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The Ultimate Guide to European Train Travel With a Eurail Pass

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Eurail Passes can be used on high-speed trains, too, like this one in Poland.

Courtesy of Eurail/PKP Intercity SA

Eurail Passes can be used on high-speed trains, too, like this one in Poland.

Here’s how every type of traveler—not just backpackers—can benefit from this all-in-one train ticket.

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If you haven’t thought about buying a Eurail Pass since your backpacking days, you’re not alone. The last time I traveled with one was in 2007 as a college student. After forking over about $500 (from my part-time job as a barista) for the multiuse train ticket, I rode at least a dozen trains from Amsterdam to Paris and on to Madrid over the course of a month that summer. I saved not only money but also time waiting to buy tickets because I could walk on to most trains and have the conductor punch my pass on board.

For beginners to European train travel, the Eurail Pass is a single document that allows non-European citizens to travel by train multiple times across a network of 31 European countries. The travel must occur over a specified period of time, and the pass forgoes the need to buy individual point-to-point tickets. The Eurail Pass, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, can be used for riding local trains, high-speed trains, and even night trains. In addition to the flexibility and time-saving benefits it affords, traveling with one can also save you money, depending on your travel plans.

Here’s everything you need to know about Eurail Passes before you buy one.

How do Eurail Passes work?

There’s no one-size-fits-all Eurail Pass. You can choose from either a One Country Pass, which covers train travel in a single country, or a Eurail Global Pass, which offers unlimited train travel across 31 countries in Europe, using their national railroads. Within each pass type, there are even more options. There are ones for children (ages 4 to 11), youth (12 to 27), adults (28+), and seniors (60+). They come in first- and second-class options across all age categories.

The passes also cover different trip lengths. In 2019, Eurail introduced two new options for both One Country and Global passes. The flexible, three-days-in-one-month pass is for you if you’re going on a shorter getaway and won’t be taking trains regularly. The pass with three months of unlimited travel is best used for fast-paced trips where you plan to cover a lot of ground over an extended period of time.

In 2019, the validities for flexible passes include:

  • Three travel days within one month
  • Five travel days within one month
  • Seven travel days within one month
  • 10 travel days within two months
  • 15 travel days within two months

There are also passes available for unlimited travel days during set periods of time. Those continuous train passes include durations of:

  • 15 days
  • 22 days
  • One month
  • Two travel months
  • Three travel months

The pass is sold by the number of travel days you are planning on using it. Each travel day covers as many trains you’d like to take between the 24-hour time window from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on the same calendar day. Keep in mind, there are exceptions to be made if you’re taking a night train. For example, if you book a train that leaves on Monday night and arrives on Tuesday morning, you will only need to use one travel day (the day of your departure) to cover that trip. However, if you choose to board another train on Tuesday, you’ll have to use another travel day on your pass.

To find the best pass for your particular trip, Eurail built an online tool that lets you fill in your travel plans, including which countries you plan to visit, how many days you intend to travel by train, and the length of your entire trip. At the end of the short survey, it recommends the pass that suits your needs best.

Fares on the German ICE high-speed train are included in the Eurail Pass.

Where can you buy a Eurail Pass?

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You can buy any type of Eurail Pass online from Eurail.com, but several other sites sell them, too. Rail Europe, RailPass, and STA Travel are also all authorized vendors that sell Eurail Passes for around the same price as Eurail.com with slight variations to insurance and service fees. Some offer free shipping and others—especially Rail Europe—offer special discounts and promo codes on tickets, so it’s best to check all four websites before purchasing your pass to make sure you’re getting the best deal. You can also purchase Eurail Passes at train stations in Europe, but that’s more expensive than ordering them online in advance.

How much does a Eurail Pass cost?

Earlier in 2019, Eurail lowered the prices of its Global Pass significantly and also introduced even cheaper second-class fares for all age groups. As recently as last summer, Rail Europe sold a pass for five days within one month for $572. This year, that same pass starts at $318 for second-class fares and goes up to $423 for first-class seats. A 15-day unlimited pass for adults now ranges from $499 to $664 on Rail Europe, instead of $730. If you buy directly from Eurail, the passes cost a bit more ($326–$434 for the five-days-in-one-month pass, and $512–$681 for the 15-day pass), but don’t include service fees, so they end up costing about the same.   

The introduction of the three-days-in-one-month pass in 2019 also means that people with light rail travel plans can get passes starting at $252. The most expensive pass is now the three-month unlimited pass, which starts at $1,041 and goes up to $1,388 when bought directly through Eurail. Considering that a two-month unlimited pass costs between $844 to $1,126, however, you’re only paying $197 to $262 more for an entire extra month of unlimited train travel.

One Country Passes are slightly more affordable and vary by each country. For example, adult passes for Italy bought directly from Eurail range from $148 to $278 for second class and $197 to $371 for first class. Swedish passes start from $198 for adults, French passes from $90, and Spanish passes from $198. Eurail also groups certain regions so you can get multiple countries for the price of one with its Benelux Pass (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) and Scandinavia Pass (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden). Note that Eurail does not offer One Country Passes for certain countries that are included in the Global Pass, such as Turkey, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia.

