Last Updated on March 30, 2021
When I decided to take trains around Europe whenever possible last month, I was curious to see how they’d compare to buses, which I had used during my travels in August.
What I discovered? Just how much I love train travel in Europe. I’ve always enjoyed train travel, but a month of using trains almost exclusively reminded me how pleasant train rides are.Here are some of the reasons why I think trains are the best way to get around Europe:
Trains are super comfy, fast and on time: After spending a lot of time on buses in August, I truly appreciated the comfort of train travel – there is more leg space, there is room for your luggage right above your seat, the seats are more comfortable. Most importantly though: trains are so much faster than buses! No traffic jams, no delays (for the most part, at least) and traveling at high speed makes train travel much faster than buses. No bus travels at 200 kilometers per hour like the high speed trains I took in Italy. In Germany, the trains even went as fast as 250 kilometers per hour!Depending on the route, train travel can be as fast flying, from Venice to Munich for example: getting to the airport takes about an hour, calculate two hours for check-in and security checks, the flight time (1hr) itself and the travel time from the airport into the city (another hour), and you could be traveling comfortably on a direct train instead, which takes you from city center to city center and takes about the same time.There are tables to sit at: One aspect where trains beat planes and buses are the tables that you find in each cart. Not every seat comes with a table, but when I reserve a seat in a train, I usually ask for a seat at a table. That way I can work on my laptop, have space to put food or a cup of coffee or place my camera (which on some train rides I could hardly put down).There are plugs: For me it is amazing to be able to charge my devices, and since we are using our smartphones for pretty much anything, which means we drain our batteries fast, these plugs are getting a lot of use these days.
Tip: You’ll need an adapter for a 220-volt outlet, otherwise you won’t be able to charge any of your devices on trains in Europe. You can buy this American to European Outlet Plug Adapter, which serves most of Europe and comes with two USB plugs, on Amazon for only $7.99.
The bathrooms are much nicer than those on buses: I don’t even want to talk about bathrooms on buses… But I was surprised that every time I had to use a bathroom on a train, it was much cleaner than one might expect.. or maybe that’s because I still had the images of bathrooms on Indian trains in my head? There was always toilet paper, hand towels and soap and they seemed to be cleaned regularly.You can bring as much stuff as you want: Planes have carry-on restrictions and even transnational bus companies in Europe have started to set up luggage restrictions. On a train, however, you can bring all the stuff you want, including things like pocket knives or corkscrews which you can’t bring on a plane (unless you check them in). Also: on buses, large items will be out of your sight in the belly of the bus, whereas on a train, all your stuff will be in the cart with you.Centrally located stations: Train stations are right in the city center whereas bus stations are often a bit further away. I hate arriving in Berlin by bus for example, where the train station is way out west, and it takes me another 40 minutes to get to the city center. But when you get off a train, you are usually right in the center of town.
Train stations are amazing: Most cities have giant, modern, clean train stations with great food and coffee shops so that you can fuel up for the journey. Try to find good food in a bus station!There are no traffic jams: Travel on a bus in Europe in the summer and I guarantee you that you’ll find yourself in summer holiday traffic sooner or later. And remember that most buses in Europe don’t have AC!
Most trains have table service: When you travel on Deutsche Bahn for example, a waiter will come around with coffee and snacks for purchase. In Italy, TrenItalia even had a special offer for a sandwich, a pastry and a coffee for €3.50, which is an amazing deal!
You can bring a bicycle for free: Now this isn’t important for most travelers but if you’re bringing your bike on your Euro trip, it’s much easier to take it on trains than on buses, and most importantly: it’s free! I once paid €9 to bring my bike on a bus – and I had paid €8 for my own ticket, less than for the bike!
Train trips are easy: How many times have I been to really confusing bus stations! Or even worse: My connecting bus was leaving from a different station! But it is easy to find connecting trains at a station, signage is clear and announcements are made in English (not always the case in buses!).
Planning Europe train travel
Speaking of how easy train travel in Europe is: I was using the free Interrail / RailEurope app (download here for iOS / download here for Android) throughout my trip, and I highly recommend it – no matter if you are traveling with a rail pass or without one. Not only does the app show timetables and all available connections to your destination, but it also has interesting country facts and city maps of all major European cities. A rail pass is the easiest way to get around Europe, because it buys you a certain number of trips in a specific time period – this can be anything between 3 travel days in a month within one country or an entire continuous month of train travel across 30 European countries – there’s a big range of options which you can check out here. One country passed start at €57 Euros, global passes start at €192 for people under 25, and €413 for people older than 25. If you plan to cover a lot of ground, the global pass is certainly worth it – it saves you the hassle to book all your train rides individually with each country’s train line. You can simply show up and hop on a train (sometimes you have to reserve a seat and pay a small fee for the seat reservation though). If you decide to travel around Europe by train without a rail pass, make sure not to just show up at a train station. In Europe it is always cheaper to book your train ticket in advance – sometimes you can save up to 70%! Book your ticket online as soon as you know where you’re going and when.
Tip: If you don’t want to invest in a Eurail Pass, I am sharing other ways to find cheap train tickets in Europe in this article: How to travel Europe on the cheap
Are you a fan of train travel in Europe?