Kate stands wearing a black shirt and black and white patterned pants, holding a black purse, in front of a modern Frecciarossa train at Milan train station. The train is sleek and is silver and red with a long angled nose in front.

What’s the Best Way to Travel Around Europe?

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With trains, planes, and buses, what’s the best way to travel around Europe?  I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around Europe — in fact, I’ve traveled to every country in Europe, from Denmark to Moldova to Azerbaijan! — and this is one of the regions in which I’m an expert traveler.

The right way to travel around Europe comes down to your destinations and route. You may plan a trip to Europe that is best to do by train, but more and more often, it makes more sense to travel around Europe by plane.

It also depends on the purpose of your trip. If you’re planning to explore small towns, it’s probably best for you to rent a car.

Let’s check it out!

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 four main ways to travel around Europe: by plane, train, bus, and car. Let’s break them down.

Lisbon as Seen from Above
Lisbon from Above

Travel Around Europe by Plane

If you’re visiting multiple countries in Europe, the cheapest way to get across Europe is often by plane. This wasn’t always the case. There are a lot more budget airlines around today than there were 20 years ago, and it seems like new routes are opening up every week. If you book in advance, you can find flights across Europe for as cheap as €20 ($22).

I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights across Europe. They show EVERY flight available and the lowest prices, unlike other booking sites. Skyscanner also has a neat feature when you can search for flights to “everywhere” and they’ll show you the cheapest spots.

There are lots of things to keep in mind when booking flights in Europe:

Hidden fees on budget airlines. If you’re traveling around Europe on budget airlines, you’ll have to pay for everything. No snacks or drinks on board, no checked luggage, and if you don’t print out your RyanAir boarding pass in advance (LITERALLY print it out), they’ll charge you sky-high fees at the gate. Sometimes there are fees for using a non-European debit card.

There are so many fees on budget airlines in particular that I encourage you to read all the fine print before you book it.

Strict luggage limits. On most flights within Europe, you’ll have to pay for a checked bag. On some budget airlines, like EasyJet and WizzAir, they will only allow you to bring one item as a carry-on item — so many times I’ve had to stuff my purse into my backpack in order to board, only to pull it out as soon as I get to my seat.

Airport locations. Some budget airlines fly to different, further-afield airports. In London, for example, you won’t be able to get a budget flight to Heathrow — you’re likely to end up at Luton or Stansted, which are much further away and have longer, pricier journeys to get into London.

RyanAir in particular is notorious for flying to weird airports. You might think that you’re flying to Paris, but you’re landing at “Paris Beauvais Airport” and need to fork out €17 ($19) for the 75-minute bus to Paris. And after THAT, you need to make your way to your accommodation! Is it really worth it?

Sometimes this can be a good thing, though. Some budget airlines fly to Girona, one hour from Barcelona — and I think Girona is a much nicer city than Barcelona!

Basic economy. Lots of major airlines are charging “basic economy” fares lately. It’s the cheapest and simplest flight available — you get absolutely no options, you board last, etc. But on some airlines, they don’t even include a carry-on bag as part of your fare. You will need to pay extra for a carry-on bag, as they expect you to carry a small item and that’s it. If not, you’ll have to pay.

Extra time. Getting outside the city to airports and getting there 1.5-2 hours early for your flights can add up. Keep this in mind when comparing flying to taking the train or bus in Europe.

Booking early can get you a cheaper flight. If you book more than three months in advance, it can often be extremely cheap, but sometimes there are sales at the last minute as well.

Consider carbon offsetting your flights. Flying several short distance flights can be more harmful than flying one long-distance flight. I carbon offset my flights at CarbonFund.org. You put in the cities where you flew and they’ll do the calculations for you. It’s cheaper than you’d think!

Find cheap flights around Europe here.

Kate holds a map while sitting on a train.

Travel Around Europe by Train

Trains are my favorite way to travel around Europe! Traveling around Europe by train is romantic, relaxing, and easy. I highly recommend spending at least some of your time in Europe traveling by train.

