Whether you are planning your first overseas trip or you’re a veteran traveler planning your next excursion, you’re researching the many options for how to navigate Europe.
And you find yourself wondering, is the Eurail Pass worth it?
With countless options for ways to travel Europe, from budget airlines, buses, cars and tours to riding the rails, deciding the best path to take can be a challenge.
That’s where this guide comes in. Read on to learn whether the Eurail Pass is the best option for your personal priorities, budget and travel goals.
Eurail Pass & The Origins of Zero to Travel
Two decades ago, Jason, founder of Zero to Travel, was more or less your average recent college grad.
He had student debt, a fulltime job offer and had never traveled overseas.
He also had a dream of exploring Europe by train, and executing that dream not only shaped Jason’s perspective of the world, but also the course of his life.
“It was the catalyst for me basically revolving my entire life around travel,” said Jason, who has now visited dozens of countries across the globe along with founding a travel website, podcast, and online community focused on helping others to make travel a reality.
“Even my mom will tell you, when I came back she said I said something like, ‘What would you think if I lived in Europe?’”
Jason now lives in Norway, and it all began with a mind-opening two-month long adventure through Europe by way of Europe’s elaborate train system, traveling with an open ended ticket known as the Eurail Pass.
“Needless to say I was charmed, and a huge part of that charm was because of the way I traveled,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been the same experience if I was just flying from place to place.”
Table of Contents
- What is the Eurail Pass?
- Is the Eurail Pass right for you?
- Breakdown of the Eurail Pass ticket options
- Other transportation options to consider
- Deciding on your Travel Strategy
- How much does a Eurail Pass cost?
- Hidden costs and discounts
- How to Get The Most from your Eurail Pass
- How to decide if the Eurail Pass is right for YOU
What is the Eurail Pass?
A Eurail Pass provides access to more than 10,000 destinations and 115,000 miles of interconnected railways, allowing travelers to build their own itineraries as they go.
“Eurail has been providing multi-destination train travel in Europe since 1959,” said Nienke Geudeker, Eurail Communications Officer. “Today, with just one rail pass, travellers have the ability to travel in and through up to 28 different European countries.”
“Traveling by train brings you in an efficient and convenient way from country to country and from city to city, while enjoying the landscape passing by. The trip itself makes it unique and is incomparable with travelling by car or plane for example. Europe is packed with amazing places, be it world-famous cities or off the beaten path charming villages, there really is no better and more comfortable way to visit it all than by train… Eurail is the ultimate way to experience Europe, and a Eurail Pass offers more than train travel,” she said.
So, is the Eurail Pass for you?
Let’s start by noting that the Eurail Pass is not your only option.
And, right upfront, you should know that the pass is likely not the cheapest option.
Europe is home to numerous competitive budget airlines, robust bus systems, popular group tours and rideshare options, not to mention you can also utilize the rails network without buying a Eurail Pass, so you’ve got lots of options for your travels that all have their pros and cons.
But, depending on your overall travel goals, despite its costs, the Eurail Pass could be your best option.
Here are some questions to help you decide if it’s the right choice for your trip:
1. How long is your trip?
If you have a 10-day trip in Europe, your trip may be too short to experience the carefree freedom of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (ride-trains-by-the-seat-of-your-pants?) trip through Europe that the Eurail Pass is best suited for.
In this case, you may be better off to plan out an itinerary for your trip in advance and purchase individual train tickets and budget flights to maximize your time and money.
But, if you have two weeks to two months, a Eurail Pass will provide you with a degree of freedom, comfort and a classic European experience you won’t get any other way.
2. What type of traveler are you?
Deciding whether to purchase a pass may require some personal reflection.
Do you like the idea of showing up in a city with no plans for how long you will stay or where you will go next? Can you imagine yourself meeting a group of travelers in a hostel and deciding to go with them to their next destination?
If this is the type of adventure you’re craving then, by all means, the pass will be worth it just for the sake of open-ended adventure.
In contrast, if you are the type of traveler who wants to plan a day-by-day itinerary three months in advance, and you would feel reassured knowing your exact schedule, then the Eurail Pass may not be the best value to you.
