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

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.

Update History of This Article

This article was first published on July 4, 2022.

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

While traditionally associated with backpackers, these pan-Europe train passes are generally excellent deals 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 tends to be a much better deal. 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. But such seat reservations are steeply discounted with a Eurail or Interrail pass, and these discounts add up even more if you’re booking a pan-Europe trip with children.

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, but for travel over for example a period of a single month they tend to be much better than purchasing a discount card for a specific country as outlined in the next sections, as these tend to be annual cards and complicated to get unless you’re a resident of that country. Again, keep in mind with Eurail/Interrail that seat reservations will be at an extra cost and are necessary for overnight/high speed and other certain types of trains.

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 speak most of the languages in question but try to link to English sources here wherever they exist.

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.

Austrian national rail operator ÖBB offers those aged 0 to 5 free travel on its network and 50% off for those aged 6 to 14. Tickets can be booked directly at that link and for trains connecting to Germany through Deutsche Bahn (more complete) or Trainline (easier to use).

There is also a discount card for residents called the ÖBB Vorteilscard or Advantage Card, which is available for purchase and valid for one year. The Vorteilscard Jugend is for those under 26 and costs €19; it allows for second class travel for half price, although certain major routes and discounted trips are excluded. There is a calculator to help you determine whether it is worthwhile.

Also available at the same page is the ÖBB Vorteilscard Family, which allows you to take four children under the age of 15 with you for free.

The Belgian train system is particularly generous to families; up to four children aged 0 to 11 can travel for free in first or second class with an adult. A ticket is not needed but an ID with proof of age is required. This must be travel between two Belgian train stations.

For more than four kids or for unaccompanied children there is a KIDS TICKET available at 50% off.

Children up to age 3 travel for free without a reserved seat on the Željeznice or Railways of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which lists its rules here in English. From 4 to 12 years old children get 50% off; these discounted tickets can also be purchased for those under 4 if you prefer to ensure the child has their own seat.

Children on Bulgarian railways can travel for free with an adult up to the age of 7, but must pay separately for a seat reservation.

Those aged 7 to 10 can be issued a half-off discount pass that costs 1 lev (approximately 50 euro cents) but this involves showing a birth certificate; it’s not clear if foreign children are accepted for this. There is also a youth pass for those aged up to 26.

The Croatian train network lets children under the age of 6 travel for free alongside an adult, and offers discounts of 50% for those aged 6 to 12. There are youth cards available for purchase that can offer 25% discounts for frequent travellers aged 12 to 26.

Railway operator České dráhy (ČD) offers a discount of 75% for those aged 6 to 17. Children under 6 ride for free.

Children under the age of 12 travel for free (limit of two free children per adult ticket) on Denmark’s train network. Those aged 12-16 pay half price.

According to the Estonian train operator’s website, children under 7 (or those not yet in primary school) ride for free. Those aged up to and including 19 may be eligible for discounts.

A train pulling up in a small town in northern France; photo by Alfenaar

The official French train operator SNCF allows children under 4 travel for free on most trains: TGV inOUI, TER (regional), or Intercités, as long as they travel in a baby carrier or on your lap. The Forfait Bambin also allows you to purchase a seat for them in such situations for 9 euros.

Also on these standard SNCF trains, children ages 4-11 travel for half price; be sure to enter all children’s ages when booking.

As we discuss in our explanation of the French discount train service Ouigo, all children under 12 get tickets for 8 euros (departing or arriving from Lille-Flandres or Paris) or 5 euros (all other destinations).

In second class on TGV INOUI trains in second class it is possible to book in the family space (“Espace Familles”) train car, which is close to the train’s nursery and play area and changing tables.

Of more questionable value, the French train system offers the Carte Avantage Jeune as an annual subscription discount card for those aged 12 to 27. It is valid for one year and costs 49 euros. The benefits and complications to be aware of:

  • 30% off on 1st class in TGV INOUI and 2nd class on Full Leisure Fares
  • Access to a set of “capped prices”, meaning certain types of tickets don’t get priced above a certain point, even if, for example popular route tickets are purchased at the last minute
  • Important exclusions: No discounts on cheaper train fares like OUIGO and INTERCITÉS 100% ECO, no discounts on any add-on services, no discounts on trips that both start and end in the Paris region nor certain regional TER trains

I purchased a version of this card when I was living in France and still within the age limit; it turned out not to have been worth my while because I didn’t make enough eligible trips during the year it was valid. If you travel quite frequently by train in France, however, it can be worth it.

Because the French train platform linked to at the top of this section can be such a hassle and produce errors on foreign credit cards, we tend to recommend Trainline for booking in France; if booking with kids enter everyone’s names and ages first and Trainline will point you to the most relevant discounts (or let you know when your kids can travel for free).

The German train operator Deutsche Bahn offers discounts for children:

  • Children 0 to 5 years old ride for free, but a seat for them is not included unless booked separately.
  • Children aged 6-14 ride for free but must have their information entered on the accompanying adult’s ticket.
  • There are slightly reduced rates available for those under 27 on the purchase of certain annual discount cards.

The Deutsche Bahn booking website works quite well but it can be worth comparing to the routes available via Trainline, especially if crossing national borders.

When purchasing train tickets at a Hungarian train station or online, the following discounts apply for the young from the Hungarian train operator:

  • Children under 6 ride for free with any adult, in any train class.
  • Children aged 6-14 get a 50% discount in second class.
  • Students with a valid student ID also get a 50% discount.
  • Those under 26 years old get a 33% discount from Friday at 10 am through Sunday at midnight.
  • There are also certain family discounts for the adults travelling with children.

