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traveling by train

I am 18 and planning a trip to France, Spain, and Italy with a friend for this summer. I have never been to Europe, and I'm a little confused about the trains. It seems there are 'express trains' that skip between major cities with few stops, but how often do other trains stop? We are hoping to be able to get off the train quite often, and hopefully hike a little through smaller towns. With a railpass, is it possible to get on and off the train relatively frequently?
Thanks for any advice

Posted by
6898 posts

To keep it simple and short, in Europe, you have local trains and express trains. Local trains, also called regional (R) or intercity (IC), stop at every stop. Express trains are faster and stop at less stops. The TGV in France is such a high-speed train. I think it holds the world's train speed record at 320MPH but normally cruises at 130MPH. In Italy, you will see ICPlus, EuroCity (EC) and Eurostar (ES) trains. Night trains are EuroNight (EN). These are all high-speed. The EC train goes between countries but all run on each other's tracks.

Depending on the type of pass you have, you have unlimited rides for the period specified on the pass (i.e. 15 consecutive days, 21 consecutive days, etc.). On the high-speeds, you may have to pay an extra reservation fee which you should do at the station before boarding the train. You can pay on board but you will pay a small fine.

Posted by
6898 posts

To do the type of traveling that you describe above, you may need to ride the locals since they stop at the smaller towns. No reservations or fees involved. Just get off, visit and jump on the next train heading your way. You will quickly learn to read the nice large schedules that are posted in all train stations. These schedules show all trains leaving the station hour-by-hour AND, they show every stop on the run. It's really a valuable tool. You'll be shocked by how many train runs there are. It's not like the U.S.

We always joke with the young ladies in our family that we will send them to Europe when the graduate from high school so that their minds will be so broadened and worldly that when they get back, they'll get rid of that bum boyfiend that they think they want to marry. (We promote going to college)

Have a great time and while in Italy, you must have gelato daily.

Posted by
486 posts

While (R) regional trains make more stops, they do not always make every stop. Just look for the destination you want. Before you go, try the German rail web site and just look at various city pairs and your alternatives. See how long it takes for R vs IC vs ICE vs ICPlus vs EC trains (not all of which run the same routes). Look at price differences, need for reservations and services (often R trains are only second class) such as meal service. Look how often they run.

Once you get to Europe, stay on the platform a few minutes and look for the yellow poster showing train times, car location and stations. Look for your train so you can recognize the information. You will see similar posters at each station. When train arrive, note the 1 and 2 for class and the smoking designation. Don't wait until you are late for a train to learn where to look for it. Go into main station and look at boards showing trains. Note that intermediate stations are rarely shown.

Posted by
32198 posts


I'd highly recommend that you read the "Rail Skills" chapter in Rick's book "Europe Through The Back Door". There's a lot of great information there, especially for first time travellers in Europe.

One thing to consider if you're going to be stopping for day trips in small towns along the way, is where you're going to store your luggage? The baggage storage facilities varies between countries and between stations.

Happy travels!

Posted by
8700 posts

I agree with Ken that you should buy a copy of Europe Through the Back Door. For a quick introduction to train travel in Europe, read this article: It's from the Travel Tips section on this Web site. To see a list of all the tips, click on the link at the top of this page. The articles you'll find there are condensed from the ETBD book.

Posted by
190 posts

Katy, you have such an adventure before you! My daughter and I did a 27 day backpack thru Europe a few years ago and our railpass enabled us to do exactly what you are wanting to do.

My one piece of advice is to get your railpass through Rick Steves'. This was our first trip, too, so we had a couple of questions and were able to call for free advice from Rick's staff. Also, Rick sends you a great rail schedule in a format we could understand. The rail schedule is not comprehensive, there are plenty more trains than it shows, but we understood it much better than the German rail site. Also, Rick's staff was able to find trains for us, especially night trains, that we couldn't find for ourselves.

After a couple of days, or less, of reading the schedules posted in the rail stations in Europe, you will find yourselves able to go when and where you want. Have a GREAT trip!!

Oops! One more piece of advice - pack LIGHT. I can't emphasis that enough.