3. What region of Europe is your priority?
The value of the Eurail Pass greatly depends on where you want to go.
If you plan to visit some more expensive regions such Switzerland or France, then a flat rate for all your transportation could easily become the cheapest option.
For instance, traveler Raphael Zoren used his Eurail Pass in the Swiss Alps, where he said the average price of a ticket is at least two or three times as much as the price of a train ticket in other EU countries. “It is entirely possible to make back the entire price of the Eurail Pass in just a couple of days traveling in Switzerland” Raphael said. “How crazy is that?”
On the other hand, if you see yourself spending a solid portion of your time in Eastern Europe, or even a less pricey country like Spain or Italy, you will be able to put together a cheaper trip with individual trains and buses.
On that note, the train systems in Eastern Europe are not what they are in the rest of the continent, so regardless of price, if your trip is focused on Eastern Europe you should consider using buses instead.
Despite all the options, for Jason, the decision to purchase a Eurail Pass was a no brainer.
“I always had it in my head that I was going to do a train trip around Europe,” Jason said. “I just thought that was such a cool concept to be able to just hop on a train and one minute you’re in one country in the next minute you’re in a totally different place — and the reality of that is so incredible.”
The train ride is about so much more than just transportation, Jason explained.
“Something about taking trains is kind of romantic and also you get to share a nice space with people,” he said. “There are a lot of relaxing things about being in a train and there is something about the sound of the rails… You can still get up and move around but you also have the countryside going past you.”
For Jason, choosing the Eurail Pass as opposed to individual train tickets was all about the freedom.
“When you purchase the Eurail Pass, you feel like you’ve purchased the key to Europe,” Jason said. “The key unlocks all of Europe and you can go pretty much anywhere, whenever, and that’s a great feeling.”
A Breakdown of the Eurail Pass Ticket Options
When it comes to choosing a Eurail Pass, you have two main options:
The Global Pass
If you want to feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, the Global Pass is your ultimate golden ticket.
With access in 28 countries, when you choose the Global Pass, you pick how many days you want to travel on over a certain period.
For example, you could choose to travel on five days within one month, or 10 days within a two month period, or you could choose a month (or another period of time) of continuous travel days to allow you the freedom to ride trains on everyday of your travels if you so choose.
The One Country Pass
Are you more interested in an in depth exploration of one country? Pick the One Country pass and choose your travel length and days for within that destination.
So, how to decide what type of pass is right for your trip? If you don’t have your heart set on delving deep on Spain, or know you want to see as many places as possible, this might feel like a tough decision, so here are a few factors to consider:
- The Eurail Pass experience is all about freedom, so if you want to leave your travel plans open and not be locked in to a certain country or set of countries, consider the Global Pass.While the cost of the passes will vary based on the flexibility, if you can imagine yourself getting to Europe and regretting being restrained to a certain region, it is worth forking up a few extra dollars now.
- However, if you are settled on mainly exploring one country but think you may want to add on a couple others once you arrive, remember that just because you own a rail pass doesn’t mean you are limited to only traveling with that Pass. If you can use up your 10 travel days within one country, but also want to see another country in another part of Europe, consider — for example — purchasing a One Country Pass for the majority of your travels but incorporating a budget flight to Eastern Europe and traveling by bus in this region.
Other transportation options to consider
From budget airlines to online ride sharing networks, Europe has a huge variety of options when it comes to ways to travel. So, before you decide whether the Eurail Pass is right for you, take a look at what else is out there.
- Budget Airlines – Affordable and efficient for long distances but you’ll miss what’s along the way
- Buses – Cheaper and a better option than trains for Eastern Europe travel
- Ferries or Cruises – Some destinations can only be reached by boat or underground by train
- Individual train tickets – Good for short Europe vacations and travelers who like to plan far in advance
- Group tours – Expensive but great for travelers who don’t want to plan or make decisions
- Rideshare – Good for travelers who have ample time and flexibility
- Driving – Efficient but stressful and potentially isolating
While the options for traveling Europe are as varied as the costs associated with each means of travel, choosing your means for travel will ultimately need to be based on the type of trip you want to take and what you want to get out of your Europe adventure.
