Updated on 21-11-2019
Whew! We have completed our 100+ days extended tour of the Europe, which we named #NiVaEuro. There are so many stories and experiences we would like to share. One of them is travelling by European rail network which was an integral part of our plan. Eurail Pass certainly helped in making our international and Intra-national train journeys fast, fun, scenic, convenient and simple.
Having had a firsthand knowledge of using a Eurail Pass in a variety of situations, we would like to share all our experiences, tips and tricks. It includes a guide to using Eurail Passes, types of Eurail Passes and many more things. In short, a Complete Guide to Eurail Pass. It is, many times, incorrectly referred to as Eurorail Pass.
We were still at the final planning stage of our #NiVaEuro trip of the Europe and the time had come to find answers for one of the more important questions.
How were we going to travel within Europe?
Cities within Europe are well connected by Air, Road & Rail and at many places waterways too. Our plan was a loose one, meaning there were unchangeable dates for a few cities because of peak time accommodation rush and the dates in between were sketchy. It meant that we could not make transportation plans well in advance except for the first few days. So air travel was taken out of equation except for unavoidable conditions.
Hiring a car is a great idea for a few days but ours was a longish program involving multiple countries. We had already spent on the mandatory Schengen visa insurance and add to that the additional expense & hassles of buying vehicle insurance, high way tax stickers, finding parking place and so on. So we decided to keep this option on need basis.
We were left with Buses and Trains. Buses are less expensive but trains are more comfortable, especially during a night journey. Trains are also faster. After deliberating the pros and cons we decided to use trains most of the time, buses and flights when needed.
One major benefit of travelling by trains, which swung our decision in its favor, is that the main stations are often in the center of the city.
What is a Eurail Pass?
First and the foremost is that Eurail does not own any train stock or run any railways. Eurail is an agent or a facilitator that has agreements with as many as 32 European Railways to sell Eurail passes to prospective travelers. A Eurail pass is a single ticket (pass) that allows unlimited train journeys on the date of travel. What it really means is, that you can hop-in and hop out of trains as many times as you want at no extra cost, except for the reservation charges, if applicable.
During our own travels, on almost every one of our travel day we had taken multiple trains to reach our destination and many times even included a day trip. More about it in Tips and Tricks below. 🙂
Eurail however, does not sell point to point train ticket. For that you have to contact the local train station.
Eurail Pass is issued only to Non-Europeans. InterRail Passes are for Europeans.
How many types of Eurail Passes are there?
Eurail passes are designed to suit all pockets, any age group and many types of travel plans.
The Select Eurail Pass is if the travel is between 2 to 4 countries sharing a border. There are multiple options available as to the number of travel days with a validity period of 2 months. Further options are available whether you want to travel first or second class or if you are a youth (12 to 27 years), Adults (28 and over) or family with kids.
The Global Eurail Pass is for those wishing to travel 5 or more countries. Various options are available as to the number of traveling days and validity period. There are also options for continuous travel. For instance, you buy the 3 months continuous Eurail Pass means that you have the option to travel on each one of the day on unlimited trains.
For Global Eurail Pass, if one of the travelling group is an adult then the only option is to buy a First Class Eurail Pass. However if youths aged between 12 and 27 travel alone or in a group, have the option to buy second class pass too. Good news for families is that two kids below 12 may travel free with each adult.
For our #NiVaEuro trip we got the 15 travelling days with 2 months validity. So we had to choose our starting date wisely to make sure we could cover as much ground as possible. We tried to schedule our longer travels during this period, because beyond two months we had to either buy 1 month Eurail pass or travel point to point. We decided on point to point as that was working out cheaper since we were covering just a few cities and staying more days in each of them after the expiry of the Eurail Pass.
Country Specific train passes
In addition to Select and Global Eurail passes one could obtain country specific multiple day passes too. The prices and conditions vary and the details are provided at One Country Pass.
The travel options starts from 3 days in a month.
Some discounts are available if you decide to travel as a group under 1 ticket.
Please note that all Eurail Passes are paper tickets. Mobile tickets are not available as of now.
Should I buy Eurail Pass at all? Is it worth it?
It is not mandatory to buy Eurail Pass to travel on European Train Network. If the travel is just point to point then single tickets may work out better. Many times we have taken a bus because either the train timings were not suitable or the train was just too expensive.
Eurail Passes may not be the cheapest option but certainly is a convenient option and cheaper if you consider point to point individual first class tickets.
We personally found that during our trip, which involved long distances over 11 countries, Global Eurail Pass was certainly helpful, added to that some of the night journeys we took helped us save on the hotels too.
