Many know that for sheer European romance, nothing beats a ride on the rails, but trains can also often be the most efficient means of getting around.
In addition to high-speed trains, Europe’s rail network includes trains running locally and internationally, as well as night trains, scenic trains and InterCity trains – all great options for more leisurely forays in Europe. Night trains offer fares for all budgets and are equipped with sleeping compartments in first class and couchettes in second class. Some of the better known night trains are the Trainhotel Elipsos linking Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich and Milan, the Riviera night train from Nice to Rome, and the Paris-Germany night train from Paris to Hanover, Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg.
Europe’s scenic trains are legendary. In Switzerland, for example, the route followed by the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express and the William Tell reveals shimmering lakes, plunging gorges and snow-capped mountains. Cogwheel railways such as Norway’s Flåm Railway meander along magnificent fjords on the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord, the narrowest fjord in Europe. There are at least ten more famous routes dotting Europe’s landscapes.
Rapid airport-train connections to Europe's cities eliminate the hassle and expense of chasing down a taxi or bus in a busy airport when you are tired and jetlagged after a long flight, and are often less expensive. Some of the major European airports with train-to-city service are Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona Prat, Berlin Schoenfeld, Birmingham, Brussels National, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva Cointrin, London (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted), Malaga, Manchester, Munich Strauss, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Rome Leonardo da Vinci, Stockholm, Stuttgart Echterdingen, Vienna Schwechat and Zurich Kloten.
Besides fast and efficient plane-to-train service, rail travel has many other advantages. If you book your tickets prior to departure, your transportation is secure, yet you also have the flexibility of changing your itinerary at the last minute. Validate your ticket the first time you use it, and voilà, no more standing in line for the rest of the trip! Trains fill up quickly, especially in the summer, so reserving your seats before you depart for Europe is a wise idea.
Rail passes were a wonderful invention 40 years ago and remain so today. From the basic Eurailpass, good for travel all over Europe for up to three months, to the Britrail pass in the UK, rail passes have evolved to suit all schedules and budgets. The extensive network continues to grow as Eastern European countries join the Eurail system.
Rail passes offer enormous flexibility – from single or multi-country passes to rail ‘n drive passes and rail/hotel packages. For example, if you wish to flee the bustling streets of Rome for gentler Tuscany and the spontaneity a car affords, purchase a rail ’n ride package, and a rental car will be waiting for you upon your arrival at a quaint station in a hidden-away village.