Traveling through Europe with a Eurail Pass is a tradition that stretches back to the 1960s and it’s still going strong today — it’s how I traveled on my first trip to Europe in 2006. In many cases, a rail pass is an affordable and flexible way to travel Europe but a rail pass is not always the best option for all travelers.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the Eurail Pass — including who should buy it, who should skip it, what quirks to look out for, and strategies for maximizing the value of your rail pass.
What Is The Eurail Pass?
The Eurail Pass is an all-in-one pass that allows unlimited train travel on almost any train (including high-speed trains) covering 33 European countries:
- Czech Republic
- United Kingdom
Other than a few exceptions, this rail pass lets you simply hop on any train just by showing your pass (a few train routes require that you reserve a seat for an extra fee — I’ll cover this later).
The beauty of a Eurail Pass is its flexibility since allows you to travel with little/no pre-planning — you can choose where to travel at a moment’s notice. If you’re not digging a city, you can jump on a train and go somewhere else. Or maybe you met some cool people and they’re going somewhere new, you can tag along without paying for an expensive last-minute ticket.
Eurail Passes are only sold outside of Europe and they’ll only ship passes to non-European countries — so you MUST buy them before you arrive.
UPDATE: Eurail now sells a digital mobile pass that is sent directly to an app on your smartphone so you can technically buy it from anywhere.
I recommend buying your rail pass directly from Eurail.com
Types Of Eurail Passes
In 2019 Eurail simplified their rail pass options and now they have two main kinds of passes — Global and Single-Country:
Global Eurail Pass
The Global Eurail Pass is valid in all 33 participating countries and it comes in two different pass options that I’ve outlined below:
Global Continuous Pass
The Global Continuous Pass gives you unlimited travel within the length of the pass. For example, the One Month Continuous Pass gives you 30-days of unlimited travel starting on the first day you use your pass.
- 15 days
- 22 days
- One month
- Two consecutive months
- Three consecutive months
Global Flexi Pass
The Global Flexi Pass gives you a specific number of travel days to any Eurail participant country within a one or two-month period. For example, the 10 travel days within two-month pass gives you 10 individual travel days within a two-month window.
- Five travel days within one month
- Four travel days within one month
- Seven travel days within one month
- 10 travel days within two months
- 15 travel days within two months
Check Eurail.com for the prices and details.
Single Country Eurail Pass
The Single Country Eurail Pass is just as it sounds — you get a single pass that allows you to travel within a single country for 3, 4, 5, 6, or 8 travel days within 1 month.
There are a few countries that don’t have a Single Country Pass:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
Check out Eurail.com to get the prices.
Eurail Pass Prices
Each Eurail Pass is priced differently based on age:
- Youth: Anyone under 28 on the first day the pass is activated.
- Adult: Anyone 28 to 60.
- Senior: Anyone aged over 60 on the first day the pass is activated.
Note: Eurail.com often has sales so the prices could be a little cheaper than shown below.
Eurail Global Continuous Pass Price
|Pass Length||Youth Pass
Eurail Global Flexi Pass Price
|Pass Length||Youth Pass
|4 travel days (within one month)||$227||$289||$267|
|5 travel days (within one month)||$257||$341||$307|
|7 travel days (within one month)||$304||$405||$365|
|10 travel days (within two months)||$364||$485||$437|
|15 travel days (within two months)||$448||$597||$537|
Eurail Single-Country Pass Price
The Single Country Rail Pass allows you to travel within a single country for 3, 4, 5, 6, or 8 travel days within 1 month. The prices are different for every country so check out Eurail.com to get the prices — but here are a few of the most popular countries.
|3 travel days (within one month)||$189||$236||$213|
|4 travel days (within one month)||$223||$278||$250|
|5 travel days (within one month)||$254||$317||$286|
|6 travel days (within one month)||$289||$352||$317|
|7 travel days (within one month)||$307||$384||$345|
|8 travel days (within one month)||$337||$416||$375|
|3 travel days (within one month)||$127||$157||$138|
|4 travel days (within one month)||$152||$187||$167|
|5 travel days (within one month)||$177||$214||$194|
|6 travel days (within one month)||$198||$242||$218|
|8 travel days (within one month)||$240||$290||$261|
|3 travel days (within one month)||$179||$206||$185|
|4 travel days (within one month)||$207||$238||$214|
|5 travel days (within one month)||$231||$267||$241|
|6 travel days (within one month)||$254||$293||$269|
|8 travel days (within one month)||$294||$340||$306|
Visit Eurail.com to see all the other One Country rail passes.
