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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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?