Imagine moving from place to place without the rush to the airport, without the constant panic of “How much does my bag weigh?” Instead, imagine being able to relax on the journey, research your new destination, enjoy some breath taking views or taking a leisurely stroll down to the restaurant car. Travelling around Europe by train is a great alternative to driving or flying. When it comes to purchasing tickets, the Eurail Pass may be your new best friend.
Have you been wondering, if the Eurail Pass is worth it? What does the Eurail pass cover? You’re in the right place….The Ultimate Eurail Pass Guide, helps you make an informed decision as to whether the Eurail Pass is right for you.
- 1 What is a Eurail Pass?
- 2 Which pass is right for me?
- 3 Buying your Eurail Pass
- 4 Validating your Eurail Pass
- 5 Making reservations with your pass
- 6 How do travel days work?
- 7 Transferring or connecting trains
- 8 Boarder crossings on the Eurail Pass
- 9 Luggage on Trains in Europe
- 10 Eurail Pass Discounts and Extras
- 11 Is it more expensive to use the Eurail Pass?
- 12 Other useful information
- 13 Did you find The Ultimate Eurail Pass Guide useful? Share it!
What is a Eurail Pass?
A Eurail pass in an “all in one” ticket that allows you to travel around Europe with a flexible schedule. It allows you the freedom to go where ever you want, when ever you want. Whilst many trains are covered on the pass without the need to purchase additional tickets or reservation some trains such as high speed or overnight trains require extra reservations. However, these reservations are usually much less than the cost of a normal train ticket.
Please note: If you live WITHIN Europe you cannot get the Eurail pass, you must purchase the interrail pass. The basics are the same but for the sake of this article I will be referring to the Eurail pass. The links in this article also link to Eurail so use this link here for Interrail.
Which pass is right for me?
Depending on the type of trip you are on will depend on the type of pass you use. If you are travelling within one country for your entire trip you can purchase a single country pass. This pass can be used for a limited number of days within that country. For example, you can use it for 5 days within 1 month
Another type of pass that you can use, is a global pass. This is the pass I used for my most recent trip to Europe. You can use the pass as often as you like within a certain time period in almost any country in Europe. You can use these passes for shorter term travel such as 5 days in within 10 days or longer term travel. I used the three month global pass and this allowed me to travel any where (well almost anywhere!) as often as I liked for three months.
On these passes you can choose from a total of 31 countries within Europe and you have the option of first or second class passes.
Eurail has some great resources that will help you decide if you’re still not sure.
Buying your Eurail Pass
You can buy your Eurail Pass at any train station in Europe or online. You will save money if you purchase your pass online.
You can purchase your pass up to 11 months before you travel. Once you purchase your pass you need to validate it within 11 months.
You can have your pass sent to you directly, our pass took about two weeks to get to us in Australia. Apparently, it takes roughly three days to get to the US. If you have left ordering your pass until the last minute or you are already travelling, you can have it sent to a hotel or hostel within Europe.
If you purchase your pass online you can pay via PayPal or with a credit/debit card. If you purchase from a train station you can pay with cash or credit/debit card.
Getting refunds and exchanges with Eurail can be difficult so make sure you ask any questions you have BEFORE you purchase and that you check all of your details are correct.
This Facebook page is fantastic for information. It is not run by Eurail but the two admins are frequent users of the Eurail pass (I believe one of the admins works for one of the train lines in Europe!) The support in this group is fantastic. I recommend joining this group before you purchase your ticket so you can make sure you are buying the correct pass.
Validating your Eurail Pass
You have 11 months to activate your pass. It is free to activate your pass and you have two options for activation. You can either activate it at any European train station before your first train trip or you can purchase your pass pre-activated. If you know your dates it is worth purchasing your pass pre-activated, if you are unsure of your plans it is easy to activate at the train station.
Which ever option you take make sure you activate before you get on the train. If the first train you are taking is the Eurostar from London, you MUST activate your pass before you go through boarder control. We did not do this and the lady did activate our pass but she let me know that she wasn’t happy about it! Opps!
Making reservations with your pass
Many trains across Europe allow you to travel without a reservation. However, some trains do require a reservation and most of these reservations will cost you extra. Make sure you budget for these costs, on average our reservation fees were between 10 and 20€.
As a general rule, you will need to make a reservation if you are travelling on a high speed train, overnight, on a scenic train, and in some countries such as Italy, France and Spain. If you wish to reserve a seat (this is recommended in high season) you will also need to make a reservation.
You can make reservations three ways:
- At all train stations and this option is the cheapest because you do not need to pay booking fees.
- On the Eurail website – your pass does not need to be activated to make reservations.
- Direct with the train company
We made most of our reservations at the train station and did not have any issues. However, if you prefer to be more organised ahead of time you may want to book with the Eurail website or the train company. Popular routes can book out two months in advance in high season. We were travelling in winter and the only train that we couldn’t get a reservation for was on Boxing Day!
Eurail have an app which I HIGHLY recommend downloading as this will tell you which trains you need reservations for and alternate routes if you do not want to pay the reservation fees.
Tip: Get to the station early for same day travel or book the day before. We almost missed our train from Paris to Brugge because the line at the ticket office was HUGE.
