The info on this page has been curated for people who will be buying tickets for European train journeys, but if you will be travelling with a Eurail or InterRail pass, we have a whole other world of info available here.
This guide to seat reservations will hopefully remove some of the more confusing aspects of booking European train tickets online, particularly if you do usually prefer to reserve a seat when making long distance train journeys.
On some train services, you can also select the part of the train in which you wish to travel by, hence the info for using seating plans when booking European train tickets.
What can vary when booking tickets for train journeys in different European countries, is whether a reservation (an assigned seat) is:
Reservations are NOT available when booking these train services (and more):
When booking tickets for these train services listed below you can OPT to add a reservation when booking online, or request them when booking at the station.
If you don't specifically ask for a reservation at a station ticket desk, the booking staff may assume that you don't want to reserve.
There will be an additional charge for booking these reservations, so when booking online check to see whether the price of the reservation has been included in the price that you initially see,
Though the 2nd class fees are always under €5.
Also note that if you book a discounted ticket for a journey by these trains, the train departure you will travel by is specified on your booking, but that won't mean that you also have a seat reservation.
reservations on British trains:
Reservations are not mandatory in Great Britain, but when booking Advance tickets online for long-distance journeys on trains operated by CrossCountry, East Midlands, Grand Central, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, ScotRail, TransPennine Express, LNER and Virgin Trains, your seat(s) will be assigned.
The reservation will be included with the booking.
The cut off time prior to departure, at which reservations can be arranged at the station, or when booking online, varies according to which TOC will be operating the train you will be travelling by.
When travelling by Cross Country (some routes); Great Western Railway; Hull Trains, TFW and Scotrail, you'll need to have requested a reservation around 2 - 3 hours ahead; though this isn't fixed.
For journeys by Avanti West Coast; CrossCountry; EMR; Grand Central; LNER and TransPennine Express, the time limit for reservations will be between around 15 mins and an hour prior to departure..
Reservations are compulsory and therefore included when booking these train services
International daytime train services:
and on EC trains on these routes:
Hungary ↔ Croatia/Slovenia/Serbia
National daytime train services:
Reservations are complimentary and therefore included when booking these NATIONAL daytime train services:
*In Hungary reservations are automatically included when booking journeys by IC trains, daytime trains to Croatia, Poland, Romania, Serbia and all overnight trains irrespective of whether tickets are booked online or at stations.
However, when booking international daytime journeys by train to Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany and Slovakia they are only included if booked online and NOT at the station.
Reservations are always compulsory when booking beds, couchette berths and most seats on OVERNIGHT trains.
If you will be booking a train with mandatory seat reservations, the online ticket agents will usually include a link to a seating plan.
These seating plans aren't usually integral to the booking path, meaning that you don't have to use them to book a ticket, so in the rush to make a booking they can be easily missed.
What you can select on seating plans:
In addition to being able to choose window or aisle seats, we recommend using them for these reasons:
(1) You can select seats near the exit doors, particularly useful if you've got heavy luggage, as you can then avoid having to manoeuvre it into the middle of the train.
These seats also tend to be nearer any luggage racks, so you'll be able to keep an eye on your bags more easily.
(2) If you will be making a tightly timed connection, that can be another good reason for choosing a seat by the doors, but if you want to have a quieter trip you'll be better off choosing a seat in the middle of the train.
(3) You can choose between table seats and airline style seating.
Don't choose a table seat on the assumption that you will have more leg room, if somebody tall takes the seat opposite yours then you'll actually have less.
Targeting table seats is obviously a good option if you are travelling in a group of three or four, but when we're not, we prefer the greater privacy of the airline style seats.
And if you are planning to eat on the train, then the airline seats have a pull down tray.
A plus of table seats, is that they nearly always line up with the windows, but a surprisingly high number of the 'airline' seats won't.
The more modern the train you will be travelling by, the greater the chance that you won't have a good view out of the window, in both 1st and 2nd class.
So our top reason for using a seating plan is to ensure that we have a good view out of a window.
What you can't select on seating plans:
You often can't choose seats which face the direction of travel on a seating plan - the only train services on which we HAVE seen this option are
(1) TGV Atlantique trains
(2) TGV Oceane trains
(3) Some TGV Lyria services (but not departures on which double-deck TGV trains are used)
(4) ICE 1 and ICE 4 trains
(5) the TGV France-Italy services
(6) Regiontog trans on the Oslo to Bergen route.
(7) the Snabbtåg services in Sweden by the X2000 and SJ 3000 trains.
(8) on any of the train services which can be booked online in Czechia/The Czech Republic.
Train services on which you CAN'T select forward facing seats when making an online booking include Frecce trains, other ICE trains and TGV Duplex trains.
The core reason for this is that many European express trains reverse direction when they make some station calls, thereby flipping the train from back to front- 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 seat is facing, so they can't guarantee whether seats are facing forwards or backwards
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.