Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's GUIDE to booking European train tickets online.
Follow our step-by-step guides and take note of our general advice and you will be able to book with confidence yourself, or use the info to brief your travel agent.
The tips and info you will be find below are necessarily general because multiple variables come into play when booking train tickets.
If you haven't booked train tickets for travel in these countries before, then taking 10 to 15 mins to read the info that can be accessed below, should save you money, time and stress.
After all, our mission is to ensure that taking new train journeys is nothing to be afraid of.
How to book train tickets for direct journeys online is usually straightforward, even if you’re not a resident in the country in which you will be travelling by train.
Although booking and using tickets for journeys with changes of train can be trickier, particularly if you'll be making an international train journey, so there's more info about that HERE.
The most heavily used European train ticket booking sites all have excellent English translation and the core aspects of using them are universal – the SEVEN steps required to make a booking always are:
1. select a start and end point (normally by using drop down menus),
2. select one way OR return/two-way tickets,
3. select a travel date,
4. choose a departure from the multiple options you will be provided with,
5. choose a ticket - 1st/2nd class/discounted/standard
6. choose a delivery option,
7. make a payment.
Though the ORDER in which you take these steps can vary between the ticket booking sites.
Once you’re used to using a particular system it takes a matter of minutes to book a journey.
There is more info on our seat reservations guide, but a question we're often asked is, 'how can I make sure my seat is facing forward in the direction of travel, when I'm on the train'.
The answer is that this is not usually an option, when selecting seat reservations on a seating plan.
Many European express trains reverse direction when they make some station calls, thereby flipping the train around - and this can happen multiple times per day.
So when tickets are being sold online the ticketing websites won't know in which direction a train is facing, so they can't guarantee whether seats are facing forwards or backwards.
You can make big savings if you book in advance online for journeys by express trains in these countries:
There are also savings available on virtually ALL international express trains, particularly in western Europe.
However, you won't ALWAYS save if you book in advance on a ticketing site, so if that is the case, booking online or booking at the station becomes a personal preference.
At large European stations you can usually be sure that some of the ticket counter staff will speak English.
Alternatively, the majority of ticket booking machines will have English translations and they can be straightforward to use.
So in a scenario when you’re visiting a country and WON'T be saving when booking in advance online, the balance tips in favour of booking at the station.
You can avoid the risk of error when making an online booking and the ticket counter staff will sell you the cheapest possible ticket.
Examples of European train services on which you won’t save money by booking online include:
You will also usually save only the equivalent of a couple of €s if you book long distance express trains online for journeys within most Eastern European countries including Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.
Though you can make bigger advance savings on international train tickets to and from these countries.
More specific info is available HERE - and if you're new to booking train tickets online, that additional info is worth another 5 - 10 mins of your time.
It’s possible to make significant savings if you book online in advance for journeys by express trains within Austria, Czechia, Denmark*, France*, Germany* Great Britain*, Italy*, Norway, Poland, Spain*, Sweden* and Switzerland.
The most heavily discounted tickets are more than 50% less than the standard price in the countries marked with an *.
You will also save money if you can book INTERNATIONAL express daytime and overnight trains in advance; including EC (EuroCity), Eurostar, Lyria, Nightjet and Thalys services.
If you will be taking a HIGH SPEED train then it is always cheaper to book in advance online.
The usual* ticket booking windows are:
*= The ticket booking booking windows can be shorter when looking up journeys in September and November for travel after the second Sunday in December.
The reason being is that new pan-European train timetables commence on the second Sunday in December and tickets cannot be released for sale until timings are confirmed; and this work is carried generally carried out between mid September and early November.
When booking DISCOUNTED tickets these six factors always apply:
(1) Discounted tickets are train specific; you have to travel by the specific departure(s) you selected when making a booking.
(2) If you book the cheapest type of ticket and then subsequently change your plans, it's more likely than not, that you won’t be able to claim a refund, OR swap your ticket to another departure free of charge (or even at all).
(3) This inability to refund or exchange also applies if you miss the train you are booked on, to due to circumstances beyond the control of the train operator.
For example a breakdown of a metro/subway train, or a taxi to a station getting stuck in traffic.
(4) Though if you’re travelling WITHIN a country on a journey that involves a change of train – and you miss a connection, due to a train being delayed- your tickets will almost certainly be valid on a subsequent later train that you then have to take.
However, this can be more complicated when using multi-train, end-to-end international tickets - though encountering these more awkward scenarios is still unlikely.
(5) Prices can vary between departures on each date – the most heavily discounted tickets inevitably sell out faster on the more popular trains.
(6) The most heavily discounted tickets may never be made available on some departures/routes at times of exceptionally high demand.
ShowMeTheJourney has also produced detailed guides to how to book the optimum tickets for your journey in these countries:
Click on the country name and you can also access the online ticket agents, which SELL TICKETS for journeys in each country.
You can also find more specific info for how to buy tickets for the most popular European train routes on our Journey GUIDES.
AUSTRIA - How to Buy Tickets on OBB
BELGIUM (International Train Tickets) - How To Buy Tickets on B-Europe
CZECHIA/The Czech Republic - How To Buy Tickets on CD
DENMARK - How To Buy Tickets on DSB
SWITZERLAND - How To Buy Tickets on the SBB Ticket Shop (PC version)
THE NETHERLANDS (International Train Tickets) - How to Buy Tickets on NS International (PC version)
More of these guides, will be coming soon including guides to booking on mobile sites and apps!
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.