How to travel in Europe
Fifty sovereign states. 10,180,000 sq km. 738,200,000 people. The word ‘Europe’ does little to convey the diversity found within, which can make it a bewildering place to travel. So here’s a handy guide to your transport options:
Budget: medium-high (London-Prague petrol from EUR360 return, plus car hire cost).
Ideal time frame: 2-4 weeks.
So? Expensive flexibility.
With petrol costs soaring, driving yourself around Europe is increasingly pricey. If hiring a car or camper, add this cost too (note, fees for picking up/dropping off cars in different countries are huge), plus road tolls and multi-country car insurance. You also need an International Driving Permit.
Cram several people into your own car, however, and costs can be shared. And you have the ultimate freedom to explore, unbeholden to public transport timetables. Monaco has the world’s busiest roads, with Italy, Germany and the UK also in the top 10.
Visit www.driverabroad.com for self-drive tips.
The rise of low-cost airlines has made plane-hopping Europe an affordable proposition. Budget carriers have also opened up more unusual airports (Bydgoszcz or Lappeenranta, anyone?), meaning you can access offbeat regions cheaper than ever.
However, flying might be fast but it also means travelling light - many airlines charge extra for hold luggage, not to mention fees for paying by credit card or simply checking in. If you fly, know the tricks to avoid these extras mounting up.
And, unless you’re very short on time, it’s not ideal: you’ll end up flying over the continent, rather than experiencing it.
Budget: medium-high (London-Prague from EUR215 return).
Ideal time frame: 2-4 weeks.
So? The scenic classic.
Railways spider all over Europe. And, even if Orient Express glamour is long gone (unless you can afford today’s swish replicas), this is still the most romantic way to travel: comfy, quick, scenery gliding by. Great choices for train trips include Italy (cheap), Switzerland (expensive but awesome), France (fast) and Germany (easy).
You can buy single-country railpasses, or broader InterRail (www.interrailnet.com) passes that allow travel to multiple countries within set time frames. Note that passes are not always the best option. If you’re making just a few short journeys, or sticking to a rigid pre-bookable itinerary, it may be better to buy point-to-point tickets.
Inside the 25-country Schengen Area (www.schengenvisainfo.com) there are no internal border controls, though you still need your passport. Between Schengen and non-Schengen nations, there are passport checks as you approach the boundary.
In some instances (for example, when entering Turkey) you must leave the train at a border station to obtain a visa - ensure you have any required fees/documents.
Budget: medium (London-Prague from EUR77 return).
Ideal time frame: 3-4 weeks.
So? Slow and steady.
Lacking the panache of train travel, buses are still a useful way of crossing the continent.
Individual countries have their own bus networks, which will open up access to villages trains don’t reach. Eurolines’ fleet of coaches connects 500 destinations across the continent; passes and point-to-point tickets are available.
The downsides can be cramped seats and long journeys - and motion sickness on winding Alpine roads (pack tablets). If you cross borders outside the Schengen, you may have to get off the bus for checks.
Ideal time frame: 1-3 months.
So? The best immersion.
Cycling in Europe is a pleasure - in general, cyclists here are treated with respect, not run off the road. Also, trains on the continent are often relaxed about transporting bikes.
Plan a route according to your abilities: the flat Netherlands? Hilly Switzerland? Note, mountain regions have fewer roads, so you’re more likely to be flanked by traffic. Check out EuroVelo (www.eurovelo.org), which is creating a network of 13 long-distance cycle-touring routes.
The advantages of bike travel are myriad: you’re immersed in the countries you traverse, and you can save a lot of money (though a longer trip duration may mitigate that). Downsides are the time commitment and, well, it’s pretty darn tiring.
Ideal time frame: 3-12 months.
So? Epic – if you have the time.
The ultimate in slow travel, a walk across Europe will allow you to properly soak up its diversity.
Options are endless. A series of official long-distance trails, managed by the European Ramblers’ Association (www.era-ewv-ferp.com), branches across the continent. For example, the E1 wends for 4,900km from Arctic Sweden to Italy’s Abruzzo Mountains; the 10,450km E4 links Tarifa (Spain) to Cyprus.
Or pick a historic route. The full Camino de Santiago pilgrimage crosses France and Spain; the Via Francigena runs from Canterbury to Rome.
You can’t really go wrong - just go where your feet feel like taking you. Do carry a tent to keep costs down - this will likely be a long trip...
For itineraries, tips and travel inspiration, cast your wandering eye over some of our favourite articles on European trips:
- Best ways to see Europe
- 10 essential stops for Europe first-timers
- Forget Western Europe: try these great Eastern alternatives
- 7 great reasons to see Europe in winter
- Jump the queue: get straight to Europe's classic sights
Need help planning your trip around Europe? Look no further: Lonely Planet's Europe on a Shoestring travel guide will whisk you around the continent without emptying your wallet.