More & more travellers are choosing to travel by land, but it’s still a bit daunting, especially if you’re in the UK; scare-stories about the Channel Tunnel are far more newsworthy than its daily smooth running. Planes are still the most familiar option. But even discount airlines are struggling to stay truly cheap, with airport taxes & fuel prices swelling the advertised rate & giving you a sly surprise at checkout. 5 minutes online research will furnish you with excellent resources on European train travel, & a raft of reliable cheap car hire companies across the Continent.
Factor in bikes, hikes & all those boat connections you don’t normally think about & suddenly you’ve the ingredients for a very interesting – not to mention scenic – Continental adventure.
First, the daunting bit; some trans-European train journeys take more than 24 hours, including changes. Before you go cross-eyed with horror, realise that you’ll be asleep for 9 hours of this, in a comfortable sleeper cabin on a modern, smoothly high-speed, train. You’ll have your own compartment, exactly like in those films where James Bond tumbles in, makes a little sweaty small-talk, knocks your luggage off the rack & escapes out the window, scattering your nice clean socks along the railway line.
Except that won’t happen, & you’ll wake instead to a beautiful, scenic, romantic journey through the European countryside. Mountains, castles, lush plains & stylish cities will flicker past, while you sprinkle complimentary breakfast crumbs down your shirt, & sit back to watch, with your coffee.
What’s more, European citizens can buy very economical InterRail passes that cover all European train travel – outside your home country – except for Eurostar, private railways & inner-city public transport. Booking is required & supplements may be payable, & non-Europeans should get a Eurail pass instead.
If you’re a confident driver – preferably two, to take turns – a European road trip is another cinematic way to explore the Continent. You could take your own car, if you have one, on the ferry to France, Belgium, Denmark or even Spain, but before you do it’s worth comparing prices and we found that Ferryonline is your best bet, but of course you may be better off jumping on the Eurostar & hiring abroad instead. Hire companies can replace the vehicle if something’s not right, & if you own an older model it might not have air-conditioning, an essential if you’re cruising southern Europe during summer. A car does give you superb flexibility, both with timings & what you carry with you; sling your tent in the boot for the ultimate independent road trip, although you can’t just pitch it anywhere, so sling a European campsite guide in there with it.
Boats aren’t for everyone – seasickness really ain’t fun – but the same can be said for car & altitude sickness. And boats themselves are fantastic fun. Whether you’re bouncing through the Mediterranean waves from one island to the next, even to mainland Turkey or Greece – or cruising the Baltic archipelago around Stockholm, or Norway’s legendary fjords – there’s something truly liberating about being out on the water. It’s not all cruise-ships & light entertainment – inland Europe is crisscrossed with waterways, which you can explore on board converted old barges, or you could even set off round the coast on a spectacular luxury sailing ship.