1. Save time – and stress
First things first: why choose rail? You’ll usually find the train station right in the city centre, sometimes just a stroll from your hotel and all the sights. There’s usually no check-in to worry about either – just be on board any time before the doors close. Thanks to the growing high-speed network, an increasing number of rail journeys are now as fast, or faster, than by air: get from Paris to Geneva in 3 hours and 20 minutes; Venice to Rome in 3 hours and 45 minutes; and Vienna to Prague in 3 hours and 59 minutes.
2. Check train times anywhere in Europe
You can easily check train times between European cities using the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) journey planner. Try Lisbon to Stockholm or Moscow to Palermo and you’ll see what I mean. It’ll also quote fares and sell tickets for most journeys to, from or within Germany. You can download the DB Navigator app for your smartphone, too.
3. Book ahead and save
If you know your itinerary in advance, you don’t need an expensive rail pass. European inter-city train fares now work like budget air fares, and if you book a month or two in advance you’ll see attractive advance-purchase prices: Paris to Amsterdam from €35; Venice to Rome from €29; Prague to Vienna from €19. No fees or taxes, and no extra cost to pay for luggage. But there’s no need to book way, way ahead: most European trains only open for booking 60, 90 or in a few cases 120 days ahead.
4. Buy direct from the operators…
For the cheapest prices with the easiest ticketless or print-at-home ticket delivery and no added booking fee, buy direct from the relevant train operator, not through a travel agent or third-party retailer. As a rule of thumb, start with the national train company website for the country where your journey starts: German Railways for Germany; Trenitalia for Italy; Austrian Federal Railways for Austria; SNCB for Belgium; SNCF for France, and so on. Virtually all operators’ sites have different language options, too.
5. …or from Loco2.com or Trainline.eu
Two websites stand out as good or in some ways better than the operators’ own sites, with the same cheap advance-purchase prices, the same ticketless or print-at-home ticket delivery and no added booking fees: Loco2.com and Trainline.eu. Both connect directly to French, Italian, German and Spanish railway ticketing systems to cover most of western Europe at the cheapest prices. Both sites were started by young train-travelling entrepreneurs with a simple aim: to make booking European trains as easy as booking a flight.
6. Take the scenic route, with a good book and a corkscrew
You’ll find many European train rides as interesting as the destinations. For example, the classic German trip from Cologne to Mainz along the Rhine Valley, passes river boats, castles, vineyards and the legendary Lorelei Rock. Or Paris to Nice, down the Rhone Valley and along the Cote d’Azur, passes rocky headlands, yacht-filled harbours and millionaires’ villas. Or the Bernina Express through the spectacular Swiss Alps on your way from Zurich to Milan. Bring a good book and even a nice bottle of wine – you can BYO on most European trains if you like – and enjoy the ride.
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.