For over two years I’ve been crisscrossing Europe by train with a dog.
I am a digital nomad and the dog in question is actually my daughter’s, but is with me while my daughter finishes her degree. So where I go, the dog goes.
Traveling around Europe may seem like a carefree life, but it involves a lot of planning when you add a dog into the mix.
If you’ve been wondering whether and how you can ride the rails with your four-legged friend, read on for my tips for taking your pet along.
What’s the Best Way to Travel Europe with a Dog: Train? Bus? Ferry? Plane?…
One of the questions I get asked most often when people hear that my dog Dempsey travels with me is “Can you take a dog on a train / plane / ferry / bus…? The short answer is “Yes.” The longer answer is “Yes, but…”
Here’s what I’ve learned in the more than two years of crossing the continent with my canine companion.
Dogs can travel with you in the cabin on many airlines in Europe. However, not the low-cost carriers. And having to buy my ticket plus a ticket for the dog at standard airline prices often makes flying an expensive option.
Buses are a very inexpensive alternative. However, most bus companies will let dogs travel with you on local lines, but not long-distance routes that cross international borders.
Many ferries have on-board kennels, so dogs are welcome to sail the seas with you. However, I’m one of those people who feels guilty when I’m enjoying dinner and drink on the upper deck while my dog is cooped up in a cage not understanding what’s going on.
That leaves trains. Trains are by far the best option for traveling with your dog in Europe and are relatively inexpensive.
Prepare Your Dog for a European Train Ride
The trip itself is the easy part, but the preparation for the trip can take some time.
Accessories: Leash and Muzzle or a Great Dog-Carrier for Travel
Airlines can be super picky about the carrier you use. The staff can keep you from boarding the plane if your dog’s carrier doesn’t meet the exact size, type, material, etc. that’s listed in their regulations. If that happens, you have to buy a new carrier on the spot (if the airport even has them available) or lose the money you paid for your ticket and your pet’s ticket and find another way to get where you’re going. Been there, done that.
European train operators don’t care what size your dog’s carrier is as long as you can close it. They don’t care what material it’s made out of as long as you can clean it if your pet has an accident. They just want Fido to be in a carrier so he doesn’t run off, bother other passengers, or get injured himself when someone steps on his tail.
And for a quite reasonable price I got the Pet Peppy Carrier with zipping, fold-out mesh sides so that my dog can stretch out even when the carrier itself is technically stashed under the seat in front of me. The breathable mesh top and sides means we can see each other and she doesn’t have to feel claustrophobic. The fleecy pad makes her ride extra comfy and the side pockets give me a place to stash collapsible food and water bowls and her pet passport — more about that in a minute.
The Paperwork for Travelling with a Dog in Europe
Having the correct paperwork for your dog can mean the difference between a smooth trip and being detained at the border. What paperwork, you ask? The essentials are a ticket (if required by the railway company) and a pet passport or a current health certificate.
Pets coming from non-European Union member states will need a current health certificate; see the EU’s conditions for animal movement, which includes a link to a model pet health certificate. There, they also provide detailed information about the micro-chipping, vaccinations, and medical treatments your pet will need before traveling in Europe. Be sure to read this information carefully as the steps must be taken in order and within a certain time-frame before travel. I’ve been through that process of appointments and the rest myself — trust me, you need to think ahead.
Pets that hail from European Union member states will still need an EU pet passport. The requirements are basically the same as those for the health certificate, it just identifies your pet as one that is registered in Europe. More information about getting a pet passport can be found on the official EU website.
Can I Take My Dog on European Trains?
The general rule is that small pets are allowed to travel on European trains for free if they are in a carrier. Larger pets need to be muzzled and kept on a leash and usually travel for a reduced rate.
Service / guide dogs that accompany visually impaired or physically disabled passengers are allowed on all trains in Europe at no cost.
We cover some countries below, and more information train ticketing for pets is also available from Trainline, which also in our study offered the cheapest pan-European tickets and the smartest routing.
We’ve noted that Renfe’s website is full of errors and only half translated, so you may want the Google Translate extension installed on your browser before you proceed. Trainline is far easier to use for Spain (and the tickets are the same price), but if you need a pet ticket as described below this must be purchased directly from Renfe.
Dogs weighing less than 10 kg. and in carriers can ride on Renfe’s AVE (high speed), Larga Distancia (long distance), Avant, and Media Distancia Convencional (conventional medium distance) trains for free in these classes: Preferente, Cama Preferente o Gran Clase y Asiento Gran Confort (preferred, preferred bed, great class, great comfort). But in the Turista or Turista+ classes, you must buy an additional ticket for your dog, which costs an additional 25%. This option can be found by first selecting your ticket from a search, and then selecting “additional ticket options” below the purchase button on the right-hand side. You will then have to re-select your ticket time from a confusing grid (pay attention to the classes at the top of the columns, and the icon definitions at the bottom). Afterwards, you will be taken to a purchase page that shows your ticket and an option towards the bottom for “Ticket for Pets”.
