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Trains in Europe: FAQs

Trains in Europe

Europe has an extensive, modern network of train routes that can get passengers from tiny rural towns to international cities across the continent. With train tracks stretching the width and breadth of Europe, getting around by train is an enjoyable way to discover the landscapes and hidden corners of each country. All countries have committed to high-speed trains across Europe with many routes, particularly across borders, that can be done within a matter of hours.

With lots of different ticket options allowing for travel in several countries, getting around by train is as easy as a daily commute. Here we have gathered important information about trains in Europe, including how to buy cheap train tickets, getting night trains and some popular train routes for you to discover. Whether you want to get the Milan to Paris train, Madrid to Barcelona train, Berlin to Amsterdam train or Prague to Budapest train, exploring Europe by rail is a cost-effective and easy way to travel the continent.

Discover Europe by Train

Charming towns of rural France

France boasts some of the fastest trains in Europe thanks to its high-speed SNCF TGV network. Travel from Paris to Marseille and discover picturesque towns, cobbled streets and the regional cuisines from north to south.

Explore historic cities in Spain

From the bustling city of Barcelona to historic monuments of Zaragoza, Spain has a vast network of trains that stretch from the mountains to the coast. Spain’s national company, Renfe, offers cheap and high-speed journeys across the country.

Arts and Architecture in Germany

Take the train from Berlin to Leipzig, Munich or Stuttgart and discover the unique history, art and architecture of its vibrant cities. Germany’s national rail network, Deutsche Bahn, offers world-class travel that is fast and efficient.

Meander through the British Countryside

Take a tour of the UK by train and discover quaint villages, ancient port cities and the breath-taking views of its national parks. Several regional train companies operate across the UK to connect rural towns and bustling cities like London.

Train Services in Europe

Taking the train is a great alternative to flying in Europe: seats are generally spacious and comfortable, you can avoid the long waits at airport security, there’s plenty of baggage space, and you can take in the picturesque landscapes of the regions you travel through – from the snow-tipped Swiss Alps to the rolling green hills of Spain’s Basque Country. Additionally, most main train stations in Europe are located in the city center, saving you potentially expensive cab rides to and from the airport.

Train service, speed, and prices vary considerably depending on the country; Western Europe tends to operate more modern, high-speed trains, while Eastern European trains can be less frequent but also tend to have far cheaper ticket prices. Train ticket prices can fluctuate considerably, so it’s best to book your train tickets as far in advance as possible.

EU rail schedules vary depending on what country you're in and most travelers will find themselves traveling via the country’s state-owned rail company (except the U.K., which has several). For example, Germany’s national rail provider is Deutsche Bahn, France’s national rail network is SNCF, Italy’s national rail network is Trenitalia, and Spain’s national train company is Renfe. Private owned rail companies also operate across Europe, such as Italo in Italy, a high-speed network of bullet trains from Florence to Naples. Most train companies in Europe also offer international train travel, allowing for easy travel between one European country and another. Through Omio’s platform, you can find all the quickest and cheapest EU train schedules gathered on one platform – we do the searching for you. Simply type in the desired city or station or train line and book directly with Omio.

Explore Europe with a night train

Night trains have become the smart and sustainable alternative for travelers making long-distance journeys across Europe. There are several European rail companies offering sleeper train options with comfortable cabins and couchettes to top destinations. ÖBB’s Nightjet runs between Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France (with a new Paris to Berlin night train option). The Swedish train provider, Snälltåget brings night trains to Sweden, Germany and Austria, with popular routes running from Stockholm down to Hamburg and Berlin. The Belgian-Dutch company,European Sleeper Trains, has routes between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, with its most popular journey running between Berlin and Brussels. The Dutch company Nederlandse Spoorwegen has a selection of night trains that travel within the Netherlands. In France, SNCF has the Intercités de Nuit, which runs from Paris and Toulouse and between towns that are on the Italian and Spanish borders. Italy’s national train network, Trenitalia, also run a sleeper trains within the country through its Intercity Notteservice.


When is the best time to book train tickets in Europe?

With long-distance trains in Europe, it’s best to book as far in advance as possible. Most European train companies release tickets 90 days in advance but there are some exceptions;
Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn release tickets 180 days in advance, French international trains (i.e. Paris to Amsterdam) release tickets 120 days in advance and Eastern European countries release tickets just 60 days in advance.

