Top European cheap train tickets

Top European cheap train tickets

There are cheap European train tickets out there, with each train operator offering their own special deals and bargains. We share our tips on how to find them.

In the battle of trains versus planes, cheap flights tend to steal the show with no frills deals and easy-to-use websites. But, with a few tricks of the trade, you can bag early bird rail fares to rival the budget airlines. In addition to our blog, finding cheap train tickets, here are some more country specific details on finding cheap train tickets in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands as well as on Eurostar

Deutsche Bahn Sparpreis tickets

Where: International tickets to Germany
When to book: Six months in advance

If you're looking for cheap, international trains to Germany, the Sparpreis family of tickets are pretty special. They apply to many cross-border trips to almost any city in Germany., as well as to trips that traverse Germany but which may have start and end destinations in other countries For example, you can get Sparpreis tickets on routes between  Luxembourg to Prague, from Zagreb to Paris, or from Zürich to Linz in Austria. Up until 2019, you were able to get Sparpreis tickets for journeys from London to Germany, however these are no longer available. We still offer some great prices on journeys between London and Germany, so do keep an eye out for these. 

There really is no trick to finding a Sparpreis ticket. The biggest tip is to book them as far as possible in advance, with booking open six months before the dates of travel. When you perform your search, you can see if you have bagged one of these Sparpreis fares by clicking on the fare conditions drop down menu. They come in two types: Sparpreis Europa and Super Sparpreis Europa, the former offering more flexibility.  

Top tips

- If it's too early to book on your preferred dates, you can set up a booking alert and we will let you know via email when tickets have been released.  

- If you're keen on getting a good view, these tickets aren't recommended. Travellers with these value tickets often report being seated alongside the pillar i.e. between two windows.

- You may also enjoy our blogs on The Rhine Valley by train and the Black Forest by train

TGV Prem's tickets

Where: French and international high-speed trains
When to book: Three months ahead for domestic tickets, 120 days for international TGV

There are many high-speed services operating in France and also travelling internationally within Europe. Also known as TGV, or Trains à Grande Vitesse, their equally grand and great value fares are called Prem's (and yes, this is where they put the apostrophe, sorry). Think premature when it comes to prem's because, basically, you need to be the early bird to catch them. In the past these tickets were totally non-flexible, but now there is an option to get Prem's on semi-flexible tickets too. The best way to find these is to book as soon as you hear that they have been released into circulation. We always update our customers via our newsletters, social media outlets and blogs. Popular TGV routes include Paris Avignon, Milan, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Nice

Top Tips

- Tickets typically come on sale three months ahead, but during summer months the booking horizon is extended making it possible to book further in advance. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to know about a summer extension, or set a booking alert to get a route-specific reminder when booking opens.

- Cheap tickets are also available on international TGV, so look out for these tickets on France-Italy TGV and TGV Lyria from France to Switzerland. These can be booked 120 days in advance.

Cheap Eurostar tickets

Where: London to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels or Lille
When to book: Six months in advance

Each Eurostar train has a limited batch of their cheapest fares. To find these, simply search for trains six months in advance, or set a booking alert for your preferred travel dates to get a reminder when booking opens. The sooner you book, the greater your chance of finding the cheapest Eurostar tickets. Read more in our blog Everything you need to know about Eurostar

Top Tips

- Eurostar currently offer a modest discount for return tickets, and the cheapest fares seldom sell out in the first week or two of sales opening. So if you're planning a two-week holiday, it is usually worth waiting until your outbound and return journeys are available to book.

- If you're flexible with the time and date of your travel, consider an early morning or mid-week departure which tend to sell out more slowly, making it easier to find cheap tickets.

- If you want to go further afield in France, it may be worth waiting until domestic French TGV fares come on sale a month later (see below). These tickets, that combine the Eurostar with an onward TGV, can sometimes be cheaper than booking tickets separately.

Eurostar tickets to other French destinations

Where: London to more than 50 cities in France
When to book: Three months in advance

In addition to selling tickets for trains to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille, Eurostar also offers low-cost train tickets to other cities in France, working in partnership with French national train operator SNCF. These combine Eurostar and high-speed TGV into one fare and sometimes offer a discount for travellers from the UK heading to destinations in France.

These tickets come on sale three months in advance. Although they are not always cheaper than buying a Eurostar and TGV ticket separately, you're guaranteed a seamless itinerary and avoid the hassle of multiple purchases. Popular destinations on these trips include London to Tours, Aix en Provence, Bordeaux, Cannes, Reims, Lyon and Marseille

Thalys discount fares

Where: Between Paris and Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam
When to book: Three months in advance

The instantly recognisable, red high-speed Thalys fleet has been in operation for almost 20 years. Thalys dominated the high-speed rail market for more than a decade, travelling at a cool 300km/ph between Paris and Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam, with only a few stops en route. Although there is now competition on some routes, ICE high-speed trains from Brussels to Cologne for instance, there are still excellent value tickets on Thalys train. Especially if you book as soon as they are released, which we will inform you about via newsletter, on social media or, if you have set a booking alert, via email. 

Top Tips

- If you're considering a train which begins or ends in Germany, you might like to consider waiting until 91 days before travel so you can see the whole range of fares - from all rail operators - on that route. Search three months in advance and you'll see the Thalys tickets only, but wait until 91 days before and you'll find Sparpreis fares, as mentioned above. 

Image credits: Panoramic view on Baden-Baden church and the city iStock ©RomanBabakin, House tanners, Petite France district. Strasbourg, France iStock ©g215, Paris station iStock ©manjik, Calanques iStock ©PocholoCalapre,  River Leie, coloured houses and Belfry tower in Ghent, Belgium ©KavalenkavaVolha

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