If you want to tour Europe by train, Eurail first class passes will offer you comfort and flexibility. Is a Eurail pass worth it? We say “yes!”
We prefer to travel by train whenever possible. It’s fun! And you can’t beat the convenience. The extra time it takes to go by surface in Europe is a good trade-off for eliminating all the hassles associated with air travel these days. We thought we’d share our experiences to give you an idea of how to tour Europe by train in Eurail First Class, along with unexpected ways to use Eurail passes we put to good use. Let’s get started!
For those who don’t know, the Eurail Pass is an instrument sold to allow the holder unlimited travel within a designated period of time across rail networks in 28 European countries.
Basically, the Eurail Pass allows you to hop on and hop off multiple trains in one or more countries at will during the time period in which it is valid. Choose from international, national, and local systems. It’s rare that you can’t get to somewhere in Europe by train.
With millions of passes sold all over the world since 1959, buying a Eurail pass allows you to plan extensive travel throughout Europe on your own timetable.
What Does the Eurail Pass Difference Between 1st and 2nd Class Mean on a Practical Basis?
The Eurail First Class pass allows you to travel in both first and second class cars where there is the distinction.
For the extra expense, you’ll find first class seating more comfortable and generally less crowded. There is more legroom and more room for your luggage.
On the high speed trains between the capitals and major cities, you can expect expanded food and drink choices (some of which may be complimentary), wifi and power sockets, and even a newspaper.
On trains with compartments, first class compartments will hold up to 6 people. Second class compartments will hold up to 8 people.
We found the First Class lounges in many train stations to be a great place to get some work done between trains. These generally had comfortable seating, work spaces, snacks and drinks, luggage storage, secure access and helpful attendants.
While Europe luxury train travel can be over the top on lines such as the Venice Simpson-Orient-Express, the Royal Scotsman or the Golden Eagle, Eurail First Class passes can give you enjoyable comforts and amenities.
Buying a Eurail Pass: How Should You Choose?
When buying a Eurail pass, you basically choose using length of time and number of countries as your guide. Different aspects like whether you’ll travel daily or every few days and whether you qualify for youth or group discounts will come into play.
For the ultimate in flexibility, the Eurail Global Pass lets you travel to 5 or more countries. Choose time increments starting at 5 days within the space of one month up to three months continuous.
Passes are available for a single country, and two to four contiguous countries. Eurail Select allows you to tailor your plans between 2-4 adjoining countries for up to 10 days of train travel within a 2 month period.
If you’re undecided on your itinerary, the Eurail website details popular trips and sample itineraries that might inspire. When you’ve decided, it’s super easy to walk your scenario through the Eurail website, select the right pass, and then pay online.
What About Eurail Reservations?
We recommend you reserve seats whenever the option is available, particularly if the routes or timeframe is popular. You’ll need reservations for night trains (depending upon your sleeping accommodation choice) and high-speed trains.
Day seats will be coach style with a center aisle or in separate compartments. Choose window or aisle, adjoining, or opposites. Look for handy tables at which you can use your laptop. You might also see dining car or panorama car seats from which to choose.
Night trains may have several configurations. First class sleepers are the way to go, in our opinion. If you’re a single traveler, the first class Eurail Pass will get you your own compartment. Double compartments are available for first class Eurail pass holders and sometimes for 2nd class passes. Compartments may have their own lavatory and toilet, depending.
Couchettes are like bunk beds, configured for 4 or 6, with down the hall washing and toilet facilities. For privacy reasons, we avoided this option.
Make your reservations well ahead of time in high demand seasons and countries like Italy, France and Spain. If you don’t want to pay seat reservation fees, look for regional trains, which are slower. You can use the search function on the Eurail site and check “avoid trains that require reservations.”
Reservations can be made conveniently online with Eurail for a booking fee + the seat reservation fee if you’ve ordered your Eurail pass on their website. Or, you can reserve seats at a train station using a self-service machine or at the international ticket desk. You can start booking reservations up to two months in advance. Certain trains require reservations made 7 or more days in advance. E-ticket reservations are available for Italian and Spanish trains, and Italian-Swiss international trains at least 2 business days ahead.
Reservations can also be made using the Rail Planner app from Eurail for Italian, French TGV and Thalys, and Eurostar (London to Europe) trains.
Eurail Itineraries We Planned Ourselves and Traveled
We’ve taken three extended trips using Eurail passes to travel by train in Europe. Each trip has been unique in terms of destinations, types of trains, number of countries traversed and other aspects.
