Usually the first thing people think about before heading to Europe is purchasing a Eurail Pass. In my honest opinion, I think this pass is a HUGE waste of money. Not only that, it doesn’t even give any more convenience than buying tickets at the train stations in European countries. The solution? Purchase your tickets online or at the station. I’ll explain the options you have for purchasing tickets in mostly central Europe since that’s where I have the most experience, however, this should also apply for other countries in Europe as well.
Generally purchasing tickets online is only required if you can get a discount on the tickets if purchased in advance. This is usually the case for non-IC train lines like Thalys and Eurostar.
Thalys – This is a high-speed rail that goes at 300 km/h and is for travel in between Benelux (Belgium/Luxembourg/Netherlands), Germany, and France. I took this train from Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport) to Paris and only took 3 hours instead of the usual 5 hours if you take a normal train. I also took it from Paris to Cologne. Check the website for all their routes. My tickets only cost me 35€ each. It was purchased 30 days in advance and you get a seat reservation as well so you don’t have to fight for one when you get on. I find it better to take this train and then connect to a local train if going to other cities in the country. In general, it’s cheap to travel from point-to-point within the same country. For example, it’s cheaper to take Thalys to Cologne from Paris and then once in Cologne buy a ticket there to go to Frankfurt, instead of buying a ticket from Paris to Frankfurt.
Eurostar – This line is generally the same as Thalys, same speed and they share tracks as well. However, this rail goes into England and stops at multiple spots in France and Belgium. The earlier you book the ticket the cheaper it gets. You can get a ticket from London to Paris for £38 if purchased early.
Other Sites that Are Handy
TGV – http://tgv.com/
You can purchase train tickets for travelling in or out of France. Even Thalys tickets can be purchased on this site as well and the prices aren’t any different than the official site. Just sign up for the site pick your times, go through the ordering process, and make sure you type in your home address properly. Your tickets will be mailed to you via regular post and should arrive within a week or so. Very convenient for those planning ahead.
Bahn – http://bahn.com/
Basically the same thing as TGV but for Germany.
Point-to-Point Train Station Purchase
This is by far the best way to do it. The reason I opt not for the Eurail pass is for two reasons. One, it usually works out to be more expensive or roughly the same depending on how much travelling you’re doing. Also, even with a Eurail pass it isn’t any more convenient. You still need to go to a train station and either look at the timetable or ask a ticket attendant for an itinerary to your destination. If travelling from city to city within a country, just head to a train station and purchase your ticket and ask for an itinerary to your destination. The ticket is usually fairly cheap. Like I travelled from the most northern point of the Netherlands to Amsterdam for a mere 23€. Keep in mind, all regular trains like IC and ICE DO NOT fluctuate in price, therefore it’s okay to purchase them last minute at a station.
How to Check Time Schedules On-Line
Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.ca
Use this website to figure out possible routes to your destination. Comes in really handy if you don’t want to talk to people at the station. Just punch in your destination info like you would if you were buying a ticket and it’ll generate a list of possible routes you can take. It’ll tell you where you need to switch trains and what train numbers as well.
Basically I found that purchasing a Eurail pass really isn’t worth it unless you plan on visiting 2 countries in one day which definitely isn’t happening. For my trip, the Eurail pass would’ve cost me roughly around $380 after taxes for the cheapest Eurail pass that gets you 3 countries for 5 days. I spent in total about $240 Canadian and I was in 5 different cities. Definitely a big saving for me.