Eurail Passes: Do the Numbers Add Up?

By Nomadic Matt | Published October 28th, 2009

Eurail passesUPDATE: THE CONTENT OF THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED IN A 2013 EDITION THAT IS MORE ACCURATE REFLECTION OF THE CURRENT SITUATION IN EUROPE. CLICK HERE TO READ THAT POST.

Despite all my trips around Europe, I could never say I’ve “railed” across the continent. I am usually so scattered in my plans that I take few trains and lots of planes. I end up in Venice and decide Amsterdam is fun and fly back there. My plans are never consistent enough for trains. But on this trip I really wanted to see Europe by train.

I get a lot of questions about European train travel and the value of European rail passes. I’ve heard mixed reviews about them from other travelers so I decided this trip it was finally time to answer the most important question – “will buying this pass save me money?”

I emailed Rail Europe and asked “Would it be possible to get a pass to review for an article on Eurail passes?” They said yes so with my Global Eurail pass (the multi-country one that was valid for 15 trips in a 2 month period) in hand, I was off to ride the rails through Europe.


What did I find?

A Eurail pass is great value if a) you use ALL your segments and b) you are traveling long distances on high speed or overnight trains.

So let’s do the math first because the proof is in the numbers. Here is a breakdown of the reservation fee costs with and without a Eurail pass for all my trips:

With Eurail Without Eurail (1st class) Without Eurail (2nd class)
Valencia->Barcelona 6.75 67.50 41.10
Barcelona->Madrid 12 164.40 110
Bordeaux->Paris 6 106 68.50
Paris->Brussels 8 108 80
Brussels->Brugge 0 19.90 12.90
Brugge->Den Bosch 0 52.40 23
Den Bosch->Rotterdam 0 19.90 13.90
Rotterdam->Den Haag 0 7.50 4.40
Den Haag->Amsterdam 0 17.20 10.10
Stockholm->Goteberg 10 73 45
Goteberg->Copenhagen 8 37.75 50
Copenhagen->Berlin 3 205 130
Berlin->Munich 5 183 113
Munich->Vienna 5 131.20 79.40
Total 70.75 1192.50 781.30

Note: All these prices are in Euros. I convert them into dollars based on the average exchange rate of $1= €0.67. The first column is the reservation fee I paid. Train prices are based on what was told me at the time I booked the ticket. While all trains are roughly the same price, different departure times might be a few Euros more or less than what I paid.

As you can see, the pass clearly saved me money. But there are very important things to note:
First, what type of pass you get will greatly affect how much you save. There are a lot of different passes but the two main passes most travelers use are the 1st class adult pass and 2nd class youth (for those under 26) global flexi passes. A two month 15 day 2nd class ticket costs $774, with a value of $51.60 per trip. A 1st class adult ticket costs $1,190.00, with a value of $79 per trip. These passes let you travel all over Europe and give 10 or 15 trips in a one or two month period. Consecutive day passes can be bought for up to 3 months, but aren’t really that good of a deal if you aren’t traveling every other day since everyday you don’t use them is a lost day.

Additionally, if you aren’t traveling for 2 months, you can get passes for 3 or 5 days, for a few specific countries, or even just one country. For any trip, there is a pass for you.

Secondly, I saved money because I took long inter-country trains. I mentioned the value of each trip because looking back at my travels, some train rides cost below the value of a Eurail trip. Many trains I took cost a lot, and in these cases, the passes saved me money. But for short trips, using one of my Eurail trips would actually cost me money. The Brussels to Brugge ticket only cost €12, far below the $79 value of that segment. If you are just taking short trips around Europe, then getting a Eurail pass will cost you more. However, if you only take it across vast distances or on overnight trains, you’ll save money.


Did I Save Money?

trains in germany with a eurail pass
The value of my travels would have cost $1,294 for the reservation fees and the pass. The cost without the Eurail pass would have been $1,767. For a second class ticket, assuming the same reservation fees, I would have spent $878, whereas the trip would have cost $1,157 without the pass.

