hidden europe 66

Fifty years of Interrail: the freedom to explore Europe

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Paper Interrail passes have now given way to mobile passes, which can be managed with the Rail Planner app (photo © hidden europe).


Allow yourself to be curious! Take time to wander. That’s the beauty of Interrail, the rail pass which gives travellers the freedom to explore Europe. March 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Interrail. We celebrate the first half-century of a scheme which has so dramatically shaped Europeans’ understanding of their home continent.

In 1972, there was a flurry of new postage stamps as countries across Europe and beyond marked the half-centenary of the International Union of Railways (UIC). Belgium and Romania stepped up to the mark. So did many other nations, among them diminutive Monaco with a handsome commemorative issue showcasing trains that surely never ran on Monaco’s limited rail network — all 1.7 km of it. The stamps have been consigned to philatelic history, but not so another initiative sponsored by UIC to mark its fiftieth anniversary. UIC’s European members launched a remarkable rail pass designed to give young Europeans the freedom to roam the continent. That pass was called Interrail.

Interrail created a travel revolution. From 1 March 1972, any European resident up to 21 years old could buy a one-month Interrail pass valid in 21 countries. The pass was on offer through to the autumn and in that debut year, initially conceived as a one-off experiment, 87,000 passes were sold to young people who headed off to explore, along the way demonstrating an enviable ability to sleep almost anywhere. It was such a success that Interrail became a mainstream offer, and it is still going strong after 50 years. These days, travelling with an Interrail pass is no longer a privilege of youth. Age limits are long gone.

What better way to slip from work into retirement than with a three-month pass allowing the freedom to roam Europe? At current prices (March 2022), anyone aged 60 or over would pay €974 for a three-month first-class pass. That’s under €11 a day. Interrail has equally been discovered by families. Two adults with two children (aged 8 and 10, by way of example) will pay €604 for passes giving the group of four unlimited secondclass rail travel for seven days within a month across more than 30 countries.

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