Plane vs. Train Travel in Europe: Going the Distance

Posted on September 1, 2011


There are plenty of ways to get from point A to point B, and it can sometimes be difficult to decide which one is best.  It’s a delicate balance of time and budget.  This article will help you to decide when you should take a train and when you should take a plane.

So you want to get to Amsterdam from London, or Barcelona from Florence, but what’s the best way to get there? What’s the fastest, or the best bang-for-your-buck? The best way for you to decide is to do research and compare prices but here are some general tips to help you on your way.

By Susanna Watson



Catching a flight has its ups and downs, and there are some things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about air travel.

  • Distance. When you’re traveling from big city to big city, for example, London to Rome, it’s much easier and faster to take a flight.  If you catch things in the right season, it may even be cheaper. Europe has more than 40 budget airlines that can get you from Point A to Point B for really cheap. [LINK TO ARTICLE ON BUDGET AIRLINES]
  • Baggage:  If you’re flying, don’t plan on taking a checked bag unless you’re willing to pay a a high price. Paying a fee for checked baggage easily avoided by packing light, but if you end up buying liquid souvenirs (like a bottle of wine) you may end up having to check the bag for security purposes. While you can find a cheap ticket on a budget airline, you might end up paying a lot in baggage fees (this is how a lot of budget airlines make money) so it’s best to know the restrictions before you go.
  • Length of your Trip:  If you only have three days to make it from Florence to Amsterdam and back, your best bet is to take a plane.  You’ll cut down on travel time and you’ll be able to spend more time at your destination.
  • Budget:  If you’re looking at those cheap “9 Euro” flights, you should be aware that those “9 Euro” flights don’t often live up to their names as they tend to come with many hidden fees such as online check-in, priority boarding, and even paying for the flight itself if you don’t have the right kind of credit card.  So your “9 Euro” flight ends up costing closer to “35 Euro,” so take that into account when you’re planning your trip.


Trains are exciting, and they have a certain romantic appeal that air travel lacks.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about hopping on a train.

  • Distance:  If you’re traveling more locally, say 4 hours or less by train, the train becomes a much better option. It’s generally cheaper than flying, and you don’t have to worry about checked bag fees or the hassle of airport security. Bullet trains are a faster way to get from point to point, but they are also more expensive. Sometimes, bullet trains are even more expensive than planes. See our article on the different types of trains in Europe. [LINK]
  • Destination:  If you’re traveling between smaller cities, a train is always going to be better than a plane. Smaller airports don’t have flights that constantly go between destinations, so you may end up with a layover of 24 hours or more in smaller cities.
  • Baggage:  You alone are responsible for your luggage.  This means no lost bags at your destination, and you don’t have to pay extra for taking an extra bag.  However, because you are responsible for your own luggage, you are also responsible if it gets stolen.  Thievery is a common problem, especially on sleeper trains, so you should take extra precautions on a sleeper train, like sleeping with your backpack as your pillow. [Link to article about safety on sleeper trains]
  • Unexpected Benefits:  Unlike airports, most train stations are in the middle of town, so you won’t have to shell out the extra €30 for a taxi ride to get to your destination.
  • Enjoy the View. Probably the best part of a train ride is getting to watch countryside, small towns, and the local people along for the ride. Trains are a good way to meet people and enjoy the journey.

Planes and trains are the best ways for students to get around in Europe, and each has pros and cons in specific situations.  It really depends on where you’re going, and how fast you need plan on getting there. Ultimately, you’ll be the one to decide what form of transportation to take, but while you’re traveling in Europe you should branch out and experience each kind of transportation. But remember, life’s about the journey — not just the destination!

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