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Trains are a great way to travel in Europe.   If you decide to take the train, should you purchase a first or second-class ticket?  We provide an overview that may help you decide.

When the train arrives at the station, it is usually not too hard to figure out the class of cars since it is, usually, painted somewhere on the side of the car.  What is less predictable is where in the line of cars the first and second class cars will be positioned.  Well, there is no definite  order so be prepared to move quickly.


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Travel Advice/Travel Tips -  Train travel -What class is that car?

Train seating in Europe consist of first and second-class cars for travelers with tickets for first and second-class seating. First-class seating is more expensive but you should look into it if you prefer more room and less crowded cars.

The first-class cars usually feature reclining seats, fewer seats per car and more room for luggage. The smoking section (if there is one) on first-class cars  will be separated from the rest of the car either by a glass partition or the smokers will be relegated to private compartments that seat approximately six.  First-class cars are usually denoted by a “1” painted on the side of the car.

The second-class car has more seats, less legroom and non-reclining seats. Second-class cars are indicated by a “2” painted on the side of the car. Second-class cars are usually designated as smoking or non-smoking by icons painted on the outside of the car.


The location of the first and second-class cars in European trains seems to vary, almost randomly.

  • Scan the train as it enters the station and identify cars that provide your class of service
    • Try to estimate where these cars will stop and begin walking for that point as soon as possible.
  • Second-class cars are numerous.
  • If you have a first-class ticket, you may have to search to find the  first class cars on some trains.
    • Often, but not always, there are some first-class cars  near the engine.
  • You should be prepared for the fact that trains will not stop long in smaller stations.


On a recent trip to Italy, I was taking an InterCity train from Novara to Milan and decided to spring for the first-class ticket (less than six dollars) since my luggage was a little bulky (business trip clothes) and first class has more space. I was standing on the platform in the shade when the train pulled in and in and there seemed to be no end to it in sight.

I had realized that it was likely that the first class cars were at the front of the train but I did not expect the train to have so many cars. Although I was in the middle of the platform,  I wound up a great distance from the first-class cars and was the last person to board the train. The conductor was pointing for me to get on and I just did get into the first-class car as the train left the station.

Yes, I realize that I could have boarded second class and walked to first-class but many trains in Europe have split level cars which require you to take stairs up or down at each end of the compartment. I preferred to wheel my luggage on the platform to avoid  unnecessary lifting. So, be prepared: early identification of a target car will speed your entry.


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