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Busy train routes

We're excited that you're getting ready to travel with an Interrail Pass (or at least considering it as an option). We also know that planning your trip can be daunting, especially if you intend to travel during the high season (after all, summer in Europe is beautiful, but it can get quite busy).

 

But there's good news! We can help you plan your perfect trip. How? By using regional trains to discover some of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

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First and foremost: seat reservations 

During high season, trains on popular routes can be jam-packed – and some sell out quickly. For this reason, we recommend booking your seat reservations as soon as possible, especially for the trains we'll discuss later in this post.

 

Are seat reservations mandatory?

Sometimes! Seat reservations are usually required for high-speed trains, direct trains, and night trains that take some of the busiest routes in Europe. Booking your seats in advance helps train carriers with limited seating capacity manage overcrowding and ensure that a seat will remain available for you.

Are seat reservations at an extra cost?

We know this isn't the most satisfying answer, but it depends. For some train carriers, reservations are free but mandatory. For others, they are not required, but you can book them at an extra cost to guarantee that a seat will be available for you. If you'd like to know your options or need to make mandatory seat reservations, please check your journeys (specifically, the trains that you want to take) using our timetable. You can then follow the instructions to book your seat(s) on our website or other platforms.

 

For more information about reservations, please head to our seat reservations explainer.

How do I take trains that don't require seat reservations?

There are reservation-free alternatives for almost every high-speed or direct train. Taking these regional services will add some time to your journey, but the train rides are sometimes just a few minutes longer and often offer incredible views. If time allows, why not stop for a few hours to explore a lesser-known town you wouldn't otherwise visit if travelling by high-speed rail?

 

To find trains that do not require seat reservations, visit our timetable and use the 'No seat reservations' filter.

Popular train services

Day trains

Picture your dream vacation to Europe – what comes to mind? Many of us visualise the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, or the Tower Bridge in London – all popular (and crowded) destinations. Some train routes in Europe are more frequented than others, too. Many of these busy routes can be travelled on fast direct trains, but to manage limited seating capacity, these trains typically require seat reservations. Below are a few of the most in-demand – and crowded – routes and services in Europe:

 

  • SNCF
    • TGV Paris – Barcelona
    • TGV Lyria Paris – Switzerland
    • TGV Paris – Milan
  • Eurostar (including former Thalys)
  • SNCF + DB
    • ICE and TGV Frankfurt/Munich – Paris/Marseille
  • DB
    • ICE Amsterdam – Frankfurt
    • ICE Brussels – Frankfurt
    • ICE Dortmund – Cologne – Frankfurt – Nürnberg – Vienna
    • ICE Hamburg/Berlin – Nürnberg – Vienna
    • IC Amsterdam – Berlin 
    • IC Hamburg – Copenhagen
    • ICE services in between Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne and the Ruhr Area
  • CD
    • Eurocity Berlin – Dresden – Prague
    • Eurocity Berlin – Prague – Bratislava – Budapest
  • ÖBB
    • Railjet Zürich – Vienna – Budapest
    • Railjet Munich – Vienna – Budapest
    • Railjet Prague – Vienna – Graz
    • Eurocity Brenner Munich – Innsbruck – Verona/Bologna/Venice/Rimini
    • Eurocity Frankfurt – Salzburg – Villach – Ljubljana – Zagreb
Night trains

Night trains are an increasingly popular means of traversing through Europe. They allow travellers to save precious hours of daylight that can be spent exploring destinations. They also help travellers save money by avoiding hotel costs – and many people enjoy the friendly atmosphere on board.