Here are things to know before traveling Europe by train:

The cheapest and easiest way to buy point-to-point train tickets in Europe is on Omio. You get tickets at the best price, the website is in English and easy to use, and don’t have to worry about using other countries’ websites.

Some countries require you to validate your ticket before getting on the train. Italy and France are two countries where you must. If you get on the train without a validated ticket, you could get thrown off the train in the middle of nowhere.

Keep in mind that sometimes a train ride can be quicker than a flight. Why? Because they leave from the city center. Take London to Paris. The train from London to Paris takes two hours and 20 minutes, while the flight takes one hour and 15 minutes. But traveling by train is much faster overall because you don’t need to go way outside the city to the airports. You just go from central London to central Paris.


READ MORE:

How to Plan a Day Trip From London to Paris by Train


Buying a rail pass can save you a lot of money on train tickets. Instead of buying point to point tickets for every length of your trip, rail passes charge you by the day. You buy them in advance, and often they must be bought in your home country before you travel to Europe.

You can get country-specific rail passes, like the Italia Rail Pass in Italy, or book multiple country passes like a Eurail pass.

Even so, some countries (like Italy, France, and Spain) also require you to pay a small fee for a booking in addition to using your pass. You’ll get a guide with your pass that shows you all the details.

Consider basing in one city and taking day trips by train. This is one of my favorite ways to travel Europe. You’ll get to explore one region in depth, you’ll spend less time in airports, you’ll save a ton of money if you do this with a rail pass, and best of all — you’ll only unpack once! It’s the convenience of a cruise without the environmental damage.

  • Base in Bologna and do day trips to Venice, San Marino, Florence, Parma, and Verona.
  • Base in Brussels and do day trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp.
  • Base in Munich and do day trips to Nuremberg, Regensburg, Augsburg, Salzburg, and Passau.

Find cheap train tickets around Europe here.

Kate stands in front of a bus bound for Tirana while holding tzatziki-flavored potato chips.

Travel Around Europe by Bus

Buses are often the cheapest way to travel around Europe. Bus routes 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 ($19).  The very same journey by train took four hours and cost €70 ($78). Yikes! That’s one of the more extreme examples, but it’s true that buses are almost universally cheaper than trains.

Flixbus is a great resource for bus journeys. They often cover journeys that trains don’t easily cover, so it can be much easier to get to your destination on a Flixbus. I’ve taken Flixbuses from Saarbrucken, Germany, to Strasbourg, France; and from Bologna to Trento in Italy.

Some Flixbuses leave from bus stations; others leave from parking lots or the side of the road.

In parts of Central and Eastern Europe, buses are far better than trains. Very often buses travel the same routes as trains, but the buses are faster and more comfortable. I learned this the hard way in Bulgaria.

Buses are often booked through their own companies online. In some countries, like Albania, you’ll have to walk from travel agency to travel agency before you find one that sells bus tickets to a certain destination.

Find cheap bus tickets in Europe here.

A pink car in front of a gray building in Odessa, Ukraine.

Travel Around Europe by Car

And there’s always the option of getting around Europe by car! Renting a car gives you the ultimate flexibility on your Europe trip. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want.

Here’s what to know about traveling around Europe by car:

RentalCars.com gives you the best rates on car rentals throughout Europe. It’s the only site I use.

If you’re looking to visit small towns or rural areas, traveling by car is your best bet. In fact, you can explore several small towns in a single day, while doing so on public transportation would take much longer.

Some regions are better to travel by car. While I usually prefer to travel Italy by train, there are parts of Italy where public transportation is limited. The train system in southern Italy isn’t as extensive and doesn’t run often; it’s the same in the Dolomites. For this reason, sometimes the best way to travel around Europe is by both train and car.

Most cars in Europe have manual transmissions. Automatic transmissions are much rarer in Europe than the United States, and they will be more expensive to rent.

Gas (a.k.a. petrol) may be more expensive in Europe than your home country. And they charge by the liter, not the gallon, so that can be something else to calculate.

In some European countries they drive on the left. In most European countries they drive on the right side of the road, but they drive on the left in the UK, Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus.

