A Virgin train, included in a Dublin-London package(courtesy Virgin Trains)
Many travelers think of low-fare carriers and rail passes as the smartest means for touring Europe. But in the same way that airlines offer last-minute deals to fill empty seats, Europe's rail networks have deeply discounted point-to-point tickets under promotional names like Smart Price and Bargain Berths. The tickets typically sell out quickly and may require Internet booking, though you're saved from the hassles (and costs) of getting to airports.
Offers are generally nonrefundable and valid only on the train you book (no changes). While availability is limited, bargains exist for travelers willing to search. Unless noted, the prices are for one-way tickets in second class.
THE TRIP: ROME TO PARIS
Normal price: $220
Sale price: $45
Here's the Deal: Trenitalia's Smart Price ticket has a select few bargain fares on routes from Italy to nearby countries. A trip from Milan to Nice costs as little as $20. An overnight train from Rome to Paris, including a bed in a six-couchette compartment, starts at $45.
Booking Details: Advance-purchase requirements vary from 7 to 14 days depending on route. Buy at trenitalia.com and collect your ticket at a booth at the point of departure.
THE TRIP: MUNICH TO BERLIN
Normal price: $135
Sale price: $9
Here's the Deal: For $45, up to five people can split a single Schönes-Wochenende ("Happy Weekend") ticket and have unlimited rides anywhere in Germany on either a Saturday or Sunday. The offer, from Deutsche Bahn, isn't valid on the high-speed ICE, IC, and EC trains.
Booking Details: Tickets are sold at counters and machines in German train stations, with no advance purchase required. To plan an itinerary, go to bahn.de. Using the drop-down menu, search Without ICE/IC/EC and click on Prefer Fast Connections.
THE TRIP: FRANKFURT TO VIENNA
Normal price: $146
Sale price: $50
Here's the Deal: Deutsche Bahn's Europe-Special tickets are good for trips from Germany to neighboring countries, including the seven-hour ride from Frankfurt to Vienna, as well as for shorter journeys, like Munich to Bolzano, Italy, for $25 (normal price: $75).
Booking Details: Purchase at least three days in advance, only at bahn.de. Click on Europe-Special and select a city pair and date.
THE TRIP: LONDON TO DUBLIN
Normal price: $57
Sale price: $31
Here's the Deal: Virgin Trains' Rail and Sail package includes the train ride from London Euston station to Holyhead, a ferry to Dublin Ferry Port, and finally another train to central Dublin. The fare is available in either direction. While scenic, the journey takes nine hours.
Booking Details: For the cheapest tickets, purchase at least 14 days before departure. Book at any Virgin ticket outlet or by calling 011-44/8457-222-333; print tickets at the Virgin FastTicket machine at London Euston. You can't buy tickets online, but more info is available at virgintrains.co.uk.
THE TRIP: GENEVA TO VENICE
Normal price: $124
Sale price: $37
Here's the Deal: Every day, a new lineup of routes goes on sale for last-minute trips inside Switzerland (departing within three days), and between Switzerland and Austria, Germany, and Italy (departing within seven days). We found the Geneva-Venice price in February.
Booking Details: At sbb.ch, after switching the home page to English, select Travel and then Click & Rail Europe. There, you'll have a choice of viewing current offers within Switzerland or between Swiss cities and ones in neighboring countries.
THE TRIP: EDINBURGH TO LONDON
Normal price: $133
Sale price: $37
Here's the Deal: With ScotRail's Bargain Berths promotion, you get a bed on an overnight train between London Euston and one of 42 Scottish towns and cities, at fares ranging from $37 to $96.
Booking Details: Tickets are available up to three months in advance. Pending availability, you can buy them until noon on the departure date. Go to firstscotrail.co.uk and click on Sleeper Trains, then Bargain Berths. Search for a specific date, or throughout a period of up to three months.
THE TRIP: PARIS TO BERN
Normal price: $101
Sale price: $39
Here's the Deal: Piccolo prices on the TGV Lyria high-speed train line connecting Paris to the Swiss Alps start as low as $26 for shorter journeys on the line's branch connecting to Geneva. Fares on the Zurich branch can cost $39 to Bern and $45 to the end of the line.
Booking Details: One-month advance purchase is required for trips on the Zurich leg; a two-month advance is necessary for excursions on the Geneva line. Go to voyages-sncf.com, enter your cities, and look for the fares labeled Piccolo.
THE TRIP: BRUSSELS TO AMSTERDAM
Normal price: $60
Sale price: $30
Here's the Deal: The latest discounted trips on the high-speed line between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne are listed every Tuesday via Thalys's Last Minute Offers. Fares are routinely sold at about half the standard price (meaning Paris-Brussels costs $50, not $100) for select departures in the week ahead.
Booking Details: Visit thalys.com and click on Last Minute Offers for the latest discounted trips. Availability is very limited, so if you see a departure that works for you, snap it up.
THE TRIP: VIENNA TO KRAKÓW
Normal price: $62
Sale price: $38
Here's the Deal: Austria's SparSchiene tickets are available between Vienna and major cities in nearby countries including Italy, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Poland. There are discounts on standard seats, as well as for couchettes and private sleeper rooms--from $38, $50, and $76 respectively for trips to Kraków.
Booking Details: Head to oebb.at and click on Discount Products, then SparSchiene. The actual booking engine is in German only, though you can talk with English-speaking agents at 011-43/5-1717. And plan well in advance: You must book a minimum of three months ahead of departure.