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Traveling Through Europe by Train: Learning the Hard Way | Top Guide

Travel by Train

If anyone ever said traveling was easy, kick them in the shin really hard, just one time, for me.  Traveling Through Europe by Train could be an easy thing for you after reading this article. Today was my first attempt at learning the train system of Madrid. in this post, I’m providing a guide to traveling Europe by train. 

On this trip, I learned a bit about how to navigate not only the metro (local train) but also the long-distance bullet trains.  They are not the same thing and are not necessarily housed in the same station.  So, while I believed I had more than enough time to get to where I needed to be… let’s just say I was wrong!

For the fun of it, I’ll take you along with me on the journey of an inexperienced individual learning the European Public Transit system for the first time. While the system should be simple in the future, the learning curve did take a minute.


To travel Europe by train system, you will first need to purchase a card.  The card costs 3 euros.  You can buy them at any metro stop with euros or a credit card. For those of you who don’t know, the metro is the subway (underground), and there is a bus system used above ground.  After you purchase the card, you then load it with funds that will cover several trips.  

From what I could tell, a one-way trip was around $1.70.  You then take your ticket to the automatic scanners once you locate which station/train line you desire to take.  Make sure you are taking the train in the correct direction.  For example, route C-5 runs two ways, and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up on the wrong train, where you have to buy another ticket to go the other way.  

Check on the signs to see which overall direction it is heading after you locate the main route.  Once you board the train, do not discard your ticket or hide it on the bottom of your purse/bag/pocket. because you will need it again to get out of the train station.


One thing that would have made my life so much easier if I had remembered up front was to plug the address into Google Maps (again, it’s been quite some time since I’ve used a train system) that will show you where you are at and how far you have to go; in case you can’t read the signs.  

Make sure to mark train rather than auto so it will show each of the upcoming stops.  Needless to say, when I took my first train in Madrid, I couldn’t see the sign at the stops and ended up going 3 stops past where I needed to get off.  My Spanish, while some days better than others, wasn’t helping to hear the stops either.  When I did figure out where I was, I exited the train and had to go up and around to the other side.  

When I did try to exit, I had to rescan that ticket, which was at the bottom of my bag and now showed insufficient funds –as I had gone 3 stops too far. Now, I was stuck at the turnstile and unable to get out until I found the button for the attendant. The attendant was very helpful and helped me add additional funds to my card and got me turned back around in the right direction.  I turned on my Google Maps app, and wa-la, success.  Blonde moment corrected.

One small issue you’ll want to take note of is that to make Google Maps work, you’ll need to have an international phone plan or a separate sim card that has internet services added.  Previously, I’ve been sitting in the airport or hotel with wi-fi is linked, and the phone and all services are working perfectly, only to end up trying to add in another address, and it won’t bring up my route.  

Without a data plan enabling the internet, your cell service may not cover what you need it to cover.  When technology works, it’s amazing, when it doesn’t, it makes you want to hit your head against the wall repeatedly.  It can be a process sometimes.  So, then, if you don’t have the option of technology, you’ll have to go back to the old tried and true: smile and look cute with that completely confused look on your face, and someone will help. lol

*One other tiny side note: If you are trying to get on or off the train, it’s stopped, but the doors are not opening, and you are standing there looking silly, push the big button on the door.  It opens the train doors.  I was always afraid to touch buttons or pull cords when I was unsure of what it was.  I guess that was the upbringing that told me not to touch anything, or you might break it philosophy.

Overall, the metro is a very convenient and easy-to-use system; one just has to practice a little until the fear of using a system disappears.


Once I grasped the concept of the metro train, now well past the time when I needed to be on my bullet train, I made it to the station where I would buy my ticket and find my way to my next destination.

The bullet train runs to the major hubs throughout the continent.  It is quicker than driving or taking the bus but not necessarily cheaper than taking a domestic airline.  The one-way fare from Madrid to Pamplona was around $83, and so was the airfare.  I chose to see the sites…this time.

A quick note: buying these tickets at the station is also a pain in the neck.  Next time, I’m doing it strictly online, but the first time, I chose to do it in person as it suggested I may need a printed copy of my ticket.  What I didn’t have was… a printer.  A printed copy isn’t necessarily needed, but just in case, I wasn’t taking any chances.  Also, because I was a newbie on how all of this worked, I didn’t want to lose my funds in case I missed the train.  Sure enough, I did and would have paid double.  So, you win some, you lose some.

Also, if you purchase a bullet train ticket from another location to the Madrid hub, you will get a free ticket from the hub to the MAD airport on the metro line.  I was about to purchase the ticket to the airport upon arrival at the train station, and luckily, the guy stopped me, or it would have happened.   Here, you only use your same train pass to get on the metro to the airport.


