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Europe Tour by Rail

My husband and I have 41 days to tour Europe in Sept - October this year. Our arrival and departure is London. We are fairly healthy, not fussy and travelling very light in order to explore via rail.
We have purchased Eurail Global Pass for 2 months continuous and plan to cover the following cities and spend at least 3 nights - London, Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul, Venice, Rome, do the Bernina Express & other cities in Switzerland, Lourdes, Paris. We plan to fly in and out of Istanbul & Dublin to save time.
I would greatly appreciate suggestions and guidance for:
1. Which routes to take - eg Which city to start and finish off the European travel in before returning to London for flight out?
2. Can I use Eurail Global Pass to travel to/from London - Paris/ Brussels? I'm aware certain routes require Reservation at extra cost.
3. How long is adequate in each city and the best accomodation to suit our travel?
4. How best can I maximise the use of Eurail Global Pass?

Posted by
12943 posts

I wish you had come to this forum to ask about the rail pass before you purchased it, but perhaps you'll get reasonable value from it.

I see some issues right off the bat:

  • Three nights in major European capitals is just too short. That would give you two days and a few hours before you had to pack up and move on to a different country. You list 13 cities by name, plus the Bernina Express and "other Swiss cities". That's more than 41 days even if you stick to 3 nights per destination (which you really, really, should not).

  • Almost every major European capital city is worth more than 3 full days (4 nights). Yes, you can stay for a shorter time, but that city will probably remain on your "I want to go there" list rather than being checked off so you can branch out to new places on your next trip. True, Lourdes doesn't need 4 nights. Brussels doesn't need 4 nights, either, but I think the vast majority of the folks on this forum would suggest that you choose some city other than Brussels from which to see the highlights of Belgium. That other place (Ghent? Bruges? Antwerp?) could certainly use more than 4 nights by the time you add a couple of day-trips (including possibly to Brussels).

  • I have not been to Dublin and don't know what would be a good number of nights in that location. I do know that there's no way I'd fly to and from Ireland for just a few days in Dublin. That would mean too much travel time (and cost) for too little sightseeing time. Please consider dropping Dublin this time around. On a future trip you can spend enough time over there to see some of the lovely rural areas. Maybe combine Ireland and Scotland if you're able to take another long trip like this one.

  • Istanbul is a fascinating city, but as with Dublin, I wouldn't take 2 flights in order to have just 2 days there. I suggest also postponing Istanbul until a later trip.

  • Your itinerary is almost totally major cities. I have been to most of them, and they are great. However, for a 41-day trip I would want more variety than one day on the Bernina Express can provide. I'd hope to be in a few places where I could do some walking (or even actual hiking) in a rural area. I'd like to see some lakes and some smaller, less touristy cities. This would mean reducing the territory covered and finding suitable destinations located near the remaining target cities. For example, you might spend 3 or 4 nights in the Dolomites on the way from Venice to Rome.

If you eliminate Dublin and Istanbul, that will give you a few extra days to allocate to the cities that most need extra time. For me, that would be London, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Rome and Paris, but opinions will probably differ. I think you need to cut more, though.

The Deutsche Bahn website is a user-friendly information source for determining how long a trip will take, how frequently the trains run, and whether you'll need to make a reservation. You'll need to look elsewhere to check on the cost of reservations for express trains within other countries.

Posted by
9 posts

I have found seat61.com to be an invaluable resource when planning rail travel in Europe. The Man in Seat 61 gets into the tiny details such as seat selection and has a variety of videos to give you a taste of different routes. He also gives some recommendations of lodging and restaurants he has enjoyed in various cities. This website may not answer every question you have, but it will point you in the right direction! Have fun on your wonderful-sounding trip!

Posted by
1556 posts

At least you have 41 days to work with. I would suggest that you at least figure out when you want to travel to England and back and make your reservations for the Eurostar as soon as you can.

You should have asked Question No. 2 before you purchased Eurail passes. With that said, I believe that Eurail passes now include Eurostar trains. Be prepared to pay for reservations.

Figure out what you want to see in each city you want to visit, and plan your time accordingly. No one else can tell you how long is adequate in each city - same for determining the best accommodations.

Posted by
14505 posts

Ummh, Paris is noticeably absent from your list. No European Grand Tour would be complete without it, IMO. I've never been to Europe for that long, 20 days is longest. I take it in smaller bites with some geographical continuity. You don't say if this is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of trip.

