It’s been a few weeks since the end of my Interrail trip. I’ve had lots of conversations about the best bits, the worst bits, what would I do again, and thought it would be good to write it up, before I head off again… next week!
The final total was 142 trains, 24 countries (including the home nations) and approximately 14,405 miles travelled over 47 travelling days, split into 4 trips of varying lengths. There were also 4 ferries, assorted buses, coaches, funiculars and I dare say other things I’ve missed.
There’s a map on this page, showing the four trips.
The starting point of the whole thing was a £400 (half price) 2-month first Class Interrail pass. I’d not fully appreciated just how many extras I’d be buying as I went around, but it’s fair to say that it would have been impossible to do this trip without the reservations, not least because in some countries (I’m looking at you, Spain) you won’t get very far at all without them. Speaking of which…
In alphabetical order
The most impressive trains in Europe. Huge and powerful designed to go anywhere in that stunning mountainous country. The journey from Vienna to Salzburg was incredible, and the city at the end of it was one of my favourite stops of the whole adventure. I will go back in summer and do lots of it again.
One of the few countries where wifi on the trains was good enough to use for work, in preference to tethering to my phone. (Germany and the UK were the others.)
No reservations needed on the services I used.
Brussels is unavoidably a stop-off for most Interrail trips from the UK, due to the Eurostar going there, and it being much better connected to other parts of the continent than Paris or Amsterdam. Fortunately it’s a very pleasant city, if expensive. I overnighted twice and didn’t see it all.
You can get around without reservations on the trains, barring Eurostar.
Lovely people, the rural scenery is super but Prague was probably the biggest disappointment of the whole trip. I was only there for a short time but had enough time to figure that it is a party town, encouraging lots of drinking and with a fair bit of of open drug use. Perfect for a certain type of traveller, but not for me. I suspect there is hidden depth away from of the city centre, but I didn’t have time to find it. I rather enjoyed the trams. They’re not like any I’ve seen elsewhere.
That said I had a super hotel and the people were lovely. The long conversation I had on a train, mostly via pointing and gestures, a little bit of Spanish, and a touch of Google Translate with an elderly lady who spoke no English will live long in the memory.
I love Copenhagen, but it is insanely expensive. Away from there the scenery is great, despite it being a predominantly flat country.
I enjoyed the sense of humour of the train staff, joking about how lucky we were to have left Germany. The trains are comfortable and you’re well looked after with complimentary drinks and snacks.
From an Interrail perspective, I didn’t see a single member of staff who knew what to do with my pass. They mostly glanced at it and waved me by. One took a photo of my phone so she could ask her boss about it later.
It was good to have the freedom to make up my route as I went along. You can get on pretty much any train without a surcharge or reservation, but might not get a seat.
A revelation. Tallinn was the most beautiful place I saw on the whole trip. The trip to the Russian border was fascinating. Sadly there are no onward trains out of the country but the coaches are incredibly frequent, very well priced and as comfortable as most trains.
The rail service I did use was packed with commuters for the first half of the journey, but didn’t need reservations. Indeed I stood for much of the outward trip.
I really wanted to like this country but the journey from the far north to Helsinki was predominantly hours of conifer forest, with not a lot of variety.
The trains are immaculately clean and I had the best meal on a train that I have had anywhere on this adventure. The north of the country felt very Russian-influenced. It’s a shame that passenger trains don’t link up with the services in Sweden, but there is plan for this to happen, apparently.
Helsinki is a lovely city that I wish I’d been able to spend more time in. It’s on the itinerary for next year, all being well.
The sleeper trains are reasonably priced and I was told by a fellow Interrailer that after the Caledonian Sleeper apparently the most luxurious. I will do this next time I head for the Arctic.
A real surprise, I was a lot more relaxed here than I expected to be, as in the past I’ve found the French to be quite hard work .
Avignon was an absolute joy, my favourite stop of the whole trip.
My late night exploration of Paris (oddly a city I don’t know well) was great fun, but public transport shuts down and midnight, which I was not expecting to be caught out by. Arriving in a city after 9pm and still doing over 25,000 steps was quite an achievement!
TGV trains are wonderful but expensive and reservations are mandatory. The price goes up as you get closer to the departure date and they can cost up to €50. Booking ahead or on low demand services it can be a fraction of that.
Train strikes were hugely disruptive here.
The heart of the Interrail network. All trains are covered by the pass, though you do need free reservations for some of them. The ICE services are fast and smooth and not overcrowded. The big stations in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and others are magnificent, almost works of art.
Berlin is a wonderful city. I’ve been there several times and always love it. The s-Bahn is a great and quirky network. the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal is crazy and magnificent. The Harz steam railway network is wonderful. I need to do the rest of it.
Only reachable by bus (or plane.) A very odd place indeed, nominally British but clearly also very Spanish (as it should be!) I enjoyed it but it felt awkward at the same time. Algeciras in Spain is the nearest station, 45 minutes away by coach
Odd railways, 5’5″ gauge makes for a very comfortable ride, and the stock is all quite new. Getting information about rail services is very difficult in most of the country, and the timetables are not in the Interrail app, except for Belfast-Dublin. Like the UK, they don’t know what to do with an Interrail pass, I was waved through everywhere. One person tried to scan my pass, it didn’t work and he wasn’t surprised, or concerned.
