An Introduction To Using Eurail and InterRail Passes

How to travel with Eurail and InterRail Passes
Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's guide to using Eurail and InterRail passes, which will help you to have fabulous experiences when travelling around Europe by train.

As you're about to discover, ShowMeTheJourney has a LOT of insights and info to share about using rail passes - after all the founder has spent 78 days InterRailing around Europe!

Paid for out of his pocket, because like the rest of SMTJ's info, this guide is 100% independent.

It may take some time to read (ahem), but it will help you save money and be less confused, so that you'll have an easier and hopefully more wonderful rail adventure!

Or you could just buy a pass and head off - you'll still have the experience of a lifetime.

Four Good Reasons for Using Rail Passes:

(1) The potential to save money

(2) Time-saving

(3) The scope for spontaneity

(4) Making Train Travel Easier

What's new for 2019

Our Additional Rail Pass Guides

Five Rail Pass Itineraries for 2019

So grab a coffee and take 10mins (ish) to absorb all the insights, or use the quick links above to jump to what you want to know.


An Introduction to Eurail and InterRail passes:

Eurail and InterRail passes are an alternative to using tickets when travelling on the overwhelming majority of train services in or between these 31 countries:
Austria, Belgium, Boznia-
Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia/Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Turkey.

The key difference between Eurail and InterRail Passes is that to be able to purchase and use an InterRail pass you need to be either a European citizen or a legal resident of a European nation – note that it doesn’t matter whether a particular country is a member of the E.U or not.

Citizens of non-European countries can purchase and use Eurail Passes.

Aside from the fact that European citizens can’t uses passes in the country in which they reside, as they can in a country in which they will be visiting, there is now very little difference between how Eurail and InterRail pass can be used - hence virtually all of the info and suggestions on this guide apply to using both types of pass.

Though a fairly new innovation is that InterRail users can now use their passes to travel to and from the border, on the first and last days on which you’ll be using a pass.

The Eurail and InterRail pass prices are now similar too – which has resulted in significant reductions in the price of Eurail passes

-  the prices of Eurail passes that can be used in all 31 countries listed above,
-  the prices of Eurail passes that can be used in one country or Benelux and Scandinavia,
-  the prices of InterRail passes that can be used in all 31 countries listed above.
-  the prices of InterRail passes that can be used in one country or Benelux.

ShowMeTheJourney is specifically not listing the prices on this guide, because both Eurail and InterRail offer frequent price promotions, particularly outside the summer months.

In this guide ShowMeTheJourney is going to focus on the less obvious aspects of using these passes

The best source of the practical information about the each pass are the Eurail and InterRail websites – though Seat 61 has an excellent summary here.


Who can use a pass?

Whenever, I return from a rail pass adventure people will express surprise at my exploits, some wonder why on earth I wanted to do it (ahem), but a more common reaction is "but, you're not a student"?
However, anyone can buy a Eurail or InterRail pass.

Special Eurail Youth and  InterRail Youth prices are available for 
those aged 27 and under - good news if you are 26 or 27 - the cut off age for the cheaper youth rate had been 25 until a few years ago.

Those fortunate enough to be aged 60 and over can also purchase passes at a permanently discounted rate!

Though if you will be using a Senior or Youth Pass on a train with mandatory reservations, the reservation charges won’t be discounted.

Children aged 4-11 need their own Eurail and InterRail passes, but they're free! Though if you will be travelling on trains on which seat reservations are mandatory, there won’t be any child rates for those reservations.

 It takes less than five minutes to buy a pass that suits you – though before you do so, we unsurprisingly recommend taking a look at our rail pass holiday planning GUIDE.

The different types of passes summarised:

These three factors will influence your choice of pass.

(1) You can either choose to book a somewhat confusingly named ‘Global’ type of pass and it will be valid in all of those 31 countries AND on 99% of the international trains between them - OR choose to travel solely in 27 of those countries.

(2) It’s not possible to purchase bespoke Eurail and InterRail passes specific to any number of days you’d wish to travel by train, but there is a wide choice of set travel periods available – from three days to three months.

