Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Ask Kate: What’s the Best Way to Travel Around Europe?

39

Ask Kate: What's the best way to travel around Europe?

With trains, planes, and buses, what’s the best way to travel around Europe?  This week’s Ask Kate examines different forms of public transportation.

Hi Kate,

I have a couple of questions that no one seems to be able to answer me properly that are doing my head in in the lead up to my European adventure this August. I plan on visiting as much of Italy as possible, Greek islands, Croatia, Spain, London & Amsterdam over 6-7 weeks.

What I really would like to know is the cheapest and best way to get around as I’ve been told to catch trains but don’t want to be wasting a lot of my trip on them. And then the problem lies with getting to a destination, where do you go from the train station? Are taxis or other public transport cheap and readily available?

In Adelaide where I live public transport is terrible often waiting an hour for a local bus into the city only 20 minutes drive away so my faith in the transport system is screwed up.

I know flights are cheap between countries too but same thing again how do you actually get to your final location once you are there? I’m quite short and weak and the thought of lugging my huuuuge suitcase for hours is scaring me off my idea to backpack and save as much as possible.

Don’t fret — traveling around Europe is much easier than you think, and public transportation is SO much better than what you have in Adelaide.

There are three main ways to travel around Europe: by train, bus, and plane.

Train

Trains are a wonderful, comfortable, romantic way to travel around Europe, and I highly recommend doing this if you can.  However, they’re not the cheapest.  Buying a Eurail pass that fits your specific needs will most often be cheaper than buying individual tickets.  You can buy passes valid for 1-5 countries of your choosing for 3-10 days within 1-2 months, or you can choose a Global pass that covers the whole Eurail region.

Eurail passes also offer free or discounted ferry rides, including some ferries between Italy and Greece (though not ferries between Croatia and any other country).

Bus

Buses often follow the same routes as trains, but for much less.  One time I took a bus from Granada to Madrid.  It took five hours and cost €17 ($22).  The very same journey by train took four hours and cost €70 ($91).  Yikes!  That’s an extreme example, but it’s true that buses are almost universally cheaper than trains.

I’ve found that there isn’t as much English language information about buses easily available online.  You can go to the Eurolines site, which covers many countries, or just Google “bus Amsterdam to Munich”; if all else fails, inquire at your hostel or the bus station.

Plane

Budget airlines like Easyjet, RyanAir, WizzAir, Vueling, Jet2, and more fly all over Europe.  If you book in advance, you can find flights across Europe for as cheap as €20 ($26).

However, there are three things to keep in mind: there are lots of add-on fees, including fees for not using a European credit card; the airports are often far from the destinations (the only way to get from “Paris Beauvais Airport” to Paris is a 75-minute, €16 ($21) bus ride); and RyanAir in particular sacks you with ridiculous charges if you don’t pay attention (like €50 ($65) if you don’t bring a printed out boarding pass!).  READ THE FINE PRINT.

If you’re searching for cheap flights around Europe, I recommend using Skyscanner, Kayak, and budget airlines’ websites.  You can find which budget airlines fly your routes with WhichBudget.com.

Your Route

If I were you, I’d make an effort to allocate Croatia and Greece to September, not August.  August is the biggest month of the year for resort-type destinations.  September is cheaper and far less crowded, though the weather will still be amazing.

I recommend to start your trip in London, take the overnight bus to Amsterdam, take a budget flight to somewhere in Spain, travel around Spain by bus or train, take a budget flight to somewhere in Italy (Pisa is often cheap and you can take a train from the airport directly to Florence), travel around Italy by bus or train, take a ferry to Croatia and then a ferry to Greece, explore the islands, get a budget flight from somewhere in Greece back to London.

Once You Arrive

European cities have excellent public transportation systems — metro, bus, trams, everything.  Smaller cities can often be navigated on foot.

This is where having a guidebook (I tend to prefer Lonely Planet guides like this one) or guidebook app is worth its weight in gold.  They will show you how to get to your destination by public transportation from the airport or train station.  Additionally, if you book a hostel online, they will always have directions listed.

