True How To Make The Most Of A Eurail or InterRail Holiday

How To Make The Most Of A Eurail or InterRail Holiday


So you're thinking of heading off on an InterRail or Eurail adventure around Europe by train?

You want to follow your own itinerary and not that set by a holiday company and you don't want to have to hear about Brian's wheat intolerance every day that you come down to breakfast!


These tips below, which stem from personal experience, will help make your own rail pass holiday be as fabulous and easy as possible.

Click these links below to jump to the nugget of advice of most interest, or grab a coffee and read it all at your leisure.

Avoid Making Assumptions

Paying For Reservations Can be A Good Idea

Break Your Journey

Before You Exit A Station

Confirm Your Next Journey

Getting To The Station

Managing Luggage

Make the Most Of The Journeys

Explore Switzerland
...

1: Avoid making assumptions:
 

Seeing Europe by train is obviously wonderful, but it can also be a tad bizarre and that’s partially because each country in Europe applies its own rules and logic to how it operates its trains.


These ‘rules’ impact on how you can use Eurail and InterRail passes in each country.
 

Just because you can hop on any train in one country with your pass doesn’t mean you can do the same in another etc.
 

Not paying a reservation fee before boarding trains on which they’re compulsory is definitely a scenario best avoided – claiming ignorance won’t win over a train conductor.
 

Don’t let this put off making that trip of a lifetime – there’s now a handy guide as to how you can use a Eurail or InterRail pass in all of Europe’s most popular countries, which you can find HERE.

Back to the tips list.
 

2: Guaranteeing A Seat Can Be A Luxury Worth Paying For:


The reservation fees that Eurail and InterRail pass users have to pay in advance of travelling on some European trains can be referred to as ‘supplements’, but we’re emulating Eurail and InterRail by referring to them as reservation fees.

We’re doing so because what can get lost in ‘rail passes aren’t worth it now’ debates, is that by paying these fees, you are ensuring that you have a seat on the train – they’re not a penalty for using a rail pass.

So for longer journeys, particularly in summer, paying these fees can be worth every euro.

 

Making reservations, when you don’t HAVE to, on any long distance train after midday on Fridays and Sundays is always a good idea - and between June and September that applies on Saturdays too.

The peace of mind from paying less than €5 for an optional seat reservation can be worth every
cent!

Back to the tips list.
 

3: Stop Off Somewhere Fabulous On The Way To Somewhere Else:

Some railway routes are akin to bejewelled necklaces, with numerous delightful places in which to spend a few hours between trains.

Point-to-point tickets, particularly those that are seat specific, nearly always don’t allow for stopping over between the start and end points of journeys – but rail passes do!

Some examples:

(i) Stop over in Modena AND Parma when travelling between Milan and Bologna by train,
(ii) Seeing Haarlem and Delft when travelling from Amsterdam to Rotterdam,

(iii) Spend time in Padova/Padua and/or Vicenza when taking the train from Verona to Venezia/Venice.

 

On our To Do schedule is a lovely long list of journeys like these.

Back to the tips list.
 

4: Don't Rush Out Of The Station On Arrival:
 

You’ve just arrived in a location you’ve long dreamed of visiting and you can’t wait to see it, or it’s late and you're tired, all you want to do is be in your bed for the night as soon as.

However, try to resist the temptation to rush away from the station, when you arrive somewhere for the first time by train.


(i) Stopping by an Information Desk or checking the timetable sheets to confirm that all is well with the next train you will be taking can be a big stress-saver .

Checking the details including from where* and at what time your train will be leaving, will take the pressure off your next trip to the station.
 

(ii) *Some cities including Avignon, Basel, Budapest, Cologne, Florence, Glasgow, Lille, London, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Paris and Turin have multiple stations which serve different, specific routes and destinations.

Long distance trains can also call at more than one station in Berlin, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Florence, Genoa, Lyon, Munich, Rome, Venice and Warsaw.


So avoid assuming that the station where you have disembarked from a train, will also be the station that your subsequent train will be departing from.
 

(iii) Also take a look at the Reservation desks - if the waiting time is short, it can be an optimum time to make any reservations for journeys that you now want to add to an itinerary.

Back to the tips list.
 

5: Look up your long journeys on the ticket booking sites:
 

Avoid WHOLLY relying on a swathe of journey planning resources such as the European Rail Timetable or the Eurail and InterRail journey planning apps – fabulous though they are.

I use these first when planning a trip and then while in transit, I look up the journeys I will be taking as though I was booking a ticket.

The reason being is that the apps and other resources based on timetables will show you what trains are SUPPOSED  to be running and when they SHOULD be departing.

They can have easy to miss notes on when that isn’t the case, but there also multiple scenarios which can lead to last minute changes to train schedules.

But the train ticket apps and sites should show the ACTUAL schedules, including most last minute changes – it’s because they can’t sell tickets for journeys that won’t now be happening.

