Seat reservations guide

Basic terms:

Ticket – entitles you to ride a train, but doesn’t guarantee a seat. An Interrail/Eurail pass is one type of a ticket.

Reservation – entitles you to sit in a specific seat.

Reservations are possible to book usually 1-3 months before departure, sometimes even longer depending on the company. Sometimes, the reservations for a particular date might not be for sale because some track work is expected, and the adjusted schedule is not finished yet – in that case, you have to wait until reservations are released for your date.

For more details on reservations in each country, take a look at that country’s article here, or at Seat61’s comprehensive guide for Interrail reservations, or the website of the railway company you’re interested in.

Trains with mandatory seat reservations

In some countries, particularly Spain, France and Italy, all intercity and high speed trains require seat reservations, which are necessary to board the train even if you already have a valid Interrail pass. You absolutely need a reservation in these countries, otherwise you will either not be allowed to board the train, or pay a large fine once you are checked on the train. In these countries, reservations are quite expensive, usually around 10-30€. This makes interrailing in these countries more expensive and less flexible. If you buy a regular ticket instead of using Interrail, the reservation is included in the price.

It’s a good idea to book early, since the trains may sell out, and sometimes there is a limited quota of seats sold to Interrail holders, after that only regular tickets are for sale. Interrail seat reservations are usually at a fixed price, while regular tickets with reservations can vary in price depending on how early you buy them – ocasionally, they may even be cheaper than the Interrail reservation. If a train with mandatory reservations is sold out, you just have to take a different train.

Some eastern European countries such as Poland or Romania are different – reservations are required there on intercity trains,you can usually buy them onboard, and if you get lucky you may be allowed to ride without one. They also very rarely sell out, and even if they are you might still be allowed on the train. This does not apply to EIP trains in Poland, reservations are more expensive and you have to buy them before boarding.

You can avoid the need for reservations in these countries by travelling with slower regional trains. The Interrail app has an option to only show those trains. It doesn’t show all regional trains in some countries, for example Spain, so it’s better to use a local website there.

Trains with optional seat reservations

In other countries, reservations are generally optional and you can get them if you want to have a seat guaranteed, but you don’t need to if you’re fine with standing or sitting on the floor in case the train is full. The optional reservations are usually quite cheap, around 3-5€.

Some companies like DB show the expected crowding level of a particular train on their website/app, so you can check if its a good idea to get a reservation. Some companies also show you a seating map, where you can see which seats have been reserved and which ones are free, you can usually get that in the last step before payment when buying a reservation online.

Once you get on the train, there will either be pieces of paper showing which seats are reserved, or in newer trains there will be electronic screens showing the same thing. Some seats can be marked as express reservation or similar, which means that people can still reserve these seats from intermediate stops during the train ride.

In countries where most trains have optional reservations, there can still be exceptions which do require reservations – some companies like Thalys or Regiojet require them, and some specific services like SC Pendolino in Czechia.

How to find out which trains require reservations?

The easiest way is the Interrail app, which tells you if you need a reservation – but it has been wrong in the past, it may not always have up to date information for every country. The apps of railway companies, such as DB Navigator, ÖBB Scotty or ČD Můj Vlak are more reliable, especially for the trains of the same company, but they also often work for neighboring countries. If you search a connection and look at the details of a train, it will either say nothing about reservations (no seat reservations are possible), or ʀ – reservations are optional, or 🅁 – reservations are mandatory. The same ʀ and 🅁 symbols can also be found in paper timetables. You can also always ask the staff at train stations or in the trains.

How to buy seat reservations?

