommended or, in some cases, even mandatory on high-speed trains.

Seat reservations are included in the ticket price if a reservation is required. If the reservation is optional, there might be an extra fee added to the ticket price. When selecting a ticket on the Trainline website or Trainline EU app, we'll display all options available. For those travelling with a Eurail pass, an extra fee will be charged by the train operators for making a seat reservation.

When to book and how to find the best price

Trainline's mission is to help you save. For most trains across Europe, prices generally increase as the departure date approaches. Check out these handy hints to help you buy the tickets you need at the right price, and hopefully save a few pennies in the process.

Book in advance

Train tickets usually go on sale around 3-6 months before the date of travel. In many cases, you may find cheaper tickets the earlier you book, depending on the country or ticket type available, so be sure to start looking as soon as you've locked in your travel plans.

Travel off-peak

Most train tickets across Europe tend to be more expensive during Monday to Friday commuting times (or "rush hours"), which are generally between 06:00-10:00, and between 15:00-19:00 on weekdays. If you can, be sure to look for tickets outside of these times to see if you can snap some up a lower price.

Benefit from special offers

Have a look out for deals and offers. When travelling with your family, you can benefit from group savings or discounted child fares. You can also save by choosing the least flexible option, i.e. booking a ticket for a specific date and time is usually cheaper than going for the flexible ticket.

How pricing works for European train tickets

Most European train operators offer standard prices as well as special offers. Discounted tickets are usually released in advance, with only a set number of tickets available at cheap prices. Once the cheapest ones sell out, the fares go up – often, those prices are defined in tiers, meaning that the next tier tickets are released once the lower prices are sold out.

For example, Deutsche Bahn (German state rail company) Sparpreis tickets generally start at €19.90, with the next highest price being €29.90, then €39.90 and so on.* Most train companies calculate their prices based on the expected demand on the date and time of travel, the general popularity of the route and how busy trains are likely to be. The distance between starting point and destination also plays a part in the price calculation.

*Note: These are example prices and may not reflect actual/current pricing structure.

Booking trains in Europe

There are many different train companies with their own ticketing and pricing systems across Europe, so using a single platform that connects many of the major operators to book your train tickets is the best way to go. You can download the Trainline EU app on your smartphone and check train times and ticket prices on the go, or go to search above to start planning your journey.

Planning a journey

Once you've decided where you'll go, you can find more information on the train company you'll be travelling with on our pages about trains in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Also have a look at our FAQ if you've got any further questions. Have a question that's not listed in the FAQ? Our customer service team is happy to help you out, please choose one of the options from our support page.

Once you've got your tickets, there's no need to worry about taking the train in Europe for the first time - it's very straightforward and staff at stations and on trains are there to help you navigate European rail.

Before you travel

We generally advise that you to plan enough time to arrive at the station, find your platform and board the train. The same goes for journeys that require changes. When booking tickets for a non-direct train journey, we show you realistic options that give you enough time to change trains. Since most of the main train stations in Europe are very large, it might take up to 10 minutes to walk from a platform at one end of the station to another platform at the other end. Be sure to check out our stations pages for more details including locations, facilities, train times and maps of European train stations.

At the station

You'll find electronic departure boards in most stations' entrance halls, showing live train times and platform information. Changes in train times such as delays and platform changes will be shown on departure boards as well as announced, usually in the local language and English, via loudspeakers. Platforms are usually numbered continuously, starting with 1. Signage and station maps will lead the way. All the large European train stations are equipped with luggage storage facilities, toilets, shops and restaurants as well as ticket booking offices and information desks

Travelling confidently

Once you’ve booked your tickets with us, use our app to make your trip even easier. In an instant, you can get your tickets on your phone – buh-bye paper tickets – and once you’ve downloaded them, you won’t even need WiFi to open and show them on your phone. If you’re travelling in France, you’ll see live times and platform info in a tap, to keep your trip on track. And, if there’s ever a change in your plans, you’ll have the power to cancel, book or change your tickets in the palm of your hand – it’s a piece of cake.

Europe's most popular cities

The beauty of Europe is its diversity – on a small continent, there are plenty of different cultures, customs and landscapes to discover. Europe's got the right city for every taste – London, Paris and Berlin for the cosmopolite, Amsterdam and Copenhagen for the relaxed traveler and Vienna, Hamburg and Zurich for the sustainability enthusiasts.

Paris

France 🇫🇷

Stepping off at one of Paris’ central train stations for the first time is one of life’s great pleasures.

The sprawling urban heartbeat of France doesn’t fail to charm with its sophisticated tree-lined boulevards scented by the waft of local boulangeries, fashion-conscious Parisians sipping on coffee along the cobbled terraces, the lamp-lit banks of the winding River Seine and the soaring wrought-iron testament to the city’s illustrious past.

While Paris fiercely defends its traditions, the city hasn’t stood still. They sit side-by-side with a modern capital that’s embracing contemporary designer retail spaces, hip bars, state-of-the-art museums and a new wave of architecture that’s quickly building Paris’ shiny icons of the future.

Then there’s the food. There’s nothing quite as pleasing as delving into the city’s gastronomy, whether it’s eyeing up something sweet through the windows of a pâtisserie, gorging on fromage accompanied by a glass of cold rosé outside a sunny bistro or dining at one of the city’s Michelin-star restaurants. Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea,” and there are few who disagree.

Trains to Paris

Rome

Italy 🇮🇹

Almost 3,000 years have gone into the making of Italy’s capital Rome, and it shows. While at ground level, the network of chaotic narrow streets used by honking Fiats and nimble Vespas might seem disorganised, look down on it from above to see the winding Tiber River and the swaying stone pines and cypresses, and it couldn’t look anymore picture perfect.

Rome is a place to indulge in a spot of la dolce vita. Dress to impress (when in Rome, as they say) and head out into the balmy evening to sip on aperitivo in one of the pretty piazzas before diving into one of the local trattorias for a plate of the good stuff. It’s not all espressos, spaghetti cacio e pepe and gelato though. If you’re a first-timer, it’s unthinkable not to marvel at the Sistine Chapel, throw coins into the Trevi Fountain or wander through the Colosseum where you can almost hear the roars and claps of fans cheering on battling gladiators.

When you’ve finished with the big hitters, there’s a long list of museums, galleries and baroque architecture that will keep you coming back to the city time and again.

Trains to Rome

Amsterdam

The Netherlands 🇳🇱

The Netherlands capital serves as one of the easiest places to reach by rail, and hopping off at its busy central train station brings you to the very heart of the city.

It’s one of the most bike friendly in the world, and you can never say you’ve really done Amsterdam unless you’ve seen it from two wheels. Cycling along the pretty canal-laden streets that criss-cross the core of the city is without a doubt the most pleasing way to take in the capital, particularly when punctuated with frequent stops to dive into little boutiques or quench your thirst with a glass of craft beer at one of the traditional bruine kroeg pubs.

It’s not all beer and bikes through. The city is home to some of the celebrated art galleries in the world. Be sure to clear some time in your schedule to ogle the art at the vast 19th century Rijksmuseum, discover the man behind the paintbrush at the Van Gogh Museum or delve in the works of the Dutch master at the Rembrandt House Museum.

Trains to Amsterdam

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