We all want to cut out carbon emissions right?
And we all know that choosing the train over the plane is one of the biggest ways we can all slash those emissions this year. But we’ve got this idea it’s complicated and expensive and slow. And we’re not even sure how to go about booking tickets for international trains.
But you know what?
Travelling by train in Europe can – if you know just a few simple tips – be really easy and surprisingly good value.
And when you choose the train over a plane to travel in Europe you actually see Europe rather than fly over it at 10 zillion feet. You actually see European towns and European people and European landscapes and that’s what European travel is really about, isn’t it?
So to help you on your way cutting your carbon emissions by choosing the train to travel in Europe this year, I’ve put together a list of my must know train travel trips.
European Train Travel Trips
This is perhaps the most useful tip I have for you : bookmark the Deutsche Bahn timetable in your laptop browser.
This a timetable to almost every single train in Europe.
There are quite a few European train booking apps and sites around now but they will show you trains you can book on with them at that moment. So when you’re planning ahead you won’t see all the trains.
On the Deutsche Bahn timetable, you see everything.
2. Booking Windows
European train companies like airlines have booking windows. They can be anything from 3 months to a year.
On most Eurostar trains it is 6 months, but the ski train and the trains for Disneyland and the Med have longer windows.
Train ticket prices are almost always cheaper when the booking window first opens. So if your journey includes for example, a Eurostar train and a French SNCF train you should book the Eurostar train as soon as it becomes available to get the best price and then separately book SNCF when their window opens later.
3. Ticket Booking Apps
There are increasing numbers of ticket booking apps and sites that let you book tickets on connecting trains across Europe in a single booking:
- Trainline : a very user friendly British based app.
- RailEurope : (was Loco2) now owned by SNCF.
- Omio : lets you book trains, buses & flights (boo!!) in one place.
- Eurostar : primarily for Eurostar trains but you can book connections from London to major French cities e.g. Toulouse in one go.
- ACPRail : sells BritRail & Eurail passes and some tickets for non Europeans.
The booking apps are convenient but sometimes are more expensive than individual tickets bought direct from a national train company.
4. Cheap Fares
There are a number of simple ways to make European train travel cheaper:
- Book early : tickets are typically cheapest when the booking window first opens.
- Fixed tickets : booking a fixed ticket on a specific international train is always cheaper but will tie you to that train.
- Interrail pass : on longer journeys or multi destination holidays an Interrail pass (available for all ages) may be cheapest. You will have to pay supplements on Eurostar and sleeper trains but the pass will give you much more flexibility than fixed tickets.
- OuiGo : very cheap – e.g. E10 – tickets on French and some international trains. The website and app let you clearly see the days and times when trains are cheapest. If you’re travelling from London look out for good deals from Calais, Lille & Lyon as well as Paris.
- Alerts : you can sign up for price alerts on specific routes on a number of sites e.g. OuiGo
- Eurostar Snap : if you’ve got flexibility over the time and day you travel you can get cheap return tickets to Paris, Lille & Brussels from London St Pancras. You just have to travel on the train they give you.
- Train points : Eurostar have a points system like Air Miles that earns you points towards discounts and free tickets.
- Be ready to go : if you sign up with Eurostar & the various apps you’ll hear about last minute deals but it’s hard to find good places to stay last minute in popular destinations like Amsterdam and Paris. To help you with this I’ll be sharing a series of posts on brilliant but lesser known places to visit close to the main Eurostar hubs along with their best independent hotels. First up in the series is Rotterdam. Check out these 10 weekend breaks & 50 cool independent hotels you can reach from Rotterdam by train in less time than it takes to Edinburgh.
5. Major Hubs
The European train network has some really useful hubs just like the air network. Knowing your way around a few of these makes connections and longer European train journeys much easier, quicker and cheaper.
And you can actually make these hubs part of the holiday. Rather than hurtling to your end destination stop and enjoy these cities for a day or so on the way.
Paris is the obvious European train hub from the UK as travelling from St Pancras it’s the main gateway to the rest of France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy.
