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Why take the train to Europe from the UK

Besides London with all its famous sights, the UK has much more to offer: from the white beaches of Cornwall to the rough landscapes of Scotland, there’s tons of beautiful places to discover by train. Or, if you’ve seen enough of the island, why not hop on a train to mainland Europe? That’s right, you can travel from the UK to Europe – no need to book a flight. It’s easy, hassle free and you can travel directly from city centre to city centre. The Eurostar takes you from London to Paris in just 2 hours 15 or to Brussels in just over two hours. With Europe’s extensive, modern high-speed rail network, it’s just as easy travelling from Belgium or France to neighbouring countries such as Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.

How to book train tickets to Europe

With different train companies in each country plus the language barrier, finding the right train ticket might seem like an impossible task – but it’s actually very easy with Trainline Europe. Simply download the app or search for the perfect route on your computer by visiting trainline.eu. We combine tickets and routes from 86 different train operators across 24 countries, so wherever you want to go, you’ll be able to plan your ideal route, check train times and book tickets easily using one single platform.

Trains in Europe

Since most train networks in European countries are managed by one large corporation per country, often owned by the state, rail travel is relatively easy if you know the basics about the respective train company.  The rail networks are interconnected, so travelling from one country to another is easy, even though it isn’t possible to book a ticket for several train companies and countries at once. That’s where Trainline comes in: our system is connected to all of Europe’s biggest train companies, so you can search and book a single ticket in one go, wherever you want to go.

Already picked a country to travel to? We’ve compiled a list of all the essential information you’ll need for your journey. For further information about each train operator, simply click on the name of the country you’re going to visit. 

France – SNCF

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Most trains in France are run by the state company SNCF. They offer long distance high-speed travel via their TGV and Intercité trains as well as regional tickets for short distance and suburban rail. We recommend booking in advance as this will guarantee getting tickets at the best possible price, bookings are usually possible up to 92 days before the date of travel. SNCF sell low-price tickets called either Prem’s, iDTGV or Ouigo. These tickets are budget friendly but non-refundable. When you book through Trainline, you don’t need to worry about different ticket types as we’ll always show you the best options available.

Regional train tickets do not require a seat reservation and therefore do not need to be booked in advance. You can simply turn up at the train station, buy your ticket and board the train. When travelling via long-distance TGV and Intercité trains, booking a seat is mandatory and automatically included when you buy a ticket.

Once you’ve got your ticket booked, you usually just turn up at the train station a few minutes before departure and board the train. The only exception is the Eurostar which requires travellers to pass a check-in including a security check and passport control before boarding the train. If you’re crossing the English Channel via Eurostar, we recommend being at St Pancras station at least 30 minutes prior to departure to allow enough time for check-in.

Missed your connecting train due to delays on your journey? It’s best to ask the conductor on the delayed train to mark your ticket and then speak to local staff at the station as they can give you up-to-date information on alternative connections. Fear not if you’ve got to wait a while for your connecting train. Train stations in France, especially the ones in big cities, are tailored to travellers’ needs – you can find restaurants or bistros, supermarkets, information desks and often well-known retail stores as well.

Germany – Deutsche Bahn

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Deutsche Bahn is Germany’s state-owned rail company that runs most of the country‘s extensive rail network. It is divided into long-distance high-speed trains, medium-distance trains and regional transport. Regional trains do not require seat reservations or bookings in advance as the ticket prices always stay the same and tickets can’t sell out. Simply turn up at the station and buy your ticket at one of the machines on the platform. If you’re planning to travel long-distance, booking in advance is highly recommended to get the best deals and prices. Seat reservations for high-speed trains ICE and IC are not mandatory, but recommended if you travel at busy hours.

Depending on the type of ticket you buy, it might be possible to exchange it or get a refund. Please check our Deutsche Bahn page for further information. If you miss a connection due to delays on your journey, you’re usually able to get on the next train – it’s best to ask members of staff at the station or on the train for help.

There is no security check when boarding trains in Germany, you can simply turn up at the station and get on board. Doors usually close 30 seconds before departure, so it’s best to arrive a little ahead of time.

Many train stations in Germany are so called “Shoppingbahnhöfe”, which simply means that you can find a plethora of shops, restaurants and cafés, e.g. book stores, clothing brands, drugstores, florists and bakeries. Watch out for “DB Reisezentrum”, this is where you can speak to a member of staff, get information and book train tickets at the station.

Spain – Renfe

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Renfe is the main, state-owned train operator in Spain. Their high-speed trains, AVE, are among the most modern in Europe, travelling the 700 kilometres from Madrid to Barcelona in just two and a half hours. All tickets except for the ones for regional transport can be bought online. There are different ticket types available, including offers and discount rates when booking early in advance. Check our Renfe page for detailed information on different tickets, cancellation fees and more.

Most trains in Spain require passengers to pass a security check prior to boarding. Even though you don’t need to show your passport, your luggage will be examined and it’s advisable to arrive at the check-in at least 15 minutes prior to departure.

Spanish train stations are mostly modern and easy to navigate, often resembling airport terminals. If you travel to or from Madrid, it’s worth checking out Madrid Atocha train station – the beautiful building is home to a massive botanical garden with different types of tropical plants and flowers which is situated in the middle of the waiting hall!

Italy – Trenitalia

Trenitalia

Italy is home to a brand new high-speed rail network run by Trenitalia, Italy’s state-owned rail corporation. The modern fleet goes by the name of Frecce and consists of three train types ranging from the super-fast Frecciarossa (300 km/h) and Frecciargento (250 km/h) to the slightly slower Frecciabianca (200 km/h, still considered high-speed). The Frecciarossa is one of the most luxurious trains you’ll find in the whole of Europe; it’s often used by businesspeople travelling between the big cities and offers an exclusive, modern ‘executive class’ that comes with large, comfortable chairs and even meeting rooms on board. 

Tickets for those trains should be booked in advance to get the best offer. You can choose between cheap train tickets that can not be changed or refunded, or the more expensive, more flexible option. Find further information on our Trenitalia page.

If you missed a connecting train due to delays on your journey, speak to a member of staff to get up-to-date information on how to best get to your destination.

Rail passes – Interrail and Eurail

If you’re planning to travel to more than one country in Europe by train, it’s worth checking out the Interrail and Eurail passes. They enable travellers to hop on any train without having to plan or book in advance. The price is calculated based on how many days you want to travel and by the type of trains you’d like to take. If you live in Europe, check out the Interrail pass, and Eurail for those residing outside of Europe.

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