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Overnight Breaks, Travel

How To Travel Europe By Rail Like A Pro

Ditch the plane, and travel Europe by rail. This guide to key international rail services in Europe will help you plan your trip with ease.

Many of us are looking to reduce the number of flights we take each year to help the environment. Thankfully, there are many ways to travel low-carbon. You can holiday at home or opt for camping trips. However, you don’t have to ditch trips to the continent. One great way sustainable way is to travel by train.

If you are looking to travel Europe by rail this summer then take note – Lonely Planet has recently published Lonely Planet’s Guide to Train Travel in Europe.

Whether you want to travel leisurely via the scenic route or head straight to your destination in the quickest possible time, Lonely Planet’s experts show you how to plan your journey. This covers everything from how to plan a long-distance trip, right through to the must-see stops and best ways to book value-for-money tickets.

And to help kickstart your trip, Lonely Planet has kindly let me publish this excerpt on the key rail services you need to know to help plan your trip. Get planning!


International trains are an unquestionably exciting part of the European travel scene. There’s no shortage of ways to cross borders on steel wheels to move between the patchwork of nations that makes up the
continent, from multi-day sleeper trains to glamorous high-speed expresses to regional curiosities. These services will be the backbone of any Europe-spanning rail itinerary.

Key International Services To Travel Europe By Rail

Image of a train crossing through a mountainous region, with a blue text box that says everything you need to know about travelling Europe by rail.

Several rail companies operate international routes across various European regions. These services often connect with other key international and domestic services at key hub stations and generally must be booked in advance. Services are well-used by leisure and business travellers so expect trains to
be busy during peak hours and at popular holiday times.

Thalys

Thalys is a high-speed service owned by SNCF and SNCB (respectively the French and Belgian state railways). It serves France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, connecting Paris, Brussels,
Amsterdam, Cologne, Dortmund, and points in between. It only stops at major cities, guaranteeing fast journey times, and connects conveniently (if tightly) with Eurostar services, meaning it’s heavily used
by business travellers and tourists. Thalys also offers a low-cost brand only operating between Paris and Brussels, IZY. Summer services extend to Avignon and Marseille.

The Thalys Neige ski train reaches French Alpine winter sports destinations including Chambéry and Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

Classes & reservations

There are three classes on Thalys trains: Standard; Comfort; Premium. All come with free wifi. Light meals are served at-seat in Premier class and are included in the ticket price. Reservations are required for all services.

Good to know

While there’s no specific security when boarding Thalys trains in Germany and the Netherlands, extra time should be factored in if travelling through Paris and Lille to put luggage through x-ray machines, and for
potential security checks in Brussels.

Resources

Thalys.com is the main booking site, though booking Thalys connections is possible through partners such as SNCF, Eurostar, Rail Europe, and Trainline.

Eurostar

Eurostar connects London’s St Pancras International with Lille, Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam. These distinctive blue and yellow trains use the HS1 high-speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel on the UK side. Once in continental Europe, they make use of the LGV Nord high-speed line (which also carries Thalys services) between Paris, Calais, Lille, and Brussels. A winter ski train follows the Thalys Neige path into the Alps, while summer services have in the past offered a direct connection to destinations in
the south of France including Lyon, Avignon, and Marseilles.

Classes & reservations

Eurostar offers Standard, Standard Premier, and Business Premier seating. Bookings generally open 180 days in advance of the date of travel – sooner than potential onward services, so consider waiting if you’re looking to connect onwards via Paris or Brussels.

Good to know

Eurostar recommends checking in 45-60 minutes before departure. Ticket inspection, luggage x-ray, and passport checks for both the UK and France are undertaken before departure.

Resources

Eurostar.com has bookings and destination info and also offers ticket-plus-hotel deals
that can offer good value for short breaks.

Nightjet

A train in Norway

The flagship sleeper train brand of ÖBB (Austrian Railways), Nightjet comprises the bulk of Europe’s night-train services. Radiating in all directions from Vienna and Salzburg, routes reach Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the Netherlands. Sleeper services run by operators in neighbouring countries reach Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, and Ukraine from Austria. As they’re not run by Nightjet expect different, mostly older sleeping cars.

Classes & reservations

There are three classes of Nightjet services: a seat in a compartment; a 4-6 berth couchette; and economy or deluxe sleeper accommodation in single, double- or triple-occupancy cabins.

Deluxe berths come with a toilet and shower. Note that solo travellers will, in all cases apart from designated single cabins, share with other travellers of the same gender. Booking in advance is
highly recommended, and compulsory in Germany and Italy.

Good to know

It’s a good idea to build plenty of time for onward connections into an itinerary containing any night trains – 90 minutes is sensible. Nightjet tickets go on sale 180 days before departure.

Resources

Nightjet.com has bookings through ÖBB, which allows for combined Nightjet and day train connections to a wide range of destinations, plus more details of on-board services.

IC/EC

Many cross-border routes in Europe are denoted as IC (InterCity) or EC (EuroCity) trains, such as the Berlin–Warsaw, and Zürich–Bologna services. They offer comfortable and frequent, if slower, services than branded high-speed fast trains – think of these as express services that would have been the fastest trains
in operation before high-speed services became commonplace.

