There are so many choices to be made when considering a train trip across Europe. Which countries, cities, and train routes? What days or months to travel? It’s a challenge and a little overwhelming just thinking about it all, so I decided to write down our epic journey for you.
It might not be the exact route you choose. It might not be all the places you want to see. But then again it might provide you with inspirational spark needed to plan your own journey. And if you choose some of the same destinations then I hope I’ve made life 10 times easier for you.
Some background info first…
We decided on a 2-month Eurail pass which included 15 days of travel in 1st class. You can read all the ins and outs in our Eurail post. This post is about the actual journey.
- Our kids travelled free in certain countries. These are indicated on each trip where appropriate.
- Several legs required an advanced reservation which had an additional cost (not included in the Eurail pass). These have been itemised.
- The prices of train tickets tend to go up the closer to the date of departure. These indicative prices were usually gathered several days to a week before the journey. If they were purchased months in advance the prices would have been cheaper, or if left to the last minute, more expensive.
- Ticket prices are a total based on 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 5). If you’re going solo or as a couple, naturally it would be cheaper.
Hey ho, let’s go!
Brussels, Belgium to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Train to Brussels Midi – 20 mins.
Train from Brussels Midi to Luxembourg City – 3 hours.
Suggested train price:
First class: €119.20, kids free; or
Second class: €77.60
Accommodation: Youth Hostel & Camping Kautenbach
The first day of our Eurail train journey! We departed our housesitting assignment in Belgium for Luxembourg. It was a fairly simple journey with the train from Brussels Midi going straight through, no train changes required. Although in a 3-hour journey our tickets were checked by inspectors 4 times.
We spent the first night in Luxembourg City before taking the train north to explore the countryside. We spent two nights glamping in Kautenbach before taking the train to our next stop in Stuttgart, Germany.
Luxembourg to Stuttgart, Germany
Lift to Kautenbach station – 5 mins.
(Usually this is a train running straight to Luxembourg City, but with rail tracks under maintenance, it was partially replaced with a bus service)
Train Kautenbach to Ettelbruck – 10 mins.
Bus Ettelbruck to Mersch – 30 mins.
Train Mersch to Luxembourg City – 10 mins.
Train Luxembourg City to Karthaus – 45 mins.
Train Karthaus to Saarbrucken HBF – 70 mins.
Train Saarbrucken HBF to Stuttgart HBF – 2 hours and 30 mins.
Suggested train price:
First class: €98; or
Second class: €58
Accommodation: Hotel Ibis-Styles, Cannstatt
$1,450 Monthly Private Apartment
Slightly more complicated than our first journey, because
a) We were in the north of Luxembourg where the train lines were temporarily interrupted which required moving luggage from trains to buses and back to trains. Normally that journey is an easy 40 minutes, but for us was over 1.5 hours; and
b) Stuttgart was not a central German city so we had 3 train changes before getting there as well.
I asked the information desk in Luxembourg City’s central train station to print the journey out for me so I knew what time and what station to get off at on the way to Germany. This proved to be a handy reference for us and the journey went seamlessly.
We spent 3 nights in Stuttgart enjoying this picturesque German city before making our way to stunning Switzerland.
Stuttgart, Germany to Lenzerheide, Switzerland
U train from hotel to Bad-Cannstatt – 10 mins.
S train from Bad-Cannstatt to Stuttgart Hbf – 5 mins.
Easily located train to Zurich on platform 3 from Stuttgart Hbf – 3 hours.
Train from Zurich to Chur – 2 hours and 15 mins.
Bus from Chur to Lenzerheide Rothorn – 30 mins *
Suggested train price:
First class: €464.40; or
Second class: €286.80
Bus ticket was not included in the Eurail pass: 2 adults €17.91 (21.60 Swiss Francs), kids free.
Accommodation: Hotel Priva Alpine Lodge
Getting from our hotel to the Stuttgart station was suppose to be an easy process, but the train platforms at Bad-Cannstatt were not labelled particularly well and running at strange times. Lucky a lovely passer-by looked up the times on her railway mobile app and sent us in the right direction. We made it to our Zurich connection with a few minutes to spare.
The journey to Zurich was smooth and easy. They even gave out free bags of chocolate mints and we ran into a hilarious tour group of Australians.
From Zurich we took the train to Chur. Chur’s central train/bus station was very easy to navigate and the ticket machines for the bus very easy to use. We only waited 10 minutes before the bus ran from platform 9 to Lenzerheide. The driver placed our bags in storage under the bus and was very helpful. We easily identified which spot we were to get off at and it was a short walk to our hotel.