But these other key hubs are worth knowing :
- Lille : for northern France & Belgium but also for direct trains to Avignon, Marseille, Bordeaux and St-Pierre-Des-Corps (the Loire) avoiding Paris.
- Lyon : the direct Eurostar train in the summer has connections to Toulouse, Perpignan, Barcelona, Milan, Turin and Geneva which can be quicker and cheaper than Paris and don’t involve changing stations.
- Calais : for the northern French coast.
- Toulouse : for southern France & there’s a sleeper from Paris which is really handy for family holidays in the south of France.
- Brussels : for Germany and the very useful new sleeper train to Vienna (see below).
- Rotterdam : change here, rather than Amsterdam, for exploring most of Hollands lovely small towns & cool cities.
- Milan : there are direct trains from Paris to Milan and from Milan to most of Italy including Naples and Sicily.
- Vienna : is the key gateway for most of Eastern Europe including Budapest, the Croatian coast, the Carpathian mountains and Istanbul. It’s now much easier to get to from London on the Brussels sleeper.
6. Sleeper Trains
European sleeper trains make much more efficient use of your time than planes. You hop on at bedtime and wake up at your destination.
And boy are they more romantic!!
The good news is that Europe’s night trains are expanding again. I’ve got a list for you here of:
These are cool for everything from simple family holidays and ski breaks to grand adventures right across Europe.
7. Low Carbon Mini Breaks
Trains can slash our carbon emissions on mini breaks from London by over 90%. That’s a real immediate difference we can make to reduce global warming this year.
And mini breaks by train aren’t just about Paris and Amsterdam, there are loads of wonderful places to be reached easily via Eurostar trains from royal palaces, Loire chateaus, Champagne vineyards and dutch canals through secret beaches and national park waterways in Holland to the battlefields of the Somme.
This is the real Europe you don’t get to see by plane.
For simple ideas try these : 10 Dutch Weekend Breaks By Train.
8. Ski Trains
There are more and more options for skiing by train from London including:
- Eurostar Ski Train : the direct day train takes you to Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-St-Maurice putting you in easy reach of range of popular French ski resorts.
- Briancon Sleeper : leaving St Pancras at 4.30pm you can be in Briancon for Claviere, Montgenevere and Serre Chevalier by 8.30 the next morning.
- Innsbruck Sleeper : the new sleeper from Brussels has you in Innsbruck by 9.30 am and stops at Kufstein, Worgl and Jenbach for other ski resorts on the way.
9. Ferry Connections
Short ferry connections combined with trains provide a much lower carbon way to reach some of Europe’s loveliest islands. Key connections to know about include :
- Corsica & Sardinia : take the direct summer Eurostar to Marseille to catch Corsica Ferries from Toulon which is 45 minutes away by frequent trains.
- Balearic Islands : take a train to Barcelona via either Paris or in the summer Lyon to catch ferries to Menorca, Mallorca & Ibiza.
- Orkney : take the Highlander sleeper to Inverness and then the stunning Far North line up to Thurso for the Stromness ferry.
- Hebrides : take the train to either Oban via Glasgow or Mallaig via Fort William for the CalMac ferries. There is a Highlander sleeper to Fort William.
- Scilly Isles : the Night Rivieria sleeper to Penzance connects to the Scillonian Ferry.
10. The Encyclopedia
If you’re determined to cut your carbon emissions and travel to a specific place by train you need to check out the rail travel encyclopedia that is : The Man In Seat Sixty-One.
He has detailed tips on how to get everywhere by train.
11. Train Travel Companies
There are an increasing number of travel companies offering package holidays in Europe by train. If you would rather someone else did all the booking for you check out these :
12. Share Your Trips
My final tip for travelling by train in Europe is simple : share your trips.
The more we all share pictures and stories of our train trips across Europe, the more it becomes the new normal.
And normal makes stuff easy.
Before we know it we’ll all be hopping on and off trains in Brussels, Rotterdam, Lyon & Milan, dropping off on the Vienna sleeper and discovering all sorts of wonderful small towns across the length and breadth of Europe that we’d never see by plane.
So what are you waiting for?
Book a train trip today and share your journey with the world.