Europe is one of the most frequently visited continents on the planet. Visitors come from all over the world to visit the countries that have had the biggest role to play in developing modern western society over the past millennium. Arguably, there is no continent with more tourist appeal on the entire planet. Travelers could spend an entire lifetime exploring all of the countries in Europe and still have more to see.
Often when people head to Europe for the first time, they plan to visit multiple countries. If they are coming from Asia or the Americas, after all, it takes at least 8 hours to get there – might as well explore as much as possible! In the United States, I have often heard people mention that the train is the best way to get around Europe. Is this true? This post is for those people who want to plan a trip to multiple European countries who may find themselves asking “what is the best way to travel around Europe?”
What Is the Best Way to Travel Around Europe?
There are a lot of ways to travel. We live in a time where the world is more connected than ever, and likewise, going on a multi-country trip to Europe is more feasible than ever. Between airplanes, trains, buses, and cars, you can get all over the European continent with ease. One thing that I think people fail to realize, though, is just how big Europe is. The European Union itself is roughly the same size as the continental United States! This means that the idea of “taking a train all around Europe” is not very practical, depending on where you want to go. Could you imagine taking a train from Los Angeles to New York? It is about the same distance from Lisbon, Portugal, to Warsaw, Poland!
Are Trains the Best Way to Travel Around Europe?
As I just described, no. Not at all, actually. Trains are not the best way to travel around Europe. This notion is highly outdated, especially with the development of budget airlines! Train travel used to be much more relevant, as there simply wasn’t much of a better option. Nowadays, though, trains are definitely not the best option for long-distance traveling.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t take trains while you are in Europe – it just depends where you are trying to go. Trains are a fantastic way to travel shorter distances. If you want to travel from Belgium to France, for example, trains may be a fantastic option. They are more spacious than buses, and offer you the chance to stretch out and walk around during the trip. Additionally, some countries’ train systems are remarkable and are especially great for domestic travel. Italy is a great example of this. Italy’s train network is extremely well connected, and you can get between many of Italy’s cities faster by train than any other means of travel – even airplane. I wrote an entire post on Italy’s train system.
I would not recommend trains for longer distance traveling, though. Taking a train from Denmark to Austria, for example, would take an entire day or more. You could easily cover this distance in the air in just a couple of hours, and the prices are often even cheaper through the air than they are on a train!
Is Flying the Best Way to Travel Around Europe?
Thanks to the development of budget airlines, I would be inclined to say that flying is most often the best way to get around Europe. Airlines like Wizz Air, Ryanair, and EasyJet have made flying all around Europe extremely fast, convenient, and affordable. Often you can fly from one country to another for as little as $15! These airlines come with no frills, meaning that if you have a ton of luggage you may wind up paying significantly more in fees along the way. However, if you are a light traveler, flying is actually the most affordable way to get around Europe.
So, How Should I Get Around Europe?
Generally, my rule of thumb regarding traveling in Europe is pretty simple. I look at the distance on a map and determine how far the trip would be by car or bus. If it is more than 5 hours, I usually fly. This is because traveling to an airport, getting through security, boarding and flying to any destination in Europe should take you no more than 5 or 6 hours, regardless of where you are going. If the drive is longer than 5 hours, you could get there just as quickly by plane and have more room to walk around and stretch out in the process.
If the drive is less than 5 hours, I recommend looking into buses and trains. Flying is fast and cheap, but taking a bus or a train reduces the headache of going through security and navigating an airport. Additionally, buses and trains tend to drop you off downtown in your destination, while a flight requires you to land and then figure out transportation into the city.
At the end of the day, there is no singular best way to get around Europe. In fact, most trips will require that you use a combination of all of the methods listed above. Perhaps you want to get from Amsterdam to Budapest, but there is no affordable flight along this route. What I would recommend doing in this instance is flying from Amsterdam to Vienna and then taking a bus from Vienna to Budapest to complete your trip. You arrive in a fraction of the time that a bus or train all the way from Spain would have taken, and you probably save money in the process.
Final Thoughts on the Best Way to Get Around Europe
If you learn anything from this post, make it this: there is no one best way to travel around Europe. The best way to travel around Europe depends on your start and end points, your amount of luggage, and your budget. Trains are often more expensive than flying and almost always take more time. Europe is a huge continent, and just as you would never dream of taking a train from one side of the United States to the other, I’d advise not to do that in Europe either.
Deciding How to Get Around
Think about your start and end points, look at where they fall on a map, and be open to using multiple means of transportation to cover one route. I’ve used trains, buses, and planes all on the same trip to get from one city to another when it is the fastest and most cost-effective way to get around. Using a combination of these three methods can get rid of layovers and long train rides, delivering you to your final destination quickly and affordably. Also, don’t just listen to your parents or grandparents when they tell you that taking a train across Europe is the best option – it isn’t. It was at the beginning of the century, but budget airlines usually cost less than trains and get you where you want to go much more quickly.
Hopefully this post answered any questions you have about how to travel around Europe. Don’t listen to your parents or grandparents when they say that trains are the best way to get around Europe – that was the case in the early 2000’s, but it is not the case at all now – even if you are on a budget.
If you have any questions about traveling between European countries, let us know by dropping a comment below! Otherwise, thanks for reading and have a wonderful day.
If you’re in the middle of planning a big trip, you should also check out our in-depth guide on finding cheap flights.