Europe Trains Guide

Tips for Western Europe


Is it possible to travel on budget in Western Europe? How cheap it can be?

If you are planning a vacation in Europe and searching for answers to questions like where, when and how to buy cheapest train tickets and save money? Or maybe it's better to go with one of the European rail passes (e.g. Eurail, Interrail, Swiss pass) instead? These questions are being asked by almost any traveler before their new rail adventure. Our team of rail fans will try share with you a few tips/tricks on European rail travel & in some sense guide you through the realm of cheap tickets, rail offers and the entire system of European trains in general. First important thing to know is that rail travel and ticket fares differ depending on the region of Europe. Countries like France, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Switzerland or Italy have rather reliable and well working rail networks with some modern trains which help passengers travel to the other part of the country in a matter of hours, but at the same time traveling by train in Western Europe can be quite expensive no matter whether you travel within one particular country (domestic journeys) or plan an international trip. So the question is: do we really need to pay for those expensive full fare train ticket? Or is it possible to find a way to travel cheaper and thus save your money? 

We do believe that if you know how tariffs and rail fare systems work and/or have experience traveling by train in Europe, then it is almost always possible to find a way to save on your rail travel expenses and simply pay way less than most of other passengers do. Interested? Our team is happy to share with you some of those useful ticket fare secrets, so let's look at a few simple tips for your next on budget rail journey:

  • When speak about "expensive" (train travel wise) European countries and options to save on your rail journey, one of the key secrets is timing, timing and once again timing. Railway companies in France,  Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Italy as well as other Western European countries developed a specific ticket sale system, which basically encourages passengers to buy rail tickets as early as possible. Nothing very new here, since it is a simple market mechanism, where rail companies are interested in receiving your money as soon as possible, while in return offering their potential passengers limited number of promo price or discounted tickets for much lower price. But since the number of such cheap train tickets is always limited (usually it's a certain quota per each departure), it means that potential passenger needs to act fast and purchase his or her train tickets as quick as possible - the earlier you purchase your train ticket, the better chances you have to catch those lowest fares. Basically, it is a win-win situation for both parties envolved - passengers get a chance to travel really cheap, while rail companies, besides direct promotion of their services, also receive your money earlier than on the day of your journey.  Passenger's main goal in this situation is to purchase discounted promo tickets as soon as possible, while such in advance travel planning will be rewarded with some bargain fares. Buying your rail tickets in advance is the easiest and simplest way to save your money, especially since majority of the European railway companies sell discounted tickets online via their official websites. The only obvious inconvenience with most of the discounted rail tickets is the fact that in many cases these tickets are "tied" to some specific train and day, often without any possibility of exchange or refund. For more details about specific countries and railway companies please see our “Countries” section.
  • Rather often you do not know the exact date/time of your journey or not exactly sure about your planned route, or simply need to travel right away, thus have no chance to buy mentioned earlier discounted tickets a week or even months in advance. Does it necessarily mean that you will have to pay for the full fare (=expensive) ticket? No. Simplest decision in such circumstances is to avoid 'expensive' high-speed trains (like TGV in France, EuroStar, ICE in Germany, Frecce trains in Italy, etc.). Instead you can always try using somewhat slower, but way less expensive, regional or local trains. Besides the benefit of much lower ticket prices passengers using regional/local trains also don't need to pay any additional supplements or purchase seat reservations. Obviously with regional/local trains (and potential need to make train changes on the way) you might lose some travel time, but on the contrary you can save on your ticket fare while not thinking about buying your tickets long time in advance.
  • Another option to save money on rail travel in Europe is to take advantage of the difference between domestic and international tariffs. However absurd and strange it might sound, but in some cases international ticket actually can be much cheaper than domestic ticket. As result it indeed makes sense on certain occasions simply use international train ticket for a domestic journey. Besides, international ticket might have a number of benefits which can definitely be rather useful for a traveler: in cases when we deal with "standard" European international tariff (SCIC-NRT), international ticket isn't tied to any specific train or date, thus not just allows unlimited number of stopovers on the way, but also due to lengthy validity period (up to 1 months) can be used as a type of rail pass for the predefined route of your choice. Meaning that passenger can basically 'substitute' a few separate domestic tickets with only one through international ticket. The only nuance is that in many Western European countries rail companies either don't issue SCIC-NRT tariff tickets or issue them under much worse conditions (e.g. shorter validity period), but in Central Europe SCIC-NRT tickets are still very common and popular type of ticket that gives you a good deal of flexibility to many travelers. So if you happen to be somewhere in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria you do have a chance to buy fully flexible SCIC-NRT tickets for almost any trip in Western Europe. Just as an illustration: SCIC-NRT one-way ticket from Amsterdam to Bruges (via Antwerp & Brussels) will cost you 55,6 euro, or from the German Konstanz to Swiss Geneve (via Zurich, Bern, Lausanne, etc.) will cost you only 101,8 euro, or Hamburg to Munich via entire Germany for 150 euro, etc. And it's not even the final discount you can get out of your SCIC-NRT ticket, since if you plan to purchase couple  tickets like this you might think about obtaining Rail Plus discount card (in most countries it cost 25 euro for adults and 15 euro for <26 and >60 years old). This rail card is valid for one year on almost all the European railways (including UK) & offers 25% discount for all of the above quoted fares or any other international SCIC-NRT ticket of your choice

For more specific advice, fares for any particular journey or further questions/comments please address our Forum page