Train travel within Europe is by far the most popular mode of transport, but for outsiders how to buy European train tickets can sometimes be confusing. In this guide we’ll outline the ways to purchase them, and the benefits (and drawbacks) of each.
Essentially there are 2 options available: Rail Passes or Point-to-Point tickets. Although a Rail Pass can be extremely helpful for certain trips, most people find point-to-point tickets an easy, and more straightforward, method of rail travel.
Where To Buy
As of today, there are three preferred methods of purchasing point-to-point tickets: from a U.S. based retailer (before leaving for your trip); In Europe, physically at the train station; and on the individual country’s railway website.
This way is definitely the easiest (and least stressful) method for Americans to purchase train tickets. Buying online, and from the comfort of your home, allows you to snatch up those can’t-miss tickets fast.
A popular U.S. based retailer is: Rail Europe. This website allows you access to 50 different train companies across Europe so you can compare scheduling and costs.
Going with a U.S. retailer does have it’s drawbacks though- with cost typically being higher compared to individual railway websites. Furthermore, U.S. retailers may not have every train schedule listed.
Buying in Europe at the train station window is the most fuss-free way to acquire tickets. Simply tell the person where you would like to go (careful, they may or may not speak English!) OR use the many ticket machines placed throughout the station.
Buying while in Europe allows for accuracy of train scheduling, and keeps you open to a more spontaneous itinerary. It’s a great way to take a day trip when you are suddenly feeling adventurous!
NOTE: I would not recommend waiting to purchase your tickets in Europe if it’s a must-catch train. Things like getting to the airport are important tickets and should be purchased ahead of time.
On Railway Websites
Arguably the cheapest way to acquire train tickets, buying directly from individual railway websites allows you access to the deals and discounts Europeans are getting.
There are 3 ways the railway sites will send you your tickets: a barcode (e-ticket) to your smarphone, a printable version at home, or an emailed confirmation code – which means you need that code to pick up your ticket from the station when you arrive in Europe.
Country’s Railway Websites:
- Buying in advance can save you money in most Western European countries. Buying in advance is impossible/difficult in Eastern Europe. It’s suggested to simply purchase your tickets while there.
- Children under the age of 4 ride for free! For ages 5-12 there is usually a considerable discount.
- Validate your ticket before boarding the train. There are usually validation machines on your train’s platform.