In both scenarios, I’m saving money.

Conclusion
I wasn’t a believer in these passes before, but after seeing how the numbers add up, I think Eurail passes can be a great way for budget travelers to save money if used correctly. Even in an age of Ryanair, rail passes still make a lot of sense. In order to maximize value, make sure that you research train prices without the pass and add them up versus the value of the pass. You don’t need to know all your plans, since they change, but this at least gives you a ball park idea.

I know the initial sticker shock of the passes often leads people to forgo them and just wing it but winging will lead to higher transportation prices. You have to think of the money you spend as an upfront investment knowing that over the course of your trip, you’ll save more money than you spent. And in Europe, that extra money can be a lifesaver.

If you want to book a pass, you can use the widget below search passes, prices, and train tickets. Rail Europe is the largest broker of European rail passes outside of Europe. Whenever I need a pass, I buy from them as they are usually much cheaper than any other option. They have great customer service, frequent sales, and offices in Europe in case something goes wrong.

Editor’s note: Using the links on this page will (at no extra cost to you) generate a small commission on any sales. I recommend this company because I use them myself. Don’t get a rail pass if your trip doesn’t fit the above criteria but if you get one, using the links here will allow me to continue to give you advice that helps you travel better. If you don’t wish you to use the links here, you can visit their website directly at raileurope.com. If you have any questions about passes, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll help you figure it out!

comments 57 Comments

Great rundown. With the cost of discount airfare so low, and quality buses as well, I think the trains are almost a luxury these days. Unlike, say India, they are no longer such a necessary part of the backpacking experience in Europe. At least not for me. :)

Randy Magnuson

OK folks, let’s get honest here with current facts concerning European rail travel, and drop politically correct half-truths at the risk of losing travel privileges due to having sub-par services out-praised by a rival. The rest of the story.

Dates: 18 December 2012 – 28 December 2012 concerning use of Eurail Select passes. The last time I rode European trains was 25 years ago, and most of the information found on web sites is about that old.

FIRST. There are VERY FEW trains that DO NOT require a reservation: even the official Deutch Bahn website —- and the instructions that come with your Eurail Pass —- are misleading and incomplete. Your first class pass means nothing more than you are ELIGIBLE for first class cars, and have paid a BASE rate. You DO NOT have a seat on a train. Hidden reservation costs (which are required to get a SEAT) WILL be a minimum of 4 euro, and can be up to at least 16.50 euro. In the case of over-night or sleeper trains, add-on fees can range over $200.

Virtually all trains on main routes are either ICE or Railjet service trains. Copied after modern sardine-can bucket-rate airline seating, the tradition of luxury couchette compartments have given way to airline-style cattle cars: the new “first class.” The inability to move about is hardly compensated for by LED speedometer screens hanging all over the place.

Reservations on-line with a Eurail pass are unsuccessful due to roadblocks in the reservation system that DO NOT allow recognition of “first class” passes (exception: Swedish SJ trains). A visit to a train station in the country is required. If you do not speak the language, expect one ticket office out of at least a dozen open to you: you will simply be ushered aside by those not paid to exercise your language.

In most cases, EXPECT the young ticket agents to mention NOTHING about the requirement to obtain reservations (oh how well they have learned from American “accessory” marketing: “you actually want a FUNCTIONAL WORD PROCESSING PROGRAM with your COMPUTER?”). It’s a game of “10 questions” —– be sure to work them to completion for the knowledge —- and reservation —- you need. As an example, agents at the Salzburg Hbf stated “there are no reserved trains in Austria.” A 2-hour standing trip between cars to Munich ensued —- despite there being free seats —- because we did not have reservations.

Reservations are simply “the rest of your ticket” —- in exchange for an up-front “bargain price.” It is the standard of the world. Don’t expect it to be any different overseas than it is in the US.

Buyer and traveler beware.

