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What's your experience with train travel in Europe?

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1 Review 5/5
Ian
Founder, Travel Massive

On my visit to Europe this month I decided to use trains whenever possible.

Here's what I learned.

I took the following trains in Germany (Deutsche Bahn) and Poland (PKP): Hamburg to Flensburg. Berlin to Hamburg. Hamburg to Poznan. Poznan to Warsaw. All up, I probably spent about 20 hours on trains over the past few weeks, so I feel I've had enough experience to form some opinions โ€” although I'm certainly not an expert.

Good things about train travel

โ€ข Trains are comfy and easy to use your laptop on them
โ€ข Train stations are central and easy to get to
โ€ข It's fast to get through a train station (no security screening, etc)
โ€ข Some stations have lounges (e.g Deutsche Bahn lounge, not really advertised!)
โ€ข Nice scenery to look at on the way ๐ŸŒณ ๐ŸšŠ ๐Ÿž๏ธ

Not so good things about train travel

โ€ข In my experience, trains were almost always late, by at least an hour
โ€ข Buying tickets (as a tourist, like me) requires queuing at a ticket office
โ€ข Central train stations are jammed with food stores, like a giant Ikea food court ๐Ÿคฎ
โ€ข Poor communication โ€” in one case in Poznan, the screens weren't updated about a platform change, and the directions were only announced in Polish.
โ€ข Different platform numbers, train numbers, carriage numbers, seat numbers, etc.
โ€ข Expensive! In most cases it was cheaper to take a bus (which I did in a few cases)
โ€ข When things go wrong: I had also planned to take a train from Hamburg to Denmark but unfortunately Deutsche Bahn screwed this up with a 3 hour late service, so I was stranded at the connecting train station (with no staff) in the evening. The only option was to take a taxi from Flensburg to Sonderborg (Denmark) which blew my budget.

๐Ÿค” In summary โ€” traveling on trains is fun once you get on them and they are moving.

However the user experience of the train stations that I visited is terrible. I feel that train travel can learn a lot from airport design (the good parts) and this would make the customer journey far better โ€” for example: ticketing and in-station comms.

If we we want to stop flying less, the train travel experience needs improvements to become a preferred transportation over short-haul flying.

What's your experience? Looking forward to hearing good (and bad) stories!

2 months ago (edited)
Content & Community Manager, Travel Massive

I'd say these experiences are still impressive!

Nothing good about train travel in the Balkans besides the price. Old trains (we get second hand machines from western European countries that don't use them anymore), bad air con (if there's any at all), old seats, slow trains, not super clean... It's an exception to get a good train ride, let alone a good seat and even a table.

2 months ago
Head of Product, Travelcoup

Hi Ian, a pretty fair overview I think. If you want punctual trains you have to head to Switzerland. I've hardly ever experienced delays there. As for Deutsche Bahn..... in my opinion this is what happens with a monopoly. They seem to get progressively worse each year. I have used trains in Poland and found them excellent. Big thumbs up for Spain too, where the trains are fast and efficient. You do have a security screening to endure, but nothing like at airports. Under 3 hours from Madrid to Sevilla. Completely agree with you regarding the train stations. In most European cities they are places to avoid. In general I really enjoy travelling by train and watching the world go by from my window seat. Plus, it is also easy to work from the train.

2 months ago
Founder, The Mint Chip Mama

In 1997, when I was 19, I backpacked through Europe by myself. Pre readily availble cell phones, pre mobile internet. The train was one of the highlights of my trip. I met friendly strangers, talked to tons of people, and even made friends enough to travel together for a few days here and there between legs. My paper 10 trip Eurail pass will always hold a soft, warm spot in my heart.
My most memorable ride? One I took heading north and as I was looking out the window it all went black and then when the light came up I saw water. The train had gone on a boat. The other American I was with was equally confused. Apparently that route puts the train on a ferry! Who knew? Makes for a great story all these years later!

2 months ago
Photographer, Writer, and Content creator., pathstotravel.com

That seems like a very concise and relatable summary. Especially the ticketing situation. If you haven't prepurchased them ahead of time, even then some need to be printed and not digital, all these different things that eat into the travel time. I also find it quite difficult/annoying when it comes to luggage storage, between finding the space for it and the paraoya of having it out of eye sight, you know :). But I do like the idea of trains for sustainability purposes and they can be really scenic and pieacefull. But as you mentioned they do need to be more accessible all around. In Canada especially, the train system is quite terrible and very expensive.

