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European Rail Passes

Eurailpass, InterRail, and national rail passes offer savings if you're covering a lot of territory by train.

ICE train

ABOVE: A high-speed ICE train in the German countryside.

If you're traveling short to moderate distances in Europe, rail travel is the quickest and easiest way to get around. Trains go from city center to city center, at speeds of up to 186 mph (300 km/h) on some routes. Parking worries are non-existent, there's no need to pay a king's ransom for gasoline, and you can focus on scenery instead of traffic. Train travel may also be quicker than flying, once you've factored in time spent on airport ground transportation and security.

Rail passes make train travel even simpler by eliminating the need to buy tickets on most routes. With a rail pass, you can usually board the nearest train and go where your fancy takes you. (There are exceptions to this: seat reservations are required on some trains, and rail passes aren't accepted on a few rail lines such as Eurostar.)

Eurail pass (for travelers from outside Europe)

Eurail is the best-known rail pass outside of Europe, if only because it's been around for decades. The traditional Eurailpass, now called the Eurail Global Pass, comes in three versions: adult (1st class), youth (ages 12 to 25, first or second class), and family (adults and kids, 1st class). All three versions are available for periods that range from 5 days within a month to 3 months of continuous use, making it easy to fit a pass to your travel plans.

A Eurail Global pass can be a good value if you plan to travel frequently in different parts of Europe. However, if you expect to visit just a few countries, the Eurail Select Passes (which cover clusters of neighboring countries) or a One-Country Pass may be more cost-effective.

Fore more information, see Eurail's Rail Passes page.

Interrail (for residents of Europe)

If you live in Europe, an Interrail Global Pass can save you money on train travel in 30 countries of Europe and North Africa. You can buy the pass in more than half a dozen durations, ranging from 4 days within a one-month period to three months of continuous use. Pricing tiers include adult (age 26+), youth (under 25), senior (60+), and family (adults and kids), with first- or second-class travel.

For more information, visit Interrail.

Things to know before buying Eurailpass or an InterRail pass:

  • Even with a rail pass to cover the point-to-point train fare, you'll need to pay for seat reservations on many high-speed trains (such as TGW, ICE, or AVE trains) and pay a supplement on sleeper trains such as the Lisbon-Madrid Trenhotel. You can make such reservations at many European railroad stations and travel agencies.

  • Before traveling, check to see where your rail pass is valid. (Example: As an article titled "Evading a Ticket in Germany" points out, Eurail's passes cover the S-Bahn but not the U-Bahn in Berlin.)

Rail passes from national railroads

Swiss train

ABOVE: A double-deck intercity train in Switzerland.

If you're traveling within a single country, the national railroad's own passes may be a better deal (with more options) than a Eurail or Interrail one-country pass. And in some cases, you won't have a choice: the UK, for example, isn't a Eurail or Interrail participant. For details on national rail passes, click the links on Wikipedia's list of European railways.

Rail/drive passes

Some national railroads offer rail/drive plans that combine rail travel with "car days" for local sightseeing. These are worth investigating when you want to explore rural areas that aren't easy to reach by train and bus.

Point-to-point tickets

Are you planning to spend most of your time in a few cities? Point-to-point rail tickets may be cheaper than rail passes, especially if distances are short. And if you're worried about your ability to deal with railroad clerks who don't speak English, never fear: you can order tickets from national railroad sites or buy them at European travel agencies where English is spoken.