Sounds a tad eccentric? Well on a recent trip I was able to figure out that I needed to take a different route from Germany to Switzerland, than I’d originally planned because a railway line had collapsed into a
hole!

Back to the tips list.

6: Allow Extra Time To Catch Your Train:

This nugget of advice also isn’t exclusive to rail pass users, but it’s the one thing that has tripped me up time and time again when following a rail pass itinerary.

When having bought train specific tickets for a journey, I’m the type of person who aims to be at a station an hour before – just in case.

However, when I have a rail pass in my hand, it’s too easy to assume that getting to the station and boarding the train won’t be a problem – when in holiday mode that extra 15 mins in bed can be very tempting when the station is a 10 min walk away.

But I have ended up running for a train - and just making it on time when:

(i) I got confused about how to pay for a coffee.
(ii) The information on a departure screen had the wrong destination on it.
(iii) Blithely assuming that the scrolling text on the departure screen, which wasn’t in English, could be ignored.
(iv) The tram I was taking to the station got stuck in a tram jam.
(v)  Initially heading off in the wrong direction away from the station on the metro/subway – that’s happened more than once.
(vi) A lorry had hit a railway bridge so there were no trains on the line I was planning to take to the station
(vii) Works on a tram line meant that the tram I was on was stopped short of a station
…you get the idea.



So aim to be at the station around 30 mins before your train departs – allow more than 30 mins if you want to grab a coffee or breakfast.
Then you can use up those extra minutes if you do encounter a problem

If you will be taking a local train or other public transport to the station, double the time that you think you will need to make the transfer.

Even in the best case scenarios finding your train can be less obvious than you’d assumed - it may be departing from some distant part of the station
etc.

Back to the tips list.
 

7: Minimise Your Luggage Stress:
 

Getting luggage on and off trains can subtract from the pleasure of a rail pass adventure, even if you have military level fitness, finding somewhere to stow a large bag on a train can be a hassle – particularly if you want to be able to see your bag(s) from your seat.
 

We have not one, but two tips for reducing this stress!

Tip No.1: Make epic day trips by train:

 

You don’t have to move on to some distant location every other night, in order to extract value for money from a rail pass – so keep the number of your overnight locations to a minimum.
 

Making a day trip by train that involves a two hour (+) journey each way, probably isn’t something you’d probably usually consider, but with a rail pass they can be a good idea for multiple reasons:

-  You’ll be travelling far enough that day for your pass to be worthwhile,
-  You’ll arrive in a city centre
-  You can sleep on the return train…. and most importantly
-  You won’t need to have your luggage with you on those trains


And/or you can up the ante by setting off on multi-destination day trips, that loop back to where you are staying.
For example, head off from Munich to have brunch in Innsbruck, have an early dinner in Salzburg and then head back to Munich late in the evening.

This multi-destination approach can be a particularly good option if you want to explore Switzerland, Belgium or The Netherlands by train.

 

Cities that are particularly good bases for multiple rail pass day trips, include - Basel, Bern, Bologna, Brussels, Florence, Gent, Glasgow, Innsbruck, Leeds, Lyon, Manchester, Marseille,  Milan, Munich, Paris, Prague, Reading, Rotterdam, Salzburg, Verona and Zurich.



Tip No.2: Divide your luggage between bags:

Split your luggage into medium sized bag on wheels or back pack and a smaller hand luggage sized bag or pack.

You'd do this when flying, but being able to only travel with one large bag on trains may not be such an advantage over flying - the bigger the bag the more awkward it will be to stow it on the train.

If you divide your luggage, whenever it’s feasible, you can leave the large bag in a left luggage office and travel only with a smaller bag  - planning your trip so that you can loop back to pick up your large bag a few days later.

 

For example if your itinerary included Turin, Venice, Rome and Zurich you could;

(i) Take a train from Turin to Milano Centrale station* and deposit your large bag there.

(ii) Take trains from Milano to Venice; Venice to Rome and Rome to Milan – only carrying your hand luggage, which will also make the transfer to your accommodation in Venice and Rome easier.

(ii) Collect your large bag in Milan and take the train from there to Zurich.

 

*You could have taken a train direct from Turin to Venice and changing trains in Milan has doubled that day's reservation fees -  but not having a big bag with you on multiple journeys and in multiple cities can make this worth every euro.

Utilising both tips at the same time:

You can combine these two tips to become a rail pass ninja!

For example, if you followed the routing suggested above, you could also then spend three nights in Milan, once you’d looped back to the city.

From Milan you could then head off on day trips to the likes of Bologna, Florence, Genova, Modena, Parma, St Moritz or Zermatt.

Meanwhile your large bag will have spent 6 or 7 nights of your itinerary in
Milan.

Back to the tips list.
 

8: Have as many scenic journeys as you can:
 

You’ll be spending a lot of time on trains, so a rail pass itinerary can be hugely enhanced if you can see something wonderful out of the window, or can be otherwise wowed by the journey.

