Interior of a Dutch National Railway train

Interior of a Dutch National Railway train

The classic means of getting around Europe for the backpacker is the train. European trains are generally comfortable and reliable, especially in Western countries. However, they can be rather pricey unless you get a rail pass.

A good Rail Pass will allow you to trek around Europe pretty cheaply, without having to worry about finding flights everywhere.

Take a look our recent post about Eurail passes for more details

Should I get a rail pass?

A very common question asked by new backpackers is whether they should get a rail pass instead of buying point to point tickets, or something like a hop-on hop-off bus pass.

To help you decide, let’s look at some Pro’s and Con’s of getting a rail pass:

Rail Pass Pros

  • Generally, trains are more comfortable than buses or flying. You have more leg room, can get up and walk around and don’t have to deal with security checks.
  • Flexibility. This is probably a rail pass’ biggest selling point. You don’t have to worry about getting flights, figuring out bus routes, or dealing with train ticket prices. If you want to go somewhere, find a train that runs there and hop on.
  • If your rail pass allows you to take overnight trains, you can save a night’s worth of lodging costs by sleeping on the train.

Rail Pass Cons

  • While trains are generally faster than buses, if you’re going long distances it will be slower than flying.
  • The flip side of the flexibility is that trying to figure out the different train systems can be confusing, especially if you don’t speak the native language.

If you’re looking to see a bunch of countries in Western, Central or Eastern Europe within a couple weeks to a couple months, the Eurail pass (if you’re from outside the EU), or the InterRail pass (if you’re from the EU) is likely a good option for you.

Be sure to check out all the different incarnations of the rail passes and pick one that fits in with your basic itinerary. The most common rail pass for backpackers are the flex passes, which give you a number of travel days over 2 or 3 months.

Youth Eurail Passes (as of May 2014)
Global Pass Select Pass Regional Pass Single-Country Pass
Countries Eligible: To see the list of countries the Eurail Pass is eligible in, click here.

CloseAustria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey
All 24 Countries 4 2-4 1
Travel Days Generally either everyday within X days, or Pick X days within Y Months 10 days – 3 Months 5, 6, 8, 10 Varies by Region Varies by Country
Cost: $536 – $1478 $380 – $551 $193 – $536 $54 – $521

Railpass Links

Eurail.com is the official provider of the Eurail pass.

RailEurope is a single stop for European rail travel. Use their Find A Rail Pass option to figure out the best pass to get for your itinerary. You can book your rail passes and point-to-point tickets from their site.

Railpass.com is a 3rd party website that sells Eurail, Britrail and German Rail passes.

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