Europe’s rail network is immense, and navigating it can sometimes be a bit of a mission. But with forward planning and perseverance, you can get some very good deals.
The two main ticketing options are railpasses (like Eurail or Interrail), and point-to-point tickets. However, both of these options come in different flavours, and you can save — or waste — a lot of money, depending on which options you choose.
1. Do your research
No matter what tickets you end up buying, invest some time into doing your research — even if it’s only a couple of minutes online. If you know the routes and dates you will be travelling, enter these into the rail network website of the country where the journey starts; you should be able to get an idea of prices there. Or you could use jizdenka.cz for a rough guide to what you’d pay if you bought those tickets on the day of travel. It’s not a perfect tool, but it’ll give you a ballpark figure.
2. Book in advance
If you know the dates and times you’ll be travelling, and these aren’t likely to change, consider buying your tickets in advance. We recently bought tickets from Linz to Vienna for €9 each, a journey which costs around €35 when bought on the day of travel — that’s a significant saving! Of course, many of these tickets are like budget flights — no exchanges, no refunds.
3. Check out regional trains
Most of the time, the search function on the rail websites will show you the fastest option from A to B, but those fast trains can be expensive. You might be able to save quite a bit by travelling by regional train — and as the fares tend to be fixed, you don’t have to buy your tickets in advance. Explore the rail websites of the country you’ll be travelling through, or do a Google search for “local trains” for information. In Spain, Cercanias trains are the cheapest option, and there’s a Cercanias network surrounding most major cities — to get from Jerez to Cadiz, for example, we used Cercanias trains.
Some websites allow you to search “just local trains”, or you could try mapping the journey in sections. We travelled from Milan to Linz recently, and the fastest route passed through Verona. By checking out the regional train options, I found a route to Innsbruck that saved us €10 each and only required one extra train change. To get from Innsbruck to Linz, I booked tickets in advance, saving about €30 per person.
Sometimes you can only see prices for regional trains for the upcoming week, so if you want to get an idea of prices, map a journey on the same day of the week as you’ll be travelling.
4. Get a railpass
You might find that, no matter how hard you try, the journey is going to be expensive. This is where a railpass could be the answer. Check out ACPRail.com for pass options, but consider: how many days are you going to be using the pass? In which countries? We were thinking about getting a pass for our trip through Austria, and were amazed at how much cheaper a single-country pass was than a global Eurail pass — the per-day price for six days of travel in a month was only €24! (That’s for an adult second-class saver pass, if you’re interested in the details.) Since we know more or less when and where we’ll be travelling, booking in advance is better for us in this case, but if we were planning to explore more of the country or make snap decisions, this would be an excellent option.
Of course, the best option is to combine all of these options. Perhaps you could get a rail pass for those days that you’re travelling long distances and want to make several stops, but book in advance for straightforward point-to-point journeys. And if you’re travelling within a country, check out the regional options to save a bit of money. But above all — do your research!
In this podcast we also talk about our time in Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik in Croatia, plus give our vital tip of the week for anyone visiting Kotor, Montenegro. To listen, hit play above or find episode 287 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.