A Beginners Guide to Getting Around Europe

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

The idea of moving country to country in such a short amount of time can be daunting. Is it better to fly or train? Can I get from A to B? Should I book my tickets in advance? There’s a lot to consider, but in short, getting around Europe is a lot easier than you probably think.



Trains

Schedules: Many websites host accurate schedule information. Go Euro or Eurail are two of the more user friendly services and also link to the transport company website to buy tickets.  Eurail also has train schedule app you can download – it doesn’t require data and is very handy when planning on the go.


Reservations: In certain countries you will need to make a reservation even if you have a rail pass. This can be done at the station prior to your departure, just ask at the ticket office for a reservation on your desired train and show them your rail pass. Reservation costs depend on the train, and can cost anywhere between €5 to €20. It will state whether a reservation is required or not on the schedule information. For example if you are travelling from Valencia to Madrid on the 4th April, when you arrive in Valencia a few days prior you should buy your ticket on to Madrid. This does limit your ability to change plans, so if you are up in the air about your next moves you can wait to make your reservation the day of or the day before, just be prepared for the train to be sold out.


Validate Your Ticket: Some trains will also require you to validate your ticket after you buy it – this is very popular in Italy and on smaller rail lines. There is usually a small box affixed to a wall near the ticket machine where you will just need to insert the ticket and it will be stamped with the date and time. You can get fined a lot if you don’t validate your ticket as you can then use the ticket again and again! If in doubt, watch others or ask a ticket office.


Seats: Train seats are usually quite comfortable and large. Many trains also have sets of 4 seats that face each other and have a table between the seats. These are perfect if you are with a group or if you just like space. The train is often uncrowded unless you’re on a popular route or it’s a holiday, so you can sometimes bag two seats to yourself. Sometimes you will be allocated a seat. If you really don’t like where you’re sitting you can always swap, but someone may come in halfway through the journey and ask your to move out of their seat.


Train Stations and Stops: Train stations are often well located in towns and easily accessible by other transport. Just make sure you are going to the right station as there are sometimes multiple stations in one city. Once on the train, most will make announcements for the upcoming station. Take note of when you are supposed to arrive at your station and keep an eye on the time to help guide when you need to be getting off. Trains will only stop for a minute or so, so make sure you are ready to disembark well before you reach the station. If in doubt, ask! It is much better to ask than to miss your stop and have to figure out how to back track.


Power and Wifi: There is wifi on some trains, but not all. Electricity plugs are quite common on most trains, just search around under your seat or on the wall next to you.


Food & Drink: You can bring essentially whatever you want on a train – food, drinks and alcohol. For long journeys make sure you bring some snacks and water because you’re sure to get peckish and while some trains have food carriages, they are very expensive.






Buses

International Bus Stations and Stops: International bus stops are sometimes well located in towns, but less so than train stations. They are sometimes connected to the train station as well. If you are catching a separate company such as Flix Bus or Mega Bus, pay close attention to where the pick up location is – it should be detailed on your ticket. Often, these stops will be just a sign on the side of a main road or outside a popular tourist location. Make sure you get there at least 15 minutes prior as they leave right on time. Knowing when to get off is much easier than on a train because there is usually only one or two stops along the way. The driver will also yell out the upcoming location and you can always ask them if unsure.


Seats: You will sometimes be allocated a seat, but this is less common than trains. For the best leg room, choose the seat after the back entrance as you can stretch out more, but for the best views choose the first seat on the right side of the bus.


Food & Drink: Just like with trains, you can bring almost anything on board. It is very rare for buses to have any refreshments for sale so make sure you stock up.


Power and Wifi: There are electricity plugs and wifi on most buses, just keep in mind that some have download limits and will cut you off after a certain amount.





Metro/Subway/Underground

Metros are easy to use and quite cheap, with stations very well spread throughout most major cities in Europe. Head underground and buy a ticket from the machines, and keep an eye out for offers (ie 10 rides or a 24 hour pass, these always work out to be the best). Take note of your station and the colour of the line you are on, and where you need to get to. Sometimes you will have to exit at a stop to change to a different line but it is very well signed and instructed. Be sure to hold onto your bags and be aware of your surroundings – Metros are often a focus for pickpockets and shady characters.






Flying

When looking to fly between countries, no other service works better than Google Flights. This compares all airlines and even suggests alternative airports, times, or dates to fly for cheaper. Because of their often incredibly low prices, smaller European airlines will try to sting you with all the extras, so be sure you have all your bases covered: carry-on luggage dimensions, luggage weight limits, checking in online, printing out boarding passes before arriving etc.


Below is a quick check list of must do’s before flying:

  • Check in online 24 hours prior

  • Print boarding pass if required

  • Breakable and valuable items in carry-on bags

  • Lock your bags

  • Arrive minimum of 2 hours prior

  • Double check you are at the correct airport – many cities have several airports

  • Pack your cosmetics in plastic zip lock bag if they are in your carry-on

  • All liquids to be under 100ml for carry-on

  • When you take your seat, keep a pen, your flight and accommodation details, and your passport handy for any inflight documents

  • Check your alcohol limits for the country you are flying to before you purchase duty free



Walking

Walking is the absolute best way to get around for obvious reasons: cheap, reliable, you get to see the city and work off all those beers from last night. To avoid getting lost, download an offline area in Google Maps to your phone, so you won’t need wifi to find your way.


Remember your safety, keep hold of your bag, don’t put things in your back pockets, and if you are ever in doubt, hail a taxi or walk into a store.




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