First-Class vs Second-Class Rail Passes
Second-class tickets are the standard train tickets — second-class is very comfortable so there is no need to upgrade to first unless you have money to burn.
First-class tickets are around 30%-40% more expensive than second-class tickets. In first-class you’ll get larger seats and more legroom. It’s also generally quieter. You might get free drinks or some basic snacks on the train.
You’ll also get access to the train station’s First Class lounge (if there is one) and these typically provide free food and drink (including alcoholic beverages).
High-Speed Trains & Seat Reservations
Many high-speed trains require that rail pass holders pay an extra fee for a seat reservation.
So how Do You Know If You Need a Reservation?
It’s easy. You can use the Eurail Rail Planner App and it will tell you what trains need a reservation. You can also visit Bahn.com and then enter your travel date/time. To the right, you’ll see an “R” symbol if that train requires a reservation (see image below).
What Countries Require A Train Reservation?
All Thalys high-speed trains (which notably travel between Amsterdam and Paris) require a reservation, and all high-speed trains in France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Portugal require reservations.
You can make reservations for trains in other countries but they’re not required.
How Much Do Seat Reservations Cost?
Most reservations cost around €5-€10 but on some lines can cost as much as €30.
How Do You Make A Seat Reservation?
You can make reservations at just about any train station. Just go to the ticket window and tell them when what train you want (they’ll need the time and date).
When made at the train station, reservations can be booked months in advance or up to around an hour before the train departs — I recommend making reservations a few days in advance so you don’t have to deal with it at the last minute (you never know how long the ticket line at the service window might be).
You can also make a reservation online via Eurail.com and their Eurail Rail Planner app, however, there are a few considerations:
- E-ticket reservations can be booked up to 3 hours before the train’s departure.
- Paper ticket reservations have to be booked at least 6 days before the train’s departure.
Note: Some trains (notably in France) have a limited number of reservations available for riders using rail passes. It is smart to make your reservations in advance to ensure you get your desired journey.
How To Buy Eurail Passes
Eurail passes now come in either a paper ticket or the new digital ticket (introduced in 2020) — both are sold directly from Eurail.com
How To Buy A Paper Eurail Pass
IMPORTANT: Physical paper Eurail passes are not sold within Europe (they won’t even ship them to a European address).
Don’t forget that physical paper passes need to be shipped to you — which takes approximately 2 weeks for economy shipping and one week for premium shipping. Buy it from Eurail.com.
How To Buy A Digital Mobile Eurail Pass
One great thing about the digital mobile ticket is that you can buy it even if you’re already in Europe and you don’t have to wait for delivery. Buy it from Eurail.com.
NOTE: The mobile pass is good for any global pass but there are a few countries on the Single Country pass that don’t accept the mobile pass (Estonia, Greek Islands, Great Britain, Ireland, Latvia, and North Macedonia).
Is The Eurail Pass A Good Deal? A Quick Overview
The Eurail Pass can be a good deal depending on your travel style but it’s not always the cheapest way to travel Europe by train. On the other hand, a big draw of the Eurail pass is the convenience factor. So here are the broad strokes in determining if a rail pass is right for you:
For last-minute travel with medium/long-distance routes: A rail pass is often a good deal.
A rail pass can be a great deal if you’re traveling spur-of-the-moment and typically going medium and long distances (like hopping between big cities). That’s because (in many cases) long-distance trains are cheaper when booked early but get very expensive when booked last minute.
You’re under 28: A Rail Pass is often a good deal.
The Youth pass gives you a nice discount and this makes the rail pass an attractive option. You might be able to spend less overall if you book single tickets in advance but the difference is often minimal — personally, I think the convenience of the pass is worth the minimal extra expense.
Your plans are fixed and you can book tickets early: Point-to-point is cheaper.
If your plans are set and you can book your tickets around two months early then it’s virtually always cheaper to buy point-to-point tickets. Even being able to book a week or two prior to departure can give considerable savings based on buying less than a day or two early.
You’re staying regional: Point-to-point is cheaper.
Most regional trains have a fixed price based on distance traveled so there is no need to book early.
