Heading to Europe? Read this before you buy a Eurail Pass

We explain the different Eurail types, compare them to other similar passes and help you decide if a Eurail pass is right for you.

man travel Europe
(Credit: Foter.com)

For decades, the Eurail Pass has allowed non-Europeans to freely travel on the continent’s excellent railways, exploring from north to south and east to west, all for one affordable price.

But in recent years, cheap advance-purchase tickets coupled with mandatory seat reservations in many countries have eroded the Eurail Pass’ value and its promise of freedom to travel at will.

Meanwhile, the various Eurail Pass-types have proliferated, so just figuring out which to buy is a trial. Here, we explain the different Eurail types, compare them to other similar passes and help you decide if a Eurail pass is good for you.

QUICK LINKS:
Is a Eurail Pass good value?
Which Eurail Pass should I buy?
Which countries are good for Eurail?
Which countries are no good for Eurail?
Tell me some Eurail tips and tricks

Should I buy a Eurail Pass?

Before pondering the many Eurail variations and calculating the rough value of a pass, consider the following:

  • If you are mostly going to be travelling in Eastern and Southern Europe where train prices are low, then a pass is unlikely to make financial sense.
  • If you’re exploring France, Italy and Spain, where mandatory train reservations and train-pass surcharges are common, then the hassle factor alone makes it hard to justify a pass.
  • If you’ re going to be in countries where trains are expensive, such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland, then a pass may make financial sense.
  • If your trip is going to be in low-hassle countries and/or you can ignore the hassle countries – and you truly value the freedom of taking any train you want, when you want and you don’t want to mess around with buying tickets – then the freedom of a pass may offer the best value of all.

Related article: The best ways to travel from Florence to Rome
Related article: From London to Paris and beyond, by Eurostar

How can I calculate if a Eurail Pass is good value?

First, figure out which countries you’re likely to visit and determine how many days you’ll likely travel. With this info, figure out the type of Eurail that is the closest match to your trip.

Next divide the number of days you’ll be using trains with the cost of a pass.

Examples:

  • A 2-month, 2nd-class continuous Global Pass for a youth costs €866. This means it would cost a mere €14.43 per day to ride trains for 60 days, a fantastic deal if you’re going to spend your European trip riding the rails. However, if you are only going to ride trains half the time, that’s almost €29 per day, which is still a pretty good price. You can do the maths from there.
  • An 8 day in 2 months Select Pass good for an adult in 3 countries costs €507. That gives a daily value of just over €63, which is probably pretty good for 1st class.

With these figures, use the online resources at the bottom of the article to get an estimate of what your trip might cost if you buy tickets separately, noting that advance-purchase tickets can be very cheap compared to regular fares.

Now compare a Eurail Pass to the cost of individually purchased tickets and you’ll have at least a rough idea of the value equation.

How do I know which Eurail pass to choose?

Within each Eurail Pass category, there are certain demographic categories:

  • Adult, 1st class (there are no 2nd-class passes for adults)
  • Youth, 12–27 1st class (20% less than the adult 1st-class pass)
  • Youth, 12–27 2nd class
  • Child, 4–11: up to two children travel free with each adult that has a pass (these free passes must be ordered when you buy the adult passes)
  • Child, under 4: travels free, no pass needed

Other details:

  • Eurail passes can only be purchased by non-Europeans. Train staff checking your pass may ask to see your passport to prove your ID and citizenship.
  • Great Britain is not included in any Eurail pass.
  • Use eurail.com to calculate and navigate the forest of different pass prices.
It could be called the Dream Book – the European Rail Timetable condenses thousands of European trains and ferries into one easy-to-use format. Order one of the monthly or seasonal print editions, or get a digital version. It’s the perfect place to see what’s possible.

They also produce the essential large format Rail Map Europe, which unfolds to reveal the myriad rail lines of the continent in all their glory.

What are the different types of Eurail Pass?

Global Pass
            Good in 28 countries. Available in these variations:
  • 5 or 7 days of travel in 1 month
  • 10 or 15 days in 2 months
  • 15 or 22 days, 1, 2 or 3 months of continuous travel

Pass prices range from €307 (2nd-class youth pass good for 5 days of travel in 1 month) to €1,635 (1st-class adult pass good for 3 months of continuous travel).

Validate your pass at the information desk at a large European train station on your first day of travel.

Select Pass
      Good for only 2, 3 or 4 neighbouring countries out of the 28 in the Eurail program.

Use the tool on the website that lets you construct a valid pass from adjoining countries.

Passes are good for 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 days of travel in 2 consecutive months.

