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Old Mar 14, 11, 5:54 pm   #1
 
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Europe by Plane or Train??

Ok so I have booked my flight to europe (I am flying in and out of Berlin)... and now I want to get around Europe and I thought that a rail pass would be a clear cut winner... until I checked the airfares and checked the reservation fees for some of the trains.... I will be in Europe for about 2 and a half weeks and plan on seeing the following cities: Berlin, Zurich, Rome, Paris and Barcelona (Berlin and Zurich are set in stone as I have to be in Berlin first for about 5 days then Zurich next).

Now I checked the best rail pass and determined that using a 15 day saver pass was the best deal at around $635 USD. Now I had planned on taking night trains so I would have enough time in each city however I discovered that the fees on these trains, even with a rail pass, could add up. I looked at a train from Paris to Barcelona and the fee was $120+ per person and from Paris back to Berlin is $230+. Now I know that these trains include a bed but if I was already in the city I could probably find cheaper places to stay than on the train (I plan on staying in cheap hostels).

I looked online and found that I could fly (via swiss airlines and lufthansa) to all of these cities for about $850-$900 USD. also these flights arrived at their destinations much sooner. Now, I realize that trains are more relaxing and you can see a lot (during the day) however I am on a schedule and I think the train will take too long and is more expensive. If I fly I will be able to see more in each city I travel to, therefore I am leaning towards flying rather than taking trains.

I have a few questions that I am concerned with, in order to decide whether or not to fly everywhere:

1. How much are train tickets within these cities (i.e. how much will I spend in train tickets inside Rome for 2 or 3 days).

2. What is a good average cost for hostels in these cities (i.e. 30-35 euros). I will look closely after I decide but I want a good estimate for gauging the difference in costs whether or not to fly.

3. How hard is it to buy train tickets in these cities (I pretty much am only fluent in English and I understand having a railpass would be very convenient just getting around a city)

4. (Kind of unrelated but I am curious) when I am traveling to other cities and staying in Hostels, is there somewhere I can leave my bags for the times I am touring around (i.e. can I leave my bags at a Hostel the morning before I stay there or are there lockers anywhere at train stations/elsewhere)
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Old Mar 14, 11, 6:30 pm   #2
 
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Check out seat61.com for excellent advice on traveling around Europe (and the rest of the world come to that) by train.

Whilst it's written from the point of view of an Englishman I doubt there is a better general independent rail travel site out there.
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Old Mar 14, 11, 6:39 pm   #3
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I'd think flying superior for a number of those sectors simply based on time saved.
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Old Mar 14, 11, 8:35 pm   #4
 
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I lived one year near Paris, and traveled in Europe (to the 5 cities you mentioned) during that time. Even if train services are excellent, for a great number of international routes flying will be cheaper/more convenient. Between Rome and Paris, night train will be a little cheaper than plane, but 14 hours is way too long.

Rail passes are often not worth it because of high reservation fees for main international routes or night trains. Within a country, no reservation needed or low fees for main lines (e.g. Germany no reservation needed, France €3 off-peak...). You can get the information about the fees on the Internet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pretender_2002 View Post
I have a few questions that I am concerned with, in order to decide whether or not to fly everywhere:

1. How much are train tickets within these cities (i.e. how much will I spend in train tickets inside Rome for 2 or 3 days).
Really depends of the city. Sometimes it is better to take day/2-day/3-day passes (like in Berlin, maybe €15 for 3 days, just a guess), or often 10 tickets/T-10 (Paris (€12), Barcelona (€9)) when passes are expensive. Some museum passes include public transport (Zurich (CHF 18-19)), and even the train to the airport (Zurich too, else CHF 6-7). Check at the ticket machine for the prices.

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Originally Posted by pretender_2002 View Post
2. What is a good average cost for hostels in these cities (i.e. 30-35 euros). I will look closely after I decide but I want a good estimate for gauging the difference in costs whether or not to fly.
One advice: book in advance, you will save. There is some competition

In Berlin, paid €10 per night because I booked in advance.
In Zurich, paid CHF 35, but there was only 2 hostels, so if they are full, you're stuck. No savings here.
In Rome, no difference booked or not but I was is a more comfortable place (€28). I think €20-25 is possible there.
In Barcelona, didn't have a reservation and after wandering around I ended up in an expensive and poor hostel (€25). Something like €18-20 is possible if you book.

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Originally Posted by pretender_2002 View Post
3. How hard is it to buy train tickets in these cities (I pretty much am only fluent in English and I understand having a railpass would be very convenient just getting around a city)
Use the machines for public transport within a city, just change the language to "English". For intercity travel, there are "international desks" in Germany (English is not always spoken at all service desks), elsewhere I didn't have problems.

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Originally Posted by pretender_2002 View Post
4. (Kind of unrelated but I am curious) when I am traveling to other cities and staying in Hostels, is there somewhere I can leave my bags for the times I am touring around (i.e. can I leave my bags at a Hostel the morning before I stay there or are there lockers anywhere at train stations/elsewhere)
There are lockers in the train stations, but hostels will often keep your luggage for free.
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Old Mar 15, 11, 3:23 am   #5
 
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The supplement for the Paris-Berlin sleeper (or any operated by City Night Line) with a railpass is fixed at €65 if sharing a compartment, or €105 for a single-use compartment, and can be booked easily on-line on the DB (German railways) website.

