Planning a trip to Europe this summer? The big expansion of U.S. service by low-cost airlines like Norwegian and Wow could attract a lot of U.S. travelers who haven’t visited in a while. And once they get there, they’ll have to decide how to get around- and how to do it cheaply since the US dollar is losing so much value recently- the euro is currently at $1.24 and the British pound at $1.42, much higher than this time last year.
Taking the train instead of a plane might not be much of an option in most of the U.S., but it’s hugely popular in Europe – and often almost as fast or even faster than flying. And it's getting even easier. (Check out my train photos in the slideshow above!)
A recent analysis by Bloomberg News found that total inter-city travel time by rail is comparable to or better than airline travel time on several intra-European routes, including London-Brussels, London-Paris, Madrid-Barcelona, Paris-Lyon and Rome-Milan.
And rail fares are generally cheaper than flying. The website of Rail Europe – the go-to source for information on European trains — is currently showing one-way fares as low as $38 between Barcelona and Madrid, $67 between London and Paris, and $42 between Paris and Amsterdam. (Besides point-to-point tickets, Rail Europe sells a big variety of economical rail passes for travel within a single country, within a limited region, or all over Europe.)
European nations have made substantial investments in improving and speeding up their rail networks, and that work continues. For example, the rail link in Germany between Berlin and Munich recently finished improvements that cut the travel time between the two cities from six hours to four. And a new direct service has opened up between Milan and Frankfurt, providing a daily roundtrip that passes through Switzerland with stops in Bern and Lucerne, according to Rail Europe.
Here are seven reasons why you might want to take trains to get around Europe.
1. They’re fast. If you think France’s TGV trains and the London-Paris Eurostar are the only high-speed rail routes in Europe, you are way behind the times. Europeans have been developing high-speed routes all over the continent for the past few decades. Depending on the route, high-speed trains in Europe travel 125 to 200 mph. Here’s a list of the major high-speed networks in Europe.
2. They can even be faster than flying. While jets are still a lot faster than trains, and thus more time-efficient for trips longer than about 600 miles, there are many city-pairs where it’s actually faster to take the train when you consider total travel time – i.e., getting to the airport early for heightened security checks; travel time to and from the airport instead of a city center train station, etc.
3. Intermodal connections can be very efficient. Some key gateway airports have built-in rail stations right next to or underneath the terminals where travelers can easily transition from air to train travel. At Frankfurt International Airport, for instance, travelers can connect to trains going all over Germany and beyond, including the nation’s high-speed ICE network. And French National Railroads has a TGV station at Charles de Gaulle Airport.
4. They’re comfortable. Seats are generally bigger than airline seats, with plenty of legroom – especially in first class. Many trains have bar/buffet cars; for first class travelers, meals and drinks are included in the ticket price, and may be served at your seat or in the bar/buffet car. Increasingly, European trains have on-board Wi-Fi. And you can sleep on some trains: For longer rail journeys, some routes operate overnight with trains that offer private sleeping cabins. Here’s a list of Europe’s night trains.
5. They take you to the heart of town. Airport stations aside, European rail terminals are generally in the center of cities, so you can easily get to or from your hotel with a short cab ride. In fact, there are usually some hotels within walking distance.
6. Forget about delays. While a big storm can play havoc with airline schedules, trains keep operating through all kinds of weather. And they’re not subject to the kinds of air traffic control congestion that can disrupt on-time flight operations. In terms of operational efficiency, about the only thing that can (and sometimes does) disrupt train travel in Europe is a labor strike.
7. They can be quite scenic. You won’t see much of Europe from the air, but trains bring you up close to alpine vistas, dramatic forests, majestic rivers and other things to see through those big windows from the comfort of your seat. Here’s a list from Eurail of some of Europe’s most scenic train routes.