Staying in one of the railway themed hotels featured on this article has very much been added to the bucket list.
However, when following your own bespoke rail holiday itinerary the practicalities of making your adventures as easy as possible, while on a budget, tend to be more important than the aesthetics of where you’ll be putting your head down.
If there’s no limit to your expenditure then combining simple transfers between stations and your accommodation, with all the creature comforts you can desire, is obviously the way to go, but no matter the extent of your budget, the info and ideas collated on this guide will enhance your exploration of Europe by train.
SMTJ's accommodation check list
ShowMeTheJourney attempts to apply some logic to the booking of accommodation when travelling by train, because the journeys matter so much more than where we stay; so these are our key criteria:
(1) ideally within a 10 mins walk of a station...
(2) ...or with easy access by public transport,
(3) online reviews, which suggest that the accommodation is basic, but clean and comfortable,
(4) and now that ShowMeTheJourney has been published, free to access reliable Wi-fi has also found its way on to the must-have list,
(5) sharing a bathroom is fine, but no dormitories,
(6) a check-in procedure that won’t be compromised by a delayed train arrival.
Definitely keep this front of mind when booking a classic B&B, particularly one that’s in a private home, or an Airbnb at which the host will be handing over keys.
...and with a maximum, but not unreasonable budget of €60-80 per night front of mind.
Ticking of as many these off as possible can require some compromises, some of which can seem eccentric at face value, but trust me they can make sense; particularly if you’ll be travelling with an InterRail or Eurail pass.
Upping the budget would make the quest for an ideal room so much simpler, because when a station also happens to be located in a smart central neighbourhood, it tends to send room rates soaring.
The ultimate is of course the luxury station hotel, but this facility is rarer than you might suspect.
Examples of when this an option include:
Barcelona Sants = Hotel Barcelo Sants
London St Pancras International = The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
London Paddington = Hilton London Paddington
Edinburgh = Balmoral Hotel
Glasgow = Grand Central Hotel
Malaga Maria Zambrano – Hotel Barcelo Malaga
Newcastle = Royal Station Hotel
Oslo S = Comfort Grand Hotel
Paris Gare De Lyon = Mercure Paris Gare De Lyon TGV Hotel
Of the 50+ locations where ShowMeTheJourney has slept between train rides only two have had budget station hotels
You might expect major stations to act like magnets for hoteliers, but that’s not always the case.
Though stations which do have an exceptionally wide choice of quality accommodation at reasonable prices, right by them include Berlin Hbf, Bologna Centrale, Dusseldorf Hbf, Frankfurt (Main) Hbf, Hamburg Hbf, Malmo C, Milano Centrale, Munchen Hbf, Paris Montparnasse, Roma Termini and Wien Hbf.
If you are happy to push the budget, you’ll also find a good selection of places to stay by these stations – Kobenhavn H, Firenze S.M.Novella, Nice-Ville, Stockholm Central, Venezia Santa Lucia and Zurich HB.
Hotels located right by a station that I can personally recommend, because they exceeded the criteria and when they were booked they happened to be under €80 per night, are:
Bologna Centrale = UNA Hotel Bologna Centro
Bruxelles-Midi = Park Inn By Radison
Gent Sint Pieters= Hotel Carlton
Koblenz hbf = G Hotel
Luxembourg = Hotel Grey
Malaga Maria Zambrano = Hotel Don Paco
Malmo Centrale = Comfort Hotel
Milano Centrale = Hotel Colombia
Torino Porta Susa = Hotel Diplomatic
Wien Hbf = Azimut Hotel Vienna AND Motel One Wien Hauptbahnhof
In contrast other stations can have a surprisingly sparse choice of accommodation in their immediate neighbourhoods - and these include Amsterdam Centraal, Antwerpen Centraal, Bern, Bordeaux St Jean, Brugge, Budapest Keleti, Madrid Chamartin, Napoli Centrale, Toulouse Matabiau and Verona Porta Nuova - it's not impossible to stay somewhere within a 5 min walk of these stations, but the options will be comparatively limited.
What to look out for when staying a 10-15 mins walk from a station:
Being a naturally risk-averse Londoner, walking through city streets near stations after dark, with a phone in my hand, so that I can follow a map app, is something I’d normally avoid.
Which is partially why my most frustrating moments when exploring by train, have stemmed from an initial inability to find the place I’ve booked for the night.
I once used the wrong exit at Bruxelles-Luxembourg station and then spent 15 mins searching for the Radisson Blu hotel that I’d chosen, because it was next door!
So four tips for this scenario are:
(1) The distance to the hotel will be further than it seems on Google Maps.
(2) Note the name of the first street, by the station, that you’ll be using in order to reach your accommodation, it will very likely be on the exit signs at the station – and leaving by the right exit can be key to avoiding confusion.
