Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

Stuart Forster reviews Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers, by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of Europe by Rail to facilitate this review, which was not reviewed or approved. Some of the links below and banners are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Note: This review was published on 13 April 2017 and newer editions of Europe by Rail have subsequently been published.

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers is a guidebook that was first published by Thomas Cook in the 1990s.

With a new publisher, the 14th version of Europe by Rail looked markedly different to previous editions. It suggests 50 different routes to follow.

In the introduction, 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 cover the popular stretch of track between London and Paris (Route 1). The chapter entitled is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The last is significantly longer and sweeps through Eastern Europe. The journey between Belgrade and Lviv (Route 50) is entitled ‘The Ultimate Challenge’.

Cover of the 16th edition of Europe by Rail.

Guide to European rail journeys

Don’t make the mistake of confusing Europe by Rail with the European Rail Timetable. The latter has been published since 1873. It is often called the ‘Inter-Railers’ Bible’. Throughout Europe by Rail it is referred to by the acronym ERT.

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.

Europe by Rail 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 the 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.
Cover of the 14th edition of 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 Hamburg to Budapest, really richer in history than Route 42, from Rome to Syracuse in Sicily?

Overview of European 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 that “this is not a route where there is a huge advantage in booking in advance”.

The facade of Rotterdam's central railway station one of the hubs from which it's possible to explore Europe by rail
The facade of Rotterdam’s central railway station one of the hubs from which it’s possible to explore Europe by rail.

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 where 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.

Exploring Europe by rail may mean travelling on Swiss mountain trains.
Exploring Europe by rail may mean travelling on Swiss mountain trains.

Further information

Published by European Rail Timetable Limited Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers is written by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries:

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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Europe by Rail is available via Amazon.

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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.

  • Adele Dugdale

    January 11, 2018 at 23:12 Reply

    Rail travel seems to be rising in popularity? An old copy of this book sits on my bookshelf and I feel tempted to purchase the most recent edition.

    • Stuart Forster

      January 12, 2018 at 09:36 Reply

      There’s a lot in there to read if you are planning a rail journey, Adele.

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