The fast track on Europe’s new train routes and what to know before you go.
The Fast Track
On Europe’s newest routes, speeds are higher and higher (and prices lower).
Paris to Barcelona: The final SNCF segment between Barcelona and the French border opened in December, cutting the 12-hour travel time between the French and Catalan capitals in half.
Marseilles to Paris: Ouigo, the Continent’s first budget high-speed service, costs a quarter of the average fare. The catch? Less-convenient stations, no catering, and online-only booking.
Helsinki to St. Petersburg: The Allegro trains have slashed the formerly 5 1/2-hour trip from the Finnish capital and Russia’s western metropolis to a mere 3 1/2 hours.
Rome to Florence to Milan: Europe’s first private high-speed operator, Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori, has speeds and prices that are comparable to Italy’s state-owned Trenitalia, but better seats and service.
Europe Train Travel: Before You Go
1. Buy your ticket in advance. Skip the queues and ticket booths (many accept only credit cards with chips). In France and Belgium, e-tickets are fast replacing paper; in Sweden, they’re sent via text message.
2. Plan ahead. Porters are a rarity nowadays. If you can’t manage your luggage alone, make advance arrangements for extra assistance through your hotel or travel agent.
3. Get stamped. When you have a train ticket that’s not issued for a specific departure time, you’ll have to validate it at a machine near the platform before boarding. If you forget, the fine can run as high as $300.
Europe Train Passes
Eurail is a longtime favorite among the backpacking set, but it’s also a great option for other types of rail rider, especially when spontaneity is a priority. The popular Eurail Select Pass—which covers up to four adjoining countries—can now be used to visit Turkey. Note that fees apply for seat reservations (usually required on high-speed and international routes) and that passes can’t be used on certain trains, including the Circumvesuviana railway between Naples, Pompeii, and Sorrento. raileurope.com.