I also included the luggage portion of your question here because I want to publicly urge you to take a backpack instead.  Huge suitcases are best only when you’re going to one or maybe two locations. Dragging a huge suitcase all over Europe will be absolutely miserable for you and anyone riding public transportation with you.  Trust me — get yourself a backpack.  You’re doing a summer trip and you won’t need to pack heavy clothing.

Good luck and have a fabulous time!

Readers, sound off.  How do you like to travel around Europe?

Comments

39 Responses to “Ask Kate: What’s the Best Way to Travel Around Europe?”
  1. I’m all about driving yourself around – as much as possible. Road tripping givings you the opportunity to make spontaneous detours and see things that you’ll miss by taking public transit. It can definitely be a more expensive way to to and can definitely be a headache all its own – but it’s always been worth it in my travels.

    When we priced out our road trip round France and Spain – the rental car option ended up being more realistic to get to the destinations we wanted and less expensive than the train options. In our case – buses didn’t even go to some of the destinations we were targeting.

    • Alia says:

      Yes! I love Europe by car. There are some areas in France (Auvergne for example) that are beautiful, but much more difficult to get to as there are no train lines going directly to where I wanted to be, and the bus schedule is sparse.

  2. Julika says:

    I agree with everything you said here, Kate! In the end it comes down to researching really well! Although I’m a big fan of Eurail, it’s not always the cheapest way to get around. Sometimes you have to pay an extra fee to use the faster trains or night trains, and sometimes trains can’t be taken without a reservation, which has to be made 3 days in advance and costs a few euros extra too. It helps to research the local public transportation companies and compare prices.
    The cheapest and best way I traveled around Europe lately was booking trains really early (like 3 months in advance) and using the excellent bus connections like the ones offered by Eurolines. My favorite budget airline is Germanwings — basically Lufthansa for a student’s budget.
    Oh and when looking to get somewhere in a bigger European city I use Google Maps to figure the best connection (the little bus icon for public transportation works in every major European city!).

  3. Be aware that Spain is also on holiday in August, so bus and train timetables often change. I finally bought a car in Spain after five years of trains and buses, which are cheap, frequent and well-connected. Now that the national rail system, RENFE, has changed its pricing scheme, you can get even high-speed or overnight trains for cheap when you plan ahead.

  4. Mike says:

    Great post and very helpful for me as I’ll be going to Spain in about 5 months to teach. When I studied in Granada I never took the train to Madrid because of the high price tag. The bus is so much cheaper, even though its a longer ride. This was very informative as I’ll be traveling further than just Spain. Thanks Kate!

  5. I’ve traveled across Europe by plane, by road and by train. If I have to choose, I’ll definitely choose trains over all other things. You are right, travelling by train is romantic.

  6. I agree with what you say here, but I have a huge place in my heart for the trains in Europe. I see the trains as a huge part of the European experience. They’re by far the most pleasant way to travel and although not always the cheapest, they are a great place to strike up a conversation and see the changes from place to place. I like seeing the change in environment when I’m traveling around and not just get thrown into a new place with the airports. I do like that the train stations are usually right in the middle of the city as well.

  7. OCDemon says:

    I die a little inside every time I have to take a bus instead of a train, particularly if it’s an overnight journey. But often they’re cheaper, and there’s no train available anyway. I think a lot of first-time backpackers just get a Eurail pass since they just automatically assume they need it, but in many cases it’s not cost effective, and you have to take buses in certain places anyway (anywhere with mountains, for example). It’s definitely worth perusing a few guidebooks or online resources to see if your chosen destinations are train-filled or bus-filled, check the prices of several routes you plan to take, and see how the Eurail pass stacks up. It tends to work better for long-distance travel a few times, rather than lots of short trips every few days.

  8. Great advice Kate!

    My informal rule when traveling in Europe is roughly fly between countries and take buses and trains when traveling within countries. Of course, there are exceptions – notably if you’re travelling from London to Amsterdam!