(3) Before arriving at a station use Google Maps to see if there is a landmark adjacent to where you will be staying – such as, is it located beside a pharmacy, or on the opposite street corner to a florist?
(4) Also double check on which street the front entrance to your hotel is located, I’ve walked right by hotels on countless occasions because I wasn’t aware of this.
Finding a hostel within an easy walking distance of a train station can be trickier than you might expect, hence this guide to Europe's best hostels with easy station access being particularly welcome!
It's recommendations have all been included to the places to stay sections of the respective station guides - Amsterdam Centraal; Barcelona Sants; Berlin Hbf; Budapest Keleti; Budapest Nyugati; Kobenhavn H; Krakow Glowny; Paris Gare Du Nord; Praha hl.n. and Wien Hbf.
Two hostel chains that have a particularly high number of properties with easy station access are St Christopher Inns and Wombats; though double-check the locations of their respective properties because not all them are by stations.
If I can’t find somewhere that meets my criteria within a 10 min walk of a station, I look up the accommodation across the city using a map search tool, while also tightening up the search parameters, so that I don’t get over-burdened with results.
What I’m searching for is somewhere that ticks all the boxes and also happens to be connected to the station by a direct metro or tram route – and is preferably located right by a metro or tram stop.
This can be particularly useful if you will be arriving and departing from different stations in the city; look up the metro lines which serve each station, check to see where they connect and then target accommodation in the vicinity of that metro interchange station.
Hotels I can personally recommend that worked out in this scenario are:
The Hotel Rum in Budapest - 3 mins from Kavin Ter station, which has direct Metro links to three of Budapest's main stations: Kelenfod, Keleti and Nyugati.
Hotel La Manufacture in Paris; my room was tiny, but it was booked at a bargain rate, but the reason for choosing this hotel was its proximity to the Place D'Italie Metro station which has direct connections with the Gare d'Austerlitz, Gare de l'Est, Gare Du Nord and Gare Montparnasse.
The suggested accommodation sections of these ShowMeTheJourney station guides, include details of multiple overnight options which can easily be accessed by public transport:
Amsterdam Centraal; Barcelona Sants; Berlin Hbf; Goteborg C; Hamburg Hbf; Madrid Atocha; Marseille St Charles; Oslo S; Paris Est; Paris Nord; Stockholm C and Zurich HB.
Not many suburban stations happen to have quality places to stay right by them, but if you can track one down and
- it has direct local trains to/from the main station
- and you’ll be travelling with a Eurail or InterRail pass
they can be a great choice for these 4 reasons:
(1) The room rates should be a lot cheaper, than a city centre hotel.
(2 You’ll be able to use your rail pass on the local trains (you can’t if you take a metro).
(3) If the local trains depart until late, you won’t have to miss out on spending an evening in the big city.
(4) Local trains are faster than metros, so the making the transfer from the main station can be a lot quicker than you might assume.
Somewhere which ticked all these boxes was the Hine Adon Apart-Hotel in Belp; chosen because I couldn’t find anywhere suitable in Bern city centre.
Another, was the Marriot Courtyard in Pratteln near Basel; selected because it was around 40% cheaper than equivalent hotels in the city centre.
And it's not a coincidence that those two examples are in Switzerland, finding somewhere for less than €100 per night right by the main stations in Swiss cities can be a needle in a haystack scenario.
Fabulous cities will be on your must-see list, but if you adopt a mind-set that where you go is more important than where you stay, you can cast your net wide and make big savings.
If you will be travelling with a rail pass these locations are all worth considering for overnight stays, particularly if the trains on your itinerary happen to make station calls in these towns.
They’re all under an hour from the A-list cities by train; and the cost of travelling back and forth by train will be covered by your pass.
Also on the morning of your next long journey, you can often also rise later; if the train will be departing from your chosen location after it has commenced its journey in the main city.
(1) If there is a location or two in which you will spending more than a couple of nights, check the prices on a room comparison site, for a week or so either side of your preferred travel date.
Particularly expensive anomalies in room rates will be easy to spot.
When special events are being staged in a city, accommodation becomes particularly pricey, so checking that you'll be avoiding them can be a big plus; a lesson I learned the hard way when I arrived in Berlin and discovered it was the weekend of its marathon.
It can be much cheaper to follow an itinerary in an OPPOSITE direction, to that which you originally had in mind.
(2) Having worked out most preferable dates to be in each location, check the train schedules to see if the usual train service will be operating on the route you’ll need to take, particularly if you will be travelling on a Saturday or Sunday.
The best method of doing this is to look up the journey on a ticket booking website and compare the travel info you find, with the journey guides on ShowMeTheJourney, any discrepancy should flag up that travel is being compromised on your dates.
If you need or want to make a reservation on a train, in order to reach where you plan to spend the night, then book it before you secure your travel arrangements.
A worst case scenario to be avoided is booking non-refundable accommodation, to only then discover that the train service will be compromised on the dates you'll need to travel.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.