You can get just about anywhere in the UK and Europe on trains. They're quick and usually affordable, the prices and times are fixed and services run all the time – great for when you're running late.
The London Underground is the exception of course – it is, mile-for-mile by far the most expensive form of mass transit on Earth. It is also notoriously unreliable and crowded. It seems the tube is in a permanent state of repair or upgrade as well which makes things all the more uncomfortable, however in London it is still the easiest and fastest way to get around.
-note- If you plan to stay in London more than a day or two, it's worth your while to buy an Oyster Card. Its ₤3 purchase price pays for itself in a day of savings. It makes passing through the 'turnstyles' faster and the credit you top up on the card stays there until you use it. Visit www.tfl.gov.uk for more info as well as handy maps you can download.
It is true that catching the euro-star from London to Paris is quicker than flying, and it almost always works out cheaper as well. Plus you are delivered right into the heart of London or Paris.
Across the UK and Europe tickets are available from automatic ticket dispensers in multiple languages. They are easy to use and a lot quicker than standing in queues – whilst trying to remember what language you should be speaking. In almost every country people speak English these days, although in my opinion this has taken a bit of the fun out of international travel, so do yourself a favour and try and speak a bit of foreign here and there – it gives you great stories to tell plus it's character building!
If you're running late for your train in Europe you can often purchase tickets from the ticket collector on board, however you will be charged a premium to pay this way, and some rail conductors will threaten to throw you off if you cannot afford the higher price – so I would not recommend it.
Jumping train / skipping fare
Some times I have intentionally not purchased tickets in an effort to try and save money…again I would not recommend it, sometimes you can get away with it, sometimes you can't – it's really not worth the hassle and embarrassment. Still if you can't jump train in Europe then where can you? :P
-note- Although designated seats aren't enforced, do make sure you are at least on the right carriage/car. Trains in Eastern Europe sometimes depart the station as a whole and split in two at a station further down the line. The carriage/car number will be printed on your ticket with the train and seat numbers.
Planning your Trip
There are many sites to check out to help plan your trips, a good place to start for times, fares and further information are:
For the United Kingdom
For the best rail map of Europe - opens to .pdf for you to download and save!
and finally for your London to Paris specialist
As well as these examples every country in Europe will have its own train travel website – too many to mention here – so have fun finding them yourself.
A private railroad car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.
Eleanor Robson Belmont
If you are going to be spending 30 days travelling around Europe by rail then you may want to look into purchasing a rail pass. They offer great value if you can use them to their full potential. The down side is that they don't come cheap and you most likely will not spend everyday travelling. So for the days you're not using it, you're not getting any value from it.
I've met many a traveller on their 3rd or 4th overnight trip in a row trying to convince me it's cheaper (and better value) to sleep on trains and shower in railway stations than in regular accommodation. Now I'm no foreigner to overnight trains, but two in a row is my limit before I need a real bed.
Also if you're working in the UK you will find it very hard to get such a huge stack of time off for that kind of trip unless you're in between jobs.
In the end it always comes down to personal choice. I myself have never bought a rail pass, and I have met more people that have not used the full values worth than I can remember. Keep in mind you can't use the pass in certain countries, so you'll have to purchase a standard ticket for that leg. Plus the rail passes don't cover seat reservations either so you'll have to cough up for that cost too.
Really, I see rail passes as a touristy thing. For people who have a 3 or 4 weeks to see as much as Europe as possible before flying back to their home country. Not for a traveller taking small trips to the continent using the UK as a base. Still if it sounds like a good idea then go for it – and make up your own mind.
You can purchase tickets in advance most of the time, but I don't really see the point. Personally I am quite adept at losing important things such as tickets and I prefer to have them in my possession for as little time as possible. The prices for trains are usually fixed and I have never found a service to be 'fully booked' so I prefer to buy the ticket just before I travel. You might also find that on the day, certain times are cheaper in which case you can alter your times to save a few quid.
Trains across Europe are very reliable. Especially compared to Australian networks. In September 07 I travelled between Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps to Munich in Germany. To save 30euros I had to change trains 4 times. 2 of those times I had a 1 minute window before the following train left. Every service arrived and departed exactly on time – to say I was impressed (albeit, out of breath) was quite the understatement!
One last thing
The Railway can also be a fantastic way of seeing a country. When you fly, you miss everything. Buses and coaches just seem to take forever, and driving yourself can be rather perilous (although quite fun). There are some incredible train trips in the UK and Europe. Mountain passes, ridges, tunnels, coastal vistas – Some of my best memories are on trains.
There are other forms of transport in the UK and Europe that can get you where you want to go cheaper or faster and sometimes both.