This Train Pass Is the Secret to City-hopping Through Europe on the Cheap (Video)

For many travelers, exploring Europe is a must — a rite of passage, even. And for travelers looking to plan the perfect Eurotrip, snagging a Eurail pass is vital.

Since its debut in 1959, Eurail has helped travelers squeeze the most out of their time abroad. The pass has long been a favorite among backpackers, study-abroad students, wandering nomads, and those with limited vacation days, but a strong desire to see the world. If you're out to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, or you just want some freedom from the hassle of travel planning, investing in a Eurail pass is a no-brainer.

Below, we've put together a complete guide to the Eurail pass, covering everything you need to know to use the pass and optimize your time in Europe.

Man on Swiss Highspeed train with Eurail Group
Courtesy of Eurail Group

Who Should Buy a Eurail Pass and Why

Eurail is a single rail pass that grants access to 40,000 destinations across 33 different countries in Europe. In other words, it's the most flexible and convenient way for visitors to explore the continent with ease. Unlike a traditional train ticket, a Eurail pass gives travelers the ability to utilize existing infrastructure — Europe's thousands of railways — to travel between destinations for a set amount of days.

If you're heading to Europe and planning on visiting more than one location — as in, multiple countries or even multiple cities within the same country — then you're going to want to equip your journey with a Eurail pass. The pass essentially provides all-inclusive access to Europe's well-connected train system, meaning you don't have to book tickets for each individual leg.

Eurail passes are available to anyone — college-age backpackers, couples, families, and travelers looking to make the most of their time in Europe on a budget — but special discounts are provided to certain age groups.

The catch? Eurail passes are not available to Europeans; they're solely for non-European residents. However, European citizens do have the option of purchasing an Interrail Pass, which is similar to a Eurail pass, but for Europeans only.

Interior of Annecy train to Paris on Eurail Group
Courtesy of Eurail Group

How to Buy and Use a Eurail Pass

Currently, Eurail offers two different pass types: the Global Pass and the One Country Pass. A Global Pass is essentially the all-inclusive option: It gives travelers the ability to take a train between any of Eurail's 33 participating countries. Meanwhile, the One Country Pass works only within a single country (there are 29 countries currently available on this pass).

Travelers select either a Flexi Pass, which includes a predetermined amount of train travel days (such as four travel days within one month), or a Continuous Pass, which includes unlimited train travel days during a predetermined trip length (such as 15 days or three months).

Eurail also groups certain regions, so that you can score multiple countries for the price of one. For example, the Benelux Pass includes Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, while the Scandinavia Pass includes Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Once you've chosen the pass that best fits your needs, you can order it through Eurail's website. Eurail ships the physical pass booklet to you worldwide, including an address in Europe, if you're already there. It's best to order your pass at least four weeks before your trip to ensure it ships in time and you can secure any necessary reservations. However, you can plan as far as 11 months in advance. You can also purchase a pass at European train stations.

Before you can use the pass, you'll need to activate it. Validating the pass can be done online using Eurail's free pre-activation service at checkout, or at a European train station once you arrive. You must activate the pass within 11 months of its issue date.

Once your pass is validated, you're ready to go. Simply choose a train and then present your pass upon boarding. Make sure to fill out the required information in your pass booklet for each ride, as the conductor will come by to verify and stamp it.

Eurail's easy-to-navigate Rail Planner App lets you search train timetables, plan your route, and make reservations where needed. The My Trip section of the mobile app makes it simple to save your journey and see your route broken down as a day-by-day itinerary.

Note that some trains in Europe require a seat reservation. In these cases, railway carriers charge a reservation fee that is not included in the price of your Eurail pass. However, seat reservation prices are typically nominal (around $10 to $25, even for overnight trains).

Most reservations can be booked through Eurail's Self-Service option. Alternatively, you can book in person at the station, over the phone, online, or through the Rail Planner App.

Eurail Pass Cost and Discounts

In 2019, Eurail retired its two- to four-country Select Passes, focusing instead on the Global and One Country Passes. These changes enabled Eurail to roll out significantly discounted prices, add a second-class option on all adult Global Passes, and even introduce a Senior category, encouraging an older generation to travel as well.