    But it’s just a general guide and I’ve found it works really well mostly.

    Also re: how to get from airports to the city centre – Wikitravel it and then ALWAYS where possible book your airport transfer in advance (esp in places like Italy and Spain) if you can’t book in advance, try to have a list of instructions ready (e.g. How to walk to the relevan bus stop / which airport counter to get to!)

    Lastly have fun!! – the planning can seem very involved, but once you get there you’ll be fine!

  9. John says:

    I am also from Adelaide and can say that the public transport there is well below par. You will be amazed at the efficiency in Europe, especially with the trains. Also I agree with the backpack. I have experienced taking trains with a suitcase and made sure this time i went with the backpack. While the trains are comfortable, a suitcase can be a tight squeeze especially when the train is packed.

  10. Sam says:

    Excellent advice, as usual! I say trains all the way…though given the route, I acknowledge the potential necessity of a couple of flights. If you book trains in advance, though (assuming you know where/when exactly you want to travel), they can be pretty good damn value. I once got a train from Berlin all the way to London for €50! And with swish, comfortable DB trains at that. In Europe, I always go by train when I can, and think the experience is a wonderful way to see a part of how many people there live.

  11. Before the cheap airlines came on the market in the early naughties I used to travel by bus from Germany to England a lot. Those journeys were quite uncomfortable to say the least. I don’t mind taking buses in developing countries where you have no other choice, but in Europe I always use planes or trains. Much faster and convenient in my opinion.

  12. Great advice here. And I can defintely recommend the Eurail pass. Your advice about Croatia is good too. We spent a month there before the Summer and the lack of crowds made it so much better than it may have been, though the water wasn’t too warm for much of the time!

    Bit of advice though. The trains in Croatia aren’t very reliable. Especially in the North-West, Istria. Its best to just keep to the buses while you’re there. Or boats, they’re an amazing way to get up and down the country, if a little expensive at times.

    Europe is incredible. I hope you have a great time. And Croatia is a great choice. I fell in love with the place. Visit as much of it as you can, but if nothing else, spend a bit of extra money on a tour of the Plitvice National Park. It’s outstanding.

    • michelle says:

      Thanks Steven, Plitvice National Park is number 1 on my list and the Outlook festival at the end of August, can’t wait:)

      • Steven says:

        I met somebody that went there a couple years ago. Sounds massive! I’ll hopefully be heading to Ozora festival in Hungary this year 😀

        Istria’s a bit of a nightmare to get away from. You may as well check out Rovinj while you’re there. It’s very close. The old part is built onto a small hill of a peninsula. Lots of tight windy streets, vibrant colours and amazing cooking smells. Art shops dotted around the place. Its gorgeous. Not to mention the landscaped forest along the shoreline. Gah! I miss Croatia now!

        • michelle says:

          Is Rovinj close to the national park or to Pula where the festival is?
          So excited it seems like such a beautiful country:)

          • Steven says:

            It’s just a little way up the coast from Pula where the festival is. A very short bus ride. I think it may end up being your favourite country 😀

  13. Jo says:

    In Italy, I would definitely recommend getting the train if you’re doing the country in small stages. For example, we did Naples-Rome-Florence by train and had no complaints on price or time. Likewise from Milan, trips to Genoa, Verona, Parma, Turin etc were cheap (€20 a time) and fast. I never heard of anyone getting a bus, and I don’t get the impression it would be very fast or cheap unless you’re going very short distances or somewhere very isolated.

    If you’re going long distances though, I’d definitely recommend planes. I flew from Milan to Rome and back and it was definitely ridiculously cheaper and faster than a train journey.

    For the rest of Europe, I love buses. I did Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris by Eurolines and thought it was great on price and time.

    • Jo says:

      Oh, and not to be a total downer, but much of Italy is shut in August. You can see go and see all the tourist sites you want, of course, but many shops and restaurants will be closed. I made the mistake of visiting Bologna and Venice in August and they were pretty dead besides the tourists vising monuments.

