About the book

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

The 15th edition of Europe by Rail was published in November 2017. That 15th edition was reprinted with timetable updates and other amendments in spring 2018.

A word of welcome

For two decades, successive editions of Europe by Rail have shaped travellers’ plans, encouraging readers to be more adventurous when exploring the continent. With tips on ticketing, fares and accommodation, Europe by Rail has become the definitive guide to exploring Europe by train. This 15th edition of the book includes new routes highlighting 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 (such as TGV and AVE services in France and Spain respectively) to memorably slow meanderings on remote branch lines. We have taken slow trains through Belarus and even slower trains through Bohemia.

We’ve joined comrades following all or part of the rail route taken by Lenin as he returned from exile in Switzerland to Russia in 1917 – the Bolshevik Revolution was in full flow 100 years ago, so we’ve recast Route 30, so that it now extends to St Petersburg. Elsewhere in this new edition, we’ve improved coverage of the Baltic region and the Balkans, provided updates on Eurostar and French TGV services, and have included many new accommodation options, favouring hotels which are close to railway stations and have a touch of character.

The Bolshevik Revolution split Europe. 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 the Rhineland and alight next morning in the Austrian Tyrol? Or travel from Nice or Paris directly to Russia?

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 those destinations have become fewer and fewer.

In travelling by train around Europe, it is possible to rediscover the sheer enjoyment of the journey itself. Trains are fun. So in Europe by Rail we put the journey at the centre. We present 50 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 50 routes, we offer 26 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 50 routes.

Travel by train across Europe and you will inevitably be struck by the sheer variety of our continent. Our 50 routes reflect that mix. We include some high-speed hops, where you can cover a lot of ground fast. Wherever we can, we 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 folk 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 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 pp485–87.

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

We kick off in Route 1 with a trip on Eurostar from London to Paris. Well are we aware that Britain deserves more coverage (even in this Brexit era). So for the 16th edition of Europe by Rail we are planning a number of new routes to cover Britain and Ireland.

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. Savvy travellers nowadays realise that the journey is something to be savoured in its own right.

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. Exploring Europe by rail is a great way to put slow travel principles into practice.

If the mid-19th century was the heyday of railway development, this second decade of the 21st century is a new Golden Age for leisure travel by train. Across much of Europe, the train is back in vogue. Rail travel is often modestly priced, generally very comfortable and appeals to the pieties of a new generation of travellers worried about environmental issues. It was surely not by chance that the very first public Eurostar train to leave London’s magnificently refurbished St Pancras International station (ten years ago in November 2007) was powered by two engines with the names Tread Lightly and Voyage Vert. The train comes with impeccable green credentials – and Eurostar still strongly plays the environmental card.

Practicalities

Travel light if you possibly can. Heavy luggage and trains do not make good companions. Take this book along of course, and do not 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. 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’ (p10). You will find useful maps on the inside front cover and inside back cover showing the routes in this volume (numbered 1 to 50). And you may like to know that we have a website to accompany this book at www.europebyrail.eu.

A word of thanks

We offer our sincere thanks to the many writers who contributed to earlier editions of the book, so helping shape a volume which has evolved over 20 years. Thanks are due to David McCutcheon of DVD maps for producing the colour overview maps which appear on the inside front and back covers of this edition. We also wish to thank Murray Mahon and Chris McLaren of SaltWay Global Ltd for handling the worldwide distribution of Europe by Rail. And a special word of thanks to Martyn Chapman of Orca Book Services Ltd for his enthusiasm for the title and for introducing us to SaltWay.

Enjoy the ride.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
April 2018