By Rick Steves and Laura Terrenzio
The big news this year is that choosing among rail passes just got a lot simpler. That's because Select Passes (for two to four countries) have been discontinued — and in their place are new, cheaper versions of the all-Europe Global Pass, which make sense for shorter trips (as few as three travel days) as well as longer ones. Most travelers doing at least a few days of train travel will want either a one-country pass for their short-range itinerary, or a Global Pass for a wider-reaching trip*.
Here's what else is new:
The Eurail Global Pass covers more countries. Global Passes now cover the national railways of 31** countries, including:
- Great Britain: BritRail passes still reign for a Britain-focused trip, but travelers also straying to the Continent can now get one Global Pass for the whole trip.
- Macedonia: This fills what had been a gap in coverage on the most direct train route between Greece and central Europe. (If you're not stopping to explore along the way, however, a budget flight beats a long Balkan train ride.)
- Lithuania: No offense, Lithuania fans — but this addition is the least exciting of the three, since train travel is already so inexpensive there. You could, for instance, use a pass between Lithuania's capital city of Vilnius and port city of Klaipėda (a $20 value) — but that'd hardly justify adding an extra day to most flexipass versions of a Global Pass. You also probably wouldn't use a pass to cover international trains, since they run via Russia or Belarus, which are not covered by Eurail passes and require North American travelers to hold visas. Direct buses or flights work better between Lithuania and neighbors like Poland, Latvia, and Estonia.
Every traveler gets their own pass. Eurail-brand passes no longer require groups to travel together on one document to get the best price (except for kids traveling free with an adult). In many cases, this year's full-fare rates are even lower than last year's group discounts.
All ages save in first class or second class. All Eurail-brand passes now offer first- and second-class rates for travelers of any age, not just "youths." In addition, travelers over 60 can get a senior rate (saving roughly 10 percent). Up to two kids can still ride free with each adult-rate pass (but not with passes discounted for seniors or youths).
The night-train rule has flipped (but still rules). A direct overnight train still uses only one counted travel day on a flexipass, and now it's the day you boarded that night train. Once you've recorded your travel date on your pass, you're covered until you get off that train, even if it's the following day.
Longer trips just got cheaper. Continuous-day Global Passes cost roughly the same whether you're traveling for one, two, or three months. Adding another month of rail pass coverage could be the best $100 you ever spend!
* A few regional passes are sticking around, and are cheaper than a Global Pass for the same number of travel days:
- Eurail Scandinavia Pass (covers four countries for little more than the price of one)
- Eurail Benelux Pass (for Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg)
- European East Pass (for Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia; some versions are even cheaper than a one-country Austria pass)
- Balkan Pass (eight countries)
- Central Europe Triangle Pass (for Vienna–Prague trips plus either Budapest or Salzburg).
**2020 update: Eurail Global passes bought in January 2020 or later also cover Estonia and Latvia, bringing the current total countries to 33.
Laura Terrenzio is the longtime in-house rail maven at Rick Steves' Europe.