During peak months (i.e. the summer season and Christmas) trains in Europe will be busier and more expensive, as cheaper tickets sell out faster so, booking your euro train tickets as soon as they’re released will help keep costs down.

If you are booking a short-distance or intercity trains within Europe, these tickets can be bought on the day of travel as prices fluctuate less.

First Class vs. Second Class train travel in Europe

Most train companies in Europe have two classes, first and second. Second Class is the cheapest option – think coach class in the United States – and offers comfy seats and in some cases, free Wi-Fi. If you want to guarantee a peaceful journey look out for quiet carriages, available in second class at no extra cost.

First Class is the more expensive option but affords guests comfier seats, larger tables, charging outlets, free Wi-Fi, complimentary food and drinks and access to lounges. Many European train companies offer last-minute upgrade deals to 1st class so it’s always worth double-checking!

More Spectacular Train Routes in Europe



Train Companies in Europe


ÖBB: ÖBB or Austrian Federal Railways is Austria's national train company. In addition to numerous cities in Austria, ÖBB also travels to select destinations in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.


Westbahn: Westbahn operates one train route between Vienna and Salzburg. Westbahn trains run every hour and stops at Wien Westbahnhof, Wien-Hütteldorf, St. Pölten Hbf, Amstetten, Linz Hbf, Wels Hbf, Attnang-Puchheim and Salzburg Hbf.


SNCB: In addition to servicing domestic destinations, Belgium's national train company also operates 4 high-speed international train routes: from Brussels to Paris Nord or Lille Flandres train stations in cooperation with SNCF; from Leuven to Ans; from Liège to the German border; and from Antwerpen-Centraal to Rotterdam Centraal train stations.


České Dráhy: Often abbreviated ČD, České Dráhy is the Czech Republic's main train company. České Dráhy operates both regional and long-distance train routes throughout the Czech Republic.


SNCF: SNCF operates all of France's national rail services including the high-speed TGV network. More than 800 high-speed SNCF trains depart every day. SNCF’s TGV trains carry over 100 million passengers every year.


Deutsche Bahn: Germany's national train company is the largest in Europe, transporting approximately two billion passengers per year. Deutsche Bahn's high-speed Intercity-Express (ICE) trains connect major cities in Germany as well as some select international destinations in Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, France, Denmark and the Netherlands.


Italo: Italo is a privately-owned high-speed train company that connects 16 train stations in 13 Italian cities. Italo operates 3 high-speed train lines through Italy: from Verona to Naples (via Bologna, Florence, and Rome); from Venice to Salerno (via Padua, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Naples); and from Turin to Salerno (via Milan, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Naples).

Trenitalia: Owned by the Italian government, Trenitalia is Italy's main train company. Trenitalia offers both regional and long-distance routes as well as international connections to select destinations in France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.


NS: Nederlandse Spoorwegen or NS is the main train company in the Netherlands. NS runs 4,800 domestic trains in the Netherlands every day, serving approximately 1.1 million passengers.


Renfe: Renfe is Spain's national train company. Renfe's high-speed AVE trains travel up to 350 km/h and connect Madrid with other major cities in Spain including Seville, Barcelona, Valencia, Toledo, Cordoba, and Malaga.


SBB: Swiss Federal Railways (or SBB) is Switzerland's national rail company and operates the majority of national and international train traffic. SBB also operates international EuroCity and EuroNight trains in Switzerland.


SJ: SJ is Sweden's main train company, which has been around for over 160 years. Over 130 000 people travel with SJ from over 275 stations in Sweden every day. SJ also travels internationally to other Scandanavian cities including Oslo and Copenhagen.

Train Companies in the United Kingdom


Abellio Greater Anglia: Abellio Greater Anglia Trains succeeded National Express in 2012 as Eastern England's primary train company. Abellio's train network covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and parts of Hertfordshire.


Arriva Trains Wales: Arriva Trains operate on 5 routes: between the Midlands and Northern Wales, between South Wales and Northern Wales/Manchester, along the South Wales Coast Line to Cardiff and Swansea, along the North Wales Coast Line to Crewe and Manchester, while also operating a network of commuter train lines in and around Cardiff.


C2C: The C2C is predominantly a London commuter railway, providing services along the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway line, from London Fenchurch Street to East London and along the southern part of Essex. Trains depart along the main route from Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness around 8 times each hour during off-peak times.