Derry was fascinating, beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Waterford is an old favourite and there are more murals than ever there now. Cobh was the new discovery and I will go back there some time.
Lots of trains need reservations €5 here, €15 there, it soon adds up. There are reservation free options, but none of them will get you very far. The fastest services are the most expensive. I think €40 was the most I paid.
Clearly it is an effortlessly beautiful country. I enjoyed that I am now familiar enough with Milan to not use a map a lot of the time, other than on the trams, which take crazy routes.
The funiculars in Genoa are worth doing. Cinque Terre is as beautiful as its publicity photos suggest, even out of season.
I passed through on the coach from Estonia to Lithuania. It’s a shame that there are no international rail connections at the moment, but evidence of the new line being built from Poland right up to Tallinn is all over the place. Worth going back to once it opens.
Vilnius is a beautiful and sprawling city. The people are lovely. The food is quirky, not at all healthy but worth sampling because it is different. I think my arteries have recovered now!
As with Latvia and Estonia, it will massively benefit when Rail Baltica happens. The present line into Poland is rather fun as it goes alongside the new line for much of the way. I loved the way the two countries co-operate on the cross-border service.
Tiny, expensive, but immaculately manicured. The centre was too far to walk in the time I had between trains. I could have got a later train into Germany but didn’t feel inspired enough by what I had seen around the station area to want to do that. It all felt a bit soulless.
The railway enters the country in a tunnel. The station is in the tunnel and it leaves in the tunnel. I literally saw nothing of this country above ground level!
I only passed through on this trip. The trains were clean, but there was a strike on the border and the information provided was next to non-existent. No reservations are needed on domestic services.
I only saw a small amount of the country on this trip, all of it within the Arctic Circle. It is a visually stunning as you would expect with the snow still very deep at higher levels in late April. By the time we arrived in Narvik, at sea level, there was none at all.
The trains are quirky. First class is like a carriage within a carriage, rather odd. Even the two-carriage train I used had a buffet and the food is excellent. Barring Finland, this was the best food I ate on the move, in the whole trip.
The people are incredibly welcoming and can’t do enough for you. The group of young people I met from Ankenes Skolekorps (a marching band on their way to meet up with a similar group in Kiruna) were an absolute joy, and still make me smile when I think of them, and the hilarious conversations we had.
Home from home for me for the past 15 years or so. The trains – and stations -are charming, but mostly quite dated. Lots of them still have compartments, which is fun, but they are very busy so it can get cramped. Reservations are needed – and cannot be done online – but are very cheap. There is no wi-fi on board and it’s not great when tethering to the phone so not a place for remote working on the move.
What more can I say? I love this country. If you get the chance, visit the old town in Warsaw.
As with England, no reservations are needed, but the trains can be busy. No-one knew what to do with my ticket, but they didn’t mind. Only the larger stations were staffed at all.
I enjoyed the excuse to ride a few HSTs, including over the Forth Bridge.
Famously cheap trains actually are expensive as an Interrail traveller as you pay almost the normal ticket price. That said, the are fast and comfortable. I got a really good complimentary meal on the Barcelona – Madrid service.
I didn’t find a single train that could be boarded without a reservation.
In the north, the narrow gauge network that links Bilbao, San Sebastian and the French border is fabulous. Not included in the ticket but well worth doing, both for the views and the quirky network itself.
My one sleeper service was from Stockholm to Boden. Hugely enjoyed it, and would absolutely do it again. The additional cost of a compartment to myself was less than a hotel would have been, though this was the one trip I booked well in advance. Don’t let the phrase “First class” fool you, it’s a small room and the shower was cold. Food on board was excellent and I enjoyed sitting in the restaurant car with a glass of wine as we headed for the Arctic.
Further north the scenery is spectacular, especially as you enter the Arctic. I loved Stockholm and will spend more time there when I can.
The iconic Bernina Express lived up to its reputation. I need to explore the rest of this breathtaking network some time.
Other services are immaculately clean and tidy, and mostly do not need reservations. I didn’t spend a night in Switzerland, though I passed through it twice. It seems like an incredibly expensive place. £12 for a sandwich and drink on the station in Basel was about the norm.
I had two goes at trying to get up the westerly line from Llanelli via Llandrindod Wells to Craven Arms and was thwarted both times. Once by strikes, the other but maintenance closures. One day…
Every train I used, barring the Fishguard – Carmarthen shuttle was packed solid due to the number of closures.
I’ve also just bought my next Interrail pass. I’m doing it a different way this time, having booked 10 days over 2 months and I’ll be flying to the start point in Sicily before travelling back to the UK by rail, using almost entirely lines I didn’t travel on the previous trips. This is how it is meant to look. I’ve booked quite a few of these tickets in advance as over summer the capacity is limited. I won’t use a pass every day, as it would not be good value.
There will be second leg a few weeks later which I’ve not yet worked out but starts with a flight to Malpensa and a couple of days in Milan.
Beyond that, I think next year could well have more time in Norway, Sweden and Finland, again using the 10 or 15 days in 2 months model so that I can spend time stopping off on the way.
Bring it on!