Other points you may consider before deciding for or against, is at the Tips & Tricks and Benefits section below.
Everyone’s travel styles, likes and dislikes are different. That means each individual must do her/her calculations to see if it is worth it. Feel free to discuss should you have any query. Some people like to travel only by train.
While I waited at Sofia ticketing counter to book my night train ticket to Varna, I met a couple of Australians who wanted to go to Plovdiv. I told them to take the bus as we had just been to Plovdiv the previous day by bus which was frequent, fast, cheap and most comfortable. They wanted to go by train only.
Of late some of the train companies have started variable pricing policy based on supply and demand, just like airlines. That is another input to the hair-pulling arithmetic equation! 🙂 🙂
Should I buy Eurail Pass in advance?
It is better to buy it in advance to save time. However certain Eurail passes may be bought at the station but may be more expensive. Global Eurail Pass must be bought in advance and preferably get it delivered at your home address. Eurail pass may be bought up to 11 months in advance, before your first travel day. It is also important to get it activated before travelling at the starting train station. We got our Global Eurail Pass more than one month before the travel commencement.
Is Eurail Pass Valid in all European countries and all their networks?
Eurail passes are valid across 28 countries on over 30 rail companies. We found out early in our travels that reservation charges and sleeper are applicable in high speed and night trains for sleeper.
In addition, it is also valid on Buses run by Deutsche Bahn (DB). Yes, DB the German train company also runs buses on select routes. We actually took a night bus from Copenhagen to Berlin. It included a bonus of 40 minutes luxury ferry ride. 🙂 Where the bus and train too (I am not joking!) are carried by the ferry to the other side of Baltic Sea.
There are numerous ferry services where Eurail Pass is valid.
We installed an app called RailPlanner to help us with train schedules and information which actually helped us in identifying the trains in which these passes were valid. When in doubt we double checked with the conductor at the train or when we had time at the ticketing counter.
Can I use Eurail Pass for travelling to many countries by multiple trains in a day?
The Select and Global Eurail Pass allows you to travel across multiple countries (as specified in the pass) and take multiple halts on a single travel day. You may also go out to another country and return to the originating country. For example Bratislava is just one hour by train from Vienna. Once could do a day trip easily.
It looks like Eurail does not cover one of the countries I want to visit. What shall I do?
It is no big deal. If you so badly want to visit that country, all you need is to buy a direct ticket by train, bus or plane, to that country or city. Of course make sure you have the passports and visas for that country. Please note that the United Kingdom is not part of Eurail but Ireland is, although it does not share a land border with rest of the Eurail countries.
Is Schengen Visa Valid in all of the Eurail Pass network countries?
Eurail pass covers a few Non-Schengen countries too. It is up to the traveler to ensure she/he has valid documents to enter Non-Schengen countries. Having said that, we found during our planning stage that some of them allowed entry if one had a valid multiple-entry Schengen visa. This was actually a blessing in disguise as it enabled us to travel over 100 days by travelling to Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria and save our Schengen days. Other Non-Schengen countries covered by Eurail Pass are Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Romania and Turkey.
The passport control happens on the train. If it is a Schengen to Schengen border crossing there may or may not be a cursory check. However for Schengen to non-Schengen there is a mandatory passport control and the officers actually board the train and checks the passport. It may take a few extended minutes to a few hours. We will write about our border crossing experiences separately. 🙂
Tips and tricks for using a Eurail Pass
- Activating Eurail Pass: Before commencing your journey using a Eurail Pass, it needs to be activated by filling up the starting date and getting it stamped at the ticket counter. This is imperative and not doing it is tantamount to travelling ticketless!
- How and Where to use: Before boarding or as soon as you board before the conductor comes to check the tickets, the travel date must be entered on the pass at the designated column and the train, bus or ferry details filled out in the attached travel diary. It is likely that for one travel date on the pass, there may be several entries of individual trains on the travel diary.
- The conductor would then punch the date on the pass and the train details on the side. We found that many times the train conductors would not punch the date or would not punch at the right place. That is okay. Once in a while, you will come across a conductor who would want to see your passport too and he is well within his rights to do so. This is just to ensure the identification of the person carrying the pass. There was at least one conductor who had never seen a Eurail pass, or so it appeared to us. But there were no questions asked any way. Probably lack of knowledge of English was the reason. In general the conductors were very courteous and on many occasions they helped us with our luggage too.
- Reservations and other charges (country specific): On some trains, generally the high speed trains, prior reservation is obligatory and the charges vary from Zero euros upwards. Yes, there was no reservation charges for our Krakow to Wroclaw night train. There are other trains in which reservation is optional. While one can jump into the train without reservation, it is possible the seat you are occupying belongs to someone who has reserved it.
