Traveling by train is something you’ll have to do at least once, it’s one of the quintessential European experiences. But I’ve seen so many blogs recommending a particular “one stop shop” for all and any rail routes, that I have to wonder if they have ever paid for a ticket themselves. So unless you have particular needs (like a pass), you could easily be overpaying for the very same tickets if you buy through an intermediary.
If you want to get the very best prices and deals when using cross-country trains in Europe, you should buy them directly from the rail companies. All countries have a national operator that runs most of the network, with some private operators for select routes. Either way, you can only get the promotional prices when you book through the correct channel: their own official websites.
Doesn’t hurt to point out that rail travel can be much more convenient than flying, although not necessarily cheaper. If your journey time is less than 4 hours, take the train! If it’s between 4-6 hours, you don’t save much time, but you do get the comfort of going city center to city center, skipping the usually expensive and time-consuming airport-city transfer.
So, here’s a list of all the national railway operators in the Schengen Area, linked to their English-version websites:
- Elron, domestic routes
- JSC RZhD (Russian Railways), Tallinn–Saint Petersburg and Tallinn–Moscow
- PV, Valga–Riga
Iceland: no public railway system
Malta: no rail system available
the Netherlands: NS
You should also always search at least two options: the rail company of your country of departure and of your destination. Sometimes you can get different prices, even if the train is the same. Sometimes, it’s worth it to buy the return ticket separately. But pay attention! Some routes require that you collect the ticket from their own machines, so plan accordingly.
Tip: If you are in the early stages of planning and need to search for routes and timetables-only, you can use DB’s website, as their database is super extensive and covers the whole continent.