Deciding on Your Travel Strategy
“It’s not only about cost savings when you are choosing a travel strategy,” Jason said. “For the right person, the Eurail Pass is also about the peace of mind of knowing you have your transportation and it’s all taken care of.”
Rather than wasting precious travel time figuring out your transport on the fly, or committing yourself to certain plans by booking flights weeks in advance, you can travel with the reassurance of knowing you already have your ticket to wherever you want to go.
“You’re also dedicating yourself to an amazing experience, which is a train journey through the romantic countryside, skipping from country to country,” Jason said. “It is so liberating to just be able to hop on a train and go somewhere.”
When it comes to planning the budget for your trip, it’s also reassuring to have one of your biggest costs paid for upfront and not have to worry as much about budgeting money for your transportation costs as you go.
As budget airlines get more and more popular, the ionic train ride through Europe is still an experience that is hard to get anywhere else.
Planes are a great way to get from point A to point B, but they miss everything along the way, Jason described.
In addition to not adding to your travel experience, the process can be depleting with trips to and from the airport, long lines and security checkpoints.
“On a plane the journey itself isn’t as much of experience, it’s more like ‘Hey let’s get this plane ride over with so we can get to the good stuff,’ whereas when you’re on a train, that is part of the travel experience.”
The layout on trains also tends to be more receptive to interacting with other travelers. In comparison to the rows of seats on planes or buses, trains have cars where seats face each other, common areas where you can meet others, and are conducive to walking around.
“You are in transit but you’re still having a travel experience, you’re interacting with locals and you’re still experiencing that country,” Jason said. “You’re also getting to be immersed in the scenery of that country, while sharing a physical space with other people from that country, in that culture and it really makes for a special way to travel I think.”
How much does the Eurail Pass cost?
If you decide a Eurail Pass is right for you, there are many price variables within the system.
Pass options start at under $100 and can cost more than $1000, depending on any discounts and extra charges that apply based on your age, group and the countries you are traveling in.
Here’s a breakdown of the base prices for each type of Eurail Pass ticket:
Cheapest: One Country
You can have the freedom of a Eurail Pass for under $100 — you just have to exercise that freedom within one country.
If going deep in on one location is more your style than the classic cram-in-all-of-Europe backpacking adventure, you can purchase a Eurail Pass that will get you nine travel days within a country over a one month period.
These passes start as low as $59 for many Eastern European countries as well as a few others.
In the pricier European countries, a single country pass will be more expensive, but even better value. A pass for Norway starts at $192, and individual tickets in these countries would add up to that price in as little as three train rides.
Pro Tip: Just because you buy a one country pass doesn’t mean you can’t see other countries while in Europe. Purchase a pass for the most expensive country, use up your travel days there, and then use a different mode of transport to explore cheaper European countries.
More money, more freedom: Global Pass
So you want to see as much as possible and have that ultimate freedom? Try the opposite end of the spectrum.
Global Passes allow you access to 28 European countries, and will cost you anywhere from $245 to upwards of $1000 depending on how many travel days you want and how long your trip is.
The cheapest Global Pass comes with three travel days within a one month period traveling in 2nd class, starting at $245, while the most expensive costs six times that but lets you travel continuously for three months in first class.
Travelers looking for a happy medium can get a pass that includes 10 travel days during a 2 month period starting at $600 in first class.
Note: Prices vary depending on when you are traveling and when tickets are purchased.
Hidden costs and discounts revealed
Now that you have an idea of the basic costs of a Eurail Pass, it’s time to fill you in on some of the hidden costs and discounts you should consider.
The costs listed above are the “starting” price. While you pay a flat rate upfront for your pass, that is not the only money you will be spending on your transportation.
Many of the trains require you to make reservations,, which usually costs about 8 euros per train, plus an additional seat reservation fee which on average vary from 6 to 20 euros.
If you want to avoid making reservations, you can ride regional trains, which you can usually just hop aboard with your Eurail Pass.
However, more popular trains, night trains, high speed trains, and some scenic trains will require a reservation, not only adding a cost to your trip but also taking away some of that ultimate freedom we keep talking about.
Many trains only accept reservations at least 8 days in advance.