A traveler fills out her Eurail Pass to record which trains she took that day.
Are Eurail Passes worth it?

To figure out if buying a Eurail Pass would save you money, all you need to do is some basic math. If you know you’ll have three travel days over a one-month period, a second-class pass would cost most adults $252—or $84 per day. If the train you need to take costs more than $84, or if you’ll be taking multiple trains in one day that add up to more than that, it’s worth buying that pass. If you only need a less costly regional train to get between cities like Amsterdam and Brussels, however, then it’s probably not worth it.

For those who would argue that buying $50 RyanAir or EasyJet flights to jump from city to city is faster and cheaper, keep in mind that once you add on arriving early to the airport for security and all the bag fees you’d pay to check a bag, you might end up breaking even. Plus, train travel is simply more scenic.

Do you need reservations with a Eurail Pass?

In some instances, yes. For trains in popular countries like France, Spain, and Italy—especially in the summer—you will need to make an advance seat reservation at an additional cost (generally from around 2 to 10 euros), even if the fare is included with your Eurail Pass. In addition to those popular destinations, all night trains and most international high-speed trains throughout Europe require a supplemental reservation fee. Some scenic trains, like the Bernina Express in Switzerland, also require one. To find out if you need to make a reservation, search for your desired route on the Eurail Timetable and the results will show whether or not one is necessary.

Reservation fees vary between different countries and train services, and must be paid directly to the railway carriers; payment can be made at the train station or through Eurail.com (for an additional €6 fee). Eurail recommends making train reservations two months in advance during the summer and ahead of holidays to guarantee yourself a seat.

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Alternatively, you can opt to ride on regional trains, which don’t require seat reservations. Even though they are slower, if you have the time to stop along the way you’re likely to discover a few appealing villages you never would have happened upon by taking the high-speed route. To find trains that don’t require reservations, check the “avoid trains that require reservations” box when searching on the Eurail Timetable page.

A map of Eurail’s most popular routes with their travel times
What European countries does the Eurail Pass cover?

There are currently 31 countries in Europe with rail carriers that accept Eurail Passes. Great Britain's train operators nearly pulled out of the agreement in August 2019. After negotiations with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the UK train industry, travelers will continue to be able to use their Eurail passes within Great Britain.

Here’s the full list of the 31 countries currently serviced by Eurail: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Great Britain, France, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

How far in advance do you need to buy a Eurail Pass?

You can buy a Eurail Pass up to 11 months in advance of your trip, as long as it is activated at a European train station within that 11-month period. You can also pre-activate your pass for a specific date when you check out at Eurail.com to avoid waiting in line at the train station to do so.

Because Eurail Passes are physical travel documents, order yours with enough time for it to be shipped (there’s not an e-ticket option to print it out at home). For last-minute trips, you can buy Eurail Passes at train stations in Europe, but note that costs more than buying them online.

What do you do if you lose your Eurail Pass?

Back in 2007, on the very first train ride of our monthlong trip, one of my friends left her Eurail Pass in the seat-back pocket and didn’t realize it until we—and the train—left the station. Because a Eurail Pass is a paper travel document that can’t simply be replaced (similar to your passport), you’ll need to purchase separate train tickets or a new pass at an additional cost to complete your trip if you lose it.

Thankfully, today you can purchase Eurail Pass Protection when you buy your pass. Each vendor sells this specific type of travel insurance at its own price point, but it generally ranges between $16 and $26, a worthwhile investment considering it allows you to recoup the money spent on replacement train tickets should the need arise. All you need to do is file a police report on the day your pass is lost or stolen and then buy separate train tickets for the rest of your trip. Once you return home, you can fill out a form and send it back to Eurail with the police report and ticket receipts, and you will be reimbursed.

If you’ve already purchased general travel insurance, it’s worth calling the company directly to see if a lost Eurail Pass would be covered under the policy you purchased.

The Flam Railway in Norway
Are Eurail Passes just for college students?

You may have been under the impression that only budget backpackers in their 20s can benefit from Eurail Passes, but the passes are actually available to all age groups. And while previously those 27 and under were the only age group eligible for discounts, earlier in 2019, Eurail also introduced a 10 percent discount for people over the age of 60, too.

What are other benefits to having a Eurail Pass?

All Eurail Pass–holders are eligible for discounts on select museum tickets and boat tours throughout the entire 31-country network. But one of the major perks of having an unlimited train ticket that includes night trains is the hotel savings. By sleeping on a train, you’ll get from point A to point B and save money on hotels at the same time.

Eurail Passes aren’t only for use on trains either—they can actually be used on ferries and public transportation in some countries, too. See the full list of participating train, ferry, and public transport companies that accept Eurail Passes on board. In fact, the Greek Islands Pass was updated in 2019 to include ferry service to 53 islands (up from 28 islands), making it a viable option for island-hopping.

This article originally appeared online on April 26, 2019; it was updated on August 15, 2019, to include current information.

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