For getting around within cities, remember a railpass will generally only cover the train services provided by the national operator (for example, S-Bahn trains in German cities), and not other forms of transport (trams, metro or U-bahn). Consequently, it is of limited use. You will find this especially in Rome - you would be unlikely to use the local train service (except if you did fly instead - to go to/from the airport).
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Old Mar 15, 11, 11:21 am   #6
 
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Originally Posted by DownTheRappitHole View Post
I'd think flying superior for a number of those sectors simply based on time saved.
This what I was thinking, but not only this the flying may even be cheaper when you factor in all the other costs (i.e. reservation fees for night trains)...

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Originally Posted by baby_tux View Post
Rail passes are often not worth it because of high reservation fees for main international routes or night trains. Within a country, no reservation needed or low fees for main lines (e.g. Germany no reservation needed, France €3 off-peak...). You can get the information about the fees on the Internet.

Really depends of the city. Sometimes it is better to take day/2-day/3-day passes (like in Berlin, maybe €15 for 3 days, just a guess), or often 10 tickets/T-10 (Paris (€12), Barcelona (€9)) when passes are expensive. Some museum passes include public transport (Zurich (CHF 18-19)), and even the train to the airport (Zurich too, else CHF 6-7). Check at the ticket machine for the prices.

One advice: book in advance, you will save. There is some competition

In Berlin, paid €10 per night because I booked in advance.
In Zurich, paid CHF 35, but there was only 2 hostels, so if they are full, you're stuck. No savings here.
In Rome, no difference booked or not but I was is a more comfortable place (€28). I think €20-25 is possible there.
In Barcelona, didn't have a reservation and after wandering around I ended up in an expensive and poor hostel (€25). Something like €18-20 is possible if you book.

There are lockers in the train stations, but hostels will often keep your luggage for free.
Great information thanks a ton... Sounds like I can save a lot on hostels, I am definitely gonna be doing some heavy planning... It sounds like the trains within the city are definitely affordable and if a rail pass isn't going to cover all the local trains either it gives me more reason to chose to fly and just pay the local train fees.

Quote:
Originally Posted by railways View Post
The supplement for the Paris-Berlin sleeper (or any operated by City Night Line) with a railpass is fixed at €65 if sharing a compartment, or €105 for a single-use compartment, and can be booked easily on-line on the DB (German railways) website.

For getting around within cities, remember a railpass will generally only cover the train services provided by the national operator (for example, S-Bahn trains in German cities), and not other forms of transport (trams, metro or U-bahn). Consequently, it is of limited use. You will find this especially in Rome - you would be unlikely to use the local train service (except if you did fly instead - to go to/from the airport).
Good to know... I think I have pretty much decided to fly, it works within the same budget as the rail pass but it saves alot of time... plus as you said I an use any local train regardless of the carrier once I am there, provided the fees are minimal.
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Old Mar 15, 11, 1:44 pm   #7
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pretender_2002 View Post
I will be in Europe for about 2 and a half weeks and plan on seeing the following cities: Berlin, Zurich, Rome, Paris and Barcelona (Berlin and Zurich are set in stone as I have to be in Berlin first for about 5 days then Zurich next).
OK/Now/So - irrespective of train or plane, you seem to be allowing only 12 days to visit Rome-Paris-Barcelona. A little ambitious? Even if you take the one hour plane ride between each city which actually means half-a-day in and half-a-day out, that's not much time to take in any glory...
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Old Mar 16, 11, 1:35 pm   #8
 
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If you consider flying you might want to check out Ryanair.com.

It's a very basic airline, but they normally have HUGE sales. Just a quick example that I looked up: a airfare between Rome Ciampino (which is actually closer to the city than FIU) and Barcelona in May was only 30 euro (this excludes a 10 euro booking fee and any baggage costs).

Not everyone fancies Ryanair (or their competitor easyJet) but, I have to say that I never had any problems flying with them. You just have to "fly by their rules".
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Old Mar 17, 11, 6:26 am   #9
 
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Not everyone fancies Ryanair (or their competitor easyJet) but, I have to say that I never had any problems flying with them. You just have to "fly by their rules".
I wouldn't call them competitors any more. easyJet is a vastly, vastly higher quality operation, but has the higher fares to go with it. It's still a low-cost, and still has that sort of fares structure and its "rules" (e.g. *very* strictly one piece of hand luggage), but its competitors are far more likely to be BA etc than Ryanair, which has stuck with its "smaller airports, very low fares" approach.

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Old Mar 17, 11, 6:59 pm   #10
 
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I agree with Neil. Ryanair and easyJet have different business models. However, other smaller airline will compete with one or the other. For example, Vueling's business model is closer to easyJet's one (I think so, didn't travel with them).

