Train Travel In Europe For First Timers

Train travel is by far the best way to go. You can say goodbye to long waits at the airports, seedy bus rides, or overly expensive taxis. Train travel is scenic, non hassle and almost always has a bar and restaurant on board.. win, win, win! There are no luggage fees, food or drink restrictions, and pets are welcome. So grab your furry friend, a bottle of wine and maybe some goodies from the local market and sit back and enjoy the scenic journey.


So, now that you’re convinced train travel is the only way to go,  you need to know what to do next.  And that process has been tremendously simplified thanks to a wonderful new website called Trainline. Trainline makes train travel super easy and much less expensive compared to other booking websites. It is by far the best website to book through for Americans. A simple sign-up and app download later and you have access to a no-ad uncluttered site that quickly gives you the cheapest prices available for both first and second class train travel.  You can also choose your seat and whether you want to be facing forward or backward as you travel.  If you do have any problems, just send the company an e-mail to which someone will promptly respond in English. Print your e-ticket at home, pick it up at the appropriate ticket machine using a code Trainline provides, or do my favorite and do nothing.. If you have an E-ticket and the Trainline app, your ticket will be stored there on your mobile device and all you have to do is show it to the conductor when asked.

My first train ride came with my first panic attack. Thankfully by the end of the trip I was navigating the Europe train system like a pro and can help you avoid the confusions I endured.

Purchasing Tickets: First off, book as early as possible. Trainline makes it super easy to book through there website or app and bonus as long as you have an E-ticket the tickets are stored right in your app and all you do is show it to the conductor when he comes by. Most tickets will become available 90 days before departure. I recommend purchasing them in the first month. I purchased a (literally) last minute ticket in first-class for over 170 euros, when just two months before hand I could of purchased the same ticket for around 30 {cringe}.

Boarding: Trainline makes life a little easier with alerts from the app updating you on where and when your train will arrive. Locate the Arrival and Departure monitors above, normally found all around the train station. Match the train number and departure time on your reservation or ticket to the train number on the departure board, the platform number where you should go will be listed right next to it. Trains are almost always on time and your platform where you will be boarding the train will only be shown 15 minutes prior to departure on the monitors in station. Once on the platform you’ll notice that each car (also known as a coach) has a clear identification number on its side. Your reservation/ticket will list your car/coach number and your class of service. Once onboard the proper carriage, you’ll find clearly labeled seat numbers. Simply match the seat number on your reservation/ticket.

img_5305view from train

dsc04607view from train

Departing: There are no warnings of departure, no “all aboard” in French, the train just glides slowly and smoothly away from the platform. Due to multiple stops a train could make it is hard to tell when you need to depart ahead of time. Here are some tips on knowing when to depart your train.

  • The name of each station the train stops at will be clearly visible from your window. Know the name of your arrival station so you can make sure it is your stop when you arrive.
  • Set an alarm on your phone 15 minutes before your scheduled arrival time.
  • Periodically check google maps to see where you are and how far away you are from your arrival point.

Train Changes: Even if you have a 10 minute transfer time, as I did, you will still have plenty of time to exit your current train, find your next platform by looking at the monitors above the platforms, and board the next train. Just don’t stop to get a snack or drink.

Traveling Together: If you are traveling with someone and want to sit together, you must purchase the tickets at the same time. If for some reason you can not book at the same time, don’t worry, as long as you are in the same class and the carriage isn’t full you should not have a problem sitting together. Michael and I had multiple train rides where our seats were not even close together but we still managed to sit together easily due to the carriage not being full on any of the journeys.

Night Trains: If they have train changes, just don’t. Michael and I had our most stressful moments during these and also our most frightening. If you have train changes in the midnight hours it can be very tiring and are normally quite longer journeys then during the day. Train stations during the day are a bit seedy to begin with, so when we got a first hand experience on the train stations at night it was enough for me to swear off it forever. My advice would be make sure your train journey is straight through with zero train changes and spend a few extra euros for a first class ticket. It will make your journey cake and you can let the train lull you to sleep with no worries.

Extra tips:

  • pack light, only have with you what you can easily lift up and carry up and down stairs.
  • bring cards, long train rides can get pretty boring especially if the train is not equipped with wifi.
  • bring a blanket and a travel pillow.
  • rent or purchase a movie on your phone before hand; most trains have outlets so plug in and enjoy your movie without worrying about your battery life.
  • keep up with your items; keep an eye on your belongings at all times and store your luggage where you can keep an eye on it. If no one is sitting next to you, you may store your belongings on a seat. Also, watch out for pickpockets in the train station.
  • pack a picnic; wine, cheese, chips, sandwhiches.. its all allowed and will be cheaper then spending money at the station or in the train.
  • get things accomplished on the commute; whether its finishing up a deadline, editing pictures, or applying makeup

img_7629dsc03750macaroons from Paris img_7625comp. champagne in first-classdsc04600_edited-1


*I am in no way an expert in this field and am only sharing my personal experiences and tips. For more detailed Q&A’s I recommend visiting Trainline.

Thanks to Trainline for partnering with this post.