If you’re not the type that find landscapes or feats of engineering thrilling, this advice will mean little, but if you do, read on:

(i) Avoid making overnight journeys on particularly scenic routes:

The length of journeys such as Munich to Zagreb and Zurich to Vienna can, at face value, make the overnight trains seen like a good option.

But these routes across Austria are some of the most beautiful taken by any train, so landscape lovers should avoid travelling along them in darkness - and this is just one example.



(ii) Follow our advice on which side of the train to sit on, in order to maximise the views:

At the risk of stating the obvious, when a railway line is beside a river, the sea, or a lake, if you’re sat on the other side of the train to the water, you won’t seeing anything remarkable.

But this can also be true of many mountain journeys, railways tend to embedded in valley walls, so you can only see the views over the valley from one side of the train and not the other.


(iii) If possible avoid trains with compulsory reservations on the scenic routes, take the slower, alternative trains, when available, and you’ll have more time to be wowed by the scenery.

You can also avoid a scenario in which your reserved seat is on the wrong side of a train.

(iv) Don’t remain in your seat on the train:

 

This tip risks disapproval from train conductors, but if you’re travelling on a scenic route in a train with compulsory reservations -  it’s also stating the obvious that you’ll only have a 50% chance of your seat(s) being on the side of the train that has the  best of the views.

Being sat on one side of the train is usually preferable to being sat on the other.

 

You virtually always have to leave this seat assignment to fate, in the rare instances when you can select a specific seat, there’s usually no way of gleaning whether you will be sat on the left or the right during a journey.
 

However, if you haven’t struck lucky and don’t have a seat on the scenic side, you don’t have to miss out on the views.

The trick is to be in your assigned seat when the conductor comes through the train to inspect the tickets and reservations.
But after that, if there are spare window seats on the scenic side of the train, you can temporarily move over.

Then head back to your seat before the next station call and avoid the embarrassment of being sat in a seat that has been assigned to someone about to board.

 

(v)  Head to the bar/bistro:

Or go to the bar/bistro and have a drink or snack watching the world go by, most bar coaches will have windows on both sides of the train.

 

(iii) Don’t always take the direct route:
 

A plus of a rail pass can be the fact that you can change trains.

If you’re primary criteria is getting to your destination as fast as possible, this suggestion will seem perverse, but stunning landscapes and fast railways are very rarely compatible.

The express trains dive into tunnels or follow new straighter routes, avoiding valleys and coastlines.

Often, trains that are now slower in comparison, still take the more scenic routes and you can hop on these trains with your rail pass.

The slower alternative routes are much more scenic in EITHER direction when travelling between these cities.

(the red arrows are the fabulous journeys)


(a) Milano to Zurich - instead follow this route: Milano Tirano  Pontresina Samedan Chur Zurich



(b) Koln to Munchen  - instead follow this route: Koln → Mannheim via Koblenz Mannheim to to Munchen/Munich via Stuttgart

(c) Milano to Basel - instead follow this route: Milano Brig  Bern via Kandersteg Basel

(d) Zurich/Basel to Milano - instead follow this route: Zurich or Basel to Erstfeld Erstfeld Bellinzona   Milano

(e) Paris to Koln - instead follow this route: Paris Est
Luxembourg  Koblenz Koln

(f) Koln to Basel - instead follow this route: Koln Koblenz  Luxembourg Strasbourg Basel

(g) Milano to Roma - instead follow this route: Milano Genova   La Spezia  Roma

(h) Barcelona to Marseille - instead follow this route: Barcelona La Tour De Carol Toulouse  Marseille

(i) Salzburg to Vienna - instead follow this route: Sazburg  Villach  Wien/Vienna

Back to the tips list.
 

9: Make the most of Switzerland

Switzerland is an expensive place to visit, but that’s why using Eurail and InterRail passes there can be big money saver.

Some Swiss train journeys are comparatively expensive and particularly high ticket prices are payable on many of the private lines that operate some of the most spectacular journeys on the planet.


However, InterRail and InterRail users can travel at no extra charge on many of the most incredible routes of all, including:

The ‘Golden Pass’ route (Montreux – Luzern on MOB and ZB trains.



The route of the Bernina Express (St Moritz - Tirano on RhB trains)

The route of The Glacier Express (St Moritz - Zermatt on RhB and MGB trains)


If you want to use your pass to travel on The Bernina Express or Glacier Express trains, you only have to pay the reservation fees = big savings compared to the cost of tickets!

A myth worth busting is that the railway lines on which Eurail and Interrail passes aren’t valid, must be so much MORE spectacular than those on which they can be used.

Back to the tips list.

Which DAYTIME train services require reservations for rail pass users AND which don't:

How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in most European countries including on which trains you do and don't have to reserve:


Our money saving tips for Eurail and InterRail Pass Itineraries:


Tips for planning your journey around Europe - make your trip as easy as possible:


Other reasons why using Eurail and InterRail passes is a great idea: