A Handy Guide to European Trains
The rail network in Continental Europe is extensive, with many high-speed lines connecting top destinations as well as some fantastic routes through breathtaking scenery. If you want to know what you’ll find when you catch a train, the below introductions to some of our top destinations should help give you some idea of what to expect.
You may also be catching a Frecciargento (Silver Arrow), a tilting train capable of speeds up to 200km/h. They are air-conditioned and have a trolley service of drinks and light refreshments. There are also power sockets at each seat. The main routes for the Frecciargento are Venice to Rome, Verona to Rome, and Rome to Bari.
Regional and private trains (like the above) that run between places like Ventimiglia (on the French border) and the Italian Riviera or Naples and Sorrento will generally offer standard class seating only, with limited facilities. On the other hand, especially with these two journeys, it’s all about what’s going on outside your train window, rather than onboard!
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The super-fast TGV trains were among the first high-speed trains to roll onto European rails when they were first introduced in 1981. Thanks to continued investment in France’s high-speed network, these trains regularly reach speeds exceeding 300 km/h and are thus able to cover large amounts of track very quickly. For example, the 775km journey from Paris to Marseille on the Mediterranean can be covered in just over 3 hours.
First Class TGV tickets entitle the holder to a more spacious seating environment with more legroom than in standard. There are no lounge facilities for First Class ticket-holders and no meals are included. There are usually two cafeterias offering basic snacks and drinks, although some consider this costly and not of the best quality. Tailor Made Rail recommends eating prior to travel or taking a picnic with you (there are no restrictions on doing this!). Announcements are generally only in French, although some staff do have an understanding of English.
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Germany’s Inter City Express (ICE) trains run throughout the country and make incursions into France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Denmark. They are of an excellent standard and have spacious seating, even in Standard Class. First Class travellers receive an at-seat service from the bistro, payable locally. The “Bord-Restaurant” produces decent-quality food, with menus often inspired by a well-known chef. There is adequate seating in the restaurant car, making it a perfect place to relax and break up a long journey.
Some trains have wireless internet connection installed and all ICE trains display travel information prominently in different languages on modern screens. Announcements are in German and English, with all staff having a good knowledge of English.
First Class ticket-holders are welcome to use the “DB Lounge”, located in all major stations throughout Germany, where you can find complimentary drinks, snacks and newspapers. The following stations have a DB Lounge, which is usually open from 7am to 9pm daily: Hamburg, Hannover, Mannheim, Stuttgart, Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Bremen, Leipzig, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Nuremberg. Please be aware that these lounges are NOT open to first class Eurail Pass holders.
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Switzerland has arguably the best public transport in the world, providing access to lakeside cities and remote mountain towns. To achieve this excellent coverage, the Swiss system relies on an exciting mix of different railways, all of which provide safe, clean and comfortable transport.
InterCity trains in Switzerland link major cities such as Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Zurich and Lugano. Trains are air-conditioned, and most have dining cars and a trolley service of drinks and light refreshments. Reliability is excellent and most staff speak many languages, including English.
There is a choice of First and Standard Class and unlike most countries, seat reservations are not possible, with the exception of larger groups. We recommend First Class to avoid often-crowded Standard Class services. You do need a seat reservation on famous scenic trains like the Glacier Express and Bernina Express.
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Whilst there are not too many high-speed lines due to the topography of Austria, trains around the country are generally comfortable and efficient.
RailJet trains are state-of-the-art services that run from Munich and Zurich, east through Austria and eventually to Budapest. There is a restaurant car on each train with menus in German, Hungarian and English. Meals and drinks are served at your seat in First & Business Class, using proper china and glasses (meals and drinks are not included in the fare). Economy passengers have the option of visiting the buffet car.
Holders of First and Business Class tickets can use First Class Lounges at stations such as Zurich HB, Munich Hbf, Salzburg Hbf and Vienna Westbahnhof. You can use first class lounges with a first class Eurail Pass.
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Spain’s AVE (high-speed) trains serve most major destinations: one line runs from the French border near Figueres down to Barcelona and the high speed network extends south to Madrid and onwards to Andalucia. The high-speed track allows AVE trains to cover enormous distances in astonishingly quick time and the trains are extremely reliable, with 99% punctuality rate.
The AVE has three main classes of travel, ranging from Turista (Standard) with ordinary but spacious seating, up to ‘Preferente’ with leather seats and quieter carriages. All seats, regardless of the class of travel, have power sockets and headphone sockets for several music channels. Movies are shown on the main screen, often English-language with Spanish subtitles.
Spain’s standard trains complete the country’s extensive rail network, providing reliable connections to a wide variety of locations not served by high-speed lines. This includes long-distance routes as well as suburban routes.
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The Czech Republic has a wide variety of rail services, ranging from local stopping trains through to the fast and ultra-modern Supercity services with tilting Pendolino trains. The faster and more modern trains run between the Czech Republic’s larger cities with regional trains and Intercity and Eurocity services combining to create a network which covers the vast majority of the country.
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The Polish rail network is extensive and the trains are affordable, even over longer distances. New high-speed InterCity pendolino trains link the key cities of Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow, travelling at speeds of up to 250km/h.
Regional and local trains are not, however, as fast as some of their European cousins but instead travel at a more sedate pace, allowing travellers to enjoy the changing landscape as they travel from city to city.
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The Hungarian rail network is operated by MÁV, the national rail company. The network is comprised of modern and fast intercity trains that connect the country’s biggest conurbations as well providing services to other European countries, and older and slower regional lines which serve Hungary’s smaller towns.
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To tailor make your perfect European rail holiday, just give us a call on 02 8015 2570 or drop us an email to email@example.com.