Europe, Trains, Travel Tips

Family Train Travel in Europe

November 13, 2015

The picturesque countryside flashes past while I enjoy a glass of local wine and share an assortment of Swiss cheeses with my family. Although we could fly or drive from Zurich to Milan, we chose to travel by train. After almost a decade of riding the rails, we enjoy family train travel in Europe, but it hasn’t always been easy. Experience is an excellent teacher, and I hope that these tips for family train travel in Europe help you climb onboard with a smile on your face.

Wine and cheese onboard a Swiss train.

1. Arrive Early

Trains are typically punctual, and they don’t spend long at the station unless you happen to board a train in the city from which it originates. Based on my experience, the trains whoosh in and out in a matter of minutes and won’t wait for anyone. My best advice is to arrive early.

family train travel Railjet

2. Prepare to Board the Train

It often seems like survival of the fittest dictates who gets on the train first, so be ready to board your train coach with your children, if applicable, and your luggage well in advance of the scheduled departure time.

Your train ticket will help you determine where to stand on the platform so that you are close to your coach or carriage when the train arrives. The following information from a recent ticket shows the class of service (1st), the carriage (2) and the seats.

 • 17:23 Barcelona Sants

 • 21:16 Avignon TGV

 • TGV 9724

 • 1st, carriage 2, seats 32, 33, 34, 35

The train platform should have lettered sections, and there will be an electronic layout of your train posted at the station. Review the information on your ticket to determine the class of service and carriage number, then look at the electronic layout of the train to find out the letter you need to stand near on the platform. If you end up boarding the wrong carriage, you will have to weave your way through a moving train to find your seat. Lurching through the train with kids and luggage isn’t fun, but it beats missing the train. 

Electronic display indicating where to stand on the train platform

Look for displays similar to this one to determine where to stand on the train platform.

3. You are Responsible for the Luggage

I have heard that porters are available at certain train stations, but I have never found one to assist with boarding. If you travel by train in Europe, plan to carry all of your luggage onto the train. Most carriages include a luggage storage area, but it fills up quickly. If you are traveling with children, a light-weight stroller is an excellent option.

4. Eat and Drink When you Want

Train travel is wonderful because you can eat and drink at your discretion – walk to the dining car, order food from your seat if you are seated in First Class, or bring your own food and drinks onboard.

Dining car Swiss train

Restaurant car with table service.

Swiss cheese plate served on a Swiss train

5.  Family Train Trave in Europe – First Class or Second Class?

First Class (1), with comfy reservable seats and enhanced service, and Second Class (2) are the most frequent train travel options. Austrian trains also offer Busines Class, which is superior to their First Class product. Select the preferred class of service when you purchase your ticket.

Swiss train First Class carriage

First Class (1) coach on a Swiss train.

6. Choose the Main Level

In the bi-level coaches, reserve a seat on the main level because the stairs to the upper level can be difficult to navigate if you are traveling with heavy baggage, children, or have mobility issues.

7. The Washroom Can Be Wild

The trains often travel at high speeds and don’t always move in a straight line – pack hand sanitizer, tissues, and toilet seat covers if you are traveling with children.

8. Use Scotty OBB to Plan Train Travel

The Scotty OBB website is a useful tool to determine the best train travel option based departure or arrival time, as well as stops and connections along the way.

9. Don’t Miss out on the Discount

Many train networks in Europe offer free or discounted train travel for certain age groups or families. For example, the SNCF train network in France sells the Enfant+ Card providing discounted train travel for children under 12. The discount cards are available at SNCF boutiques and are typically valid for one year. Once you have the card, you should be eligible for the benefits regardless of how you book train travel i.e. online through Trainline Europe, SNCF or in-person at the station.

The Swiss network, SBB, offers a Swiss Family Card allowing children under 16 to travel for free when accompanied by at least one parent holding a Swiss Travel System ticket.

10. Purchase Tickets in Advance

The best seats and prices are often available in advance. Trainline (formerly Captain Train) is an excellent online booking tool and provides information on seat sales via email. Also, many train companies such as SNCF advertise upcoming sales.

Children riding the SNCF train

Do you have tips for family train travel in Europe that you would be willing to share? I would love to hear about your experiences.

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply Erica November 14, 2015 at 1:39 am

    Great to know! I very much agree with your responsibility for your own luggage. I like to keep my eye on it whenever possible!

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 28, 2015 at 9:59 pm

      Me too! I noticed that some people use a cable to secure their bags to the luggage storage area.

  • Reply Karla November 14, 2015 at 2:57 am

    Thanks for the tip on the scotty obb that would be useful. It’s true that you need to purchase ticket in advance. Saves you the trouble.

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 28, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      You are welcome! Scotty OBB is a great planning tool.

  • Reply Claudia November 14, 2015 at 11:34 am

    I love traveling by train. They are not so common in Latin America, which is where I mostly travel, but I find them relaxing and romantic! And I live in Sardinia… meaning that since it is an island it just doesn’t make much sense to hop on a train. It doesn’t go far enough!

  • Reply Maya November 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Love love love traveling by train. Being from Slovakia where trains are very common, I spent countless hours in them. Better then any other form of transportation if you ask me. You can walk, look outside and around or read a book, and don’t have to worry about traffic. I miss this in Canada very much.

  • Reply jen November 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Great article! I agree that spending a little extra on a better seat makes traveling by train so much better. The more I travel by train, the more I enjoy it!

  • Reply Jo November 15, 2015 at 2:15 am

    I adore traveling by train in Europe – so comfortable, clean and efficient. We have found our daughter copes better than in the car too. This is a great post with practical information that is valuable for anyone wanting to travel by train in Europe whether they have kids or not

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 28, 2015 at 9:53 pm

      Thank you so much! Our kids cope better on the train too.

  • Reply Mar November 15, 2015 at 4:37 am

    Oh the cheese, we europeans know how to eat well! I personally love train travel, it’s so romantic

  • Reply RaW | Ramble and Wander November 15, 2015 at 10:51 am

    I love travelling by train when in Europe! And Zurich – Milan route is one of the most scenic routes too, as I understand it. Would love to try that route one day! So far, I’d totally recommend Oslo-Bergen + Myrda-Flam routes in Norway. Just beautiful!

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 28, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Zurich -Milan is a beautiful trip. Thanks for the recommendations – I will add Oslo-Bergen + Myrda-Flam routes to my future travel list!

  • Reply Veronika Tomanova November 15, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Hi! I don’t know why I don’t travel in the train more…I think it’s much more comfortable than bus ride, where you just have to stay in your seat and don’t have the luggage with you.

  • Reply Maria November 16, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply Economical Excursionists November 28, 2015 at 4:54 am

    It really depends on which country you are in as to the quality, timeliness, etc of trains. For example, here in Germany, they are most certainly almost ALWAYS right on time! However, hop on over to the CZ and it can be a nightmare! We love taking the trains though around central Europe. You get to see the countrysides and sit back and relax!

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