Europe Travel Guide

Getting Around

There are virtually no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement, except under special circumstances during major events. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen country is valid in all other Schengen countries. Be careful: not all European Union countries are Schengen countries, and not all Schengen countries are members of the EU. See the table above for the current list.

Airports in Europe are divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear passport control in the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. However, if travelling between an EU Schengen country and a non-EU Schengen country, customs controls are still in place.

Travel between a Schengen country and a non-Schengen country will entail the normal border checks. Regardless of whether you are traveling within the Schengen Area, at some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.

As an example of the practical implications on the traveller:

Travel from Germany to France (both EU, both Schengen): no controls
Travel from Germany to Switzerland (both Schengen, Switzerland not in EU): customs checks, but no immigration control
Travel from France to the United Kingdom (both EU, UK not in Schengen): immigration control, but no customs check
Travel from Switzerland to the United Kingdom: immigration and customs checks

Citizens of EEA/Schengen countries never require visas or permits for a stay of any length in any other EEA/Schengen country for any purpose. The only remaining exception is the employment of Bulgarian, Romanian and Croatian workers in some countries.

By train
Main article: Rail travel in Europe

The trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with flying, especially in Western and Central Europe. High-speed trains like the Italian Frecciarossa, the French TGV, the German ICE, the Spanish AVE and the cross-border Eurostar and Thalys services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane. The flip side is that tickets bought on the spot can be expensive, although there are good discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of various deals. In particular, the Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for everybody else) passes offer good value if you plan on traveling extensively around Europe (or even a single region) and want more flexibility than cheap plane tickets can offer.

The most extensive and most reliable train travel planner for all of Europe is the one belonging to the German railways (DB), which can be found here in English.

By plane

All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100mL/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1L or less). The bag must be presented during security checks and only one bag per passenger is permitted.

Discount airlines

Dozens of budget airlines allow very cheap travel around Europe, often much cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey, Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as AirBerlin, Germanwings, EasyJet, Tuifly, Ryanair and WizzAir. All of these flights should be booked on the internet well in advance, otherwise the price advantage may become non-existent. Always compare prices with major carriers like British Airways, Air France-KLM or Lufthansa. Only in very few cases prices are higher than €80 on any airline when booking a month or more ahead of time (except on very long routes e.g. Dublin–Istanbul). You should also make sure where the airport is located, since some low cost airlines name very small airports by the next major city, even if the distance is up to two hours drive by bus (e.g. Ryan and Wizzair's Frankfurt-Hahn, which is not Frankfurt/Main International). Also note that budget airlines tickets include little service; account for surplus fees when comparing prices.

By bus

For very long distances, travelling by bus is obviously much slower but may also actually be more expensive than travelling by plane. However, bus travel is generally advantageous for shorter trips, trips on short notice, if you actually wish to see the countryside you're travelling through, if you have heavy luggage, or if you are a proponent of ecotourism.

Bus companies often operate only a handful of lines each, and cooperation between bus companies may be non-existent. Expect to have to check connections locally or separately for every company involved. Systems vary from one country to the next.

For those staying in one country, charter trips (often organised around the needs of migrants) my offer cheap international bus travel, when they happen to go to the right destination. Tourists seldom have a chance to notice the advertisements but you might try asking in ethnic shops.

There are some companies with more extensive international route networks, usually between major cities:

Eurolines connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of Europe and Morocco. Eurolines allows travelling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow. Eurolines buses make very few stops in smaller cities, and are generally only viable for travel between large cities. Eurolines offers several types of passes but each individual journey must be booked in advance of its departure date/time. That means that, depending on availability, you may or may not be able simply arrive at the bus terminal and board any available bus. The pass works well for travellers who either prefer only to see major cities, or who intend to use the pass in conjunction with local transportation options.

