If you’re planning a trip to Europe and plan to cover a lot of ground while you’re across the pond, then a Eurail Pass is (most likely) your most cost-effective option. However, the type of pass you obtain should depend on factors like the number of countries you’d like to visit and the duration of your travels.
The Eurail Pass is divided into four categories, the most popular selection being the Global Pass. This offering is further divided into two sub-categories: Continuous and Flexi. The Continuous Pass allows travelers to travel for as many days as they wish during a duration of anywhere from 15 days to two months. Flexi Passes, on the other hand, allow up to 10 or 15 days of train travel within a two-month period.
Both the Continuous and Flexi pass will enable travelers to ride for free on major railways in the following 24 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. The Global Pass is also honored in Northern Ireland, which is technically a province shared by Ireland and Great Britain.
In addition to national railways, travelers may also use their Global Pass to ride privately owned trains in certain countries. Those who visit Switzerland, for instance, can opt to ride Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) or choose from nine different private railways. A complete guide to participating railways in all 24 countries that honor Global Passes can be found near the bottom of the 2013 Eurail Guide. If you elect to ride a train that does not honor Eurail Passes, then you will most likely have to pay a supplemental fare fee; this is also usually the case for night trains that provide a sleeping compartment.
However, please note that several European countries do not participate in the Eurail Pass program. These include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Russia, and all of the former Soviet Republics (Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine). Additionally, some European countries ― such as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City ― are simply too small to host their own national railway system. And for obvious reasons, the island nations of Europe ― Cyprus, Iceland, Malta, and the United Kingdom ― do not honor Eurail passes, although the U.K. offers the comparable BritRail Pass for travel throughout England, Scotland, and Wales (but not, as mentioned above, in Northern Ireland).
If your goal is to hit as many European countries as possible and your trip will last at least two weeks, then the Continuous Global Pass is presumably your best bet. The price structure breaks down like this:
- 15 days ― $536
- 21 days ― $692
- 1 month ― $850
- 2 months ― $1,198
- 3 months ― $1,478
On the other hand, if you prefer to soak up your surroundings for a few days before hopping on another train, then a Flexi Pass might be up your alley. There are currently two options for this pass.
- 10 days of train travel in 2 months ― $632
- 15 days of train travel in 2 months ― $829
There is also an option for travelers who plan to visit Europe for an extended period of time, but would rather consolidate their itinerary to a few countries. The Select Pass enables travelers to customize their agenda by selecting three, four, or five border-connected nations to visit. Like the Flexi Pass, the Select Pass allows up to 15 days of train travel over a two-month duration. The number of travel days, along with the age of the ticket-holder, will determine the price of the pass. Please note that anyone 25 or younger may obtain a pass at the ‘Youth’ rate, and children under four are allowed to ride with their parents or guardians for free.
Unfortunately, in addition to the non-participating countries listed above, the Select Pass is not currently honored in two of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations: France and Poland. Traveling through either of these countries will require an additional fare. However, the following separate countries are grouped together and only count as ‘one’ stop: Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg (also known as Benelux); Croatia and Slovenia; and Montenegro and Serbia.
Another option for travelers who just want to visit a couple of countries is the Regional Pass, which can be used to visit at least two bordering nations or national groups; anywhere from four to 10 train travel days are allowed during the two-month window. Unlike the Select Pass, the Regional Pass is honored in France and Poland. Some of the most popular Regional Pass options include France and Italy; France and Spain; Germany and Benelux; and Scandinavia (which covers Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland). Prices vary for each grouping, but the passes generally start between $190 and $360 (for Second Class seatings).
Finally, there is a One Country Pass available for rail travel throughout a single nation (with the exception of Benelux) over the course of one month. The number of train travel days will vary by country; the One Country Passes generally start between $100 and $200.
Have you ever booked a Eurail Pass? Tell us about your experience, and be sure to include any tips for successful European train travel!
By Brad Nehring