14 May, 2021 | 5 minute read
If you’re travelling by train in Europe for the first time, you’ll probably notice that you have the option to book either First or Second Class tickets. In some cases, the price difference may be minimal, while in other cases First Class tickets may be even cheaper. So you may start asking yourself a few questions like the following:
These are some pretty understandable questions to ask yourself. For this reason, we decided to give a simple overview of the differences between First and Second Class on European trains.
In First Class, you’ll get wider and plusher seats, more legroom and sometimes a more formal atmosphere. Most First Class passengers are travelling for business, so they spend their time working while on the train. Depending on the time of day, there might be fewer families and children in First Class so there can be very little noise.
What is surprising to many is that there is no luggage allowance difference between First and Second class. Some trains do have luggage restrictions though, so read our page about luggage allowance on European trains for more information.
One significant difference between First and Second Class is the at-seat meal service. Not all First Class reservations offer a meal service though – you can expect it on premier operators such as Eurostar, Thalys, AVE, and TGV Lyria. They provide a hot or cold meal (depending on the time of day and length of the journey), which is served directly to your seat and is included in the price of your ticket. Generally speaking, on German ICE trains and Austrian Railjet trains food and drinks are not included in the First Class ticket price, although you’ll still be served at your seat after ordering your meal.
If you have a First class ticket, you’ll get free access to the First Class lounges (if there’s one at your departure station), which can provide complimentary food and drinks. For example, with a Frecciarossa Executive ticket, you can access both FrecciaLounge and FrecciaClub, which offer free WiFi, newspapers, drinks and snacks, power sockets and travel monitors, as well as an information desk where you can ask for help in case you need to make changes to your booking. Thalys First Class tickets (Thalys Premium) also get you access to Thalys lounges as well as SNCF or DB lounges at relevant stations. First Class lounges can be really convenient if you prefer to arrive at the station or need to check out of your hotel a bit earlier.
Eurostar has a boarding procedure which requires that you check-in at least thirty minutes before departure. If you're a Eurostar Business Premier ticket holder, you'll only need to check-in ten minutes before departure – this means that you can give yourself a bit more time in the Eurostar lounge or arrive at the station shortly before departure. Similarly, you'll get to enjoy the Fast Track service and avoid queues if you're travelling in Italo Prima (First Class).
Overall, First Class tickets can definitely be worth the cost. Most carriers these days offer very minimal price differences between the two travel classes. At Trainline, we’ll automatically show you if there are low-priced First Class tickets available, so you can be sure that you won’t miss out on any bargains. If you happen to find that First Class tickets are cheaper than Second Class fares, then it only means that First class is still fairly empty, while the cheaper Second Class tickets have already sold out.
Second Class seating is perfectly adequate on all European trains. You’ll get a nice comfortable seat, plenty of legroom, and your luggage allowance certainly won’t suffer.
If you’re travelling on a strict budget or aren’t a fussy traveller, then Second Class will be a great option for you. Although you won’t receive a meal served to your seat, you can always bring some food on board or purchase something in the train bistro or from the snack trolley. Most Second Class carriages can also be quiet, so you don’t always have to expect a noisy trip. Plus, the carriages are also kept very clean, toilets are available, and you might even have the opportunity to make friends with your fellow travellers.
Discover our guides to the train companies offering First Class travel: