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Train Ticket and Rail Pass Guides An Introduction To Buying Tickets for European Train Journeys

An Introduction To Buying Tickets for European Train Journeys

The key things worth being aware of when buying tickets for European train journeys, including step-by-step guides to booking tickets online.

| Last Updated: 2 months ago


Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's GUIDE to booking European train tickets online.
Follow the 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.

The basics of booking train tickets online:

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.

Choosing Seats:

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.

To book online OR at the station:

You can make big savings if you book in advance online for journeys by express trains in these countries:

Austria l Denmark l France

Germany l Great Britain

Italy l Norway l Poland

Sweden l Switzerland l Spain

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.

Worth knowing when booking discounted tickets:

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 for daytime express trains are:

  • 1 month ahead = Poland
  • Up to 2 months ahead = Denmark
  • Up to 2 months ahead = Czechia/The Czech Republic
  • Up to 2 months ahead = Hungary*
  • 12 - 13 weeks ahead = Norway
  • Up to 3 months ahead = Great Britain
  • 2 - 6 months ahead = Spain the AVE trains to/from Madrid and the TGV trains between France and Spain are now available up to 6 months ahead.
  • Up to 4 months ahead = the IC day and night trains in Italy
  • Up to 4 months ahead = Eurostar formerly Thalys trains trains
  • Up to 6 months ahead = Austria
  • Up to 6 months ahead = France
  • Up to 6 months ahead = Germany
  • Up to 6 months ahead = the Frecce trains in Italy
  • Up to 6 months ahead = Sweden
  • Up to 6 months ahead = **Switzerland - this is a recent change!
  • Up to 6 months ahead = Eurostar formerly Thalys trains trains - this is a recent change!
  • up to 330 days ahead = Eurostar trains

*= The ticket booking booking windows can be shorter when looking up journeys between September and early 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 timetable 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).
Though as consequence of the pandemic, some operators, including SNCF in France, are offering greater flexibility.

(3) This possibility of not being able 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.

How tickets can be booked in 15 countries:

ShowMeTheJourney has also produced detailed guides to how to book the optimum tickets for your journey in these countries:

Austria l Belgium l Czechia

Denmark l France l Germany

Great Britain l Hungary l Italy

Norway l Poland l Spain

Switzerland l The Netherlands

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.

Look for a journey guide

More than 1000 unique guides are available for the most popular rail journeys in 15 countries. They show you the train, station and ticket booking info.
Leaving From
Going To

Tickets for children

There are no standard ticketing terms when travelling with children on European trains, each country applies its own 'rules', so here's a summary of the age ranges that are applied - in other words the age at which children become 'adults' as applied by the the rail operators.

Children are aged:

  • under 17/aged 16 and under in Finland
  • under 16/aged 15 and under in Great Britain, Norway, Poland Sweden and Switzerland,
  • under 15/aged 14 and under in Austria, Czechia, Germany, (Italy - express trains) - and Slovakia
  • under 14/aged 13 and under in Hungary and Spain
  • under 12/aged 11 and under in Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, (Italy - regular trains), Portugal and The Netherlands.

How much you will save when booking child tickets also varies per country and more information on this is included on the guide you will find below.

When kids can travel for free

The child rates for tickets is USUALLY discounted by around 50% of the Adult ticket price, but children travel for free on European trains at these ages:

  • under 15/aged 14 and under - in Austria and Germany (when an Adult books discounted Sparschiene tickets)
  • under 12/aged 11 and under - in Belgium, Denmark (max two children with an adult ticket holder),
  • under 6/aged 5 and under - in Austria (when not travelling with Sparschiene tickets), and in Czechia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweden* and in Switzerland
  • under 5/aged 4 and under - in Great Britain
  • under 4/aged 3 and under - in France*, Hungary*, Italy*, Norway, Poland Spain and The Netherlands*

The rules can vary around whether children travelling for free have to travel in an adult ticket holder's lap, or can have their own seats.
Though, in the countries marked with an * you have to purchase a child ticket at the discounted rate if you want a child/children to have a seat to themselves.