All of this is on top of the already very-affordable train prices in Hungary.

Italian public train operator Trenitalia allows children aged 0 to 3 to ride for free and a 50% discount on those aged 4 to 14. Certain regional trains have a variety of rules that are detailed at that link. An easier way to get answers is to input your child’s age at Trainline and run a search which will give you the options on both the public and private operator Italo.

Speaking of which, the private Italian operator Italo allows all children aged 0 to 3 to ride for free without a seat reservation (they sit on a lap). Certain trips are also eligible for free fares for other children up to the age of 14.

Trenitalia also offers a Carta Verde (or Green Card) for those aged 12 to 26 that costs 40 euros; it is generally only worthwhile if you are travelling frequently in Italy. It offers 10% off of base fares in Italy and 25% off of international connections.

Macedonia Railways allows children up to the age of 3 inclusive to ride for free but without a seat. Those aged 4 to 12 with photo documentation of their age get tickets at 50% off the standard price. A 50% discount is also possible for those aged up to 27 if they get a K-13 discount from a ticket seller. There is more information available here from the Macedonian national rail carrier but it is only in Macedonian and Albanian languages.

Montenegro’s national train service offers various discounts for the young:

  • Free travel for those up to the age of 6
  • A discount of about 50% for those aged 6 to 14
  • Discounts of about 50% for students and those under the age of 26 who buy a 1-euro K-5 discount card (valid for two years)

National operator NS has discounts for those under the age of 26 and more complete information in Dutch on discount cards that resident young people or their parents can order (install Google Translate browser extension if needed).

The NS service also has a nice summary in English of the discounts available for children depending on the country and rail service in countries neighboring the Netherlands.

The official operator Comboios de Portugal has discounts for children:

  • Those aged 0-3 ride for free with adults as long as they don’t occupy a seat.
  • Those aged 4-12 get their own seats at half price.
  • On the international Celta service (connecting Porto and Vigo in the North, but not very conveniently) there is a 40% discount.

We’ve seen a number of school trips using the Portuguese train system; the train operator provides a page of suggestions of where you might go and what you might do with young ones.

Note that Portugal is tragically not connected in any useful way by train with most of Spain; for overland low carbon travel search the bus/train combinations presented by Trainline.

There are free tickets on many types of Slovakian trains for those under 16 years old who are residents anywhere, and for students under 26 years old who are EU residents. It is necessary to first register for a rail customer card at ZSSK (official Slovakian train operator) ticket desks; for English speakers try to do so at a major train station. Take a passport photo and your address written out to facilitate communication.

Once you have your card you can get €0 tickets on most trains in Slovakia (those run by ZSSK); the exception is some fast trains that have a supplement.

Children under the age of 6 do not need any registration to get zero-fare tickets on eligible routes.

Slovenian Railways offers a range of discounts for the young ones:

  • Children aged 0-5 travel for free provided they do not occupy a seat. They must still have a ticket; up to two children may travel for free with one adult.
  • Those aged 6-12 as well as those under the age of 6 who need their own seat get a 50% discount on both first class and standard class tickets.
  • Those under the age of 26 can get 30% off of domestic fares, 50% off train travel between Slovenia and Croatia, and 15% off of certain other international train trips.

The adults travelling with children are also eligible for family discounts.

An Iryo train in Zaragoza, Spain

In general terms, it’s impossible to say which of the four high speed operators in Spain offer the best deal for families with children. If you have a specific trip in mind, you can easily check all of them side-by-side by entering your children’s ages and running a search on Trainline, which will show you all options and their discounts.

That’s the easiest way to figure out your cheapest trip and discounts, but if you want to get into the weeds we have written up a lot more specifics on the Spanish high speed train options, including the particulars of these discounts for children: the private Iryo and French budget Ouigo, as well as Renfe’s Ave and budget option Avlo.

Spain’s national operator Renfe has a variety of discounts for children and young people:

  • Those aged 0 to 3 ride for free if they do not occupy a ticket. On high speed trains (AVE and Avant), they need to have their tickets pre-booked in any case.
  • Those under 14 years old get a 40% discount.
  • Those aged 14 to 25 can buy an annual discount card called the Tarjeta +Renfe Joven for 50 euros that gives 25-30% discounts; it is only worthwhile if you make frequent trips in the country. This card is purchased in train stations and at Renfe shops.

The website of the Spanish rail operator Renfe is dysfunctional, so even if you’re sure you want to take Renfe and none of the competitors we still recommend booking with Trainline, which will point you to any discounts, even including if you have a youth discount card purchased in a Spanish train station. The exception is certain local trains, which you will need to purchase tickets for in stations.

Renfe discount cards do not apply to Iryo and Ouigo.

There are various rail passes available for children travelling frequently by train in Switzerland.

Children under the age of 8 ride for free on Turkish trains, those aged 8-11 travel half price, and finally the 12 to 25 year olds get a 20% discount. Be sure to ask for these discounts if booking in a train station. Seat 61 has a good guide in English for Turkish trains. It is possible to book online on the train operator’s TCDD website (English, sort of, at this link).

The National Rail allows children under the age of 5 to ride for free as long as they do not occupy the seat of a paying passenger.

Those aged 5 to 15 get a 50% discount on most tickets. There are also various options for annual discount railcards for those aged 16 to 17, aged 16-25, and aged 26-30.

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.