Eurail: A Critique and Review

At this point in time I’d like to take break from retelling the narrative of my journey to offer some opinion and advice, of sorts, regarding the way I travelled around Europe, my major mode of transport: the European train network. Ultimately it was something that worked very well for me, but there were definitely lists of both pros and cons. However, some of these points aren’t really things that were explicitly bad, but rather minor details that easily slipped under the radar, and things that I would have liked to have been a little more aware of beforehand.


Choosing to do your Eurotrip with Eurail does require a little forethought and planning. Eurail is the company brand that offers passes to people who are citizens of non-European countries – Interrail is the service offered to European citizens – and therefore you can only purchase such passes outside of Europe, and they can only be sent to non-European addresses. This meant that while I did choose to have a very free and flexible journey around the continent, I had to choose and commit to that kind of journey from the very beginning. Passes come at 4 different levels: Global, which lets you travel up to 24 countries; Select, which lets you travel between any 4 bordering countries of your choice; Regional, allowing you to choose from popular 2 country combinations; and One Country, which is rather self-explanatory. From each of these, you can also choose a Continuous Pass, which allows you to travel every day within your set period, or a Flexi Pass, which meant your pass was valid for a set number of days, but you were only allowed to travel on a certain number of days – however, the amount of trains you could catch on those travel days was unlimited. It was all a bit confusing at first, but it’s quite simple when you put it into practice.

If you’ve been previously reading about my travels then it will be obvious I selected a Global Pass, and I chose a Flexi Global Pass that allowed me 15 days of travel within a 2 month period. This just meant that I had to keep track of how many days it would take me to get where I wanted to go, rather than worrying about how long I was able to stay in each place. It was a cheaper option, with a further 35% discount of the price for people under 26, and with a little bit of planning it was just as comprehensive and useful as the continuous pass would have been, for a fraction of the price. Once I had ordered it, Eurail posted me my ticket and trip log, a train timetable booklet, a Eurail map and an information guidebook. As confusing as some of the fine print was, I can’t deny that Eurail did try to give you all of the detailed information to help you prepare, and I tried my best to read over it carefully to maximise the use of my pass. There are things like discounts at hostels, hotels and cafes,  and reduced entry to some sightseeing attractions, and for your pass can even be used to make reservations on selected ferry lines.

Eurail Travel Log, which you're required to fill out as proof of your travel days.

Eurail Travel Log, which you’re required to fill out as proof of your travel days.

The Eurail Map I used for planning - as you can see, the original plans I made aren't quite what ended up happening.

The Eurail Map I used for planning – as you can see, the original plans I made aren’t quite what ended up happening.


Given some of the difficulties I came across, I obviously didn’t read the fine print closely enough. There were times when I got it right – in Stockholm, were I activated the pass, I saw that all the trains to Copenhagen were high-speed trains that required the purchase of a reservation. So I did that, no problems – since I already had the ticket, it was just a small fare to reserve a seat on the train. I had an allocated seat when I boarded the train, and other than a huge delay once the train was already en route to Denmark, there was no issue with the trip. However, when I went to travel to Hamburg from Copenhagen, I’d seen in the timetable that reservations were not compulsory, but when I went to ask someone at the ticket office where I should go to catch the train to Hamburg, she looked at me uncertainly and asked if I had a reservation.
“Oh… um… Do I need one?” was all I could think to say. She pulled a discontenting face which made it obvious she was reluctant to give the final word on that issue.
“Maybe. Perhaps not. You can go down to the platform and ask.” She pointed me in the right direction, and on the platform it was all rather chaotic. I eventually found where the 2nd Class carriages were and stepped onto the train and found myself a vacant seat. It was here I learnt that just because a reservation wasn’t compulsory, doesn’t mean you still couldn’t get one. Several times I saw people come over to other passengers and upheave them from their seats – those were obviously people who had reservations – and the displaced passengers usually had to stand up for the rest of the very long trip. I was lucky during that trip, however, and when the train inspector came along to check my ticket, he didn’t require anything more than a stamp to my Eurail pass to mark off one of my 15 days of travel. That was when I started to get the hang of compulsory vs non-compulsory reservations on the trains.