Lenzerheide, Switzerland to Davos, Switzerland
Bus from Lenzerheide Post to Davos Platz – 60 mins *
Suggested bus price:
Bus ticket was not included in the Eurail pass: 2 adults €33 (40 Swiss Francs), kids free.
Accommodation: Sheraton Davos Hotel Waldhuus
We caught the free “sportbus” from our hotel into the centre of Lenzerheide. It dropped us off at the main station where bus 183 also arrived every hour. We bought the tickets on the bus and stored our luggage underneath.
I intended to work for the hour-long trip, but couldn’t stop looking out the window. It was so beautiful! Green mountains with misty white peaks, belly-clenching drops, tummy-curdling curves and scenic little villages.
Once we arrived at Davos Platz our hotel shuttle was waiting for us and it was a 5-minute drive to the hotel.
Davos, Switzerland to Salzburg, Austria
Train from Davos Platz to Landquart, Switzerland – 1 hour and 10 mins.
Train from Landquart to Sargans, Switzerland – 8 mins.
Train from Sargans to Salzburg Hbf – 4 hours and 40 mins.
Suggested train price:
First class: €314.80; or
Second class: €180
Accommodation: Hotel & Villa Auersperg
We caught our hotel shuttle to Davos Platz before jumping on the 10:02 train to Landquart. It was a rush changeover to get on the Sargans train within 5 minutes for the 8 min ride. We spent the time standing by the door and hopped off at Sargans. The electronic train schedule boards located downstairs were easy to decipher and we made our way to platform 5 to get the Salzburg connection.
We had to get into the 2nd class carriage and walk through to find 1st since the train didn’t stop very long at the station – it was pretty stressful and squishy. When we finally got to 1st class we couldn’t find a 4 seats together (there was a rather rude passenger with two kids that absolutely needed her 6 seats). A member of staff finally helped us find 2 seats in front of each other and we all settled in, albeit flustered and hot.
That was a long journey but the service was excellent. We started with a solid Wi-Fi connection, but as we weaved through the countryside it dissipated down to just Facebook access. Time seemed to go so fast and before we knew it we were in beautiful Salzburg, Austria.
Salzburg, Austria to Vienna, Austria
Train from Salzburg HBF to Wien Westbahnhof – 2 hours
Suggested train price:
First class: €193.20, kids free; or
Second class: €115
Accommodation: Hotel Franzenshof & Best Western Premier Hotel Harmonie
We caught a taxi to the train station from our hotel in Salzburg. We missed the 11:50am train, but the 12:08 train was an express with only 2 stops so it arrived 10 minutes after our original train. 1st class had great service, but we didn’t need anything for a 2-hour journey, having purchased drinks and snacks at the train station beforehand.
The train sported nifty little TVs in 1st class so we could easily see where we were located along the journey and where we were going. On this trip we were zipping along at 200km/h at one stage – wow! And the displayed estimated arrival time was a useful indicator for deciding how to best spend our time.
Helpful tip: some train timetables refer to Vienna by it’s correct Austrian name which is “Wein”. So now you can avoid the same confusion we had.
Day 19 (PART A)
Vienna, Austria to Zagreb, Croatia
Josh was travelling to Italy, while the kids and I travelled to Croatia.
Taxi to Meidling station, Vienna.
Train from Platform 4 Wien Meidling to Villach Hbf – 4 hours and 15 mins.
Train from Platform 2 Villach Hbf to Zagreb Glavni Kolod – 4 hours and 15 mins.
Suggested train price (1 adult and 2 kids):
First class: €244.80; or
Second class: €146.40
Accommodation: Phoenix Hotel
We had several options when travelling to Split. The first choice we had to make was whether to stop in Zagreb for the night or continue to Split. We decided to stay the night in Zagreb.
Our second choice was to get a direct train with 0 changes which took 6 hours to Zagreb, arriving at 11pm or an 8-hour train with 1 change arriving at 5pm. With Josh we decided the late one, but then Josh received a last-minute opportunity to visit Milan so I was going to Croatia by myself.
I settled on the 8:30am train, because with 2 kids and 3 bags I was going to need help, and there was no way I was carrying my sleeping children and bags off a train at 11pm at night. At least during the day they could help wheeling a bag from train to train.
Traffic was heavy that morning, but we made it with 15 mins to spare. Josh helped us load all the bags onto the train and we said our goodbyes as the train pulled away from the station, the kids waving to him furiously through the window.