 

However, night trains are popular, and travellers may have a hard time finding availability, especially during the summer season. In addition, night trains only run once every 24 hours, so the only alternative would be to take a train on the same route during the day. Some of Europe's most popular night trains:

  • NJ Amsterdam/Brussels – Innsbruck/Vienna
  • SJ Berlin – Hamburg – Malmö – Stockholm
  • NJ Munich/Vienna – Ancona/Rome/Milan/La Spezia
  • NJ Stuttgart/Vienna – Venice
  • NJ Hamburg – Basel – Zurich
  • NJ Amsterdam – Basel – Zurich
  • EN Stuttgart – Munich – Zagreb – Rijeka

One alternative is choosing a seating coach. While they are not the most comfortable option for sleeping overnight, they usually have more availability (and will save you money, too). Some night trains – such as those from Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin and Prague to Basel and Zurich – have seating coaches where reservations are not mandatory. These function as 'ordinary' German Intercity services and are recognizable by their IC/EC indication in timetables.

London to Brussels and onwards to Paris or Amsterdam on the Eurostar

 

We love travelling on these high-speed trains. However, reserving a seat can be a bit pricey for our budget travellers, and seats sometimes sell out quickly. Here's a quick guide on travelling without the Eurostar (including former Thalys).

 

The Eurostar is the only way to reach the United Kingdom from continental Europe by train. Even though your Interrail Global Pass is valid for travel from London to Brussels, Paris or Amsterdam, seat reservations to these cities sell out quickly, often a few months in advance during high season. If you cannot find seat reservations for your desired route and dates, we recommend searching for Brussels – London or Lille – London seats since these are the most frequent services.

 

Once you have crossed the channel, there are other alternatives for reaching your desired destination if you are travelling to a city other than Lille or Brussels.

 

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Alternatives for travel to Paris or Amsterdam

Brussels to Paris via Maubeuge

When Eurostar (former Thalys) trains are fully booked – or when you want to save money by avoiding reservation costs – you can take regional TER trains, with a few transfers. When searching for Brussels to Paris in our timetable, toggle on the 'No seat reservations' filter to see connections with two or three transfers.

 

We recommend transferring twice via Maubeuge in the afternoon. An insider tip: the direct TER Maubeuge - Paris uses comfortable old Intercity carriages, ensuring a cosy ride. Plus, if you're a thrill-seeker, Maubeuge is a great place to tick off a bucket-list item: skydiving! Head to the Skydive in Maubeuge to experience real adventure – you can either free-fall with the help of an instructor or receive an accelerated training to skydive by yourself.

Lille to Paris with a stop in Amiens

Split up – timetable-wise – in Lille Flandres: Search for trains using the 'No seat reservations' filter from Brussels to Lille Flandres and then, on a separate screen, search for Lille Flandres to Paris without using any filters. This way, you will find frequent TGV trains on the Lille Flandres – Paris route, which generally have more availability and are cheaper than Eurostar (former Thalys) trains. Between Brussels and Lille, you can take ordinary Intercity trains. 

 

We recommend taking the route through Amiens, a quaint town in Northern France. If you have some time during your transfer, travel through history by visiting the medieval Gothic cathedral in Amiens and stopping by the Maison de Jules Verne, home of the legendary science fiction author who wrote Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Lille to Amsterdam via Rotterdam

Search for trains from Lille to Amsterdam on our timetable using the 'No seat reservations' filter. You will find several options that use regional trains - we highly recommend the route through Rotterdam, which will allow you to experience the second-biggest city in the Netherlands!

 

Whether you have a few hours or a day, Rotterdam has a lot to offer – from modern architecture and Manhattan-style skyscrapers to a wide variety of international cuisine at the Markthal. If you're travelling with kids, why not check out Rotterdam Zoo? We promise it's worth the bus trip, though you may lose track of time taking in the zoo's seal exhibit. 

 

Frankfurt market square

The Deutsche Bahn (DB) IC/ICE services
from Amsterdam to Frankfurt or Berlin

 

Two of the fastest ways to travel across Germany, DB's IC train to Berlin and the ICE train travelling southeast to Frankfurt, are especially popular routes. They connect many major German cities, as well as international destinations, which can sometimes cause scheduling issues. 

 

Check out the regional alternatives for these routes.

