European Rail Travel…the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!


Europe Train Travel

In two of our three trips to Europe, we have spent a significant amount of time traveling around using the rail system.  There have been a lot of things we learned from our experience.  We are not here to compare and slag any of the countries trains, as we have seen the good and bad of many of them, but we thought we would give you some of the things we noticed, good, bad… and ugly.

The Good

There are many very fancy trains in Europe that are quite a pleasure to travel on.  We fondly remember traveling in Spain between Seville and Madrid on a train that was as fancy as the interior of any plane we have been on.  It was complete with TVs for you to watch a movie while you travel and they came around with treats for all the customers.  Also, we have been on scenic trains traveling through the Alps in Switzerland that give you amazing views of the countryside.

Switzerland Scenic Train

Switzerland Train Trip Scenery

Train travel is a great idea at night, as you can get a sleeper car and save the money on a hotel room/hostel for the night (transportation and accommodation in one).  We tried many different sleeper cars in our first trip to Europe and were quite pleased with all of them.

The train can be a much better form of travel for some routes.  For example, it is actually a better way to travel between London and Paris.  Both train stations you need to take are downtown, which means you do not have to worry about getting transportation from the airport to downtown, which can be quite a distance.  All airports around Paris and London are quite a ways from the downtown area, which requires you to find transport to the airport.  It is true that air travel will be faster, but when you take into account getting to the airport, time to check in, getting through security and baggage claim when you arrive it is going to take longer than traveling by train which only takes 2 hours. 

The Bad

Another great reason for the night travel comes on the bad side.  Many high-speed rail lines are on tracks contained in deep trenches; therefore, you do not get much of a view of the countryside.  The trenches surprised us on our first few train rides, as we had always envisioned seeing the beautiful landscape going by as we traveled.  Since there is not much to see on many railways, you might as well travel at night and be able to spend the days sight-seeing. Of course there are some train routes that provide wonderful viewing (like the Swiss rail trip we took above), but these are usually trips you take specifically for the scenery not as a means of moving from one city to another.

There are good trains out there, as mentioned above, but there are just as many bad ones.  We remember some really bad trains we were traveling on, including ones that looked like they were barely holding together, others with smoking that had a cloud of smoke filling the cars the entire way (so bad for non-smokers like ourselves), and ones that were stuffed with so many people you couldn’t tell if the sweat on your arms was yours or the person beside you!

The Ugly

Now this is not a real condemning of the railways, but from our experience travel by rail in Europe in the summer can be extremely frustrating, as summers can be very busy times in Europe.  We had been regaled with stories about how wonderful and easy train travel was in Europe prior to our first trip and went with the idea that we could go to Europe and book our travel by train with ease along the way.  This proved to be a challenge that made our tour a lot more difficult than we had hoped.  We spent many days in train stations, or online trying to book travel instead of sightseeing.  In some cases we were told we couldn’t even book trains until we got into a country.  We spent too much of our budget (especially when you consider we had a Eurorail Pass that was supposed to cover the travel costs) on trains in order to reserve seats on trains we needed to take and we spent much too long on trains to get to specific destinations we had in mind. The worst of these examples for us was a trip that involved 5…yes 5 different trains and more than 24 hours of travel time to get to our destination, which could have been completed in 13 hours.  Now it is not all bad, if you go with the idea that you will go ANYWHERE once you get to the train station, there are always seats on trains going somewhere.  However, if you have a plan on places you want to go, you may look at using a different means of transportation or at least book ahead of time (which will cost extra) if you are traveling during high season.

I know it may seem that we are harsh on train travel in Europe, but we do not mean to be.  We have had some excellent experiences on our train trips throughout Europe.  We just want everyone to be aware of all the aspects of train travel that we have come across.

What tips do you have to add for travel by train in Europe?


Some posts on our site, Travels4Couples, do allow us to make money. However, we do not sacrifice our integrity and only post those articles that match our brand and we feel would interest our readers.

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