Last Updated: 9/26/22 | September 26th, 2022
Every summer, backpackers from all around the world flock to Europe. Gap-year travelers, students on summer breaks, the recently retired — they’re all there to take in the continent’s sights, history, food, and beauty.
And while there are plenty of cheap ways to travel Europe, one of the most popular and iconic is via train, using a Eurail Pass.
The Eurail Pass is a train ticket that allows you to travel Europe on your own terms, in and through up to 33 countries. Eurail was first launched back in the 1950s as a consortium of a few dozen railways and shipping companies, as a way to increase (and simplify) train travel around the continent.
It’s changed a lot since those early days, though (there are far more rules today). Understanding the ins and outs of the various passes and what they do — and don’t — cover can often be confusing for first-time pass holders.
If you’re thinking about getting a Eurail Pass, this article will answer some of the most frequently asked questions I get about it.
Table of Contents
- How Does the Eurail Pass Work?
- What’s the Difference Between the Passes?
- How Much is a Eurail Pass?
- Do Prices Fluctuate?
- How Far in Advance Can a Eurail Pass Be Bought?
- Can I Buy a Eurail Pass in Person?
- Where Can I Buy a Eurail Pass?
- What Countries Does Eurail Go Through?
- Does the Eurail Pass Work on Local Trains?
- Does the Eurail Pass Cover High-Speed Trains?
- Can I Use Eurail Pass on Eurostar?
- Will I Need to Pre-Book Tickets?
- Is the Eurail Pass Worth It?
- What’s the Difference Between Rail Europe and Eurail?
1. How Does the Eurail Pass Work?
Getting your hands on a Eurail pass has become a lot easier in recent years. You used to have to order your pass far in advance, as it was a paper ticket that had to be shipped to you. However, there’s now a handy Eurail app, where you can purchase a pass and receive it in the app immediately. You can also buy tickets via their portal on their website after you log in, so everything is digital and easy to organize. Just note that you need internet access on your phone every 3 days to keep your digital pass active.
That said, you can still order a paper version if you want one. You don’t have to go digital if you don’t want to.
Note that for some countries, you’ll still need to purchase a paper ticket in advance — and in person. Be sure to double-check beforehand so you don’t miss out as these can often only be reserved at the local station. This is the case in a few destinations, including Estonia and Latvia.
To validate your pass, visit a ticket booth in any major train station in Europe or order a pre-validated pass (only possible if you know your exact travel dates at the time of purchasing).
Here’s a short video on how to set up your Mobile Pass:
2. What’s the Difference Between the Passes?
There are two major types of passes: country and global. Country passes work for individual countries, while the global pass will give you access to all 33 countries that take part in the Eurail program (listed below).
Once you know how long you’ll be traveling (and where you are traveling to), you’ll be able to purchase the pass that best suits your needs.
3. How Much is a Eurail Pass? How Long Do They Last?
The price will depend on which pass you purchase. There are several options, based on how long you’ll be traveling. There are passes for as much as three months of travel, as well as passes for just a few days.
Here is a chart with all the passes and the prices, so you can compare, or visit Eurail.com:
(Youth tickets are for ages 12-27, and adult tickets are for ages 28-60.)
4. Do Prices Fluctuate?
While there are occasionally sales, the price for the Eurail pass is generally the same all year around.
5. How Far in Advance Can a Eurail Pass be Bought?
Passes can be bought online up to 11 months in advance.
6. Can I Buy a Eurail Pass in Person?
No, Eurail Passes need to be ordered either through the website or (if you need/want a paper ticket) before you visit Europe, as the pass will be mailed to you. You cannot purchase the pass in person in Europe.
7. Where Can I Buy a Eurail Pass?
There are three places where you can purchase your pass:
- RailEurope.com (an official reseller of the tickets and passes that Eurail creates, occasionally at a discount)
- Interrail (only for Europeans)
8. What Countries Does Eurail Go Through?
As of 2022, there are 33 countries included in the pass. The following countries are included in Eurail passes:
9. Does the Eurail Pass Work on Local Trains?
The Eurail Passes only work on intercity train lines and not local trains such as subways or trams.
10. Does the Eurail Pass Cover High-Speed Trains?
The Eurail Pass does cover high-speed trains (as well as overnight trains). However, you’ll almost always have to make advance reservations for these, as they limit the number of Eurail pass holders on each train. (I know, it sucks.)
11.Can I Use Eurail Pass on Eurostar?
Yep, but you’ll need to make a reservation in advance. (Eurostar is a high-speed train connecting London with destinations in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.)
12. Will I Need to Pre-Book Tickets?
Depending on the route, you may be able to just show up at the train, present the conductor with your pass, and continue your journey — or you might need to book a seat ahead of time. Some countries require this, and reservations are often required on most high-speed and overnight trains. France, Italy, and Spain are the most popular countries that require reservations for their trains.
If your train requires you to book a reservation, you can do so the day of or the day before you want to get on that train. You don’t need to book far in advance (that’s why the pass is so convenient!).
On the Eurail app, you can filter for trains without compulsory reservation. This will help you avoid seat reservation fees. They also have suggested itineraries on their website that include routes without reservations.
13. Is the Eurail Pass Worth It?
That depends! At the end of the day, rail passes are all about money and convenience.
A Eurail Pass is only worth getting if it saves you money or saves you time/hassle. Unfortunately, that means you’ll have to do some math to figure out if a pass is right or not. It can be a time-consuming process, but it is certainly worth calculating if you’re on a budget.
To figure out if the rail pass will be economical, you’ll need to plan a route for yourself. After you have a general idea as to where you want to go over what period of time, visit the national railway websites and work out two sets of prices: one for tomorrow (i.e., a last-minute fare) and one for two months from now (i.e., an early-bird fare).
Next, add up the prices in each category to get an approximate total. Then, compare these prices with the Eurail price. That’s how you’ll be able to tell which option is the most budget-friendly.
For more information, see this long blog post, which goes into depth about the pros and cons of the pass.
That said, if money isn’t an issue and you prefer the simplicity and convenience of having a single pass — instead of having to buy and manage lots of separate tickets — then having a Eurail Pass is definitely worth the price.
14. What is the Difference Between Rail Europe and Eurail?
Eurail is the official consortium that created the Eurail Pass. They work alongside all the national rail companies in Europe. Rail Europe is an official reseller of Eurail tickets. Prices between the two are usually comparable, though sometimes one will be cheaper than the other due to discounts or sales.
The Eurail Pass won’t be suitable for every type of trip, but it’s one of the most convenient ways to explore the continent. Not only is it better for the environment than flying from city to city but it offers flexible and affordable options for both short-term and long-term travel.
And as more and more train routes are added (Europe adds new routes every year), the ticket becomes even more valuable and convenient.
In short, whether you’re just visiting for a couple of weeks or have a few months to spend exploring, you’ll be able to find a pass that suits your needs — all without breaking the bank!
If you want to learn more or have additional questions, be sure to check out my comprehensive guide to Eurail Passes and my experience using them.
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