Alternatives to travel from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Berlin and onwards

Via Arnhem and Duisburg

If you're going from Amsterdam to Frankfurt (or cities beyond Frankfurt, such as Mannheim or Munich), we recommend travelling through Arnhem and Duisburg. Search for Arnhem-Duisburg/Dusseldorf in a separate enquiry and toggle on the 'No reservation needed' button.

 

You could opt for a quick train change in Arnhem – or stop for a longer visit to take in all the city has to offer. If you choose to explore Arnhem, immerse yourself in nature by hiking or cycling through the Veluwezoom National Park up to the Posbank. You will find the most beautiful blooming purple heather hills offering irresistible views and backdrops for your Instagram posts. Head to the city centre for a nice meal afterwards and then catch the train to Duisburg.

 

The culturally vibrant German city of Duisburg is renowned for manufacturing steel and has the world's largest inland port. Experience this industrial town by walking atop the Tiger & Turtle, an interactive art installation on a former industrial site that resembles a walkable roller coaster with winding staircases made of steel. Not only is this a great way to fit in your steps between train rides, but it is also one of the best viewpoints over the city. Head to the Inner Harbour to relax at a bistro by the water's edge before catching your next train to Frankfurt.

Detour to Heidelberg

Make a detour to Heidelberg on your way to Munich.

 

Go beyond Germany's mainstream tourist destinations by adding Heidelberg to your holiday itinerary. We recommend spending a day at Heidelberg Castle, crossing the Old Bridge on your way across town. Don't miss the castle's hidden passageways - once used to secretly transport troops from one end of the castle to the other - and the impressive Renaissance-style Imperial Room that once hosted beautiful royal ceremonies.

 

Visit the Apothecary Museum tucked away inside the castle and unleash your inner chemist. Before you leave, stop by the Heidelberg Tun, a giant barrel of wine from the 18th century that holds more than 200,000 litres. Unwind with a glass (or two) of wine in the cellar at the end of your visit.

Via Drachenfels to Basel or Zurich

If you're travelling from Amsterdam to Frankfurt and beyond to Mannheim or further south to Switzerland, we recommend routing through Arnhem and Duisburg.

 

Between Duisburg/Dusseldorf and Basel or Zurich, you can travel quickly via the ICE train. However, Eurocity (EC) trains take the scenic route through the Rhine Valley – and with a 1st class Pass, you can reserve a spot in the Swiss Panorama carriage. For the option to hop on and hop off at any town along the Rhine and discover the region’s vineyards and castles, toggle on the ‘regional and local trains’ filter as you plan your route between Arnhem and Mainz.

 

Insider tip: For the most beautiful views over the Rhine Valley, take the historic Drachenfels-mountain railway. This short line is within walking distance from Königswinter railway station. Tickets can be purchased at the counter of the ‘Drachenfelsbahn’ (note: this railway is not part of the Eurail/Interrail Pass). 

 

The Drachenfels Mountain, which translates to “Dragon’s Rock,” is a perfect stop for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. According to Germanic legends, the famed hero Siegfried (also known as ‘Sigurd’ in Old Norse mythology) slayed a mighty dragon called Fafnir that protected a treasure-filled cave in the mountain. Fafnir served as the inspiration for the fearsome dragon Smaug in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

 

Berlin via Wernigerode

Just a few hours away from Berlin, a stop in Wernigerode (in the Harz area of Germany) gives travellers an opportunity to rest and explore charming medieval streets before hitting the big city. Home to colourful half-timbered houses, a medieval town hall, and a historic market square, Wernigerode offers no shortage of stunning views. If your schedule allows, visit the romantic Wernigerode Castle and the Kleinstes Haus, the smallest house in the city, built within a 2.95-metre gap that was once home to 11 people

 

Other points of interest worth a stopover on your way to Berlin include Wuppertal (a city in North Rhine-Westphalia), the Kaiser Wilhelm Monument near Porta Westfalica and the beautiful town of Detmold. Use the timetable's '+ via' tool to find these destinations.