If you want to travel on 15 days or less, you can write your travel dates on your pass, or if you want to travel on 15 days or more, your pass can be used on any number of days, within the period of time that the pass is valid for.

You don’t have to use your pass on every day that it is valid to ensure that is value for money – for example, using a pass valid for 22 days for only 19 days of travel can still pay off.

Also when considering how many travel days you will require, keep in mind the potential for making day trips by train from the locations in which you’ll be staying.

(3) Whether you want to travel 1st or 2nd class - but when considering this don’t just have the comfort of the seat you will be traveling in front of mind.

Also consider the following:

- Using 1st class passes tends to offer better value for money against booking tickets, particularly if you will be booking a pass valid over a longer period of time. 

- On trains which don’t have mandatory reservations, you’ll be more likely to find spare seats available in 1st class – I have only ever boarded one train with a 1st class pass on which I couldn’t find a seat

- If you’ll be making a scenic journey on a train with no mandatory reservations, you’ll be more likely to find a seat on the side of the train, which has the pick of the views.

- In France 1st class passes are particularly good value because the reservation fees are the same on TGV (InOui) trains the Intercités trains irrespective of whether you have a 1st or 2nd class pass.

- In Italy if you travel with a 1st class pass you pay the same reservation fees as 2nd class pass users to travel on the fabulous Frecce trains.
Book your 1st class reservation and you'll be travelling in Business Class - on my two most recent 1st class rail pass journeys in Italy I saved a total of more than €150, compared to the ticket price.

- The provision for storing luggage tends to be more generous – and managing your bags can be the most awkward aspect of pursuing a rail pass adventure.

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At the risk of stating the obvious, whether you will or won’t save, depends on how use your pass - and now that Eurail prices have been significantly reduced for 2019, you'll also be more likely to save with a Eurail pass too!

So be wary of articles and comments with a subject of ‘I travelled to these 5 cities and I could have saved €100 if I’d bought tickets for each of my five journeys instead’.
It will be correct, but it’s possible that the author could have saved money, if they had travelled to 5 other more distant destinations

These SIX factors come into play in the value for money equation.

(1) How far you will be travelling - on average, on each day you use your pass.

(2) How long your pass is valid for – the longer the period of time your pass is valid for, the less distance you have to travel per day, on average, for a pass to become value for money.

(3) When you will be travelling – Most European express train operators apply airline style pricing, meaning that train ticket prices will be more expensive at times of high demand.

Those very cheapest tickets might not be placed on sale at all, on trains that are likely to be popular.

But these expensive travel periods, the summer and festive holidays etc, will also coincide with when you’ll be most likely to be using a pass.

An often overlooked plus of rail passes is that the prices aren't seasonal - so they don’t rise in the summer, during school holidays, over Easter etc.

 (4) Where you will be travelling – train travel costs are cheaper in Eastern Europe, so rail passes are less likely to save you money if your trip MAINLY involves travelling through countries such as Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

Though conversely if you use your pass on comparatively expensive journeys, such as some Swiss mountain railways, on which Eurail and InterRail passes can travel for free – then that can help tip the balance towards a rail pass being good value for money.

(5) The trains you will be taking:

The type of daytime train service you will travelling by matters when using Eurail and InterRail passes.

Book a ticket for some European express train service and you will receive a complimentary seat reservation.
The train operators can’t then risk rail pass users sitting in those seats, so you need an assigned seat too – on a train that will be fast and fabulous.

Hence rail pass users have to pay a fee for these seat reservations – and guaranteeing a seat will also go a long way to ensuring a long journey will be pleasurable.

Take a look at our reservations GUIDE to using your Eurail and InterRail pass, so you can see at a glance when you do have to reserve AND when you don’t.

What you’ll see is that these mandatory DAY train reservations will typically cost €3 - €10.

The prices for booking these reservations that we feature on ShowMeTheJourney, deliberately don’t include the booking fees, because as pointed out HERE – more often than not, it’s possible to avoid paying these additional booking charges.

