Your guide to trains, trams, busses and bikes
Europe has one of the most advanced transportation systems in the world. From massive metropolises to small towns, you can easily link up from place to place by public transport. Riding the rails across this marvelous continent might be the best way to explore: it’s highly efficient, cost-effective, and darn romantic. There’s nothing like riding a train through snow-capped Austrian mountains or beside a still-blue lake.
Most European countries have several types of long-distance trains. The fastest are the high-speed trains, like the TGV system in France. These trains travel at great speed and usually link up two big cities with very few—if any—stops along the way. For example, you can get from Krakow to Warsaw in about two and a half hours, one hour less than driving and far more sustainable to boot. After the high-speed trains, most countries have fast regional trains. For the sake of consistency, let’s stick to France, which has the TER train system. These trains go fast, but often stop a few times along the way and serve smaller towns and cities. Finally, you can find local trains that link up many small towns along a given route. Often, you might find you’ll need to take a combination of two types of trains to get to your destination.
In addition to the trains listed above, Europe is also home to long-distance international lines, which could take you from, say, Stockholm to Barcelona. These trains are often the most romantic. They offer sleeping compartments on night trains and dining cars with full-service meals. Finally, you have scenic routes, which privilege the views and experience over the speed. Here you’ll have viewing cars with glass ceilings, luxurious dining cars, cocktail bars, and real beds. Want to make the journey truly part of the experience? These scenic routes are ideal for you.
Note: trains in Europe are typically very reasonably priced. Perhaps most important, though, they emit far less CO2 than airplanes, making them the ideal environmental choice. Also, make sure to check out multi-country rail passes that give you a single ticket for many train networks around Europe.
Getting around in the city
Most cities in Europe have an advanced public transport system. Almost invariably, it will consist of a mix of permutations, such as metro lines, tramways, and busses. Once again, public transport is almost certainly the best way to get around in Europe. Parking in most cities can be complicated and is almost always expensive, so ditching the car for a rechargeable metro card will serve you well.
Another great option that most European cities offer is a public biking system. If not, bike rentals are super common and offer you the option to see the city as you travel through it (as opposed to being underground on the metro). Most cities are highly bike-friendly, with some privileging bikes to most other forms of transportation (just visit the Netherlands!). Bikes are also great in the countryside. You can explore entire regions on your two wheels!
Tip: before you visit a city or town, do some research about the public transport. Answer questions like what the hours of the system are and whether you can buy tickets on the bus or must board with a ticket. For bikes and scooters, check whether you need an app or card to access them.
Water-travel: ferries and boats
Sometimes, boats are best! Ferries are common in European cities and towns on the sea. Often, they connect the mainland with small islands off the coast, but they can also travel long distances like from Sweden to Poland. One great advantage of longer-distance ferries is that you can bring a car.
Barges and cruise boats are also common on European rivers. Though they mainly serve as an experience rather than a form of transport, they are a great way to explore new territory in a peaceful and relaxing way. Hop off the boat to explore new towns, browse local markets, visit small shops, then hop back on the water and head to the next place.
Here are a couple of good routes: take the ferries in Gothenburg to visit a dozen gorgeous islands off the coast; travel down the Rhein or the Danube to see gorgeous medieval villages and taste great wine along the way.
Despite all the transit networks in Europe, some places are best reached by car. Typically, these are nature reserves, small villages, or outdoor attractions. To help reduce our impact on the planet, car-sharing is a great way to travel by car. This can take several forms. One option is to look for apps that help you find drivers who are going to the same place as you and have space in their car. One such option is Bla Bla Car in France. In addition, there are also many solutions for renting, from traditional companies to new ones that simplify the process.
One idea: take the train to the nearest city then rent a car to reach your final destination. You can often find rental solutions that enable you to pick up the car right on the street with no need to visit a rental office.
Traveling with pets
Don’t leave Spot at home! Pets are welcome on many public transport systems in Europe. But there are some rules you need to follow, depending on where you are. First of all, dogs, cats and ferrets are issued passports. If you are traveling with more than five pets at once (dogs, cats, or ferrets), you will need extra documentation. Because rules differ depending on where in Europe you are, it would be best to check local rules in the specific place you are visiting, especially if you’re traveling with birds, ornamental aquatic animals, reptiles, rodents, or rabbits.
More information on that can be found here and here.
European cities are always working to make their public infrastructure accessible to all. A great way to explore a city’s accessibility is to visit the list of places that have won an Access City Award. This award celebrates cities that “guarantee equal access to fundamental rights, improve the quality of life of its population, and ensure that everybody, regardless of age, mobility or ability, has equal access to all the resources and pleasures cities have to offer.” For more about the Access City Award, click here. Some recent winners include: Borås, Breda, Gothenburg, and Jönköping.