Imagine standing on a platform at a secluded Austrian train station on a freezing cold January evening waiting or at least hoping for the next train to arrive.
If you have any image in your mind right now, it’s probably not all that positive but fortunately the experience of traveling around Europe by train is far from the negative connotations you probably associate with this.
“Let’s explore Europe by train”…these were the words I mentioned to Heather as we planned our our Christmas and New Year adventures. It seemed a crazy idea at first especially as we generally travel by road or air, but the longer we contemplated this, the better it sounded!
If you read our recent article promoting the amazing Eurail Pass, you will know that we spent a week exploring four countries in Europe. However, rather than simply recommending that you go out and purchase a Eurail Pass for yourself, we wanted to share a more personal experience of the highs and lows of traveling by train.
After reading this, I am convinced that there will be many of you out there that can relate to our experience and by then decide if traveling by Eurail is for you.
Why Travel By Train?
Whether you decide to purchase a Eurail Pass or simply ‘pay as you go’, the first question many people have asked is ‘Why should we travel by train?’ That’s a very valid question and understandable that people have concerns simply because there are other options that are equally as prevalent in this part of the world.
There are a number of low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet that offer amazing services around continental Europe, and renting a car and driving around is also an appealing way to see some hidden gems.
However, what you don’t get with either of these options is the ultimate convenience and amazing schedule offered by European rail companies. Travel by air and you have to be at the airport at least a hour prior to departure. Travel by car and you run the risk of delays and heavy traffic.
Freedom of Travel
Are you a backpacker?
Are you a family heading on vacation?
Are you a retired couple looking for a trip of a lifetime to reminisce on previous travels?
Whatever your answer is to any of the above questions, traveling by train has to be an option worth considering. Why? Because of the freedom of travel that utilizing the train allows! We headed to continental Europe following visits to Iceland and UK and aside from knowing we wanted to explore Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, we had absolutely no clue where we wanted to go or when we needed to be somewhere.
Here are 5 reasons why in our opinion traveling by train was the best option for us to explore Europe:
- Save money
- Flexibility of schedules
- Convenience of train stations (e.g. location)
- Relaxation and comfort
- Less hassle
Could you imagine trying to organize your schedules if you were flying somewhere? That’s the beauty of taking the train around Europe because you have the freedom for the most part of knowing you can just hop on and hop off a train as you please.
Things to Know
Prior to heading to Europe, I will say that we had done a little research on some of the key aspects about traveling around the countries we planned on visiting. For example, let’s look at some of the most important things to do before taking a trip through Europe via train..
- Currency – Traveling around Europe is much easier now since many of the countries have adopted the Euro, but for us we planned on having some Swiss Francs available for our time in Switzerland.
- Language – I know quite a bit of French and a ‘little’ German which helped when traveling but it’s nice to know that in the majority of Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, English is still a language you can use and be easily understood.
- Luggage – This is one aspect I am really happy we planned ahead of time! We took one carry-on suitcase containing our clothes and each of us had a backpack with our electronics and other essentials.
The Station Experience
Let’s set the scene as we embarked on our journey around Europe by train. We have spent two amazing days exploring Rome after flying into Rome Fiumicino Airport and our journey around Europe is about to begin. Dragging our suitcase and backpacks along with us, we head from the Hotel Caravaggio in the heart of downtown Rome to Rome’s Termini Train Station.
Walking into a train station for the first time in our lives was actually more nerve-wracking than either of us imagined. We were immediately greeted by a couple of females offering to help us purchase tickets. We quickly felt a little unnerved and realized they were not legitimate helpers, rather they were the typical folks waiting at train stations try to con tourists out of cash by helping them and anticipating tips in return!
We may have sounded a little rude by telling these folks to “get lost” but after trying the first couple of times to be courteous and they don’t pay attention, you really have no other choice.
It was interesting to note about 15 minutes later the local Italian police arrived on the scene and took one of these girls away for harassing another tourist. Meanwhile we had taken our seats, typical backpacker style, on the floor of the station terminal as we waited for our number to appear on the screen to get our Eurail Passes validated.
I didn’t realize how interesting it can be to just sit at a train station and either people watch or contemplate all the journeys you could take. I guess it’s similar to the airport experience, except with a Eurail Pass you literally can hop on most trains whenever you feel like it (aside from those requiring a reservation of course!)
The Train Experience
Boarding the Frecciarossa high-speed train in Rome was a definite ‘Welcome to European Train Journeys’, especially as we sat in the first class carriage. This was certainly a luxury experience and far more comfortable than I was anticipating.
However, I will say that regardless of whether you are traveling first or second class, the comfort levels are both excellent and likely to be superior to any expectations you may have. The journey to Milan took a little less than 3 hours and was a care-free experience as we were both able to relax in the comfort of the first-class cabin.
Not all trains however are as luxurious as the Frecciarossa. But despite taking a variety of trains throughout the four countries we have nothing but positive encounters to share. We traveled first-class on all of the journeys and the first thing you notice when you head for these segmented areas on the train are just how quiet they are.
Very few of our journeys did we experience more than a handful of other travelers in the same cabin as ours. Undoubtedly this enhances your freedom and ability to relax, although during one of our Swiss journey’s we did hear the wrath of a German speaking individual call us out for talking a little too loud on a ‘quiet’ part of the train.
Whether you are a believer in train travel or prefer to stick to airlines and car travel, take a moment to consider all of the pros and cons of your decision. I will be the first to admit that prior to our European rail encounter, I would never have considered taking the train over either options. However, after such a positive experience I really think that train travel is a viable option worth considering.
There is something magical about sitting on the train as you pass through one country to another taking in the breathtaking scenery. Stunning views overlooking the Italian lakes of Como, Lugano and Maggiore or bypassing the Matterhorn in Switzerland is something unequivocally beautiful.
For travel bloggers, it is the perfect setting because you can grab your laptop or travel journal and write to your heart’s content with a gorgeous backdrop to reflect on.
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Eurail for providing us with complimentary passes for our adventures around Europe. The content of this post are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.