Travel News

5 reasons to travel Europe by train

Travel Editor Sarah-Kate Lynch is a real rail fan - and she's got the track record to prove it!

Find your soul getting sucked out through your shoes in airports? Me too. But give me a continent, a Eurail Pass and a couple of weeks, and my mind, body and spirit are in their happy place.

1. Eurail Pass

At raileurope.co.nz, you’ll find everything you need to know about which pass is right for you, but you need to get it before you leave. Don’t rush into it, is my advice. Think carefully about where you want to go and for how long, then make your choice from, say, eight days’ travel in France and Italy or the fabulous Eurail Global Pass, which gives you anything from five days to three months’ travel all over Europe. The website is extremely good and when I had a query, I contacted them via customer service and a real person emailed me back and helped me out.

2. Where to go

On this trip, my first journey was the new-ish fast train from Paris to Barcelona. As I was travelling with a buddy from London who didn’t have a Eurail Pass, I bought his ticket online before I left New Zealand so we could sit together. We had lunch first at Le Train Bleu, the historic restaurant at Gare de Lyon in Paris, before we climbed aboard our actual train and five hours later, we were in Spain.

Wow, is all I can say about that experience. Just, wow. A week or so later, I flew into Hungary and over the course of the next wee while, trained from Budapest to Vienna, on to Salzburg, down to Venice, over to Verona and Lake Como, finishing up in Milan. I did not want to stop.

3. Train stations

Here’s why I prefer train travel. Simply wheel your bag up to the ticket window (you usually need to pay a small reservation fee even with a Eurail Pass), state your destination, then climb aboard. No hanging about! No taking your shoes off! I love everything about train stations – the big clocks, the bustle, the smell, the not having to wait for your bag. My favourite station is Santa Lucia in Venice. You step off your train and out onto the Grand Canal. It’s, like, 20 steps. Amazing.

They call it the station “buffet”, but Le Train Bleu is a class above your usual railway fare.

4. The dining car

When my three girlfriends and I rocked up to Budapest train station, we were surprised to be told that, yes, we could get on the train, but that there would be no seats. (Budapest trains were busy with the beginnings of the Syrian refugee crisis at that point.) “Well, where are we supposed to sit?” one of our number asked. The ticket seller looked at us as if we were mad. “The dining car?” she suggested. We couldn’t get on that train quickly enough and arranged ourselves at a booth in said dining car, where a waiter immediately appeared to take our order! Scrambled eggs, croissants and a glass of bubbly all round, thank you very much. An absolute highlight. Toot toot!

5. Top tips

This was my second Eurail Pass adventure and here’s what I’ve learned. You can save on a night’s accommodation by travelling on overnight trains. We did this between Milan and Paris, and again between Granada and Barcelona. Also, time your journeys to fit in with check-in and check-out times. Depart around midday so you’re not schlepping bags around town and arrive after 4pm so you can go straight to your hotel or Airbnb home. Finally, and I have trouble with this one, travel light. It saves your shoulders and your fingernails.

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