Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: How can I find out about train travel in Europe?

 

Q I'm having real trouble trying to find any useful websites for train travel in Europe! I only want to know how much, roughly the individual tickets will cost me compared to buying a rail pass. but I just can't find any websites that will help me. Can you recommend anything?

Alice Robeson

A Fortunately, the world’s leading resource for online rail travel advice is based in the UK and is invaluable for British travellers heading to Europe: Seat61.com. It is run independently of train operators and other travel firms. The information is free – and priceless, if you see what I mean. It contains details of everything from the second-class carriages on Eurostar trains that have power sockets (5 and 14, if you’re interested) to the intricacies of tackling the Trans-Siberian Railway.

For your purposes, there is even a section headed “Rail pass or point-to-point tickets? - read this before buying a pass!”, which you will find in two seconds from the front page. It begins:

“Many overseas visitors seem brainwashed into thinking that European train travel has to mean a 'railpass'. Of course it doesn't, you can buy the same cheap A to B tickets that we Europeans use. And they often seem brainwashed into thinking that a 'railpass always saves money'. These days, it's usually the gold-plated option, more flexible but more expensive than simply buying a cheap ticket.”

So that’s the good news – an impartial assessment of the options at your fingertips. The less good news, from my experience, is that while airlines make it extremely easy to buy a ticket, rail companies do not – especially for international journeys. Just today I was checking fares on the new Eurostar service to Aix-en-Provence, which begins on 4 May. I tapped in “Aix” as my destination. “City or town appears to be incorrect,” came the response. Right. “Aix-en-Provence”. Same negative response. Eventually I worked out that I needed to type “Aix En Provence Tgv” in order to get a price quote. Frankly, that is absurd – in the time I took to figure out what I needed to do, I could have booked a cheap flight to nearby Marseille. But with persistence, and advice from Seat61, you can get there by train. And back.

The other essential: timetable information. The best single online source is the German Rail website, bahn.de. But when you are actually travelling, there is no substitute for the excellent European Rail Timetable from Thomas Cook. Like Seat61, this is a brilliantly constructed resource from people who love railways, regard the train as the prime form of transport in the 21st transport, and want to empower travellers to make the most of all the opportunities to explore Europe from ground level. The February edition is out now, price £14.99.

Click HERE to email Simon.

You can also tweet him your questions @SimonCalder

Follow @_SimonCalder

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn