Rail holiday tips and itineraries

Independent rail holidays in Europe. Rail pass or individual tickets?

July 27, 2016 (Last Updated: May 13, 2020)
by Carolyn
Swiss train

Riding the rails of Europe’s fantastic train network is a great way to explore the continent. I love the flexibility that comes with being an independent rail traveller in Europe, and designing my own itineraries and choosing the length of time I want to stay in each place makes my European holidays uniquely my own.

Many travellers, though, are apprehensive about booking their European rail tickets online as they aren’t sure which type of tickets they should purchase.

In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to booking your Eurail pass or point to point tickets online.

When I spent my days as a European travel specialist and made bookings on behalf of clients, one of the things I did a lot of was help my clients design their own itineraries and make rail reservations for them.

As I mentioned above, European trains can be booked online but it can be a bit confusing, so my clients would happily let me do this on their behalf!

I’m no longer a travel consultant and able to make rail bookings on behalf of clients but I’ve got plenty of tips to share so that you can easily make train reservations yourself.

Where will your rail itinerary take you?

Before you get started, the first thing to decide is exactly where you’d like to travel.  This will help determine whether a rail pass or point to point tickets are the most economical for you.

Rail Pass or point to point tickets?

Once you’ve got a basic itinerary sorted, then you need to decide whether to purchase individual tickets for the train journeys you’ll be taking or instead buy a Eurail Pass.

Ther correct option can be dependent on a number of factors including the number of train trips you plan to take, the length of each journey, how far you are able to book in advance, and the country/ies in which you’ll be travelling.

In most cases, if you will only be making two or three short trips, purchasing the individual tickets for each sector will probably be cheaper than buying a Eurail Pass. However, if you will be travelling by train on numerous days, particularly when there are some long trips involved, you’re often better off buying a Pass.

If you can plan and buy your tickets well in advance (this article explains how far in advance you can book tickets), you may be able to secure a cheaper fare than if you book your seat closer to the day of travel.

A Eurail Pass gives you the flexibility to travel more spontaneously but if you know your itinerary well ahead of your travel dates, you may be better off booking your individual seat reservations (I explain what seat reservations are in this article) in advance and having the security of knowing your seats are reserved.

Buying your rail pass and train tickets

Once you’ve decided which sectors you’d like to travel by train and the most economical ticket option for you (Rail pass or individual tickets), then it’s time to make your bookings.

Head to the Rail Europe website and get started.

Firstly, make sure you choose your home country in the top right hand menu so that prices display in your local currency.

For point to point ticket fares and to check timetables for a specific date, enter your journey start and end points on the home page and hit ‘find tickets’.

Rail Europe home page

A screen will then appear showing you which services operate on the date you have chosen and what the various fares are.

Rail Europe search page

After choosing the option that suits you best by clicking the circle next to the relevant fare, you’ll be taken to a new screen to enter the traveller details.  This leads on to the payment section.

If you are interested in a rail pass, you can browse all the different rail passes that are available by choosing the Rail Passes tab on the home page.

Rail Europe rail passes

Choose the rail pass that best suits your needs and you’ll be taken to a screen showing the price. This then leads on to the shopping cart where you can add traveller names and make your payment.

France rail pass

Still unsure whether a rail pass or individual tickets will be cheapest?

The following examples show a comparison of costs between individual tickets and a Eurail Pass. Prices are based on tickets/passes being purchased in Australia prior to travelling to Europe. (Prices subject to change – use as a guide only.)


Travel day 1: Florence – Innsbruck

Travel day 2: Innsbruck – Zell am See

Travel day 3: Zell am See – Salzburg

Travel day 4: Salzburg – Leipzig (via Munich)

Travel day 5: Leipzig – Dresden

Travel day 6: Dresden – Prague

Individual Tickets: Average cheapest price for two adults in first class = $1854*

Eurail Pass: A first class Eurail Select Saver Pass covering four adjoining countries – Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic – and allowing six days of travel in a two month period costs $1545* for two adults.

(Saver Pass rules stipulate that all adults purchasing the pass must travel together at all times). This price includes seat reservation fees. Special offers are sometimes available which can reduce fares and rail pass costs.



Travel day 1: Geneva – Bern

Travel day 2: Bern – Lucerne

Travel day 3: Lucerne – Zurich

Individual Tickets: Average cheapest price for two adults in first class = $558*
: Average cheapest price for two adults in second class = $318*

Eurail Pass: A Swiss Travel Pass allowing three days of travel in a one month period costs $1098* for two adults in first class or $722* for two adults in second class.


*All prices are in Australian dollars and are current at the time of writing but are subject to change without warning.

I hope this article has encouraged you to plan a rail holiday in Europe.  By using my simple steps above, you can start booking your travels around Europe by train today.


Top Image © Yurchyk / Adobe Stock Photo