So you’ve decided to visit Europe this summer, and you’re still undecided about getting a Eurail pass. Is it worth the price? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just book tickets whenever you need to? What about the schedules and the fees?
Fret not, fellow travellers.
I went through the terrible ordeal (LOL I don’t think anything this sarcastic has ever been written) of testing the Eurail pass for you so that you’ll know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you commit to it. I travelled around Europe for four weeks, taking 11 trains through 7 cities in 5 countries, mixing local slow trains with swift high-speed ones, to see if the pass was as easy to use as Eurail claims it to be.
Newsflash: it is.
Eurail Pass: What It Includes
There are basically three flexible options to choose from: a GLOBAL pass (which gives you access to all countries covered by Eurail), a SELECT pass (for which you can pick your top 2, 3 or 4 countries), and a ONE COUNTRY pass (that’s kind of self-explanatory, isn’t it?). Each pass allows you to travel for X number of “travel days”, i.e., a 24 hour period (starting every day at midnight) within which you are granted unlimited train travel with your pass. You will also need to select a first or second class fare.
To figure out which pass is best for you, you will first need a finalised itinerary that includes which countries you intend on visiting as well as how many times you will be in transit. Here are a few ideas for your itinerary:
- Western Europe highlights
- Germany’s framework route
- Crossing the Channel with the Eurostar
- The most beautiful villages in France
- Europe’s 12 best train trips
- Places where you can take advantage of the cheap euro
- Europe’s top 10 scenic rail journeys
What your passes include is simple: train travel on the Eurail network. The technicalities of what that entails can change depending on the country you’re in and the type of train you’re taking: some high-speed trains are simply not covered, some overnight trains require advanced seat reservations (I’ll come back to this later).
Note that you don’t need a month-long pass just because your trip is a month long: you only need a pass that will cover days where you will be in transit.
My 1st class global pass and the seat reservation for the Amsterdam-Paris leg
Eurail Pass: How It Works
You will receive your pass in the mail a few days after you’ve placed your order. Hold on to it (don’t even think about packing it in your checked luggage!) until your first day of train travel and head to the station’s reservation desk, where a railway official will validate your pass – which, by the way, is virtually worthless without this validation stamp.
From this point on, all you need to do is write down the date of travel each time you board a train (unless you take more than one train a day). It is very important that you do this before the conductor checks your pass; otherwise, you will have to pay a hefty fine and a full fare ticket.
Eurail Pass: About Seat Reservations
Don’t worry: it’s very straightforward. Once again, you will need to get to the reservation desk. Just show your pass, explain where you want to go and when, and voilà! If you’ve done your homework and you’ve established a definite itinerary, then there shouldn’t be any issues. Remember that fees vary depending on the length of the journey and whether you travel in first or second class.
Do you absolutely need to reserve your seat?
Not at all! If you really don’t want to pay for seat reservations, you can choose to travel exclusively on slow or local trains. But overnight and high-speed trains do require reservations. You see, some of these trains only have a limited number of seats available for pass holders and they tend to sell out quickly; if you plan on travelling on popular routes, try to reserve your seat as early as possible.
It’s worth noting that in my experience, the process of reserving seats is usually simpler in bigger cities, for two reasons: officials usually speak better English, and they’re a little savvier about optimal routes and fares. If you find a particularly cooperative clerk, you can even ask them to reserve the seats you’ll be needing on the entire duration of your trip and get everything done in just one transaction!
Good to know: you can pre-book your reservations with Eurail directly, but there are additional fees for that service that I think are unnecessary. You’re better off doing it yourself.
Eurail Pass: Is It Worth It?
Because I tend to bite off more than I can chew and that I always seem to embark on epic multi-country journeys, the Eurail pass was very much worth its price in my case. I’m positive that they haven’t made a centime of profit with me on this trip; I was quite thorough in taking trains for review purposes!
Whether or not they’re worth it for you, though, depends on your itinerary and travel style.
The bottom line: Eurail passes are worth it if you plan on doing long, multi-destination trips in countries that are typically expensive. They’re probably not worth it otherwise.
Don’t automatically assume that you need a pass for your trip: take some time to sit down and do the math. You can use tools like Rail Europe or Deutsche Bahn to find out the cost of each train journey and see if the pass is worth your while.
It should be noted, though, that peace of mind has a price. Not having to worry about queuing up for a ticket, going through several transactions, and worrying about the cost every time is definitely something to consider here. I call that the “hassle” factor: if it seems daunting to go through that process every time you take the train, then maybe you should consider getting a pass. You’re on holiday, after all!
Eurail Pass and European Trains:
Technicalities & Random Observations
- Keep an eye out for sales; Eurail often offers free travel days and discounted passes.
- First or second class? I found first class cabins to be more comfortable, better equipped (often with numerous power sockets and free WiFi, sometimes even free coffee and snacks), and much quieter than second class. But that doesn’t imply that second class cabins are bad in any way!
- If you know you will be travelling with the same group of people for every train ride, think about getting a Eurail saver pass. This special pass will give you 15% off adult fares and 100% off on children fares.
- Tempted to book cheap flights instead? Think again. Trains are much better than planes, for plenty of reasons: they’re not as stressful (no security checks), they take you from city centre to city centre, they’re incredibly scenic and give you more legroom.
- If you’re worried about the cost of seat reservations in 1st class, ask to be seated in 2nd class for that leg of your trip!
- Eurail pass holders receive exclusive benefits, like free travel on suburban metro railways (S-Bahn) in major German cities, free travel on buses international bus routes departing from Germany, discounted ferry fares across Europe, and even free cruises on seven lakes in Switzerland.