East Midlands Trains: East Midlands Trains operates two types of trains: long-distance trains connecting London St Pancras train station with destinations throughout the UK and regional trains. East Midlands's regional trains link towns and cities in the East Midlands as well as Central and Northern England. East Midlands trains run between London and Sheffield, York, Derby, Corby, Nottingham, and Leeds.


Great Western Railway: Great Western Railway is the main train company for the west and south-west counties in the UK including Devon, Somerset, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Bedfordshire, Wiltshire, and Bristol. Great Western's trains are also available in Wales, focusing specifically on Southern Wales.


First Hull Trains: First Hull Trains operate just one train from Hull to London, which stops at Brough, Howden, Selby, Doncaster, Retford, Grantham, and Stevenage along the way. First Hull's train schedule has grown every year since 2000, with 7 trains currently departing every day.


TransPennine Express: TransPennine Express operates intercity trains on 3 main routes across Northern England. TransPennine Express trains connect Liverpool and Manchester with Leeds, York, Sheffield and Doncaster with as many as 5 trains departing per hour on some of the popular routes.


Merseyrail: Merseyrail operates trains throughout Liverpool, the surrounding area, and the rest of Merseyside. Over 100,000 passengers utilize Merseyrail's network every week with approximately 800 trains departing every day.


Northern Rail: Northern Rail operates most trains in Northern England between Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.


Scotrail: Scotrail runs trains throughout Northern England connecting Newcastle and Carlisle with London. The vast majority of Scotrail trains run between major Scottish cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee.


Southern: Southern trains run between London, East and West Sussex, Surrey, Kent, and Hampshire. Popular destinations include Hastings, Lewes, and Southampton. Southern also manages the Gatwick Express which is a 30-minute, non-stop train between London Victoria station and Gatwick International Airport.


South Western Railway: South Western Railway (formerly South West Trains) operates the majority of commuter trains from London Waterloo station to destinations in South West London. Most trains run on an electrified third rail, with diesel engine trains on the West of England line to Salisbury, Exeter, and Bristol.


Avanti West Coast: Avanti Trains (formerly Virgin Trains) operates long-distance trains on the West Coast Main Line between Greater London, the West Midlands, North West England, North Wales and Scotland. Avanti West Coast connects London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow.

International Trains in Europe


Eurostar: Journeys from London to other prominent French or Belgian cities will always involve a Eurostar train via the Chunnel under the English Channel. Eurostar took over the train company Thalys, creating more routes across Western Europe, including links betweenLondon and Paris, Lille, Lyon, Brussels and Amsterdam. Traveling by the Eurostar from London to Paris or Brussels takes approximately two and half hours.


European Sleeper Train: the Belgian-Dutch rail company was established as a community-based initiative in 2021 with the aim of putting night trains back on the map. The company began with a route between Berlin to Brussels via Amsterdam, and plans to expand with new routes every year. It currently connects Germany, Brussels, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic with trains via Antwerp, Rotterdam, Dresden and Prague.


Ouigo: offers cheap tickets on its low-cost, high speed train lines. Owned by SNCF, the newly established Ouigo routes aim to make high-speed travel affordable. Ouigo runs trains routes through France and Spain, and connects cities such as Paris to Barcelona. Its double-decker coaches offer greater capacity on its trains, and there are options to pay a little extra for XL seats.


TGV Lyria: TGV Lyria trains, a partnership between SBB and SNCF, transports more than 4 million travelers per year between France and Switzerland. TGV Lyria operates 6 train routes: between Geneva and Lille, between Geneva and Nice (via Marseille), between Lausanne and Paris (via Geneva), between Lausanne and Paris (via Dijon), between Interlaken and Paris (via Bern, Basel, and Dijon), and between Zurich and Paris (via Basel and Mulhouse).



Trenitalia
Trains from Rome to Florence
Renfe
Trains from Madrid to Barcelona
Renfe
Trains from Barcelona to Madrid
Eurostar
Trains from London to Paris
RegioJet
Trains from Prague to Vienna
Eurostar
Trains from Paris to London
Italo
Trains from Rome to Venice
Trenitalia
Trains from Florence to Rome
Thalys
Trains from Paris to Amsterdam
Italo
Trains from Milan to Venice

 

Traveling by Train in Europe: FAQs

How do I book a train ticket in Europe?

