InterRailing Across Europe

Posted on: 23 June 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

If spontaneity and impulse ring your bell, InterRailing around Europe is just the ticket.

If you’re keen to have breakfast in Paris, dinner in Nice, and slope off the next day to ‘somewhere in Italy’, it’s all there waiting for you with InterRailing - undoubtedly the ultimate trip for spontaneity.

I spent all of 1981 and half of 1982 living out a rucksack and travelling round twenty-six countries in Europe and North Africa. No, I wasn’t a drop out; I’d finished University and was on a mission to write the definitive guidebook to what was fast becoming a 1980’s travel phenomenon – InterRailing. 

Remember that?  The go-as-you-please ticket that allowed you to travel by train through the world’s most diverse continent on a whim, if you were under 26 years old - the only age-group then eligible for the pass.

Pull into Krakow, PolandAlong the way, as you’d imagine, all sorts of adventures awaited me.  In between the cultural highspots, I mistook a brothel for a youth hostel in Casablanca, and spent a night in a Bulgarian jail - nothing sinister; wrong visa, but they seriously didn’t have a sense of humour back then. 

Forget the degree, this was where I was truly educated. In short it was the 20th century budget version of the ‘Grand Tour’ of the 19th century.  My subsequent guidebook, Europe by Train was published by Penguin and not only did I pay off the debt my mother was then so concerned about - and now understand with twenty-something children myself, but it also launched me on the career of travel writing.

Oh to be under 26 again? Well, actually, no.  The great news is that a few years ago, the European rail authorities decided that you didn’t have to be in the first flush of youth to enjoy such adventures. They launched an ‘Adult’ Inter Rail pass, where ‘adult’ is deemed anyone over 25 years old, so these days anyone can enjoy InterRailing - and happily, a backpack , the propensity to sleep on trains and the neccessity to exist on £10 a day is no longer de rigeur!

Two Other Routes For Travel Hungry Types

London - Brussels - Cologne - Berlin - Warsaw - Prague - Vienna - Salzburg - Innsbruck - Venice - Rome – Paris – UK.

London - Brussels - Amsterdam - Hannover - Berlin - Copenhagen - Malmo - Gothenberg - Stockholm - Oslo - return back to the UK via Copenhagen

Trains differ hugely from country to country, with top marks for comfort and efficiency going to the French, Swiss, Norwegian and German trains. Those in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe somewhat lag behind, though are still often a better standard than those found in the UK.  Nevertheless, they are increasingly do-able, and, it is all part of the experience.

There are some 25,000 rail stations in Europe and the European rail network offers you everything from the fastest trains in the world in France, down to local commuter trains in deepest Bulgaria, complete with live chickens in baskets, and lines that traverse the scenic delights of mountains, lakes, gorges and rivers - and, in the case of Norway, even glaciers.  Take a look at the stunning Bergen to Oslo route.  

Wherever you travel, the train is environmentally-friendly,a superb way to meet the locals and experience a civilised pace of travel between countries.  There are no cramped seats, no paying for every bag you load, or landing 30 miles from where you want to be, unlike on a budget airline.  The train takes you from city centre to city centre, and along the way you take in the ever-changing landscape, appreciate the cultural nuances, and come away with a far greater insight to the country.  All in all, it is a much more meaningful travel experience.

The opening up of Eastern Europe is something to celebrate, and there’s no better way to discover the delights of two UNESCO world heritage cities like Dubrovnik or Krakow than by arriving by train. You can see many of the ancient glories of golden Baroque palaces from the train itself as you pull into the cities.

Suggested Routes

If this is your first ‘Grand Tour’ you can follow a route through the obvious places.  Those seeking a little adventure should expand your horizons and aim for some off-the-beaten-track places. 

Scoot off to AmsterdamYou could, for instance, think about London - Paris – Munich – Budapest – Zagreb – Ljubljana – Venice - Paris. This is achievable on a 10 days travel in a 22 days pass. My advice would be to be as flexible as possible. Have a rough idea where you want to go, but chop and change at a whim; that, after all, is the joy of Inter Rail.

Another classic route would be Bruges - Amsterdam - Berlin - Prague - Vienna - Munich - Zurich - Milan - Barcelona - Madrid - paris - UK.

At Bruges pause for a moules et frites lunch, then climb up the 13th century belfry in the Grote Market for a spectacular view over the pan-tiled red roofs, network of  canals and cobbled streets. 

Scoot off to Amsterdam and enjoy more historic splendours including Anne Frank’s House and the Rijksmuseum - both definite ‘must-sees’.

From there head for bustling Berlin, with its cutting-edge architecture and the fascinating Museum of the Wall near Checkpoint Charlie.

Pull into PraguePrague, famed for its fabulous churches, palaces, castles and bridges is an easy hop from there.

Onto Vienna next, to marvel at the wide, imperial boulevards, lavish churches and imposing 18th century palaces.

Munich then makes sense, to enjoy Baroque architecture at its best, as well as its beer gardens, gracious parks and excellent nightlife.

Zurich, Milan and Barcelona could follow, with spectacular scenery, top class shopping and the delights of Gaudi awaiting you.  Madrid and Paris are good places to stop on the way back to Blighty. In both cities you land slap bang in the centre and are in pole position for sightseeing.

The possibilities are endless with InterRailing, and that's what makes it a fantastic way to see Europe, and explore destinations you would have otherwised by-passed.  All in all it's just way too good to leave to the kids!

Ticket Costs

European trains are clean, fast and often better than the ones we have at home. Global passes now cover travel in 29 countries and are available in a number of different durations.  You can buy 5 days of travel in a 10 day period for £195 per adult standard class, or £258 per adult first class.

For 10 days travel in 22 days the cost is £281 in standard class, or £383 First Class.

22 days continuous travel costs £367 or £492 in premium . A full calendar month is £468 standard or £633 in premium.

All passes can be booked through Rail Europe, by telephoning 0844 848 4070, or visit  www.raileurope.co.uk.

For up to 75% off rail travel in the UK, visit http://www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk/Special_offers/Save_more.aspx

By Katie Wood

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