Pass-holders can travel between the following cities: Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Marseille, Berlin, Milan, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Bratislava, Munich, Brno, Nantes, Brussels, Oslo, Bucharest, Paris, Budapest, Perpignan, Cologne, Prague, Copenhagen, Riga, Dublin, Rome, Edinburgh, Siena, Florence, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Gdańsk, Stuttgart,

Geneva, Tallinn, Gothenburg, Toulouse, Hamburg, Venice, Kraków, Vienna, Lille,

Vilnius, London, Warsaw, Lyon, Zurich

Touring (German variant of Eurolines), Sindbad (Polish), Lasta (from Serbia), Linebus (Spanish) and National Express (from the UK) are other options.

By ship

The Baltic sea has several lines running between the major cities (Gdańsk, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga etc.). Most ships are very large, parallelling Caribbean cruise liners in size and in service.

In the Atlantic, Smyril Line is the only company sailing to the rather remote North Atlantic islands of Iceland and the Faroe Islands. It sails from Denmark, which also hosts numerous lines to Norway and Sweden. From the British isles several lines still cross the English channel to France, despite the opening of the channel-tunnel. There are also numerous services to Denmark, the Benelux and even across the Biscay to Spain. Further south there is a weekly service from Portimão to the Canary Islands via the remote volcanic Madeira island.

In the Mediterranean Sea a large number of ferries and cruise ships operate between Spain, Italy and Southern France. And across the Italian peninsula ferries ply across the Adriatic sea to Croatia and Greece, with Bari as one major terminal out of many.

And finally The Black Sea has several ferries plying across its waters, although service can be fairly sketchy at times. Poti, Istanbul and Sevastopol are the main ports. Nearly all the Black Sea ports have a ferry going somewhere, but rarely anywhere logical – i.e. often along the coast.

There are various ferries on the larger lakes and for crossing rivers. There are several regularly running cruise-lines on the larger rivers like the Rhine, Danube and the Volga. Boating excursions within Europe, particularly along the scenic rivers and between many of the islands in the Mediterranean, are an excellent way to combine travel between locations with an adventure along the way. Accommodations range from very basic to extremely luxurious depending upon the company and class of travel selected. Another famous line is the Hurtigruten cruise-ferries which sails all along Norway's amazing coastline and fjords.

By car

The ease of driving on the continent varies greatly, and as a general rule east and west of the erstwhile Iron Curtain are two different worlds. Western Europe for the most part has good road conditions and an extensive and well developed highway network, whereas Eastern Europe is still working hard on the large backlog left from communist days.

During vacations, especially summer and Christmas vacations, driving on the motorways (highways) can be hellish, particularly in Germany (listen for the word Stau, meaning congestion, in the automated traffic broadcasts).

Road rules

The traffic is right-handed, except in United Kingdom, Ireland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Malta and Cyprus (there is no land border with change of handedness). For the left-hand countries any references to right or left below might be reversed.

There are no uniform speed limits across the union. The fabled limitless German Autobahn is now confined to mostly rural sections. The majority of motorways/freeways have a 110–130 km/h (70–80 mph) speed limit, while the limit on undivided highways varies between 80 and 100 km/h (50–65 mph). For North Americans, a major difference is the left lane on motorways, which is not the "fast lane" you're used to, but rather the "passing lane". It's illegal to overtake on the right, so you should only occupy the outer lane when you are overtaking someone; stay there, and you will have other vehicles tailgating while flashing their lights in annoyance and traffic police eager to fine you. Remember to use turn signals when changing lanes.

Except for priority streets (check the symbol in the table) there is a general duty to give way to traffic from your right in crossings and intersections that are not marked, and other drivers have every expectation you adhere to this. This also applies to unmarked T-intersections, unlike in North America, England, Australia, Japan and most other places where the ending road should normally yield to the through road even if unmarked. But in the ubiquitous roundabouts (circles) you find everywhere across the continent, cars already in the circle always have the right of way; don't give way to incoming drivers while in the roundabout, or you will mess up the system, potentially causing a nasty accident. Finally, don't do right turns on red lights (unless for example, in Germany the light features a green right arrow sign, in which case right turning right on red is permitted, but important to note, only after coming to a dead stop first, otherwise a $120 fine can be charged despite you having arrived in the country that day), it's illegal, and because it's not common practice, also dangerous.

