12 top tips for travelling by rail in Europe

A European train journey can be a social, fast and scenic way to cross countries, time zones and even the waters. Here are Wanderlust readers' top tips for riding the Euro-rails...

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Dress to the lines

For anyone who is lucky enough to board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, make sure you’re dressed and all set for dinner before you board, as you’ll have little time to get ready and space is limited.

I travelled from Paris to Venice – you want to make the most of every moment of this incredible journey from start to finish. You can’t overdress, either!

– Elizabeth Anderson 

The best views

The Bernina Express in Switzerland (Shutterstock)

The Bernina Express in Switzerland (Shutterstock)

Many travellers choose the luxury panoramic cars of the Bernina Express to cross the UNESCO-listed Bernina Pass. But if you take the Allegra trains, you can open windows to take photos and stop off at restaurants facing glaciers.

Enjoy the loopy descent into Italy, too, where the valley is too narrow for both a rail line and road, so the train queues with cars at traffic lights!

- Cath Simpson

Train coming into Barmouth (Shutterstock)

Train coming into Barmouth (Shutterstock)

"You can’t beat a rail journey from Machynlleth to Barmouth in Wales. Hugging the Gwynedd coastline, you pass through the Victorian fishing port of Aberdyfi – look out for osprey and porpoises here!"

– Julie Squire

“The most scenic journey I’ve done is a toss-up between seeing the Swiss Alps at dawn and admiring the serrated peaks of mountains in Catalonia at dusk."

– Christopher Norris

In Norway? Take a trip on the Flåm railway. The scenery is beautiful and the old-style train adds to the ambience.

– Colleen Moore

Practical advice

Scenic as train trips through Norway and Switzerland are, mountainscapes have a dark side – tunnels.

A tablet lets you keep reading, even when your carriage is plunged into darkness, or when you don’t have a working reading light.

– Eva Appleby

"In Russia, check the time zone on your ticket. Russia has 11 time zones, but train tickets for the whole country usually show Moscow time – not local!"

– Ruth Coverdale

"In Italy, don’t forget to validate your ticket in the station or on a platform before boarding the train.

Once validated, use it on any comparably priced journey (between a set start and end point) for up to four hours. So, if you miss the train you bought the ticket for, you can get another!"

– Janice Leary 

Quirky trips you'll remember forever

Trains on a ferry approaching Messina (Shutterstock)

Trains on a ferry approaching Messina (Shutterstock)

I recently took a solo rail journey from Naples to Sicily. It was the first time I had ever seen a train board the ferry on the rail track. After a short sail across to the island, we chugged north and arrived into Palermo Centrale station, located in a historic 1800s building.

On exiting the station, I was treated to the streetscapes of pretty Palermo. I also met some lovely locals who shared tales and coffee with me.

– Peggy Wright

Indalecio Prieto Station, Bilbao (Shutterstock)

Indalecio Prieto Station, Bilbao (Shutterstock)

Take the Feve train from Bilbao to Ferrol in the west. It’s a slow but beautiful journey across northern Spain, taking you past beautiful beaches, across rivers and through rocky valleys.

Get off and walk from one station to the next to explore the fabulous Galician and Asturian landscapes.

– Jane Nairne

Keep it social and make new friends

Every rail traveller has a story to tell (Shutterstock)

Every rail traveller has a story to tell (Shutterstock)

"My top tip is to engage your fellow passengers in conversation – everyone has a story and a reason for travelling by train.

On my rail journeys I have enjoyed chatting to a pro ice hockey player from Canada on his way to play in Switzerland, and a Canadian teacher travelling from an opera-singing course in Rome to a ballet residency in Barcelona.”

– Christopher Norris

New friends travelling by train in Europe (Shutterstock)

New friends travelling by train in Europe (Shutterstock)

“During a recent trip from Barcelona to Alicante, I met so many people just by talking to them.

I now have friends in Iran, Germany, Spain and Belgium now, and some of us have even booked trips to visit each other to get a local’s tour.

We pooled all our snacks to make an international lunch, too!”

– Carolyn Payne 

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