|Europe's modern rail network makes travel easy, efficient and environmentally-friendly.|
Some European rail passes allow you to choose between a consecutive-day pass or flexipass. Both types may also have a Saverpass discount for two or more people traveling together. Here are some terms:
Continuous pass: If you plan to travel nearly daily and cover a lot of ground, a consecutive-day or "continuous" rail pass is the right choice for you. Eurail Global, BritRail, and Swiss passes offer this format. You get unlimited train travel for the duration of the pass. If you have a 15-day rail pass, you can travel 15 consecutive days, taking trains many times each day. If you have a one-month rail pass, you can travel, for example, from April 26 through May 25. One-month rail passes last longer when started in a 31-day month.
Flexipass: If you like to linger for a few days at various places, a flexipass is the better choice. Most Eurail and other European rail passes are this type. You have a certain number of train travel days to use within a longer "window" of time (for example, any 10 days within a two-month period). You can sprinkle these travel days throughout your trip or use them all in a row. You can take as many separate trips as you like within each travel day. A travel day runs from midnight to midnight, but luckily, an overnight train or boat ride uses only one travel day. For details, see Using Your Rail Pass.
Saverpass: Cheaper for groups, a Saverpass is a single ticket printed with all the names of two to five travelers. Members of each pair or group must order the same rail pass together and all must be present to validate the saverpass in Europe. Part of the group can use the saverpass while others stay in town or fly home early, but those sharing a pass cannot split and go different directions by train. If you are a group of four, you can give yourselves more flexibility by ordering a separate saverpass for each pair. On our website, add a rail pass for one pair to your shopping cart, then use the "Continue Shopping" button to add more passes to the same order. By fax, simply indicate which people will travel together. (It's OK to split payment for one order onto two credit cards.) Some rail passes offer a "Twin" discount that works the same way, but with only two people listed on each pass.
Reservations: Despite the freedom you have to hop on many trains with a rail pass, train reservations are required on many other fast, long-distance, international, or overnight trains. Prices vary depending on route and the number of places for rail pass holders is limited.
|First class train cars generally feature bigger seats filled with business commuters — and Eurail pass travelers over age 26.|
Wrestling with the choice between first and second class? Sometimes the choice is made for you...
With a Eurail Global or Select pass: If you're 26 or older, you must buy a first-class pass. Those under 26 have the choice of buying either a second- or a first-class pass. For two traveling together, a first-class Saverpass for two costs the same as one first-class adult and one second-class youth. Most families choose to keep youths together with them on a first-class Saverpass.
With a single-country rail pass: Most single-country and regional rail passes are available in cheaper, second-class versions for travelers of any age.
If you're under 26: Some rail passes are discounted for youth traveling second class. To be eligible, you must be under 26 (according to your passport) the day you validate the rail pass in Europe. Generally, kids 4–11 get rail passes for half the cost of the adult first-class pass (and kids under 4 travel free in your seat or bed). Ages vary a bit among different country rail passes.
If you're 60 or older: Even though some rail passes (Britrail, France) offer first-class-only senior discounts, you'll still save more by traveling in second class.
|Second class costs one-third less than first.|
First versus second class: Normally, first class is configured with three plush seats per row (whether in a compartment or open-style seating) and second class has four skinnier, basic seats in the same space. Remember that nearly every train has both first- and second-class cars, each going at precisely the same speed!
Choosing first class: If you have the extra money, riding first class is less crowded and more comfortable. First-class rail passes can be a good value, too. While individual first-class train tickets cost 50% more than second class, first-class rail passes generally bump your price up only 25% to 40%.
Choosing second class: If you're on a tight budget, second class makes lots of sense. In most of Europe, the new second-class train cars are as comfortable as the old first-class ones. First class is filled with Eurail and Selectpass travelers age 26+ who had no choice, and business travelers who paid 50% extra in hopes that they wouldn't have to sit with the likes of you and me.
Switching classes: Those with first-class rail passes may travel in second-class compartments (although the conductor may give you a puzzled look). Those with second-class rail passes can often pay the 50% difference in ticket price to upgrade to first (not possible in Britain).
