Although most senior travelers associate senior discounts with rail passes, some European countries offer discounts on individual tickets to mature travelers. Typically, you'll need to purchase some kind of annual membership card to qualify for the senior discount. Requirements vary by country and are subject to change. In some countries, non-European Union seniors are not eligible for discount cards.
If you plan to travel by train on just a few days over a one- or two-month period, you may find that a rail pass will save you money. BritRail and France's SCNF offer senior discounts on certain types of rail passes. Senior discounts also apply to the Eurail Ireland and Eurail Romania Passes.
Be sure to research your train travel by individual ticket price, too. Don't assume that a rail pass is the cheapest way to go. Depending on the countries you plan to visit and the senior discount plans available, you may save more by purchasing a senior card and applying its discount to your tickets. It's worth spending some time at your computer to research the best deal.
Let's take a look at senior train travel discounts by country.
- Belgium offers seniors age 65 and older a great senior discount on non-peak train travel. Tickets are just 5.20 Euros each if you travel after 9:01 A.M. on weekdays. You can also get this senior fare on weekends during the school year. Restrictions apply; some "frontier" train stations do not offer the senior fare. This discount is unavailable during holiday periods and summer weekends. Proof of age is required.
- France gives seniors age 60 and older the opportunity to purchase a Carte Senior (website in French only) for 56 Euros. The Carte Senior entitles you to discounts of 25 to 50 percent on train travel. As in Germany, the Carte Senior allows you to take advantage of fare discounts within the 28-country RailPlus network. You can also change your train ticket for only 3 Euros; the normal change fee is 10 Euros.
- Germany offers senior travelers over age 60 a discount on the BahnCard 25 and BahnCard 50. Seniors pay 110 Euros for the BahnCard. The BahnCard 50 gives you a 50 percent discount on train tickets as well as a 25 percent discount on standard train fares in the 28-country RailPlus network. The BahnCard 25 gives you a 25 percent discount on train tickets and a 25 percent discount on RailPlus network tickets. You'll need to carefully research each leg of your journey to see whether the BahnCard is a good option for you. If you're traveling with one or more companions, Germany's Happy-Weekend Tickets may be a better bet, depending on your travel dates.
- Italy offers the Carta d'Argento ("Silver Card") to senior travelers over age 60. The card costs 30 Euros (free for travelers over 75) and is valid for one year. With the Carta d'Argento, you will save 15 percent on most Italian train tickets and 10 percent on couchette tickets (second-class sleeper berths). You'll also be able to participate in the RailPlus system with its 25 percent discount on international travel. You have to show both your ticket and your Carta d'Argento to the conductor. Certain restrictions apply.
- Portugal's CP rail system offers seniors age 65 and older discounts on several different types of trains, including regional, interregional and Coimbra Urban trains. The typical discount is 50 percent. Restrictions apply.
- Spain's RENFE rail system offers senior travelers 60 and older the Tarjeta Dorada ("Gold Card"). With the Tarjeta Dorada, you will save 25 to 40 percent on train tickets, depending on the day of the week you travel and how far in advance you buy your tickets. You can buy your Tarjeta Dorada at a RENFE station for 5.05 Euros; it will be valid for one year.
- The UK's Senior Railcard gives you a one-third discount on standard and first-class tickets. Morning rush hour travel within the London and South East Area does not qualify for the Senior Railcard discount. The Senior Railcard costs £28 and is available to anyone age 60 or over. British train fares are quite high, so it's also worth investigating a BritRail pass if you plan to take several train trips.
- Eurostar, which operates the Chunnel trains, advertises a senior fare, but the only thing the senior fare appears to provide is the ability to make one ticket exchange free of charge before your actual departure. Seniors pay the same rates as adults.
Disclaimer: Some train systems may restrict senior discounts to citizens of European Union communities, even though their websites do not indicate any such restrictions.