Travel and Booking Tips – Domestic and International Travel by Train

 

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I am a big fan of traveling by train whenever possible. It is more relaxing than flying or driving and when visiting cities, it can be easier going from city center to city center. You can often get from the airport to downtown without having to drive and find parking.

In the US, I enjoy taking Amtrak on the east coast. Two years ago, I took the train from Providence, RI to Boston, MA and then from Boston to Newark, NJ and then New Jersey Transit to the Jersey Shore. The Acela is Amtrak’s flagship high speed service along the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston via 16 intermediate stops, including Providence, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. You can book in advance and pick your class of service and seats. 

Grand Central Station New York, NY

Just be aware that when taking Amtrak in the midwest and other areas of the country, they often share the tracks with freight lines, who often times own the tracks, which can cause delays. I have experienced this twice in the past few years.

Internationally, train travel can be the easiest way to travel and is very convenient for day trips. In the past I have traveled on ScotRail from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Scotland and then Glasgow to Liverpool, England and Liverpool to London. When in Amsterdam, Netherlands, I had a fun day trip to explore Rotterdam and The Hague using NS Dutch Railways. When in Belgium, it was easy to get from Brussels to Antwerp by train on NMBS/SNCB. In France, the SNCF train is a good way to get from Paris to Vernon where I visited Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny. In the past I have also taken trains in Italy on ItaliaRail from Milan to Florence and Venice and from Rome to Naples and to Naples from Genoa. In Spain, I have taken the AVE or Renfe trains from Cordoba to Seville and from Madrid to Barcelona and Valencia. It is a fast way to get between cities and much easier than renting a car!

Paris, France

Rather than taking a river cruise, I opted to take the train from Budapest, Hungary to Bratislava, Slovakia to Prague, Czech Republic then Salzburg, Graz and Vienna, Austria and Ljubljana in Slovenia. This allowed me to spend more time walking and exploring the cities, trying great restaurants and cafes and attending cultural events like an opera or music performances. Often on a cruise you are in town for only a few hours a day and you are always under pressure to return so you won’t miss the sailing time. 

Prague, Czech Republic

On my last trip to Europe, I took two day trips on BritRail in Cornwall, England to St. Ives and Penzance from the station near Fowey where I was attending a wedding. It was much easier than driving on the other side of the road!! On the same trip, I took the Irish Rail train from Dublin to Galway in Ireland for a fun day trip and from Dublin to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I love booking my European rail trips through Rail Europe. I always talk to an agent and buy a pass or my individual tickets if a pass is not warranted. They can book individual trains and seats for you. I always buy a first class ticket because the cars are nicer and, on a recent trip to Europe, I found that there are first class lounges in some of the train stations which are available for your use with WiFi, drinks and a departure board.

Prague, Czech Republic

I am also a big fan of getting a Eurail pass which you can buy through Rail Europe or direct from them. On my next trip to Europe I want to stay in Paris and do day trips to several nearby cities using the fast train or TGV. You can book your train and seat assignments as well. They have multiple options. You can buy the Global Pass for travel in 33 countries or the Eurail One Country Pass for a single country. The passes also cover different trip lengths for both One Country and Global Passes and there are also passes available for unlimited travel days during set periods of time. They also have a mobile app that can be used in lieu of a paper pass. With a pass you can also get a discount on select museum tickets and boat tours

The full list of the 33 countries currently serviced by Eurorail: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. 

In Canada you can easily take the train from Montreal to Quebec City on VIA Rail

Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu

In Peru, getting to Machu Picchu by train is the way to go. On my first trip to Peru, we took the first class tourist train from Ollantaytambo (now called the Expedition train operated by Peru Rail). You can take this train all the way to Aguas Calientes if you don’t want to hike a portion of the Inca Trail. This train also operates from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Peru Rail also operates the Vista Dome, from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and back. This has domed cars for great views.

For my second trip, I took the luxury train from near Cuzco to Machu Picchu. Belmond (formerly Orient Express), through Peru Rail, operates the Hiram Bingham which you can do in a day or else spend the night. I opted for the one day adventure and loved the experience.

Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu

Japan has an extremely efficient rail network that crosses the country with local, regional and high-speed or bullet trains. It can also cover Tokyo airport transfers along with buses and ferries. While visiting Japan, I recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass whether you are only going from Tokyo to Kyoto and back or planning to tour Japan in a one-, two-, or three-week period. The pass offers unlimited rides in the time period of the ticket and can be purchased with first class travel. On my trip to Japan, I took the train north of Tokyo to visit the studio of a famous Japanese basket weaver and to get to the Miho Museum located southeast of Kyoto, near the town of Shigaraki, in Shiga Prefecture. I then took the train to Okayama Station and Uno to get to Naoshima Island and the Benesse Art Site. I then returned to Osaka and back to Tokyo. It was an easy way to travel, particularly with the language barrier. 

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