Pass prices range from €133 (2nd-class youth pass good for 2 countries and 4 days of travel in 2 months) to €619 (1st-class adult pass good for 4 countries and 10 days of travel in 2 months).

You write the date on the pass in an appropriate box at the start of each day you use the pass.

One Country Pass
      Comes in 22 variations; Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are counted as one country (Benelux), as is Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland).

Can be bought for 3, 4, 5 or 8 days of travel in 1 month.

Pass prices range from €53 (2nd-class youth pass good for 3 days of travel in 1 month in Poland) to €397 (1st-class adult pass good for 8 days of travel in 1 month in Scandinavia).

You write the date on the pass in an appropriate box at the start of each day you are using the pass.

Saver Pass
      2 to 5 adults travelling together can order their Eurail Passes together and save 15% on each pass.

Almost every type of Eurail pass can be ordered as a Saver Pass.

* prices correct as of January 2018

What else do I get with my Eurail Pass?

Important Eurail extras include discounted and free ferries that link Ireland to mainland Europe, Greece to Italy, and between the Scandinavian countries.

Extra discounts and deals are offered on transport such as ferries and private railways in many countries. Check here for details. Note: popular and expensive private railways such as Switzerland’s Jungfrau Railway are not included.

For an exhaustive list of what’s included for Eurail Pass users in each country, visit seat61.com.

Are there any bad countries for Eurail?

Certain countries are less attractive for using a Eurail Pass.

Pass-hassle countries
    Railways in the following countries require seat reservations to travel on most or all of their high-speed and long-distance trains. This eliminates travelling on a whim and adds extra costs to each trip. Worse, just securing these reservations is a hassle.
  • France
  • Italy
  • Spain

For details on obtaining seat reservations for pass holders, check out our guides to SNCF and Renfe, or see see seat61.com here and eurail.com here.

Cheap countries
    Countries where average train fares are so low, it’s hard to justify the cost of a pass:
  • All of Eastern Europe
  • The Balkans
  • Greece
  • Turkey
  • Portugal

What are the best countries for Eurail?

Pass-friendly countries
    The best countries for a Eurail Pass have high train fares but don’t require seat reservations on even their fastest trains:
  • Austria
  • Germany
  • Switzerland (although some of the famous scenic trains are not covered or require a reservation fee)
Eurail tips and tricks

  • If you’re only going to travel a day or two longer than a pass’ validity, buy individual tickets for the extra days (eg, if you’ll be travelling for 11 days, buy a 10-day pass rather than a 15-day pass).
  • With a Select Pass, if only in one country briefly, buy an individual ticket for that country and don’t include it in the pass.
  • When you are constructing a Select Pass, you might not include a country where the train fares are very cheap, such as Poland and other Eastern European countries.
  • One excellent benefit with Eurail Passes that include France and/or Belgium is cheap fares as low as €30 for Eurostar to London from Paris or Brussels. However buying these tickets can be complicated; seat61.com has all the details. Also, check out our guide to travelling by Eurostar.
  • You’ll have to pay a supplement to use the high-speed Thalys train that links Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Instead, take Deutche Bahn to Cologne, from where you can get the equally fast German ICE train instead as it’s included with Eurail.
  • If you are taking one Europe’s few remaining night trains and it leaves after 7pm, then it counts as a train the next day, which saves you from having to use up two days validity on Select or One Country Passes.
  • Many vendors and websites sell Eurail Passes. Shop around online as some offer extras like free shipping or guidebooks.
  • Look out for sales that can save you 20% on passes, especially at eurail.com.

Are there any other passes I should consider?

There is no direct competitor to the Eurail Pass. The InterRail Pass is very similar but it is sold only to Europeans, so the two pass programs are meant to be mutually exclusive.

Some individual countries have pass programs but in most of these cases, there is no corresponding Eurail One Country Pass. Examples include:

  • German Rail Pass: Available in many versions, covers Germany’s excellent rail network plus offers bus and boat tour discounts, free public transport in some cities and much more.
  • Swiss Travel Pass: Comes in various flavours just like a Eurail Pass; covers the incredible interconnected system of trains, buses, ferries and more.
  • Britrail Pass: access to all trains on Great Britain’s National Rail Network.

Online resources

Use these sites to research train schedules and get an idea of what individual train tickets cost.

Rome2rio – Door-to-door travel information and booking engine with prices, journey durations and booking details for planes, trains, buses, ferries, rideshares and rental cars across Europe and beyond.

Deutsche Bahn – The German railway website often has the best schedule and connection info for railways across Europe. It is less helpful for fare information.

Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at rome2rio.com