Many passes come in "Rail & Drive" versions, offering a certain number of train days and rental car days. For details, see Rail & Drive Passes. Note: Rick Steves' Europe does not sell Rail & Drive passes. To order, call your travel agent or Rail Europe at 800/438-7245.
A train traveler’s biggest pre-trip decision is whether to get a rail pass, point-to-point tickets, or a mix of both. It pays to do the math. Before your trip, you'll need to sketch out your itinerary, then answer the following questions:
On how many calendar days will you ride the train to connect your destinations? If you’ll be on the train for just one or two days, point-to-point tickets are usually a better match. The more time you’ll spend on the train, the more likely it is that you’ll want a rail pass.
In how many countries will you ride the train? There are rail passes for one, two, three, four, five, or 24 countries. For some trips, you may want more than one pass. (For instance, BritRail passes are not combined with countries on the Continent.)
How much would point-to-point train tickets cost? You don’t have to laboriously look up exact train fares online. Check the Ticket Cost & Travel Time map for longer journeys and Regional Train Cost Maps for shorter distances. Connect the dots and add up the fares to get an approximate total cost for your route.
How does your point-to-point ticket total compare to the price of a rail pass? Look up the cost of the one or two passes that cover the region you’ll be in and the number of days you’ll be on the train.
If your price comparison doesn’t produce an obvious winner, consider these factors:
First-class upgrade: If a first-class pass costs about the same as traveling with second-class train tickets, go with the pass for comfort.
Convenience: In countries or regions where reservations are not required, a pass allows you to hop on and off trains without fussing with multiple tickets (or even a plan). If all other things are even, a pass can make sense for ease of travel, especially in Britain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe.
Fast-train reservation fees: Rail passes lose their luster when fees are tacked on. In some countries, particularly in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, passholders are required to pay a seat reservation fee for each trip on a high-speed train. These trains can also limit the number of rail pass travelers on each departure, making it more important to plan ahead.
Both consecutive-day and flexi style Europe rail passes offer a varying number of train travel days. Once you've planned a route for your trip, you should count how many travel days you'll need to cover everything. Rail pass prices used as examples are approximate and subect to change.
Stretch a flexipass by paying out of pocket for shorter trips. Use your flexipass only for those travel days that involve long hauls or several trips. To determine if a trip is a good use of a travel day, divide the cost of your rail pass by the number of travel days (or look at what it costs to add a day onto the pass's base price). If the pass you're considering costs $60 per travel day, it makes no sense to use one of your days for a trip that would otherwise cost $10 in Europe.
With careful juggling, a shorter, cheaper rail pass can cover a longer trip. For example, if you're on a one-month trip, you don't necessarily need a one-month Eurail pass. You may be able to get by with a 21-day continuous pass by starting and/or ending your trip in a city where you'd like to stay for several days or in a country not covered by your pass. On, say, a one-month London-Vienna trip, you could spend a few days in London, pay to take the Eurostar train to Paris (not covered by any railpass), sightsee in Paris for several days, then validate your rail pass when you leave Paris. Plan for your pass to expire in Vienna, where you can easily spend a few days without the use of a rail pass.
It can make sense to get a longer consecutive-day rail pass to cover a shorter trip. One long, expensive train ride at the end of a 25-day trip can justify jumping from a 21-day Eurail Global pass to a one-month pass.
Flexipasses are cheaper because they cover fewer days. Let's say you're planning a 21-day trip and choosing between a 21-day Eurail Global Continous pass and a cheaper 10-days-in-2-months Eurail Global Flexipass. For about $70 more, the continuous pass gives you the option to travel for 11 extra days without counting or wondering if a particular trip justifies the use of a travel day.
More travel days on a rail pass = cheaper cost per day. Compared to shorter rail passes, longer rail passes are cheaper per travel day. For example, for a 15-day Eurail Global Continuous pass at about $675, you're paying $45 a day. With a three-month pass for about $1800, you're paying only $20 a day. (Most one-hour train rides cost more than that.) Similarly, many single-country Europe rail passes start at a base price of three travel days for about $70 each, but allow you to buy extra days for as low as $20 each.