NomadicMatt

I’ve traveled the trains in Europe every summer for the last 6 years and can tell you outside of a few places in Eastern Europe, everyone has spoken enough English where I can make a train reservation. Moreover, you don’t need reservations on the vast majority of trains, especially in Austria where you can just walk on and sit down. Done it plenty of times.

Angie

My boyfriend and I will be traveling in Europe the last week of May & first week of June 2013. We will flying into Munich, then would like to travel by train to Salzburg, and then onto Croatia, and then ending in Vienna to fly back home. I am confused by the conflicting opinions regarding rail passes. Should we purchase or not purchase? I don’t know who to believe.

We do not want to have a structured itinerary . . . cities or areas we will like to see include Munich, Salzburg, the northern coastal area of Croatia, Ojisek near the Hungarian border, Zagreb, and then Vienna.

Thank you

NomadicMatt

I’d believe me :)

I don’t think there is a pass that covers all the countries you want to go. Bus and train travel is pretty cheap in Croatia and the train from Munich to Salzburg isn’t that expensive. Except a long train ride from Salzburg with lots of transfers to Croatia and the same on the way back.

Interesting, I’ve never used a Euro-rail pass but I’ve considered them in the past. Unfortunately they don’t apply to many of the countries I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in within Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I do think they are a good value for some though.

Maria

Hey,

I’m planing on going on a backpack tour through europe (probably only the balkan countries) myself and found out about a balkan flexi pass. its supposed to cost like 70 euro and valid for 8 days. I’m trying to figure out which one could be the better choice, or if it is even the best choice to go without one and just make the reservations individually. Any Suggestions?

I price out the pass prices in the paragraph below.

I took the Eurorail over 15 years ago, and back then it was a real bargain. Now it seems sooo expensive. But then again, it’s Europe and everything to me seems expensive after central america!

But the fact is, I can’t wait to get back on it again:)

ami

what you say is true. But you do not mention that the prices are not applicable to every nationality. North American prices are cheaper. If a french buy this ticket it will cost even more. Or last time i check not even possible for european to buy. This is very important to mention.

Europeans can purchase an Interrail ticket…pretty much the same thing…but for europeans.

I love to travel by train – I did it across Canada and through Asia, and will do again as much as possible. It’s a great way to actually see something of the country you’re visiting, and it’s better for the environment too. Thanks for the article!

NomadicMatt

I agree. I really loved going through the countryside. It was very beautiful.

Well, for Europeans (especially under 25), Interrail is a really good option. They have different time scaling and travelling conditions but they have saved me a lot of money.

For example, 250 Euros to travel 4000 kilometers all across Europe with 7 long stops in big cities (and quite a few more day stops in little cities): now that’s a bargain.

Nice summary. I travelled with Eurail some years ago when air travel was more expensive and I priced out well ahead. I think as you imply that its real value is if you want to “sample” europe and spread travel across the continent – especially exploring the more expensive Scandinavian countries along with Germany and France. It also included (I assume it still does) some nice extras like free or 50% discounted ferries, boats on major rivers (Rhine/Danube) and private trains in Switzerland. As a bigger bonus, it also means not buying train tickets all the time – often just being able to leap on the train (though reservations can be a bit of a catch at times).

Really informative Matt! Especially since am planning a trip. Thanks!

We used Eurail passes to go around Europe and we discovered the same things, you need to go a long distance (between countries) and use it several days for it to be worth it. Within a country, there are usually cheaper options though we did enjoy not having to go to a ticket booth (and waiting in line) sometimes.

Oh, I forgot to mention, Eurail passes will also give you access to non-rail forms of transportation like ferries and the like. We took a ferry ride on the Rhine for “free” as it was included in the Eurail package.