2 months ago
Project manager, TravaPowa

๐Ÿง‘โ€๐ŸŽ“ I was a commuter student in the Rome region, and I am amazed that I managed to finish my studies despite the nightmarish regional transport. Like taking 2 hours for 60 km travel.
๐Ÿš… I have long used the French railways, which are practically Paris-centric, even if Paris is not exactly in the countryโ€™s centre.
๐Ÿฅน In Germany, I discovered a decent service. Once I got off in Frankfurt and my laptop accidentally continued its journey up to Dusserdolf: in three days the laptop was delivered to my doorstep, free of charge.
๐Ÿ‘ถ Last year I went from Dresden (East Germany) to Calabria (South Italy) with a 1-year-old child. The journey has been surprisingly smooth.

This is to say that train travel in Europe can still be a random experience.
Basically because it is made of national networks (badly) developed for local users, and have only recently started better integration.

Certainly expensive compared to flights, but there are specific reasons too complex to mention here.
This fresh Greenpeace's report can give you an idea greenpeace.at/uploads/2023/07/report-ticket-prices-of-planes-vs-trains-in-europe.pdf

I agree delays can be frustrating.
But honestly, if I count the delays, cancellations, overbooking, lost baggages, lack of transparency, airports food prices, secondary airports two hours by bus from the supposed destination and so many other airline inefficiencies I've had to date... a train delay doesn't bother me.

Anyway, EU trains are improving fast. Letโ€™s give them a chance ๐Ÿ™‚

A few tips ๐Ÿ‘‡

๐Ÿ˜ด a new Brussels-Amsterdam-Berlin overnight train called European Sleeper was recently launched. Plans for next year are to connect Prague as well, and a Brussels-Barcelona route.
๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡บ Interrail/Eurail is still a great option for those who love slow travel
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช This year you can train-travel Germany with ALL regional trains (not high speed trains) with a $49 per month ticket, including ALL local transport (underground, busโ€ฆ)

2 months ago
Ian
Founder, Travel Massive

Meanwhile, in Seoul, an (almost) flawless train travel from Airport to korail.

โœ… Easy self ticketing*
โœ… Clear informational and comms
โœ… On time trains
โœ… Affordable

* except korail only had one cash accepting machine (out of dozens), rest were local cards only

2 months ago
Founder, Bag Designer, Idea Mountain

most of my Euro train experiences are from quite a while ago, but last fall I had PERFECT train experiences in the Netherlands. Well priced, exactly on time, easy to understand, easy to find, comfortable. Also had excellent train experiences in Morocco- perfectly on time, inexpensive, clean, cool, easy to use.

I tend to think people who judge trains harshly are forgetting bad experiences in and getting to airports.

1 month ago
Travel Blogger, That Adventure Couple

Is this the same as using the EURail? We got passes for going between France/Germany/Switzerland/Italy. I'm confused because we seem to be struggling with some of the scheduling and some require reservations ahead of time for an extra fee :(

1 month ago
Writer, Speaker & Blogger, The British Berliner

Train travel in Europe is brilliant. I use them all the time. In fact, I just returned from Italy and travelled by train from there to Berlin!

We took a combination of the regional trains in Italy from Verona to Venice at โ‚ฌ10 a pop, a private sleeper bed compartment with the Austrian Night Jet train (complete with private toilet, shower and towels) including breakfast, sparkling wine, water and a goodie bag at a cost of just โ‚ฌ103 each! And the fast ICE train from Augsburg to Berlin in First Class at a mere โ‚ฌ26,91 per person via Deutsche Bahn /German trains (DB)!

I've also travelled with the local trains to Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, France, Ireland, the UK, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Ukraine. I had also booked a train to Moscow, but you know ...

Generally, trains in Europe are no problem at all, they're safe, pretty clean, mostly on time and everyone uses them. However, not all trains include a restaurant car, WIFI or charging outlets so keep that in mind ...

I highly recommend that you go onto the national website of the train companies in order to get "real prices." East European trains tend to be smaller than Western trains and may or may not have a dedicated train stop, so when using them do what the locals do, follow them, and ask for help if necessary.

Another tip, if you're a parent travelling on the Deutsche Bahn /German trains (DB), children travelling with you are free of charge within Europe. Yes free! Children under 5 are generally free with almost every type of transport in Germany anyway, kids aged between 6 - 14 are also free of charge when accompanied by anyone aged 15+ who has a ticket. Please note that they must be specified when booking otherwise they won't get a seat. And to add the cherry on the cake, you can take a maximum of 4 children per paid ticket!

My recommendation, don't hesitate!

11 days ago