7 tips for booking train tickets in Europe

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012

Here's a quick rundown on how to get the best deals for inter-city rail travel in Europe.

1. European websites frequently sell tickets at lower prices. For example, French Railways often supplies lower prices on its website for tickets that are identical to the ones it sells via, an American agency. To be sure, agencies like sometimes do provide superlow deals, such as a current discount of 50 percent off train tickets on Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam routes. (Details here.) gotta shop around--and not merely rely on American sites for one-stop shopping--if you want the best deal.

2. English speakers living in the U.S. can still buy discounted tickets through European websites. Your first stop online should be at This amazingly helpful British website offers step-by-step advice on how to pinpoint the best route for your desired itinerary...and also how to find the cheapest tickets. (The site's editor, Mark Smith, answered reader questions yesterday at Transcript here.)

3. Booking at the last-minute? There may be a deal for you online, too. 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. You'll find examples here.

4. You can only buy a Eurorail ticket in the U.S. but it's not always your cheapest option for rail travel in Europe. Says Mark Smith, "In theory, Eurail tickets can ONLY be bought outside Europe, as they are intended for overseas visitors. But in many cases you'll find ordinary point-to-point tickets are a cheaper option, especially if you book direct with the European rail operators at their own website rather than through an expensive US agency, and especially if you are prepared to pre-book tickets on a no-refunds, no-changes-to-travel-plans basis so as to take advantage of European railways' various budget-airline-beating special train deals."

5. Get your timing right. The most intuitive way to figure out train times for any European rail journey is to visit the website of the German rail line Deutsche Bahn, which has comprehensive listings for all major European train companies. But the website makes it difficult for Americans to purchase travel, so book your tickets at RailEurope,, or European Rail. These sites offer point-to-point tickets, rail passes, and student discounts. For railpasses for travel within the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, visit Railkey's website.

6. Know that booking tickets on the "Chunnel" between London and Paris can be tricky for Americans. Eurostar offers fares and times for routes reaching London, Paris, Brussels, and other nearby destinations. But Eurostar's website doesn't offer reservations for overnight trains. Expect to make such reservations by phone instead. Another warning: Eurostar will not mail tickets to the U.S., but you can dodge this problem by booking your Eurostar tickets at The site will give you a choice of picking up your tickets at Waterloo station in London or having your tickets be mailed to a British address, such as your hotel, says rail expert Mark Smith. If your train will travel on through France, after stopping in Paris via the underground Chunnel, then opt to pick up your onward tickets at any major ticket office in France, says Smith.

7. Look beyond Europe's best-known tourist destinations. Europe's train systems make it easy to take a day-trip to a place outside of a well-known capital--and still be back in time for dinner. Here are's ideas for adding on day-trips out of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen,

Lisbon, London, Paris, Prague, Rome, and Vienna.

Related: Europe's newest high-speed train, the TGV East between Paris and Strasbourg, is a hit with Americans after just one day in operation," reports the Los Angeles Times.

Keep reading

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Are fees to the national parks getting too high?

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Today's travel intel

Fly to Germany on a $500 round-trip airfare (after taxes). The little-known German airline LTU International Airways is holding a fare sale for departures this month from Ft. Myers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City. For example, round-trip flights departing this month between New York City and Munich start at $318, plus taxes of about $120. Or fly between Miami and Berlin for round-trip fares starting at $368, plus taxes of about $150. Details here. One downside of LTU is that its departures are infrequent. For instance, it flies merely twice a week from Las Vegas to Germany. Its fares also do not show up in the search results of many online travel websites, such as, so you may want to comparison shop at when researching a trip to Germany. (Related note: You can read about Germany's Fairy-Tale Castle Hotels by clicking here.) Freebies in Delaware. On Saturday, May 19, residents can flash their driver's license or student ID to get free access to any of 48 attractions in the state, such as Monster Racing Excitement at the Dover Speedway, Governor Ross Mansion, Fenwick Island Lighthouse, and the Museum of Small Town Life. Alas, the state's prime jewel, Longwood Gardens, isn't participating and will charge $14 per ticket as usual. Editor's Note: There's a good reason why Longwood Gardens isn't participating. It's in Pennsylvania, not Delaware. I regret the error, and thanks to reader Mike for pointing out the mistake. Memorial Day bed and breakfast deals. You'll find packages for stays in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio by clicking here. For other deals in these and other states, visit the excellent website Hint: Click on its "Specials" page to find its most surprising deals. Jump-start your trip-planning for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing... Sales of event tickets don't start until September from the official source,, but tour companies are already planning their travel itineraries. Only one company is expected to be able to sell tour packages that include tickets, and that's Cartan Tours, which has debuted its 32-page brochure of packages. Find it here. (A tip: Despite its confusingly-worded instructions, you don't have to submit your personal information to see the brochure. Just click "next" on this website page.) The rates don't exactly shout "budget travel." The starting price for an air/hotel package, not including tickets, is $5,395 per person, plus taxes, which includes a four-night stay at a Courtyard by Marriott in Beijing.