About the book

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

The new, fully updated, 16th edition of Europe by Rail was published in mid-October 2019. The book was reprinted with timetable updates and other amendments in January 2020. A further reprint of the 16th edition, also with significant updates, was made in February 2021, and released into the book trade in mid-March 2021 to coincide with the launch of the European Year of Rail.

A word of welcome

For over two decades, 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 16th edition of the book, now updated for 2021, highlights the rich and intriguing possibilities that await, whether it be for a handful of short trips or for a more extended tour.

When we first published this 16th edition of the book back in October 2019, COVID-19 was not part of our vocabulary. We hardly knew what a coronavirus was. During 2020 and on into early 2021, we have discovered the pain of only being able to dream of European rail travels. But better days will surely come and we hope this timely reprint of the book will encourage travellers to take to the rails again as the pandemic recedes.

When we do all start travelling again, we’ll be reminded that rail travel 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.

In preparing each new edition of Europe by Rail, we criss-cross Europe by train, taking fast journeys on sleek expresses and memorably slow meanderings on remote branch lines. We have taken slow trains through Bela­rus and even slower trains through Bohemia. In this 16th edition, we have also introduced five entirely new routes covering Britain and Ireland. We also reworked some Balkan routes and can now include the spectacular journey from Belgrade to the port of Bar on the Adriatic coast. Throughout the book, we have included many new accommo­dation options, favouring hotels which are close to railway stations and have a touch of character.

The year 2021 has been designated by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union as the European Year of Rail. After the dread­ful days of the pandemic, it’s just the kind of initiative needed to bring Europe together. Rail travel is a great unifier. Trains bring places and people closer. 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?

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 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 take a look at how Interrail has evolved on pp11–13.

The journey or the destination?

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 52 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 52 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 52 routes.

Travel by train across Europe and you will inevitably be struck by the sheer variety of our continent. Our 52 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 by mid-afternoon be standing on the shores of the Mediterranean. 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 on pp520–22.

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 great cities in eastern Europe to the Irish hills, from Balkan byways to the Baltic and the Bay of Biscay.

Taking time

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 at www.slowtraveleurope.eu. 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 (14 years ago in November 2007) was powered by two engines with the names Tread Lightly and Voyage Vert. The train comes with green credentials.

Practicalities

Travel light if you possibly can. Heavy luggage and trains do not make good companions. Take this book along of course, and don’t forget to take a print copy of the European Rail Timetable, frequently referred to as ‘ERT’ in this book. This veritable masterpiece of compression is published six 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.

So are you game to join us on this journey? The best way to get started is to read ‘How to use this book’ (p14). You will find useful maps on the in­side front cover and inside back cover showing the routes in this volume (numbered 1 to 52). On this website here you’ll find more de­tailed maps of all 52 routes.

Enjoy the ride.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

February 2021

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