Essential tips for planning a train holiday

Lorna Cowan / 31 March 2016

Choose the train for your next holiday and you’ll be treated to an ever-changing scene outside your window. Read our tips for European rail travel.



Moreover, as train stations are usually in town and city centres, you’ll avoid additional journeys travelling to and from the airport, not to mention baggage allowance and liquid restrictions.

What’s more, train seats usually offer more leg room than standard seats on planes, and you’re free to stand up and move around. Trains also tend to be more reliable, arriving at their destination on time. So what are you waiting for?

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Planning a train journey in Europe

Even if you’re not planning to travel in Germany, look at the Deutsche Bahn website (www.bahn.de). Here you’ll find rail timetables for all train journeys in Europe, as well as important information about seat reservations – which can add on as much as €20 to your fare.

Plan your itinerary carefully, and be aware that many European cities, including Barcelona and Paris, have more than one main train station. Give yourself enough time to travel across the city if you have a connecting train to catch.

More practical rail travel information and a list of European train operators can be found on The Man in Seat61 (www.seat61.com).

Related: Visit the great cities of Spain by rail with Saga

Buying rail tickets

Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) operates direct train journeys from London St Pancras to Brussels, Lille and Paris. If you want the best deal, train tickets go on sale four months in advance. If you can travel midweek, preferably late morning or early afternoon, you’ll find cheaper options. Departures on a Friday and Sunday tend to be the most expensive. Look out for discounted Senior Fares if you’re aged 60 or over.

Voyages SNCF (https://uk.voyages-sncf.com/en), formerly Rail Europe, also sells tickets for Eurostar and all the major train operators throughout Europe. Or you can book directly with the latter. Tickets go on sale 90 days before the date of travel (60 days in Eastern Europe) and reservations must be made for many long-distance and high-speed trains. If tickets can’t be posted to you and you need to pick them up at a train station in Europe, take along the credit or debit card that you booked with.

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Interrail passes

If you’re planning several train journeys exploring one country or many, consider buying an Interrail pass (www.interrail.eu) – they’re not just for students. Choose either the One Country Pass available for three, four, six or eight days within a month, or the Global Pass that allows unlimited train travel throughout 30 European countries for up to one month. Prices vary depending on the country you are visiting, and whether you want first- or second-class seats. Senior Passes are also available.

Reservations can be made at any European train station, or in advance online at the Interrail Reservation Service (you’ll be charged a €8 fee on top of any seat reservation charges). You can also book direct with individual country train operators. Note that there are a limited number of seats made available to Interrail pass holders in France, and don’t be tempted to laminate your pass – this will make it invalid.

Sleeper trains

Travelling overnight makes sense if you have a long train journey, or if you want to save on accommodation. You can snooze on a reclining seat, or for a comfier option, reserve a bunk in a couchette compartment or a small bed in a sleeper compartment. Be aware that you may need to share compartments with strangers. If you’re concerned about the safety of your luggage, use a bike padlock to secure it on to luggage racks.

Validating tickets

You don’t want to get stung by a hefty fine, especially if you’ve bought a ticket, so make sure you validate it before you board your train. All tickets, except print-at-home e-tickets, need to be stamped. Look to see what other passengers are doing, but you usually insert your ticket into a machine on the station platform - machines are typically yellow or brightly-coloured in France, and green and white in Italy. Stick your ticket in, listen out for a click and make sure it has been stamped with the date and time.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.