We then realised we had made ourselves comfortable in Business Class instead of First. We decided to risk it and stay until we were booted out. When the ticket inspector came around, I heard most of the passengers go through the same discussion with him and leave Business Class back to their correct class. When he arrived to look at our tickets he was super friendly and did not ask one question, leaving us where we were. Scored!
The journey passed quickly through some of the most stunning scenery in Austria. The windows were huge and clean and I had to stop myself from constantly taking photos.
The Wi-Fi went in and out on the train as we passed stations or countryside. It’s not reliable enough for a phone call or anything useful, although Facebook tends to somehow work the entire time.
The moment I was dreading finally arrived. Was I going to make 2 kids, 3 suitcases and 2 bags off of one train and onto another in 7 minutes?
The train was late and we didn’t get to Villach until 12:55pm with my second train due to depart at 12:53pm. Thankfully a station staff member told me the train would be waiting for the connection.
The kids did a marvellous job taking care of the 2 wheeled carry-on bags, while I maneuverered the large suitcase, down the stairs and up the other side to platform 2.
We located 1st class fairly easily and surprisingly discovered a 6-seater cabin uninhabited. I placed 1 bag and 2 children in there to stake our claim and then loaded the other bags on.
It was still some minutes before the train, waiting for all passengers, departed. We had nothing to worry about.
There was not any notable difference between 1st and 2nd class on this train, despite being numbered differently. Seeing as it was 1pm I was also kicking myself for not having organised food on the previous train, as this old train contained no bar/restaurant/snack area either. The kids and I had to make do with 3 apples, 3 rice crackers, 3 pieces of cheese and one slice of ham… Oh, and a couple of lollypops to be used as bribes.
The two seats by the window in the cabin laid flat. After reading in the sunlight, the gentle sway of the train lulled me into a quick catnap.
At one of the stations in Croatia, police boarded the train and checked the passports. They seemed fairly interested in when I had arrived in Europe and called my name in, I’m guessing to check my Schengen day limit. I believe I was on 86 (out of 90) and the passports were stamped and handed back.
Tickets were checked once from Vienna to Villach, and 6 times from Villach to Zagreb.
Day 19 (PART B)
Vienna, Austria to Milan, Italy
Josh was travelling to Italy, while we travelled to Croatia.
Taxi to Meidling station to help Erin and the kids get on their train.
Underground train from Miedling station to Westbahnhof.
Train Wien Westbahnhof to Innsbruck HBF – 4 hours and 10 minutes.
Train Innsbruck HBF to Brennero Brenner – 40 minutes.
Train from Brennero Brenner to Verona Porta Nuova – 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Train from Verona Porta Nuova to Milano Centrale – 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Suggested train price (1 person):
First class: €206.40; or
Second class: €133.90
Accommodation: Blogville apartment
The train station at Westbahnhof in Vienna was easy to navigate. I found my way to the Club Lounge for first class and business class passengers. There were a few snacks and drinks available for free along with comfy chairs and a large screen showing the latest train schedule. 10 minutes before my departure I casually walked upstairs to the train platforms, found platform 7, and hopped on board. I felt a little bad how easy it was for me when I knew Erin was struggling with the rest of the bags.
From Wien Westbahnhof to Innsbruck HBF - was a very enjoyable train with power points and comfy seats. Innsbruck was a large train station with plenty of snack options although I didn't have much time until my next train.
From Innsbruck HBF to Brennero Brenner – was a small local train that resembled most typical local city trains in Australia and the US. The seats were ok, nothing flash, and there were no power points, so my laptop went flat by this point (damn, I should have charged it more on the previous train).
Brennero Brenner – was a poor excuse for a train station. It looked like nothing had been maintained or updated in 100 years. The only sign of the modern world was a small, blurry CRT display with the upcoming trains on it. Yes, all 2 trains. The screen made DOS and the original Atari look like cutting edge technology. There weren't even any waiting seats at the station and it was literally deserted. I was expecting a tumbleweed to roll by, which never eventuated. It felt like the start of a horror film, so I just put my headphones on and waited the longest 30 minutes of the whole day, hoping that a chainsaw-wielding psycho or limping zombie wouldn’t show up.
From from Brennero Brenner to Verona Porta Nuova – was a small old train that seemed to be out of a different era. The seats were particularly uncomfortable and I was crossing my fingers the rattling cabins would hold together until we reached the next station. Probably the least pleasant train ride in Europe so far.
From Verona Porta Nuova to Milano Centrale - this was a more modern train again (yay!) with power points. So my laptop came back to life. I had reserved a seat in 1st class (the only paid reservation I've made so far). I used the time to edit photos and blog posts. The sun was setting and made for a beautiful amber glow across the Italian countryside.
