Experiencing European Elegance: A First-Class Journey by Rail

Our Thoughts

Explore Europe with style on first-class trains. Experience luxury, comfort, and stunning views on a relaxing rail adventure.

With much of Europe connected by land borders, the continent presents an ideal setting for an unforgettable journey by train.

On our recent European adventure, we made the deliberate choice to indulge in first-class rail travel for several reasons. Firstly, it is a more sustainable mode of transportation. Secondly, when considering relatively short flights of one and a half to two hours, high-speed rail offers an equally efficient city-center-to-city-center journey without the hassles of airport security, making it a more comfortable choice. Lastly, train travel tends to be more comfortable overall, and is my all-time favourite method of travel.

We carefully planned seven travel days over a span of 30 days and made the decision to purchase a Eurail first-class senior pass for each of us. This proved to be an excellent value, as it covered all our first-class travel expenses for a total of $811 USD, which was equivalent to the cost of just one round-trip journey from London to Penzance.

Traveling in First Class brought us wider and more luxurious seats, an abundance of legroom, and at times, a more formal ambiance. Moreover, the perks extended to complimentary access to First Class lounges, where available at our departure stations, offering a spread of complimentary food and beverages. However, it is important to clarify that the inclusion of meal services in first-class tickets is not always a given on European trains. In instances where at-seat meal service is offered, the ticket may or may not include it, and an additional payment for any food and beverages ordered may be required. While some trains may offer a complimentary breakfast, other meal services may not be available throughout the journey, so be sure to double-check ahead of time.

Given that we were traveling during the peak of European summer, we anticipated crowded trains. Our first journey took us from Munich to Zürich airport, with a seamless connection to Interlaken in just five minutes via the Swiss railway (SBB). To ensure a smooth ride during peak travel times, we secured seat reservations for both legs of the journey, a process that can be done directly through Eurail or the train company, as I did in most cases. I recommend you reserve seats whenever the option is available, especially if the routes or timeframe is popular. With a Eurail Pass, it’s worth noting that reservations are generally required for night trains (depending on your sleeping accommodation choice) and high-speed trains.

The Swiss railway impressed us with its punctuality, efficiency, and onboard service. Waitstaff came to our table to take meal and drink orders, although passengers could also visit the buffet car for their dining needs. It’s important to note that meals and drinks were not included in the ticket price.

Our next substantial leg of the journey took us from Lucerne to Paris on SNCF. While the journey was comfortable and punctual, the only meal service available was self-service at the Buffay car. This four-hour trip highlighted the importance of selecting seats in the direction of travel, as we found ourselves facing away from it for the entire duration.

Continuing on, we traveled from Paris to Amsterdam on the Dutch railway THYLS. This journey featured on-time departures and comfortable seating, although the rolling stock appeared somewhat dated. While it served its purpose and got us to our destination on time, it was slightly less comfortable compared to the other trains we had experienced in Europe.

Our next long-haul journey took place in the United Kingdom on GWR, traveling from London Paddington to St Erth. The advantage of Eurail’s global explorer pass is that it now covers the United Kingdom post-Brexit. The five-hour journey in first class proved to be comfortable, with refreshment and light snack services available. While it’s possible to enjoy a full dinner or breakfast service on the GWR Pullman, such options are limited due to their infrequent schedules.

Perhaps the most captivating train ride was from Interlaken to Lucerne on the Panorama Xpress. While reservations in first class were not mandatory, we opted to make them anyway. This unique train initially runs on a standard gauge track for roughly a quarter of the journey before seamlessly transitioning into a cog railway, climbing over a mountain pass and descending to Lucerne. The breathtaking views along this route lived up to its name as the Panorama Express, especially as a portion of the roof was open and glazed.

In conclusion, regardless of your destination, if you’re able to do some careful planning and have an adventurous spirit, high-speed rail is a fantastic travel option throughout Europe.

Andrew Taylor

For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.

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