Getting around Europe is actually pretty easy compared with some other regions of the world. I think that’s one of the many reasons Europe is such an amazing place to explore. The options are plentiful and if you know what will work best for you, getting around Europe can even be a highlight of your trip. So how to get around Europe? Of course there are pro’s and con’s to each option and it also depends which country you’re in and where you want to get to. So here’s what I’ve found on my travels…
Europe Transport Options
Travelling By Train In Europe
It has to be said, the train network in Europe is extensive, comfortable and one of the best ways to get around Europe. It’s also pretty affordable if you know when and how to book. Travelling by train is hands down my favourite way to get around Europe. You can take in your surroundings, relax, sleep, work, eat, basically anything you want whilst travelling through some of the most beautiful scenery too. Often you have a choice of classes, so you can pay for more comfort and space if you desire.
Having said that, the train system isn’t the same all over Europe. In some countries train may not be the best option.
Our Experience: We’ve travelled throughout Italy and France a few times on train and it’s such a nice way to get around. It’s simple, fast and comfortable. For what we’ve done in Europe so far, buying individual tickets has worked out to be cheaper (provided we bought them early). That’s not to say in the future a rail pass wouldn’t be good, it all depends on the situation.
Great In: Western + Central Europe
Great For: Comfort, seeing beautiful scenery and countryside, affordable (if booked in advance).
Our Tips: Book in advance if you want to get cheap tickets. Rail passes may be more affordable, but don’t always assume they will be. It’s completely dependent on your situation, how much flexibility you want, what countries you’re visiting, how slow or fast you’re travelling etc. The easiest way to work it out is to price a rail pass for your travels, and then look at the individual prices for a few of your legs and do the math.
Resources: We love using Man in seat 61 to see our options. We usually book online in advance through Trainline (covers regions all over Europe), SNCF (France), Trenitalia (Italy). You can also have a look at our first Europe trip comparison of Eurail to how much we paid for individual tickets in our ‘Is Eurail Worth It‘ article.
Hiring A Car In Europe
Hiring a car and driving yourself can be daunting but it give’s you so much more freedom to see things off the beaten track. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend driving between countries unless you have your heart set on this way. But I think it’s a perfect way to see more of the country you’re in.
Our Experience: We hired a car in Italy, and spent a few days driving around Tuscany. This was perfect as it’s so much easier to see this region by car. We only drove on the wrong side once, thankfully in a quiet country road ;) and got onto the highway to Rome instead of back to Florence, but it was such fun. We also hired a car in Provence in France, as again, it’s so much easier to explore by car.
Great For: Discovering specific regions within countries that are easier to get around with a car.
Tips: I think if you hire a car, do it close to the region you actually want to explore. Some areas are just better explored by car, so keep that in mind when deciding on destinations. Make sure you have an international drivers license and that car hire is covered in your travel insurance. It might be overkill, but I’d still pay the extra with the car hire company to get insurance and reduce the excess, because even if you’re covered by travel insurance, there might be a gap in time between having to pay your excess and claiming it back through travel insurance. Also, in certain situations you may want to book your car before your holiday to make sure you get the price and type of car you need.
Resources: We booked our car hire in France through Europcar and in Italy through Maggiore. In Santorini and Mykonos this was just arranged on the ground when we got there.
Flying In Europe
Flying in Europe can actually be relatively cheap with a range of different carriers, again depending on when you book. If you don’t travel with much luggage, you can often save money when flying in Europe too. If going to a neighbouring country, I’d personally prefer to do it by train, but flying can sometimes be the quickest and most convenient way to get around Europe.
Our Experience: We usually try to plan an itinerary so we don’t need to fly within Europe, but this year we needed to get from Rome, Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia and the quickest/cheapest route was definitely flying. Although there is obviously waiting time at the airport, the flight was super quick (about 1 hr). We flew with Vueling and the flight we had was great. We also had to fly in the Greek Islands to get from Rhodes to Santorini (via Athens), which was another great flight.
Great For: When your itinerary doesn’t take you between neighbouring countries, exploring completely different areas of Europe, or if there’s a really long/multiple train trips to get between destinations.
Tips: There are lots of budget airlines flying throughout Europe. The less luggage you have, the more money you can generally save. Book in advance to save money, although their may be last minute deals.
Resources: We booked our flights online through Vueling and Aegean Airlines.
Travelling Europe By Bus
Bus is usually a last option for me, but in some countries in Europe it’s the best option. The benefit of buses is that they often go to more locations than other modes of transport.
Our Experience: In Croatia the bus system and roads are excellent. We took a bus from Split to Krka National Park as a day trip (about 1hr 15 minutes each way), from Split to Plitvice National Park (about 4.5 hours one way), and then from Plitvice National Park to Zagreb (about 2.5 hours). We also used a bus whilst in Nice, France to reach Saint Paul De Vence as a day trip (about 1hr each way), which was also excellent and cost effective.
Great For: Reaching destinations that aren’t accessible by train and in countries that have a well established bus service.
Tips: Tickets can usually be booked at the destination but perhaps still the day before to ensure availability. Often when bus is a good option, hiring a car may also be a good option, which is really a personal choice.
Resources: In Croatia, we used Autotrans and Prijevoz Knezevic bus services. Autotrans could be booked and paid for online. Prijevoz Knezevic could be booked online but needed to be printed. For this reason we just bought our tickets at Split bus station the day before. In Nice, France, we just bought our bus ticket on the bus, however there are other options like buying a 10 pass etc.
Travelling By Boat In Europe
Some parts of Europe may call for you to travel by boat. Obvious areas are of course around islands, although don’t always think that boat is the best option to get from island to island.
Our Experience: We recently explored the Croatian Islands and this required ferry trips in between each one. Ferries were large and comfortable, but the particular one we went on you could not go outside, so keep this in mind. We were able to book tickets online and it was the perfect way to get around. We’ve also done smaller ferries just to explore the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre in Italy which I would definitely recommend, as you get beautiful scenery. Another area we’ve travelled by boat was in the Greek Islands (Santorini to Mykonos and Mykonos to Athens). The one thing I learnt about getting around the Greek Islands is that it’s not all short boat rides. It actually worked out better for us to fly from Rhodes to Santorini (via Athens). One of our boat rides was actually quite ‘wavy’ and when we boarded the boat, it was pretty evident there had been more than a few people suffering from sea sickness. I guess the takeaway would be sometimes boats are great, sometimes flying might be the better option.
Great For: Island hopping (shorter distances) and exploring coastal regions
Tips: Boat tickets, particularly in peak season, may need to be booked in advance to ensure you get tickets or don’t have to alter your itinerary. Always do your research and way up your options. When booking boat tickets, always make sure you take note of the port they dock/leave from, as certain boats might dock/leave from ports that are closer to where you need to be.
Resources: To get around the Croatian Islands we checked our schedule and booked tickets through Jadrolinija. For Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, boats were organised once there.