Travelling long distance by such trains can be good value for money - the daily cost of using a pass + the reservation fee can be more than 60% less than the cost of last-minute tickets.

Though on a few international high speed services, including these services to and from France;  TGV -Lyria, Thalys, DB-SNCFRENFE-SNCF and TGV France/Italy - the particularly expensive rail pass reservation fees do mean that rail pass users seeking value for money, should avoid these trains.

But you can still use a pass to take these trains and make an overall saving, compared to buying tickets for your itinerary – it depends how far you will be travelling and what trains you will be taking on your OTHER travel days.

Though you will be less likely to save if you mainly want to travel around Europe in the SLEEPING CABINS on overnight trains.

That’s because rail passes only cover the journeys costs on any overnight train and not the reservation charges for a bed in a sleeping cabin or a bunk in couchette.

(6) How far ahead of your trip that you’ll be booking a pass.

European train operators tend to offer limited numbers heavily discounted tickets for journeys by long distance express day and night trains, INCLUDING all high speed trains and all international express trains.

These bargain-priced tickets will be placed on sale 1 – 6 months ahead of the travel date, with 3 -4 months being most typical.

So if such tickets are still available when you’re planning your journeys and considering whether a pass is a good deal, it’s less likely that a rail pass will save you money.

Though keep in mind that the greater the price saving, then the less flexible the terms of using the ticket will be – discounted tickets can only ever be used on the specific train departure you select when booking.
Unless you take out bespoke travel insurance, you will be out of pocket if you miss such a train because of illness, a flight delay, not being at the station on time etc.

Before you commit to a pass, work out the COST PER DAY of using it and then look up the prices of some of the journeys you’re considering, by using the ticket booking links on our journey guides.

Check the advance ticket prices for when you’re thinking of making the journey AND the prices only a few days ahead

If you’ll be travelling far enough per day, it’s almost certain that a rail pass will enable you to make big savings compared to the cost of purchasing last minute tickets.

Cost comparison:

ShowMeTheJournney has put together six rail pass itineraries ('Direct Trains' has two itineraries) for Eurail and InterRail passes valid for 10 DAYS and to be honest, aside from the itinerary based on paying no additional reservation fees, the cost consideration wasn’t a primary factor.

Instead the focus was on the destinations and making the train journeys between them as easy or as spectacular as possible.

Each journey on those itineraries was then looked up to check the cheapest possible adult ticket price that could be found for sale - AND the price if an adult was to book those journeys a couple of days ahead.

Then these were compared with the total rail pass costs of taking each itinerary = the standard non-sale price of the pass + the reservation fees for the trains we included (+ the costs of taking some additional journeys not covered by a rail pass).

On AVERAGE over the six itineraries:

Compared to booking the cheaper discounted tickets, the types of rail pass valid for 10 days are
1st Class Adult = 10% cheaper
2nd Class Adult = 11% more expensive
1st Class Youth = 27% cheaper
2nd Class Youth = 9% cheaper

Compared to booking tickets only a couple of days ahead, the types of rail pass valid for 10 days are:
1st Class Adult = 43% cheaper
2nd Class Adult = 37% cheaper
1st Class Youth = 54% cheaper
2nd Class Youth = 50% cheaper

(Adult passes are the passes that can be purchased by 28 – 59 year olds, Youth Passes can be used by those aged 12 - 27).

Arguably not the most comprehensive of surveys, but IF you’ll be travelling for 10 days, the four broad conclusions are evidently;

(1) If you are 28-59 and want to travel 2nd class AND are able to track down the cheapest tickets AND are prepared not to be able to change your travel plans -  you’ll usually make a saving by booking tickets instead of a rail pass.
Though a pass will definitely save you money if you follow this itinerary.

(2) If you meet the Youth Pass criteria, you will likely save money regardless.

(3) 1st class InterRail and Eurail passes are particularly good value for money if you meet the Youth Pass criteria.

(4) If you book a rail pass only a couple of days ahead of your travel dates, you WILL be making a substantial saving.