You can make reservations for trains from three months before departure up until two hours prior to the scheduled departure time.
How do travel days work?
A travel day on your Eurail Pass begins at 12AM and ends at 11:59PM. If you get on a train at 7pm and you don’t get off thet train until the next day (ie an overnight train), that is still counted as one travel day.
Once your pass is activated (and assuming you do not need a reservation) you can just arrive at the train station and get on the train.
I recommend arriving at the station at least 20 – 30 minutes before the train leaves as many of the train stations in Europe are huge and it can be hard to find the exact platform. Most trains run like clockwork so you don’t want to miss it!
It also gives you a chance to grab a meal!
Before you begin your journey you must write on your pass. You need to write every train you are taking not just your final destination. For example, we went from Paris to Brugge but in order to make the train cheaper we took regional trains. We had to write Paris –> Lille, Lille –> Courtrai and Courtrai –> Brugge.
If you do not write the date, time and where you’re going BEFORE you get on the train you do run the risk of getting a fine. We forgot a couple of times and luckily we were not fined but others were not so lucky.
Most trains have snack carts or restaurant cars but if you are travelling for a while the cost can add up, so bring snacks!! There are no rules about bringing food onto the trains but some trains do not allow you drink alcohol on the train.
Most trains have toilets – although not always the cleanest (I loved the toilets on Swiss trains) and some trains have wifi and power outlets. However, I recommend all of your devices are charged or you take a book!
Transferring or connecting trains
This is where I recommend having the Eurail App. The Eurail app has the number of the train and it’s destination which really helps finding your next train. It is also works off line!!
For most connections you only have a few minutes to change trains. We found if we could not find our train on the board, the easiest solution was to head straight to information to find the next train.
We only had two difficult connections on our three month trip. One was heading from Nuremburg to Klatovy (in the Czech Republic) the train we were on stopped in the middle of nowhere, even though it was not the final destination. We then had to sit in a tiny train station for a couple of hours until the next train – they didn’t even have good snacks!
The second time, was on our way to Ljubljana, our train was super delayed as there were works on the track and we ended up on a bus! In situations like this, we found it easiest to follow the crowd! Most people are going in the same direction. Don’t spend a long time trying to explain your trip in English, just show the staff the destination on your Eurail app or paper ticket.
Boarder crossings on the Eurail Pass
When travelling with the Eurail pass you must have your passport with you, whether you are crossing a border or not.
Boarder crossing really depend on whether you are entering or leaving the Schengen zone. At most boarders you are required to show your passport and that is all. If you are entering or leaving the Schengen zone, you will be stamped in and out of the country and you are asked many more questions, similar to an airport.
We were very nervous going into Budapest because we had heard horror stories of being rushed off the train and to stand in lines while they checked your passport but nothing of the sort happened. Phew!!
Luggage on Trains in Europe
Most trains around Europe have either overhead luggage storage, under seat storage, luggage racks at the ends of the carriages or a combination. Most people travelling have one large bag and one small bag.
The overhead luggage storage is small and does not fit big backpacks or suitcases and the luggage racks fill up very quickly.
Some trains that have back to back seats sit big bags underneath them, and a lot of people don’t seem to realise this, so this is your best option for storing luggage on busy trains.
On very busy trains, be prepared to sit with your luggage at your feet. On very quiet trains you can have you bags on the seat next to you but you will need to move your luggage as trains fill up.
Keep all of your valuables next to you, and have a lock on your luggage. In our three months I did not see anyone tampering with bags but this would be more frequent in the high season. If you are on a long train you might want to check on your bags every now and again, and keep an eye on the luggage rack when the train pulls into a station.
Eurail Pass Discounts and Extras
Your rail pass comes with many discounts and extras around Europe. These extras differ depending on the country you are in. Discounts include hotels, hostels, ferries, scenic trains, local transports, museums, landmarks and many more.
Most discounts are 5 – 10% but some things are free. Over the duration of these trips, these savings add up quite a lot so it is worth checking which discounts are available to you. Eurail has a great list of discounts available. Make sure you check out your options before you arrive.
In order to receive these discounts and extras you just need to show your pass. If you are getting free local transport you need to write it on your pass.
Is it more expensive to use the Eurail Pass?
I kept track of all our trains and the cost of trains. We saved over $3,000AUD on our train travel. This included our night train to and from Lapland and also our trip to Jungfrau in Switzerland. We also had three weeks left on our pass. If we had used the entire pass we would have saved around $4,000AUD.
If you are booking trains in advance I recommend working out the costs BEFORE buying your pass. Quite often it will be cheaper to book single tickets.
However, if you would like some flexibility and book trains as you go the Eurail pass is your best option.
Other useful information
If there are two or more of your travelling you can get a 15% discount. However, you are both on the ONE pass which means you need to always travel together.
This doesn’t happen at many stations, but there are some train stations where you need to scan a card to get out of the barriers. You have a QR code on your pass that you can scan. We didn’t realise this and we were walking around Rotterdam Central station for ages!!
Print extra diary pages just in case – they don’t weigh the much or take up any extra space and it will save you trying to find a printer on your trip
Disclaimer: Some of the links within the post are affiliate links. If you purchase your Eurail pass through these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!