LOUISE ramsay

Have just returned from a trip to France and Italy, we had a two country Eurail pass. I dont think we saved much, as it appears that these countries have expensive trains, compared to less sophisticated countries. What you fail to mention is a few nail-biting situations. In France, i was tryin to make a reservation for myself, husband and two daughters to get across to Italy, via Lyons and the Alps. No luck ! WHy ? Yes there were seats available, but so few are ear-marked for Eurail passenengers. Ggrrr. So, we had to re-route our entire trip, which meant cancelling accommodation in Lyon, and finding something in Ventimiglia, Italy.The lovely booking girl said this is a common problem with the Eurail pass, and, it was only April. Can you imagine the knockbacks you get if it is the Summer ?
Ok, as you know, you need reservations for the fast trains…in France this is only 3 euro per person, but in Italy it is 10 euro per person,per trip. This booking girl, and other staff we met, said, act now re. seats for the trips I had planned for Italy. So, I did…OK to buy your reservations for ther Italian train trips from France. HOWEVER, and this is the crucial thing…if the train in Italy is cancelled,( happens a bit, a country that loves to strike) you are in a difficult situation. I paid 80 euro for a booking for the four of us to go from Rome to Naples, and back to Rome in one day ( to see Pompeii) and, guess what ? A strike in Milan meant that my train to Naples was arriving 75 mins behind schedule…giving us only about an hour in Pompeii . gggrrr. The unhelpful staff at the Roma Termini basically said, tough luck, why did you buy your res in France?, you can not exchange it here ( which is NOT what I was told in France). I did the most dainty dummy-spit possible, given that I had to stay on the good side of these booking clerks. I was finally, after much sobbing, sent to an office on the platform, and, although I was made to feel like a criminal, the woman in charge wrote something on the back of the reso, enabling us to catch the next train out of Rome , a train NOT affected ny the strike. She also allowed us to catch a later train home from Pompeii, i.e later than the one I originally booked on.
A nail-biting experience we dont really neeed. Oh, and then having to explain it all to the ticket inspectors on both journeys, luckily , they believed me, and they read the scrawl on the back, PLUS, i had the brains to ask the lady at Roma Terminin her name, to quote her if I needed to.
Also, please note, there are different prices for the same journey on Italian trains, depending on whether you want to pay for a flexible fare or not.This info is close to impossible to find out before you go, again, making it hard to see if the Eurail pass is worth it.
In summary, I would NEVER buy a Eurail pass again….too many headaches.I had one as a single backpacker 20 years ago, great value. Remember, too, the risk ….they are like cash, and, if you lose it, you willnot have it replaced..so, buying separate tix is also less risky.
Happy travels

NomadicMatt

So you wouldn’t Eurail because the Italians went on strike and the people at the train stations weren’t helpful when knowing information about another country?

Frustrating I am sure but not Eurail’s fault.

Dylan

While it is definitely true that a pass will save you money on a lot of itineraries if you buy your tickets at the station, you will most likely save money if you buy point to point tickets in advance on country’s rail websites say 2 to 3 months in advance instead of buying a pass. They almost all have specials, the most dramatic being in Germany. For example you quoted the Copenhagen to Berlin journey as costing 130 euros, this fare can usually be bought for 29-39 euros in advance on bahn.de . If you really want to cut costs in travel, booking ahead of time and having a set itinerary is the way to go. If you do this, you can also factor in whether a flight will be less expensive, or even a bus. While this option gives a traveller no cherished flexibility, it is, I have found, the cheapest way to travel in Europe.

NomadicMatt

Most travelers don’t plan out their itineraries months in advance. To do so would know where you are going every day.

Hi! I’m planning to go to Madrid next year to attend the World Youth Day and wish to see the rest of Europe by train. One question, hope you could help me about it, how do you make the reservations? Can I do it online same time when I purchase the ticket?

Thanks!

Thank you for sharing this. However I have to agree with the previous commenters on the fact that tickets bought in advance are way cheaper than the prices you mentionned.

What’s expensive is the reservation fee. Having peace of mind is not cheap :)

I definitely don’t think travelling by train is luxury – taking a bus or plane only takes you from point A to point B, not allowing you to enjoy what’s inbetween. The train is a trip itself.

