Getting around in Europe isn’t quite the adventure it is in some parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Southeast Asia!), but you do have many options when it comes to how to get around. Many people choose the train route, which is mostly efficient and easy to use, but not always the cheapest. Here are a few options to consider that will help you get around Europe with ease. You’ll note that I haven’t talked about driving in Europe, as I feel that’s a post within itself.
Let’s start with the most expensive. Flights are the quickest way to travel, but usually the most expensive. I’ve taken inter-European flights a handful of times because of deals I’ve found with budget carriers, including a trip from Porto to Munich and another from Split to Frankfurt. You can find some inexpensive routes from country to country, but usually, you won’t find as many for within a country. Also, keep in mind that the budget carriers I’ve experienced, namely Ryanair, don’t assign seats, charge extra for everything and their airports may be far from the city center (like Stansted in London and Memmingen in Munich). I’ve ended up wearing extra items because I was so against paying €50 at the gate. I’ve also gotten there early and seen people push to get their chosen seats.
In addition to Ryanair, look out for bargains with airlines like EasyJet, AirBerlin, Wizzair, German Wings and Aer Lingus. Remember to read all the print when it comes to these carriers or you’ll be charged extra. Pack light to save money on baggage fees and print your boarding pass out in advance. For more on dealing with budget airlines in Europe, read this article from Rick Steves.
Perhaps the most popular way to get around, most of Europe is serviced heavily by rail. Most backpackers in Europe grab a rail pass and wind their way through the continent with ease. And it’s true that it is easy to travel by train, but you may find discrepancies in the quality of trains from one country to the next. For example, on the same trip to Italy, I experienced both a sleek, modern train on one trip and a run down one on another. But perks include the fact that you can save on a night’s accommodation by taking an overnight train. Some of the more iconic train journeys in Europe are through Scotland (The Hogwarts Express) and the Swiss Alps.
There are, however, a few things to consider when you’re traveling by rail. Firstly, despite the ease of using a Eurail pass, they’re not always the cheapest way to get around, especially if you aren’t traveling that many days. Also, look into regional passes, which often include two countries for the price of one. Pack in a piece of luggage that will be easy to get on and off the platform on your own. Don’t expect someone to be there to help you, as this isn’t the Orient Express. Most trips will be fine to travel in second class, but if you prefer comfort, or want to book a bed for an overnight train, pay more for first class. Most of the time you won’t need a reservation for a seat, but I would get one on holiday weekends or when an event is going on. Some trains will have a “Reserved” sign above the seat but it may still be empty. This means that the passenger who has reserved the seat may be getting on at a later stop. It’s usually no problem to sit until someone tells you to move. But be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which is standing for the entire journey. And don’t forget about rail strikes, which can happen at any time. Make sure you have a backup plan. I recommend using the DB Bahn app in Germany and the surrounding countries for up to date schedules and journey mapping. Visit Seat 61 for the best resources on train travel worldwide, including Europe.
Another land option is taking buses, which are often cheaper than trains. You may not want to cover as long of distances in them, but companies like Megabus make it easy to get around with amenities like on-board restrooms, plugs, WiFi and reclinable seats. I’ve taken buses many times in the US and once in Ireland. We had planned on taking the train and using our Ireland rail passes, but we soon found out that no trains run on Sunday. We were already booked at a hostel for that night, so we had no choice but to take the bus instead. It didn’t end up taking that much longer than the train and got us to our destination.
Other options from Megabus include Eurolines, National Express, and Simple Express. Before you book, be sure to find out where the bus picks up and drops off from. Sometimes it’s not from an actual station, but from a bus stop in town. You might still need to take a taxi or local bus to get to your accommodation. Also, check to see if you’ll need to change buses anywhere and how many stops it will be making. It’s worth it to take the express buses. Bring anything you might want on board, whether that’s snacks, entertainment, or items to help you fall asleep. For more on what it’s like to travel Europe by bus, see this post by Budget Traveller.
Some coastal areas are serviced by ferries. I haven’t taken one myself, but I know about the ferries from England to France, from Italy to Croatia, throughout Scandinavia, and from Greece to the islands. Some rail passes include ferry transportation while others do not. Apart from the overnight ferries, most European ferries are simple, with interior and exterior seats and usually a food stand of some sort. Some are passenger ferries while others also take cars. If you take a bus from London to Paris, you’ll be spending time on a ferry as well.
Countries like Croatia have a national ferry company, pictured above, which manages all ferry transportation while others have many small companies with varying prices and schedules. Unless it’s high season, you might not need to purchase your ferry ticket in advance, as they rarely sell out. The exception is if you’re driving a car and are taking it across, in which case you’ll need to book in advance. Once on board, you’ll stow your luggage on the deck or keep it with you. It’s smart to lock up your zippers if you plan on leaving it out of sight. Bring items that will make your trip more comfortable, whether that’s a deck of cards or a lunch.