About the book

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

The new, 16th edition of Europe by Rail was published in mid-October 2019.

A word of welcome

Welcome to the 16th edition of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, which was published on 15 October 2019 and reprinted, with a revised "word of welcome" and other minor updates, in January 2020.

For well 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 2020, highlights the rich and intriguing possibilities that await, whether it be for a handful of short trips or for a more extended tour.

Rail travel is convivial in a way that is nowadays 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 this new edition, we have criss-crossed Europe by train, from fast journeys on sleek expresses to memorably slow meanderings on remote branch lines. We have taken slow trains through Belarus and even slower trains through Bohemia. We’ve also introduced five entirely new routes covering Britain and Ireland. We also reworked our Balkan routes, responding to many reader requests that we 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.

Forces of nationalism threaten to split Europe at the moment. But 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 Brussels and alight next morning in Vienna or the Austrian Tyrol? Or travel from Nice or Paris directly to Russia?

The Interrail pass programme 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. 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. In North America, Rail Europe (which sold the very first Eurail passes way back in 1959) has since the early 1930s played a seminal role in shaping Americans’ perceptions of Europe as a potential travel destination. It was organisations like Rail Europe, along with the Interrail and Eurail schemes, which in their early advertising gave prominence to the journey rather than merely the destination.

The journey or the destination?

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 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 from London and by midafternoon 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 station (13 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, plus either the Rail Map Europe (also published by European Rail Timetable Ltd) or Mike Balls's wonderful European Railway Atlas, 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). And you may like to know that we have a website to accompany this book at www.europebyrail.eu.

Enjoy the ride.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

January 2020