So you’re thinking of going on a European holiday and you’re wondering if you should fly, drive or take the train. Flying is often a quicker and cheaper option, but taking the train means no two-hour wait-to-board, no long wait for baggage retrieval and more legroom during the journey. Doing the same trip in the car gives you the freedom of the open road to stop and deviate as you please. Which is more important and which offers the best value for money?
Let’s look at some popular European destinations to find out if taking the train is better than flying, or if driving trumps them both.
London - Paris
The Eurostar allows you 2 bags of hold luggage with no weight restrictions, whereas travelling by plane only allows you a single bag of hand luggage. EasyJet charges between £8 and £18 per bag you check in, and there’s no guarantee that they won’t get ‘misplaced’ along the way.
The view is arguably better from the air since you’ll be spending most of your time on the Eurostar travelling beneath 250ft of soil and seawater. At least when you step off the platform in Gare du Nord you can be comfortable in the knowledge that your bags are with you all the way.
If you’re driving around the Continent, it would be smart to check that your car insurance policy covers you for accidents outside the UK. In some cases this comes as standard, but in others you might need to upgrade your cover.
London – Amsterdam
Once you’re out of the Channel Tunnel and on the Continent proper, you get to sample the sights of northern France as you pass through Lille before changing at Brussels. Granted, the direct flight time is quicker than the train or car journeys, but when you factor in airport waiting times there isn’t much difference between the two.
Since you’re likely visiting Amsterdam to sample the cultural delights (why else would you go there?), the added luxury of a leisurely train journey makes up for the extra travelling time.
London – Barcelona
Even accounting for airport waiting times and extra baggage costs, the plane is both quicker and cheaper than the train or car. A high speed TGV line from Paris to Barcelona will shave your travel time down to 10 hours from London, but there are several issues holding back its development for now.
The best option when using rails is to opt for a sleeper train from Paris to Barcelona, allowing you to wake up in the Spanish city refreshed and ready for some sightseeing. Of course this means that you miss out on the spectacular views as you travel south through France. If you’re driving, you’ll need plenty of stops to make sure you stay alert at the wheel, so your journey time is going to be considerably longer.
Winner: Plane, at least until the high speed TGV from Paris to Barcelona has opened
London – Berlin
Unless you’re a rail enthusiast, this long-haul journey to Berlin might not be for you. As with Barcelona, this route relies on the sleeper trains, so you won’t be able to take in any of that Continental scenery as you cut across the Netherlands towards the German capital.
There is a quicker yet more expensive route via Brussels and Frankfurt which almost halves the journey time but also more than doubles the cost. There are plans in place to install a high speed TGV from London to Berlin that is expected to be finished in 2015. Taking the car might be a happy compromise between the two in terms of travel time, though it’s by far the most expensive option. It could be the best option for those with a fear of flying.
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What About if You’re Travelling Across Europe?
If you’re a more intrepid traveller and want to hop from country to country without touching base back in the UK, how does the train and car measure up to the plane? For these longer trips, you’re better off looking at a multi-trip travel policy to make sure you’re covered for multiple countries over a longer period. All it takes is one small mishap to unravel even the most meticulous travel plans.
London – Paris – Amsterdam – Berlin – Barcelona
By plane: £47 (easyJet) + £51 (Air France) + £68 (easyJet) + £81 (easyJet)
Train: £39 (Eurostar) + £240 (Adult standard class 5 dayInterRail pass)
Total by plane: £247
Total by train: £279
Total by car: £306
There’s really no contest with this. With both rail and air travel, you’re limited to where you can travel since you have to turn up at a certain airport or station at a certain time. Doing the same journey in a car means you can stop where you want, take whatever route you please, and take interesting detours along the way.
Besides, if you’re travelling to four different countries in a single journey, there’s no better way to describe it than “road trip” so there’s only one transport of choice...get your motor running.
Jamie Gibbs is the armchair explorer who writes for the travel and car insurance comparison site Confused.com, where he specialises in travel and lifestyle features.
*Small print: The prices and journey times are correct as of 27th June 2013, and are for a single adult travelling one way. Car journeys are calculated based on a 1.6l Ford Focus leaving from Folkestone and prices include a £75 fee to cross the Eurotunnel. Petrol prices calculated from £1.33 per litre