Rashmi

Hi,
Me and my husband are planning a trip in mid-June to Europe. We would be visiting three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland. We are planning to buy Eurail passes for three countries. Do we also need to make reservations and are there any specific trains or seat for people traveling on a pass.

NomadicMatt

Reservations are just showing up the day before. You need to do it in France but I don’t know about Italy or Switzerland.

Unsatisfied

Making reservations can be much more complicated that showing up the day before. When trying to make reservations 3 weeks in advance, we found out trains were sold out of EuRail seats. So showing up the day before may leave you stuck in the train station, or taking lots of local trains that don’t require reservations. A three hour trip can turn into a 12 hour trip. I’ve had a bad experience with it.

NomadicMatt

While night trains need to be booked in advance, day trains can be book the day of or before.

Rachael

hi there all

i am from australia and i have been trying to work out this eurail thing. i was going to do busabout but i would prefer to do eurail. On top of paying 1400 for my ticket. how much extra should i expect to pay for reservations? i will be going to get the global pass. does this mean i can jump on any train i want for free unless i need to make a reservation? i am just really confused with the whole thing i cant seem to understand it?

NomadicMatt

reservations are only 1 or 2 euros and you only need them in some countries. Yes, you can jump on any train you don’t need to make a reservation for.

shazi

Hi, I’m travelling in june 2011, and want to know how do you make your hotel reservations? we bought a 21 day global pass, so want to get up and go when ever and where ever we want to go. Now I’m having hard time figuring out for the hotels? plz someone help. thanks

NomadicMatt

Use any booking site like hostelbookers.com, hotels.com, etc.

Unsatisfied

You’ve been lucky that your reservations were only 1-2 euros. When trying to make reservations we’ve found that they have sometimes costed upwards of 200 euros… WITH the euro rail pass. Granted, this was for a night train that happened to only offer beds. The 200 euros came from the “supplemental fees” that EuRail doesn’t portray as being as expensive as they really are. Keep in mind that even if the reservations are cheap, you have still already fronted about 45 euros per travel day… add that to your reservation fee, and sometimes its more expensive to use the pass, and i can’t forget to mention that EuRail seat might be sold out anyway. EuRail passes can be more costly and they can give you even less flexibility.

Mav

Totally agree with everything you have said. If only I read this stuff before the purchase

Rachael

hi again, so should i set aside an extra $500 for reservation fees?

i dont even know where ill be going in europe just where i feel like it, when i feel like it.

do you think it would be a good option for me??

Rachel

Hi Racheal
We are from NZ and would be interested to hear what you did re eurail in the end? Or advice from other travellers. Coming from NZ it seems the reservation fees are very expensive to book in advance through NZ agents selling eurail but it seems necessary to go through this in order not to miss out on a reservation (as if you wait until you are there all seats may be gone). We are travelling Aug-Nov. Would we be better just to purchase point to point?

Melissa

To Rachel and Rachael
Im from aus, and also having trouble figuring out whether to go for the eurail or busabout. I would love to hear your experiences and where you went.
Can anyone else give a comparison between the two? any information is greatly appreciated!

Paige

Hi- I’m an American currently living in Spain. Can I still buy the Eurail pass? In december I am planning a trip to do 8 countries in 20 days. I am looking into the Global Pass 1 month..which is unlimited on and off for a month. I would love to travel on night trains to enjoy more of the cites- did you find heavy fees for making reservations on overnight trains? And, how do you make reservations once youve purchased the pass? Do you have make the reservation in person at the station? Im traveling in December, which is not tourist season, but it is the holidays- should i expect terrible delays and sold out trains? THANK YOU for any help you can offer!

Unsatisfied

Don’t buy. EuRail’s advertising seems to portray the idea that its possible to make reservations 3 months in advance, and that if you wanted to, it might be an alright idea, when in reality, it is absolutley necessary to make these reservations so far in advance. You are better off making reservations in advance by calling the rail stations, and NOT using the rail pass. They can end up being more expensive anyway. When people make their reservations and they are only a few euros, they seem to forget that they’ve already paid 44 euros upfront. So the train ride isn’t 1 euro, its 45. EuRail passes limit your seats and are more expensive. I don’t understand where the benefit is. I defiantly misunderstood their mission.