Zagreb to Split, Croatia
Hotel cab to the train station.
12:50pm train from to Zagreb Glavni Kolod to Split – 6 hours.
Suggested train price (1 adult and 2 kids):
Second class: €136.20 (Reservation compulsory, booked at Vienna train station - cost €10)
Accommodation: Flipkey apartment
We reached the station with 20 minutes to spare. It was nice to have spare time up our sleeves. Our reserved ticket provided allocated seats, but it was soon obvious there were not many people on the train so we moved to a larger 4-seater table.
Our neighbours were Americans and much of the journey was spent talking to them and helping Mia with her reading book while Caius slept on the spare seats behind us.
We had visited the supermarket the day before sensing the train would be similar to the one we took yesterday without the food cart, so we were well-prepared.
Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia
Cab to train station
Direct train from Zagreb Central Station to Belgrade (Beograd) – 6 hours and 22 minutes
Suggested train price:
No online payment options, but research suggest €60 for 2 people, so about €120 in total for second class.
At the train station in Zagreb we met a fellow Aussie who was on his own epic train journey in eastern Europe. He pulled out his own home-made didgeridoo which captured Caius’ attention... as well as a few passers-by.
We took the 11:10am train to Belgrade. There was no 1st class. The journey was pretty straightforward. We were stopped for our passports and tickets twice, once upon exiting Croatia, once upon entering Serbia.
There were plenty of people smoking on the train, so we deemed it best to sit near an open window.
Helpful tip: some train timetables refer to Belgrade by it’s correct Serbian name which is “Beograd”.
Belgrade, Serbia to Athens, Greece
Direct train from Belgrade to Thessaloniki – 15 hours and 31 mins. *
Suggested train price:
To Serbia €84, bed compartments paid on board €32 (in addition to the actual train ticket), Macedonia tickets €50. Total = about €166 (paid in various local currencies)
Accommodation: Train bed compartment
Once we arrived in Belgrade, we had an hour before our next train. It required a reservation. The queue for international travel took awhile and the staff member told me that the Eurail pass was not valid in Serbia. So after requesting a ticket to Thessaloniki she told me it was €21 each, beds could be purchased on board the train.
Our fault, I had researched the timetables without realising we couldn’t use the Eurail pass in Serbia. So I paid the money and walked to the platform. The conductor showed us the way to a sleeping compartment and said he would come back later.
Meanwhile I rushed out to find some food. None of the eateries in the station accepted foreign currency or credit card, only Serbian dinar, so I exchanged some Swiss Francs I found in Josh’s wallet. There was only one place that sold sandwiches and a mini mart selling crisps. I grabbed 3 sandwiches and a bag of crisps and headed back to the train.
On board the conductor was our “guide” the entire evening. The train left at 6:45pm and about 8:30pm he arrived with sheets, pillows and blankets. The beds were €8 each, which we paid direct to him in cash (he accepted Euros).
We had a compartment to ourselves. It was squishy and the beds were hard, but hey, how much would you pay for a teensy bed on a plane?
Twice during the evening the heaters were turned on transforming the cabin into a sauna. I requested it to be turned off and then waited for the room to cool back down with the window wide open and the train noise filtering in. Boy, did that train driver love to blow his horn! I’ve never heard a horn blown as much on a train as I did that evening.
We all got as much sleep as we could, Josh practically folded in half on his little bed, unable to fully extend his legs. At 3am a knock on the door announced we were in Macedonia and needed our passports. At 3:15am we stopped again for another passport check and a ticket check.
It turned out the tickets I purchased in Serbia were only valid for Serbia, not the whole train ride, so I had to fork out another €17 each (with a discount for kids). Macedonia was also not included on Eurail, although it was not mentioned on the ticket.
Thank God we had spare Euros in our wallet for this trip, it was starting to get pricey.
The train stopped again in the morning for our passport stamp out of Macedonia and then for our stamp into Greece.
The train was super old and pretty dirty. Sheets were holy and scratchy. The toilets (if you dared sit on them) emptied straight onto the tracks. There was no dining cart, which after not many options in Belgrade left everyone starving in the morning, 13 hours into our train journey. We had a packet of potato crisps for breakfast. The kids thought it wonderful, I closed my eyes and pretended it was a big bowl of fruit. I felt like a terrible parent.
We arrived earlier than predicted at Thessaloniki, because there was a timezone change we didn’t realise.
We had completed our epic 15-hour train journey, which was marginally better than an airplane, but ¼ of the price too. (not including what you’d pay for beds on a plane).
