Many travellers in Europe choose to buy a rail pass to save money and hassle on train travel. The two types, Eurail and InterRail, are very similar but have some important differences, notably countries covered and varieties available.
Most travellers don’t get to choose which of the two tickets to buy: the InterRail is for residents of Europe and some border countries, and the Eurail is for everyone else. However, long-term travellers might be able to organise their itinerary in order to give themselves a choice between the two ticket types.
A European who heads to Australia or New Zealand on a working-holiday visa could use this residency to apply for a Eurail pass, or a non-European who resides in a European country for six months or more could get the InterRail. And if you’re lucky enough to have two passports…
Well, technically you should have lived in the country of the passport you want to use for the previous six months, but in reality I’ve never been asked for proof of residency by ticket checkers.
So, if you’re in the position of being able to choose between InterRail and Eurail, what’s the best option? Sadly, there’s no easy answer, as it really depends on what kind of travel you want to do.
At first glance, the the InterRail looks like a better choice, as the cost per travel day is generally lower, and it covers more countries than Eurail. However, it has a lot fewer ticket types: you choose between travel in just one country or all 30, and the Global Pass has only five time options: five travel days within ten, ten travel days within 22, or every day for 15 consecutive days, 22 consecutive days, or a month. This means that you’ll be travelling either every day, or every two days.
Another limitation is that it isn’t valid in your country of residence, so you’ll have to pay extra to get to the border.
The Eurail offers a lot more options: you can still buy a one-country pass (though InterRail is cheaper), but you can also get two-country and regional passes. So, if you want to travel in two or three countries, the Eurail might be a better option.
The Eurail Global Pass covers just 23 countries — it doesn’t cover Serbia, Montenegro or Poland (though you can buy Eurail regional passes for these countries), and Eurail doesn’t cover the UK, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Turkey at all, while InterRail does. Your time options with Eurail are a lot more flexible as well: the Global Pass options are ten or 15 days within two months, or every day in 15 days, 22 days, one month, two months, or three months.
Personally, I’ve found the 15-days-within-two-months ticket to be a good option — you travel every four days on average, which gives you plenty of time to explore the places you’re visiting. If you want to stop somewhere for a week or so, or if you want to use all your 15 days within a month, it’s no problem. We’ve also used the 15-consecutive-day pass, and found it exhausting; we wanted to make the most of the ticket, so travelled almost every day, with just one rest day in Innsbruck.
Another thing to consider is the price. The cheapest option for both tickets is if you’re 25 or under: the one-month pass costs €422 for InterRail and €568 for Eurail. Adults travelling on Eurail must travel first class (€873) but there’s a discount if two or more are travelling together (€742).
In InterRail, the first-class ticket is more expensive (€977), but adults can buy a cheaper second-class ticket for €638, and there’s a discount for seniors too. So, what ticket is better for you really depends on what you want to do.
If you’re after a crazy, fast-paced tour of as much of Europe as possible, the InterRail is the cheaper option. If you want to travel more slowly, the Eurail provides more options. Of course, these rail passes are expensive, and depending on your plans, it might be cheaper to buy point-to-point tickets and avoid the rail passes altogether. This is especially true if your trip isn’t flexible and you can buy your tickets in advance online. As always, make sure to do country-specific research before purchasing a rail pass.