European train stations are a traveler’s BFF

If you ever get lost in Europe, don't panic. Head to the nearest railway station and you will find just about everything you need to solve any problem. Photo: Milan Tourism

EUROPEDecember 16, 2012 – When traveling abroad, some inexperienced travelers have two common fears: the language barrier and getting lost.  Here’s a little tip that may surprise you. In Europe, there is one place in almost every city where help is available: the train station.

With limited experience with rail travel, Americans might be unaware that a train station can be a valuable asset when travelling abroad. When considering Europe’s vast rail network, keep in mind that terminals can readily alleviate fears and become a major refuge and ally.

A railway station located in an airport is a usual convenience in most European hub cities. Arriving and departing passengers can frequently begin their travels by validating rail passes or purchasing point-to-point tickets without making bus or taxi transfers into the city. It is not only a time saver but an easy way to get your bearings after a long overnight journey.

In most major and medium-sized cities throughout the continent, train stations are located in the heart of town.  That means visitors can immediately get their bearings before attempting to conquer new worlds.  But that’s only the beginning.

Cafes, shops in Stockholm’s main station

Information is always available in English at a railway station. Just look for a sign with a lower case letter “i” or one that says “Tourist Information.”  There you can get city maps, transportation schedules, hotel information (sometimes you can even make reservations), directions, restaurant suggestions, or answers for almost any question.

Note that tourist information is not the same as “Rail Information” which is limited to details about rail schedules, prices, track numbers and the like.

Railway terminals usually have currency exchange and/or ATMs plus a variety of food services, and many feature gift shops, newsstands and sundries. Some even have drug stores, pharmacies or fine dining restaurants.

In fact, Le Train Bleu, in the Gare de Lyon in Paris, has been serving elegant cuisine to travelers and locals alike in Belle Epoque surroundings since 1901.

When French president Emile Loubet inaugurated Le Train Bleu its vast rooms were filled with sculptures and paintings depicting rail travel and events at the turn of the twentieth century, a stunning display of the styles of the era. While Le Train Bleu is certainly an anomaly, even by today’s standards, it does represent a superb example of how versatile and practical a European railway station can be. For instance, in many villages throughout Switzerland there are Bahnhof Buffets where the food is so good that locals frequently dine at the train station instead of more traditional restaurants.

Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon, Paris

For travelers in transit, lockers are available, especially in larger cities.  If you don’t have a lot of luggage, a locker can provide a place to store your bags for several hours or a day so you can easily immerse yourself in sightseeing, shopping or other activities before traveling onward. Some railway stations even have shower facilities.

In many cities throughout Europe, underground passageways providing safe, efficient transfers between the congested streets above have been cleverly adapted into lively subterranean malls where locals and visitors alike will find a diversity of shopping and dining resources. The Haupbahnhof, the main railway station in Zurich, has such a large entry hall that it is able to accommodate its own Christmas market during the winter holiday season. At other times throughout the year, there are a variety of exhibitions and displays to tantalize visitors in Switzerland’s largest city.

Obviously not all railway stations provide a complete selection of all services, but the point is that a European train terminal can become a traveler’s best friend. At the very least visitors will find information, food and currency exchange.

Hauptbahnhof, Zurich

Regardless of how you say it, be it bahnhof, gare, or statzione, a railway station always translates to oasis. Travelers making the transition from the familiarities of home through the learning curves of new environments will quickly discover that railway stations can be an island of consolation in a vast, uncharted sea of uncertainty. For novice travelers a train station can become a vital comfort zone just knowing that help is readily available. A railway terminal is a one-stop bonanza where numerous small tasks can be accomplished, ultimately saving time and energy, allowing more opportunities for exploration.

Best of all, European rail stations are a great place to catch a train.

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to SwitzerlandFrance and Italy for groups of 12 or more.

Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countriesSuggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte






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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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