Acraven is spot on with her(his?) advice. Cut it down a bit and spend some longer time in major cities. London, Paris, Rome can use 5 nights and it is still just scratching the surface, but sufficient for a first trip. Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Budapest could use 4 nights. You could also spend more time in the big cities and use your pass for day trips from Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Venice, Vienna.

Posted by
12943 posts

I overlooked it the first time myself, but Paris is there, at the end of the list, after Lourdes.

Posted by
11348 posts

On question #2: yes, the Global Pass is valid on the EuroStar as of last year to go from London to Paris.

Maximizing the use of the Global Pass depends in part on your travel style and comfort level. If I had the Global Pass (never used one so far), I would take advantage of every night train route to see if that option could be used with my itinerary.

With your listed itinerary, you can go from Berlin to Vienna by night train via Poland...direct, convenient. From Prague to Budapest can be done by night train, likewise from Vienna to Rome...all direct

I take the night train to stretch out the duration of the trip days. I would suggest adding Warsaw to your list of capital cities, cut Switzerland.

Posted by
3025 posts

With 41 days, you need to pace yourself more than you would if visiting for a long weekend. Ideally, take 2 “down days” to catch up with yourselves in weeks 3 and 5. Your list would be exhausting and a blur.

You only mention cities and IMO it would be a pity if you didn’t see any countryside.

I would drop the geographical outsiders of Dublin and Istanbul unless these are top of your list. Brussels is the dullest city in Europe, so I would drop that too.

You need to allow at least 5 full days each to see London, Paris, Berlin and Rome to just scratch the surface. This doesn’t allow for any day trips eg Bath/Windsor/Versailles etc, so ideally allow a week each. Venice, Budapest, Amsterdam and Prague are worthy of at least 4 full days there.

Moving destinations will cost you at least half a day or more, so discount these travel days and plot what you can realistically cover once you have prioritised where is important to you.

Travelling for that length of time, I would be looking to rent apartments, as this will give you the option to self cater some of the time when you get fed up of eating out plus you will be able to prepare picnic lunches if required plus you will get a washing machine for your laundry.

Others have already commented on the wisdom or otherwise of the rail pass.

Sorry to say, but at present, this is just a “tick the box, we’ve seen that country” list of destinations rather than a realistic, pleasurable itinerary.

Posted by
15960 posts

Yes, the Eurostar is covered by your pass plus a seat reservation. You can make the passholder reservation at www.eurostar.com (a relatively new option there), as well as through your original rail pass vendor, or Rail Europe, or at London St. Pancras station, but preferably a few days in advance, since the number of places for passholders is limited. Many trains departing France will have the same rule, such as the Thalys train to Brussels. See more on our rail page for France.

Since you have the continuous-coverage pass, you're not counting travel days. And can add or change some destinations as your plans evolve. Flying to Istanbul is usually best, regardless of where your last visit/stop may be. If running, trains from Budapest to Belgrade to Sofia to Halkali (suburban Istanbul) take about 40 hours, plus connection time. However, I believe the line between the Bulgarian border and Istanbul will be under construction for most of 2019, probably with replacement buses, but not convenient. (At the moment, I can't find my source for that news, but read it last week. This page of Seat 61 has some related info.) There is no cross-border train from Greece but there are buses (not covered by pass).

Posted by
11348 posts

Generally, a doable itinerary, however, I would also suggest dropping Dublin and Istanbul not only as they are more difficult logistically and outliers but also I am not interested in them, you may well be interested but some place has to be dropped in order to make the trip more effective in the 6 weeks duration.

Drop a place or two, add Warsaw instead is what I would recommend to someone focusing on capital cities but you're including Venice. What about dropping Brussels or Amsterdam for Venice?

Posted by
2 posts

Hi Everyone! Thank you for you comments and suggestions. That was very informative.
I'm glad Eurail Pass can be used for Lon- Paris travel. I will make advance reservation. We had planned to go Lon- Brussels but Antwerp or Amsterdam sounds good than do day trips, also read about Brugge, than onto Berlin. But now I realised Octoberfest will be on around the time we are visiting Berlin so will have to seek other options and travel dates.
Istanbul and Dublin can be bumped off I guess ( my husband was keen!) , although I must say Warsaw had crossed my mind!!
BTW we do intend to visit the smaller towns as I find them quaint. So I will look up these.
I looked up seat61.com and it looks very useful!! Now to revisit my travel plans! Feeling excited!!

Posted by
21625 posts

Oktoberfest is in Munich - Berlin is unlikely to be affected.