There is no better way to travel in Europe than by train. Unless you’re in the UK, and then you might need to sell a kidney to afford some of the fares. But if you’re anywhere else, hopping on a train and grabbing a window seat is the best way to get from A to B.
I done a fair bit of rail travel in Europe, mainly through Spain and Italy. Either because I had to get somewhere, or just because somewhere on a map sounded interesting and I wanted to go and see what was there. And it’s just so easy. And, cheap. You can hop on the train at Florence and for €15 be in Rome in a few hours. And you get to see everything. It’s the best way of getting to see some European countryside if you don’t actually drive.
I think a lot of people who do rail travel in Europe when they’re young are tempted by the train travel packages. But they’re so expensive. I can see the convenience of them is tempting, and on my first trip to Italy, I considered buying one, but if you follow these tips, you can get around easily, and cheaply, without having too much hassle.
1. Check out the station the day before, and buy your tickets then. Most stations abroad have someone who speaks English. I’m loathe to tell you not to try and speak the language of the country you’re in, but stuff like this is difficult if you’re not confident. It might be better to admit defeat on this one.
2. Watch what other people are doing. In Sicily you have to make sure you stamp your ticket before you get on the train. You can just walk on to the train though, there’s no barriers. It’s easy to forget, so keep your eyes open and watch what other passengers do, so you don’t get told off.
3. Sit at the front of the train. Main reason for this? For some reason, some train stations abroad have few signs on the platform. If you’re at the front, there’s more chance of you seeing the signs. It’s worthwhile finding out the three stops before yours. That way you know where you need to keep a look out. And hour of looking panicked at each train station does not make for a relaxing journey.
4. Check the luggage holds. This is something that European stations are fantastic at. Their manned luggage holds are brilliant. If you want to stop off somewhere, but don’t fancy lugging your wheelie cases about, pop them in here and go and have a bit of an explore. Get back on the train when you’re ready. It’s often not very expensive (about €6 for half a day) and you’ll have much more fun instead of trying to lug a case about cobbled streets.
5. Make sure you check Sunday services. A lot of countries have reduced services on a Sunday (when everyone is meant to be in Church, not gallivanting). Some of the smaller stations might not even have trains running that day. Check before you arrive and make sure you grab a sandwich before boarding. I’ve never seen a train in Europe with a food cart.
A little bit of preparation and thought, and you can have a fantastic trip in Europe using the train. Be spontaneous. Look at a place on map, hop on a train and go there for the day.
Andy of the Europe a la Carte blogging team agrees with me in his “5 Reasons Why I’d Rather Travel Europe by Train“.
Flickr image from tanvach‘s photostream.