So in certain cases, it can be cheaper to just buy a preferente ticket rather than a tourist ticket plus a ticket for your dog.
In Renfe’s regional/local Cercanías / Feve trains, dogs may ride for free without a ticket, but are expected to not take up extra space. Those dogs that are not in a carrier must have a muzzle and a non-extendible leash less than 1.5m in length.
The SNCF is France’s national rail service. Pets can travel on SNCF for a small fee: €7 for pets up to six kilograms and 50% of the 2nd class fare for pets over 6 kilograms on all TGV, Intercités, and TER trains. Pet-specific fares apply on all other SNCF trains. Their pet policy lists other limits such as number of dogs and carrier sizes.
You can book SNCF train tickets for your pet at Trainline, which has the same prices as SNCF and offers the necessary pet tickets for the relevant trains, holding your hand through the process. You can also book directly with OUI.sncf, which does (usually) work but can be annoying if you have a foreign credit card. If you use the SNCF’s site from outside of France, be sure not to get redirected to Rail Europe, which is the SNCF’s scheme for charging a lot more to foreigners.
Germans love dogs and their national rail service, so it’s no surprise that travelling with your dog on German trains is relatively worry-free.
Deutsche Bahn allows dogs of less than 10 kg. on their trains for free as long as they are in a carrier and not bothering others. Larger dogs must be on a leash at all times and muzzled, and will need a half-price ticket that can be purchased directly at train stations.
Since the Deutsche Bahn does not issue E-tickets in their apps or website for pets, we recommend purchasing your own ticket ahead of time on Trainline or Bahn.de (the former gives better results for complex routes), and then purchasing your pet ticket once in the train station.
If you’re crossing an international border on a DB train, you’ll need to buy a child’s second-class ticket for your furry friend.
Italy’s Trenitalia has some very specific rules about traveling on their trains with your pet. Generally speaking, small dogs can travel for free in a carrier. Large dogs are charged half of the economy ticket price (regardless of the class travelled in) and must be muzzled and on a leash.
Tickets for dogs are not available on the confusing and poorly translated Trenitalia site, nor are they available on (our recommendation for Italy) Trainline. They must instead be purchased in a train station or travel agency in Italy. It’s possible to purchase your ticket online first for yourself and then the pet ticket on arrival in the train station.
Small pets of less than 10 kg. can travel in carriers on the Netherlands’ domestic NS and Arriva trains at no cost.
Larger-than-10 kg. pets are charged a day ticket price of €3.10 and these can be purchased in the station from ticket counters or ticket machines. We recommend having exact change for more out-of-the-way stations, as they may not have staff and their ticket machines are notoriously unaccepting of foreign bank and credit cards.
With the exception of documented service dogs, no animals are allowed on Eurostar trains.
Tips for Enjoying a European Train Ride with Your Dog
As I said, the hard part is in preparing for the trip. But I do have a few tips to help make sure the actual train ride goes smoothly.
- If you are connecting in another city before traveling to your final destination, make sure to leave enough time for your dog to stretch their legs and have a potty break.
- Keep your dog hydrated and fed. Bring enough dried dog food or individual packets or tins of moist dog food for the entire trip. I always bring enough with me for the first night in a new city as well. That gives me enough time to scout out the local area for a convenience store where I can buy a fresh supply the next day.
- Keep your tickets and paperwork easily accessible. They may be checked several times during your trip depending on which borders (if any) you will be crossing.
- Overnight trains may require you to reserve a sleeping berth in a cabin. Usually, your dog will be allowed to stay in the cabin with you if the only occupants are you and your traveling companions. If you are the only person traveling with the dog, your ticket may be subject to a single supplement charge or you may have to pay an amount equal to the number of sleeping berths in the cabin.
- Dogs of any size are not allowed in dining cars except for assistance dogs.
- Fellow passengers may object to your dog’s presence. If this happens, you may be asked to move the animal to another part of the train. I’ve never had this happen on any of my trips. Europe is pretty dog-friendly, in general, as are the train ticket inspectors. But if you are asked to move, don’t make a big deal out of it. For the sake of you, your dog, and your fellow passengers, just comply with the request and consider yourself lucky that your dog is allowed to accompany you.
- Do note that if your pet is causing issues, train companies can refuse carriage to any animal.
Traveling with your dog on trains in Europe is generally a simple, comfortable, and convenient way to get where you want to go. Once you’ve taken care of the initial paperwork, it’s even easier.
My dog doesn’t seem to have any complaints. She knows the routine and eagerly jumps into her carrier when I pull it off the shelf. She knows that she will be traveling in air-conditioned comfort in a cozy carrier usually surrounded by fellow passengers who tell her how cute she is.