Markings and signs are similar throughout Europe but variations in design and interpretations exist so it may be very practical to research each country individually before you travel. In Germany there are so many signs that even the Minister of Traffic showed on television that he was not exactly sure what they all meant. Several signs are strung one after the other on the same pole and are in some way related to each other.

Age: Almost everywhere, especially in the EU, you need to be 18 years old to drive, even supervised, and in countries with Learning schemes, it's usually an exhaustive procedure to get a permit, and rarely applicable to foreign citizens anyway. Exceptions include Portugal, Ireland and the UK.
* A warning triangle is compulsory nearly anywhere, as is using it in case of breakdowns.
* An alcohol testing device is now mandatory in France (even for non-alcoholics).
* Carrying hi-visibility (reflective) vests in cars is compulsory in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Serbia and Spain and gaining popularity elsewhere.
* Headlamp adjusters are compulsory equipment in most countries, but in the UK and Ireland only if you are driving a continental car.
* Original Registration Document is compulsory.
* Motor vehicle insurance certificate is compulsory.
* A black and white, 1–3 letter country identity sticker is compulsory for cars without EU license plates.
* International driving permit, while not compulsory for certain nationalities in some European countries, is cheap, and could save you from nasty incidents with authorities.

Avoid large cities if you are not used to driving in Europe. Most city centres were built long before the introduction of automobiles, and were not meant to cope with the levels of traffic common these days. So for the most part it may be a slow, frustrating and potentially dangerous experience, and even then, finding a parking spot can potentially take a long time and cost several euros when you find it. Streets in the old city centres also tend to be very narrow and difficult to drive on. Instead park on the outskirts of town, where it is often free, and use the (usually extensive) public transit system instead. If you are renting, try to "work around having a car" while visiting large cities.

If you plan to rent a car to drive around Europe, it often makes sense to check the rates in different countries rather than just hire a car in the country of arrival. The price differences can be substantial for longer rentals, to the extent that it can make sense to adjust your travel plans accordingly, e.g. if you plan on travelling around Scandinavia by car, it will often be much cheaper to fly into Germany and rent a car there. Compared to North America, you should be prepared for smaller, more efficient cars, and most of them have manual transmission, so don't expect an automatic without requesting one when placing your order (and often paying extra).

In any case driving in Europe is an expensive proposition – petrol (gas) prices hover around €1.30–1.80 per litre ($6.50–9 per US gallon) in much of Europe, while often somewhat cheaper in Russia. Rentals are around 2–3 more expensive than in North America. Highway tolls are very common, city centre congestion charges increasingly so, and even parking can work up to €50 ($70) per day in the most expensive cities. Driving can be an enjoyable and feasible way to see the countryside and smaller cities, but few Europeans would rent a car on for a vacation to a city such as Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam.

By bike

Cycling conditions vary greatly between different countries, between city centres, suburbs and countryside and between different cities in any one country, so see our individual destination articles.

The European cycle route network or EuroVelo consists of 14 routes linking virtually every country on the continent. Some of these routes are not finished but plans are to have 60,000 km of bike lanes; as of mid-2012 around 45,000 km were in place.

By thumb

Hitchhiking is a common way of travelling in some parts of Europe, especially in former eastern bloc countries. It can be a pleasant way to meet lots of people, and to travel without spending too many euros. Don't forget to check out the tips for hitchhiking.

Note that in the former eastern bloc, you may run into language problems while hitchhiking, especially if you speak only English. It is not advisable to hitchhike in former Yugoslavia, for example between Croatia and Serbia, because you could run into real big problems with nationalists. Between Croatia and Slovenia it's usually not a problem. In Moldova and Ukraine, it's better to take a train or bus. In western Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Germany, it can be weary and tedious to hitch-hike.

source: Wikivoyage