Booking a train ticket for your Eurail adventure with Omio is easy. Simply put in your departure and arrival destinations – and the date you’d like to travel – then Omio will do all the hard work for you. Within seconds, our search will present you with all the possible train routes running that day along with a breakdown of times and prices. Once you’ve picked the option that suits you best you just need to follow the instructions and within moments you would've paid and received your ticket!

Please note: That in some countries you can only book tickets up to three months in advance.

Do I need to reserve a seat?

Although most train journeys in Europe don’t require you to have a seat reservation, it is advised to buy one to secure yourself a seat. In some cases, particularly in the UK, your seat reservation comes included when you buy a specific ticket. Other companies such as Deutsche Bahn and Trenitalia will offer seat reservations for an extra fee. If you have a Eurail pass then you will need to buy an additional seat reservation for every trip you take. Also in some rare cases, such as the Bernina Express, you must buy a seat reservation to be able to get on the train.

What should I know before boarding the train?

If your ticket is a mobile ticket then all you need to do is make sure your phone is fully charged. If your ticket needs to be printed then make sure this is done before you board your train. Also, give yourself plenty of time to find the platform. Some trains station, particularly in larger European cities, can be quite big and it's best to avoid stress by being there in time to find the platform – and maybe pick-up a snack before you board the train.

What amenities are on trains?

Amenities will vary from country to country and train to train. Although it is safe to say that most long-distance journeys will have charging sockets, a cafe, and Wi-Fi. Furthermore, most trains in Europe will have toilets on board and baggage storage.

What baggage am I allowed to take on a train?

Taking baggage on European trains is much more relaxed than that of airlines and in some cases, buses. The general rule is that you’re allowed to bring what you can carry – for example, two large suitcases and a carry-on. Bags can be stowed either above the seats or at the end of each carriage and will be safe. Bigger items such as bikes will often need to have a ticket bought for them and for longer journeys may need to be stored in a different carriage. It is best to check with the train company that you are traveling to check their bike policy.

If you are traveling by Eurostar then it is worth noting that they have a baggage limit of two large items (of a maximum of 85cm in one dimension) as well as a carry-on. They also prohibit the carrying of certain items including knives over 3 inches and flammable canisters.

Can I take pets on trains in Europe?

Pet policy varies from country to country as well as companies. All companies will allow guide dogs but it is always worth notifying the company beforehand as sometimes they may require a free ticket to board the train. Most train companies, allow small dogs as long as they are properly stored in a dog carrier. However, as policies do vary we recommend checking with the company before purchasing your tickets. International services such as Eurostar will not allow animals except for guide dogs.

What about traveling with children on European trains?

Traveling with children on trains in Europe is simple and often one of the easiest ways to get around the continent. Child travel policy varies from company-to-company but children 15 and under will often travel at a discounted price and must be accompanied by an adult. Babies and toddlers can often travel for free if they share a seat. It is worth checking with the train companies as ages and policies to vary.

Can I cancel my train ticket and get a refund?

Refunds depend on the company you are traveling with and the type of the ticket you originally purchased. To check if you apply for a refund it is best to check with the train company directly or you can speak to someone in our Customer Service department.


Book your next European train adventure

Looking for top tips about train companies, routes and tickets? Well, you've come to the right place. Omio gathers the latest information on timetables, tickets (plus latest deals), and seasonal routes for each country to make booking much easier. Search and book for any ticket in the language of your choice, and get everything delivered straight to your phone. Download the Omio app today.

New York City skyline USA

New York at dusk. Credit: Unsplash

Discover Train Travel in the USA

Hop on a train from East Coast to West Coast or make your way down from the northern states to the south. The landscape of the USA is spectacularly varied – and there’s no better way to take it all in than by train. The largest train provider in the US is Amtrak which connects over 500 cities in 46 states, and runs over 300 trains a day. Most major cities in the US have regular, daily connections that are easy to navigate for commuters and visitors. Popular train routes include theNew York to Boston train San Jose to Los Angeles train New York to Philadelphia train, and Washington DC to New York train.

Start your travels in bustling New York City and zip to the capital, Washington DC, in just under three hours. Head to Philly and Boston, Chicago, and experience the history of its musical heritage. Cruise through Newark, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Seattle or Portland and head towards the sunnier cities of San Fran and San Jose, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta to Miami. For those that want a spectacular train experience, be sure to check out the stunning California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco. Find more Incredible train routes in the USA and book your ticket with Omio.

