Europe / Travel

Riding the Rails in Europe

Like many young couples, as soon as we could afford it, we went to Europe. These were the days of Arthur Frommer’s Europe On $25 A Day, Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door, and Eurail Passes were the way to get around.

Train travel was new and exciting for us, and for a few glorious weeks we were rootless vagabonds roaming the continent.

We could go to any train station, get on any train, and go anywhere. For two newbie travelers, the feeling of freedom was absolutely exhilarating. Of course, we hit the biggies: Paris, Rome, Madrid, and Vienna. And thanks to tips from Rick Steves, we visited a few charming, off-the-beaten path places like Hallstatt, Austria, and the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.

We returned to the US exhausted, but like giddy teenagers after the first date, we were smitten. This trip opened a door to the world that has never closed. So in a few days, we’re outta here (assuming Bárðarbunga doesn’t blow its top) – first stop Denmark. Our Macbook, iPads, and wifi will be our darts and maps, and whenever possible, we’ll be riding the rails. Our plan is to visit places we haven’t been, and we’ll keep you posted from the road. Hope you’ll follow along.

Happy Rails,
James and Terri

Budapest's Keleti Station

Photo Credits:
1. Kabelleger / David Gubler via Wikimedia Commons
2. AGC Glass Europe via Wikimedia Commons
3. Jean-Marc Rosier via Wikimedia Commons
4. Smudge 9000 via Wikimedia Commons
5. Courtesy of The Society of International Railway Travlers
6. uzo19 via Wikimedia Commons

96 thoughts on “Riding the Rails in Europe

    • Thanks for the comment Jess, and for dropping by the blog. We’ve done some train travel in Italy, and the countryside is beautiful there. And from what I’ve seen of Italian drivers, I’ll be very happy on the train. ~James

    • Thanks Darlene. Europe has a lot of small, cheap airlines these days that are real competitors for traind travel. But given all the hassles with air travel, a relaxing train trip is more and more appealing. ~James

    • Andrew, the great thing about Eurail passes (at least in those days), was the tickets were 1st class. We were livin’ large riding in first class for sure, and were like gypsies in the palace. But the freedom to wander at will was the best thing. ~James

    • Thanks Laura. The only problem now is the possible eruption of Bárðarbunga. We’re hoping that it stays calm until we get there. The experts in Iceland give it a 50/50 shot, so we’ll see. ~James

    • In our travels over the years we’ve become more and more enamored with train and bus travel (or maybe I should say less and less enamored with car rentals). A nice train picnic, a good book, and watching the countryside roll by is the best. ~James

  1. Love train stations in Europe! The freedom and possibilities are so liberating and inspiring. There is nothing like that giddy feeling you get when the train starts to depart – I love it! Looking forward to seeing where you go!

    • Thanks Lynda. And you’re right about the giddy feeling when the train rolls out. You’re in the right place, on the right train, and there’s nothing to do but relax for a few hours. What could be better? ~James

  2. What an awesome trip.

    I took my first train ride last year in Chattanooga, TN at the railroad museum in the boxcar where Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” was filmed.

    It was a one day ride, but a blast for me.

    I hope you see a lot of great sites. I would love to see the countryside of Italy one day.

    • Thanks Boyd. Your Chattanooga train trip sounds like fun. That part of the world is beautiful, so I’m sure it was a scenic trip. Trains have been a big part of life in Europe for decades, but in the US, with the great highway system and cheap airfares, Amtrak can hardly compete. And given how pleasant train travel can be, this is unfortunate. ~James

  3. Hey! You’re coming here! Denmark has a suburb rail system, at least throughout Zealand. And it is surprisingly affordable, considering that the rest of Denmark is…well, not! Where are you planning on going or are you keeping it a surprise? If I’d known you were coming, I’d asked for some Goya black beans ;-). I hope you thoroughly enjoy my temporary home and that you also bring some sunshine with you. Have fun! Dina

    • Thanks Dina. Even though it may be raining, we’re looking forward to some cooler weather, which Denmark and northern Europe should provide at this time of year. We’re meeting up with some London friends we haven’t seen in a long time, and are looking forward to some relaxing train travel. As for the Goya black beans, I’m not sure, but I don’t think they’re TSA approved, and wouldn’t fit in my 1L bag. Sorry. ~James

  4. I believe it must have been amazing!! I would love to travel by train around Europe, but somehow Im finding it so expensive lately 😦 unless you get a real nice deal. You were lucky then 🙂 and the pictures are amazing!

