When planning a holiday to Europe, one of the major decisions you’ll need to make if you plan to travel independently, is how you are going to get from A to B. There are lots of different transport options available in Europe and you might find using a combination of them suits you best.
This article touches briefly on the differences between seeing Europe by car or train but these aren’t the only transport options you have.
To help you wade through the alternatives and work out what’s best for you, I’ve summarized the pros and cons of each method of transport in Europe below.
How to travel around Europe: the transport options
There’s no doubt the European rail network is fantastic with over 250,000 kilometres of railway lines across the continent. High speed trains travel at up to 300 km/h so you can cover large distances in a short amount of time. On most routes there are frequent services, giving you plenty of choice when it comes to your travel times.
A great example is the Eurostar between London and Paris. With 18 services each day and a journey time of just 2.5 hours, why would you even bother flying?
Pros of train travel:
• Fast and frequent services
• Railway stations are usually located in the heart of the city
• No need to arrive and check in hours ahead of departure
• No luggage limits
• Relaxing way to travel – no navigation required
• Some trains provide free WiFi as well as charging stations for mobile devices
Cons of train travel:
• Can be expensive
• Seat reservations (of which there are a limited number) are required on fast trains and many long distance trains
• Stopping times at stations en-route is short. If you are boarding or disembarking at these stations, you’ll need to be quick
• Luggage storage areas fill up quickly – be aware that you may have to lift your suitcase onto an overhead rack
• Train travel is very popular. If you’re travelling on an unreserved ticket, finding seats together for you and your travelling partners might be difficult
• Trains don’t go everywhere – if you want to get off the beaten path you may need to look for another option
For total freedom and flexibility, hiring or leasing a car is a great way to see Europe. Generally the roads are very good and drivers are, mostly, quite courteous.
I love that a car gives you a bit more freedom when it comes to luggage, too. We mostly self-cater in Europe and find a car very handy as we can take a box or bag of food from one place to the next. This would be very difficult with most other methods of transport.
If you do choose to hire a car during your stay in Europe, I strongly recommend you obtain an International Driving Permit before you leave Australia.
Pros of renting a car:
• You’re in total control of your itinerary and can stop where and when you like
• Able to visit smaller villages that aren’t serviced by trains
• Not restricted by timetables
• Cost-effective, especially if you’re travelling with friends or family
Cons of renting a car:
• Driving on the right hand side of the road can be daunting, as can the narrow, one way streets you find in many villages
• Fuel and tolls can be expensive
• Parking costs
Just as car hire does, renting a motorhome gives you the freedom and flexibility to travel where you want, when you want. There’s no need to unpack at each new destination or even to look for the nearest restaurant – after all, you’re travelling with your own kitchen.
However, driving a motorhome around Europe is not for everyone and there are definitely plenty of cons to weigh up against the pros if you’re even considering renting a motorhome.
Pros of motorhome hire:
• Having your ‘home on your back’ means you can stop anywhere that takes your fancy
• Free-camping is allowed in some countries
• The ability to cook your own meals can save you money on dining out
Cons of motorhome hire:
• Parking can be more difficult
• Driving down narrow streets and over mountain passes can be a challenge
• Limited space can be testing if travelling with children or another couple
• Some items you might assume are included with your motorhome hire may not be. These can include (but aren’t limited to) linen, a kettle, a toaster, etc.
Travelling around Europe by bus is something I’ve not really considered before but there are now a couple of options that are definitely worth keeping in mind.
In my article about Flixbus and Loopy Slovenia, I explained the routes they operate – Flixbus boasts 800 destinations in Europe whilst Loopy Slovenia offers two routes on which you can travel around this small country.
Eurolines is another company that operates point-to-point travel across a large network whilst Busabout offers a hop on hop off-style of travel across three separate loops (itineraries). Passengers choose the loop they wish to travel on, stopping off at any of the designated stops along the route.
Pros of bus travel:
• Fares on some services start from as little as €19
• Huge number of destinations serviced by Flixbus and Eurolines
• Hop on hop off operators Loopy Slovenia and Busabout include a tour guide
Cons of bus travel:
• Not all services operate daily
• Travel duration is often longer than trains
• Limited destinations on hop on hop off services
Don’t disregard the option of flying between European destinations as it can sometimes be a great option.
As well as the national carriers of each country, there are heaps of low cost carriers operating in Europe and you might be surprised where they fly. Who would have thought Ryanair, an Irish low cost carrier, would fly direct from Porto in Portugal to Carcassonne in France?
Flights are also worth considering for travel between islands in Greece and from mainland Europe to Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, as ferry journeys are often long.
There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to weigh up when deciding whether or not an intra-Europe flight is your best option but two main things I recommend you consider are: the location of the departure/arrival airports and the cost of the ancillary fees that you’ll have to pay on top of the price of the airfare?
Pros of flying within Europe:
• Low-cost carriers have provided opportunities to fly to/from smaller airports that aren’t serviced by the major airlines
• Fares can be cheaper than trains, particularly if the train journey is a long one
• Journey time is often shortest when travelling by air
Cons of flying within Europe:
• Luggage allowance restrictions
• Requirement to check in hours before departure
• Low-cost carriers often use smaller airports that don’t have good public transport connections
• Ancillary fees – which can include charges for luggage, online bookings, payment by credit card, etc. – can add a significant amount to the price of the airfare
For travel between the Greek or Croatian islands, and to Corsica or Sardinia from mainland Europe, ferries are often the mode of transport that immediately comes to mind. Whilst some islands do have airports, for many, a ferry is the only way to get there.
Travelling by ferry is a relaxing way to reach your destination and some routes even offer the chance to reserve a cabin on overnight crossings.
Larger ferries, particularly those that cross the English Channel from Ireland and the UK to France and Belgium, even have room for vehicles.
Pros of ferry travel:
• Relaxing way to travel
• Able to enjoy the scenery on the journey
• Can purchase a hop on hop off ferry ticket which allows you to move between islands at your leisure (subject to ferry schedules)
Cons of ferry travel:
• Bad weather can suddenly cause the cancellation of services
• Fares are sometimes no cheaper than airfares
• Journey times are usually longer than if travelling by air
• Not all services operate every day
• Not all islands are connected to each other by ferry (you may have to go via another island and stay overnight)
Where to search for the best transport options for Europe
A great online tool to use to determine which method of transport is best for each journey you plan to take is Rome2Rio. By entering your start and end points, you’ll be provided with a list of transport options, journey times and approximate fares. Too easy!
Then, it's up to you to consider the pros and cons I've mentioned above - and any other factors that are important to you - to decide on your preferred method of transport.
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