Trains, planes or automobiles—what’s the best way to travel through Europe?

One of the first things we look at when we’re travel-planning is work out how we get to a place. Here’s what we’ve found to when we’re travelling through Europe and the best way to get around.

How to travel through Europe - Jim and a tiny car

There’s nowhere else in the world quite like Europe for travel opportunities. It’s compact, it’s diverse, it’s safe—I say each of these with ‘relatively’ as a prefix of course.

But being able to travel through so many different countries easily makes Europe the perfect place to lily-pad your way around and really maximise your time away.

The question is, what’s the best way to travel through Europe?

Bearing in mind we’re talking about travelling at speed, let’s rule out walking and cycling for the moment. I also don’t want to openly condone hitch-hiking.

You’re left with a few options:

Flying around Europe

Obviously the quickest, but also the most expensive and the worst in carbon footprint terms, flying will get you to your destination but at several costs. And with airlines constantly tightening their belts, passenger experience always suffers in the end.

For example, Ryan Air’s very restrictive luggage allowance means you’ll either need to pack light (tickets are cheap because they start with no luggage and you pay for every extra piece as you go), or pay through the nose.

How to travel through Europe - Bari, Puglia in southeast Italy

How to travel through Europe - Christina boarding a Ryan Air flight

Can you see Christina lining up to board this Ryan Air flight?

Airports are also always a distance from the city, which means getting into the town or city and back out again when you leave.

How to travel through Europe - coastline from the air

Driving around Europe

When you have your own car (or motorbike if you’re game!), you have total independence. You can go wherever you want wherever you want and you never have to worry about luggage allowance or repacking every time you move.

How to travel through Europe - Fiat Cinquecento in Milan, Italy

How to travel through Europe - car with a view

Downsides are car rental prices—especially when you’re not returning the car to the same location—can be high, you’re at the whim of obscure local road rules (I got a ticket for driving through a piazza in Italy once!) and then there are the borders.

Not many rental companies are happy about the idea of you driving their cars across international borders—even within the Schengen Area.

And then there’s traffic of course.

How to travel through Europe - tractor in Otranto, Puglia, southeast Italy

I do love driving around Europe though. It’s really the only option if you want to explore a place. Our time in Tuscany, for example, we needed a car. And getting out of Paris to see more of France, a hire car is essential.

Travelling through Europe by train

We’ve always enjoyed train journeys in foreign countries ever since we found it was the best way to get from Milan to Lake Como.

There’s a certain romance to it that doesn’t exist on the road and has diminished so much from flying.

Plus it’s better for the environment, it’s usually cheaper, you don’t need to worry as much about luggage—though lugging lots of bags through busy stations is never fun. And best of all, most main stations in European cities pop you out right in the middle of town. No need for shuttle buses, tricky transfers or dodgy taxis.

How to travel through Europe - boarding a busy OBB train at Frankfurt, Germany

How to travel through Europe - Christina boarding a train at Frankfurt, Germany

Recently, we flew in to Frankfurt from Australia then caught a train in our own private first class carriage to Vienna for €140. Yes, it took longer than flying—it was about an eight-hour trip—but we saw so much more than the tops of clouds.

From Vienna, we took a two-and-a-half-hour train to Budapest, which cost just €19 for the two of us. Also, flights out of Budapest to the UK—our next destination—were cheaper than pretty much anywhere else in Europe.

One other presiding factor that makes train journeys through Europe so attractive is just how reliable they are. And though they may not be quite as punctual as, say, Japanese trains, but they’re not bad; but they’ll always turn up.

How to travel through Europe - Jim and Christina in their private train compartment from Amalfi to Naples

As you can guess, we’re big fans of train journeys—though if you want a real train traveller, check out this guy’s YouTube channel.

But holistically, the best way to do it is to mix it up.

We saw so much more of Puglia when when we visited Italy in 2017 because we used all three modes and it’s what we’ll do again for sure.

How to travel through Europe - Sydney in the sun


  • Reply December 15, 2022

    Neel Sharma

    That really depends on what your intended destinations are and what your travel style is. If you are planning to visit multiple countries and cities in Europe, flying is usually the most efficient way to get around. Taking the train is a great option if you want to take in more of the scenery and take your time while travelling. Alternatively, if you’re travelling with a group or you want more flexibility and freedom, you may want to consider renting a car.

    • Reply December 20, 2022

      Mr Romance

      Absolutely, Neel. And the group travel option is a great point too. Especially with so much multi-generation travel going on at the moment.

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