European Rail Holidays - What You Need to Know

Lucie Watt

The latest addition to the Medway Leisure Travel team (now trading as Pettitts Travel), travel expert Roseanna Hart, fell in love with European rail holidays when exploring breathtaking regions and visiting a variety of destinations by train in Austria and Switzerland. We quizzed Roseanna to find out what sparked her passion and why she loves travelling by train, plus we picked her brain for answers to the most frequently-asked questions from holidaymakers new to the world of rail. 'It’s all about the journey, not the destination!'

What kind of traveller would you recommend a rail holiday to?

Everyone! Rail holidays are suitable for all ages, tastes and budgets. This romantic form of travel promises unlimited travel opportunities to visit a multitude of destinations in one trip, and would certainly appeal to those who enjoy exploring and sightseeing. Rail is especially suited to backpackers, offering an exciting and sporadic way to discover the world. It can be very cost-effective and offers plenty of flexibility, especially with services such as Europe’s hop-on, hop-off Interrail.

Why should I travel by train instead of plane?

Rail travel can be far more cost-effective, flexible and convenient than flying. Trains also don’t have to be arranged so far in advance and rail fares do not follow the same pricing structure as air fares - perfect for last-minute travel plans! Rail passengers enjoy fewer limitations on luggage allowance or weight restrictions - as long as you can carry it yourself, it can come on board! Station check-in aims to be fast and efficient, with many trains such as the Eurostar offering a 30 minute check-in prior to departure times, so there is no waiting around for hours on end. There are also far fewer restrictions on what items you can take (e.g. liquids) which is great news for families with young children. Train carriages offer more space, better leg-room and passengers can freely walk around without any restrictions, such as from turbulence, which can be experienced on a flight. Upgrades to first class are also far more affordable. Sleeper trains combine both your transport and overnight stay, offering additional savings, although daytime journeys are sometimes preferred as passengers like to enjoy the changing scenery.

Where would you recommend travelling to on a first-time train holiday?

A city break on the high-speed Eurostar is a great choice for those wishing to experience European rail holidays for the first time. From London St Pancras Station, the journey through the Channel Tunnel to Brussels or Paris takes just over 2 hours. From here you can extend your adventure to the pretty medieval city of Bruges or the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam.

Are train holidays suitable for children?

Yes, trains are a wonderful form of transport to experience as a family and rail companies will often offer discounted child fares. Travelling through ever-changing scenery will no doubt grab a child’s attention as you journey onto exciting new destinations. Many European trains, such as the TGV in France, offer a variety of cabin options including both quiet and family carriages to meet travellers' needs. Power points are accessible for electronic equipment; food and drinks can be purchased on board, however families with fussy eaters can choose to take their own packed lunches, which will of course also save money.

Where can I travel to by train?

Rail travel can be found in most popular destinations throughout the world. Options range from fast and efficient high-speed trains to elegant, classy and traditional trains. Research your chosen destination to find out if rail is available or ask your travel consultant. What travel class options are available on a train holiday? Rail can be booked in a variety of classes which are predominantly set out in three categories - Economy/Standard, Premier and Business. Itineraries can include a mixture of classes.

Can my special dietary requirements be catered for?

Unfortunately not all trains cater for special dietary requirements, unless you have reserved your seat in a class which provides catering and you have requested your needs prior to travel (please note that this is a request and therefore cannot be guaranteed). Many travellers with particular dietary requirements often choose to take their own food and drink on board to enjoy during the journey. 

Where will I sleep on an overnight train journey?

There are a variety of rail journeys which offer overnight travel options, including sleeper trains, sleeping cars, couchettes and of course seats. Sleeping during your journey can save valuable travelling time and will also save on hotel nights.

When should I book a rail holiday to get the best possible price?

Unlike air travel, rail cannot be booked very far ahead. Eurostar, for example, take reservations 6 months in advance whilst others offer a booking window as short as 3 months. We recommend booking the rest of your travel arrangements (hotels, any required flights etc.) in advance to secure the best fares and availability, then adding in your rail reservations when the fares come on sale. When booking, don’t rush to book the cheapest class – consider all of the fare options, as an upgrade may cost very little but may offer much more in terms of service and amenities on board (complimentary meals, hot drinks, newspapers, etc) which could offer better value for money overall.

What luggage is suitable for taking on a rail holiday?

As long as you can comfortably carry your luggage on and off a train by yourself, you can enjoy unlimited weight restrictions. You also have access to your luggage throughout your journey (unlike planes) which is very comforting, so remember this when packing and put items that you may need to access at the top of your suitcase.

What should I take in my hand luggage on a train?

My absolute must-have item for rail journeys abroad is a camera - the photo opportunities from the train window can be amazing! Other favourite essentials include a little travel pillow, international train timetables (very handy, especially when travelling independently), snacks and nibbles, bottle opener, phrase book, cash (for food trollies), reading material, iPad or Kindle, plus a warm snuggly jumper!

 

**This blog post was previously published on Medway Leisure Travel, now trading as Pettitts Travel**