Eurail Pass Vs Single, Point-To-Point Train Tickets: In-Depth Analysis
Determining the value of a rail pass vs single tickets takes a little legwork and math. I’ve tried to break it all down below but it’s not an exact science.
Understanding Point-To-Point Train Ticket Pricing
Single train tickets are priced in two different ways:
Variable-Price Train Fares
Variable Fares, much like airline tickets, are always changing based on a combination of demand, departure time, and the amount of time before the departure date — essentially all high-speed trains operate on this pricing model.
Most rail companies start selling their tickets 60-90 days prior to departure so you’ll get the cheapest fares when booked during this time. Typically, prices gradually rise as the departure date approaches but you can still get some good fares if you book a couple of weeks in advance.
But the prices can be high if you book within a few days of departure and they’ll typically be very high if you book last-minute.
IMPORTANT: The cheapest train tickets are non-changeable and non-refundable. That means your ticket is only valid for the specific date and time printed on your ticket. In short, if you miss that train then you’re out of luck.
Fixed-Price Train Fares
With Fixed-Price Fares, the price is solely determined by distance traveled.
Fixed price tickets are most common on regional and slower trains. With this type of ticket, it doesn’t matter when you buy because the price never changes.
How To Find Tain Ticket Prices
Trainline makes it easy to look at train prices — simply plug in your route and date and it will show you the cheapest price for all the trains that day.
Remember that ticket prices fluctuate based on when you book so use this as an estimate (i.e. looking up tickets for a train that leaves tomorrow will give different prices results than tickets for trains that leave two months from now).
I typically book my tickets online using Trainline because this booking engine lists the actual train prices (they don’t add a markup). You can also look at each country’s National Rail Service website if you want to ensure you’re getting the absolute best price but Trainline makes booking much more user-friendly.
Calculating Daily Price of Rail Passes
I find it’s helpful to calculate the daily cost of the rail pass to see if a pass is cheaper than single tickets.
Eurail Global Continuous Pass (Price Per Day)
|Pass Length||Youth Pass
|15 Days||$402 ($27 per day)||$536 ($36 per day)||$483 ($32 per day)|
|22 Days||$471 ($22 per day)||$627 ($29 per day)||$564 ($26 per day)|
|One Month||$609 ($20 per day)||$811 ($27 per day)||$730 ($24 per day)|
|Two Months||$663 ($11 per day)||$885 ($15 per day)||$796 ($13 per day)|
|Three Months||$819 ($9 per day)||$1091 ($12 per day)||$983 ($11 per day)|
Note: The “price per day” is a little deceiving with a Global Continuous Pass since you (probably) won’t be traveling via train every day. To get a better estimate you should estimate how often you’ll use the train.
Eurail Global Flexi Pass Price (Price Per Day)
|Pass Length||Youth Pass
|4 travel days (within one month)||$227 ($57 per day)||$289 ($72 per day)||$267 ($67 per day)|
|5 travel days (within one month)||$257 ($51 per day)||$341 ($68 per day)||$307 ($61 per day)|
|7 travel days (within one month)||$304 ($43 per day)||$405 ($58 per day)||$365 ($52 per day)|
|10 travel days (within two months)||$364 ($36 per day)||$485 ($49 per day)||$437 ($43 per day)|
|15 travel days (within two months)||$448 ($30 per day)||$597 ($40 per day)||$537 ($36 per day)|
Example Single Train Ticket Prices
For high-speed trains, it’s best to buy tickets early to get the cheapest tickets. In most cases, train tickets can be purchased 60-90 days before the departure date but buying a few weeks early is usually fine.
Note: Ticket prices for many high-speed trains will change a lot based on departure time (i.e. busy times are more expensive) so adjusting your time by an hour or two could equal big savings — so poke around Trainline to get a better idea of prices.
Let’s look at some example ticket prices:
- Paris to Nice
- Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €77- €106 ($90-$125)
- Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €69 ($81)
- Purchased Three Weeks Before Departure: €55 ($65)
- Purchased Eight Weeks Before Departure: €21 ($25)
- Paris to Amsterdam
- Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €135 ($159)
- Purchased Three Weeks Before Departure: €97 ($114)
- Purchased Six Weeks Before Departure: €54 ($64)
- Purchased Eight Weeks Before Departure: €35 ($42)
- London to Paris (Eurostar Train)
- Purchased Two Days Before Departure: €234 ($267)
- Purchased Three Weeks Before Departure: €124 ($146)
- Purchased Six Weeks Before Departure: €55 ($65)
- Rome To Florence
- Purchased For Next Day Departure Day: €35-€60 ($41-$70)
- Purchased Eight Weeks Before Departure: €35-€63 ($45-$75)
As you can see, booking just a few weeks early can save quite a bit of money.
