One of the joys of European travel is the ability to see so much diversity in so little time – the continent may not be small, but it's densely packed so you'll be able to cross three or four countries in the time it might take you to cross a state back home.
In Europe, buses can get you to places no other transport will
In Europe, travel by bus (or by coach, if you're from the UK or Ireland) is a great alternative to driving, flying or even sometimes rail travel. Driving is, well, driving, and not everyone wants to negotiate tiny European mountain roads in a new rental car. Trains are ideal, and usually my preferred form of transport, but not every picturesque village has a train station (have a look at some of these gorgeous ones). I won't even get into flying here because:
- airports can be far from the center of town
- flights are more expensive (although yes, there are plenty of discount airlines where you might nab a flight for nearly free)
- you might be surprised to know that on short-ish distances, air travel causes 5-10 times more pollution than bus travel, although for longer distances the difference begins to shrink...
So if you want to get off the beaten path, the bus might be your best bet. By off the beaten path, I mean those parts of Europe where there are few trains, and even fewer flights. In these cases, buses can be faster, and take you straight to your destination rather than make you change stations and trains several times.
So yes: travel in Europe by bus just might be the best way to get around... let's look at some more of these advantages.
when in europe, travel by bus!
This is where I'm going to try to convince you that if you're headed for Europe, bus travel is definitely worth your attention. Here's why.
- Buses in Europe are incredibly comfortable. In some of the most modern ones, you'll feel you're in a plane or train, with everything from wifi to meal service to reclining seats – and bathrooms.
- European roads are well maintained so you'll have a smooth ride. Buses travel on motorways, which are smooth and well maintained, especially toll roads, which are the ones bus routes will take.
- Are you on a tight Europe travel budget and looking to save money? Then the cheap bus journeys will be heaven on your wallet. If you happen to be going a long distance that goes overnight, you'll also save the cost of your room for the night. The bus will often be the cheapest way to travel.
- If you happen to have a lot of luggage, you'll probably be able to take it with you on the bus (as opposed to the plane, where as you know, these days you're barely allowed to walk on with a shoulder bag!)
- In some places, traveling Europe by bus is the only way you can travel. In more rural areas, for example, you won't find trains and certainly not planes, but you'll have buses everywhere, since most countries require some sort of transport to be available to citizens.
The cheapest way to travel in Europe is usually by bus
the downsides of bus travel in europe
Of course, nothing is perfect, and even the best Europe bus company will have its drawbacks. Here's what you need to know, the "not-so-good" side of European bus travel:
- The most modern buses (and many in Europe are modern) have very soft suspensions. This means they are so smooth they may feel as though they're weaving. To the average person, this means nothing, but to those of us who suffer from motion sickness, this is no fun at all. To minimize that woozy feeling, sit as close to the front as you can. (Check out this basic health information page, which also includes information about motion sickness.)
- Bus stations aren't always in the center of town (but then, neither are train stations or airports). Some arrivals can be downright seedy so check the surroundings on Google Maps street view or look for images that will show you where the station is located. Barring that, write to your hotel and ask. When in doubt, make sure you arrive in daytime, and have an Uber or other car waiting to pick you up.
- Of all the public transports, bus travel is probably the slowest, at least on a point-to-point trajectory and on longer distances. For example, let's take Paris to Barcelona: flight time is 1h 40m, the train takes 6.30hrs, and the bus a whopping 14hrs. So yes, it takes longer on long trips. But what about a shorter trip? Or one to a town without a train station? A bus service might just be quicker. The train could be faster but if you have to change stations and then transfer to a bus, you're not gaining much... As for flying, when you factor in the ride to the airport, security, checking in, waiting for luggage – you could be sightseeing instead.
- Modern buses are super comfortable, but like it or not, a bus is a bus. On a train, you can always get up and walk around if your legs get cramped. It's a bit harder on the bus, where there's less room to roam. Mind you, a plane is pretty much as tight as a bus...