Something to be aware of is that on most European train services, ticket inspections will be carried out on the train and when they are, you may have to prove the children's ages, so have their passports with you on every journey, even when NOT taking an international train.

Also worth knowing is that seat reservation fees are always charged at a flat (adult) rate.

Tickets for seniors

Similar to how policies and rules around travelling with children and with bicycles, there is a lack of consistency to how Seniors can and can't travel at reduced rates on European trains.

The age at which discounts become available for Seniors on European rail tickets when visiting a country ranges from 60 to 67:

  • 60 = France, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Turkey
  • 62 = Slovakia
  • 65 = Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland (women = 64)
  • 67 = Denmark and Norway
  • 70 = Lithuania

Discounts or special tickets are available to Seniors, without additional card/passes being required. when taking a train in Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary (free travel E.U. citizens only), Lithuania Norway (only on the more expensive tickets), Poland, Portugal (50% discount), Slovakia, Sweden and Turkey.

In other countries discounted prices can only be accessed by Seniors with the prior purchase of railcards or passes - this is the situation when taking the train in Austria, France, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.

The amount by which the tickets are discounted is included in the detailed guide below.

Tickets for bikes

Like so many other aspects of European train travel, there are no universal rules around how to travel with a non-folding bicycle on a train.
The policies around transporting bicycles are set by each train operator and then they are ALSO dependent on the trains that are used on each route.

If you want to take a bike on to a European train, look up your journey online, even if you’re not ready to commit to buying a ticket.
The majority of ticket booking websites now indicate whether you’ll be able to take a bike on board a specific departure – though you may have to seek out this info by clicking on ancillary links such as luggage or additional passenger info.

How to book bike tickets and reservations, plus the rates for doing so are included in the guide below.

If you know that reserving bike spaces is either mandatory or an option, (as mentioned in the country specific guides ), it’s best to reserve online as soon as possible – as places will be limited.
You may as well add a bike reservation* when booking your train tickets online - on most routes on which bike reservations are available, you will also save money by purchasing train tickets in advance.
*You might need to also book a separate bike ticket.

Tickets for night trains

Overnight train tickets differ from daytime train tickets because there are two elements to how the price is calculated:
(1) the charge for making the journey AND
(2) a reservation charge for the type of accommodation you will be travelling by.

This journey price is usually the price of travelling in a seat.
What percentage of the total cost is covered by the reservation charge can vary; it tends to be lower in Eastern Europe.

On many booking services this cheapest seat price will be the first price displayed, you will only see the prices of travelling in a couchette or sleeping cabins, after you have initially clicked on this seat price.

Some ticket booking services (such as DB) combine these journey and reservation prices, but on others (including OBB) you add the reservation fees for travelling in a sleeping cabin or couchette to your booking.

Tickets to travel on most overnight trains, including all those in Western Europe, can now be booked online and there are two big pluses for booking in advance;

  1. You can increase your chances of travelling in your first choice of accommodation.
    Some types of accommodation can sell out days (even weeks) in advance, particularly in the summer months.
    So if you want to travel in a couchette or a particular type of sleeping cabin, try to avoid booking last minute at the station.
    (Though the full choice of additional fees for single occupancy etc can be hard to track down on some online ticket sites).

  2. On many routes, limited numbers of advance discounted tickets are available, as they are on day trains, so when these tickets have sold out the price rises.

More information, including how couples and groups can book tickets is on the guide below.

Tickets for dogs

The 'rules' around taking dogs on trains can vary widely across Europe.

Tickets may or not be required and this can depend on the size of the dog, particularly whether it can or can't be transported into a pet carrier / basket.

Though one thing which is universal is that no tickets or other special restrictions ever apply to guide dogs.

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Simon Harper

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.


Please support ShowMeTheJourney

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This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.

We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please consider saying thank you.