Erratic engineeress

A personal blog fuelled by caffeine and curiosity.

The ultimate guide to getting around Europe

Here’s the only resource you’ll ever need for getting around Europe.

These days it’s quite easy to find all accommodation and flight options in one place (I always use Skyscanner for flights and or couchsurfing for accommodation), but I’ve found that all the major travel search sites fail when it comes to train and bus schedules and ticket booking. Every country has their own website and a local train/bus company, which can be really annoying, so I’ve decided to do a resource post and list them all in one place with a couple of tips – I did the digging so you don’t have to. 🙂 I also included sections on the best European flight options and getting around by car.

I tried to kind of stick to the geographical definition of Europe and included all the countries typically perceived as having a mainly European culture, as those are also the ones I know most about as a European from Slovenia.

Getting around Europe by plane

As previously stated I always use the Skyscanner search site to find the best flight deals, but there are a couple of specifics of European flight travel worth mentioning. Europe has quite a number of budget airlines (listed below), which offer incredibly cheap flights and function kind of like buses, but they will charge you extra for just about everything except your seat, so make sure you read the terms and conditions of your ticket carefully. The standard ticket for most budget airlines only includes hand luggage and a seat, so you’ll need to pay extra for priority boarding, food, checked luggage, wi-fi any everything else you might be used to getting for free on major international airline flights. You’ll also need to be prepared for possible delays and overbooking problems, so you get what you pay for.

  • RyanAir – flies almost everywhere, horrible customer service, but good promotional offers
  • EasyJet – most useful for UK connections
  • WizzAir – flies almost everywhere too, good promotional offers
  • Volotea – flies to Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece
  • Pegasus airline – covers the Balkans and Eastern Europe
  • Eurowings – German budget airline, not usually so cheap in my experience
  • AirBaltic – cheap flights to Baltic countries and Northern Europe
  • Norwegian Air – best for Scandinavian flights

As for regular airlines, my personal favourite is the SAS – Scandinavian Airlines. They have relatively affordable flights, great customer service, give you free coffee or tea on each flight and their bonus points programme is actually useful. All the other airlines in the Star Alliance are usually pretty good too.

getting around in europe
Early morning flight over Scandinavia.

Getting around Europe by train

Since I’m into the whole sustainability thing I urge you to consider train travel for getting around Europe. Most of Western and Northern Europe has fast, reliable train networks built across the most amazing landscapes and even some scenic railways, which should be on your travel list. The distances from one country to the next are also relatively small, so if you have enough time board a train and enjoy the view! Just bring your own snacks, because buying them on the train can be quite expensive.

You’ll find a list of all the national train service providers below. Although Europe has a multinational railway scheme called the Interrail, which sells combined train passes for multiple countries or package train journey deals within one country, the Interrail website doesn’t provide specific train schedules and is often not even the best deal. You could try Omio if want to get everything in one place, but it doesn’t really have all the information in my experience. The national websites always provide the updated, current train scheduling information, although I strongly recommend double checking the train times at the stations if you can. Booking tickets at the correct national website is usually the best way to go, as they can’t tell you that the ticket deal is invalid if their name is on it and you can often find good period ticket offers or discounts for short distance trains that aren’t listed anywhere else.

Note: I would generally not recommend travelling by train in Eastern Europe or through Greece and the Balkans, because the trains are most often slow, old and have very limited routes, so use the bus networks instead. However, they can be useful when travelling long distance from one country to another, as at least the major cities are usually well-connected, which is why those train companies are still included on the list.

getting around in europe
On the train in Sweden.

On a related note, the trains in the north of Europe (Scandinavia, the UK, the Baltic countries, Germany etc.) are amazing. Portuguese trains were pretty good too, while the French trains are prone to frequent personnel strikes and delays in the recent years and Slovenian local trains are mostly horrible.

getting around in europe
Bergensbanen, the Norwegian scenic railway between Oslo and Bergen.

