Airports & Airlines
To save money, it’s best to travel off-season. This means, if possible, avoid mid-June to early September, Easter, Christmas and school holidays.
Regardless of your ultimate destination, it’s sometimes better to pick a recognised transport ‘hub’ as your initial port of entry, where high traffic volumes help keep prices down. The busiest, and therefore most obvious, airports are London, Frankfurt, Paris and Rome. Sometimes tickets to Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, İstanbul, Madrid and Vienna are worth checking out.
Long-haul airfares to Eastern Europe are rarely a bargain; you’re usually better flying to a Western European hub and taking an onward budget-airline flight or train. The main hubs in Eastern Europe are Budapest, Moscow, Prague and Warsaw.
Most of the aforementioned gateway cities are also well serviced by low-cost carriers that fly to other parts of Europe.
Main European airports:
- Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam (www.schiphol.nl)
- Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt (www.frankfurt-airport.com)
- Heathrow Airport, London (www.heathrow.com)
- Barajas Airport, Madrid (www.aeropuertomadrid-barajas.com)
- Aéroport de Charles de Gaulle, Paris (www.easycdg.com)
- Leonardo da Vinci Airport, Rome (www.adr.it)
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
It’s possible to reach Europe by various train routes from Asia. Most common is the Trans-Siberian Railway, connecting Moscow to Siberia, the Russian Far East, Mongolia and China.
It is also possible to reach Moscow from several Central Asian states and İstanbul from Iran and Jordan. See www.seat61.com for more information about these adventurous routes.
Border formalities have been relaxed in most of the EU, but still exist in all their original bureaucratic glory in the more far-flung parts of Eastern Europe.
In line with the Schengen Agreement, there are officially no passport controls at the borders between 26 European states, namely: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Sometimes, however, there are spot checks on trains crossing borders, so always have your passport. The UK was a nonsignatory to Schengen and thus maintains border controls over traffic from other EU countries (except Ireland, with which it shares an open border), although there is no customs control. The same goes for Ireland.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are prospective Shengen area members – for up-to-date details see www.schengenvisainfo.com.
Most borders in Eastern Europe will be crossed via train, where border guards board the train and go through compartments checking passengers’ papers. It is rare to get hit up for bribes, but occasionally in Belarus or Moldova you may face a difficulty that can only be overcome with a ‘fine’. Travelling between Turkey and Bulgaria typically requires a change of trains and is subject to a lengthy border procedure.
There are numerous ferry routes between Europe and Africa, including links from Spain to Morocco; Italy and Malta to Tunisia; and France to Morocco and Tunisia. Check out www.traghettiweb.it for comprehensive information on all Mediterranean ferries. Ferries are often filled to capacity in summer, especially to and from Tunisia, so book well in advance if you’re taking a vehicle across.
Passenger freighters (typically carrying up to 12 passengers) aren’t nearly as competitively priced as airlines. Journeys also take a long time. However, if you have your heart set on a transatlantic journey, TravLtips Cruise and Freighter (www.travltips.com) has information on freighter cruises.