Riding the Rails

Suzy Rhodes Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:01

Riding the Rails in Europe is a wonderful way to get around! 

Let the trains take you in and out of cities and through the gorgeous countryside where you can relax, kick back and enjoy man-made and natural beauty.

The one thing I miss about Europe is their public transportation. As a mother of teenagers in Germany I was not their taxi driver, they took the train everywhere. As a teenager in England, buses and trains were my means of getting around, that or walking. When we moved to America and still had two teenagers left, I became a taxi driver, what a shock!  

Public transportation in Europe is fast, efficient and the best way to get around. Some people, like my grandmother never learned to drive because of the easy access of buses and trains. My mum didn’t learn to drive until I was a teenager. Many people living in big cities throughout Europe just never learn to drive; their wheels are buses, trains, underground trains, and trams.  On my recent two month trip to Germany and England I used the train, tubes, and bahnhof probably 80% of my time there. Riding the rails is common and well used and visitors should take advantage of it.



Over the years the rail system in Britain has improved so much that it’s become quite pricey and business people who get the train into London every day or weekly, like my brother-in-law, have quite an amount to pay, but with petrol as pricey as it is in England and congested traffic, this is still their best option.

Britain has the most expensive rail system in Europe, but it’s fast, frequent and very comfortable. For non-UK residents, Britrail offers package deals that are much cheaper than the national rail; buy ahead of time so they can mail it to your home.


Make sure you get the right pass, if you are visiting England, Wales and Scotland, you will want the Britrail pass. If you are just visiting England you will want the Britrail England pass (cheaper). Study the website so you know exactly what they are offering. The great thing about the Britrail pass is you can hop on and off trains without booking anything. You just show your Britrail pass and you can go whenever and wherever you want if you are using that allotted day for travel. You can also use your pass for free on the Heathrow Express that gets you into London from the airport, providing that is one of your Britrail travel days. (Heathrow Express is usually around twenty pounds one way, and runs every 15 minutes).

Consecutive passes have to be used every single day – consecutively

Flexi passes are on and off for a period of 2 months.

Activate your pass at the train station your first day of use (at a ticket office) and write the date in each day you use your pass.  Remember, Europe dates are: Day/Month/Year.

Consecutive: Valid for 3,4,8,15 or 22 days

Flexi: Valid for 3,4,8 or 15 days

For the train timetable go to the “Plan Your Trip” section where they make it very easy to plan every train trip you take. Print it out and store with your itinerary. This will help you know what platforms you will need and times of trains, sometimes you will only have 5 minutes to get from one platform to the next. Your trip will run much more smoothly if it is organized and well planned. NOTE: The train will display its final destination, so it would be a good idea to know where the train is heading to, and then you will know you’re on the right train.

You can also visit www.nationalrail.co.uk  to help plan your trip.

(NOTE: The Britrail pass has nothing to do with the London Underground/Tubes).

For UK, France, Belgium and Netherlands:


The Channel Tunnel is Eurostar’s gateway to connecting Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower. This high-speed train carries more passengers than all airlines combined. Travel in comfort as you cross into another country in just a few hours and avoid airports altogether. You can leave Central London and be in Paris in just two hours and 15 minutes. Or leave Brussels and be in London in one hour and 51 minutes. Eurostar Connections lace together four countries allowing you to visit over 100 continental destinations including Disneyland Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and even the French Alps for great skiing in the winter. This popular high-speed train runs almost hourly, and reservations are required, which helps if you are looking for a good deal. Tickets can be requested on some trains up to 6 to 9 months in advance making it possible to purchase discounts.

Check out their website for further information:


For the rest of Europe


The Eurail pass can be a great deal if you do your homework first. Map out where you want to go in Europe and compare point-to-point ticket prices. Sometimes it will be cheaper to book tickets than to buy a pass. Whatever you end up deciding to do, if you are not getting off the beaten path then the rail system will be a joy as you sit back and enjoy the gorgeous countryside. You can book tickets from home and print them off. Make sure you stick to your scheduled times, the train will not wait for you…this is a little trickier than the Britrail pass, as every trip has to be booked prior.

The following are rail websites for different countries in Europe.

Austria (ÖBB):  www.oebb.at

Czech Republic (CD): www.cd.cz

Dutch Railways: www.ns.nl

Finland (VR): www.vr.fi

Germany (Die Bahn): www.bahn.de

Great Britain (all rail operators): www.nationalrail.co.uk

Great Britain (for non-UK residents) www.britrail.com

Hungary (MAV): www.mav.hu

Italy (Trenitalia): www.trenitalia.com

Ireland (Iarnród Éireann): www.irishrail.ie

Poland (PKP): www.pkp.pl

Spain (Renfe): www.renfe.com

Switzerland: www.sbb.ch