Also, the way the system is set up, no one is responsible for users dissatisfaction. The providers of the passes brush off responsibility because they don’t have any control over making reservations. and the train stations also don’t hold any responsibility because they don’t provide the passes. So complaints are brushed off, and you are told that you should have read the fine print… which after looking over it, still does not express any sort of urgency about making reservations or the high cost of ‘supplemental charges’.

NomadicMatt

Can you tell me more about your trip? I’m interested to hear the details. What pass did you buy? Where did you go? What type of trains did you take?

Mav

Biggest ripoff and mistake of my trip! Flexible 10 day pass is in no way flexible! Some train station would only reserve seats from their country only, so if you want to go say, Portugal-Madrid-Paris in one trip a lot of the time they could only reserve the train to madrid. reservation from Madrid to Paris alone was 77 euro which was more than a Ryanair flight. Also I made a mistake and wrote a wrong date down, 18th instead of 19th (was a night train) so changed it, got accused of fraud I guess and they crossed out another day. Used contact details on website and was told to go to Eurail aid office only to be told they could do nothing. Even though it clearly says it the guide if you make a mistake you can get a replacement pass for 30 euro. other reservations have been 20- 30 euro which on top of the pass is ridiculous! Also the UK booking service only make reservations by mailing it out to you which is pointless when you’re already traveling because it takes more than 4 days. Oh not to mention you have to wait over an hour at some stations just to reserve seat!! hardly convenient

NomadicMatt

You can never get 100% satisfied people but from your rant here, I think you used the pass wrong. For starters, it’s not Eurail’s fault the train conductor yelled at you for marking a day wrong. That has nothing to do with Eurail and everything to do with the conductor. I too was yelled at on a train. Secondly, I’d like to know the details of trying to get a replacement pass. I bet there is more to it. Eurail, like anyone, need to protect against fraud otherwise everyone can just come in at the end and say they mad a mistake and get another day.

As for the uk: you don’t need bookings, just get right on. The UK train system, with or without your rail pass, only allows booking with a UK mailing address. This is not new. It has been this way for many, many frustrating years.

Wait time: You had to wait in line? Welcome to life.

I would ay to you and Unsatisfied that the problem here is not the pass but your expectation that the pass was “free travel” which it is not. There are fees involved and depending on how you are traveling the pass itself can actually cost more as I said in this article.

Here are a schedule of fees for trains:

http://www.eurail.com/planning/train-seat-reservations/overnight-fees

As you can see and on the other pages for day trains, there is a RANGE of fees, with some as small as 10 Euros. On most day trains, the fee is only 2-5 Euro.

I don’t know why you were paying 77 Euros.

Dale

Attached is a letter I wrote to Eurail outlining my experiences

From my own travel experiences in Italy, I have decided to make sure no one falls victim to the horrible experiences we had on TrenItalia or buy a Eurail pass here. While on the trains we were constantly confused about which ones we could use. Because of this we often asked the information desk for help. However, we ended up being kicked off of several trains because of the confusion. On one train in particular we were threatened by a train conductor who told us he would have us arrested if we did not pay the supplement which we did not know existed. We said we would politely get off at the next stop as it was a misunderstanding. He called his police friend up who took our passports and recorded them somewhere. We got off at the next station and went to the information counter again to try to clear things up. While waiting in line behind some other students with eurail passes we discovered that they were attempting to go on the exact train we had just been kicked off of and threatened on, and the information were telling them they could go on that exact train. We argued with the information telling them no and then took the students with their eurail passes aside and warned them against going on that train.

Several other times we were kicked off trains, and stranded, forced to sleep in train stations. Please do not write back if you just wish to tell me that I should have read tiny subsections hidden within the fine print of your endless list of legal documents used to defend yourself against any allegations. I hope no one has to experience the horrible mistreatment we suffered in Italy and I am recommending and posting on all the travel sites this experience so no one has to deal with what we did.

