Train travel in Europe can be a fun and affordable way to get around and it’s especially great for families!
7 Reasons Your Family Should Travel Europe by Train
Our family has gallivanted around the world by basically every means possible: planes, cars, buses, boats, camels… you name it. But one of our favorite choices every time? Taking trains with kids!
As an adult, there’s something romantic and nostalgic about taking the train. As a kid, it’s magical and reminds you of reading The Polar Express or Harry Potter for the first time. And for families exploring Europe, there’s truly no better option. Read on to find out why you should take a European train trip with your kids.
The kids don’t have to stay in their car seats like they would on a road trip
I don’t know about your kids, but my kids would rather not be strapped in their car seats for 8+ hours in a single day. Sure, they’ll do it when we need to but it doesn’t make anyone happy. The great news for those traveling with little kids is that it’s completely safe to ride on trains without a car seat!
We still always bring a folding car seat with us for each kid to make sure we’re covered for taxi rides in the city or to and from the airports. But the minute we hop aboard a train, we stow their car seats on the luggage rack with everything else and breathe easy for the rest of the day.
Train stations are in the middle of cities and towns, so local transportation is easy
European cities are so old and so densely built that there’s usually no room for an airport right near the heart of the action. You can bank on at least a half-hour (without traffic) and a lot of Euros on each end of the trip if you fly. Taking public transportation usually takes twice as long, can be confusing to navigate, and in some places, it doesn’t save you that much money if your kids are old enough to pay the fare – plus you have all your luggage with you!
Trains in Europe deposit you squarely in the middle of the cities. We often book ourselves an Airbnb that’s within walking distance of the station for maximum convenience! Then there’s no need to load and unload all our luggage, mess with a locking clip in a taxi or deal with grumpy drivers. Just us, a new city and a new adventure.
Train stations are so much less stressful than airports
If you’ve ever flown with kids, you know how terrible airports can be. Long lines for check-in, longer lines for security, cranky kids you’re trying not to lose, yet more lines for boarding. There is nothing fun about airports (except maybe lounges, if you have time for those). If I’m being totally honest, the one time in my life I had a true panic attack was in an airport!
By comparison, train stations are a walk in the park. Some of them do have security checkpoints, but they aren’t nearly as intense as for airports. There’s no queuing to board and jockeying for position in what seems like the Hunger Games of airport activities. You certainly don’t need to arrive three hours in advance! We usually try to arrive at train stations 45 minutes before departure to grab some food and find the correct platform. I’ve been in train stations that are larger than our local airport in the US, but even those are low-key experiences by comparison.
Train travel with kids can be cheaper than renting a car
Every country’s rail system has different ticketing policies for kids, but there’s a very good chance that your little kids will get free or deeply discounted train tickets. In most countries, kids under 4 are free if they sit on your lap; however, we often found that there were empty seats our kids could use! Kids over four are discounted 40-50% on most routes.
Rental cars can be a good way to get around some parts of Europe, but they rarely come cheap (especially if you need an automatic transmission). Gas and tolls for a European road trip can run hundreds of dollars more.
It’s easy to take care of everyone’s needs
Baby’s hungry? Feed them right away. Toddler needs a potty break? Sure, there’s a bathroom just at the end of the train car. Snack time? You can get a full meal on-board, while sitting at a table like a civilized family (don’t worry, we won’t tell the truth).
The logistics of taking care of kids’ endless needs are just so much easier on a train than in any other type of vehicle. We love reserving facing seats with a table in between to give a place to eat and color. Unlike a plane, there’s no fasten seatbelt sign that causes you to miss the crucial gotta go moment. In a car, there’s not much you can do when your kid drops alllll the markers on the floor. On a train, we can enjoy each other’s company and be fully attentive to the kids’ needs the whole time.
There’s always something to see or do
While lengthy car rides, flights and bus routes can be boring for passengers of all ages, trains offer so much variety! On most European routes the scenery is lovely – we’ve seen everything from craggy snow-covered peaks in Switzerland to flower-filled fields in France to windmills in the Netherlands.
If the kids get bored of sitting in their seats, there’s nothing stopping you all from getting up and going for a stroll. You can hit the dining car for a snack (sometimes even with a train-themed toy, as on the ICE train in Germany) or look up at the clouds in wide-windowed observation cars.
The journey can be just as special as the destination
It’s no accident that we romanticize train travel. It is romantic in the sense that it’s an idealization of how we want our travels to be. Staring out the window watching the gorgeous countryside roll by as we imagine what the next stop has in store for us.
And, of course, a little dose of Thomas the Tank Engine never hurts.
Melissa and her family have explored six continents together, most recently during two years of full-time travel. You can find more in-depth, practical travel advice for families on Travel Car Seat Mom and The Family Voyage.