Best way to see as much of Europe as possible can be done through rails. It is efficient and ecological and best of all, funnest way to travel. What inspired me to start travelling as much as possible was my own Europe by inter rail trip . If you are from western country, it is easy way to start travelling compared to Asia for example, because the culture has something familiar and it is not as much jump to cold water hit the ground running type of case. So, here is Comprehensive Europe rail guide for you, consisting on getting the rail pass, planning and budgeting your trip, sample itineraries and finally tips and tricks.
Europe rail guide part I: How to get inter rail pass
If you are EU-citizen, this part is easy. Check the train site of your own country, or go to www.interrail.eu and choose the pass of your liking. I had the most expensive option, travel every day within 1 month of time span. That one will cost currently in 2017 493€ . There are other cheaper options, but this one is the best in my opinion because it gives you freedom and flexibility. Other options limit you somewhat and forces you to plan more in advance. I have to say that it is a good thing i got that option, because plans change and trains fill up. Almost all the time it took more time and trains to get to desired destination that I anticipated.
If you are not EU-citizen, you have different options. You can get the pass with www.eurail.com . Their current price in 2017 is 753€ for same pass! There are other options on the website that are cheaper, or you can book all the different trains individually. That again, takes more time and planning and possibly ties you down with certain itinerary. Google something in the lines of “europe train ticket” and you’ll find many different services and booking sites offering different level of services to choose from. Which one to choose depends on your budget. If you can afford the 753€ ticket, I would go for that one simply because of the freedom it gives. If the budget you are on is tighter, opt for booking separately or choosing a cheaper plan that limits the travel days or countries. for example a 10-travel days ticket within two months is 561€, so basically you can have 10 different countries within two months, not bad!
Europe rail guide part II: How to plan inter-rail trip
It depends on what you want to see. Are you keen on seeing the classic stops and big cities or are you more interested in beach and sun? I would guess that for most people, answer is both and everything. Eu-rail website has some example itineraries, but they focus on certain geographical area of Europe. In my opinion, that is not what most people want, so ill make an example itineraries later on if you are looking for ideas or want some recommendations.
When starting to plan your trip, the first thing to decide is budget. Budget influences everything: what countries to choose, how long to travel, which pass to choose, accommodation… The most expensive elements are; rail pass, accommodation and potential flights to Europe or your starting point. The first step is to start saving money, I wrote a blog post about budgeting for travel, check it out here.
When it is known how much money you can spend in this, its time to start thinking rail pass options. Around Europe, 25-30€ per day budget is tight but doable and plus that you need the pass and flights. That is, if you are sleeping in hostels. So, the budget would be flights from your country+rail pass+750€-900€. Also if you know some big other expenses you will do, for example diving, add that in top of your budget. And that’s it!
2. Plan wanted countries
Because you wanted probably visit certain countries already because you want to come to Euro, right? So write those up. Then make some googling in the lines of “most beautiful places in Europe” to get some ideas. You can also check my example itineraries for ideas and places from next section. Good, now you have countries decided. Time to look at maps:
Play with it for a while and see how long it takes to go from certain places so you know how much time there should be left between countries. Note that you can also take some overnight trains, but don’t count on those because they fill up fast! Especially in season, June to August is the busiest season. Don’t make the schedule too tight! It can be VERY tiring to go with super fast pace, I’ve been there, don’t make the same mistake.
3. Time to pack your bags and go!
- Europe by rail travel checklist:
- Good backpack
- Light and easy-to-pack day bag
- Inflatable neck pillow for long train trips
- Credit and debit card and local currency
- Inter rail card, train ticket and possible other documents such as student card
- Copies of passport and inter rail pass
- Money clip/belt, I have this one, highly recommend because it is light and comfortable. I feel that traditional money belts are uncomfortable and hot
- Good comfortable walking shoes and sandals
- small first aid kit with plasters, pain killers and diarrhea pills and so on
- Travel size shampoos and soaps
- Microfiber towel is a must
- Baby wipes to clean yourself in a train
- Lock to put on your backpack zipper
- Large scarf that can act as a blanket in night trains and as cover for rain and as picnic cover
Don’t over pack on clothes! Very important because you’ll be carrying your bag a lot. I wrote a post about carry-on only travelling, check it out here for inspiration on how to pack light. Don’t pack over 10 kg of stuff, trust me.
Europe rail guide part III: Example itineraries for 30 days
This is a route that I took when I was inter-railing:
Berlin (Germany)-Auschwitch (Poland)-Prague (Czech Rebublic)-Nice (France)-Barcelona(Spain)-Biarriz(France)-Paris(France)-Berlin (Germany)
This route is a good mix of everything; famous cities in Europe, cheaper eastern Europe countries, beaches.. Only issue is that the trip from Prague to Nice was extremely long, it took us 48 Hours (!!) and six different trains. This is also because of high season, I couldn’t fit to all trains I wanted. Still, I would recommend taking something from between that route.
If you are looking for traditional all-stars route, its something along the lines of:
Rome (Italy) -Wien (Austria) – Prague (Czech Rebublic) – Berlin (Germany) – Amsterdam (Netherlands) – Bryssel (Belgium) – Paris (France)-London (UK, go with bus or train from Paris and come back to Paris)-Barcelona (Spain)- Madrid (Spain)
This is a route to see all the big cities in Europe and all traditional backpacker destinations. Especially if you are into museums, culture and good food, this trip is good for you. All the traditional castles and buildings and best variety of restaurants can be found form biggest cities. Here’s a good article on how to get from Paris to London most cheapest way
Next route is all about the Balkans and it is a route I desire most to do at the moment:
Budapest(Hungary) -Bucharest (Romania) – Sofia, (Bulgaria)– Skopje (Macedonia) – Belgrade (Serbia) – Sarajevo, (Bosnia & Herzegovina) – Split (Croatia) – Zagreb (Croatia) – Ljubljana (Slovenia)
I would also plan to visit some of the islands In Croatia for example from Split! This route gives you a completely new perspective on Europe. It is perfect for a traveler who has already seen all the basic destinations and is wanting to see more of Europe. This route has a plenty of destinations so make sure you have enough time to do everything! This route is definetely on my travel list potentially next summer.
Europe rail guide, part IV:Tips and tricks
Here I will list some tips to take note before going:
- Please read feedback from all the hostels you’ll stay at to see if there is any warnings of bed bugs. If you see even one, think again before booking. That happened to us in Paris, so we had to leave, throw everything away that was not in backpack and find new accommodation early in the morning. Of course we payed already and never got any refunds
- Cheapest place for me was Prague
- Cheapest hostel was also Prague, under 15€ per night
- Most expensive place for me was Nice
- Most beautiful beach was in Biarriz, definitely recommend going there
- Best tip from our trip is not to trust on Bahn website train schedules too much and just go to the ticket office and ask them to book you the fastest trip. For example the trip from Barcelona to Biarriz, Bahn suggested six different trains and we asked at the station and booked a trip with two different trains
- In may of the trains, you’ll have to pay seat reservation. How much it is depends much on the country
- Have something with you for long train journeys, for example books, audio books, pen and paper, notebooks, playing cards….