Classes & reservations

Generally, two classes (marked 1 and 2) are available throughout. Reservations are sensible for longer journeys and in some countries, such as Italy, are obligatory.

Good to know

If you’re hankering after an old-school European rail experience, compartment seating for six passengers with a sliding door on a corridor can still be found on many InterCity services.

Resources

Domestic websites for your starting point are the best place to start, though InterCity trains are often bookable via international ticket sites.

Regional Services

Few regional or local services run internationally, but many run right up to border stations, such as the scenic Jesenice to Nova Gorica line in Slovenia, which runs to the Italian frontier, and those terminating
at Latour-de-Carol from both the French and Spanish sides of the border. Regional services are differently named in various countries – see the national rail services section for details.

Classes & reservations

Many trains offer first (marked as 1 on the carriage or seating area) and standard class (2) seating, though smaller services may only have standard class. With few exceptions, regional trains are turn-up-and-go, so there are no reservations.

Good to know

On regional trains in many countries, you need to validate your ticket by stamping it in a machine on platforms before boarding.

Resources

As with InterCity services, domestic websites from your starting point are the best place to start for times and tickets, though buying at the station is the norm.

This excerpt has been reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet © 2022.

Overnight Breaks, Travel

Would You Reduce Air Travel To Limit Emissions?

would you reduce your air travel to help reduce carbon emissions?

Would you reduce your air travel to help reduce carbon emissions? Here is a common misconception about air travel that’s worth considering.

I was in a cafe the other day. The kind of cafe where the tables are squashed together just a little too close to one another for comfort. I had come for peace and quiet. Aas I took my seat at the only free table, I immediately regretted my choice of cafe. Two women were sat at the table next to me chatting quite loudly. As I drank my cup of tea and scribbled some notes, I tried to tune out their chatter.

My ears pricked, however, when their conversation turned to holidays. One woman revealed to the other that she and her husband had booked a family holiday abroad. And whilst she was excited about the holiday, she had recently watched David Attenborough’s Climate Change: The Facts. She said she felt terrible guilt over the flights it would entail and the impact on the environment. Her friend, being the good friend, told her not to worry because that flight would go anyway, whether she was on the flight or not. She told her that this act of her flying on this particular flight wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the environment.

I bit my tongue. I’m not the kind of person that would butt into the conversation of strangers. Though it seems I’m the type of person that would recount the conversation of strangers on the internet! However, I couldn’t help but wish we could stop spreading the false notion of “it’ll go without me” when it comes to transport, particularly air travel.

Profits, Not a Public Service

When it comes to air travel, you have to remember that flight operators are businesses. They don’t just exist to perform a public service. Therefore money is everything. Flights and routes need to be profitable otherwise services get cut. So yes, in the short term that one flight probably will go without you. However, in the long term the fewer people that choose to fly, the fewer flights and fewer runways are required. Reduce our air travel, means fewer flights, and the less profitable aviation becomes. This means the “it’ll go without me” notion becomes a hollow excuse.

Of course, some air travel can be unavoidable or hard to reduce. Work trips, trips to see family and friends abroad, or living on a small island with little alternative, can mean few alternatives to flying. However, a recent study showed 47% of Britons are willing to fly less because of climate change. If almost half the country stopped flying or flew less for avoidable trips – the number of flights would be cut back drastically to reflect the downturn in demand.

Of course, it’s not just Brits that need to stop flying to be able to reduce flights. The good news is no-fly campaigns are growing in Europe. I would imagine more will catch on more and more as interest and awareness in our climate emergency gathers momentum. Particularly when one transatlantic flight can add as much to your carbon footprint as a typical year’s worth of driving (and that’s just one way).

Be Part of the Solution

So the “it’ll go without me” excuse doesn’t hold weight. Like most environmental actions, while you won’t save the world on your own by not flying, you will certainly be part of the solution by not flying when you don’t need to.

If you want to really be part of the solution when it comes to air travel then consider the value of social proof. This survey on fast fashion, for example, showed that a staggering 90% of respondents would shop secondhand if their friends or family did so first. Therefore, it would hold if more of us reduce our air travel, and holiday in the UK and talk to our friends and family about our holiday,s then the more people that will consider the value of holidaying without flying anywhere.

One of my Scottish friends took a holiday in the north of Scotland over Easter and shared the photos on Facebook. Two Scottish people commented that the photos of the trip had inspired them to holiday in Scotland, which on a micro-scale highlights the value of social proof:

And living in the UK, we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful spots to holiday in. There’s no shortage of places to go. From city breaks to beach holidays, to forests to mountains, we really do have it all.

It’ll Go Without Me Applies to Public Transport Too

The same “it’ll go without me” mentality when it comes to public transport is another one that needs to stop. This is because, like with airlines, if people don’t use their local bus and rail networks, they will cease to run too.

Whilst many bus routes are subsidised by local authorities, these routes still have to be profitable. When bus routes get cut, these cuts hit the poorest the most. The more we use public transport, the better for the environment. It’s also better for those on lower incomes too, which is true sustainability.

Would You Reduce Your Air Travel?

Over to you: do you holiday in the UK? Have you reduced your air travel because of climate change? Would you cut back on your flying because of climate change? I’d love to hear!