HOW DOES INTERRAIL WORK? A FULL GUIDE TO TRAIN TRAVEL IN EUROPE

Interrail pass how to buy

So, how does Interrail work? This is definitely the question we got asked the most by our readers during the last 2 months of travelling through Europe by train thanks to our Interrail Pass.
And to be honest we asked ourselves the same question when we sat down and had to start planning our own trip.
The Interrail program was launched in 1972. Thought for young Europeans under 21 years of age, it consists in a unique railway ticket that allows unlimited travel through the European Union countries participating in the scheme.
It has then become available to everyone, youths and adults.
Since 2007 the Interrail Global Pass was introduced, including 31 participating nations as of today.
There is also an equivalent version of the pass for non EU residents, which is called Eurail. Both have the same characteristics that we are about to explain.
So without wasting any more time, let’s see the explanation of how the Interrail scheme works.

INDEX:

  1. TWO TYPE OF PASSES: GLOBAL PASS VS ONE COUNTRY PASS
  2. PASS LENGTH: FROM 3 DAYS TO 3 MONTHS!
  3. CONTINUOUS TRAVEL OR FLEXI TRAVEL?
  4. HOW TO FILL IN YOUR INTERRAIL PASS
  5. FARES&DISCOUNTS
  6. WHY SHOULD I BUY A 1ST CLASS PASS?
  7. RESERVATIONS
  8. NIGHT TRAINS
  9. WHERE&HOW TO BOOK: THE RAIL PLANNER APP
  10. NOT ONLY TRAINS: FERRIES AND BUSES
  11. FURTHER INTERRAIL PERKS
  12. USEFUL LINKS

interrail pass how to guide
Our Interrail Global Pass


1. TWO TYPE OF PASSES: GLOBAL PASS VS ONE COUNTRY PASS

Although this may seem so, it is not such an obvious choice.
Most travellers would want to make the most out of their pass and travel to multiple countries. However the One Country Pass is the best option if you are planning to visit one of the big European nations like France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Sweden or Norway, which you can explore easily for weeks.
Furthermore, getting two One Country Passes will be cheaper than buying a Global Pass when visiting two countries only.
From three destinations upwards, the Global Pass will be the cheapest option. With a Global Pass you can reach all of the 30 other nations included in the program.
Remember that travel in your own country with the pass is forbidden, except for your outbound and inbound journey.

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Our Interrail trip has come to an end 🚂 . Some numbers of our trip: -8,000 kilometres across Europe 🛤 -15 countries 🇪🇺 -47 days 🕒 -38 train travels 🚄 -26 cities touched 🏙 -4 currencies used 💶 -11 different languages 🔤 -thousands of photos taken 📸 -endless unforgettable memories ♾️ . This experience with @interraileu has enriched us in so many ways, and now it’s the best moment for YOU to ask all you want to know about our Eurotrip with Interrail! ➡️ Planning, distances, costs, favourite places… Shout it all out! 📣 . We took this photo in #Madrid Atocha train station, one of our favourites overall visited during this trip together with Antwerp Central, Budapest Keleti, Porto Sao Bento and Paris Gare du Lyon. 🏢 . ❓What now? Our Interrail trip may be over but our MILLION TRAVELS surely are not! Check our stories to see where we are these days.👆 . . 🇮🇹 Il nostro viaggio in Interrail è giunto al termine 🚂 . Alcuni numeri del nostro viaggio: -8,000 chilometri attraverso l’Europa 🛤 -15 paesi 🇪🇺 -47 giorni 🕒 -38 viaggi in treno 🚄 -26 città toccate 🏙 -4 valute usate 💶 -11 diverse lingue 🔤 -migliaia di fotografie scattate 📸 -infiniti ricordi indimenticabili ♾️ . Questa esperienza con @interraileu ci ha arricchito in così tanti modi, ed ora è il momento migliore per VOI per chiederci tutto ciò che volete sapere riguardo al nostro viaggio in Europa con Interrail. ➡️La pianificazione, le distanze, i costi, i posti preferiti… Sparate! 📣 . Abbiamo scattato questa foto nella stazione di Madrid Atocha, una delle nostre preferite insieme a Anversa Centrale, Budapest Keleti, Porto Sao Bento e Parigi Gare du Lyon. 🏢 . E adesso? Il nostro Interrail sarà anche finito ma i nostri Million Travels sicuramente non lo sono! Guardate le nostre stories per vedere dove siamo ora!👆 . . _____________ #amilliontravels #interrail #interraileu #interrailpass #interrailing #createyourownstory #traintrip #traintravel #europetrip #europe #europebound #travelblog #travelstory #travelgram #tlpicks #iamtb #travelstoke #instapassport #instatravel #doveviaggi #siviaggia #inviaggio #viaggiointreno #couplegoals #creativetravelcouples #travelcouplesinspiration

Un post condiviso da Ambra&Edo│Travel Couple 🇮🇹 (@amilliontravels) in data:


2. INTERRAIL PASS LENGTH: FROM 3 DAYS TO 3 MONTHS!

Depending on your plans, there are different passes available:

  • 3 days within one month
  • 5 days within one month
  • 7 days within one month
  • 10 days within two months
  • 15 days within two months
  • 15 consecutive days
  • 22 consecutive days
  • 1 consecutive month
  • 2 consecutive months
  • 3 consecutive months

These are pretty much self explanatory, but we do need to explain the difference between Continuous or Flexi options, see next paragraph below.


