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I plan to visit 3 countries in Europe during May: Paris, Italy and England ( in that order). I will be staying in each country for 1 week; at the end of the week I will be moving on from a country to another.

Edit: Here are more updates on my research. This is my travelling schedule:

  1. Paris
  2. Bordeaux
  3. Lyon
  4. Milan
  5. Florence
  6. Rome
  7. London

I plan to use Eurail pass when I travel from Paris to Rome, and I will take a flight from Rome to London.

My question is, is it more worthwhile to by a Selected Pass with three countries ( because the train from Lyon to Milan stops by Geneva), or is it more worthwhile to buy the ticket separately?

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I'm confused as to what you're asking here. Your question title implies you want to know whether you should buy a Eurail pass in advance or at the station (not sure whether you can do the latter) while the question body asks about Eurail Pass vs buying TICKETS. Which is it? –  Ankur Banerjee Mar 31 '12 at 7:41
    
If you could tell me from which city you want to travel it would made it easier to see what is cheaper. But it makes a difference if you want to go from Paris to Milan or Paris to Rome or even Paris to Palermo. Additionally why do you go first to Paris? Now you have the following routes: Paris -> Italy and Italy -> England. Italy -> England means that you have to spend hours and hours in a train. –  RoflcoptrException Mar 31 '12 at 8:58
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You mention a 3-country Eurail pass, and three countries (France, Italy, England), but note that Eurail passes are not valid in England. (You can get a discounted fare on the Eurostar if you have a Eurail pass.) –  tcrosley Mar 31 '12 at 9:36
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Additionally, a lot of train connections between France and Italy travel across Switzerland. So I'm not sure if your 3-countries pass is still valid, or if you have to buy another ticket or take a big detour to avoid Switzerland. –  RoflcoptrException Mar 31 '12 at 10:02
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Yes that's true, but for a really good answer to this question we should nevertheless know where exactly in England and Italy he wants to travel. –  RoflcoptrException Mar 31 '12 at 10:31
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

A rail pass, like the Eurail, is not always cheaper than buying tickets separately. It depends on your age and on how much and how far you want to travel. If you book in advance you can get more or less important discounts. The drawback is that you have to commit to an itinerary in advance. A pass gives you much more flexibility. Also note that if you are using a pass, you have to pays extra fees for compulsory seat reservations. You can find an overview of the tariffs on the "Train Seat Reservations" page of eurail.com.

Now you see that the definitive answer depends on you and your plan. You can easily check the prices and book the tickets via the following websites:

  • TGV-europe, for train travel in France, as well as between England and France and Italy and France. Don't be misled by the name of the site. It is not confined to TGV trains only.
  • Trenitalia, for train travel in Italy and between Italy and France.
  • The Man in Seat 61 for train travel in England.

I have quickly done the exercise for a hypothetical trip in May. I managed to find all the individual tickets for around 160 EUR if you travel in the 2nd class. Note that you will have to book as soon as possible and that you will certainly have to incur fees if you change your itinerary afterwards. The Eurail pass costs 228 EUR if you are less than 26 years old or 348 EUR if you are older. Add to these prices the reservation fees. Note that the "Adult" (26+) Eurail pass entitles you to travel in the first class. If flexibility and 1st class comfort are important, go for the Eurail pass. Otherwise, I would try to book the legs individually.

For long distance travel in France you can also refer to a previous question on our site: "Are there ways to keep long-distance land transport costs down in France when not planning in advance?".

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I would advise against getting a Eurail pass. Eurail is nothing more than a travel agency, that has a product that is designed to appeal to persons unfamiliar with the European Railway System.

WIth a Eurail Pass you will still have to make reservations, and pay reservation charges for the high speed trains you want to take in France. And you'll discover that often the contingent for Eurail Pass holders is quite small, making it impossible for you to travel on your train of choice.

Book your sectors up to Milano in advance with the French Railways, and use the tricks mentioned on the seat61 site to avoid being sent to RailEurope.

For your Italian sectors you have the choice between two companies, Trenitalia or Italotreno.

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If you plan in advance then a rail pass is hardly interesting. Moreover, if you are flexible, in the sense that you are willing to take a bus for one leg or another, you will save money by not buying a pass.

Some time ago, when I was young and crisp, rail passes were really cool. At that time, nobody was talking about "low cost" airlines, bus lines were heavily regulated and restricted and high-speed rail was somewhat exotic. Nowadays, things have changed. There are alternatives to the train. Furthermore if you want to travel by train on long distances, you are more and more forced to use high-speed trains or trains with compulsory seat reservation. These additions are usually not included in rail passes. Moreover, on French high-speed trains (TGV) there is a limited quota of seats available to pass holders. Thus, you have an incentive to book in advance nevertheless ...

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