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Travelling across Europe by train? These are the best rail passes you can buy

There are a lot of deals on offer if you are planning to stick to trains in just one country.
There are a lot of deals on offer if you are planning to stick to trains in just one country.   -   Copyright  Pexels
By Charlotte Elton

Generations of travellers have used rail passes to travel across Europe. 

As consumers call for more sustainable travel, rail is an increasingly attractive option. Between 2005 and 2018, sales of Interrail passes, which allow you to travel on almost all trains in Europe, tripled.

This is great news for the planet.

According to the European Environment Agency, rail travel accounts for 14 grams of CO2 emissions per passenger mile. Air travel generates 285 grams per passenger mile.

An Interrail Pass is a good option if you are looking to travel across different countries. It allows you to travel on almost all trains in Europe with access to 40 railway and ferry companies in 33 countries. 

The rail pass is available to both European residents and non-Europeans who are legal residents. You can board most trains by showing staff your Interrail pass on your phone and prices start from €185 for two or more countries. 

But what about if you are sticking to just one country?

What are the best national rail passes?

If you’re sticking to one country on your European adventure, it’s worth checking out national passes.

Interrail offers “one country passes.” Passengers on this ticket can book 3, 4, 6 or 8 days of travel around a nation of choice.

But national rail companies have their own passes, which can cut out the costly seat-reservation fees (up to €20) that train providers sometimes levy on Interrail pass holders.

Unfortunately, France doesn’t have a whole country pass alternative to the Interrail pass. But other major European destinations do, so read on for all the details.

National rail pass in Italy

Canva / Xantana
Rome is one of the many cities you can visit with a rail passCanva / Xantana

Craving a glass of vino under the Mediterranean sun?

Italy’s national rail provider offers their own rail pass - the “Trenitalia pass” - for anyone resident outside Italy.

Unlike Interrail, it only covers Trenitalia high-speed, Intercity and sleeper trains. Regional trains are excluded, but costly seat-reservation fees are lifted.

Passengers buy a specific number of journeys (3, 4, 7 or 10 trips) in a set period of time. Prices start at €129.

Senior and youth versions are available and up to two children under 12 can be added to an adult pass for free.

National rail pass in Germany

Go from partying in Berlin to hiking in the Bavarian mountains with a German Rail Pass.

Non-German residents can purchase various consecutive or any-day passes, allowing unlimited travel on Deutsche Bahn trains for set periods within a month. Seat reservation fees are optional on most German trains.

Prices range from €182 to €470, and 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, and 15 day passes are available.

National rail pass in Spain

Canva/ Mario Guti
Spain's national rail provider Renfe offers its own passCanva/ Mario Guti

Non-Spanish residents can purchase the Renfe Spain pass. Travellers can buy either 4, 6, 8 or 10 individual one-way train journeys of any length in a one-month period. These journeys are valid on all of Renfe's long-distance and medium-distance trains. The cost of the pass covers all booking fees.

Unlike the Interrail pass, it does not offer unlimited travel over the course of a day - if you change trains, that will count as two journeys. On the interrail pass, if you book a day of travel, you can take as many trains as you want.

Renfe pass prices range from €180 to €210.

Travel passes in Switzerland

Tourists in Switzerland can buy a Swiss Travel pass. This gives unlimited travel on the Swiss rail network over a continuous period of 3 days, 4 days, 8 days or 15 days.

A Swiss Flexi pass offers unlimited travel across the Swiss rail system for either 3, 4, 8 or 15 travel days with an overall period of a month.

Prices range from €232 to €439 for a second class ticket.