3. CONTINUOUS TRAVEL OR FLEXI TRAVEL?

The longest options are labelled Continuous Travel. Days go by as normal calendar days, whether you use trains or not.
With one of these solutions you can travel as many days as you like during the period of validity of your pass. This allows you to travel on continuous days and move frequently from place to place. Of course these options are more expensive since you could theoretically take trains everyday for 30 days in a row with a 1 month pass.

The shortest options call for Flexible Travel. You use your days only when you actually use trains.
Flexi travel is ideal if you are in fact flexible, meaning you plan to stop for more days in one place and you don’t necessarily need to take trains every day.
Only days when you actually take a train are counted as days of travel.
Thus, if in a day you take no trains you don’t use your days of travel left.
For example, with a 7 days within one month Flexi Pass, you can visit 7 destinations and stay in average 4-5 days in each place, that’s great value for money!

In any case, you can take unlimited trains on a day of travel.

best destination east europe poland
The lovely Wroclaw, Poland


4. HOW TO FILL IN YOUR INTERRAIL PASS

Your Interrail Pass consists of two sections: the actual ticket on the top, plus the travel calendar on the bottom.
Validating your ticket is not required.
If you have a Flexi Pass, it is compulsory to fill in the upper part of your ticket by pen before or as soon as you get on board. You need to write down the day and month of travel in the appropriate boxes. The ticket inspector will take care of the validation of your ticket.
A Continuous Pass does not require this task, having unlimited days of travel.
For both versions, you then have to fill in the underlying travel calendar with departure and arrival destinations for each train you’ll board, to show to the inspector. This will allow you to keep your itinerary handy.
Besides, by sending for free your own pass to the Interrail headquarters in The Netherlands, who will analyze the most covered routes by users, you’ll receive a gift in exchange.

interrail pass cost price
Time to fill in the pass


5. FARES&DISCOUNTS

As said, Interrail was originally thought for young Europeans looking to travel abroad in their continent. Through the decades, the age limit was raised from 21 to 27.
Nowadays, adults too can buy an Interrail Pass, but special discounted fares still remain for youth, elderly and families.
In details, youths up to 27 years old can get a 25% discount on the standard fare. A Senior Pass gets a 10% off for over 60’s. Up to two children under 11 can travel for free with a Child Pass when accompanied by one adult pass buyer. Children under 4 travel for free with no need of a pass.
Prices go from 50€ for a One Country Pass to 700€ for a 3 months Global Pass. The most sold ticket is the Global Pass valid for 7 days within one month one, which costs 258€.
You can check all the prices here.
In both 2018 and 2019, 50,000 Europeans who turned 18 years old that year, could apply for a free Interrail Pass! Almost certainly the same giveaway will happen in 2020 as well, giving a great opportunity for many young Europeans to travel on trains for free!

how to book interrail ticket
At the Kinderdijk windmills, The Netherlands


6. WHY SHOULD I BUY A 1ST CLASS PASS?

There are several perks of having a 1st class pass.
The most obvious: the comfort of larger seats and more leg room.
The most convenient: 2nd class seats are always the first to sell out, and it could get as worse as be standing on some busy routes, especially in Summer.
1st class carriages are usually less crowded and when seats need to be reserved, they are guaranteed.
Whilst Wi-Fi is either available for the whole train or for nobody, complimentary refreshments are usually provided in 1st class carriages only.
Power supply is almost guaranteed in 1st class, not always in 2nd. Keep this in mind if you like to have you devices charged and running all the time.
Lastly, 1st class Lounge Access is accessible in the biggest European train stations. This might be useful if you have time to kill before boarding your train.


