Travelling to and around Europe by train can be enormously enjoyable – certainly much more so than flying. Yet if you want to make journey that is more complicated than, say, London to Paris on Eurostar, it has long been a challenge to find out what your options are, how much journeys cost, and how best to book. Things are improving, however – and the following websites will help.
The hills are alive: There are many great rail journeys in Europe, such as Switzerland’s Jungfrau railway
Seat 61 is the favourite place to sit on Eurostar trips for rail guru Mark Smith, the man behind Seat61.com. The award-winning website is an amazing piece of work. Thorough (sometimes too much so, you could argue), up to date and judgemental, it provides advice on train travel from the UK to pretty much anywhere in Europe, and within European countries. You’ll find chapter and verse on best routes to major European cities, including length of journeys and fares, as well as invaluable assessments of the various rail passes available, personal descriptions of specialist services such as French TGVs, the Dutch motorail to Italy, and overnight sleeper trains from Paris to Spain, and a great deal else besides. It’s worth pointing out that Seat61.com is also a fantastic source of information for rail travel within the UK, and pretty much anywhere in the world.
Seeking out sun: If you want to go beyond the Eurostar links, the French TGV network is certainly extensive
If you just want to book a straightforward journey on Eurostar, then the company’s website, which has been improved this year, enables you to do so with minimum fuss. Price calendars let you see the comparative costs of travelling on different days and weeks, and you can select a specific seat and add a hotel to your booking (doing so often works out cheaper than booking the train and accommodation separately).
Golden age: The glamour of rail travel is still alive throughout Europe
The German Railways website is the place to go for timetable information across the whole of Europe. But before delving in, refer to Seat61.com, which takes you through how to get the best out of www.bahn.de, and explains its limited use for fares.
has just announced that it can now book rail journeys from any UK train
station to thousands of destinations in Europe, all in one transaction –
a pioneering service, it claims. I’ve tried the system, picking
journeys from my home town of Bath. For Bath to Rome, Valencia, Vienna,
Prague and Copenhagen, it quickly came up with the best option on my
chosen day (cheapest tickets are automatically selected), and the
information on pricing, the duration of the journey, the changes
required and transfer times was all very clear. Everything worked
equally well when I changed my starting point, to Chester or Penzance.
However, the website drew a few blanks too – for example, from Bath to
Malaga and Lisbon.
Rail Europe is the UK representative of SNCF, the French national railways, and its website will soon be part of voyages-sncf.com. It’s a good option for travel from the UK to destinations across Europe (not just those in France) beyond those directly served by Eurostar. I like the fact that you can pick a major city such as Madrid or Venice, and see at a glance a “from” price, rough journey time, and the trains required to make the journey.
Chills and thrills: Great Rail Journeys sells iconic trips such as the Harz Narrow Gauge Railway in Germany
Great Rail Journeys leads the way in escorted, group holidays by rail. Some of the well-described European trips on its website feature train journeys that form a key element of the holiday, such as Switzerland’s Glacier Express, while others are more conventional escorted holidays, but using rail travel (normally first class). Also check out what’s on offer on www.railholidays.com, the website for Treyn Holidays, Great Rail Journeys’ more affordable sister brand.
If you’re planning on going skiing and want to travel to the resort by rail, do have a thorough look at snowcarbon. This slick and clear website highlights 32 Alpine resorts that are convenient to reach by train, and for each it provides a journey planner with timetables and details of rail packages, along with stuff on the resorts’ skiing and après-ski. You’ll also find thorough assessments of Eurostar’s ski trains.
And the winner is…