The new, fully updated 17th edition of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide was published on 12 April 2022.
For over a quarter of a century, successive editions of Europe by Rail have shaped travellers’ plans, encouraging readers to be more adventurous. With tips on ticketing, fares and accommodation, Europe by Rail has become the definitive guide to exploring Europe by train. This 17th edition of the book, its authors (and probably its readers too) chastened by the pandemic, highlights the rich and intriguing possibilities that still await, whether it be for a handful of short trips or for a more extended tour.
Two years ago, COVID-19 was not part of our vocabulary. We hardly knew what a coronavirus was. It now looks as though international travel will be easier in 2022 and 2023. Here’s hoping! For too long, many would-be travellers have only been able to dream of European rail travels. But better days are surely in the offing, so we hope this timely new edition of the book will encourage travellers to take to the rails.
As we venture out again, we’ll all be reminded that travelling by train is convivial in a way that is rarely encountered on planes and has never been a feature of car travel. We have swapped stories with strangers on trains in Ukraine, we have been on trains marooned in deep midwinter snow in Scandinavia and we have shared meals on night trains that slipped in the dark past silent factories in unnamed towns.
Over the years, we have criss-crossed Europe by train, taking fast journeys on sleek expresses and slow meanderings on remote branch lines. We have taken slow trains through Belarus and even slower trains through Bohemia. For this 17th edition of the book, we introduce many new routes so as to give better coverage of Switzerland, Germany’s Baltic coast, the Adriatic region, Slovakia and Romania. Throughout the book, we have included many new accommodation options, generally favouring hotels which are close to railway stations and have a touch of character.
Is it not a matter of wonder that one can board a night train in Amsterdam and alight next morning in Vienna or the Austrian Tyrol? Or travel from Zagreb directly to Zurich? After the dreadful days of the pandemic, we need to move beyond the COVID interregnum and rediscover that sense of community and solidarity which underpins rail travel. The train is a great unifier, linking people and places divided by frontiers.
The year 2022 marks a special anniversary. The Interrail pass has since 1972 been a potent force in fostering mutual understanding between Europeans. We know that many readers of this book, be they young or old, will be using Interrail passes (either traditional paper passes or the excellent new mobile pass). Interrail (along with a sister scheme called Eurail – for those not resident in Europe) remains in our view the best choice for those intent on following some of the longer journeys in this book. We share some thoughts on half a century of Interrail in a special feature in this new 17th edition of the book.
With the development of Europe’s first railways, people were suddenly on the move, with the restless English often leading the way. The guidebook market blossomed as travellers packed a Baedeker or a Murray guidebook before embarking on a new journey. Today’s traveller is more likely to turn to the Internet, just before departure hurriedly downloading a few pages on their chosen destination. More people than ever are travelling, but many just dash to their destination – and the range of favoured destinations tends to narrow rather than widen.
In travelling by train around Europe, it is possible to rediscover the sheer joy of the journey itself. Trains are fun. So in Europe by Rail we put the journey at the centre. We present 50 rail routes that between them cover the full gamut of European rail travel.
There are routes where trains speed across great plains, routes where slow trains dawdle from one village to another and there are routes where trains traverse harsh tundra and great mountain ranges. In addition to our 50 routes, we offer 25 mini-features (called Sidetracks); these are bite-size teasers which invite you to reflect on rail-related themes or venture into regions not covered by our 50 routes.
Travel by train across Europe and you will inevitably be struck by the sheer variety of our continent. Our 50 routes reflect that mix. We include some high-speed hops, where you can cover a lot of ground fast. But we also highlight slow trains that follow less-frequented rail routes. It is on such journeys that the texture and detail of European life is most easily appreciated, whether it be in the changing landscapes beyond the carriage window, the architecture of villages you pass through along the way or in the faces and accents of fellow travellers with whom you share a railway carriage.
The opening of new rail routes has slashed journey times. Today’s traveller can take an early morning Eurostar train from London and be in Italy or Spain by the same evening. A judicious combination of daytime high-speed services and overnight trains allows longer journeys across the continent to be undertaken very comfortably by train. Few experiences compare with opening the blinds of the night sleeper in the morning to find a fragile blanket of morning mist over a foreign landscape. You can read more about night trains and how they are suddenly back in vogue in a special feature towards the end of this book.
The imaginations of travellers today are unfettered. Classic destinations like the Rhine, Switzerland and the northern shores of the Mediterranean no longer command attention to the exclusion of other parts of Europe. The routes in this book will take you far beyond the Arctic Circle and on mountain railways across the Pyrenees and the Alps. We shall lead you from eastern Europe to the Irish hills, from Balkan byways to the Baltic and the Bay of Biscay.
Some readers might try and undertake a dozen or more of these routes within a month. We would just sound a note of caution. That way madness lies. Better to focus a little, and take time to stop off here and there along the way. Branch out from main rail routes and choose slower trains on at least some parts of your journey to discover the joys of Slow Travel. You can get some inspiration by reading our Manifesto for Slow Travel. Exploring Europe by rail is a great way to put Slow Travel principles into practice.
Rethinking our relationship with travel is no mere luxury. It’s now an absolutely necessity to save our home planet. Across much of Europe, people are switching from air to rail. Train travel is often modestly priced, generally very comfortable and appeals to the pieties of a new generation of environmentally aware travellers. It was surely not by chance that the very first public Eurostar train to leave London’s magnificently refurbished St Pancras International railway station (15 years ago in November 2007) was powered by two engines with the names Tread Lightly and Voyage Vert. The train comes with green credentials.
Travel light if you possibly can. Heavy luggage and trains do not make good companions. Take this book along of course, and you might like to have a print copy of the European Rail Timetable, frequently referred to as ‘ERT’ in this book. This veritable masterpiece of compression is published four times each year (see www.europeanrailtimetable.eu). An up-to-date copy of that timetable, and the Rail Map Europe (also published by European Rail Timetable Ltd), are natural partners to this volume. Guidebook, map, timetable – these three remain the indispensable assets in the traveller’s armamentarium. These days you’ll surely want to download an app or two. Try Eurail’s Rail Planner app for starters.
So are you game to join us on this journey? Hop aboard, and let's head off to explore Europe by rail.
Enjoy the ride.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Berlin, Germany (February 2022)