Trains in Canada

Canada has a long history of train travel, with over 30,000 miles of track running through its breathtaking scenery. Taking the train in Canada is a fantastic way to see the country and get from one city to another quickly and efficiently. Canada’s national train provider is VIA Rail, an independent, state-owned corporation that runs 500 trains a week and transports more than 4.7 million passengers yearly. Amtrak also runs regular train routes throughout Canada, leaving plenty of options for scenic routes and inter-city train travel across the country.

The most popular Via Rail route is the Montréal–Ottawa–Toronto line, which takes a little more than five hours end-to-end. More popular routes include the Toronto to Vancouver train, Quebec City to Montreal train, and Ottawa to Quebec City train. For scenic routes, why not travel on “The Great Western Way” and discover Canada from Toronto to Vancouver or take “The Maritime Way” and explore the country’s Eastern provinces? Discover more spectacular train routes in Canada and book your tickets today.

Top Routes

Traveling without any trade-offs: These routes in Europe are faster on the ground than by plane.

We have identified 28 routes within Europe where traveling by train or bus is faster than flying. And on top of that: No baggage fees, easy check-ins, and speedy departures and arrivals.

ROUTES

Click here to get access to the full routes included in the research.

How Omio compiled the ranking

This ranking is based on the 100 most popular routes by train, bus and flight booked through Omio in summer 2020 (between June 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020) in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and France. CO2 emissions in kg per train / bus / flight were calculated using values from Atmosfair.

The following rating factors were used

  1. Flight time: Shortest possible travel time in minutes
  2. Travel time by train and bus: Shortest possible travel time in minutes, via Omio.com
  3. Transfer city center – airport – city center: Fastest possible route by public transit from the city center to the airport as well as from the destination airport to the city center (all transfer times were determined via Google Maps)
  4. Transfer city center – train station – city center: Fastest possible route by public transit from the city center to the train station as well as from the destination train station to the city center (all transfer routes determined via Google Maps)
  5. Check-in time: Total time for check-in at the airport. For domestic flights, an average time of 60 minutes was used; for international flights, 90 minutes was used and for flights outside the Schengen area, 120 minutes was used.
  6. Kilometers per route: Flight distance determined via Google Maps
  7. CO2 in kg per train/bus/flight: Values calculated by Atmosfair

For the ranking for each of the 100 routes, the total transfer times (consisting of the flight duration + check-in time + transfer time from the city center to the airport and from the destination airport to the city center) were compared to the total train or bus travel times (consisting of the travel times for bus and train + transfer times from the city center to the train station and from the train station to the city center at the destination). All bus and train routes were then ranked by the greatest amount of time saved compared to the flight routes.


Sustainability is going mainstream – also in tourism. More and more people make a conscious effort in considering how their everyday choices affect the world. However, when wanderlust grips, most people seem to opt for convenience and comfort over the environment. But you can choose both!

A representative poll by Omio has found that many travelers in Europe are ready to make a compromise between minimizing their impact on climate change: One in four says that they are willing to accept an additional 60 minutes to their overall traveling time, provided that this will have a positive effect on the environment. Eight percent of the respondents say they would take ground transportation even if this meant an additional two hours of traveling. Every other person thinks they would travel by train instead of plane if the connection were faster, while already more than half of the Europeans are choosing the train or bus if it is the more sustainable option instead of flying.

CO2 and time saved by train travel for top routes

Trains vs Flights

With more and more people leaning toward ground travel for sustainability reasons, every tenth person is also switching to train travel due to safety concerns due to the global pandemic, while almost every fourth European is planning on taking more domestic trips this year. And, luckily, travelers have enough options to choose from.

Everyone knows that planes are major gas guzzlers. Traveling on the ground can lower our carbon footprint tremendously. Not only that, traveling by train or bus can be just as fast and comfortable as flying. Think about all those times you have had to wait in long security lines, never mind the traffic to and from the airport. And don’t get us started on baggage and in-flight fees. On the ground, travel gives you all the comforts of a flight but none of the hassle.

Trains vs. Flights Ranking from 2019

Click here to get access to the full routes included in the 2019 research. Omio researched all European routes included in the ranking. This ranking was based on the 100 most popular routes by train, bus and flight booked on Omio during summer 2019 (August 15, 2019 - September 30, 2019).

Ready to go? Get there with Omio!


 




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