    • Allane, it was such a fun trip! Then when we moved to London, we would jump on the train every weekend to explore the country. But living back in the States, great train rides aren’t as easily accessible, so we’re really looking forward to this trip in Europe. Hopefully we can find some good deals. 🙂 ~Terri

  5. Train travel is great – so much more relaxing than flying. Recently we were in Switzerland traveling between Zurich and Geneva. We were able to get off in Bern, explore the city and then get back on a later train and continue to Geneva with the same ticket. You can do this as long the journey is all on the same day.

    • That’s great info that I wasn’t aware of. I’m sure it will come in handy on our trip. It’s good to have cheap flight options, but sometimes the train (even though it takes longer) is still the best option. You gotta love trains in Europe ~James

  6. I’ll be traveling virtually with you! We took the train last summer from Frankfort Germany to Trier via Cochem. It was a wonderful experience. We visited with some 4th graders going on a field trip. They were pretty exasperated with our feeble attempts at German but laughed anyway. We also got to see how a group of college students traveled, bikes and beer in hand. I think that is the joy of train travel….immersing yourself in another culture. We were hooking up with a Rick Steves tour in Trier. So, Rick is still influencing Europe Through the Back Door. Happy travels !!

    • Your trip sounds fun Suzanne. I don’t know Trier or Cochem. I looked up photos online and Cochem looks fabulous. We’re planning a boat trip on the Rhine, and based on a Rick Steves” recommendation, it will probably be around Bacharach. We plan on spending some time in other parts of Germany, but aren’t sure where yet. Thanks for following along. ~James

  7. Have fun! I’m a big fan of train travel too (once did a 17,000 mile train trip from Kyle of Lochalsh to Saigon), but these days there are some legs where it’s buses or planes as the routes get cut.

    I’m planning the opposite trip to you – leaving at the end of the month and will mostly be returning to places I’ve enjoyed.

    • Thanks Kathy. A 17,000 mile trip – now that’s a SERIOUS train trip – Wow! That must have been an experience for sure. I had to look on the map for Kyle of Lochalsh, I’d never heard of it. Our trip won’t approach 17K, but we’re looking forward to it. ~James

    • Ruth, does it feel good to be home, or would a couple more weeks have been nice? I’m doing a twice-a-day check on the Iceland Met site. The experts are still keeping all options open: from a big explosion complete with ash to nothing beyond the calmer flow that’s erupting now. Having a volcano potentially impact a trip to Europe is a new one for us. ~James

    • Thanks Lindsey. As you probably know, the European rail system is extensive and very efficient. I’m sure we’ll discover some interesting little places, and will keep you posted. BTW, I love the name of your blog. I’m a pretty good loafer myself. ~James

      • Thanks James! I’m back in the states now and haven’t done much Flaneuring but I hope to take some more day trips and plan some bigger ones next year. I have yet to travel to Europe but hope to do a backpacking trip in coming years. I wish the states had equally efficient rail systems!

  8. I’m looking forward to your Europe trains posts. I have great memories from very early nineties when as a poor Polish student I started to travel by train in western Europe. My Mum worked in state railway-pharmacy and that way I was priviliged to get 48 hours railway tickets (first class! 🙂 for some west Europe countries including Italy, Germany and Benelux. I used it to the last drop travelling (i.e. quite comfortably sleeping) at nights and visiting during days. It was only a question of good choice of enough long distance train 🙂 I admired e.g. beauty of Cinque Terre that way 🙂

    • That sounds like a wonderful trip, especially being able to travel first class. Our Eurail pass was 1st Cl as well, which was very nice. But in addition to being plush, there were fewer people in 1st Cl so we could always just walk on the train without reservations. That made it very convenient and easy to move around. And I agree the Cinque Terre is an exceptional town to visit. ~James

    • I agree Jenny. We always consider Amtrak, but when we get into the details, it just isn’t worth the effort. We’ve done a few fun Amtrak trips, but they take effort, and it just isn’t the same as Europe. If the US government had been subsidizing rails instead of highways, things would be much better. ~James

  9. Do visit Louisiana, the art gallery near Copenhagen, and enjoy all the little Danish towns, the rainbow colours of bathing huts edging beaches and the wonderful sense of Danish design. Pop across the soaring bridge to Sweden and enter a world of trees and houses painted Swedish red.