Here is an experience. When we boarded the train from Prague to Brno we decided not to get a reservation and occupied two vacant seats but soon we were displaced by others having reservations. It was peak holiday season! The conductor helped us in procuring one seat for Nisha and I sat in the restaurant car for the rest of the journey. 🙂
Other charges that may be levied is the sleeper charges. This could be very nominal or very expensive depending on the country and the train. The most expensive for us was EUR72 each on a first class sleeper in Austria by OBB. It had its own perks of personalized service, wake up call, free snack, coffee / tea and breakfast too. While it was not cheap, it certainly was worth the experience with an attached private shower. 🙂 🙂 We did this only for experience and I am sure air ticket might have been cheaper and faster.
- App for travel planning: We downloaded the Railplanner app for planning our journey schedules. It is a very robust software and gives multiple connectivity options. One could give route suggestion and select only trains on which reservations are NOT mandatory to save money.
In addition we also used app by regional railways like DB, OBB, CD and PKP etc. to get a feel of the reservation charges upfront.
- Point to point, short distances and bus connectivity: It is important to research well if you want to save on the travel days and money. For example, to go to Trier we decided to take the German one day pass for two at EUR52 which gives complete coverage in Germany for almost 24 hours. Many times to do a day trip, it is not worth using the Global Pass because either there are no good connections, there is no first class or takes too much time. In such situation we have taken buses which are generally quite inexpensive.
When we travelled from Prague to Brno, we realized later that we should not have used the pass and instead booked a second class journey which would have cost under 10Euros a ticket.
By the time we reached Austria our Global Eurail Pass had expired. We found that there were train companies which were not on RailPlanner app that provided cheaper services; for example from Salzburg to Vienna. The information available on the station was sketchy except for a couple of advertisements. The tickets had to be bought only on-board the train.
- To save a precious travel day, if your travel is within just one country for one day, then it is advisable to explore single country single day unlimited travel passes issued by the local / regional railways. For example, while in Germany we got a day pass (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) for 2 with the only condition that we stick together. 🙂 In fact as many as 5 adults could have travelled on that pass on payment of a marginal additional fee. For us it cost EUR 52, to travel as we pleased on any German regional train network and S-Bahn for one day that is from 9:00AM to 3:00AM. This helped us to take a day trip to as far as Trier from Frankfurt and back. A total of over 400KM by train.
- Recording in Travel Diary: For each sector of your train journey a line of details must be recorded on the travel diary. Not doing this may attract admonition to fines depending on the mood of the conductor. 🙂 The travel diary has space for 25 journeys. If you run out of space you could use one tear-off from the Eurail Guide for global pass which comes with the pass and if you run out of that also, then you can download extra page from Eurail website and attach it to the ticket.
- Classes of tickets: For sitting journey there are First and second class. Depending on the train and country, the first class could be cabins or open seating with wide seats.
- Night Trains: Many night trains have sleeper coaches. They could be 4 or 6 couchettes to a cabin or just 2 in a luxury cabin. What we did a few times was joined the 2nd class cabin seats to provide reclining position. Of course one could flip up the arm rest for more space too. This is possible only if it is not crowded.
- 7 PM rule: This is the most attractive part of Eurail and we fully used this feature to the core. By properly using this rule one could travel for more than 24 hours on a single travel day!
Normally a travel day starts from midnight and ends at next midnight. However, if the travel commences after 7:00 PM on a day and the train is scheduled to reach final destination after 4:00 AM then you are allowed to mark the travel date as the next day and use up the whole of next day travelling too.
For example. We took a train from Krakow on 5th at 10:00 PM which was to reach Wroclaw on 6th at 6:00 AM. We marked the travel date as 6th on the travel diary. On reaching Wroclaw we dumped our luggage at the locker and proceeded towards Jelena Gora and a couple of other places and explored till evening. If this rule had not been there then we would have had to mark both 5th and 6th on the travel diary and thereby losing a travel day.
- The 7 PM rule is applicable only to Global Eurail Pass.
- High Speed Trains: It is important to note that most High Speed trains charge reservation fees. On the plus side is that it saves quite some time.
- Luggage: Luggage is not a problem as there is lot of storage space on the rack above the seats or designated space near the wagon door. If it is not there then we just keep it alongside our seats on aisle. There are luggage related rules but it is seldom followed or checked.
In most of the cities we visited, there were either coin operated luggage lockers or manned luggage store at the train station. We often used this facility after checking out of the hotel and before the night train. It gave us extra hours to explore the city. Once we even left our suitcases at the Sofia station for a couple of days while we went off to visit Varna ! The charges were nominal.
