Is there much difference between 1st and 2nd class when buying eurail passes? Also, do you need to book in advance a seat when you are reading to travel to a new city or can you just hop on the train once you've validated your ticket. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Yes, there is a difference. I traveled via train through Germany, Czech Republic and Austria last year via first class. Anyway, First Class compartments are larger, and the seating is more spacious, and in some countries, like Germany on the ICE, you feel like a somebody with the leather seats and air conditioning, etc. I prefer traveling by train instead of by plane across Europe because it's more relaxing and I love watching the countryside. Also, the cars tend to be either right behind the engine or at the very end. I thought it was worth it to pay a little more for first class for the comfort factor. Oh, by the way, the conductor validates your ticket while you are on the train. You just show it to him with your passport. And, no, you don't have to reserve a seat a head of time. Just allow yourself plenty of time and get there early to get the best seat.
Petra M, Vancouver
If you can get the 2nd class pass, get it. While 1st class is definetely nicer and less crowded, I do not think the difference in price is worth it. You don't get there faster - so why pay more? If you are worried about crowded trains, make reservations for a small fee (1-3 EUR) a day in advance. Second class in Europe is still better than 1st class in a lot of other places.
[ Edit: Edited on Jul 20, 2007, at 7:42 AM by t_maia ]
I agree with t_maia, 2nd class isn't bad at all. I've backpacked and 2nd class will not be uncomfortable at all. I would recommend making reservations, for a small fee, on the busier rail trips. You'll have to call ahead or find a travel place to get them. If you don't have a reservation on a full train it's more stressfull. For most short trips or ones to smaller places you shouldn't need a reservation. I found it easier to ask hostel or hotel workers if it's neccesary, they usually have a good idea.
First and second class on the TGV was almost exactly the same. We got a better deal on 1st class tickets for one leg of our trip, and I was surprised at how comparable 2nd class was to the amenities in 1st class. You get a little more legroom, but I wasn't cramped for space in 2nd class anyway.
You may have to book certain journeys, especially if you have to be somewhere at a certain date/time. I haven't bought an Eurail pass as I'm in the UK but the equivalent from Rail Choice. On their website they show a link to a country's timetable (in my case I'm off to Italy so Trenitalia). From there you can enter the details of the trip and it shows whether it is compulsory to book, just possible or not possible if it is a local train. There are supplements apparently for booking, not sure how much yet, but I've heard for the compulsory journeys you can't just turn up and expect to get a seat, especially in peak times/seasons. I imagine the Eurail website will have a similar system and that they will book journeys for you if necessary. Enjoy your trip! Claudia.