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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 scenic trains, too, like this one in Switzerland.

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Eurail Passes can be used on scenic trains, too, like this one in Switzerland.

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

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Europe’s finally reopening. If you’re planning a multi-city tour of the continent this summer and will rely on trains to get around, you may want to consider purchasing a Eurail Pass. 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 multi-use 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 33 European countries. The travel must occur over a specified period of time, and the pass forgos the need to buy individual point-to-point tickets. The Eurail Pass, which is celebrating its 62th 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?

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 33 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 for both One Country and Global Passes. The flexible, four-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 time.

The validities for flexible passes include:

  • Four 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.

A TGV high-speed train at Gare du Nord in Paris

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. RailPass is an authorized vendor that sells Eurail Passes for around the same price as Eurail.com with slight variations to insurance and service fees. Rail Europe also plans on selling Eurail Passes once again, although it has yet to name a date when they will be available on its site.

Some offer free shipping and others offer special discounts and promo codes on tickets, so it’s best to check all your options 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?

In 2021, the cost of a Eurail Global Pass purchased directly through Eurail starts at $303 for second-class fares and $403 for first-class seats for the four-days-in-one-month pass for adults. A 15-day unlimited pass for adults currently ranges from $545 to $726. 

The most expensive pass is now the three-month unlimited pass, which starts at $1,109 and goes up to $1,478 when bought directly through Eurail. Considering that a two-month unlimited pass costs between $899 to $1,199, however, you’re only paying a few hundred 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 $156 to $295 for second class and $208 to $394 for first class. Swedish passes start from $209 for adults, French passes from $95, and Spanish passes from $209. 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 Switzerland, Montenegro, and Bosnia.

In 2020, Eurail launched its first-ever mobile version of the Eurail Pass via its Rail Planner App.

Are Eurail Passes worth it?

It depends. If you know you’ll have four travel days over a one-month period, a second-class pass would cost most adults $303—or about $75 per day. If the train you need to take costs more than $75, 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 more sustainable and 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 3 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.

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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, online through the websites of the national railway companies, by phone, or through Eurail’s Rail Planner app. Eurail recommends making train reservations two months in advance during the summer and ahead of holidays to guarantee yourself a seat.

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 “no seat reservations required” box when searching on the Eurail Timetable page.

What European countries does the Eurail Pass cover?

There are currently 33 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 U.K. train industry, travelers will continue to be able to use their Eurail passes within Great Britain.

Here’s the full list of the 33 countries currently serviced by Eurail: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. 

Of course, not all countries in Europe have announced reopening dates for travelers from the United States. It’s best to check this list of reopened countries to be sure you can cross borders before you buy a rail pass.

Europe Finally Lifts U.S. Travel Ban—458 Days Later

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 preactivate 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.

In 2020, Eurail launched its first-ever mobile version of the Eurail Pass via its Rail Planner App. Now instead of waiting for the physical document to be delivered in the mail—or constantly worrying about losing it during your trip—you can download the app and load your mobile pass onto it as soon as your order confirmation email lands in your inbox.

Enjoy views like this from 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, 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 33-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 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 January 2, 2020, and again on June 28, 2021, to include current information.

>> Next: Can Americans Travel to Europe Right Now?

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