How to Get the Best Child and Youth Discounts on European Trains

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2023-11-07
PUBLISHED ON  2022-07-04

Your Train Guide

Mose Hayward

Childlike Rail Nut

The value proposition for travelling by train in Europe grows by multiples when it comes to travelling with children.

Compared to flying, train operators are quite generous in the age brackets for free travel with babies and toddlers and they offer significant discounts for youth. Also, trains are quite a bit more comfortable, often have amenities specifically for families, and it’s generally cheaper and easier to get to train stations than airports.

Plus, trains are a heck of a lot of fun for kids.

Getting the best prices for your young ones (or yourself—youth discounts go up to age 26 and even later in some cases) depends on which countries you’re travelling through and what kind of itinerary you’re interested in. We’ll give some general advice and then country-specific guidelines in this article.

Top Strategies for Getting Cheap Train Tickets for Babies, Children and Youth

Your first stop for cheap tickets for families riding trains around Europe is our favorite train booking platform: Trainline. That’s because for trips across national borders in Europe we have found it tends to offer the best routes and prices for adults. But if you input your kids’ ages, it will also automatically check for any relevant discounts for them, including if they ride for free and don’t even need a ticket.

Trainline mainly covers Western Europe, however, so for travel further east or to Portugal you’ll have to see individual country listings below for links to the national train operators and information about their varied child discounts.

Also very worth considering for families, especially those with children under the age of 12, are the Eurail/Interrail passes discussed in more detail below. These tend to be best for families who are planning to hit a number of destinations in a short span of time, like a few weeks.

Keep in mind that any 60-and-older adults in the group may also be able to get limited senior discounts on European trains.

Should You Take Trains with Children in Europe? The Pros and Cons

We highly recommend train travel for everyone in Europe where possible and the advantages multiply when travelling with babies, children, and even teenagers.

Your choices of trains versus (or in combination with) car, bus, and plane travel will depend on your specific routes and needs, but here are some general pros and cons to keep in mind.

The Pros of European Trains for Babies / Children / Teens

  • Comfort: Trains allow more space to sit as well as to get up and move around. Children need to move, and there is much more space for them to do so in a train than in a plane or a bus. And there isn’t the quick change in altitude that causes problems for young ears in planes.
  • Amenities for babies/children: It’s very common to find fold-out changing tables in both local and long-distance European trains. Some French, German, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swiss trains offer family cars with small dedicated play areas and other features that are especially useful for those with babies (and help to keep them from disturbing passengers in other cars too).
  • Trains are cheap for families! Yes, there are budget airlines serving Europe that can be cheap, but when you add up the tickets for children who need their own seats, the total airfare prices for families can end up much higher than expected (not to mention the extra charges for baggage). National train operators are much more permissive about letting small children travel for free (see the individual country sections below). And there are lots of discounts for older children and teenagers. Thanks to the free child passes up to age 11, weeks-or-months-long Eurail/Interrail passes are particularly worthwhile for families.
  • Trains are fun: Children are fascinated by and love to play with trains; riding in one can be more memorable for some than any particular destination it might lead to. Trains are conducive to meeting others too; your little ones may even have the fortune to encounter other travellers of the same age. Train tables can usually fold out big enough to accomodate board games, cards, coloring books, and other activities.
  • Few baggage restrictions: Unlike the very persnickety restrictions on airlines, European trains generally don’t have specific restrictions on size or number of bags, so for families with quite a bit of gear this can be an advantage. The main exceptions to note are Eurostar trains (connecting the UK and mainland Europe) and France’s budget train Ouigo, which have some baggage limits.
  • Trains tend to connect directly to European city centers. This means it’s much more comfortable to get to and from your hotel or rental apartment, which is often a short taxi ride or even walk from the train station. In contrast, airports are often well outside of the city centers. For Paris airports, for example, this means a long bus ride, long and expensive taxi ride, or long and complicated suburban train/metro ride (with lots of stairs). Bus stations are also usually a bit further out (though not as far as the airports).
  • Airports are a hassle with children, aside from the inconvenience of getting to and from them. Getting through security checks takes time with kids and can mean packing/unpacking a lot of items, and even forgoing certain necessities in carry-ons. With train travel you keep all of your luggage with you, and security checks, when they exist, are much more quick and painless. Airport wait times also add significant stress and overall durations to your total trips, whereas with trains it’s generally fine to just show up only a half hour before the train leaves (or even less if you already know your way around).