The ability to catch more than one train on each travelling day was also a life saver for me on the odd occasion, in conjunction with the handy Eurail iPhone app that I downloaded, which effectively made the timetable booklet redundant. When I found myself stranded in Hamburg without a place to stay, I referred to the app and put in ‘Hamburg’ as the origin and ‘Groningen’ as the destination. It searched the timetables and showed me exactly which train I had to catch to what cities, and because I turned on the function that only showed trains that didn’t require reservations, I was able to travel for the rest of the day for no extra charge, and that was how I ended up in the Netherlands with Gemma a day earlier than I had planned. It was generally the less frequented routes, such as the ones that took me to Groningen, which required no reservations, so the pass I had was particularly useful for things like that. Once I’d familiarised myself with how it all worked, I was able to really enjoy the flexibility of my pass knowing that I could stay an extra day or two in certain places, as I ended up doing in Berlin, without it having too much of an impact on the cost-effectiveness of my pass. The desire to take trains that required no reservations also encouraged me to see cities that I probably would have otherwise missed, such as Cologne, Brussels, and Bratislava.


There were other problems though. The one I had the biggest issue with was the inability to make reservations for a Eurail pass online. On my last night in Berlin, when Ralf was helping me try to book a ticket to Paris, there was no where for me to state that I had the pass, which would have resulted in me paying for the full-priced ticket (the trains to Paris were all full anyway, but that’s beside the point). This meant that for every journey I took with my Pass that required a reservation, I had to line up in the often monstrously long queues – in Paris, Barcelona, Rome, and Ancona – for what was ultimately a ridiculously small and simple exchange. Paris in general was just a nightmare for train reservations, both travelling to and from the city. In Cologne I got up extremely early and rushed to the ticket office – which had been closed by the time I arrived the previous evening – to reserve a ticket to Paris. The woman told me that all of the allocations she had available for Eurail customers were taken, and that I could pay a full priced fare for either 1st or 2nd Class if I wanted to catch that train. I hadn’t been aware of that point, and it was frustrating to know that there was room on the train, but my pass just simply did not allow for it. I assured her that full fares were not an option, and she eventually found a way for me to get to Paris that day by sending me via Brussels, but I still had to pay reservation fees, with the one for the French train company being particularly large for such a short distance – while Eurail passes are valid all across Europe, they operate in partnership with all the separate national train companies across the continent, which is why it cost me €30 to get from Brussels to Paris, but only around €9 to get from Stockholm to Denmark.

Then there were the difficulties of making a reservation for the overnight train from Paris to Barcelona. The evening that I wanted to leave was completely booked out, and the next day only had reclining seats available, rather than the cabins with beds in them. Desperate to not overstay in a city as expensive as Paris, I took the reclining seat class, which was still a hefty €50 reservation fee. I know that’s significantly less than than the price of the usual ticket, but after having paid around €550 for the pass in the first place, I never expected to be paying quite so much more for reservations. On the whole, I would have spent at least €100 or more just on those reservation fees for my trips, which is – to be fair – briefly outlined in the guide, but it was never really impressed upon me how often I would have to do that, or even indeed that my access to those reservations would be quite so limited due to allocated numbers. It’s also worth noting that while the Eurail pass is also valid for some of the ferry lines between Spain, Italy, Greece and Croatia – something I was considering in my initial plan – they are still limited by availability and incur extra reservation fees that are undoubtedly greater than the ones for train.


Then there were just a lot of random nuisances with the trains, as well as random restrictions on the pass. When I’d had my direction dilemma leaving Berlin, Ralf had suggested visiting Poland, but along with Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia, it was a country that was not valid for my Eurail pass. Anything east of Poland or Romania was also excluded, and while perhaps they’re not as popular destinations as parts of Western Europe, I thought they’d qualify for an inclusion in the Eurail pass, since it extended down all the way to Turkey – although perhaps that was an issue with those countries rather than Eurail itself.