So that will take a bit away from the train-ride-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thing.
“We advise travelers to book well in advance; seats can be in high demand, especially in the peak travel season — July through August,” Eurail representative Nienke Geudeker said. “On a few trains, the number of available Pass holder seats can be limited. But most of the time you can just show up at the train station and hop on the next train.”
But, Nienke also noted that your reservation could include some perks, such as a meal and a drink served at your seat, a complimentary newspaper or free Wi-Fi, depending on the train and class.
Speaking of perks, let’s get to that good news.
Age: Eurail has a few discounts you should consider based on your age.
For instance, children under 11 travel free, and if you are age 12 to 27, you can get a youth discount of 23% cheaper than the standard adult pass. Also, a 10% senior discount is available to adults 60 and older.
Partnerships: The Eurail Pass also offers perks and discounts on other things like European City cards accommodations, attractions and more.
How to Get the Most From Your Eurail Pass
Embrace the journey
When planning a trip to Europe, many travelers set their sights on the big name spots like the Eiffel Tower and Sistine Chapel. But when you travel by train, you get to take in all the things along the way that you never even knew you wanted to see.
“It’s great to see those big sights of course, but it’s also just these magical places in between that can make a journey great,” Jason said.
Staying flexible and being open to new places that weren’t originally on your itinerary can add depth to your trip and is just one of the many ways to increase the value of your Eurail Pass.
Travel more, save more
“With a Eurail Pass, the general rule is the more you travel, the more you save,” Nienke said. “Therefore, to make your Eurail trip a real success, we recommend including a palette of experiences as diverse as possible.”
If you only want to go on a few train rides, the Eurail Pass might not be in your best interest, but if you want the freedom to travel continuously throughout your trip, the more times you use your pass the cheaper each train ride gets. This is especially true in more expensive regions where you could easily rack up the cost of a Eurail Pass on individual tickets.
Taking advantage of overnight trains, not only to maximize your travel time, but also to save on a night’s stay somewhere else.
“Not only are you not having to pay for accommodation, you’re still getting to your next place and getting a decent night’s sleep,” Jason said.
“It’s very useful to know about the 7 p.m. rule if you have a Flexi Pass (e.g. Global Pass – 15 days within 2 months) as it can save you precious travel days,” Nienke said. “The rule means that you only need to use one travel day when you travel on trains that depart after 7 p.m. and arrive at their final stop after 4 a.m., even if you leave the train before 4 a.m.”
Think outside the rails
The Greek Island Pass was recently added to the Eurail Pass options and includes 6 ferry connections between Italy and Greece or between the Greek islands within one month, and can be a great addition to your Eurail adventure.
So, is the Eurail Pass worth it for you?
So how do you feel? Now that you have all this info, do you think you should you use a Eurail Pass for your European adventure?
Ultimately, the answer depends on your individual goals for your journey, but if you need help sorting out your priorities, we’re here to help.
If you find yourself aligning with the statements in the left column, it is time to order your very own key to Europe.
- Your priority is seeing as much of Europe as possible
- You won’t settle for anything less than the iconic Europe experience
- Extra freedom is worth paying for
- You want to be able to make last minute plans
- You have more than two weeks in Europe
- You would rather pay for transportation upfront than budget along the way
Not so much:
- You’re spending less than two weeks in Europe
- You want to find the cheapest transportation possible
- You don’t mind planning your trip in advance
- You only anticipate traveling within a small region of Europe
- You have the time to research and buy individual tickets
- A large portion of your travels will be in Eastern Europe
Pass or no pass, travel
“The most important point is, whether you get a Eurail Pass or not, go on the trip,” Jason said.
Sometimes wading through information, making decisions and building a plan for your trip can become such a big burden that trips never get off the ground — or on to the rails.
Don’t miss this opportunity for a life-changing experience.
“The trip that opened up the world to me was a Eurail trip through Europe,” Jason said. “I just remember this buz of energy and feeling high for 2 months straight. It was a spectacular feeling. I met so many people on the way that were travelling the world in all these different ways and I realized, this doesn’t have to be a one time thing — I can keep doing this. I realized I could make seeing the world my life, and essentially, that’s what I’ve done.”
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