You may have heard of ‘Interrailing’, the act of travelling through Europe using the extensive rail network with a train ticket known as an Interrailing pass. What you may not know is that Interrailing has been around for over fifty years.
The first Interrail Passes were sold in March 1972 and started a revolution for affordable travel, with ‘Interrailing’ quickly picked up by young people as the tickets were limited to travellers aged 21 or under, allowing them buy a £27.50 ticket for unlimited travel across Europe by train for a full month. Interrailing for young people was a rite of passage and often the first big trip away from home without parents!
The Interrail pass was dreamed up by the International Union of Railways (UIC), a body overseeing Europe’s railways at that time. Last year Interrail celebrated its 50th Anniversary and as more travellers are making the sustainable choice to travel by rail, moving away from short haul flights where possible, it is sure to carry on for another fifty years.
For those of us that Interrailing passed by in our youth, never fear, you can buy an Interrail pass as it is now open to anyone, whatever your age, as age limits were dropped in 1998. Nowadays, there’s also a greater range of Interrailing options that you can choose from, based on the number of travel days and class of ticket.
There are now thirty-three countries currently serviced by Eurail: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Some of the trains in Europe require a reservation (a guaranteed or ‘reserved’ seat), meaning you need it to board the train. This includes high-speed and night trains and many trains in France, Italy, and Spain.
If want to explore just one country like Italy or France, then the one country pass is your best option, or if you’re looking for the true travel experience, then a Global Pass is the ticket for you as you can access up to 37 railway and ferry companies in 30 countries.
So where would you go on your Interrailing trip round Europe? How about the Balkans, visiting Croatia, Belgrade, Montenegro and Split, or maybe a journey through Scandinavia: Copenhagen; Denmark; Oslo and Bergen?
European Cities – Paris to Zürich
Night trains are a great way to journey through some of Europe’s major cities. Not only are they a comfortable way to travel, but you can go to sleep in one city and wake up in another.
Start off in Paris, pass by the Eiffel Tower, visit the Louvre (make sure you book ahead), say hello to the Mona Lisa and then take a stroll through the Tuileries Garden before heading down the Place de la Concorde. Walk across the Pont Neuf, one of the oldest bridges in the city spanning the River Seine, even though its name means ‘new bridge’.
There are two islands that sit in the middle of the Seine, the Île Saint-Louis and the Île de la Cité, both of which have some of the finest monuments in Paris. Île de la Cité, renowned as the birthplace of Paris, is where Sainte-Chapelle, a Royal chapel in the Gothic style with an amazing interior of golden Gothic arches and 1,113 stained glass windows, is situated. Unfortunately the Notre Dame Cathedral was destroyed by fire recently so you won’t be able to visit, but you can still admire the façade. Once you’ve had your fill of Paris, you can take the Thello night train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Venice Santa Lucia in a journey that will take just over fourteen hours.
There is plenty to see during one day in the ‘Floating City’. It goes without saying that you should visit St. Mark’s square, (Piazza San Marco) surrounded by restaurants, museums and shops. Visit the grand pink Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), and take a lift up to the top of the Campanile di San Marco, the large bell tower at the corner of the square, for some incredible views. Wander over the bridges and canals, maybe take a ride in a gondola, and then head back to the station. The ÖBB Nightjet will take you from Venice Santa Lucia to Vienna Centrale in just under eleven hours.
Wake up in the beautiful ‘City of Music’. If you visit during the winter months of November and December you will be able to explore some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. The city is home to some majestic buildings, including the famous Schönbrunn palace and St. Stephens Cathedral, the seat of the Catholic Church in Vienna, where you can climb the north tower for an amazing view of Vienna’s skyline. Make your way over to the exciting art area near the Imperial Palace. The MuseumsQuartier (MQ) is one of the largest cultural quarters in the world featuring a group of classic and contemporary exhibition spaces joined together around a public piazza, and includes renowned museums such as the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Top off your stay in style with a night at the Vienna State Opera House, one of the most famous and fabulous opera houses in the world, and then board the ÖBB Nightjet and sleep tight from Vienna Centrale to Berlin Hbf which will take just over eleven hours.
Berlin is a buzzing, modern city with a rich history. A must-see is Museum Island located in the city centre containing a unique ensemble of five museums. The entire complex is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The East Side Gallery is the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall and is where more than 100 artists from over 20 countries decorated this stretch of the hinterland wall with their art works in 1990. Other key sites in the history of Berlin are Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.
The final destination on your Interrailing trip could be Zürich. The ÖBB Nightjet will take you from Berlin Hbf to Zürich HB in around twelve hours. Visit the charming and picturesque Old Town, take a leisurely boat trip on the River Limmat past some of the most beautiful sights of Zürich. Walk along the promenade for the best views of Lake Zürich and make sure you end your European Interrailing with a visit to the Lindt Home of Chocolate with the world’s highest free standing chocolate fountain and a chance for some delicious chocolate tasting.
An Interrail Pass, (Interrail.eu) can be used by European citizens. Non-European citizens can use a Eurail Pass instead, (Eurail.com) for the same price as an Interrail Pass. Reservations are required and can usually be booked several months in advance.