The other place where I had problems booking tickets as Ancona. I lined up at the ticket office to ask about ticket availability for travelling to Zürich, as I would need to make several stopovers. The man angrily yelled at me and told me to speak to the information office in another part of the building. There, from the amount of effort it took to explain what I wanted – and I’m not even talking about language barriers – it was as though the woman had never had to deal with a Eurail pass before, and Ancona is a popular tourist port for ferries travelling to and from Greece and Croatia, so that can’t have been the case. After moving at a painstakingly glacial pace, she was eventually able to tell me if all the trains I needed to catch had vacancies – they did – so I thanked her and went back to reserve them. Of course, when I went to book it, all the prices she had quoted me were wrong, and I ended up having to pay a lot more for the reservations than I intended. I was also a little apprehensive about making reservations for Italian trains because from what I had experienced they were never running on time. It could take just one delayed departure to mess up my entire booked schedule and have me sitting on trains shooting across the country while I wrung my hands in stress and tried to figure out alternate routes.

Of course, in Switzerland I had the opposite problem. I anxiously checked the time on my phone as I stood at the end of the queue of people who were boarding the train. There were so many people in front of me taking so long to get on that, with a minute before scheduled departure time, I ran to the end of the carriage and jumped on there. While I was still walking to my seat, the train began its movements exactly on time, and I’m almost certain if I had still been at the end of that line, I’d still be on the platform watching my reserved seat haul out to Austria. You just don’t mess with Swiss punctuality.


There’s all kinds of hiccups that can make the planing of a Europe train expedition a rather stressful, touch-and-go affair, but in the end, despite all that, I would still say it was worth it, and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a lot of Europe on a budget in a limited timeframe. With the pass I travelled through 12 different countries and bunch of different cities, having in-depth experiences in the cultures of almost all of them, and in the end it was a fraction of the price of what individual tickets would have cost me to do the same trip – even with the added reservation fees. It’s relatively simple – no complicated check-in or security search or customs – you just jump on board, find a seat and away you go. You get to see the countryside pass you by, and you really get an appreciation for the distances that you’re travelling that you really just don’t get when you’re hurling through the air in a big metal flying machine. You get in amongst the people and feel like a real traveller, and that was by and large one of the things I loved about train travel – almost every day felt like an adventure.

And after your big trip is done, if you send Eurail your travel log – which I assume they record for some kind of research purposes – they return it to you along with a little gift to say thank you for helping them with that research. I can finally throw away the countless ticket stubs I hoarded, knowing that I have this cute little USB stick to remind me of my Eurail adventures.

The neat little gift Eurail sent me after it was all over.

The neat little gift Eurail sent me after it was all over.

19 thoughts on “Eurail: A Critique and Review

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  5. Neat post. I mostly wanted to find out what the Eurail gift was, but I enjoyed reading about your experiences traveling through Europe.

  6. You have well explained the difficulties associated with EU Rail pass with regards to getting the right reservations and its high cost, but finally you say the Pass cost + reservation fees is a fraction of P2P tkt booking cost – so my questions are:

    Would you advise somebody to buy a cost effective EU rail pass despite the associated reservation difficulties & high cost y?

    and If you did not travel by P2P tkts, how did you conclude that EU rail pass cost is a fraction of the cost of P2P tkts.

    • If I had gone ahead and booked tickets online without a pass – like the one I attempted to book for Berlin to Paris – and paid full fares for every single trip I’d booked, then it would have cost me all up a lot more than what the Eurail pass cost. I didn’t add it all up exactly but with the amount of trains I could, it would have been an inevitable,y large expense.

      I suppose the flexibility of the pass is what made it good for a traveller like myself. If you know the exact cities you want to see and prefer to plan an exact itinerary in advance, then perhaps the pass might not be the best option – if you’re booking ahead you can weigh up the costs ahead of time. But doing that wouldn’t have allowed me to have the flexibility in my travel plans, and that was my priority. All I could advise is that, depending on your destinations, you should expect to pay a few hundred or so more euro in reservation costs in addition to the Eurail pass. The “difficulties” I had might not have been so difficult if I had known about them and been able to plan better around them – that’s why I wrote this blog, so others would know 🙂

