Travel Tip: European railway stations can be your new BFF

Travel Tip: European railway stations can be your new BFF

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Atocha Station in Madrid has a botanical garden in the main lobby (wikipedia)

EUROPE, April 25, 2015 – When traveling abroad, many inexperienced travelers have two primary common fears: language barriers and getting lost. Here’s a tip that may surprise you. In Europe, one place in almost every city where help is available is the train station.

London's Victoria Station is always busy  (wikipedia)
London’s Victoria Station is always busy (Wikipedia)

Keep in mind that rail terminals can readily alleviate fears and become a major refuge and ally.

A railway station located in an airport is a convenience in many 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 in the heart of town. That means visitors are immediately centrally located before attempting to conquer new worlds. But that’s only the beginning.

Massive electronic departure boards list all train information chronologically  (wikipedia)
Massive electronic departure boards list all train information chronologically (Wikipedia)

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 and answers to almost any question.

Milan's Central Station was built by Mussolin (wikipedia)
Milan’s Central Station was built by Mussolin (Wikipedia)

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 and a variety of food services. 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.

Le Train Bleu Restaurant  reminds us of a Golden Age of travel  (wikipedia)
Le Train Bleu Restaurant reminds us of a Golden Age of travel (Wikipedia)

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 20th century, a stunning display of the styles of the era. While Le Train Bleu is certainly an anomaly, even by today’s standards, it is a superb example of how versatile and practical a European railway station can be. For instance, in many Swiss villages there are Bahnhof Buffets where the food is so good that locals frequently dine at the train station instead of more traditional restaurants.

Rail passes save time and money  (wikipedia)
Rail passes save time and money (Wikipedia)

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 European cities, underground passageways offering 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 exhibitions and displays to tantalize visitors in Switzerland’s largest city.

Small stations have their own personalities (wikipedia)
Small stations have their own personalities (wikipedia)

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.

Regardless of how you say it, be it bahnhof, gare, or stazione, a railway station always translates to an oasis. Travelers making the transition from the familiarities of home through the learning curves of new environments will quickly discover that a railway station 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 where they know 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 and allowing more opportunities for exploration.

Gare du Nord in Paris is magical at night  (wikipedia)
Gare du Nord in Paris is magical at night (Wikipedia)

Best of all, European rail stations are also the ideal place to catch a train.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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