Getting around Europe by bus

European buses are a slightly different story from trains and can be even trickier, because every country usually has multiple bus companies, each servicing a particular region. I’m not going to list all of those for obvious reasons, but I might write individual posts for getting around certain countries sometime in the future. However, there are some major bus companies, which will get you to all the main places around Europe and you can find those listed below (I’ve only listed the most reliable ones).

Bus travel in Europe is usually cheaper than travelling by train, but it also takes longer, is less comfortable and often involves switching buses at odd hours of the night. The main advantage of buses is their low price and you can often get ridiculously cheap long distance deals for like 5€ or even free if you manage to catch one of the crazier promotional offers. All the long distance buses normally have toilets, air conditioning and wi-fi.

  • FlixBus – cheapest European bus provider by far, also operates in the US
  • Megabus – operates in the UK, USA and has routes to lots of major European cities
  • Eurolines – probably the most extensive European bus network
  • Ecolines – another large bus service with plenty of bad reviews online, so I’d personally avoid them
getting around in europe
A local double-decker bus in the UK.

Getting around Europe by car

Renting a car

Obviously travelling by public transport is usually the most affordable and also the must sustainable and eco-friendly mode of transportation. However, if the buses and trains can’t get you to where you need to go, you can always rent a car from one of the major international car hire services listed below. Just remember that picking the airport as your pick up/drop off point is usually the most expensive option and that returning the car with an empty tank can cost you extra.

Be aware that every European country has its own road rules and speed limits. Not knowing about them won’t save you from getting a fine, so get informed before you start driving. Also check if you have all the mandatory car equipment and the required insurance.

All of the listed car rental companies are pretty similar and getting the best price largely depends on your chosen dates and availability, so if you want to compare rental prices from all companies, you can use the AutoEurope search site. There are of course also numerous local car hiring companies (beware of scams in some countries).

Ridesharing and hitchhiking

The sharing economy is pretty alive in Europe, which includes ridesharing/carpooling, i.e. finding a local who is driving to a certain destination and joining them in exchange for gas contribution. Unfortunately, most of the good ridesharing sites are local and often just in the local language, so they can be a bit tough to find. The few active international carpooling sites are listed below, but I will try to update the list with national ridesharing sites when I find them:

  • Bla bla car – Europe’s largest ridesharing site
  • Carpool anywhere – international carpooling site, mostly useful for Germany
  • Gumtree – somewhat useful for finding rides in the UK and Australia

Some countries also have official ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, but those are really more in the range of taxis than true ridesharing.

Last but not least, hitchhiking is still alive and kicking in Europe, more or less so depending on the country. Hitchhiking is legal in all European countries and particularly common in smaller towns, but it requires a little bit of skill and a lot of patience. The best resource I can give you for that is Hitchwiki, but above all stay safe and always trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t get into the car. Personally I’ve had the most success in Scotland and Scandinavia, but my friends tell me it’s also pretty popular in Ireland, Croatia and Germany. It is somewhat slow in Slovenia, but it can be done.

getting around in europe
On the road in Austria.

Considering most of Europe is landlocked, I didn’t really go into getting around by boat. There are some very good local ferry options, which you can use even if you don’t have a car, particularly in Scandinavia, Italy and Greece, but those will have to wait for individual country travel tips posts. And of course, the best way for getting around European cities is on foot, which is also my favourite option, because I like to walk everywhere. Speaking of, Europe also has some incredible multi-day walking trails like the King’s trail in Sweden or Camino de Santiago in Spain.

I hope you’ll find my guide to getting around Europe useful. I made it so that you can focus on something more interesting than searching for transportation options – like eating cake.

Let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to add anything else to it or write one on a different topic (I’ll even take crazy ideas like “write me a guide on travelling with a goat” or “how to store your cheese when you travel”). And, if you did find it useful, show it some love and link it to someone you know who could benefit from it – sharing is caring!

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