Not yet convinced? Well SMTJ has some further money saving tips HERE.

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1: Using A Rail Pass Can Save Time:

There are multiple instances in which using rail passes will save you time and I'm not talking about using trains that are faster than others.

Before you set off:

So you’ve worked out that you can save money by booking separate tickets per journey, you’ve even discovered this fantastic website (ahem), which directs you to all the optimum websites on which you can book ticket(s) for each journey – without paying a booking fee!

But now you have to look up all your journeys up to make the bookings – which will take a while, particularly if you want to hunt down those best deals.

The point being that it will take a lot longer to look up and buy separate tickets than it would to buy a rail pass online.

It takes less than five minutes to buy a pass that suits you – though before you do so, we unsurprisingly recommend taking a look at our rail pass holiday planning GUIDE

At the station:

There is a counter-argument that if you’ve booked in advance for a ticket to travel by a train on which rail pass users have to reserve, then at the station you can breeze pass the Eurail or InterRail pass users, queuing at the ticket counters to make their reservations.

Trust me, this will be the exception rather than the rule – in fact I’ve only spent more than 15 mins in a queue to book a rail pass reservation twice (in Bern and Milan for EC trains between Switzerland and Italy - and now those reservations can be booked online)

See SMTJ's advice HERE for how you can also minimize the time you’ll take to book your rail pass reservation fees.

And when you’re using an InterRail or Eurail pass to hop around multiple places per day in smaller countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland or The Netherlands – my favourite method of putting a rail pass to good use, the reverse scenario is true.

You’ll be the ones breezing on to the trains, while those without passes are in the ticket counter queue, or trying to figure out the machines.

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2: The Scope For Spontaneity

Arguably the biggest tick in the box for using a rail pass isn’t whether it will or won’t save you money, it's the freedom to undertake spontaneous journeys.

Even when I’ve worked out that buying separate tickets will have been cheaper, I’ve still opted for a pass, in order to have some flexibility over a choice of route and selecting departures.

Because some of the most prestigious European daytime trains and all overnight trains, require reservations before boarding, there is now a school of thought that the care-free spirit of adventure, which used to be synonymous with rail passes, has been diminished.

It's also true that travelling by express trains in certain countries isn't compatible with spontaneity, in France you'll save by booking reservations in advance and in Spain, the trains can be particularly prone to selling out.

However, with an InterRail or Eurail pass you can still hop on and off virtually ANY domestic train in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

And if you will be travelling will be travelling on a route, on which the trains that require reservations are departing fairly FREQUENTLY, you can book your reservations last minute at the station.

For example rail pass reservations are required on all Italian express trains, but they don’t cost any more if you book last minute, you can even buy them from Trenitalia’s ticket machines.

If you don't want to bother with making reservations, alternative, slower trains and routes are often an option - particularly in Italy

Having taken more than 350 European trains with a 1st class rail pass I've only ever encountered one sold out train on a route with fairly frequent trains, but it wasn't the end of the world, I had to take an alternative train departing two hours later.

Though being entirely spontaneous isn't recommended, one of my 'golden rules' is to always book at least a couple of days ahead on routes in western Europe, with three or less trains per day.

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3: It can make train travel easier

Aside from the scope to enhance your adventures by choosing beautiful journeys and destinations, there are THREE often overlooked practical considerations for using Eurail and InterRail passes that can make your travels more pleasurable.

(1) If you opt for booking discounted tickets, they will be train departure specific, and it will be your responsibility to be at the station on time.

Having to reach a station against the clock time and time again, in cities you don't know that well, isn’t fun when you are supposed to be on holiday.

But if you have a rail pass and will be taking a route with frequent trains, you can simply turn up at the station when it suits you.

(2) The opportunities to take alternative trains can be a big plus when the trains aren't running smoothly on your travel dates.

I have arrived at stations to discover that trains are being delayed due to technical problems on a route.

Because discounted tickets are only valid on specific trains, the travellers with such tickets usually had to wait it out, until the train they are booked on to departs at its revised time.

