European nations are always enhancing their intercity rail networks and high-speed trains have slashed journey occasions across the continent. Spain alone has constructed 3,000km of monitor for trains travelling at speeds as much as 300km/h.

This spring, rail journey will develop into much more handy because the Spanish and French rail networks combine, permitting passengers in a single nation to journey by high-speed rail to a significant metropolis within the different. In mid-April, France’s state-owned rail firm SNCF plans to start out working high-speed service between Paris and Barcelona, whereas Spain’s nationwide practice operator RENFE has already debuted high-speed service between Barcelona and Madrid. Last particulars have but to be introduced, but it surely appears cheap to foretell a journey time between Paris and Madrid of 9 hours; driving the same route would take about 15.

Europe’s different current high-speed rail revolutions embrace the April 2012 debut of Italo, a privately-run service that connects Milan, Rome and Naples, and the December 2011 launch of Westbahn, a privately-run practice service between Vienna and Salzburg.

However regardless of the large reputation of touring Europe by rail, main on-line journey companies corresponding to Expedia and Hotwire don’t promote European rail tickets. From a one-way journey to a fancy multi-country journey, the broadest choices and best-priced tickets can often solely be discovered on a couple of regional websites.

Search for single-country reductions
In case you’re visiting a significant European nation and plan to see multiple metropolis inside it, you’ll save considerably by reserving a single-country go, which gives international travellers hop-on, hop-off use for a specified variety of days and are offered by most nationwide railway firms.

Railways usually don’t require reservations trains prematurely, so the passes enable flexibility for final minute planning. And the rail networks often allow you to pay in your individual foreign money, serving to you keep away from international alternate charges. They’ll additionally mail the tickets to main nations totally free.

Say that you simply and one other grownup are planning to go to Germany in Might, stopping in Cologne, Berlin, Munich, the well-known Neuschwanstein Fortress (close to Füssen) and Frankfurt Airport. In line with the gives web page of Germany’s state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn, non-Europeans should buy “twin” passes – tickets good for a pair of travellers – for a multi-city itinerary for $371, or about $185 an individual. As compared, a German utilizing the location to e-book point-to-point tickets would pay 188 euro, or about $250 per grownup – which might be a few third greater than the go supplied to non-Europeans.

Europeans can as a substitute make the most of Germany’s nationwide rail card, such because the BahnCard 25, which offers a 25% low cost, justifying its 60 euro value when you spend greater than 200 euro a yr on practice journeys. That mentioned, it is uncommon for a nation to supply such a card.

Most of Europe’s nationwide railways have comparable English-language supply web sites, together with SNCF’s particular offers web page, RENFE’s Spain Move web page, Italian railway firm Trenitalia’s gives web page and the web site of Britain’s Affiliation of Prepare Working Firms, BritRail, together with Community Rail Enquiries.

In case your itinerary entails journey via multiple nation, you might also save by visiting multiple web site to purchase your tickets. For example, to journey on a route from London to Good, you could possibly e-book a ticket on the Eurostar line between London and Paris after which e-book your onward journey on the TGV, France’s high-speed rail.

Save by reserving direct
Closely marketed third-party companies, corresponding to, Railbookers and Raileasy, usually don’t supply the most effective worth for travellers. Particularly for easy journeys, corresponding to a one-way ticket between cities, you’ll sometimes save by shopping for on-line immediately from a railway firm. However when you’re wanting time and don’t have the persistence for comparison-shopping, these third-party companies are dependable and straightforward to grasp.

As an example, let’s check out the identical Might itinerary for 5 German cities. In case you have been to cost the journey via RailEurope, you’d simply discover the identical Deutsche Bahn twin go for under $466, or $233 an individual — 25% costlier than reserving immediately. Alternatively, when you hadn’t identified to verify Deutsche Bahn’s separate “gives” web page, the low cost wouldn’t have appeared consequently. Deutsche Bahn’s principal reserving instrument doesn’t routinely present non-residents the discounted charges they qualify for.

Finest websites for timetables
For pricing tickets, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn’s web site (and its free DB Navigator app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry units) has probably the most complete timetable database for practically all of Europe. As a draw back, the location solely permits you to e-book Deutsche Bahn trains and a handful of worldwide journeys that originate in Germany; the schedule data for different nationwide strains is for planning functions solely. For assist, see creator Rick Steves’ recommendations on utilizing the Deutsche Bahn web site and the app.

One other good useful resource isThe Man in Seat 61, probably the most complete web site for serving to travellers plan rail journeys worldwide. The positioning is so named as a result of its creator, Mark Smith, is a former supervisor within the rail business who most well-liked seat 61 on his Eurostar journeys due to its superior top quality window view.

To go, or to not go?
Many international guests nonetheless consider Eurail – an organization that sells European rail passes to non-European residents at dramatically discounted charges – as a 1980s exercise for younger backpackers. However Eurail passes, which permit for practically limitless journey between specified nations inside a set time interval, have matured. Grownup first-class choices, for instance, be certain that the opposite individuals in your practice automobile shall be equally grown up. That mentioned, Eurail nonetheless gives dramatic reductions on standard-class tickets for individuals below age 25.

Eurail is frequently broadening its protection space, just lately welcoming two extra firms to its lengthy roster of practice strains. As of 1 January, some Eurail passes, such because the Eurail Choose Move (for journey in as much as 5 nations), are good on Westbahn’s high-speed service between Salzburg and Vienna and on European routes to Istanbul which can be operated by TCDD, the Turkish state railway.

However passes aren’t at all times the reply. In case you’re travelling in Europe for lower than 10 days consecutively and never crossing many borders, you are unlikely to get probably the most worth out of a Eurail go. As an alternative, you’ll often discover a higher cut price reserving point-to-point tickets immediately with the nation’s railway firm.

InterRail is like Eurail for Europeans, and it really works a lot the identical means. InterRail passes are available two sorts: a world go, which covers 30 nations for varied lengths of time (the briefest being any 5 days of journey inside a 10-day interval), and single-country passes for every of 27 nations (with Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg counting as a single “nation”). Reservations are solely required for worldwide and long-distance trains, although these can usually be booked a couple of hours previous to departure.

Sean O’Neill is the journey tech columnist for BBC Journey

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