Sometimes the easiest option is to buy it online, although not all companies allow online reservations. You can go directly to the train operator, or use a 3rd party service such as Interrail – those generally charge a booking fee, so it’s usually cheaper to go to the operator directly. Here are some useful websites (many also have an app version):

  • https://travel.b-europe.com/Eurail-GE/en/booking-tgv#TravelWish – TGV trains within France (it also charges a booking fee, but less than Interrail)
  • https://www.b-europe.com/EN/Booking/Pass#TravelWish – Thalys trains between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany; Eurostar trains between France and the UK
  • https://www.irishrail.ie/en-ie/ – Reservations on Irish Rail in Ireland for Interrail pass-holders can be made free of charge online for 2nd-class seats. For first-class reservations, the website will make a charge, but Irish Rail have confirmed via email (January 2023) that first-class passholders do not need to pay any supplement to travel in first class. Specifically:
    • If you have a First Class Interrail ticket then you can travel in the Standard Class or First Class carriage. The only issue is that you can’t reserve your seat online in First Class without paying the additional supplement. The €6.25 or €12.50 is the standard fee to upgrade if you have a Standard ticket. The only routes that have a dedicated First Class carriage is the Dublin/Cork and Dublin/Belfast routes. If you board the First Class carriage and present your ticket to the Train Host/Manager you will be able to sit in any available un-booked seat.
  • https://travel.b-europe.com/dsb-rail/en/reservation-only – Danish railways
  • https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en?&rit=yes – German railways
  • https://www.cd.cz/en/spojeni-a-jizdenka/ – Czech railways (charges less than DB for reservations in Germany)
  • https://tickets.oebb.at/en/ticket?cref=oebb-header – Austrian railways (works for Italy as well, also useful for booking Nightjet reservations) – select the “single tickets” option and add Interrail as a discount card, not the “seat only” option
  • https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/tickets-for-switzerland/seat-reservations.html – Swiss railways (making reservations on domestic Swiss trains is very uncommon, almost nobody does that)
  • https://bilete.cfrcalatori.ro/en-GB/Itineraries – Romanian railways. Note that while you can buy tickets+reservations via this website, stand-alone reservations (most useful for Interrail passholders) cannot be made online: for that, you need to go to the booking office at a station. (This information was confirmed by email from CFR customer services in January 2023: “The reservation for the Interrail pass can only be purchased at the ticket offices in the stations.”)
  • https://www.hzpp.hr/ – Croatian railways- Unfortunately it is not possible to buy reservations only via this site, you can book full ticket + reservation via the site. Reservations can be made at a Croatian ticket office or by email, for seats, couchettes or sleepers (e.g. the night train Zagreb-Split). To book, send an email to [email protected], max. 2 months in advance.
  • https://www.interrail.eu/en/book-reservations#/ – works for most trains in Europe, but with an additional booking fee, and the information is not always up to date
  • As per 2024 Rail Europe also offers seat reservations for Eurostar and almost all TGV’s. See raileurope.com for the offer. You can pick bookings and look. This does need a cover number generated, see the bottom of this page for how to get this. You need to select Rail Pass and your correct class of pass before looking up times. No booking fees!

Sometimes it can be a good idea to check the websites of all countries that your train passes through, since the reservation might be cheaper from one company, or only possible to buy from one of them.

In some countries, online reservations are not available at all, for example in Spain or Norway, and most countries in southeastern/eastern Europe. Sometimes they are still available from Interrail, but they’ll send you the physical reservation by post, instead of email. A better option might be to call one of the railways, for example SNCF or DB, and they might be able to send you some reservations by email that are not available online.

You can buy the reservations at ticket counters – this usually works for many other countries, for example reservations for Spain can be obtained in Switzerland or Czechia, not only neighboring countries. In the Balkans, this often doesn’t work and you can buy the reservations only in the country that your train departs from (this applies to most trains in countries like Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey…). However regular tickets which include reservations can be bought online in some of these countries, and since they don’t tend to be very expensive, you can consider using those instead of Interrail.

Some of the above websites require a “pass cover number”, this is reasonably clear if you have a paper pass but is not displayed on mobile passes. If you have a mobile pass you can convert your pass number into a pass cover number (yes they are different) using one of these sites:

Interrail: https://www.interrail.eu/en/book-reservations#/generatePassCoverNumber

Eurail: https://www.eurail.com/en/book-reservations#/generatePassCoverNumber