 

Paris to Barcelona on the direct TGV route

 

Perhaps the busiest route in Europe, tickets on the direct TGV high-speed train to Paris and Barcelona are often the fastest to sell out.

 

If you're planning to travel between Paris and Barcelona, slow down and relax by visiting some of the towns and villages situated between the major cities. Trust us – these small gems may end up being the highlight of your holiday.

 

Barcelona cityscape

Alternatives to travel from Paris to Barcelona

Night train via Latour de Carol

Experience the thrill and romance of taking a night train through France and waking up in the Pyrenees. Travel from Paris to Latour de Carol on an Intecités de Nuit night train and explore the city before hopping on the Rodalies regional train to Barcelona. The night train’s views are breathtaking, and the route leads through one of the highest rail-mountain passes in Europe.

 

Away from the hustle and bustle of Paris and Barcelona, Latour de Carol is a charming French village close to the border of France and Spain, resting in the lap of the Pyrenees mountains. We recommend staying at a bed and breakfast or resort for a few days. The town’s cobblestoned streets, quaint stone houses, lush greenery, and Romanesque churches will transport you straight into a fairytale.

 

Insider tip: Take the ‘Train Jaune’ for a beautiful journey through the Pyrenees. This special train departs from Latour de Carol and takes travellers along the slopes of this stunning mountain range.

 

Via Perpignan

For this route, take a TGV from Paris to Perpignan. From there, take a regional train to Barcelona. Search for Perpignan - Barcelona separately and de-select the 'high-speed trains’ filter. 

 

Perpignan, the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca in the 13th century, is only 15 kilometres from the coast. We recommend spending the day soaking up the sun at a nearby beach or travelling back in time at the Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Slowly take in the unique blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture as you walk through the citadel gates and discover a medieval château. The regal courtyard comes to life in the summer with various performances, and the château's apartments frequently host curated art collections and designer showcases. 

 

Insider tip: Take a local train between Perpignan and Barcelona and stop in Portbou, one of the most beautiful regions to visit on a journey from Paris. The views along the coastal cliffs and the lower sections of the Pyrenees are worth the detour.

Milan cathedral

Eurocity trains from Milan to Zurich
and onwards

 

Eurocity trains between Italy and Switzerland are notoriously busy, particularly during the high season. The route between Milan and Zurich is especially popular. However, there are some good alternatives that do not require travellers to make seat reservations.

 

Alternatives to travel from Milan to Zurich and onwards

Via Lugano

Toggle on the 'No seat reservations' filter when searching for trains connecting Milan to Zurich, and you’ll notice that the travel time on these alternative routes through Lugano is almost the same as for direct trains between Milan and Zurich. Take a direct train between Milan and Lugano and to get from Lugano to Zurich, hop on an Intercity that does not require seat reservations.

 

Named after a glacial lake, Lugano has something for everyone, from fun activities in the water to museums, parks and hiking trails. Start your day with a hike up the Monte Brè and stop by the scenic panoramic viewpoint to take in sweeping views of the lake. If you're feeling sporty, explore a mountain biking trail that starts at the peak, or take a funicular rail back to the city. The Swissminiatur, a tiny replica of Switzerland’s highlights, is the perfect way to introduce little ones to the nation's wonders. Book lovers can learn more about the life of Hermann Hesse, winner of the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature, at the Hermann Hesse Museum.

Via Cadenazzo

Travel farther off the beaten track by selecting only 'Interregio and fast trains' and 'Regional and local trains' under the 'Train type' filter. You will then see an itinerary that uses only local trains, avoiding busy stations and mandatory seat reservations. We recommend the route via Cadenazzo. 

 

Located in the foothills, Cadenazzo is a great place to stop and recharge with beautiful views all around you. If you have a few hours to explore, catch the cable car leaving from nearby Rivera to Mont Tamaro. The cable car reaches a restaurant located at a height of 1530 metres above sea level – from here, you can hike or mountain bike up to the top of Tamaro Summit, which sits at a height of 1962 metres. On a clear day, you can see the Monte Rosa Massif from the summit. There are many activities for you and your family to enjoy, including a summer toboggan run, zip wire and adventure ropes park. 