The Cons to Keep in Mind

  • Getting free train travel for babies and toddlers often means no reserved seat for them either. This is generally not a problem on regional European trains where you’re likely to find a spot next to you that’s available. But in some cases on crowded trains a child without a seat reservation may be expected to ride on your lap. If you prefer, seat reservations can be purchased even for infants, usually with a significant child discount. This can be well worth it. When booking, Trainline says you may need to enter an older (6-11) age for your toddler if you are trying to reserve a seat for a child who doesn’t necessarily need one. This means changing the birth year entered for the child when running the search.
  • Long trips can be hard for young children, even in the relative comfort of trains. It may be best to break trips up into shorter segments when possible.
  • Some train stations, especially small-town rural train stations, may involve steps to get to the train platform, and thus may not be as convenient when moving with strollers or small legs.

Eurail and Interrail Passes for Children and Teenagers

The pan-Europe train passes Eurail and Interrail are famous, but, as we pointed out in our analysis, almost never actually a good deal, especially since there are increasingly more budget train operators and other special deals that are outside of the Eurail /Interrail system.

While these are traditionally associated with backpackers, there are also offers on these schemes for adults travelling with children. The two options are:

  • Eurail: For those who are residents outside of Europe
  • Interrail: For those who are residents in Europe

As detailed in the later half of this article, each European country has its own discount rules about babies, children, and teens. In general, the discounts are rather restrictive and very young children only travel for free if they are not occupying a seat.

The Eurail pass for children / Interrail pass for children could still theoretically be an OK deal for a family travelling with a lot of stops on slower trains in a short time frame.

For each adult pass purchased, you can get up to two free passes for children aged 4-11. (If there are more than two children per over-aged-18 adult, you will need to buy the youth pass for them.)

As with adult passes, seat reservations for child passes are not included—and are necessary in some cases, like on night trains and high speed trains. There are also supplements to pay on some trains.

Children aged 3 and under do not need a pass to travel, but since the child passes are free you will probably want to get one anyway for your baby or toddler, as the child passes optionally allow you to reserve seats. Otherwise, the child does not get its own seat and may have to ride on the adult’s lap if the train is crowded.

Young people aged 12 to 27 on their first day of travel are eligible for the Eurail youth pass / Interrail youth pass. The discounts vary according to the type of trip pass selected. For a cohort that is flexible about its destinations and likes to travel every day or two, these could possibly work out cheaper than buying traditional tickets, especially for those willing to avoid high speed trains and who want the flexibility of deciding while one the road where to go.

For any Eurail / Interrail travel, I’d suggest actually doing the math and checking the pass+supplements+reservations for your itinerary versus just reserving the whole route on Trainline in advance. Often buying advance point-to-point tickets is still cheapest.

Train Travel Discounts for Children in European Countries

What follows is the best information available as of the last update from the various national and private train operators in Europe. My staff and I were able to research this speaking most of the languages in question but try to link to English sources here wherever they exist; otherwise you (like we sometimes do) can opt for Google Translate.

As noted below, most discount cards are annual cards that can be purchased and offer a discount of around 25-50%; national youth discount cards are usually only worthwhile if you are travelling frequently in that country over the course of a year.

We still don’t have some countries’ youth discounts covered here, unfortunately: Albania, Belarus, Georgia, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia, or Ukraine. Andorra does not have train service.

Austria

Belgium

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bulgaria

Croatia

Czech Republic / Czechia

Denmark

Estonia

France

Germany

Hungary

Italy

North Macedonia

Montenegro

Netherlands

Portugal

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Switzerland

Turkey

United Kingdom


We do our best to keep this article up-to-date; sharing your experiences is quite welcome in the comments. We also try to answer questions and hope to persuade many young people and their parents to hit the rails for adventures in Europe.

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