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25 Reasons why rail is the best way to see Europe


A land where fairytales, foodie dreams and history all come alive, it is a magnificent mash-up of landscapes, countries and cultures—all connected by a brilliant rail network.

Tracks link nearly every corner of the continent together, weaving their way through grand stations that serve as both transportation centers and hubs of amenities.

You haven't properly experienced Europe until you've seen it by train and the following are 25 of the best reasons why.

Breakfast in Belgium, Dinner in Deutschland

One of the main reasons why Europe makes such a marvelous travel destination is that all the things we love about it are situated so closely together here. This truly comes into play when traveling by train as a change in language, culture or cuisine is always just a short ride away.

In practice, this means having the luxury of starting your day ordering (in French) a waffle from a street vendor in Brussels, before stepping off the train a few hours later to enjoy bratwurst in Germany. What's for dinner? How does fondue in Switzerland sound?

Or Just Dine on the Train

You might not have to wait until the end of your journey to indulge in a tasty meal or libation. Many European trains come equipped with a dining car, and all it takes is one trip to one of these "restaurants on wheels" (especially around dusk) to fall head-ove-heels for the concept.

The Scenery

Those passing landscapes that you are swooning over in between bites of your schnitzel? Well, you can't see them from 10,000 feet. Expect to be treated to views of everything from rolling hills, lakes and mountain peaks to vineyards, villages, castles, churches and chalets.

And you haven't lived until you've seen the lights of Paris come to life through the windowpane of a train.

The 'Greenery'

When compared to other modes of modern mass transit, trains come out near the top in the "green" rankings. Sure, your trip may take a couple of hours longer, but your footprint will be considerably smaller. And those extra minutes just mean you can admire those swoon-worthy views that much longer.

Big Screen Magic

From the mystery of Murder on the Orient Express to Harry Potter's mythical Hogwart's Express and the chance rail encounter that sparked romance in Before Sunrise, European trains have often been the setting for monumental big-screen moments. (To say nothing of all those dramatic platform goodbyes featured in films and television.)

The first time you step aboard, you are bound to feel as though you just strolled on to a rolling movie set and those "pinch-me" type of moments are why we leave home in the first place.

The Romance of the Rails

Maybe it's all those misty farewells from the films or the soft glow from bulbous lights in those dining cars, but there is just something romantic about traveling by rail in Europe. Or maybe it's just the destinations themselves. Either way, you are bound to feel the love.

It Just Simply Can't Be Done at Home

There are some corners of Europe where a road trip can be rewarding. And while you could get around on a bus or use airlines to bounce between big cities, you can use all of these modes of transport back home. While we do have rail in North America, the sheer scale and efficiency of Europe's rail network put it on a whole another level.

More and More Modern Conveniences

Some of the appeal of rail travel is no doubt intertwined with the past, but that doesn't mean that Europe's trains aren't up to modern specifications. Many of them now feature WiFi and plenty of plugs, meaning that you can keep the likes rolling in as you roll between cities.

Central Stations Are Just That

They don't call them 'central' stations for nothing.

Unlike airports, Europe's main train stations are located in the absolute heart of the city and function as hubs of regional transport. And you don't have to wait at a carousel for your bag or clear customs when you arrive by train either: simply walk out the front door and dive straight into the buzz of a cosmopolitan city.

But You Might Just Want to Linger Awhile

Some of the main train stations are so spectacular, you may not want to leave them at all. One part sparkling shopping mall, one part food court, they are home to a myriad of surprises. Arrive early for your train in Prague and you may hear someone tickling the ivories on a piano upstairs or linger long after arrival in Bern or Zurich to shop for Swiss chocolate. And you just can't take a train from Milan without grabbing a shot of espresso beforehand.

Main stations are often home to a supermarket, which is the perfect place to grab a budget-friendly snack or soft drink for the journey ahead.