Intercity trains from Hamburg to Copenhagen

 

During the summer season, Intercity trains between Hamburg and Copenhagen are subject to mandatory reservations, meaning that trains may be fully booked on some days. It is, however, possible to get to Copenhagen by avoiding the busy Intercity services and taking some reservation-free routes instead.

 

hamburg at night

Alternatives to travel from Hamburg to Copenhagen

Via Flensburg

Toggle on the 'No reservation needed' filter and select a regional train between Hamburg and Flensburg that connects to an Intercity without mandatory reservation until Fredericia (Denmark). From there, you can take a domestic train towards Copenhagen.

 

Flensburg is a must-visit for anyone who loves the ocean and wants to learn more about maritime history. Visit the Flensburger Schifffahrtsmuseum to marvel over old sea charts, sketches for merchant shipbuilding, intricate models of different merchant ships and navigation instruments. From there, head to the Museumswerft to take a boat-building workshop and unwind with the city's Flensburger flip-top pilsener, made with water from an Ice Age spring.

 

Via Niebüll – Tønder – Bramming

This off-the-beaten-track route can be found by toggling on the 'No reservation needed' button, but we recommend simply adding Niebüll or Tønder to your itinerary with the '+via' option. Take the route via Niebüll, Tønder and Bramming – the joy of seeing rural Denmark and classic diesel trains await!

 

Calling all nature enthusiasts! Niebüll, a town situated near the German/Danish border, is the perfect place to discover the wildlife and landscape of the Schleswig-Holstein region. Head to the Naturkundemuseum Niebüll to learn about regional fauna, from bees to sea eagles. Then, travel across the Hindenburgdamm bridge to the island of Sylt. Don’t miss the chance to explore Morsum Kliff, a wildlife reserve known for its breathtaking views over the Wadden Sea and its unique, reddish cliffs and rock formations. 

 

Munich castle

Eurocity Brenner from Munich to Innsbruck to Verona/Venice/Bologna/Rimini

 

The scenic route across the Brenner Pass is frequently travelled, especially during the summer season. Reservations are not mandatory; you are only required to buy a supplement on EuroCity trains that cross the border to Italy on this route.

 

However, when all the seats are sold out – which can happen given the route’s popularity – the only options are standing or sitting on the floor (not the most comfortable form of travel). That’s why we recommend choosing these regional alternatives that take scenic routes without requiring that travellers purchase seat reservations or supplements. These options will ensure your journey is as cosy and enjoyable as possible. 

Alternatives to travel from Munich to Innsbruck to Verona and beyond

 

Via Brennero

The best way to avoid reservations and supplements is to search for a route between Innsbruck and Verona in the Rail Planner using the 'No reservations needed' filter. You will find a regional option with only one transfer in Brennero. 

 

Located at the border of Italy and Austria and resting in the lap of the Austrian Alps, Brennero is an Italian commune of tremendous scenic beauty. Walk around the city to take in some fantastic views of the mountains and relax at a cafe or restaurant after shopping – there are some great deals at the Outlet Center in Brennero. 

Via Lienz

A great alternative to the busy Brenner route is the scenic line from Spittal-Millstättersee to Fortezza with a transfer in Lienz. Regional trains on this route are reservation-free and lead through the Drava and Puster valleys into South Tyrol. 

 

Spend two days in Lienz to experience an idyllic Alpine holiday. In the summer months, take the lifts to see some gorgeous mountain views. In the winter, go up to Zettersfeld and Hochstein slopes to ski along a blanket of snow stretching for kilometres on end. Regardless of the seasons, travellers can start the next day with a hike up the Galitzen Gorge Waterfall Trail. The hike takes just an hour to complete and has an adventure play area, perfect for those travelling with kids. Spend the rest of the day exploring the medieval Lienz town centre.