    • Thanks for the recommendations Dorothy. We’re planning a day trip to Malmo, which seems a very easy train trip. And our info provides a number of places to enjoy design exhibits, so we’ll definitely be doing some of that. Our hotel is in the center, so we’re also looking forward to just roaming around … and The Tivoli of course. ~James

    • All’s well here in Copenhagen, and the weather is perfect. Since you live in the Pacific NW, it’s the kind of weather you have everyday, but for us southerners, it’s DE-lightful. We’re catching up as well, and were interested to read that Burning Man was even more interesting than usual … a near rainout – amazing. ~James

      • Copenhagen seems like the place to be. The tourists are headed home (somehow I never regard folks like you and Terri, Peggy and I, and Allison and Don as tourists :)) and the weather is at one of those perfect in-between stages. I was supposed to go to Copenhagen last year but opted out for our road trip to Alaska. Someday…

        Weather-wise, I regard Burning Man some what like I do wilderness travel– the weather is going to be what the weather is going to be. You just have to cope; the difference being I am coping in my comfortable van instead of a small mountain tent. 🙂 –Curt

    • As you know Chris, when you compare today’s travel experience on trains vs planes, as long as the journey isn’t too long, for my money it’s a no-brainer. This is especially the case with European trains. ~James

    • Thanks Anita. We’re in Copenhagen now and are taking a day trip (by train of course) to Malmo, Sweden tomorrow. On some of the long haul trips, the low-cost airlines are the way to go. But if you have the time, and can do a slow, relaxing trip around Europe by train, there’s nothing like it. ~James

    • Anita, if you can manage it, I promise that you and Big D will love it. Done right, it can be fun, relaxing, and romantic. Fits you guys to a T. BTW, we’re taking a day trip to Malmo, Sweden today … on the train of course. ~James

    • Amit, I’m sure that the Trans-Siberian was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We haven’t really done any long trips, except a few overnights in Europe, and if you have a private cabin, they are wonderful. ~James

    • Yep Jeff, those were good days. These days, Eurail passes aren’t as cheap or as flexible as they were then. There are all these options to consider: country passes, 3 country passes, one week, ten days, etc etc. And when you throw in the cheap airfares, it’s all different now. But no matter what happens, given the security hassles at the airport and seats crammed in the planes, train travel is always more comfortable. ~James

  10. Hello! Thanks for visiting my blog. I haven’t been to Europe yet and train travel is my “thing” as well, so I’ll be happy to follow your blog and get some good info 🙂 Bon Voyage! Melissa

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Melissa. Germany is the perfect country for train travel because the trains are all very nice, and generally run on time. They also have lots of special regional fares and passes that can make it very affordable. ~James

    • We’ve been taking the trains for about a month now Juliann, and I can’t tell you how much easier and more comfortable it is than flying. In addition, these days most national rails systems have a website with schedules, tickets, reservations etc, so the planning is easy as well. And most of the ticket machines at the stations have an “English” options. I don’t know where you’re going or when, but lots of rail systems offer day or weekend tickets on certain trains that offer a big discount. Mon-Fri you have to travel after 9am, but usually on weekends its for the whole day. If you have some flexibility, you might want to check these out. ~James

    • We’ve been training around Denmark and Germany for a month now, and it’s so much more comfortable than planes. Germany has some of the best, most efficient train service in Europe, and it’s been so much fun seeing the countryside. The trip up the Rhine was particularly scenic. ~James

  11. Looking forward to reading your adventures! My husband and I plan to do Euro travel as well. I’ll be reading your posts as a guide. 🙂

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