Travel by train at the moment is the most climate-friendly means of transport. For many people like me, the choice whether to travel by train or take the car depends on the cost and whether one can take dogs along.
In the UK, dogs can travel on trains free of charge. Owners have to control them and keep them on leads on public transport. I frequently used to go up to London from Orpington with my two dogs. The first sign that train travel with dogs is encouraged is the bowl of water on every platform. My dogs enjoyed the experience as we very often met people who made a fuss of them.
Unfortunately, despite preferring travel by train out of consideration of its lower impact on the climate, both having dogs and the cost factor meant that for a long time I had to opt for driving to mainland Europe by car. This meant hours, often days on the road, braving hold-ups and weather changes, and arriving at my destination tired.
New lines and old
This might change after the good news that there are new opportunities for train travel across Europe. Several new train services have been launched, like the new direct TGV train from Bordeaux to Frankfurt. The newest projects are regularly updated on Europe by Rail. The EU is running a trial called ‘Connect Europe by train’ on ten routes across borders and hopefully an expanded rail service will make travel both less tiring and more climate friendly.
Crossing the Channel with pets
Sadly, from the UK to the mainland it is still difficult to cross the Channel with dogs. Eurostar does not allow pets on board. Apart from taking them by car in the Eurotunnel, there are only two possible options for crossing the Channel with a dog: a Stena Line Harwich ferry to Hook of Holland by booking a dog cabin or one of the kennels. The second option is booking a pet friendly cabin on a DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Amsterdam.
See the London/Brighton-Newhaven-Dieppe-Paris timetable on the London-Paris by train and ferry page. This is the cheapest option if you’re heading for France or Spain.
If you want to avoid a ferry trip, there is the third option of taking a taxi with your dog on the Eurotunnel. A Folkestone company offers this service: Book your trip by calling Folkestone Taxi Co. on 01303 252 000 (+44 1303 252000 from outside the UK) in advance, and see their pet transport page.
Why take the train?
When I want to travel to Austria and Hungary for family visits, I used to take a Dover/Calais ferry and then drive through France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany to Austria. However, the Stena Line ferry service means one arrives rested in the Netherlands, rather than travelling through two other countries first. I calculated that the extra cost for the longer ferry journey was worth it, as one saves several hours travelling from Calais to Holland.
Train travel with dogs in mainland Europe
Once safely across the Channel, you can take a dog or cat with you on most trains across Europe. In sleeping-cars and couchettes on overnight trains, you can generally only take a dog if your party occupies all the berths in a compartment.
All up to date information on travelling to and in mainland Europe by train is here. This is a very good detailed look into options for dog owners. It lists conditions and what to look out for.
On Continental Europe, unlike in the UK, in most countries one has to buy a ticket to take dogs on trains. In dog-friendly countries like Germany and Austria dogs are allowed but you must look up the special rules. Usually for a dog one has to pay the equivalent of a child ticket. In both countries dogs must have a muzzle (which looked weird on my first dog, a tiny miniature poodle) and be kept on a lead at all times. Some dog breeds are banned. You can check individual countries’ rules on the national rail companies’ websites.
Some of the prices are amazingly low and show that the countries invest in green travelling. Last year, in Germany a special trial was run. One could buy a monthly ticket for the nominal sum of 9€ for travel by all public transport across the whole country. Cross border fast trains were excluded.
Dogs on the train in Spain
Spain is one of the rare European countries where travelling on trains with a dog is difficult. The above-mentioned guide says:
“Dogs under 10 kg in pet carriers (maximum size 60 cm x 35 cm x 35 cm) can be taken on most Renfe (Spanish Rail) long distance trains either free or for a small fee.”
In general, larger dogs are not allowed at all on Spanish medium and long-distance trains. I gather this is a cultural thing, as large dogs are generally regarded as working animals (for example, guard dogs) not pets in Spain. Disappointingly, that goes not only for national operator Renfe, but for open-access competitors Ouigo and Iryo, too.
However, as from June 2023, dogs up to 40 kg are allowed on certain Barcelona–Madrid, Madrid–Málaga, Madrid–Alicante and Madrid–Valencia AVE (High Speed) trains, for a fee, muzzled, with a 40-minute check-in and some forms to complete. Dogs up to 40 kg are only allowed on two or three designated trains per day on each of those routes, there’s a list of trains linked from that page.