There’s no denying it – air travel is arduous nowadays. Long check-ins. Invasive searches. That general feeling of being a pain in the you-know-what to everyone you interact with. The glory days of flying are long gone.
Have you thought about getting around Europe by train?
Travelling around Europe by train was once the preserve of backpackers and students. They used to do it because it was cheap.
But now the low-cost airlines own the budget travel end of Euro travel and train travel has moved up in the world. Seeing Europe by rail is now the romantic option. It’s a sensible option.
Imagine whizzing through wine country in France, with vineyards either side of you. Or admiring the breathtaking beauty of Italy’s Tuscany. All you need to do is look out your window.
And once you factor in those long check-in times, it’s often quicker, too. Why wait at an out-of-town airport when you can go straight into the heart of a European city?
It’s also easier on your carbon footprint than flying.
So what’s stopping you from seeing Europe by rail?
Maybe you don’t know where to start. You haven’t planned a proper Europe train itinerary before. We'll help you with that. We’ll break it down for you.
The glorious thing about planning a Europe train itinerary is flexibility. You can travel where you want for as long as you want.
But let’s back up a bit and talk about tickets.
With all these countries and train companies, isn’t it a logistical nightmare?
There's no difference between Interrail or Eurail apart from who's eligible to use what. If you live in Europe, you use Interrail. If not, you use Eurail.
Outside of that, the premise is the same. You pick your pass depending on how much train travel you want and how long you have.
Let's say you're planning on a month's travel.
You're starting in London, and you want to see Paris, Marseille, Barcelona, Geneva, Venice, Budapest, and Prague.
That's seven countries (UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, and the Czech Republic).
That's a cool itinerary for a month. It gives you time to spend a few days checking out each city.
How would you go about planning this?
A trip like this would come under the Interrail/Eurail Global Pass. That allows you either a fixed number of travel days within a month or travel days each day.
Fixed travel day passes allow train travel in 31 different countries on a set number of days within a certain timeframe. The number of options varies so see what's best for you.
You can also buy passes for one country at a time with a one-country pass. This gives you 3 to 8 days travelling around any one country.
Have we convinced you to use the train for your European adventure? If so, let's break your journey down for you, day-by-day.
You've mapped your route and added a language app to your phone to help you order lunch in 5 languages. You're ready to start seeing Europe by train!
Where do you start? Well, London, right? That's where things kick off. We hope you've enjoyed the city. What's not to enjoy? The South Bank, Camden Market, the parks and palaces. The pubs and nightlife. London never ceases to amaze, and you'll be back.
The ultimate Europe itinerary by train
But right now it's Day 1, and you're at St Pancras International Station ready to leave London.
St Pancras International is where the train to Paris leaves from.
Trains from London to Paris usually leave every hour and arrive at Paris Gare du Nord station about 2.5 hours later. It's always cool going through the Channel Tunnel. Fun fact – it's the longest undersea tunnel in the world.
Before you know it you're in Paris. This is the other advantage of train travel. Both St Pancras International and Gare du Nord are in the centre of their respective cities. That's way more convenient than some out-of-town airport.
So it's easy to get to wherever you're staying in the City of Light.
Days 2 to 4
How long should you stay in Paris? How long is a piece of string? You might want to stay forever. But for now, four nights will suffice. That'll give you time to check out what you need to check. You know, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Versailles. Stroll the Left Bank and find your favourite restaurant. Do all that and fall in love with the city before you leave.
Time to hit the south of France and the city of Marseille, the great rival of Paris on the Mediterranean Sea. High-speed trains leave the Gare de Lyon station every 30 minutes to whisk you through the French countryside in 3-4 hours.
France is beautiful, and you'll love watching the countryside change as you head south.
Days 6 to 9
Marseille is a forgotten treasure of France, overlooked by many, even many French. The food, the climate, and the vibe will suck you in until it's time to go to Spain.