Thessaloniki to Athens, Greece
Direct train from platform 2 Thessaloniki to Athens – 5 hours and 20 mins.
Suggested train price:
First class: €110.80 for 2 adult tickets. Could not see discount for kids so all 4 of us was €221.60
Accommodation: Airbnb apartment
When we arrived in Thessaloniki I left Josh with the bags and visited the information desk to find out where the train to Athens left from. She told us platform 2 and asked if I had a ticket, I said I had a Eurail pass and she nodded.
I grabbed a devastatingly expensive lunch from the burger joint in the station, plus a few sandwiches for later not knowing what to expect on the train since the last 15 hour trip had no facilities.
We moved into first class at the back of the train. There was a playroom, much to the delight of my children who had already spent more than 24 hours straight on a train. There was a dining cart and a luggage room.
We later were told it cost €5 per bag to place our luggage in the luggage room so we moved it into our cabin.
It was quite some time later the conductor came to ask for tickets. Once I showed him my Eurail pass he insisted I needed a reservation. During our research we hadn’t come across this and we spent some time arguing back and forth.
He decided he could buy us a reservation for €20 per adult and €10 per child.
“Kids under 6 don’t pay for transport in Greece,” I told him.
“Okay the kids are free, so €20 each for you.”
Suspiciously we decide to pay, but we don’t have 40 euros left after our overnight journey forking out money.
“How much do you have?” He asks.
“We have €32.”
“This will do,” he responds.
Could it get any more suspicious?
About 2 hours into the journey we have to leave first class as someone else arrived with a reserved ticket in our seat. The conductor showed us to 2nd class, which was very similar with perhaps slightly less legroom, but not much else. Oh, and the air conditioning wasn’t as good.
“I will get off at the next stop and buy you a ticket, this way it is not as much as if you bought the ticket in Thessaloniki,” he says.
Okay, so perhaps this is legit?
“I will return with your receipt.”
We never saw him again. And spent the rest of our journey in 2nd class undisturbed.
The whole journey from Serbia to Athens was a money drainer and really left the last of our train travel in Europe with a bad taste in our mouth. It was a combination of being unprepared, under researched, tired and ripped off. The biggest tip we could give for train travel is check your journeys, then check them again and always keep at least €200 spare in your wallet.
* Journeys indicated with an asterisk were covered by city transport cards or cash, not the Eurail pass.
Total rail journeys in 2 months: 26
Total hours spent on train/bus: 72.8
Total individual estimated cost: €2118.60
Total cost on top of the pass: €219.84
A Eurail Global Pass Saver across 2 months for 15 days travel (travelling together on all trips), 2 adults and 2 kids is about €2274.
It seems we would have needed just one more journey to make our Eurail pass worth every cent. However there are several reasons we found the Eurail pass worth more then what we paid. Check out our reasonings in our next post – The real truth about Eurail.
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
Whew! That was one heck of a trip. Im glad the kids didn't mind the hurdles! And looks like they really had fun!
That's an epic trip, Erin. It reminds me of a 48 hour trek I did from Bern in Switzerland to Athens way back in 1988. The train - as shoddy as it was - did have a snack bar but when we noticed the mangy looking cat sitting in the glass case amongst the food, we opted not to buy any!! Like you, we had to survive on rations - 4 apples, 2 sandwiches and a bottle of water between the two of us. Boy were we hungry when we got to Athens! I also vividly remember all those cries of "Passport" in the middle of the night when out passports and tickets had to be checked. Fun times :)
We did Barcelona to Paris and my kids loved it!!! Then again my kids were only 7,5,4 and 2 months at the time, but I'm sure if we did it again they would get a kick out if it!!!
Urrrrgh... We did overnight Reggio Calabria to Venice in our Eurail days. We did 31 trains & 7 countries in 30 days, but that was pre-kids!!! Awesome way to travel
i sure dont miss the overnight trains! lol
If you do a trip in the future, you might want to supplement some of the train rides with discout airlines like ryan air and easy jet. They mostly go to the "big cities" but can be as low as 25 pounds per person. Its worth it based on the time u save traveling. Of course you still need to take a train to the smaller towns. I love italy's train system because cities are all so close! But dang does it get exhausting, and Im always stressed out about missing my connections. Kudoos to your fam such a great adventure!
My advice is NEVER use EURAIL passes.. they are simply resellers.. deal directly with the railway companies like the local do or you will find yourself fined by railway employees due to the complicated ticketing systems and rules contained in their 'deals'
Honesty does not matter...its a licence to print money from fines...ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY..Rob Retired traveller.
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