- And while modern buses are indeed comfortable, not all travel by bus in Europe lands you one of those ultra-modern vehicles; there are still older, smaller and less comfortable models on the road.
- A final word: border controls. European countries can be small and traveling through them is fast, so you may be crossing plenty of borders in quick succession. Flights, of course, go right over borders, and trains don't get checked as often as buses for some reason. Frankly, I don't mind being asked for my passport a few times on my ride – just make sure all your papers are in order.
is it safe to travel by bus in europe?
In Europe, solo female travel is usually quite safe, whatever transportation you use.
Traveling by bus in Europe is a lot safer than driving, for example. Yes, there are occasional bus crashes and these can be spectacular, garnering plenty of publicity.
To give you an idea, in 2015, the World Health Organization counted 84,500 deaths on European roads. Of these, 150 died on buses. That's 150 too many, but it's a far cry from the total number of fatalities.
Many regulations require seat belts, and drivers have strict timetables that don't allow them to drive more than 9 hours a day. That said, rules can be broken, on buses as anywhere.
When it comes to travel in Europe by bus, consider traveling in daylight (many of the worst accidents have occurred at night) or in good weather (think snow, ice or fog).
how to bus around europe: what you need to know
Bus routes and schedules are plentiful in Europe, although they may slow a bit on weekends and holidays. Many buses leave from train stations and their schedules are designed to mesh with train arrivals. So you may take the train for a long direct route, and then transfer to a bus to get to that tiny village you've been dying to see.
buying your bus ticket
You can buy your tickets online or in person at the ticket office or bus station. It's best to buy them ahead of time, especially on popular routes, but you can also buy them before you travel, as long as yours isn't an overly popular route or you're not traveling in prime time, such as rush hour or on weekends.
When in doubt, drop by the city's tourist office for help with your bus travels.
Which is the best bus company to travel in europe?
Europe used to have several large bus companies – Flixbus, Megabus and Eurolines, for example, but Flixbus has been on a buying spree and is now the continent's largest (and pretty much only) major international company.
Some national companies, like Spain's Alsa, go beyond the country's borders (to Portugal and France, in Alsa's case). Another example is the former Ouibus, now rebranded as BlaBlaBus, which is French but also covers routes into neighboring countries.
How to book your europe bus tickets
There are many bus companies in Europe, mostly national ones (and a very few international ones, as mentioned above). Some have apps you can download, or you can use an aggregate site, one that scours all the bus companies and delivers you the cheapest tickets or the best routings.
The two best websites for checking bus routes and prices are these two (they cover both trains and buses, which is hugely convenient for planning):
Go to either of these sites, and first check the currency at the top so that you can see prices in the currency of your choice. Then enter the trip you're looking for – from X to Y – and the dates you plan to travel. And Search!
Europe bus passes
Possibly the best way to travel Europe in a month or more is to get a Europe bus pass might be the answer. Busabout is one company that offers a bus pass in a hop-on hop-off format: you can get on and off as often as you'd like within the appropriate timeframe of your pass.
While there are a few other bus pass schemes, the takeovers in the European bus space have left these a bit uncertain.
A few final Travel tips to see europe by bus
- Some companies will assign you a seat if you book ahead. This can be convenient if your route is a long one and you have to keep getting on and off; having a guaranteed seat helps avoid misunderstandings.
- Bus rides may come with "soundtracks" (my pet peeve for bus rides anywhere in the world). In other words, as you want to relax and imbibe the scenery as it goes by, your ears will be buzzed by the driver's favorite House track or an Italian game show. Beware! Make sure you have headphones with you no matter what...
- Buses often stop along the way, whether to fuel or for a bathroom break. Listen carefully as the driver tells you how long the stop is, and if s/he doesn't speak English, ASK. You don't want to wave to the bus as it speeds off into the distance, and this is not a tour: if you're not there, the bus will leave without you.
a few resources for your europe bus trip
NOTE: This article was recently updated but does not deal with issues related to COVID-19. Please check all appropriate sources before you travel as situations can change in minutes.
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