You always wanted to see Barcelona, Spain and thought it'd be easy to get there from Marseille, France. And you were right! It's not a direct journey – you'll need to change trains in Montpellier, but it's close enough.
It only takes 1.5 hours to get to Montpellier, and then from there to Barcelona it's around 3 hours.
The journey is awesome, running along the coast, with the blue Mediterranean on one side and the Pyrenees Mountains on the other. Make sure you do it during the day. You've got plenty of time to make it to Barcelona.
Day 11 to 13
You're in Spain now - well, Catalonia, actually - so enjoy yourself! Your four nights in Barcelona won't be enough, but you'll get a feel of the Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. Eat lots of tapas and go to the Camp Nou stadium. If you can catch a game, even better.
Big day today, a major day of train travel. You need to get from Barcelona, Spain, to Geneva, Switzerland, and it isn’t the easiest route.
Luckily, we have your back.
Get up early because you're travelling all day. It's doable in a day - we're talking 7-10 hours depending on train changes. You'll travel from Barcelona to Lyon, France, back to Montpellier and through Nimes. If you didn't get the direct train from Barcelona to Lyon, you could change at Nimes. Either way, you're Lyon-bound.
That's the long part.
From Lyon, it's less than 2 hours to Geneva, where you can relax up after a mammoth day of travel.
Days 15 to 17
So welcome to Switzerland! Geneva is a cool city on the lake at the foot of the Alps, full of great restaurants and shopping. A great thing to see here is the world's largest machine, the Large Hadron Collider. Even if you're not into physics, it's pretty amazing.
With your Swiss sojourn over, Venice, Italy beckons. It's time to hop on a train again.
Days 19 to 21
Once in Venice, you'll immediately wish you had more than three days. This city of canals offers all the romance in the world. Do the gondola tour, eat ice cream. Eat and drink in the Dorsoduro and don't forget to visit Lido Island for some beach time. It'll be the last beach you see before heading up into Central Europe.
There's a direct night train from Venice to Budapest, Hungary. If you want to save some money on accommodation and give yourself some time, we'd recommend you get that. It leaves Venice at 9:00 PM and arrives in Budapest the next morning at 7:20 AM.
Another direct train leaves at 11:15 AM and gets in at around 9:00 PM, so you're looking at a 10-hour journey either way – might as well sleep through it, it’s an experience in itself!
Whichever train you get, you'll arrive in Budapest all set for a new city adventure.
Day 23 to 25
Budapest is two cities, either side of the Danube River. Its architecture and general vibe will captivate you. Make sure you have spare walking shoes because this is what you'll be doing.
You might even think about splurging a little here with your accommodation. It's the cheapest city on your itinerary.
Budapest to Prague is one of those miss-it-if-you-blink train journeys. What we mean is that it passes through a whole separate country without stopping. That country is either Slovakia or Austria, depending on your route.
Whatever route you take, you're looking at between 6 and 8 hours to get to Prague, so by now, that's no biggie for you.
Days 27 to 29
This is the last city of your grand European tour, so enjoy it.
What's not to enjoy about Prague? The Charles Bridge, the quaint architecture and some of the best beer in the world. Check out Wenceslas Square and walk the old town. You'll take more pictures of statues in Prague than you ever have a right to do, we promise.
Back to London.
Is it possible to make it from Prague to London by train? You bet it is, but it's complicated. If you're up for it though, it's doable via Leipzig, Frankfurt, and Brussels.
We'd recommend you cut a night or two somewhere in your trip and spend your last night (or two) in Brussels. It's a cool city, and you can get back to London way easier from there.
But if you insist on doing the whole thing in one, you can - let us know how you get on!
And that's a taste of an epic trip seeing Europe by rail
You did seven countries in 30 days and got a feel for them all. And you kept your feet on the ground all the way through!
Train travel offers a wonderful way to experience this continent. We urge you to start creating your own Europe train itinerary and then put your plan into action.
You'll never regret it.