When I was researching the best way to get around Europe last winter, I found plenty of resources for travelling by train.
What I didn’t find was the option of bus travel, which I later discovered would save me money and make intercity transport a whole lot easier. Here’s how to go about finding them, and why I think trains are the inferior option!
the basics of train tickets
To understand why buses are better, we must first understand train tickets. It’s also good to compare all your options, including train travel as sometimes buses won’t be available.
Trains can be booked as point-to-point tickets or a rail pass.
Pricing for point-to-point tickets are now structured similarly to airline pricing. The earlier you book, the more likely you are to get a good price for the ticket. As the departure date gets closer, the price continues rising until about 3 days before the departure date it skyrockets. If you’re wondering whether to book last minute instead of booking ahead, point-to-point tickets are probably not going to be a good choice.
The other option is a Eurail pass. This will work for some, but I discovered my complicated route would have meant the price would be about the same as buying tickets point-to-point. For this reason I didn’t get the pass and ended up taking intercity buses instead of trains where possible.
Benefits of bus travel
- Buses are (often) faster than train travel as they don’t have to make as many stops.
- Most companies provide free WiFi on buses, making the journey more enjoyable!
- Buses are often much cheaper than trains and flights.
- They can be booked last minute without exorbitant prices.
- Bus stations are often in the centre of the city, eliminating extra costs for transport from airports.
- If you’re travelling solo, bus travel is a safe and inexpensive option for getting around the continent.
IS BUS TRAVEL BETTER THAN TRAIN TRAVEL?
Sometimes, but not always. It depends on the cities you are travelling between, and whether you’re planning to book far in advance. I’d recommend you check prices for both buses and trains (and flights if the distances are long), and see which option best suits your itinerary.
Best europe-wide bus companies
Probably the largest bus company in Europe, Eurolines have a wide variety of routes available (here’s their route finder). I’d recommend searching them first to see if they have a route for your itinerary. Head to their website and select the origin country of your journey to check fares.
Eurolines also offer passes for 15 or 30 days of unlimited travel so if you want flexibility or will be city hopping every few days, this might be a good option.
Busabout is kind of like a hop-on hop-off tour but on a Europe-wide scale. They offer set loops or you can design your own itineraries. They also have regional bus options available in Eastern Europe.
These guys will be best if you are jumping mostly between major cities and your destinations happen to match their route plans.
Regional bus companies
Student Agency (Czech Republic, Hungary)
If you can get past the pre-historic and overly colourful website, you’ll find this Prague and Budapest based company offers transport to a wide range of destinations.
You don’t have to be a student to use them, but you’ll receive discounts if you’re under 26. There’s an interactive destination map at the bottom of the home page. We used these guys a few times and found them just fine.
If you’re heading anywhere in or around Germany, this company does super cheap domestic and international routes. We used them a few times and the buses were great, though don’t expect the drivers to speak much English.
We also had some fun times trying to find somewhere to print out our ticket 15 minutes before the bus was due to depart, as they refused to scan the ticket on our mobile phone (seriously, why?).
I haven’t had the chance to try Flixbus but it looks like a great low-cost option. WiFi and power outlets are available on every bus, and they even have snacks and drinks available for purchase on board.
Megabus are one of my favourite companies to use for bus travel in USA, and turns out these guys run in the UK, too. Their service is pretty similar to many other low-cost carriers, but the thing that makes Megabus great is that you can reserve specific seats (such as the window seats at the front with extra legroom) for only a few dollars extra. This comes in especially handy when you’re travelling with a friend and want to make sure you’re seated together.
Postbus (Switzerland, Austria)
I found the websites fairly difficult to navigate, but Postbus is another option if you want to avoid expensive Swiss train fares. If anyone can find an easier way to book these guys, I’d be happy to hear it!
Rome 2 Rio
Rome2Rio compares all transport options (train, bus, and flight) between two places. I used it a few times to discover regional bus companies that did routes between the cities I wanted to visit, then visited their respective websites to book separately.
Occasionally some companies won’t be displayed, so it’s good to check other sites as well to make sure you’re comparing all your options.
DB (Deutsche Bahn)
This is the German rail network website, but you can use it to find buses which will come up in the search results.