Driving can vary enormously in Europe. I’ve enjoyed the quality of driving in Croatia, Finland, the Faroe Islands, and even southern Italy. The drivers in Slovenia were aggressive but it was a nice experience. The absolute most reckless driving I’ve seen is in Malta. I don’t recommend driving in Malta unless you’re skilled at driving on the left and you enjoy driving in extremely challenging environments.


READ MORE:

A Road Trip Through Slovenia


Find cheap car rentals in Europe here.

How to Get Around Europe Within Cities

Once you arrive in your destination, what’s the best way to get around? Luckily, most cities in Europe have excellent public transportation cities (a big difference from Australia and the United States).

Most European cities have a subway or tram system. You can often buy your tickets in stations, and many cities these days have apps where you can buy tickets right from your phone! I’ve used apps to buy transportation tickets in Prague and Helsinki.

Google Maps will tell you how to get from one place to another on public transportation in most European cities.

If there are no trams or subways, there are almost always buses. Smaller cities can often be navigated on foot. And when you are in a pinch, there are always taxis. Some European cities have Uber or other ride-sharing apps.

Red little cottages on a lake reflecting the blue and white cloudy sky in Porvoo, Finland.

Other Travel Resources for Europe

Rome2Rio is one of my favorite travel websites — you put in two destinations and they tell you the different ways to get between them. This was a lifesaver when traveling between random cities in Central Europe.

FlightsFrom shows you the direct flights you can get from a certain city. Keep in mind that some routes are seasonal, especially to coastal destinations in Southern Europe.

World Nomads is what I use for travel insurance in Europe. I never travel without it. It can save your life or your finances if you have an emergency. (Among other things, I got reimbursed after paying 300 for an emergency room visit in Munich after getting a concussion.)


READ NEXT:

Solo Female Travel in Europe: Everything You Need to Know


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48 thoughts on “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.

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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

      1. 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!

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

          1. 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. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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.

    1. 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.

  23. 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 🙂

  24. 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.

  25. I’m coming to London on February 19 like to go to Paris Amsterdam Germany and Switzerland is dose not have to be in that order and return March 4 train is good

  26. My family are coming to London on July 21 like to go to Paris Amsterdam Germany what would be the best way to travel? Thanks

  27. I and my family are interested in travelling to Austria and Scandinavia and Spain not necessarily on the same trip but two in one trip where to start and end I live in Mumbai

  28. hi kate,
    we a group of four are planning to travel to italy, spain, switzerland, greece and paris. we are not sure what will be a better and economical option, to do a round trip or divide in separate trips. we are travelling from london. any recommendation on stay and travel will be highly appreciated. we are travelling with our parents so anything that is not much of hassle will help.
    thanks
    Mon

    1. I’m not sure what you’re asking here. And it’s hard to tell when you’re only mentioning the country, not the destination. Are you doing this all as a single trip? It might be best for you to fly between destinations. If they’re closer (say, Milan in Italy and Lugano in Switzerland) it may be better to take the train.

  29. Hi Kate!
    I’m a student graduating from her Masters and ready to see Europe!
    I am planning on leaving in September for about 2-3 months.

    My main interest is Italy (I suspect I will spend the MOST time there). I am also planning on going to Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Prague, Vienna and potentially Croatia. I would like to do some wine and olive harvesting at some point. I am just wondering given the seasons and as it will start getting colder, where should I start and where would it be best to be in October/ November?

    Thanks a bunch!

  30. Hi Kat,

    I am visiting my family in Dec 18 and will be there until Jan 19. My first trip to Europe and traveling by myself from Melbourne Australia.
    By looking above comments I can say Euro rail best but expensive travel. I am thinking to travel from London to Vienna Austria through euro rail and way back by bus.
    My major concern is accmodation through out travel and would like to experience Europe with Euro rail as well coach buses.
    Appreciate if you can give me some direction to plan out.

  31. Phyllis Hairston-Ransom

    I Kate: $ of us want to travel to Amsterdam and then to Italy. We will fly into Amsterdam, what would you suggest the mode of transportation. We are not sure where in Italy, but we want to see the country side and Milan. Please provide me a suggestion. We want to go in 2019, what time would be the best.

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