Some tips for cheap train travel in Central and Eastern Europe
Are you planing a rail trip in Central, Southeastern or Eastern Europe and searching for an answer to the question how/where to find train tickets or what kind of train tickets are available for the journey you plan to take? Or maybe it makes sense to take advantage of any specific train pass? We are here to help. Besides the specific information about particular countries (can be found on our 'Countries' pages), our team of rail fans will try to share with you couple general tips on European rail travel (in this case regarding train journeys in Central, Southeast and East Europe). Central Europe is still among the regions of Europe where traveling by train can be considered relatively cheap, mainly because rail fares (even in cases when you buy full fare standard tickets) for almost any relation are much lower compared to the ticket price for any other mean of transportation (e.g. flights, buses). One of the reasons for that is that in most countries of the region domestic connections tend to be subsidized by the state, while with international tickets railway companies still use SCIC-NRT (--> more flexible and cheaper compared to lately very popular in Western Europe 'Global prices'). Plus in Central Europe in case of almost any international journey passengers are able to enyoj multiple rail offers and discounts (either it will be standard one-way/return ticket discount, CityStar ticket, limited in number Sparschiene (SparDay/SparNight etc.) promo offer etc.). Knowing all these nuances associated with domestic and international fares & tariff systems can help to save a lot of money on rail travel. And we can help you with this information. For instance, it might sound strangely enough, but in some cases discounted international ticket might actually turn out to be cheaper option then buying domestic ticket for much shorter distance or ticket 'break' via certain station (--> having 2-3 separate tickets instead of one through ticket) can save you decent sum basically out of nothing and so on. Here we offer potential passengers a few tips to consider when traveling by train in Central, Southeast and East Europe:
- Timing of ticket purchase does matter: many rail companies in this region of Europe tend to follow some of the marketing techniques used by their Western European colleagues, e.g. offer their potential passengers limited amount of special promo/discounted tickets (usually it's fixed number of tickets per each departure), which are sold with an essential discount if compared to standard full fare ticket price. That is the case when golden rule 'buy early-->pay less' once again works perfectly, because buying discounted tickets can be a great solution for passengers who have more or less fixed travel dates and sure about their final travel itinerary. Just to give a couple examples. You need to get from Budapest to Prague, full fare one-way ticket here can cost more than 80 euro, but at the same time Hungarian Railways (MAV) offer limited number of discounted tickets for the same route starting from only 19 euro, thus only thing you need to save 60+ euro is to catch those cheap train tickets while they are still available for the train & date you need. Or Warsaw to Vienna, full fare ticket cost more than 90 euro, while discounted tickets start from only 29 euro, etc. 'Catching' such discounted tickets in many cases is not very complicated task since passengers can book these cheap train tickets online via official websites of railway companies. In certain countries (e.g. Poland, Czech Republic) similar type of discounted tickets are also available for domestic journeys, plus sometimes you can even do a small trick - purchase international discounted ticket to use for domestic journey.
- Take advantage of return tickets & CityStars. The idea behind this suggestion is rather simple - many railway companies in the region offer 'return discount' for international tickets between country A and B, in some cases discount is even greater than 50%, thus de-facto it all means that purchasing return ticket is cheaper than buying full fare one-way (which is sold without any discount). Sounds rather absurd, but it is true. Same thing goes with CityStar tickets, which are basically a type of return ticket. You travel in a group or with children? Then definitely check whether CityStar is an option for your trip.
- 'Break' your tickets smartly. Majority of ticket discounts in Central and Eastern Europe are offered only between neighboring countries, as result in situations when you need to travel from country A to country C via country B it might make sense not to purchase one through international ticket A to C via B, but go with combination of two separate tickets A to B and B to C. The cool thing is that 'breaking' the ticket doesn't even necessarily mean that you will need to leave the train - after a certain point just show your second ticket to the conductor and that is it. The only important thing is that all legs of your journey are covered, no matter whether it's one through ticket or combination of tickets. Such 'tricks' does allow to save quite a fortune. For instance, let's take Ljubljana to Bratislava journey via Hungary: standard full fare SCIC-NRT ticket will cost here 103 euro, but if you buy first Ljubljana to Budapest ticket it will cost you just 19 euro (discount sparschiene) or 39 euro (Budapest Spezial offer), while ticket for the leg from Budapest to Bratislava will be only 17,50 euro. What we have here? Simple ticket 'break' via Budapest brings down your travel expenses to only 37,50 euro instead of 103 euro. Or another example - Belgrade to Vienna. At the ticket counter in Serbia you'll pay 70 euro for the direct return ticket to Austrian capital, but if you buy first Belgrade to Budapest return ticket (26 euro) and then Budapest-Vienna (26 or 33 euro depending on ticket type), then you basically out of nothing save around 20 euro. And there are dozens of other similar cases, so why not to use such totally legit way of saving your money? All it takes is knowledge of ticket fares.
- During recent years in many countries in the region (e.g. Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia) appeared private railway companies, which basically created a competition to the 'big players' (state railways), as result on many connections where private and state companies compete passengers get a chance to travel cheaper just by chosing the right company for their travel date and time preference. So if you happen to travel in Austria (Vienna-Linz-Salzburg line), Czech Republic (Prague-Olomouc-Ostrava) or Slovakia (Bratislava-Zilina-Poprad-Kosice & Kosice-Poprad-Zilina-Ostrava-Prague) why not to consider journey with a private rail company, especially if they have much cheaper ticket fare to offer?
- Though using train pass is usually not a best idea in case of these parts of Europe, but in some circumstance pass still might be an option to consider. When speaking about rail passes we don't mean InterRail or even more expensive Eurail pass, but "localy sold" passes like Balkan Flexi Pass. This train pass is a local rail pass sold by railway companies directly (can be purchased from the ticket counters only in the participating countries), unlike way more expensive Eurail and Interrail passes. Balkan Flexi pass is valid in Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey, both for domestic and international trips. Youth (<26) and Senior (>60) discounts are applicable. For sure Balkan Flexi Pass might not be the cheapest solution, but in cases when you plan to travel a lot in the Balkan region it can be a good and reliable option
For any particular discounts which might be helpful for your specific itinerary see our 'Countries' pages or ask a question on our Forum