I've collected my top tips and tricks about train stations and train travel in Europe, what to wear, and what to bring with you on the train! All aboard!
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Maybe it's a bizarre thing to have a bit of a passion for, but let's just say it! I love trains. Europe's light-rail and high-speed train system is efficient, eco-friendly, and just plain fun! And, no matter how modern the train, I do always feel a bit retro. We always spend at least a few days of every trip to Europe hopping around whatever country we're visiting and getting to know the train system, all of which we've found to be exemplary.
So, how do you prepare for a train trip in Europe? What to wear? What to bring? Let's dig in!
And, depending on where you're going to be visiting, be sure to check out my two other fully-train-related posts, England & Scotland by Train and France by Train, both of which contain general train travel tips, such as how to get tickets and navigate ticket machines, as well as easy day trips from the major cities, that rely solely on public transit for those countries!
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What to Expect on a Train in Europe
What to expect: European Train Stations
Part of what I like so much about train travel in Europe is just how much more relaxing it is than flying on a plane. European train stations are bustling and fun - and usually quite nice, especially the large ones, and there aren't nearly as many rules and regulations that create so much stress with flying.
Interestingly, in Europe, there is generally not significant security in train stations, at least of the type that each passenger has to path through, of which we've become so accustomed over the years in the U.S. There is often a significant police/military presence, but they are just for general safety, not individual passenger screening. You often do have to show your train ticket to get past a certain area once you're really close to the trains, especially if the station contains sections for both trains and Tube/underground/Metro, but not always.
As far as eating and drinking, like airports, train stations in Europe generally have both take-away stalls and sit-down restaurants/bars. The big train stations in major cities also have everything from bookstores to clothing shops (but don't expect to find that in a little town!).
What to expect: Train seating in Europe
If you are on a light-rail train not traveling a terribly far distance, you generally will not have an assigned seat, but will sit in the carriage of the class of ticket you've purchased (aka don't try to sit in First if you don't have a First class ticket), and in seats that aren't marked as "reserved."
Train seats on trains in Europe are normally padded, squishy, and fabric-covered, a bit like airline seats, however I have been on a few really short journeys were the seats were more like Tube/Metro seats.
Whether or not you have assigned seats, after a bit of time (it varies wildly and rarely, but sometimes, they don't come at all - don't try to skip fares!), a conductor will come by and check everyone's tickets. I find this super stressful and I have no idea why, but literally all they do is ask for your ticket, mark it in some way, tell you to have a nice trip, and move along. But, I'm always afraid I've purchased the wrong ticket, which I literally never have done. And, if you somehow have bought the wrong ticket, they'll get you sorted and likely just sell you the right ticket. If you've had this experience, let me know how it panned out in the comments.
What to expect: Are there bathrooms on trains in Europe?
When I started the blog, my Husband jokingly said I should call it "is there a bathroom here?" or "Julianne's guide to bathrooms in Europe." It certainly would have been niche, but I didn't go for it. That said, I do find myself highlighting this topic in...all of my blog posts. Inquiring minds want to know!!!
Anyway...Yes. There aren't bathrooms on the Metro/Tube, but there are bathrooms on every light-rail/high-speed train I've ever been on in Europe. They're generally clean and perfectly adequate for the trip. That said, some of the doors are sort of difficult to open. They're usually button-based, meaning that you push an "open" or "close" button when you enter and exist. Fun fact: if you don't lock it properly...well, you get it. Just double check:) Additionally, you generally aren't allowed to use the train bathrooms when the train is in the station. Don't think too much about that. Sip that canned wine you bought in the station. More on that when we discuss essentials and what to bring with you, below!
What to Bring on a Train in Europe
Ok, we've gotten through the basics of what to expect, let's move on! What should you bring with you on a train trip in Europe? I will start off by saying that these tips are largely for day trips on light-rail and high speed trains, as I haven't personally taken an overnight/sleeper train, though main of the tips would presumably apply to both. If I ever do take one, I'll certainly circle back and update the post!
One wonderful thing about train travel in Europe is that, within reason, you can pretty much bring what you need with you on the train. (If you're bringing actual luggage, be sure to confirm, though I've never had an issue). There are just not the same restrictions as airplanes, so bring that water bottle!
Train travel essentials: Food and drink
One of my favorite parts of train travel in Europe is loading up on delicious food and drink to take on the journey! Nope, they don't hold you captive and force you to buy food and drink on the train - nice, isn't it?