Our first trip was in 2014, when we decided we’d travel by land from Paris to Sochi. That trip was cut short by political unrest in Ukraine, necessitating a flight from Bucharest by way of Chisinau (Moldova) to Sochi.
Segments included a side trip to Normandy by local train from Paris, TGV high speed train from Paris to Zurich, and then on to Liechtenstein for an overnight stay. Then we went to Munich, took a side trip to visit friends near Stuttgart, on to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.
A night train from Budapest to Bucharest was a trip unto itself.
On our second trip with Eurail Pass, Spain was the origination point in 2015. Using Eurail in Spain was easy, although there wasn’t much information reciprocity with France. We traveled Eurail Barcelona to Paris by TGV ultra high speed, and then to Brussels for a house sit.
Upon arrival in Brussels, we realized Pete had lost his wallet in Paris, and we were glad to have the Eurail Global Pass for him to take an unexpected trip back to retrieve it (click to read that miraculous story). If we had only had the Eurail France pass, it would have been a costlier situation.
From Brussels, we took the Eurostar which travels through the “Chunnel,” and then south to West Sussex. We did the same thing in reverse – Eurail London to Paris – back to Brussels for another sit, then went to Munich for another. In Munich, the dogs we were caring for were old hands at train travel. Such good girls, who got lots of positive attention from other passengers!
After that sit, we visited the same friends in Stuttgart, and then traveled to Zagreb in Croatia. The tracks were under repair near Rijeka so that ended our journey.
Our most recent Eurail trip was in Scandinavia and the Baltic region. Using the Eurail Pass in Sweden was super easy; it’s basically a matter of show up at the station and get seat reservations.
Touring Sweden by train from south to north, we began a circular route from Stockholm to Luleå on an overnight train.
From Luleå, we went north past the Arctic Circle to Kiruna, where we’d been captivated by the story of having to move an entire town.
Then we backtracked from Luleå to the coastal town of Umeå, where we crossed the Gulf of Bothnia to Vaasa, Finland by ferry.
The train trip from Vaasa to Helsinki was interesting. No one asked us for proof that we had a ticket and we inadvertently took seats in the “pet” carriage, so made new canine friends along the way.
After visiting with friends in Helsinki, we ferried to Tallinn, Estonia. The ferries between the two capitals are basically party boats, with disco music and gambling on board. Tallinn is where Finns go to shop, because prices are so much lower.
After a week’s stay in Tallinn, we ferried back to Helsinki and then ferried overnight back to Stockholm.
Unexpected Ways to Use Eurail Passes
On our third trip to Sweden, Finland and Estonia, we used our Eurail First Class passes to travel by ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn – a 3 hour crossing, and again on an overnight ferry from Helsinki back to Stockholm. If you’ve never taken a ferry in Europe, you have to try! These ships are a recreational event! Many have beautiful restaurants and buffets, quality shopping, and entertainment for both children and adults.
Many ferry routes are included for free or at discount with your Eurail pass: the Balearia Line from mainland Spain to the islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Fomentera; the Blue Star ferries in Greece; Finnlines between Finland, Sweden and Germany; Fjord Line between Norway and Denmark; Grimaldi Lines between Italy, Spain and Greece; Irish Ferries between France, Ireland and Wales; Minoan Lines within Greece and between Greece and Italy; SNAV lines between Italy and Croatia; the Stena between the Netherlands, Ireland and Great Britain; Superfast Ferries on the Adriatic; and Tallink Silja on the Baltic.
We received special fares on our ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. These range from 20% in high season to 40% in low season on Finnlines, and up to 50% on Viking Lines.
On our ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm we also received a special fare. This is a night crossing for which we were required to book a cabin. Our cabin was windowless, but cute, clean and comfortable. The bathroom was super nice!
Other benefits from your Eurail pass will vary country by country, but could include free admission to certain museums, free bus travel between places not served by rail, small reservation fees on scenic routes in Switzerland and Norway, City Card discounts, free lounge entrances for first class pass holders, hotel and hostel discounts, river sightseeing cruise discounts, and special discounts at shopping outlets.
How Do I Get My Eurail Pass?
You’ll need to order your Eurail pass ahead of arrival in Europe. It will be sent to your physical address for free, but a signature will be required. Additionally, if you’re using the seat reservation service, physical tickets will be sent to your shipping address. If time is limited, you can choose express shipment options.
In closing, we hope we’ve inspired you to tour Europe by train. We think it’s the best way to see the diverse countries up close, and with the convenience and comfort a Eurail first class pass provides, a relaxing and pleasurable way to travel.