How to Travel in Europe by Public Transport

You've always wanted to travel through Europe, but you don't have a lot of money. You don't want to rent a car, though it would be nice, but wonder if you can get by using only public transport. Well, read on for some tips on managing fine just by using trains and buses.


  1. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 1
    Do your research at home. Study up on these through travel guides or the internet:
    • What countries to visit. This is determined by your interests, time, finances, willingness to rough it, etc.
    • How far to range in the time you have. Unlimited time means you can go anywhere, but most people have limited agendas. For a week, don't expect to get to more than one or two countries or two or three separate destinations (city, monument, beach, etc.)
    • The most common transport in your destination countries. Some countries have only limited train service to anywhere but major cities or the capital. That means using the bus system instead. Some countries use ferries, which have different schedules (such as Scotland, Greece, or Norway).
    • The must-see places. Be careful if they are all out of the way, not in a major city. These are always harder to reach and take a whole day or more to get to and away from.
  2. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 2
    Plan an itinerary. Decide exactly your schedule (being flexible is good but aim for a definite plan to be efficient): what you will do every day, which are travel days, where you will aim to sleep every night, which are lay-over/exploration days.
  3. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 3
    Get a good map of your destination and study it. How far away are each of the destinations? How long will it take to get to each one? Don't think of driving times, but bus, train or ferry times. Are there mountains, a lake to cross, an ocean crossing, a footpath in the mountains? What terrain must you negotiate?
  4. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 4
    Study the transport options. This is the most important and difficult step from afar. Check in books or online for national rail services first. Rail is the easiest, fastest and most comfortable. also more expensive. But it seldom gets you to out of the way areas. Find all the major routes and lines, and schedules. Check the website of the national rail carrier or Eurail. How often do the trains run? day or overnight? print out the schedules.
    • Book train tickets as much in advance as possible. For e.g., the German rail ( provides a few tickets at Euro 29 regardless of the distance but these are only available for a few days from the time the booking is opened (currently two months). This is quite cost effective if you are travelling long distance intercity within Germany.
    • Consider a Eurail/Interail pass. There are several options available on But, If you're not traveling everyday,consider buying your tickets in advance, or failing that, at points of sale within the train station. It will probably be much cheaper to buy intercity tickets in advance.
    • Plan ahead. Most countries require a train reservation even if you are using a Eurail/Interail pass. It's about 7 euros per reservation and you must have one, especially in France.
    • Check out bus services. This is harder to find but possible. Search the major national or private carriers in your country. There is always at least one. If necessary, find a way to translate web pages or figure out how to read the cities and scheduled times at least.
    • If necessary, check ferry services, especially in Greece. Be aware that summer and winter schedules vary, and that not all islands are served daily (some only once a week). Note that ports may not be in the same place as the city you want to visit.
  5. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 5
    Ask fellow travelers how they are going and if you can join them or share a ride. Offer to pay your share. Most Europeans, specially in the south will offer you a free ride but you must be brave enough to ask for a lift.
  6. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 6
    Be prepared to walk a little. You may have to carry your gear, so travel light. You may walk on city streets or down a country road. Have the best map of the area you can find and carry. Ask people the way- at least say the name of the place with a questioning look. Note how to get back to the road where you will catch the next bus.
  7. 7
    Talk to the bus driver. Since buses can go anywhere, drivers have more knowledge of the immediate area. Ask them where to get off to walk someplace, and what time to come back to the road. Make sure you find out exactly where to stand on the road. Recognize what the local bus stop looks like, how it's marked.
  8. 8
    Read road signs yourself even though you aren't driving. Notice where you are, how far it is to the next point, other places that may be possible to explore.
  9. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 9
    Add your potential transport to your detailed daily itinerary. For each travel leg, decide the method. Remember if you mix many different services, tickets are more expensive. Buying a rail pass is the best way if it serves your needs; some let you mix bus service with it (in Switzerland, for example). Some bus companies offer multi-ticket discounts. Check out Eurail passes for sure; they can be the best deal.
    • Factor in the connection and walk times for each journey. You must get from your lodging to the station, to the train or bus, find the right one, load luggage, and get off and get to the next lodging, maybe using a city bus or subway system, or even walking.
  10. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 10
    Buy tickets as early as possible. For Eurail/Interail train passes, you must buy them in your country of origin. You can also buy major ferry line tickets on the internet to be sent to you or pick up at the counter upon arrival. Some bus systems also allow internet reservations (such as in Scotland); check the web sites and be sure of the cancellation or no-show policy.
  11. 11
    Once in country, get more information. As much as possible. This includes:
    • exact schedules from the airport, hotel/hostel, train station, tourist office.
    • Look for posters or flyers of excursions to various spots, special tours, hostel buses, ride shares.
    • Brochures for various places with tips on how to get there.
      Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 11Bullet3
  12. 12
    Buy tickets in-country in advance or failing that as soon as possible, when you arrive. Some tickets can be bought at the airport, at the local transportation desk near the arrival lounge. Or at the first train station you get to in the country, it's possible to buy onward tickets for all the trips you will take there. Inquire at the ticket counter, and check the printed schedules and route maps.
    • For bus tickets, start at the largest city (or capital city) station and buy tickets for the major legs of your journey. For smaller local service, inquire from the driver or the station (ticket counter or sales point). You may be able to buy directly from the driver; just tell him where you will get off.
  13. Image titled Travel in Europe by Public Transport Step 13
    Ask at any lodging about how to get to your destination, even though you think you know how. Local tips may be better.


  • Some countries have national postal carrier systems (such as Scotland). They go infrequently but they cover every inch of the country if you are willing to wait.
  • Trains and ferries don't wait for late-comers. Be on time or else. You may not get a refund for arriving late.
  • Train stations are an excellent place to find most services including post office, bank, money exchange, maps, tickets, food, bathrooms, coffee, medical aid, TVs, bars, and laundry service.
  • Try to find lodging fairly close to rail or bus stations. You don't want to haul your gear all over town.
  • Ask at rail or ferry tourist counters for information. Remember schedules can change. You want the latest one.
  • Be alert to finding information everywhere. The more you have, the more you can plan, or be flexible if you change your mind.
  • Pack light and use wheels. Be able to carry your own stuff on uneven ground (dirt, cobbled stones, etc.).
  • You can sleep on night trains or ferries to save lodging money. Be prepared to pay for a bunk or room, or sleep on the floor in a corner (ferry).
  • Local bus service is spotty. Be aware that where you get let off may not be the same place you are picked up. Ask the driver -- wait HERE?
  • Some bus stops in smaller places are very hard to find. They may be a counter at a store, a corner of a road by a rocky wall, or in front of some restaurant. Ask local people where the bus stops.
  • Don't try to sleep overnight in a lonely bus station or shelter. You will likely get pushed along by the local police.

Article Info

Categories: Europe | Public Transport