Is smoking allowed on the trains in Europe? Is there much difference between 1st and 2nd class? Group of 8--two children with allergies.
Some railways have smoking carriages but most are non-smoking and some countries don't allow smoking at all.
The difference between 1st and 2nd class varies from country to country, usually it's a more comfortable seat with more leg room and that's it.
Where smoking is allowed, each carriage will have a smoking/no-smoking symbol on the outside, right by the "1" or "2" that designates 1st and 2nd class. We have encountered a few cars that are half smoking and half non-smoking. This works about as well as sitting next to the smoking section in a restaurant. These half-and-half cars aren't too common, but they do exist.
If you are coming to England as part of your trip from 1st July the law changes on smoking (thank god!). It will be illegal to smoke in any public enclosed space: stations, work places, shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, shopping malls, all transportation (though most have that rule already)including taxis, etc etc. Scotland and Ireland (and Italy and Sweden) have had this law for ages, I am so glad England is finally catching up.
In general, smoking is not permitted on any train (or in stations) as of July 1 in the whole UK, Ireland, Denmark (if not now, definitely by August), Switzerland, France (I believe) and Sweden. I think at least some Spanish and German trains may be non-smoking. Not sure about other countries. Almost any smoking carriage would be completely separate from non-smoking carriage.
First class coaches really depend upon the country and the train company. In the UK, seats are more comfortable and you usually get a free meal or snack. At least in the UK, 1st class carriages can often have lots of business commuters, so tend to be quiet - energetic or boisterous kids might be better in regular carriages. With a group of eight, you should book well ahead to get seats together.
Smoking is allowed in special smoking carriages on German trains until November of this year when they turn completely non-smoking.The difference between 1st and 2nd class on ICE high speed trains is F&B service at your seat, free newspapers, wider seats, more space, meeting compartments for business travelers and on ICE-Sprinter trains you even get a a free meal tray service just like they used to do it in airline business classes. For leisure travel 2nd class usually does it though.