There are two basic options when it comes to purchasing advanced train tickets for European trains:
- Rail ticket sites that make it easy and charge extra for it
- Official rail company sites for each country
The easiest website to use is raileurope.com, which represents a company that has been in business for many decades and is primarily owned by the France and Switzerland rail companies. They usually charge about 20% more than the country sites, and sometimes it can be higher. But they are also easy to use and even include free shipping on larger orders.
Using the official country websites for advanced tickets
As mentioned, it’s worth trying the official rail websites to save money. Most of them can be switched to the English language for the whole transaction, although some of them turn back into their native language for the last few steps, which can be aggravating and confusing. You’ll usually be able to have the tickets shipped to your home for an extra fee, and some of them also offer printable e-tickets.
If you are going between countries you can buy the ticket from the rail company of either country, and they should be the same price. The German rail site also sells tickets on some trips that don’t involve Germany, and they are usually the best for checking fares and schedules for anywhere in Europe.
How early do European train tickets go on sale?
The last piece of the puzzle, which makes things even a bit more confusing, is that each country starts selling its train tickets a different amount of time in advance. It can be as little as 1 month ahead of time in Switzerland or Belgium, up to 6 months ahead of time in some other countries.
Here are the main ones that should cover most of us:
- France: 4 months early for most, 6 months early for regional trains, 3 months early for trains to Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium
- Italy: 4 months early
- Germany: 3 months early
- Spain: 2 months early
- Switzerland: 1 month early
- Austria: 6 months early
- Belgium: 1 month early