Doing The Math for Rail Pass Vs Single Tickets
At this point, all you have to do is compare the daily price of the pass to the cost of a single ticket.
Let’s look at the Paris to Amsterdam high-speed Thalys train for example:
- A 10 travel days Flexi Global Pass equals $36 per day. And rail pass riders have to pay around $33 for a reservation on this particular train so your total would be around $70 for this journey.
- Booking at last minute train from Paris to Amsterdam is $120-$180 so the Eurail pass is a great deal in this case.
- But booking two months in advance is $45 so it’s a lot cheaper than a rail pass in this case.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A rail pass is great if you want a lot of flexibility or you don’t want to bother with the hassle and frustration of planning out your entire trip ahead of time (and believe me… you can spend hours and hours planning).
Buying point-to-point tickets make more sense if you can plan your adventure well in advance and buy your tickets a month or two ahead of time. Click here for my guide on buying train tickets in Europe.
I’ve done European trips with and without a Eurail pass. I loved being able to hop on the train whenever I pleased. I didn’t have to worry about planning anything, and I decided where I next wanted to visit on a whim. On the trip where I purchased point-to-point tickets, I had to do a lot more planning (which can be stressful). I bought most of my tickets about 2-3 weeks prior to my trip. Afterward, I added up everything and compared it to the cost of a rail pass and I saved about $100 by buying tickets separately. I also spent many hours planning everything so the trip would fit together perfectly. The money I saved probably wasn’t worth all the extra time I spent planning.
How To Maximize The Value Of Your Eurail Pass
Here are a few more tips and tricks to help you make the most of your Eurail Pass.
Combine Pass With Point-To-Point Tickets
Passes are most valuable when used on longer (i.e. more expensive) train rides so it doesn’t make economic sense to use up one of the days on your pass on cheap rides that only cost $15-$30. That’s why I like to combine a Flexi Pass with cheap point-to-point tickets as a way to maximize the rail pass value.
Wait To Write In Your Travel Dates
While rare, sometimes tickets aren’t checked on the train so I wait to fill in the pass until I see the conductor checking tickets — just don’t let them see you filling it in last second.
Additionally, don’t make the mistake of filling in your entire itinerary because plans can change and once you fill in the dates you can’t change them.
Do Some Pre-Planning To Compare The Different Passes
Plan your trip and compare different rail pass plans. You don’t want to purchase a pass that doesn’t give you enough travel days, but you also don’t want to waste left-over days from a pass that was too large. You can’t upgrade your pass after you’ve purchased it and you don’t get refunds for unused days.
The Passes Give You Unlimited Train Rides Per Day
Remember, your rail pass gives you unlimited train travel per day (i.e. midnight to midnight) so you could conceivably take multiple train rides per day.
This is a nice option if you’re doing a long-distance day trip. For example, the train from Paris to Lyon takes about 2 hours and costs around $40-$90 each way. So you could take the early train to Lyon, spend the day exploring, and be back in Paris that night — and you’d only use up one travel day on your pass.
The Eurail Pass Now Covers The Eurostar Train Between London & Paris
The typically expensive Eurostar train was recently added to the Eurail Pass so that’s awesome for travelers. There is an extra €30 fee but can still be a good deal for pass holders since a last-minute Eurostar ticket can be $130-$180+.
Insurance, Refunds, and Fine Print
Paper passes aren’t refundable (once used) unless you buy Pass Protection insurance. If you have a mobile pass and you lose/break your phone, you can transfer the pass to another phone.
Rail Passes Doesn’t Cover Subways/Suburban Metro/Trams
Rail passes don’t work on the subway or other intra-city public transportation. Some might be valid on trains to/from the airport but this is a waste of a travel day.
Learn More About Trains In Europe
If you’ve never traveled by train I suggest reading my Guide To Train Travel In Europe for general train travel advice.
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This article was originally published by Thesavvybackpacker.com. Read the original article here.