Riding the Rails in Europe
Tips for Planning Your Route and Schedule
Any European rail adventure begins with two questions:
- Where should I go, based on the time I have?
- How do I figure out how to get from place to place?
To help answer the first question, we've developed a handy table that organizes itinerary priorities for a typical traveler who wants to move along at a fairly speedy pace. Add places from left to right as you build plans for the best of that country in however many days you have. (These suggestions take geographical proximity into account. In some cases, the plan assumes you'll take a night train.) So according to this chart, the best week in Britain would be spread between London, Bath, Cambridge, and the Cotswolds.
|Country||3 days||5 days||7 days||10 days||14 days|
|Europe||Forget it||London, Paris||Amsterdam||Rhine Valley, Swiss Alps||Rome, Venice|
|Britain||London||Bath||Cambridge, Cotswolds||York||Edinburgh, N. Wales|
|Ireland||Dublin||Dingle Peninsula||Galway, Belfast||County Clare, Burren||Antrim Coast, Aran Islands|
|France||Paris, Versailles||Normandy||Loire||Dordogne, Carcassonne||Provence, the Riviera|
|Germany||Munich, Bavarian Catles||Rhine Valley, Rothenburg||More of Bavaria, Salzburg||Berlin||Baden-Baden, Black Forest, Dresden|
|Austria||Vienna||Salzburg||Hallstatt||Danube Valley, Tirol, Bavaria (Germany)||Innsbruck, Hall, Bratislava (Slovakia)|
|Switzerland||Berner Oberland||Luzern||Bern, Lausanne||Zermatt, Appenzell, scenic rail trips||Lugano, Zürich|
|Italy||Florence, Venice||Rome||Cinque Terre||Civita, Siena||Sorrento, Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast|
|Scandinavia||Copenhagen, side trips||Stockholm||Oslo||"Norway in a Nutshell," Bergen||Helsinki, Tallinn|
|Spain||Madrid, Toledo||Sevilla, Granada||Barcelona||Andalucia||Costa del Sol, Morocco|
|Portugal||Lisbon, Sintra||The Algarve||Évora, Nazaré||Sights near Nazaré, Coimbra||Porto, Douro Valley|
|Eastern Europe||Prague||Budapest||Kraków, Auschwitz||Slovenia, Cesky Krumlov||Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik|
|Croatia & Slovenia||Dubrovnik||Mostar, Split||Korcula/Hvar or Montenegro||Lake Bled, Plitvice Lakes||Ljulbjana, Istria, more of Dalmatian Coast|
|Greece||Athens||Hydra||Delphi||Nafplio, Epidavros, Mycenae||Olympia, Monemvasia, Mani Peninsula|
Once you've gathered information on these places and settled on your sightseeing priorities, Rick Steves' guidebooks and our advice on planning your rail trip can give you all the information you need to plan your route from place to place.
Maps: Any map of Europe can help you locate your destinations and lay out a logical route. You can request simple, printable Rail Maps online, excerpted from Rick's books. Rick Steves' country, city and regional guidebooks include full-color maps that show most rail lines and major roads.
Books: At the end of each chapter of Rick's guidebooks is a summary showing the frequency and travel time for public transportation from that city to many popular destinations. This gives you enough info to rough out your travel itinerary. For example, if you're wondering how you'll get from Venice to Italy's Cinque Terre, the "Venice Connections" section at the end of the Venice chapter of Rick Steves' Italy has the basics (underlined below):
From Venice by Train to: Padua (2/hour, 30 minutes), Vicenza (2/hour, 1 hour), Verona (roughly 2/hour, 1.5 hours), Ravenna (hourly, 3–4 hours, transfer in Ferrara or Bologna), Florence (hourly, 2-3 hours, may transfer in Bologna; often crowded so make reservations), Dolomites (to Bolzano about hourly, 3–4 hours, transfer in Verona; catch bus from Bolzano into mountains), Milan (hourly, 2.5 hours), Cinque Terre/Monterosso (almost hourly, 6–7 hours, with 1–3 changes), Rome (hourly, 3.5 hours, may transfer in Bologna, overnight possible), Naples (almost hourly, 5.5–7 hours, with changes in Bologna or Rome), Brindisi (7/day, 9–14 hours, most change in Bologna; 1 direct night train, 11 hours), Bern (3/day, 6 hours, change in Milan or Brig), Munich (4–6/day, 7 hours, change in Verona; 1 direct night train, 8 hours), Paris (3/day, 10–16 hours with change in Milan, may also transfer in Basel or Zürich; 1 direct night train, 12.5 hours, important to reserve ahead), Ljubljana (3/day, 7.5 hours — take bus from Piazzale Roma to Villach in Austria, then transfer to train; 1 direct night train, 4 hours, but arrives at 2:00 in the morning), and Vienna (3/day, 8 hours — take bus from Piazzale Roma to Villach in Austria, then transfer to train; 1 direct night train, 11 hours).
Schedules: You can find complete train schedules online, plus our tips for using them. The site we most highly recommend, operated by the German Railway, automatically shows the fastest direct trains or connections between any two towns on all of Europe's national railways. Enter your start and arrival cities and an approximate departure date and time to get an overview of several departures. Here's an example schedule showing some options from Venice to Monterosso:
- Select an arrow on the left side — and voilà! — connection points and times for each departure are revealed:
As you use these travel tools, keep in mind that schedules change every year around June 10, Sept. 10, and Dec. 10 (and some are not published before those changes happen — particularly for Italy, Spain, and parts of Eastern Europe). But, even if your trip is several months away, using an earlier date will give you a fairly accurate prediction of the future schedule.
Should you get a Eurail pass for your trip? Our rail site at ricksteves.com will help you compare the price of a Eurail Pass with what it would cost to buy point-to-point tickets for your trip. If you choo-choose to get a rail pass, we'll sell you one with some extras tossed in — and free shipping with no minimum!