By Darren Griffiths

Eurail Guide: 10 Things You Should Know Before Riding the Eurail

6th March 2023

Last updated on April 22nd, 2023 at 04:47 am

When we first started to plan for our 6-month backpacking trip, we knew we wanted to travel Europe by train.  Every travel site and travel blogger insisted that traveling Europe by Eurail was a must!  In our post, 4 Reasons to Travel Europe by Train, we spoke about the reasons why you should travel Europe by train at least once in your lifetime. 

The beautiful landscapes and the convenience of railway travel make for a great journey throughout the European continent.  However, throughout all of our research and planning, we couldn’t find a good Eurail guide on what to expect with purchasing a Eurail pass and how to navigate the railway system in Europe. So we thought we would write a Eurail guide for you and we hope our experiences will help you on your next adventure through Europe.

Our Eurail Guide

Eurail Guide Florence
Arriving in Florence, Italy on the Eurail

Here are our 10 things you should know before riding the Eurail.

1. What’s your Itinerary?

First up in our Eurail guide, you need to figure out where you’re going or have at least a rough itinerary.  This is an important step as it will help you figure out if it’s better to purchase a single ticket or a Eurail pass.  If you think it’s better to purchase a Eurail pass based on your itinerary, then what type of pass will you need?  This is not to say that you need to plan out each city and leave no room for spontaneity, but have a rough plan of where you want to visit. 

2. Eurail Ticket or Eurail Pass?

Once you have decided on where you are going to visit, start pricing out your options.  Is single-ticket purchase the way to go?  They may be cheaper (if you buy them far in advance) but they take away from any spontaneity on your trip. 

Is purchasing a Eurail pass the way to go?  If so, what type of pass?  Well, again it depends on your itinerary.  Are you visiting multiple countries within a couple of weeks of each other?  The Eurail Select Pass may be the best option for you as it allows you to travel between 2-4 neighboring countries and gives you 2-10 trips to use within a 2 month period. 

If your trip a little longer and you’ll be traveling all over Europe, then a Eurail Global Pass will undoubtedly be your best choice that gives you more extensive options to travel within the 28 countries participating in the Eurail system. 

Visit Rail Europe for more information on ticket options and to purchase your tickets.  Their website is user-friendly and shipping was fast.  Their mobile sites offer train schedules for your convenience. 

And finally, Trainline is also a very reliable booking website for train travel around Europe.

3. Which Class of Seat?

The next thing to consider in our Eurail guide is which class of ticket to choose?  If you’re over 28 years of age, you have no choice, 1st class is where you’ll be seated if you’re purchasing a Eurail pass.  You will pay more for this but you will love the comfort and quietness of 1st class seats.  Enjoy the scenery as you sip on your complimentary beverage!  

If you’re more budget-minded and younger than 28, then 2nd class is an option.  A little more crowded (noisier), less room but still comfortable, the 2nd class compartments didn’t seem all that bad and for shorter rides are a great, affordable option. 

Eurail Guide Naples
Laurie on the water in Naples, Italy

4. Traveling Solo or in a Group?

Are you traveling solo or with a partner?  If you’re traveling with a partner are you traveling together for the whole journey?  Well, you might be able to benefit from some extra savings if you’re traveling together for your whole trip. Groups of 2 or more can enjoy savings on tickets purchased together.  Perfect for traveling couples like us!

5. Reservation Needed?

Rough itinerary?  Check!  Passes? Check!  Okay, you’re all set. Well, not quite.  You should check the routes you plan to take to see if any of them require a reservation.  A reservation is needed on some routes which are popular, use overnight trains or high-speed trains.  We came across this issue when traveling on high-speed trains in Italy and Spain. 

While there are options to take regional/local trains, they are much slower (more stops) and not as modern as the high-speed trains.  Overnight trains are guaranteed to need a reservation, we had to reserve in advance for our train from Lisbon in Portugal to Madrid in Spain, even though the train wasn’t anywhere near capacity.  You can book reservations online or at the ticket counter at the train stations. 

If you’re not using a Eurail pass and are using a single ticket, there are two options:

    • Ticket with a reservation – Includes train number, time, seat and class. 
    • Ticket without reservation – Known as an open-ended ticket.  A ticket for a specific route between two cities that gives you a little more freedom on travel times and dates. 

6. Have you Validated your Ticket?

You’re all excited, you’re boarding your first train in Europe and ready for an adventure.  Back it up.  Did you remember to validate your pass?  Your pass must be validated before boarding your first train!  This is one of the most important tips in this Eurail guide. 

