Landwasser Viaduct, Glacier Express, Visit St Moritz

Landwasser Viaduct, Glacier Express

Eurail Pass – the Best Way to Visit Europe

It probably takes an actual Europe vacation using a Eurail Pass before you comprehend why everyone says that the train is the best way to visit Europe. Eurail trains are frequent, comfortable, affordable and reliable. The reservations you need for certain high speed sections add to the cost, but at speeds of up to 300km/hr, it’s often worth the extra expense. For example, the TGV (French: Train à Grande Vitesse, meaning high-speed train) from Avignon to Paris travels 463 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes for an average of 174 miles per hour. By contrast, the trip by car will take you 6 hours and 40 minutes. Plus the trains keep getting faster and faster, while car travel times aren’t improving.

Munich Train Station, Using Eurail Pass

Munich Train Station

Eurail Pass – Plan Your Stops

The first step before buying your Eurail Pass is to plan your stops along the way. The best web site for train schedules is www.bahn.de  The web site is German, but it operates in many languages. The initial downside is that you need to know the names of many cities according to their local name, but this is something that you need to learn anyway if you are traveling in a country like Italy. For example, when you enter Venice for a location, the web site indicates no match. Once you know your local geography better, you’ll find that “Venezia San Lucia is what you are looking for. Also, get used to Hbf as the abbreviation for “station” in German even on their English version schedules.

Rome to Naples High Speed Train

Eurail Pass – Know Your City Names

  • Venice – Venezia San Lucia or Venezia SL
  • Venice mainland – Venezia Mestre
  • Florence – Firenze
  • Rome – Roma
  • Naples – Napoli
  • Pisa – Pisa
  • Turin – Torino
  • Milan – Milano
  • Bucharest – Bucuresti
  • Geneva – Geneve
  • Copenhagen – Kobenhaven
  • Cologne –  Koln
  • Lisbon – Lisboa
  • Moscow – Moskva
  • Munich – München or Munchen
  • Prague – Praha
  • Vienna – Wein

German Umlaut Spellings

For Germany, there’s also a twist related to the umlaut. Since most keyboards can’t cover this, the web uses “ue” for “ü”. The same applies to Germany passports. So expect to find Munich under Muechen on bahn.de even though you will see it spelled München when you actually arrive. Expect the Müller’s to have a passport that says Mueller.

Mount Rigi Summit Cog Trains

Mount Rigi Summit Cog Trains

Planning for your Eurail Pass – Connections

The www.bahn.de site provides the travel time between two locations and an indication of connections that may require reservations. The site also tells you whether a regional train or an express is involved. You can click on the route information to see a drop down of all the stops along the way, which can be numerous on a regional train. The drop down feature is the best part of www.bahn.de, because it helps you ensure that the connections will work for you.

Use the bahn.de web site to:

  • Set your overnight locations
  • Set your travel time by train each day
  • Determine the train transfers you’ll need to make on travel days
  • Print detail of the stops, so you’ll have better advance warning when your stop is coming up
  • Confirm by internet that your schedule for the next travel day is still OK
Nice Ville Train Station, Using Eurail Pass

Nice Ville Train Station

Planning for your Eurail Pass – Select Your Tickets

After you’ve planned your route on www.bahn.de, count up your train travel days and the number of countries, so you can purchase your Eurail Pass tickets. The pass can be purchased online but it is delivered physically by mail. Make sure you buy far enough in advance to allow for delivery. A travel agent can save you time and money in purchasing Eurail Passes, if your agent sells these. The Eurail website has improved greatly in recent years and will easily walk you through their screens to select your tickets.

The main types of tickets are:

  • Global Pass – Good for all 33 countries for straight or flexible periods of time.
  • Select Pass –  disappeared in 2019
  • One Country Pass – available in a range of days.

Eurail Pass categories are Adult, Senior, Youth and Child.

Venice San Lucia Train Station, Using Eurail Pass

Venice San Lucia Train Station

Additional Reservations for Your Vacation

After you’ve figured out which Eurail pass you need, it’s time to check all the routes in detail on bahn.de and determine how many reservations are either required or preferred for certain sections. Reservations may be preferred because they guarantee seating or put you on a high speed train. Part of the experience of traveling Europe by train is a significant amount of planning.

Using Your Eurail Pass

Once you have your ticket, you no longer need to validate it thanks to the age of smart phones. You can activate your pass online and keep it on your phone for inspection when you travel. You will still need up update details on the app when you travel on flexible days. If you are inspected and haven’t updated, you will still face heavy and immediate fines.

Chamonix Train Station, Using Eurail Pass

Chamonix Train Station

Additional Reservation Validation

Thanks to the age of the smart phone, you will no longer need to validate additional reservations that you make in conjunction with your Eurail Pass. You can update these on your phone too for inspection. The days of wandering through train stations in Italy searching for the ticket validation boxes are gone. You can still expect some military style inspections during your ride though.

Switzerland Train Trip, Landwasser Viaduct

Landwasser Viaduct

Swiss Travel Pass

If you plan to visit Switzerland, consider a Swiss Travel Pass in combination with a Eurail Pass.

Mont Blanc Cog Wheel Train, Using Eurail Pass

Mont Blanc Cog Wheel Train

Finding Your Train

The experience of finding your train is similar no matter which country you visit in Europe. In smaller train stations, the schedule is printed, but you will find electronic departure and arrival boards at larger station. The departure board shows your destination, train number, departure time and track number. The track number often isn’t displayed until less than half an hour before the train arrives.

Once you know the track, you need to determine the car. To figure out first or second class, look for the big “1” or “2” on each train car. For reservations you will have a specific car number and a specific seat number. Electronic display boards often tell you roughly where your Train car will be when the train stops. When you board the train, reservations are often marked on compartment doors too.

Lastly, be prepared for the unexpected. Train cars might get switched around and there might even be two two cars or two seats with the same numbers. Trust the display board even if you don’t ever hear an announcement and jump on board. Expect that all trains in Europe will depart on time.

Eurail Train Station Meals, Munich

Eurail Train Station Meals, Munich

Train Station Meals

Eating at train stations is part of the European vacation travel experience. Even small stations will have coffee shops and fast food chain service with reasonable prices. The larger stations have restaurants, grocery stores, sandwich shops and even book stores. The station in Munich is so interesting that I wanted to spend all my time there instead of touring the town. You’ll find that lattes and pastry are very easy to find in the morning. Tasty sandwiches of every variety are available throughout the day. When you’re at your B&B or hotel for the night, consider going back to the train station for dinner.