|Europe's trains can even take you from big cities...to off the beaten track.|
Download these printable Rail Route Maps to help you visualize a logical trip plan. While these maps don't show every train line or stop, they include most destinations covered in Rick Steves' travel guides. These rail maps and others are also printed in the guidebooks themselves. If you don't find your town on a map, you can check that it has service by searching for a train schedule on Deutsche Bahn's website or their DB Navigator app for mobile devices.
Use this chart to get ideas on how speedy travelers can prioritize limited sightseeing time in various countries. Add places from left to right as you build plans for the best of that country in 3, 5, 7, 10, or 14 days. (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.
|3 days||5 days||7 days||10 days||14 days|
|Ireland||Dublin||Dingle Peninsula||Galway, Belfast||County Clare, Burren||Antrim Coast, Aran Islands|
|Normandy||Loire||Dordogne, Carcassonne||Provence, the Riviera|
|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)|
||Zermatt, Appenzell, scenic rail trips||Lugano, Zürich|
|Rome||Cinque Terre||Civita, Siena||Sorrento, Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast|
|Scandinavia||Copenhagen, side trips||Stockholm
||Oslo||"Norway in a Nutshell," Bergen||Helsinki,
||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|
A "Transportation Connections" summary at the end of each chapter of Rick Steves' guidebooks shows the frequency and travel time for recommended trains or buses 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 (4/day, 10–16 hours with change in Milan, may also transfer in Basel or Zürich, important to reserve ahead), Ljubljana (3/day, 7.5 hours — take bus from Tronchetto 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 Tronchetto to Villach in Austria, then transfer to train; 1 direct night train, 11 hours).
Rail schedule and route planning is easier than ever on the internet. While maps can be helpful, they can't do what a good online schedule can: instantly show you the fastest train connections, frequency, and length of train trip (and whether reservations are required). Each country's national rail company has its own website, but the one operated by German Rail (Deutsche Bahn) has train schedules for virtually all of Europe; see below for tips on using it. Their DB Navigator app is a boon for train travelers with smartphones and tablets.
The Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable (all train lines, some ferries, and lots of confusing footnotes; 550 pages; published monthly) can be delivered from Europe for £18 postpaid. See the Thomas Cook website (www.thomascookpublishing.com) or call 011-44-1733-4164-77.
|Train schedules are sign language masterpieces. For example, at 9:31 a.m. daily, a EuroCity train leaves the Munich main station, arriving in Venice's Santa Lucia station at 5:10 p.m. It has us changing trains at Verona and the second leg on a Eurostar Italia train requires seat reservations. The train departing at 7:31 a.m. runs direct on Saturdays and Sundays (6, 7) between March 31 and October 28, but requires a connection on weekdays and winter weekends. The train departing at 9:03 p.m. includes couchette bunks and more private sleeper compartments, and arrives at Venice at 6:38 the next morning with no train change. (Excerpted from the 130-page Eurail Timetable booklet, which is included with railpass purchases.)|
You can always find train schedules at any station in Europe. They come in many forms: posters (with departures on yellow, arrivals on white), airport-type automated boards that list the next eight or ten departures, handy pocket-sized schedules for popular routes, and computer kiosks.
Personnel at the train station information window can confirm your plans. Once aboard, you'll find that many express trains are littered with route programs that describe everything about that train.
Learn to use the 24-hour clock used in European train timetables. After 12:00 noon, the Europeans keep going — 13:00, 14:00, and so on. To convert to the 12-hour clock, subtract 12 and add p.m. (16:00 is 4 p.m.).
Any transport schedule includes information on both directions between destinations (Dijon to Paris and Paris to Dijon) and has a section explaining the many exceptions to the rules. An "R" in a box means reservations are required for that departure, crossed silverware means a dining car, crossed hammers indicate that the train goes only on workdays (daily except Sundays and holidays), a cross means the train goes only on Sundays and holidays, and a picture of a little bed means the train has sleeping compartments, which come in "couchette" and "sleeper" varieties.