Passengers at Germany train station with Eurail Group
Courtesy of Eurail Group

The cost of a Eurail pass varies widely depending on the type of pass you purchase. For example, a Global Pass with five travel days in one month is usually between $319 and $425, while a 15-day unlimited pass falls between $501 and $667. A three-month unlimited pass usually costs between $1,019 and $1,358, and a One Country Pass for Italy is usually $144 to $271, while France is typically $87.

There are various age-group discounts available: Travelers aged 12 to 27 can purchase Youth tickets and receive a 25 percent discount (up from 23 percent in 2019), while seniors aged 60 or older receive a 10 percent discount. Children under 11 travel for free.

If you're not eligible for an age-based discount, keep an eye out for special promotions — Eurail regularly runs deals, especially for booking far in advance.

Where to Go With a Eurail Pass

Eurail's network includes 33 of the 44 countries in Europe, so your options are plentiful, and you can travel to a new country every day, if that's what strikes your fancy.

Plus, Eurail regularly adds new countries and routes to their portfolio — as of Jan. 1, 2020, Estonia and Latvia are the most recent additions. Popular destinations like France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, and Poland have long been included.

Eurail also recently added a Greek Islands Pass, which covers ferry trips between 53 Greek islands aboard partner carriers Superfast and Blue Star Ferries. The Greek Islands Pass is available for $102 (five trips within one month) or $199 (six trips within one month). The pass is also available at Eurail's discounted Youth rate of $77 or $175 for the five- and six-trip option, respectively.

Benefits of Having a Eurail Pass in Europe

The main perk of exploring Europe with a Eurail pass is the fact that it enables you to hit multiple stops with minimal hassle. For one affordable price, you can board trains across the continent and hop between destinations with ease, freeing you from the logistical nightmare of planning and arranging tickets for each individual leg of your journey.

A Eurail pass allows travelers to be as flexible or organized as they choose to be on a trip to Europe. During one short visit, you can check off bucket-list spots like Italy, France, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, and more. Or, you can explore just one country in-depth, without having to arrange tickets every time you want to head somewhere new.

Eurail also partners with hostels, tour operators, and restaurants across Europe, so there are some added pass benefits such as discounts at Generator Hostels, free or discounted ferry and bus trips, and cards that grant access to a city's top attractions.

To maximize your pass, figure out the optimal pass type for your needs and then fully explore the benefits that come with your purchase. You'll be posing in front of the Eiffel Tower and snacking on pizza in front of the Colosseum in no time.

Glacier Express train station in Switzerland
Courtesy of Eurail Group

Recommended Eurail Pass Routes

If you've never been to Europe, you'll likely want to use your Eurail pass to hit highlights like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Berlin, but don't pass up the opportunity to get off the beaten path a bit, too. With a Eurail pass, you're free to get creative.

If you've always wanted to visit Luxembourg and Lithuania, but have no interest in Spain or Portugal, that's not a problem: Depending on the pass type you purchase, your travel plans are entirely up to you. Just make sure to consult a map and plot a route that makes sense geographically.

Are you more into nature's wonders than mankind's? Book a Scandinavia Pass and wander through Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland in pursuit of the northern lights. Or, experience the beauty of Switzerland, a favorite among families — Switzerland's Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt, included in a Eurail pass, traverses 91 tunnels, crosses the Oberalp Pass, and winds through the stunning Swiss Alps. The Golden Pass route, also included, skirts Lake Geneva and passes through some of the most picturesque mountain towns in Europe, including Gstaad and Interlaken.

Another idea is to add a theme to your itinerary: With the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics around the corner, why not take an Olympic tour of Europe? You can start at the site of the first-ever Winter Olympics in 1924 — Chamonix, France — and then head to Paris, home of the second-ever Summer Olympics in 1900. From there, hop to Antwerp, Belgium — home to the first Olympic games after the turmoil of World War I — and then take the high-speed Eurostar under the English Channel to London, England, the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Exploring lesser-visited Eastern Europe is also made easier by Eurail. With 2020's inclusion of Estonia and Latvia, the pass now covers rail travel across all of the Baltic countries for the first time in its history. Plus, with the pass, you can take the ferry between Riga and Stockholm or Germany, or from Tallinn to Stockholm or Helsinki, all for up to 50 percent less than you'd pay for these same international ferry connections without the pass.

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