Travel Tips

7 Things You Didn’t know About Train Travel in Europe

Train travel is different in every country, but particularly so if you’re from the US or the UK, where the systems are rather unique compared to those of our friends on the continent. While travelling by train in Europe shouldn’t be a stressful endeavour, there are a few things you should be aware of.

1. You must stamp your tickets

In most European cities, tickets need to be validated before you get onboard. In most countries, this can be done at a yellow box in which you place the ticket ‘arrow-forward’, before waiting to hear a clicking stamp. You’ll see a printed validation on your ticket. Make sure you always do this, for both trains and trams, as conductors are unforgiving (and in some places zealous) in their work.

2. The difference between first and second class isn’t obvious

As you board a train, you’ll notice that some carriages have a large ‘1’ and others ‘2’, denoting which class carriage it is. However, if you’ve ever looked inside, the differences aren’t obvious. In many countries (such as Hungary and the Czech Republic) the only discernible difference is that 1st class seats are blue, 2nd class red. We can only assume that this distinction had a great relevance during the Communist-era where certain social groups enjoyed being sat away from ‘lesser’ members of society, but these days it doesn’t mean much. That said, make sure you sit in 2nd class if you have a second class ticket, and vice versa.

3. There isn’t always a refreshment trolley

Many train lines in the US and the UK have refreshment trolleys, some even have bars. However, while a lot of European trains will have one or the other, some have none, and this is something to bear in mind on a long train journey.

4. Toilet paper is a luxury

Train toilets are rarely a delight, but train toilets in Europe are often much older than you may be used to. Furthermore, with staffing shortages, things like toilet paper and paper towels aren’t replenished frequently, and so we’d advise that you bring both with you on a long journey, especially if you’re travelling with kids.

5. It really varies by country

Talking about trains in Europe is difficult because the service really varies by country. In general, European trains are affordable (especially by UK standards) and in most countries there are relatively few delays and most trains arrive on time. However, with different cultures and economies, the standard of service and the experience are bound to be different. Don’t be surprised if your conductor in Denmark speaks perfect English and the seats are extremely comfortable. Do be surprised if the reverse is true in Eastern Europe.

6. Trains are sometimes cheaper than buses

Again, this depends on where you are located, but sometimes the train is cheaper than the bus. It can, however, take longer. In Croatia, for example, train routes are often very indirect so, although you’d expect it to be quicker, it can take much longer. Plan ahead when travelling by bus or train as it’s important to take note of both cost and time, measuring up which is more important to you.

7. Make sure you buy the right ticket

We spoke about this a bit already with 1st and 2nd class, but it’s really important to make sure you have the correct type of ticket on trains. Make sure you have bought your ticket correctly to the right destination and with the right seat type, or you will be fined. We once saw an Italian conductor make a student pay for his ticket again in full, purely because he had bought the wrong seat type. Although he could have just moved, the conductor (perhaps planning to pocket the money) made him pay again.

Author: Ronan O’Shea