You Don't Have to Arrive Early

Another luxury of train travel in Europe is that there is no need to show up early for your train. Arriving 30 minutes before departure will give you plenty of time to board—and maybe even time to grab a bite to eat beforehand. There are exceptions on certain high-speed lines in Spain or Eurostar (the line that runs between London and the continent), which do check bags as a policy.

But It Can Be Fun to Run for One

While it's always recommended to give yourself a half-hour before your train departs, the reality is that things happen during trips. The good news is that catching one at the last second can be a thrilling experience.

Take it from someone who has been in the situation often: standing on a train as it pulls away from the station with your heart still pounding from the pursuit of the said train is the next best thing to being on The Amazing Race.

You're Always Free to Move About the Train

They don't have seatbelt signs on a train. From the moment it departs to the moment it arrives you are free to stroll down the aisles, use the bathroom or visit friends. Scenery better on the other side of the train? Then just slide across the aisle.

No Limits on Luggage

You don't have to sweat how much your luggage weighs when taking the train. Or how many bags you have for that matter because, for all intents and purposes, you can bring an unlimited amount of luggage with you on European trains. Essentially, if you can carry it on the train, you can travel with it.

Sometimes, There's A Sleeper

While sleeper trains have diminished in number over the years, there are still several riding the overnight rails. Book ahead to secure a private compartment and your traveling party is sure to have a ball getting from point A to point B. The best part? You won't have to pay for a hotel that night.

Relax on the Rails

A European trip that features several big-name destinations like Rome, Paris and London is destined to be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting. Train journeys offer the chance to rest and recharge so you arrive in your next destination refreshed. The rides also provide the perfect excuse for some last-minute travel research.

It's Hard to Stop a Train

Even when the weather turns frightful outside, the European rail network is resilient. While delays can certainly happen, odds are you will walk away amazed at the timeliness of arrivals and departures during your trip—especially in Switzerland.

Even Showing Your Tickets Is Fun

You typically don't show your tickets or rail pass when you board a train— that part comes a little bit later. And while it's just a little thing, there is something timeless and endearing about the process of the conductor asking for your ticket and then marking it as valid.

Nothing Beats an Empty Compartment

There are several seating arrangements on European trains, from rows of two seats to groups of four facing each other with a folding table in between. Another popular option is a compartment with a sliding door that usually holds six seats.

If you score one of these to yourselves on an empty train, it feels like hitting the rail jackpot.

Sliding Doors

Since you are free to move about the train at all times, you'll be passing between compartments and many trains come equipped with super-cool automatic sliding doors. Are these exclusive to Europe? No. Will you still make a stamp on your trip? Yes.

It's the Land of the Eurail Pass

No discussion about rail travel in Europe is complete without talking about the legendary Eurail pass. Offering unlimited travel for one set price, nothing has made rail travel more magical on the continent than these passes. Choose either a Global Pass that covers the continent or a One Country version and you are on your way.

Eurail Equals Freedom

When you buy a Eurail pass, it's not just access onto a network of trains that you receive in return, it's freedom. There are now 31 countries covered by the Eurail Global Pass, meaning you can explore every nook and cranny of the continent, at a pace of your choosing, for one price.

Some high-speed trains do require a small reservation fee, but remember, you don't have to take the quickest route between two places, because half the fun is getting there.

Rail Planner App

The Rail Planner App by Eurail will be your bible when traveling to Europe by train and it's a true lifesaver. It works offline and will quickly compute the connections you need to make for any possible route you can come up with.

A Fast-Moving Feast

While you defintely should visit the dining car during a European rail trip, you can almost always bring your own food and drink on if you so wish. And this includes that bottle of Italian red you just fell in love with the night before.

The Dreamy Departure Boards

The centerpiece of any European train station is the departure board and I'm not sure there is a more wanderlust-inducing thing on the continent. Seeing names like " Munich","Paris", and "Zurich" displayed and knowing that they are just a train ride away can be intoxicating.