As small as Europe may seem compared to its other fellow continents, there is actually a really wide variety of cultures, architecture, cuisines and languages across countries. Thanks to the EU travelling within Europe is easier than ever, and with the rise of budget airlines, Eurrail passes discounted travel offers, it’s becoming increasingly affordable. For anyone wanting to explore Europe in a short period of time, wondering what the best ways to travel around Europe are, this is the post for you! In this transportation in Europe guide I will be giving you a full breakdown of the best transport modes, with pros and cons for each, and examples from my own travels trips. We will review planes, cars, buses, trains and cruise ships, to give you a complete overview and knowledge of the best ways to travel around Europe.
When I finished high school I went on a 3 week long trip around Europe with my friends, we referred to it as our “Post IB Exams Interrail EuroTrip”, often shorted to just EuroTrip. Yes that’s how cool I was at 17. If this isn’t a huge #ThrowbackThursday post then I don’t know what ever will be. At the time I used to live in Milan, which was our starting point for the trip. From there we went to Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels and Barcelona. How did we move between cities? A mixture between flights and trains. We got flights from Milan to Vienna (find out how to spend 48 hours in Vienna), from Brussels to Barcelona, and then from Barcelona back to Milan. Other than that, our main transport mode amongst the other cities was by train. If you need help deciding where to go in Europe, check out this list of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Different transport modes in Europe
Train – the best way to travel around Europe?
We got a “Youth Global Pass” from Interrail with the option of travelling on 5 days within a period of 15 days (206EUR). It’s been five years but the pass types and prices have staid pretty much the same. There was also the option of travelling on 7 days within a period of 1 month (253EUR), however doing the whole trip by train would have been both cost and time inefficient. We were gone for 3 weeks, and since the first and last leg of travel of our trips were by plane, we managed to squeeze in the train travel in the 15 days that the pass was available for.
Depending on how much train travel you expect to do, you should check also the prices of individual train journeys before getting an Interrail pass. If you’re only planning on getting one or two trains, it might work out cheaper to buy those individually. Having a flexible pass however is handy if you’re a bit of a #yolo traveller and want to have the option of going off on random day trips by train at no extra cost. While the flights we got were slightly more expensive than what it would have cost us to take trains with the 1-month pass, the journeys by train would have taken us 7+ hours. In my opinion time is also money, and spending 10 hours on a train, when a flight would have cost you 20EUR more but saved you 8 hours, is a no brainer decision.
Plane – the fastest way to travel around Europe?
This leads us on to air travel within Europe. In recent years there has been the boom of low cost airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Yes you will need to pay for every extra on top of the actual flight (eg. Hold luggage, drinks and snacks on the plane, picking your seat etc) but if you’re good at packing carry-on only, and aren’t fussy about where to sit, you will love travelling Europe by plane. Booked early in advance you can get flights for as little as 10EUR. You don’t want to leave this last minute though, or you can end up paying 300EUR for a one-way flight (yes I did that once, but if I didn’t get to Italy in time for Christmas my family would have never forgiven me).
Most European cities are between 1 to 4 hours flight away from each other. If you’re going on a weekend away flying will be slightly more expensive than a train, but it will save you a lot of time better spent exploring your destination. I do a lot of weekends away from London, for example I went to Seville and Rome this year, all destinations I travelled to by plane. However the time variable isn’t always in favour of planes. Once you factor in journey time to the airport, the one or two spare hours prior to your flight that you need to be at the airport for, and then journey time from the arrival airport to the city centre, some destinations are actually quicker to reach by train. For example, from London it is actually quicker to get a train to Paris than it would be to fly there (2 hours by Eurostar vs. 4 hour flight, including travel to and from airports). Trains are also more comfortable than planes, with more leg room and usually tables. Depending on where you’re headed, you’ll want to make sure to check both options before booking anything.
Coach – the cheapest way to travel around Europe?
Depending on where in Europe you are, buses and coaches are also a popular travel option. Within the UK there are bus companies like MegaBus that offer really cheap deals, considerably cheaper than trains from London. I used it myself for weekends away when we went to Bath or York, and paid as little as 30GBP return trips (these were also considered expensive, if you book it early enough they do also 5GBP bargain deals). When I was in Croatia we took a bus from Dubrovnik to Split for approximately 15EUR. Buses are one of the cheapest and easiest way to travel around this part of Europe. Coaches are usually one of the cheapest ways to travel, however the downsides to them are the usual inconvenience of potentially being stuck in traffic and the additional time they can take compared to trains.
Car – the most independent way to travel around Europe?
I never really recommend driving as one of the best ways to travel around Europe, or any country really, primarily because I am a terrible driver and don’t enjoy being in cars. I do recognise that in a place like Europe, where you can easily cross borders and go on an epic road trip across multiple countries in a short period of time, it is very tempting to drive. I prefer travelling by train or plane since instead of spending unspecified amounts of time just staring at a road driving, I can spend it reading, writing, admiring the view, and many other activities. While driving you can also be slowed down by things such as accidents, traffic or border controls, whilst you are less likely to be delayed by train.
Renting cars is obviously expensive, since you have to factor in also insurance and petrol, especially if you are picking up the car in one country and dropping it off in a different one. We had originally planned to drive in Croatia, but renting a car for two days to go from Dubrovnik to Split including petrol and insurance would have cost around 250EUR. Compare that to the 15EUR coach and again, in my opinion that’s a no brainer decision. Driving does give you the freedom and flexibility to travel wherever and whenever you want, without being restricted by public transport. However you will save so much money travelling by coach or train, that you will then have plenty to spend on excursions to see all the areas you can’t reach by public transport.
Cruise – the most luxurious way to travel around Europe?
Cruises aren’t usually one of the first things people think of when they think of the best ways to travel around Europe, as they’re often seen as expensive. However some cruise companies like MSC and Costa often offer incredible deals like Mediterranean cruises for a few hundred dollars, and children under 18 often travel free bringing costs down loads for families. Considering that in the same bill you include transport, accommodation and food (since cruises usually include all meals) you actually end up saving a lot of money and visiting a lot of different destinations in one trip.. On the downside however cruises have very strict schedules and often don’t spend more than 8 hours in a harbour, meaning that if you find a city you really love you won’t have that much time to visit it properly. Also, anything you purchase on board (be it alcohol, souvenirs or excursions) is very expensive, so while the base cost of the cruise itself is usually accessible, be wary of all the extras you will be charged onboard.
There are lots of different transport modes you can take to travel around Europe, each with their own pros and cons to each. While my personal favourite for weekends away is usually flying, if you’re planning a longer term backpacking trip I would highly recommend travelling by train with an Interrail pass. Have you been travelling around Europe? What is your favourite transportation mode in Europe? Let me know in the comments below! If you’re looking for more Europe advice, make sure to check out this list of 100 things to know about visiting Europe.