Getting Around in Europe: Train vs Plane vs Car
When I was planning my first trip to Europe I thought I would be traveling everywhere by train when I got there. The movies, the media and much of what I thought I knew about Europe told me that the train was the best way to get around. However, I soon learned that this wasn't quite the case.
My first trip to Europe was to Switzerland and Italy. I would be going to Geneva, Switzerland first and then moving on to Italy, with eventual stops in Rome and Venice. I thought, how cool would it be to travel by train through the Alps? It seemed like a wonderful idea until I started looking at the costs. To take a train from Geneva just to get to Milan, Italy was going to cost about twice as much as a flight from Geneva to Rome, which at the time was just under $100. This changed my whole way of thinking about how to get around in Europe. I would want to look at the cost of flying vs train whenever I moved cities. During the same trip, I also needed to determine the best way to get from Rome to Venice. For that transfer it was the railway that was quite a bit cheaper than flying.
That trip was in 2014 and not much is different right now. According to Rome2Rio.com, a flight from Geneva to Rome is between $58 and $227 while a train ticket is between $147 and $335. Looking at getting from Rome to Venice a train ticket is between $29 and $120 while a flight is between $40 and $227.
A few years after my trip to Switzerland and Italy I planned a trip to Spain and Great Britain. I again looked into the best options to get around. This time I included renting a car since I was going to be going to places that weren't as populated in each country. In Spain, my trip consisted of landing in Malaga and touring part of the Andalusia region of Spain with, a stop in Ronda before ending in Seville. And in Britain, I would be starting in London before going to Margate then heading to Cardiff, Wales with a stop at Stonehenge.
I looked at taking the rail for all of that trip, which was possible, except getting to Stonehenge. However much of the time there was not a direct train route and that meant taking the train would cost time. In some cases, it would take twice as long by train. For example the train from Ronda, Spain to Seville is almost 3 hours, but a drive is about an hour and a half.
The downside to driving is that renting a car can be more expensive. If you are only renting a car for a few days in Spain it can be quite costly. For example a 2 day car rental for a compact car in Spain will cost about $300 to start in Malaga and end in Seville. However, the longer you rent the care the lower the daily charge. A week long rental is just over $400 for a rental the same trip. And if you have two people that would each need train tickets for a weeks worth of transportation, having a car option actually then becomes less expensive than the train depending on how many times you'll be taking transportation.
The other major advantage to using car when traveling through Europe is that you'll get to stop in some off the beaten path places that the trains don't get to, like when we stopped at Setenil de Las Bodegas, a city in Spain built under a rock. Or when we drove through England and went through a little town with a toll bridge where a person was just standing on the side of the road collecting the tolls. Or the time I had to take a detour in Norway and went through a beautiful area I would not have otherwise seen. Those experiences are ones in which a price cannot be determined.
Driving is not always the most economical choice cost or timewise. Sometimes flying is just quicker, even for short distances. I flew within Norway from Bergen to Alesund because the flight was only 40 minutes. The drive would have take almost 7 hours and the train was not an option due to the terrain in that part of the country. That flight on Wideroe Airlines is as cheap as $60, which is less than a car rental for the day and gas.
What has all this research and personal experience taught me about transportation and getting around in Europe? There isn't a single option for the best way to get around. It really depends on what you want to see and where you want to go. There are some general guidelines I suggest:
- Train is best for travel between larger cities within a country.
- A car is best for if you want to have an adventure and explore places that maybe aren't so touristy.
- Flying is best for intercountry or city to city with less navigable terrain between them.
So before you decide on what transportation option is best for you in Europe, you need to decide where you want to go and what you want to see. That will guide you to the best transportation option.