Where to Buy a Euro Rail Pass


Additionally, a bullet train ticket is not the same as a Metro train card, and you will not be able to use that card to make your purchase.  This ticket is purchased separately at the station or online.  The tickets at the station appear to cost a bit more than those online, but I may have just ended up with a last-minute ticket as well.  Above is the link where you can purchase tickets.  There are a variety of options on there. so if you’re going to be traveling to Europe by train, you may want to look at buying a package.

Knowing Station Codes

Alright ladies, pay attention because I’m about to drop some serious knowledge on you. Knowing the station codes or names of train stations. Especially when you’re navigating major cities with more stations than you can count. Trust me, it’s a game-changer, and here’s why:

Multiple Stations in Major Cities

So, picture this: you’re in a bustling metropolis with more train stations than you can shake a selfie stick at. Take Paris, for example – the city of love also happens to have several train stations, like Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. Knowing which station is which is essential if you want to avoid wandering around aimlessly like a lost tourist.

Efficiency and Time Management:

Having those station codes handy is like having a superpower. Train schedules often display station codes, making it a breeze for you to locate your departure or arrival platforms faster than you can say “where’s my next adventure?” Time is precious, especially when there are new destinations waiting to be conquered.

Ticketing and Information

We all know how fun it is to buy train tickets or seek information when you’re in a foreign city, right? Well, hold onto your hats, because station codes are about to make your life easier. When you’re purchasing tickets or bombarding the info desk with questions, station codes are the magical key that streamlines the whole process. 

Pack Light

Photo asian woman tourist

Imagine this – a train is approaching, and you need to get on and off like a pro. Well, guess what? A lighter load will save your ass in these situations. It’s like a secret superpower that allows you to swiftly navigate through those labyrinthine train stations. Boarding, disembarking, and connecting trains become a breeze when you’re not lugging around a suitcase the size of a small car.

Now, let’s talk about backpacks versus suitcases. Suitcases, I get it – they have their charm and can be all fancy and stuff. But when it comes to train travel, nothing beats the versatility of a badass backpack. Just picture it: you’re in a crowded platform, pushing your way through fellow travelers, and bam! Your backpack weaves its way through the chaos like a pro. Plus, it fits perfectly in the overhead storage on trains, making you look like a seasoned traveler with mad packing skills.


There is a cart for concessions for purchase, and they do come through to serve coffee, drinks, and sandwiches mid-way through the trip.  I’d say, if you’d like to save a little money, hit up the grocery store and bring your own.  To give you a quick idea of pricing:  A cup of coffee 2.30 euros, while a drink and a sandwich run around 8-9 euros.

Other Tips When Traveling by Train

When it comes to train travel, you need to be aware that some trains have luggage limits. Yep, you heard right. It’s like they think we solo female travelers can just magically travel light or something. News flash, train companies: we want options, and sometimes those options come in the form of larger suitcases. So, before you hop on that train, make sure you check their luggage policy.

Now, let’s talk about staying connected. We can’t deny it, we’re all addicted to our devices. I mean, who doesn’t want to stay up-to-date with the latest Instagram posts or binge-watch their favorite Netflix series during those long train rides? But here’s the thing, not all trains offer Wi-Fi. Shocking, I know. So, my fearless friend, don’t rely on the train’s Wi-Fi like it’s your knight in shining armor.

And finally, let’s dive into the art of arriving early. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Wait, isn’t it a solo trip? Can’t I just roll in whenever I want?” Well, my adventurous comrade, there’s always a method to the madness. Arriving early at the train station is the way to go, especially if it’s a bustling hub of chaos or if you need to collect your tickets.


 Masks are still required on public transport here as of August 2022.  You must wear it on planes, trains, and automobiles, but the second you get off of the transport, it’s time to rip it off.  I have yet to make sense of this part of the rules.  You literally are one second off the train and next to 1,000 of your new best friends, and no mask is required, but get on that train, and bam, the mask is necessary.  Logic never ceases to amaze me.

Well, now you can say you understand what it looks like to travel Europe by train the hard way, and hopefully, this helps you to learn through a few of the mistakes so you don’t have to make them.  So, if people are still saying traveling is simple, we’ll have to take out the other shin.  It may not be this complex or complicated for those individuals who have done this before or who are familiar with a similar type of travel, but for those of us learning as we go, well, we need all the advice we can get!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about different adventures in Spain, check out The Running of the Bulls or Attending a Bullfight!  I was blown away, to say the least!

That’s about all for now… Until the next venture.. don’t forget to… Travel Till You Drop!

About Jill

Hi, Jill Here

Hi! I’m Jill, a Dallas, Texas girl traveling the world. After a career in the Air Force and touring over 50 countries later, my need to explore keeps going! It’s time to rock & roll and find all those places I never knew I was missing.

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