      • michelle says:

        Thanks so much for the tips Jo:)
        And i’m definitely planning on Italy last during september as i’ve heard it’s pointless to go in August, plus i need to fit into my clothes for the rest of the trip haha.

  14. Ana Matias says:

    The picture is in Lisbon, so nice 😀
    A city like no other I have ever seen!

  15. michelle says:

    Thank you so much for replying to my question Kate 🙂
    This post has been more help then you know and has put my mind at ease that i can do it all!
    I’ve got the Europe on a shoe string and Italy lonely planet books to help and will definitely be investing in a backpack before i go.
    Thanks so much again your blog has been a life saver!

  16. European train travel is the best! 🙂

  17. Amanda says:

    Love trains in Europe! Mostly because we just don’t really have them here in the US.

    I’m tentatively going to be trying out a bus pass with Busabout this summer. I’ll let you know how that turns out as a transport option!

  18. You realize as a result significantly in relation to this specific matter, helped me in my opinion believe it out of numerous diverse sides. It’s just like men and women will not be engaged right until it really is think about complete together with Woman coo! Your own private products excellent. All of the time handle it!

  19. I used to be recommended this web site by my cousin.

    I am no longer sure whether this post is written by way of him as no one else recognize such exact about my difficulty.
    You’re amazing! Thank you!

  20. Laura says:

    I will also be traveling to Europe for the first time in a few months. I’m starting in Sweden then working my way to Paris over 2 weeks. I’ve been planning on buying a Eurail pass (based on the above recommendations!) for the bulk of my traveling, but once I’m in Paris will I also need a metro pass? I can’t seem to find enough details to make a decision!

  21. Jacque says:

    Hello,

    My sister and I are traveling to Europe for the first time. We are flying into Ireland. The countries we would like to visit are Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and if we have time the UK. We are trying to figure out if we should get a eurail pass or just fly everywhere.

  22. Jacque says:

    Thank you! We were about to buy our eurail passes when someone told us it would be cheaper to just fly everywhere. So then we didn’t know what to do!

  23. Kittyzoey says:

    Hey I am from the uk and me and my boyfriend are planning on travelling for 6 months starting in Europe.
    We were planning on either putting a mattress in a van or a moter home. After reading everyone’s comments would this be a bad idea?
    A tip if your in the uk DO NOT USE trains they are ridiculously expensive. Megabus.com and national express.com are coaches that are much cheaper

  24. sammy says:

    hi, id like to know if you could help me for my trip in october (5 to 18 ), and I’m planning to travel 5 countries in these many days and i am on a budget where shud i stay and what shud i pack , and is a eurorail pass the best bet to travel across all of em, i will enter and exit via italy only TIA

  25. Bruce says:

    Hi Kate,

    Thank you for the helpful article. So, we’re planning to visit Europe this summer. We will be flying to Paris. And planning to visit Switzerland and Italy. If I take a Eurail pass, would it work to travel Paris internally? Or is there a better (bus) option to travel to Switzerland and then Italy? We want to take stops, see the place and continue travel.

    • Do you mean as in on the metro? The Eurail pass works on trains, not the Paris metro. Also, many trains in France (like the TGV and Eurostar) require advance reservations and charge fees, even with a Eurail pass. Switzerland doesn’t; Italy tends to charge lower fees.

  26. Jessica says:

    What is the best way to travel Europe. Should I do it alone or would you refer a travel agency to go through such as contiki or STA. Any information will be much apreciated 🙂

  27. Geneva says:

    Hi, I am planning on visiting Geneva, the town I am named after. A friend in Frankfurt and my sister in Leeds. So that is Switzerland, Germany and UK. Starting and ending my journey in Johannesburg South Africa. Any ideas on how I can make this cheaper getting from one place to the other. Want a day tour of Geneva the rest will be on my host when I get to them. Thank you.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


seven + eight =