To the OP: Ryanair flies to further, smaller airports. As you have a short time in each city, transfers are longer (except for Rome, CIA actually closer than FIU, and public buses are available). But AFAIK for Barcelona and Paris, the transfer time is quite long. And consider the price of the bus in your budget. It was €15 one way in Paris (the most expensive AFAIK).
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Old Mar 18, 11, 4:13 am   #11
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Originally Posted by baby_tux View Post
But AFAIK for Barcelona and Paris, the transfer time is quite long. And consider the price of the bus in your budget.
For Barcelona it's far away if you fly to Girona or Reus, but Ryanair flies to BCN from some destinations, so it depends.
The Girona - Barcelona bus is 21€ for the return trip, but as the flight only cost me 6€ each way it kind of evened out in the end.
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Old Mar 18, 11, 9:12 am   #12
 
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Originally Posted by Kettering Northants QC View Post
Check out seat61.com for excellent advice on traveling around Europe (and the rest of the world come to that) by train.

Whilst it's written from the point of view of an Englishman I doubt there is a better general independent rail travel site out there.
Thank you for that. And you're right, it's probably one of the best rail travel sites I have ever seen.
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Old Mar 23, 11, 6:32 am   #13
 
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Ryanair is definitely an option, but you have to keep in mind that only one piece of handluggage (and maximum 10kg – they check the wight of your handluggage) is free! You can check up to a bag of 15 kg for a fee of 15€ or 20kg for 25€ and if necessary a second bag of up to 15 kg for 35€. If your luggage exceeds (even if only slightly) the weight limits, it gets expensive!
A cheap Ryanair flight can turn into a rip-off quickly that way! But keeping that all in mind you can catch great cheap fares – I flew all around Europe with Ryanair for 1 € (sometimes even less) oneway many times.
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Old Apr 8, 11, 6:32 am   #14
 
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Thumbs down Beware of seat61

Seat61 is a good website, but it is a a mix of a fansite that got commercial. In that sense, its author proposes journeys that are absolutely ridiculous as a practical matter, like travelling from London to Rome by train.

He also downplays the hell that is station transfer in Paris via subway, particularly if you have luggage, and usually understate the danger travelers incur if they buy tight connections with different train companies - one gets late, you lose your connection.

That site has a great selection of links and how-to-do guides for buying tickets online, but I'd not jump in the wagon (pun intended) of its "fan" side that promotes 16h train journeys as opposed to 2h30 flights as normal decisions. He also ignores the fact more and more train companies are curtailing seat pitches in 2nd class.
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Old Apr 8, 11, 7:34 am   #15
 
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Seat61 is a good website, but it is a a mix of a fansite that got commercial.
It's a site about rail travel, and a very comprehensive one at that. It isn't a site about air travel, or indeed travel in general. You can't therefore expect it to say "don't do that, fly instead". Everyone knows you can get from A to B in Europe quickly and cheaply by air, and the information on that is easily accessible. Seat 61 only comes in if you're wanting to know about rail.

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In that sense, its author proposes journeys that are absolutely ridiculous as a practical matter, like travelling from London to Rome by train.
There is nothing ridiculous about it at all, if you have the time. As a student, I used to do lots of that sort of travel, and it was really enjoyable. Nowadays I don't have time. Horses for courses.

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He also downplays the hell that is station transfer in Paris via subway, particularly if you have luggage
I wouldn't call it hell. It's just a bit of a pain, like London is. If it's that bad for you, take a taxi.

Don't, of course, forget the "hell" that some airports can be!

Quote:
and usually understate the danger travelers incur if they buy tight connections with different train companies - one gets late, you lose your connection.
If you mean "you have to pay again", usually not. The European railways have signed up to what is called CIV, which basically gives you the right of re-accommodation on the next available train. This applies to any international journey booked (not necessarily ticketed[1]) as such, though in reality it's applied even if you booked it in separate parts so long as it is the railway that is at fault. And I don't mean in the Ryanair sense of the phrase, I mean "if you missed the connection because the train was late".

The UK can be the exception to this happy situation at times, in that TOCs can be awkward where an Advance ticketed train was missed because of Eurostar. But even then not always. And Eurostar themselves are known for being accommodating of delays.

[1] Many European trains, particularly high-speed and night trains, have what are called "global fares", which means a through ticket does not exist, so they're hardly going to penalise you for not having one.

Quote:
That site has a great selection of links and how-to-do guides for buying tickets online, but I'd not jump in the wagon (pun intended) of its "fan" side that promotes 16h train journeys as opposed to 2h30 flights as normal decisions.
There's nothing abnormal about it for people who have time, enjoy the adventure, enjoy how civilised it can be[1] or don't like flying.

[1] On one trip from Salzburg to Liverpool, I reckon the best bit was waking up early as we proceeded down the scenic banks of the Rhein, and wandering along to the restaurant car for a leisurely breakfast served on real crockery. I thought at the time - this beats flying. I still think that - I just don't have time for it, sadly.

Quote:
He also ignores the fact more and more train companies are curtailing seat pitches in 2nd class.
Not to the point the airlines are doing. And, except on some commuter lines predominantly in the UK, there is no middle seat.

Neil
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