Train travel in europe - A collective review of my whole experience Central Europe
Unarguably, train travel in Europe is crucial. They are a retreat from the exhaustive bus journeys and long security lines at the busiest airports on the planet. If you travel in Europe by train, you are entitled to a plethora of wondrous benefits that you will not get in other means of transport. I covered Central Europe segment entirely by trains and I must say, the railway infrastructure is very well established. There are multiple train companies offering their services across the lengths and breadths of different countries. My trip was confined to Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria. Having experienced both domestic and international railways within these countries, I would like to share my experience and give some tips and tricks about travel within countries in Central Europe.
Benefits of Train Travel in Europe
There are umpteen number of benefits attached with train travel across Europe. Firstly, railways are always best way to explore a country, its surroundings and ambience. The panorama offered by trains is unrivalled to that offered by the bus or the plane. Some other benefits of train journeys that I experienced in Central Europe are as follows:
Travelling in Europe by train is a delight for one’s eyes. In my opinion, train travel is the best way to see the landscape of a country. The panoramic views of the fields, people working, tractors, cars hurdling through the traffic beneath the railway bridges and the distant mountains kissing the horizon. Central Europe offers all such majestic views. My journey is Slovakia from, Komarno to Bratislava was under the golden sunset through tiny villages. Click here to read about my experience in Komarno.
Train journeys to and from Prague are more subtle when it comes to landscape. There unending fields lack depth and character, but do highlight the relatively flat landscape of southern Czech.
Not to forget my short Dutch train journey from Eindhoven to Amsterdam on-board the NS trains. The views have a completely different character with endless lakes, windmills and more organised cultivation. The polished culture and the influence of westernisation can be clearly seen in this west-central country, when compared those of the central states of Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic.
Pro Tip : Always pre-book a window seat. You get convenient access to a coat hanger and seamless countryside views and a vertical surface to rest your head down.
Bus journeys can also offer views of the landscape to an extent, but these are not so profound and immersive. Travellers state that a significant amount of their time in busses is spent in adjusting on the cramped seats and then due to exhaustion, looking out of the bus window is the last thing one would prefer to do. Flights are good for a bird’s eye view, but they are neither immersive nor panoramic.
Lost time is never to be earned again
A true traveller knows the importance of time. Time saved is equal to time earned. In my opinion, train travel is the friendliest when it comes to saving time. You can imagine, those 3 hours you save by travelling in a train can be utilised to visit that last attraction on your list.
The main means of transportation in Europe are trains, buses and flights. Busses have a very erratic schedule to traffic conditions. Sometimes busses face technical glitches which cause major delays. Hence we it is futile to be completely dependent on busses. On the other hand, flights may seem the quickest option to travel. Technically yes, it beats the train. But you know the practicalities of taking a flight. Flights plying from extremely busy airports demand you to be in the airport security queues and boarding lines. This is exhaustive! Moreover, very few people notice how airports are notoriously located outside the cities and travelling between the city centre and these airports can be an added hassle.
Fact: Brussels claims to have two airports. Its secondary airport is located 62 kilometres away from the city, right besides another city called Charleroi. Passengers are often enraged with the fact that the airport is named wrongly and should not be considered in Brussels.
Looking at all the possibilities, it is evident that train travel in Europe fills the void for both, bus and flight journeys. With multiple railway stations located right in the city centre, it is very convenient. Additionally, Trains schedules in Europe are less likely to be affected.
Travelling in Europe by train does seem a costly affair. Let me tell you, this is true in West European countries where train fairs are ridiculously expensive and not worth hundreds of euros. Be assured, train travel in central Europe is definitely a bang for your buck. Regular tickets do not cost more than 25 Euros for a 5 hour ride. The real deal comes when you get access to discounted tickets.
I agree that bus tickets are cheaper than trains in Central Europe, but are those busses worth for what you are paying?
My round trip from Prague cost me only 9 Euros more than a bus, but I got unlimited free coffee, adjustable headrests, spacious legroom and a laptop table in my train. Thanks to Regiojet, I was able to take advantage of all these comfy amenities at a very reasonable price. Last but not the least, we all know how expensive flights can get if not booked in advance. Moreover, flights in Central Europe do not let you carry hold baggage in regular fare which is a major disadvantage. To sum it up, you must travel in Europe by train to get the most of your money.
Companies to travel by train in Europe
There are many train companies in Europe and they differ from country to country. For example, Hungary has MAV while Czech Republic operates multinational Regiojet. Austrian railways are usually operated by OBB, while NS is prevalent in the Netherlands. Pricing is the main difference between these carriers, with NS being the most expensive and Regio Jet being the most affordable. The services offered by these carriers are mostly similar. But, I have my own favourites!
Regiojet is my favourite when it comes to train travel in Europe. I get fantastic discounts on their tickets. Do you want to know more about these discounts? Learn more in this article.
Their carriage is the cleanest and the most comfy. Leather seats with adjustable headrests, tray table for work and unlimited Americanos. All for less than 10 euros! These trains operate on time.
But, let me express my concern over one of its routes. While travelling from Komarno to Bratislava, the train was more like a two carriage tram, old and worn out. To add to my concern, it was mysteriously full with the most wired people I had ever travelled with. But who am I to complain? I travelled for free! And, I learnt that it is unfair to judge them on the basis of this sole trip, because my next 3 trips were the best train journeys of my tour. High speed trains, and all the above mentioned amenities.
MAV is primarily operated in Hungary and I would say they are at par with the Regiojet with it comes to services. The seats are very comfortable and the coach is aesthetically designed. Nonetheless, the main concern with MAV is the absence of a proper and responsive online booking channel and it can get confusing in the stations, especially when there are 4 main railway stations in Budapest.
NS is by far the worst in the lot. They are ridiculously priced, there is no proper ticket that costs below 20 Euros. They have bad seats, not even fabric. Narrow legroom and the rude staff is prevalent. I recommend you to avoid using NS trains. You can use Flix bus instead.
Railway stations during train travel in Europe
While travelling I am fascinated by railways stations. I believe that railway stations have the potential to tell everything about the culture of a country. For example, each railway station has the best authentic food of a particular place. The Chimney cakes at Budapest railway stations were amazing!
Poor Amsterdam, people only prefer to eat meat with two slices of bread, so you get nothing authentic! Thanks to Starbucks and Dunkin, railway stations in Netherlands have been heavily commercialised with overpriced branded food and no authentic culinary culture of its own.
Secondly the infrastructure of a city’s station clearly shows the economic and infrastructural status of a country. Here, I was impressed by the stations in Vienna, Prague and Amsterdam, which were the cleanest and the most modern. The railway station at Budapest had fungus growing on the walls all over, the entrances were occupied by hawkers and there were no escalators. Bratislava was still better but I cannot compare it with the best.
Regardless of the stations in these cities, I was fascinated by stations in small towns and villages. Komarno, Slovakia impressed me with its cleanliness while Komarom, Hungary had a cute little low lying platform along a vegetated railway line. During my journey through villages, I came across many interesting railway stations which were surprisingly developed and cleaner than the ones in the city. You must travel in Europe by train to admire this beautiful railway culture.
Will I travel in Europe by train again?
Definitely, train travel in Central Europe has taught me much more than what busses or flights could ever have. However, I will avoid the ugly NS trains! I would also recommend you to take at least one long train journey in Central Europe, and gaze at the cute villages as they pass by. Life without such experiences is truly incomplete!