- Bicycle: Bicycles are not covered by Eurail Pass and you must enquire for the trains and charges at the ticketing counter.
- Pets: Similarly Pets are not covered. Small pets generally are allowed free of charge. However it is best to enquire at the station for the applicable charges and conditions.
- Food and Drinks: You may bring food and beverages from outside and consume it in the train. Many stations have shops where one can stock up. Some trains will have a restaurant car too or a push cart selling food and beverages. They are more expensive than on street but not exorbitant. Bottom line is eating and drinking is ok on board European trains.
- Although some public transports are included in Eurail Pass, it is not cost effective as you are supposed to make an entry in the Journey Diary and thereby use up a valuable travel day.
Other Benefitsof Eurail Pass
- There are many first class lounges scattered in Europe and a holder of First Class Eurail Pass can use this facility on the date of travel. You can indulge in complimentary drinks and snacks. We had a late night train from Vienna to Zagreb and we could use the super luxury lounge while we waited. 🙂 It was as good as any Airport lounge. There was so much food that we had to forego our dinner.
- Discounts on various sightseeing tours and entry ticket to museums and other attractions. Just ask if the discounts are available and flash your Eurail Pass to avail the discounts.
- You don’t have to stand in line for tickets unless a reservation is necessary.
- Eurail have created a few historic and scenic itineraries that you may follow.
- Discounts on accommodation are available at select chain of hotels and hostels.
- Some scenic trains such as Bernina Express and Glacier Express is covered by Eurail Pass. Only reservation amount need be paid.
- Superfast ferries between Italy and Greece are covered including stopover at the beautiful island of Corfu.
- Long distance ferry rides in Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Switzerland and many other countries are fully covered or heavily discounted. If it is not fully covered you save your travel day too!
- In some countries public transport is included S-Bahn in Germany.
- Wi-Fi is available on some of the high speed trains.
- Laptop and mobile charging points in first class and some of the second class coaches.
- Longer the journey, better are the chances for striking a conversation with a fellow traveler and learn about the place.
- Finally if you send the ticket and travel diary back to Eurail (postage is prepaid) then they will send a small gift in token of appreciation. Eurail uses this data for their research and analysis.
What happens when you lose your Eurail Pass?
If the Eurail Pass is stolen or misplaced then it is a dead loss and it cannot be replaced. We will have to buy a new pass. On buying a pass protection insurance, some amount may be redeemed depending on the balance number of days left.
Is Rail Pass different from Eurail Pass?
Rail pass is equivalent of Eurail pass for European citizens and permanent residents in Europe. Some of the rules of service are different so also the pricing.
How to order a Eurail Pass?
Watch out for seasonal discounts from time to time.
Please note that once the order is confirmed it is almost impossible to change it. It is important to be sure of what type of Pass you want, the names and other particulars before ordering. You can pay by credit card, debit card and PayPal. You may of course cancel it at a fee of 15% if the Eurail Pass is not validated.
Create Your Own Story!
This is the tagline for Eurail Passes and our story is as follows.
We had a Global Eurail Pass valid for two months and included 15 travel days.
We performed 31 journeys on 15 travelling days.
Out of 100+ days our Global Eurail Pass was valid for 2 months in which we travelled to 21 cities in eight countries, namely, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia and Croatia.
Our first journey was a DB bus journey from Copenhagen to Berlin (which included ferry crossing) then by train to Gdansk.
Last journey was a day trip to Varazdin from Zagreb.
Eurail Pass ran out when we reached Slovenia. We still used trains for all of our journeys in Slovenia and Austria and finally to Munich. For Ljubljana to Lake Bled we use bus because it was much more convenient.
In this period we performed 6 night journeys saving 6 hotel nights.
In addition, we took three independent bus rides and one local train trip for day trips as they were much cheaper and saved 4 precious Eurail Pass travel days.
We travelled to 7 cities in two countries before Eurail Pass kicked in and 9 cities in 3 countries after its expiry. Germany was our base where we entered and exited many times.
Whenever we reached a destination in the morning, we normally took off for a day trip to another town or village to extract more juice from the Eurail Pass. Hum to aise hain Bhaiya! 😀 😀
The essence of the matter is, if your plan includes an element of uncertainty, many days, long distances, multiple countries & cities, high speed & night journeys then Eurail Pass is for you. If you love train travel then other factors do not matter much anyway! #CreateYourOwnStory. We created ours!
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Disclaimer: Eurail had supported our travels with 15 days in 2 months Global Eurail Passes but the opinions, as always, are our own.