Bargain trains: Cheap rail fares across Europe for 2009

Posted in: Train


A German train pulls into station. Photo by Francois Roche.
A German train pulls into station. Photo by Francois Roche.

It is that time of year when many travellers start sketching out their plans for 2009 trips to Europe. And for travel within Europe, many of the continent’s budget airlines will unveil their summer 2009 schedules in the coming weeks. Book early for the best discounts.

Plan ahead: Rail travel for next year

Rail travelers can still take a while refining their travel plans for summer 2009, for although many of the schedules are now becoming available, tickets do not generally go on sale until two to four months prior to travel.

The extension of the Europa-Spezial scheme to encompass many more countries means that canny travellers can now plan long treks across Europe with rail fares that greatly undercut even the lowest air fares.

Europa-Spezial: Great value for money

Europa-Spezial fares can be booked online at the German Railways website. Tickets generally go on sale 90 days prior to travel, so bookings can already be made for January 2009.

Choose your trains carefully and you can travel from Budapest to Cologne for just €39 one way – and you can include stopovers on the way (each for a maximum of 48 hours). We chose a Budapest – Prague – Berlin – Cologne routing, with en route stops for two nights in both Prague and Berlin, and found plenty of availability for mid-January 2009 at the lead-in €39 fare.

Other gems there for the taking are €29 one-way from Hamburg to Vienna (via Prague), €39 from Paris or Copenhagen to any station in Germany, and a €39 fare that will take you from any station in Belgium or the Netherlands to Basel on the Swiss border or to Salzburg in Austria.

First class options: Worth considering, even for Cheapos

If the lowest fare for your selected route is already sold out, you can still buy a Europa-Spezial ticket, but it will be priced at a higher tariff tier (e.g. €49, €69, and up). Europa-Spezial fares are also available for first class, and these are really worth checking.

Berlin to Vienna (either direct or with a one or two night stopover in Dresden) for €49 first class sounds almost too good to be true. If you find little availability for Europa-Spezial fares in second class, just have a look to see if the cheapest first class option is still available. First class sells out less quickly, and we have found many examples of journeys where remaining first class availability is cheaper than heavily-booked second class.

The great thing about these Europa-Spezial fares is that, subject to availability at the time of booking, you really can use them on the fast express services. The only real snag is that you must commit yourself to date and time of travel, but at such rock bottom fares that is scarcely a burden.

The new Europa-Spezial fares, along with long-standing promotions like discounted TGV fares in France, might really tip the balance as you weigh up whether it is worth buying a rail pass for 2009.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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117 thoughts on “Bargain trains: Cheap rail fares across Europe for 2009”

  1. SparSchiene Fares are an initiative of the Austrian rail operator ÖBB. They are not available on journeys from the Czech Republic to Germany. The German operator Deutsche Bahn does have a EuropaSpezial tariff (which is broadly similar to ÖBB’s Sparschiene fares), but we are pretty certain it’s not available on the Praha to Regensburg route which is not run by DB.

    There are four direct trains each day from Praha to Regensburg, namely at 05.15, 09.15, 13.15 and 17.15. The trains are run by Alex and the regular fare from Regensburg to Prague is €43 return. Children under 15 travel for free. This is the standard full fare and you can buy it on the train. You’d need to check but we think this fare is only purchasable in Germany.

    From the Czech side we do know of various special offers. For example, if you travel on a Saturday or Sunday, there is a very good deal with a Group Weekend Ticket (look in Czech for the ticket called “Skupinová víkendová jízdenka+Nemecko” which give unlimited travel for 2 adults and 2 children in the Czech Republic and a big swathe of Germany. It costs 750 Czech crowns and you can use it for the whole journey from Prague to Regensburg on the Alex train. 750 crowns is about €27. Wonderful deal. You cannot buy it in advance. Buy on the day of travel.

    On other days (ie. other than Sat and Sun), there is a good ticket, only available online, called Vlasná jízdenka Nemecko. From Prague to Regensburg (only using the direct Alex train) the fare is 395, 540 or 675 crowns (about €14, €19 or €24), depending on how long in advance you book. Discounts for children of 10 and above are not allowed on the very cheapest fares. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and these tickets must be booked 3 days prior to travel. Book at

    So, in short, Prague to Regensburg will cost you €56 for all four of you for travel on a Mon-Fri – or just €27 if you all make the journey on a Sat or Sun.

    Hope this helps. Find out more about European rail travel on and about our own work at

  2. Hi Nicky and Susanne,
    Would love some help. I am trying to book sparschien tickets for my family to travel to and from Prague from Regensburg. My children are/will be 13 and 10 when we travel. It is my understanding from Dbahn that because it is an international train trip with children that we have to book over the phone. I successfully booked my trip to Prague using the UK no: +44 8718 808066, 2 days later when I went to book the return journey this number prompted a ‘disconnected’ message, and I can’t get through. The Dbahn 24/7 number +49 1806 996633 keeps me on hold for over an hour and then cuts me off, without being able to book. (I have attempted this on a number of different days and times.)

    My question:
    How do I best (without the hold/disconnection stress) book family of 4 trip back from Prague to Regensburg at a sparschein price?

    N.B I can speak German, so I am happy to do it over the phone in German, I just need to get to actually speak to a person.

  3. hi.i wish to travel by train ( as airlines are exp)..i want to depart 7 june from frankfurt to brussels..or frankfurt to paris with a stopover of 2 days in brussels if possible but the tickets are so expensive liek around 200 euro for each person.We are also travelling with a 7 month baby..Could u pls mention any cheap trains or special sale offers..Thanks alot.

  4. Hi friends,
    I reside in asian country, and not familiar with european transport system. If anyone could help me find the cheapest way to go from Paris to Bern/Lucernce/Zurich, i’d really appreciate it =) thanks

  5. Which low cost airlines or train do I use from : London ->Amsterdam ->munich ->Praque ->Vienna ->Venice ->Rome ->Zurich -> Nice ->Paris ?
    Thank you !

  6. .
    For Ralph and Annette

    From Rome to Florence and back is such an easy journey. The fast AV trains are really too fast to catch more than a glimpse of the scenery, and the new fast line has too many tunnels for our taste. So why not take one of the older-style InterCity services, of which there are several departures each day? The journey from Rome to Florence by these IC trains takes 3 hours and costs €30 one way. (Compare the fast AV services which take 90 mins and cost €45 each way).

    For a real Italian train experience, one which would be really good fun, take the direct slow train from Rome to Florence. These services run every two hours and take four hours. You will see much more of everyday Italy from these slower trains which stop off at many little local stations along the way.

    Do hope this helps.
    Nicky and Susanne

  7. Ralph & Annette Siedel

    Dear Young Ladies,
    We 70 year olds are ipressed with your data and the responses. Annette and I will visit Rome for a month in Sept/Oct. 2011. A quirk in our residence booking requires us to vacate for 4 days (/23- 9/25) and we’d like to visit Florence during that time. We’ve just begun to explore your web site(s) and were wondering if you have advise for two frisky oldies who want to travel from Rome to Florence and back by train…? We don’t need first class but aren’t cheapo(s) either. Any Advise?
    Thanks, Ralph


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