If a conductor finds that your pass is not validated you may be forced to pay a fine and/or exit the train.  In addition, both parties must be present (with passports) when validating your Eurail Pass.  Adding to this, each day of travel, BEFORE boarding the train, you must enter the date and cities of travel in your pass to show to the conductor.  A couple of times we forgot this step and the conductor wasn’t too pleased.  Do yourself a favor and avoid any unwanted aggravation and remember to properly fill out the pass!

Eurail Guide Florence
Us in Florence, Italy

7. Be on Time!

If you’re like me and struggle with punctuality, you’ll need to correct this habit.  Unlike airplanes where you might get lucky with delays or, if you ask nicely, be ushered through security if you’re running late, these train conductors will leave you!  They have a schedule to keep and if you are not on that train at the time of departure then you’re out of luck. 

Luckily, we did not have this happen to us.  We usually arrived to the station with plenty of time left to find our seats, get comfortable and order a drink.  I’ve heard of trains in Europe being delayed, mostly because of worker strikes, but we did not experience this on our trip.  Be sure that there are no strikes on your route, which can be found on the websites of the railways. 

8. Are you Getting on the Right Train?

In addition to being punctual, make sure you’re getting on the right train!  Some stations in Europe can be confusing and if you’re not careful you can find yourself on the wrong train.  There were a couple of occasions when we weren’t sure what train we were supposed to get on.  If you’re in that situation, try asking the customer help desk or a conductor.  Most will gladly help you out. 

I remember taking a Eurail train from Naples to Rome, so we could catch a train to the airport.  Unfortunately, we read the time wrong and missed the train so had to pay a cab €50 to get to the airport.  See, as Americans, we weren’t accustomed to a 24-hour (military) clock, so we read 12:10 as 10 minutes past midnight not 12:10pm in the afternoon.  There’s nothing like being stuck in the train station in Rome, at midnight, when they are about to close for the night. 

9. Food & Drinks

While airlines will allow you to bring food on the airplane, there really isn’t a whole lot of room to eat and your choices are limited to what security allows you to take onboard.  Well, traveling on the train is very different.  With our 1st class passes, we had enough room (including a table), to eat our meals that we brought aboard.  One time we even brought two rotisserie chicken meals along for the ride.  So if you’re not keen on the food served onboard the train then bring some of your favorite meals, snacks, and drinks along with you.  Plus it’s cheaper!

Eurail Guide Rome
Me at the Coliseum in Rome, Italy

10. Your Luggage is Your Responsibility

Unlike air travel, where your large luggage is checked in and looked after, with Eurail train travel, you are responsible for your luggage at all times.  You must take all your luggage onboard the train, put it in one of the overhead compartments or the larger compartments at the end of each car, and then take it with you when arriving at your stop.  Is it impossible?  Of course not.  Is it a hassle, yes. 

I’ve seen people struggle with their luggage on Eurail trains while Laurie and I simply put our backpacks in the overhead compartment.  Much easier.  So if your primary means of travel is by Eurail train, then you might want to pack a lighter, smaller bag. 

Another tip in this Eurail guide is to keep an eye on your luggage while on board and especially while at the train stations.  Train stations are notorious for thieves to prey on unsuspecting tourists.  While we never came across any problems, we heard stories from other travelers and it could all have been avoided with a little common sense and extra care. 

The railway system in Europe can be a little intimidating for the novice traveler.  A little planning and research can go a long way and save you some unnecessary aggravation.  Following these 10 Eurail guide steps and learning from our experiences will hopefully smooth out the process for you so you’ll be able to fully enjoy the journey.

At the time of our travels, Rail Europe did not have a great app (apparently they have revamped it since then and it’s much better), so we used the Eurail app for our iPhones.  Offline access to train schedules, the ability to search for nearby train stations, and searching to see if your particular train needs a reservation, made this app invaluable during our visit to Europe.  Before you get on that first train, be sure to download it!  Happy Travels!

About the Author

Hello, my name is Edgar from Couple of Roamers.  Last year after some unfortunate events and doing some soul-searching, my wife, Laurie, and I decided to sell our belongings and go on a 6-month adventure around the world.  We traveled through Europe, Asia, South and Central America using all means of transportation.  We visited Wonders of the World, ate amazing local cuisines and met other great travelers.  Now we are back home looking to keep that wanderlust spark alive while working full-time jobs. You can follow all the fun on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.