Sincerely,
Dale Sakamoto

Hoogaar

I’ve used Eurail passes several times. They can be anything from great to terrible.

If your trip is something like Germany-Austria-Switzerland, that is about as good as it gets for the Eurail pass. Practically no trains require reservations. You can hop on, hop off pretty much any train with no additional fees. That was my first experience with the pass a few years back, and it was great. And considering the price of train fares in these countries, the pass is a great value with no hassle.

If your trip is something like Spain-France-Italy, that is about as bad as it can get. Every train in Spain and Italy requires you to pay a reservation fee. In fact, the “reservation fee” from Madrid to Toledo I was told was €20 (10 each way), however I could just buy a return ticket for €12!!! (might be mis-remembering the exact amounts as this was 3 year ago, but point is it was cheaper to buy the ticket outright than to pay the res fee for an already paid pass). Other reservation fees were around €24 for first class and €10 for 2nd. What sucks is that over 26 you are forced to buy the 1st class pass, but then end up traveling 2nd class because you don’t want to pay the crazy supplements. When I added things up in Spain, I definitely did not save money when looking at point to point tickets versus pass+res fees (Madrid-Toledo return, Madrid-Cordoba, Cordoba-Seville, Seville-Granada, Granada-Barcelona)

And in France, it is even worse now. I noticed NomadicMat replied to “Unstatisfied” comment about not being able to get a seat with “No, it’s not. I never booked a train more than 24 hrs in advance and never once had a problem” – well sorry to say – just because you never had a problem, does not mean it is not true. TGV and Thalys (might be others now as well) now yield manage the Eurail seats on their trains. What that means is that only a set number of seats will be given to Eurail pass holders. I experienced this twice on my last trip to Europe (August 2010).

Our trip from Paris to Cologne on the Thalys – we had to pay a €50 supplement each (not a typo – FIFTY). I thought it was ridiculous, but we HAD to take that train, so we went ahead and booked it. Once we were on the train, I was surfing the web and went to Thalys site only to see the Paris-Cologne route being advertised at €29!!!

And at the tail end of that trip, heading back to Paris from Basel, the gentleman behind the counter (employed by SBB – Switzerland Rail) went on a bit of a rant about the TGV and railpasses. He bragged about how they (Swiss) didn’t extort money from tourists with these reservation fees for passes they already paid for, but that the TGV from Basel to Paris was almost impossible to get for a pass holder. He said if you want that train on a pass, you probably need to book it 3 months out as he had never once seen it available. The rate we were offered was almost €200. But, he was very nice and printed off like 5 connections to get me to Paris on local trains. So what we had planned as a 3 hour trip ended up taking over 10 hours.

As for Italy – I think the have recently reduced the cost of reservation fees, but more trains require them now. And if you look at Trenitalia’s website, there are very few routes that will be more than the cost of one day on a pass (unless it’s the consecutive day passes). For example the popular routes like Florence-Venice, Florence-Rome, Rome-Venice are all between €30-€45 (which includes reservation fee).

So in a nutshell, in my opinion of course:

Germany, Switzerland, Austria: Awesome! Great Value
France: Not great if you plan on getting on TGV for certain routes. Otherwise, not bad. Reservation fees are very cheap in France which is good, as long as the seats are available)
Spain and Italy: Not really a good value due to high reservation costs and relatively cheap trains tickets.

Heather

What about Czech Republic?

Dan

Be aware before hand of the cost of reserving seats if you intend to travel on the fast trains. The eurail website states around 3 euro per person to reserve a seat. I’m currently trying to reserve 3 seats about 2 months in advance (it’ll be the busy season) and the only way to do it is through a seperate booking agent. About 30 euro!!. And thats per leg, so for Bordeaux to Barcelona thats 3 transfers, all at about the same price. Definatly not the best option if you need to use high speed trains during the busy season. The cost of booking each leg seperatley came to $2526NZ, compared to $2726NZ. Dosn’t make sense to me to purchase one.