The example on this page shows departure times in the left column and arrival times on the right. Most timetables also include the arrival and departure times for any required train changes.
No matter where you're traveling in Europe, the German railway's website at www.bahn.hafas.de/bin/query.exe/en should be your first stop for timetable information. Here's how to use it:
Start with a station-to-station search: Enter just the city names, unless you know the name of the train station you want.
Skip the extra search fields: To get train schedules, there's no need to fill out any fields beyond the top ones. Once you've entered the stations, date, and time, just skip right to "Search."
Spelling counts: Use the local, European spelling of town names. (You'll find these in many maps or guidebooks of Europe.) Here are some examples:
If prompted, choose a station: Many cities have several train stations, and you may be asked to specify which one you want from a drop-down menu. After choosing, click "Refresh" or "Search" again. Keep in mind:
Review your options: You'll be given a range of possibilities for your journey. Each one shows the start and end points (with stations specified), the departure and arrival times, the duration of the trip, the number of changes, the types of trains, and whether the train requires a reservation (indicated by a circled "R"). Click the links for "Earlier" or "Later" to see more choices.
Find more detail: Clicking the arrow symbol next to any of the trip connections will give you more detail, including all transfer points. Then, if you click "Show intermediate stops," you can see every stop on that route. Clicking the train number shows all the stops for the entire route, including those before and after your stations.
Check reservation rules: "Compulsory reservation" means what it says, while "Please reserve" means that reservations are recommended but optional. Some trains don't mention (or need) reservations at all. The phrase "International supplement" doesn't apply to people traveling with rail passes.
DB's online schedules tell you the fastest way to connect any two cities served by rail. On this trip from Paris to Lauterbrunnen, you'll depart from Paris' Lyon station and change trains at Basel SBB and Interlaken Ost stations. Note that only the first leg requires reservations — so if you miss a connection in Switzerland, you can just take the next one on that route. While you must enter a particular date to look up a schedule, you can usually expect the same choices to run Monday through Saturday, with more variation on Sundays.
Check prices separately: The Deutsche Bahn's site doesn't show fares for most trains outside Germany and Austria. You need not bother checking exact ticket prices on each country's own national railway site; for estimates, use the ticket-cost maps throughout this guide.
Expect updates: European train schedules are adjusted each year around June 10, Sept. 10, and Dec. 10 (changes are often small, with the most significant changes made in December). Some countries (Italy, Spain, most of Eastern Europe) don't publish full summer or winter schedules until they take effect! If train schedule results look incomplete, try an earlier date for a good idea of choices.
Design a detour: DB shows the most direct and practical routes between two points. To get schedules for alternate routes, such as Switzerland's famous scenic trains, it helps to add one or two "Stopovers" (midpoint cities specific to the route you want) on the query screen.
Print your favorites: Once you've found the train schedules and level of detail your want, click the lowest link for "Print View" to get a more easily printed page.
Travel with the app: Download the DB Navigator app to your mobile computing device!
Sleeping while rolling down the tracks can save time and money, both of which are limited resources. Here's a cheat-sheet to get you started for Western Europe. Britain, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe also have night trains, not reflected here, and train schedules will show all the options. If a train ride is six hours or longer, consider whether an overnight service is more convenient to your schedule (or compare the cost of flying within Europe).
See Using Your Rail Pass for discussion of sleeper options and prices and the "7 p.m. rule" for travelers with a flexi-style rail pass.
• = Direct night train. P = Private train, does not accept railpasses. E = Early train, arrives before 5 a.m. in one direction.
All trains run both directions & make additional stops. Check the columns & the rows. Not a complete city list.
Planning your dream trip should never turn into a nightmare. But if the complexities of rail pass features, sightseeing priorities, and even packing are stressing you out, our Trip Consulting service can help. We've been there — lots of times. If you have a lot of questions and/or a complex trip to plan, consider scheduling a personalized, in-depth trip consultation with one of our experienced travel advisors.
Continue to Step 3: European Train Ticket Costs