One rail pass is usually better than two. To cover a multi-country trip, it's usually cheaper to buy one Select pass or Eurail Global pass with lots of travel days than to buy several single-country rail passes with a few high-cost travel days per pass. If you decide to travel over a border (such as France to Germany) using separate country rail passes, then you'll use a day of each pass.
One of these things is not like the others. If most of your destinations are in one country, the second-class version of the one-country pass is often a cheap deal. To connect with a city outside that region, supplement it with a separate train ticket to the logical border crossing point. If this is a significant distance (such as between Paris and another country), look for advance-purchase discount tickets or a cheap flight.
Divide and conquer for long stays. Students spending a semester in Europe often stay longer than the two-month validity of most Eurail passes, but don't have enough free time for a three-month Eurail Global Continuous pass. More than one rail pass may be the answer, such as...
|If you plan to...||Consider...|
|Tour most of Europe|
|Tour three, four, or five neighboring countries|
|Tour one or two neighboring countries or a defined region||
One-Country, Two-Country, and Regional Europe Rail Passes:
|Tour Britain and Europe|
|Take a few long international trips|
|Take short trips|
|Mix train with a few days of car|
|Drive almost exclusively|
Where: Most European rail passes must be purchased in the U.S. and are not sold in Europe. There are some exceptions: Eurail multi-country passes are sold at some of Europe's major railway stations for 10-20% more than the U.S. price. Swiss and German rail passes are sold at stations in their respective countries.
When: Most European rail passes can be purchased anywhere from six months in advance (if you're sure of your plans) to one week ahead (allow five business days for delivery from Rick Steves' Europe). Rail pass prices fluctuate during the year based on the dollar-euro exchange rate (and other variables) and are subject to change without notice. The $U.S. price you pay will be locked in at the time of ticketing, much like an airline ticket, and this rate remains in computer records of your purchase. (Your printed rail pass may show the price in euros only.) After you buy a rail pass, you have six months to validate it at a train station in Europe.
Who: Most rail passes sold in the U.S. cannot be used by residents of Europe. You are not a resident of Europe if you live on an American military base or have only a temporary student visa for Europe. You must provide proof of at least 6 months residence outside Europe (and outside the Russian Federation or Turkey) when validating most rail passes. A passport or green card is the usual proof. These rail passes require only proof of residence outside the countries covered: Balkan, BritRail, European East, and Swiss passes.
The following European boat, bus, and other non-rail rides are either covered or discounted with any rail pass that covers the appropriate country. Covered bonuses start use of a travel day of a flexipass (same as any train would); discounted bonuses generally do not use a flexipass day, but travel must be within the validity period of the rail pass. The map that accompanies each pass explains all bonuses in detail.
You may prefer a cheap flight over a long international boat crossing.
If you decide to get rail pass insurance (a.k.a. Rail Protection Plan), it must be purchased at the same time you buy your rail pass. As rail passes get more expensive, you may want this security. We keep our rail passes in a moneybelt and take our chances.
Lost or stolen rail passes are not refundable.
Validated or partly used rail passes are not refundable unless you get a European railway official to certify that it was not used past a certain date. The rule applies regardless of illness, injury, death, or rail strike.
Exchanges: Most unvalidated rail passes can be exchanged for equal or greater value passes for a small fee. There is a penalty (15% or more) for downgrading from a longer rail pass to a shorter, cheaper pass.
Refunds: Most unvalidated rail passes are refundable (minus a penalty of 15% or more) if returned to the place of purchase within six months for BritRail or within one year for most other passes. Rail pass insurance, shipping fees, and some special offers are not refundable.
Rail passes lost or stolen in Europe: Insurance does not replace your rail pass while in Europe, but allows you to make a claim at home to recover some costs. If you have insurance and your rail pass is lost or stolen in Europe, paperwork will include filing a police report within 24 hours of loss, buying a new rail pass or rail tickets to continue your trip, and saving these and other documents to file a claim within 30 days of returning home. Rail Europe will reimburse you for the unused portion of the pass that was lost or stolen, or the new rail tickets you buy, whichever is less. Loss or theft outside of Europe is not covered.
Rail pass insurance prices are:
Continue to Step 2: Plan Your European Rail Trip