7. RESERVATIONS

With an Interrail Pass you can simply hop on and off most trains. However, for some particular services like high speed and night trains you need a reservation to secure your seat/bed on board.
Reservations are not included in your pass, but can be purchased for a small fee.
In details these are the average reservation fees:
-high speed trains: 6€
-international trains: 15€
-night trains: 20€

Planning in advance is always a good idea. Reservations can also be done prior to your trip and tickets delivered to your door if you want so.
But personally we don’t mind some genuine improvisation, in the end we’re talking about an adventurous journey!
As for all things there are pro’s and con’s and you will have to use your sense of judge depending on the season you will be travelling in. As we were travelling in October/November, we would usually arrive in one city and ask info at the train station on day 1, and end up buying our reservation on day 2 or day 3, or even simply hopping on a train with no reservation when we were sure it was not sold out!
For example, we headed to the counter in Dresden, Germany, 1 hour in advance and were told that a reservation was not necessary as the train wasn’t busy that afternoon.

interrail ticket cost
Madrid-Barcelona reservation ticket (10€)


8. NIGHT TRAINS

Night trains deserve their own paragraph. Despite being labelled as an antiquated way of travelling, they remain fascinating other than a great way to save time. Travelling by night takes you long distances while you sleep, saves you money on accommodation and makes you live a unique experience.
For example you can visit 2 cities in 2 full days and move between them by night while you sleep.
Also, if you have a Flexi Pass and take a sleeper train arriving at your destination in the morning of the following day, only 1 day of travel will be required and not 2. The system works so that travelling by sleeper train between two days doesn’t use an extra day of travel of your pass. So you can travel for more kilometres&time for the value of 1 day!
We arrived in Bratislava from Budapest at 1pm and had over 8 hours to visit the capital of Slovakia. At 10pm, we hopped on our night train from Bratislava to Krakow and reached Poland by 7am. After a good night of sleep we enjoyed the quiet and not busy at all morning to visit the best sights of Krakow peacefully. In total, when travelling from Budapest to Krakow with two different trains between 1pm and 7am the day after, we only used 1 day of travel of our Interrail Pass.


9. WHERE&HOW TO BOOK: THE RAIL PLANNER APP

There are few different ways to book your reservations.
the good old way: by person at the counter at any train station, showing your Interrail Pass details;
the gool old way, 2.0: by phone. You can find the list of various call centers here;
-the modern way: online. Booking online is possible, unfortunately since Interrail scheme includes dozens of different Railway companies, both national and private, there is not a unique reservation system. This means that:
-some trains are bookable with the Rail Planner App, a great intuitive app that shows the best routes, with timetables available offline too;
-other trains are bookable on each country’s website. Each national railway website usually has a section for Interrail users;
-some other (few) trains require booking in advance and on request, providing for sending the physical ticket to your preferred address (home, hotel, hostel, etc.). But this takes us back to the previous point where we talked about improvising and self problem solving at the train station.

OUR TIP: unless you have a super tight schedule where you need each single trip booked in advance, get the info you need for your next train trip from time to time. After all, you’ll reach every new city via a train station, so a quick stop at the counter will solve your questions in a matter of few minutes.

most beautiful european train station
At Budapest Keleti railway station, Hungary


10. NOT ONLY TRAINS: FERRIES AND BUSES

Last but not least, Interrail can take you to every corner of the 31 countries participating in the scheme.
This includes places where rails can’t reach, i.e. islands and unwelcoming landscapes, which you can get to by ferry or by bus.
Above all, we mention the beautiful Greek islands. As many as 53 islands are connected by ferry via The Interrail Greek Island Pass.
Other panoramic transfers with discounted fares thanks to your Interrail Pass include sea routes between Baltic and Scandinavian countries (Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Norway), towards Great Britain and Ireland, and to the Balearic Islands.

interrail countries map
The Interrail Railway Map


11. FURTHER INTERRAIL PERKS

The perks don’t end here, there are further reasons why Interrail is a perfect tool for travelling Europe, both economical and practical.
With an Interrail Pass you can get discounts for city’s attractions, hotels, hostels, museums, city tours, bike rental, guides and many more services.
It goes without saying that train travelling helps reducing CO2 emissions and is the most eco-sustainable mean of transport.
Trains are always spacious and allow you to travel comfortably, doing any activity from reading, sleeping, using your devices, writing.
Compared to plane travel, you won’t have to waste time on airport security. There are no restrictions on luggage, and when you reach your destinations you are actually in the city centre, not in a 30-40km away airport!
And of course you can always look out the window and take in the various scenery of countryside, seaside and the mountain views Europe has to offer.
Lastly, the value of human experiences you’ll do during your trip is something you can’t put a price tag on: getting to know other cultures, learning history, making new friends, creating unforgettable memories, and appreciating that feeling of European Union.

We hope we helped you clearing your mind about Interrail and wish you an epic trip discovering Europe!

austria interrail pass
Austrian landscapes between Graz and Vienna

WHERE TO BUY YOUR INTERRAIL PASS?

Head to Interrail.eu and choose the option that better suits your needs.

WHERE TO SLEEP DURING THE INTERRAIL?

USEFUL LINKS

Useful websites and links to browse during your Interrail trip:

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.

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