Allan

Im planning on doing a trip sort of like this

Greece – Italy – France – Spain – Portugal – Netherlends – Sweden – Germany in a 2 month period – August 1st – 8th October.

Is the 2 month 10 days pass going to be of any use for me?

NomadicMatt

I’d look into getting the 2 month flexi pass and whether it is of any use, depends on how often you plan on traveling, what kind of trains you are taking, and everything else I mentioned. You need to see if the numbers work for your own trip by pricing out a few of the routes alone but in general, a long distance trip like that would be what the pass is good for.

Phillip

Interesting thread and thank you to hoogaar for the really informative posting. I wish I had come across this site a couple days ago, before I bought my pass…

I’m spending most of June in Europe, flying into Germany and staying there for a couple days before heading to florence to visit a friend and then to rom to visit another friend. When I was in Italy last fall, I found the rail system to be pretty straightforward but the prices for first class travel to be a little more than I wanted to pay ( €129 from Venice to Rome). I thought I would save some money this time by doing the eurail pass; Berlin to Florence to Rome and then a couple extra days for travel within Rome before heading north for my flight back to the states.

That said: I am SO confused by the eurail website. I don’t understand how I’m supposed to make reservations, there seems to be a lot of little legs to the journeys and whenever I try to book for Berlin to Florence, I’m told there are no online reservations available for that trip. I feel like a stupid American (something I try very hard not to be when traveling abroad) but I could really use some help/guidance!!!

Thanks!

I agree with you Phillip! Eurail website is extremely confusing.

Something they don’t say is that once you buy the Eurail Pass you can’t buy tickets from them. So you DO NOT have any kind of reservation on any trains, and you are subjected to availability.

And they invite you to get the tickets once in the train station! Taking the risk of not having a seat in the train you want to travel.

I have a blog about train travel in Europe, and that is a recurring BIG problem I heard from people who buys from their website.

NomadicMatt

They mostly come from people not reading the rules. Like I say here, it really depends on the type of trip in Europe you are going to. It’s the people who buy the pass blindly that end up hating it.

Fellicia

Thank you! A great read, and some great comments :) I will consider all this when planning my holiday.

Katie Fleming

My fiance and I have planned our trip to Europe this year in May for our Honeymoon and we are in a bit of a cross roads as to whether we should book train and plane in advance or if we should get the Eurail pass.

Our itinerary begins in Rome, traveling north west (via Florence and Genoa if possible) before crossing the border into France where we will stay in Nice, before going to Paris (via Lyon?), next stop Edinburgh (via London), then possibly Amsterdam, then north to Gothenburg via Copenhagen. The remainder of our trip will be spent in Sweden, we plan to make a lot of short trips there. Do you think we should purchase a rail pass? Our trip is within a month and approx 15 days of that will be spent in Rome Nice and Paris..
Your advice would be greatly appreciated! :)

Amy

Hi Matt! This website is so helpful, thanks. My partner and I have booked a one way ticket to Italy for July this year and plan to backpack around for maybe 4-5 weeks by train. We would then (if we have the money) like to to get a train back to UK. We are in no rush, would you advice taking slower trains? Is there stuff worthwhile to see this way? Would you advice purchasing a rail card for the purpose of getting round just Italy? I’d appreciate any advice and thanks again for all the info you have on here, its great!
:)

Mridul

Our planned travel this summer will take us across a number of countries and cities. I don’t expect you to do a calculation for us, but based on your experience, will a Euro Rail pass for 2 (Adult First Class Saver) work?

Travel: London-Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam-Zurich-Lucerne/Interlaken-Venice-Florence-Rome-Barcelona-Valencia-Madrid (Phew!)

NomadicMatt

Comments on this article are now closed. The article is old, exchange rates different, and the booking situation has changed. I wrote a more updated and through article in 2013. Please refer to that:

http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/eurail-passes-breakdown/