How much do you save with the Eurail? That's the question everyone wants to know.
When I traveled for three months in Europe I'm pretty sure I took every form of transportation available: trains, buses, metros, planes, even ferries. For the most part, I opted to use a Eurail pass for most of my traveling because it seemed like the simplest way to do it. (In my experience it was pretty easy but there are some little things to keep in mind while traveling on a Eurail pass.)
But other travelers I encountered swore that point-by-point tickets or even buses! were the best way to get around, and to save some cash. So what are the differences? Is a Eurail pass worth its cost? I decided to find out and from a pure cost perspective, it is NOT the cheapest option. But it is the option that provides the least hassle.
Because the number of routes and itineraries are virtually limitless, I decided to stick with four popular, sample itineraries, straight from the Eurail site, comparing them against normal train tickets, bus tickets and—although flying between every European city isn't totally realisticgiven the shorter distances—plane tickets.
In the end Eurail passes aren’t the cheapest option but that didn't come as a total shock. But it was interesting to see how much more they cost. For some of the longer itineraries, it can cost up to $500 more, which is pretty significant and puts buses in the running.
Still, while I do think you’re paying for the convenience with Eurail passes, it’s a fee I actually don't mind paying. For future trips, I would probably do an analysis like the one below before committing to a pass. But for some, it's totally worth it. It just depends on what's the most important: time, money or hassle.
Buses came out the cheapest almost every time but might warrant additional planning (and patience, since not all routes run daily). Mostly, buses ran a few hours slower than trains. Brussels to Paris by train is a little under two hours but by bus it's four-and-a-half hours.
Flying was the most expensive for every itinerary and even with Europe's budget airline options, that held true (lots of fees). Certain cities don’t have their own airports, like Brasov and Interlaken, which means most people will need to pony up for a longer bus or train into the city. Personally, I think flying between all these cities listed is ridiculous, though it's possible.
|Itinerary||Included Cities||Eurail Pass||Normal Train Tickets||Bus||Plane|
|European Highlights||Paris, FR
Versailles, FR Amsterdam, NL
Vatican City, IT
Monte Carlo, MC
|Global Pass – 15 travel days in 2 months
Vatican City: N/A
Rome-Monte Carlo: $64
Monte Carlo-Barcelona: $102
Vatican City: N/A
Rome-Monte Carlo: $84
Monte Carlo-Barcelona: $89
Salzburg-Memmingen (closest to Füssen): $1,052
Vatican City: N/A
Rome-Monte Carlo: $325
Monte Carlo-Barcelona: $262
|Western Europe||Paris, FR
|Global Pass, 10 travel days in 2 months
Geneva-Bern (closest to Interlaken): $364
|Eastern Europe||Prague, Cz
|Global Pass, 21 days continuous
Budapest-Sibiu (closest to Brasov): $328
Split-Ljublijana (closest to Bled): $146
|Italy One Country Pass, 3 travel days in 1 month
prices in USD - based on adult pricing
*first leg of trip by train
**route unavailable by plane
To keep things fair, I kept my searches based around the same date (August 26, 2015). If it wasn’t available I used the closest date possible, which was always within a day or two. That's because some routes only run on certain days of the week or specific times per month. If anything, the chart should provide a good gauge of costs.
I also looked for the cheapest ticket possible, avoiding somewhat absurd things like 22-hour layovers. That is, unless you pull your layovers Anthony Bourdain-style. For the most part, I tried to limit the layovers to two or three hours tops.
Some routes I ended up double- and triple-checking because the prices seemed too good to be true, like the $11 train tickets in Italy. And, no, they're not too good to be true. They’re just crazy early departures, like 6 a.m.-early, but still a total steal.
In the end, though, after digging into more than my fair share of timetables and booking sites, I can say I’m still happy I purchased a Eurail pass. Not that a few hundred dollars is nothing but I think it was worth the peace of mind and time saved not having to buy separate train or bus tickets every time I changed cities. And that was often.
The trips for Versailles and Vatican City are skipped, since they’re day trips and local metro lines are available for these routes. Versailles isn’t far outside of Paris, and Vatican City, though it’s its own country, really is just right within Rome.
For routes that span far distances, like Füssen, Germany to Venice, Italy, it’s not a straight shot. It often requires a few different connections, which isn't so fun. For the sake of all our sanity, the prices of each connection are combined to show the total cost for the entire route.