Additionally, due to the prevalence of public transit in and among European cities, the train stations are well-stocked with train-friendly snacks and drinks. The fact that they'll load you up with pre-made, canned gin and tonics before you hop on a train never ceases to make me love everything about being across the pond.
That said, if for whatever reason you pass up shopping in the train station, then yes, you can generally buy food and drink on the train, if you're traveling any significant distance. I have been on one train that did not serve food, but it was the train from Paris to the Chateau de Fontainebleau, and the trip was quite short that it was technically a local train. Either someone will come by, like the Trolley Witch in Harry Potter, or there is a bar car with a permanent bar and one staff member serving food and drink. It's not cheap, obviously, but it's also not so expensive that no one buys it.
Train travel essentials: Necessities
Now that we've done the fun food-and-drink aspect, let's quickly discuss some necessities for train travel. Depending on your level of germaphobia, you really can't go wrong with a good pack of cleaning wipes. I'm not hugely concerned about germs, but I do also bring these with me on long plane flights in general, just because we all know the cleaning teams often don't have time to wipe down every tray table between flights. The same applies for trains - they're generally clean and fine, but they're heavily used, so why not give it a quick clean-up before you risk your gin and tonic?
Next, and even more down-to-basics, I always bring a pack of tissues. The vast majority of train restrooms are well-stocked, and if they aren't, you can normally sway your way down to the nearest restroom in the next carriage. However, later in the day, even the best trains sometimes run low on supplies, so just in case, or to share with a friend, bring some tissues!
Train travel essentials: Entertainment options
What to do on a train trip? Well, unlike planes, trains in Europe almost never have entertainment options, beyond those you supply yourself. I have never been on a train that had built in TVs, or anything of the sort.
But that's ok! First of all, you will have the lovely scenery to take in! Did I mention how much I love trains? Hopefully that's coming through. Our trip from Edinburgh to Inverness showed off the most stunning views of Scotland I've yet to enjoy. I always find train travel an excellent way to truly enjoy a country's landscape, especially since there's nothing else to do.
As far as other entertainment options, I like to bring a book about/written in the place we are exploring! I started this by reading David Mitchell's Back Story on our way to Oxford, and laughed out loud like a weirdo a few times, to the horror of everyone around me (I was jet-lagged, I'm sorry!!).
A note on high-speed trains: For those of you who know where this is going, you have more foresight than me! Even people who are not necessarily prone to motion sickness sometimes have difficulty with high-speed trains, particularly if sitting backward. More on this in France by Train where, you guessed it, I was stricken with this issue. Looking at your phone a great deal or reading a book will only increase your chance of feeling unwell, if you have an issue with this. So, if you're concerned, put the phone down, and look outside! A little digital detox!
Train travel essentials: Do train in Europe have WiFi?
Generally, yes, trains in Europe do have WiFi. However, that is not always the case, and most importantly, my phone often has an extremely difficult time connecting to it when we're moving. I don't know anything about cell phones or how they work, I just know this to be true! So, be sure to download what you need before you start moving.
What to Wear on a Train in Europe
Now that we've gotten through what to bring with you on a train, let's discuss what is always one of my favorite topics, what to wear! Hmm what to wear on a train in Europe - if I had it my way, I'd go full Murder on the Orient Express costume, minus the murder, obviously, but alas, need to look normal.
What to wear on a train in Europe: Long pants
I'm all about long pants on train journeys. I don't like my legs touching those well-loved seats, and I find skirts inconvenient, especially on two-tier trains where stairs are involved (yes, these exist and yes, they are super cool).
What to wear on a train in Europe: A light sweater
Oh the temperature fluctuations of public transit! I wouldn't say that I normally find train travel to be uncomfortable, based on temperature control, however, always good to have a sweater on hand. Additionally, some slower moving trains allow for people to crack open the windows, so you'll likely want to have something on hand if things get brisk!
What to wear on a train in Europe: Close-toed shoes
Hauling bags, stepping on and off trains, walking on the train when it's moving, and using those funny train bathrooms all spell disaster for flip-flops, in addition to the fact that Europeans don't wear them. Personally, I'm all about booties on trains - and then they're perfect for a full day of walking once we arrive in our destination!
What to wear on a train in Europe:
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