Book review: Europe by Rail

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers is the 14th edition of a guidebook that was first published by Thomas Cook in the 1990s. Now with a new publisher, this version of Europe by Rail looks markedly different to previous editions. It suggests 50 different routes to follow and holds handy advice for rail travellers.

In the introduction to this book, the authors, Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, explain that their “emphasis is very much on the journeys”. Arranged into chapters, those journeys are represented as routes. They first covers the popular stretch of track between London and Paris (Route 1), a chapter entitled “a tale of two cities”, while the last is significantly longer and sweeps through Eastern Europe. The journey between Belgrade and Lviv (Route 50) is entitled “the ultimate challenge”.

A guide to European rail journeys

Don’t make the mistake of confusing Europe by Rail with the European Rail Timetable. The latter, which has been published since 1873, is often called the “Inter-Railers’ Bible” and is referred to by the acronym ERT throughout Europe by Rail. Reading Europe by Rail may well stimulate wanderlust that prompts you to invest in an up-to-date copy of the European Rail Timetable or the Rail Map of Europe. All of the titles mentioned in this paragraph are published by European Rail Timetable Limited.

This book includes handy tips (“don’t forget night trains”) and suggestions (“travel lights if you possibly can”). The authors also state that “slow travel has come of age.” That means embracing enjoyment of the journey and cherishing being underway, talking with strangers rather than staring into the screen of a smartphone. In no way does it imply that all train travel is tardy. Anyone who travels on the high-speed trains of France, which features in the first five chapters of Europe by Rail, knows that travelling by train can, at times, be a quicker means of travelling between city centres than flying.

Europe by Rail by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries.
Europe by Rail by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries.

Book early for bargain fares

Travellers are warned about the dangers of trying to pack too much into an itinerary. There’s a page with planning tips and one with suggestions on useful websites for making bookings. Early bookers really can catch inexpensive tickets to Worms and other destinations in Germany and elsewhere, it seems. Book early and you might pay as little as just a quarter of the regular fare.

You can also find information about fare supplements and an overview of links to and from the United Kingdom to continental Europe.

The book includes a star rating of the cities, culture, history and scenery along each route. The ratings vary between one and three stars, and are apportioned subjectively by the authors. Is Route 22, from the Hamburg to Budapest, really richer in history than Route 42, from Rome to Syracuse is Sicily?

An overview of the rail routes

Those ratings are listed alongside an overview of the countries covered, the distance of the route and the total journey time.

Each of the listed routes also has information about the frequency of trains and the approximate journey times of the legs along the way. Itinerary suggestions, meanwhile, list handy ideas that mean being able to make the most of the trip. For example, for Route 24, between historic Habsburg cities, readers are informed “this is not a route where there is a huge advantage in booking in advance”.

The facade of Rotterdam's central railway station.
The facade of Rotterdam’s central railway station.

Each chapter is a journey

Each chapter is peppered with insights into culture and heritage, and practical information for making the most out of a journey.

Did you know that Camley Street Park is a spot that rail travellers can enjoy the song of reed warblers before departing from St Pancras in London? Were you aware that the Jungfrau and other Alpine peaks around Interlaken, in Switzerland, look “especially magnificent in the later afternoon Alpenglow”?

You’ll find suggestions as to museums to visit plus, among other things, ideas about places to stroll in the cities on the routes. There are also suggestions relating to accommodation and places to dine, as well as information relating to left luggage facilities and bicycle rental from stations.

Europe by Rail is a guidebook that proves both inspirational and informative.

All aboard? Swiss mountain train.
All aboard? A Swiss mountain train.

Further information

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers, written by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, is published by European Rail Timetable Limited.  The book is priced at £15.99. This 14th edition of Europe by Rail was first published in June 2016 and reprinted in November 2016.

This 496-page book features a 16-page section of colour photographs, from across the continent. The inside cover features a fold-out map of Europe while the inside of the back cover displays a map focusing on the area around the Alps.

The book also has a website,, which features a section on the latest European rail news. That includes information relating to ticketing, station closures and recent changes to rail services in Europe.

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  • Duncan JD Smith

    April 13, 2017 at 12:39 Reply

    An invaluable guide for train travellers. Highly recommended.

    • Stuart Forster

      April 13, 2017 at 13:52 Reply

      Indeed. It’s packed with useful information and my review scratches only the surface of the details.

  • Declan Williams

    April 18, 2017 at 14:21 Reply

    Looks like a fantastic guide! I travelled round Europe a few summers ago now doing the classic ‘InterRailing’ adventure! Would also recommend Lonely Planet’s ‘Europe on a Shoestring’ guide!

    • Stuart Forster

      April 18, 2017 at 14:28 Reply

      Thanks for your suggestion and feedback. Interrailing might have lost some of its allure to some, given the availability of affordable flights, but travelling that way is a great way of meeting people and creating a passion for exploring Europe. I did two tours and still think fondly of them.

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