But with a rail pass, I've been able hop on the next train that's leaving, or make a last minute reservation on a train that hasn't been delayed, or taken an alternative route avoiding the disruption.

(3) Using tickets for long end-to-end journeys with more than one change of train can have complications in the event of a train delay leading to missed connections, but with a rail pass you can de-risk taking such journeys.

If you have reservations on the train you are connecting into it, it’s likely that you’ll be able to swap them to a later departure.
In a worst case scenario, you might have to book a new reservation, but that will cost a lot less than having to re-purchase a train ticket.

Looking for more tips on how to take the stress out of a rail pass adventure? They’re right HERE!

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NEW FOR 2019:

Eurail Passes:

The major new development for 2019 mainly applies to Eurail passes - what's broadly happened is that Eurail passes availability and prices now more closely resemble those of InterRail passes.

As a result there are two highly welcome developments:

(1)The standard (non sale) prices of many Eurail passes have been significantly reduced.

For example, the 2018 price of a 2nd Class Adult 10 Days in 2 Months 'Global' pass had been €563, but it is now €399.

(2) Eurail Global Passes can now be used in three additional countries, bringing the total to 31 - and they are Great Britain, Lithuania and Macedonia!

New Types of Pass Introduced:

Three new types of multi-country 'Global' Eurail and Interail passes have become available:

(i) A pass for 3 days travel within one month
(ii) A pass that's valid for 2 months of continuous travel
(iii) A pass that's valid for 3 months of continuous travel

Also the passes which allow for 10 or 15 days of flexi-travel, on which the user can specify their dates of travel, are now valid for 2 months instead of a month.

And the type of flexi-passes which allow for 5 days of travel are now valid for one month, instead of 15 days.

Using Eurail AND InterRail Passes:

The other particularly welcome news for 2019 is that that how both Eurail and InterRail passes has been made simpler.

The key take-away from this is that if you travel on any overnight train, it only uses one day of your travel pass allowance and not two - you only have to enter your arrival date on the pass.
Particularly welcome news if you're interested in the types of flexi- pass that are valid for a set number of travel days

Previously this only applied to journeys which commenced after 7pm - it was known as the '7pm rule'.

Also virtually all of the reservation fees for the daytime and overnight trains are unchanged.


Other changes in recent years:

Previously decided against using a Eurail or InterRail pass? Well here are the headline benefits of using these passes that have been introduced fairly recently.

(1) Some very welcome news for 'Adults' (aged 28+) who meet the Eurail Pass criteria - you can now save by booking 2nd class passes.

Eurail has abandoned what WAS its long-standing Adults must purchase 1st class passes rule.

(2) Eurail and InterRail pass now allow 'free' travel on MGB trains in Switzerland - very welcome if you want to travel across southern Switzerland

(3) Linked to this is that Eurail and InterRail pass users now only have to pay the reservation fees on the fabulous Glacier Express - a saving of around 65% on total ticket prices!

(4) Similarly Eurail and InterRail pass users can travel on The Bernina Express by only paying the reservation fees.

(5) Flat rate rail pass reservations fees are now available on Eurostar trains; 2nd class = €30/38; 1st class = €38/43, this is usually cheaper than buying discounted tickets and can be 4 x less expensive than full price tickets

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What! There's even more content to read? Yep.

Trust me, this is all good to know before you go stuff, which you can pick and choose from.

Taking the time out to read it will help you - save time when booking and planning your trip, save money and avoid confusion.

Some ideas to make your trip easier, cheaper, even more fabulous:

Our money saving tips:

Ideas for planning your journey around Europe:

Ideas for making your trip easier and more fabulous!:

Some practical info that can be good to know:

Which DAYTIME train services require reservations for rail pass users AND which don't:

How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in 15 popular countries

What are the routes taken by international trains in Europe:

Using rail passes in Belgium:

Using rail passes in France:

Using rail passes in Germany:

Using rail passes in Italy:

Using rail passes in Switzerland:

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