  7. I’m an overplanner. As a result, I paid a lot of extra money for things I didn’t or couldn’t use.
    I was so concerned I wouldn’t have transportation I paid for a 6 day 3 country eurail pass for two and didn’t need it at all.
    Plus I booked 2 flights with Just fly that I couldn’t get refunded.
    Plus I booked a hotel room with booking .Com that I couldn’t get refunded because the place I booked was a horror story place. So they didn’t allow cancellations even though it was one year before the date of arrival and only two hours after realizing the mistake of the booking.
    Most of my refund issues were my fault for not checking on refund policies but in some cases it seemed absolutely rediculous that an exception wasn’t made. My best advice from my mistakes is use Uber for local transportation when stuck in Europe without a plan. Don’t over buy tickets that don’t allow for changes or full refunds. Get a great Hotel close to the airport or train stations. Use bus and Uber or walk to go to local attractions.
    I’m still in Europe and have more non refundable things I booked to deal with, I’m sure of that

    • Oh no! That sounds like a bit of a headache! I guess it’s good to be prepared but frustrating if it’s costing you more than it’s worth because you’re missing things. Last minute bookings can be expensive too though so I guess it’s about trying to find the balance/being flexible when plans don’t work out. I hope you have a little more luck with the rest of your travels!

  8. i am currently traveling from Stockholm via Copenhagen down to Hamburg with an Interrail pass. Before i was in Helsinki and strangely enough if one introduces the Eurail code when purchasing the boat ticket it is more expensive than the normal ticket!

    • I did notice that, I think! It was a few years ago now for me, but I remember trying to plan everything and realised it was cheaper to get the boat separately from Helsinki to Stockholm and activate the rail pass in Stockholm and start from there. I suppose there must be certain situations where it’s advantages to use the pass for the ferries but it’s not always a guarantee.

  9. Fortunately we had a marvelous time.
    We paid about $ 3,000.00 too much to transportation and hotels and flights that were never needed or used. But the things we did do we enjoyed completely.
    Best holiday ever. The only draw back from a fantastic time is no funny stories to tell back home.
    Everything was perfect. Great memories.

    • Haha the funny stories are just some kind of solace you can take from any bad experiences. Much better to have a smooth holiday without drama! Glad you had a good time.

  10. Hi, i was just wondering, when filling in the travel diary do you need to fill in the whole name for the station? for eg. berlin there are berlin OST, berlin HBF, berlin SUED etc
    will the train conductors find problem if the entry is just berlin?

    • Hey there, I honestly can’t say for sure, but knowing that I know about Germans they can be sticklers for details sometimes so I would put whichever specific station you’re going to. In reality if you have a Flexi-pass like mine where you have unlimited travel on your selected days then an accurate recording on the date that you’re travelling is more important than the destination, if that makes sense? (Unless you have a seat reservation until a particular station)

      • Yea, makes sense. im getting a flexi-pass too. thanks for speedy reply! I’ve seen people saying they got trouble with train conductors for various reasons, hopefully i wont meet anyone like that on my travels ><

      • If it’s your first trip of the day make sure you have it written out correctly because they will have to stamp it. For any subsequent trains, they will see you’ve had the stamp with that days date and they won’t really worry past that. Best to write down each train just in case though!

  11. Thanks Tino for this comprehensive report. I am a senior traveller (with all the benefits of being an old broad 😉 ) and I will start my first block “5 days within 15” end of April 2018. I have to catch a ferry to Island which leaves from Hirtshals, Denmark. On my way back I’d like to spend a day with my son who lives in Hamburg. This is the frame of my trip.
    When I first inquired online about interrail I found a considerable reduction of the price – for trips to start about several months LATER ! Since this was exactly what I needed – and I decided to book a first class flexi pass – which means no seat reservation necessary and FULL flexibility even with train delays (and I’ve never come accross a crowded 1st class compartment). I’d recommend to visit the website of eurail/interrail frequently to dectect special offers.
    I am Austrian and shall be travelling through Germany and Denmark. I decided to NOT use outbound and inbound travel on my pass as they deprive me of precious travel days. These trips in Austria and Germany have considerable price reductions if booked well in advance (4 – 6 months !). Unfortunately I don’t know about other countries regarding these special offers.
    So – off to my first interrail adventure end of April 2018 !

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