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How to see the very best of Europe this summer

Forget flying! The best way to see Europe is via bus and rail. Oh, and it’s usually cheaper and often faster than taking to the skies. The Local rounds up some top tips for planning your next European adventure.

How to see the very best of Europe this summer
Credit: Unsplash

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” mused the American scholar Ralph Wado Emerson back in the 19th century. While travelling has changed beyond all recognition since Emerson’s day, his message still rings true for eager explorers of all ages.

Investigate all options

It’s doubtful Emerson would have suggested that going through all the airport rigmarole was a part of travelling to be savoured. But did you know that numerous European routes are quicker to navigate by bus or rail than by plane? London – Paris and Munich – Frankfurt being just two compiled in a list by search and booking platform Omio.

Omio (formerly GoEuro) was founded back in 2012 by a former backpacker who was determined to make life easier for wannabe travellers. It streamlines the entire travel planning process enabling users to see all their options, such as departure times, transport operators and prices, before booking their ticket on the site or via the app.

Click here to start planning your trip to Europe

Other routes that are quicker by train than by plane are Brussels – Paris (2hr 39min faster) giving you plenty of extra time to explore the Louvre, and Madrid – Valencia (1hr 28min faster), which is almost enough time saved to watch a football match at Real Madrid’s famous Santiago Bernabéu stadium.

Read Madrid’s famous Santiago Bernabéu stadium. Photo credit: Deposit photos

So spend some time investigating all your travel options to grant yourself some added time in your destination of choice.

Look out the window

Experiencing Europe by rail and bus opens up the path for routes through the Swiss Alps, criss-crossing between Spain and France down to the Italian Riviera and trekking across Scandinavia to name but a few.

With eye-watering scenery often on display, put down your paperback or tablet and glance out the window. Rail and bus travel offers the chance to see a great deal more of a country’s natural landscape and to also become au fait with new-fangled words such as couchette and hauptbahnhof.

Copenhagen. Photo credit: Deposit Photos

Wow your friends with random travel anecdotes that will surely pepper your trip. Try taking the Deutsche Bahn service from Copenhagen to Hamburg where you can marvel at how a train rolls seamlessly onto a ferry. And no trip aboard a German train is truly enjoyed without eating a meal in the bistro complete with table service and cute table lamp.

Have cash, will travel

Back in the old days, travelling across Europe involved changing currencies with every new country you visited. And while there was a certain charm in collecting new notes and coins, figuring out how much things cost compared to your own money was a nightmare; 1,500 Italian lira for an espresso anyone?

Let’s face it, queuing at the currency exchange for Deutsch Marks and pesetas was a hassle. Now with a single European currency, card payments and mobile banking apps, you can spend your hard earned money with ease.

But that’s not to say there still isn’t a place for old fashioned notes and coins…in certain places. In Sweden, for example, cash is practically dead but in Switzerland it reigns supreme. Buy yourself some time by having some cash in your wallet as it will come in handy for paying for luggage lockers and even to use the toilet in some bus and train stations.

Got your adblocker on? Pause it on this page to use the Omio widget below and find the best deal:

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Planning your trip in your own currency is made easy with Omio. Users can compare prices in 15 major currencies and in 18 languages. Omio is used by 27 million users every month to help organise their travel plans.

Click here to start planning your trip

What our readers say

We reached out to The Local’s readers via Facebook to get your travel tips. Below is a selection of your comments.

“Travelling by train especially from Perpignan to Paris, passing through all the different regions, is an easy and cheap way to experience the French countryside and villages. Easy travel.” (Sue Chamberlain)

“For Americans, make sure your credit card has a chip and ask your bank for a PIN. Before you get on the train, make sure you are getting on the right part; German trains sometimes split in two. Then relax. European trains are far better than those in the US.” (Doug Urquhart)

“Pack light!! Enjoy traveling like a local, the lighter you travel, the easier everything is!” (Jill Greenlee)

“Country roads or regional trains in the south of Germany, Alps and southern” (Luis Schlappkohl)

“Don't get off the train at the wrong city.” (Tom Roelke)

The Local's Assistant Editor in France Evie Burrows-Taylor also conducted a Twitter poll on travel in France see the results below.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Omio.

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TRAIN

9 things you might not know about the TGV as France’s high-speed train turns 40

France's high speed intercity train is celebrating its 40th birthday, so here are some more unusual facts about the much-loved TGV.

9 things you might not know about the TGV as France's high-speed train turns 40
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

In 1981, President François Mitterrand officially inaugurated the first high-speed rail line connecting Paris and Lyon. A few days later, a bright orange TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for “high-speed train”) raced down the tracks at over 200km/h.

In celebration of the TGVs landmark birthday, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Pierre Farandou – President of the SNCF, France’s national railway company – were on Friday at the Gare de Lyon in Paris to unveil the ‘TGV of the future’.

In front of a full-scale model of the new TGV M, Macron hailed a prime example of “French genius” and promised to unlock €6.5 billion to develop the TGV network, including new lines serving cities such as Nice and Toulouse.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

Emmanuel Macron (right) delivers a speech next to a life-size replica of the next TGV high-speed train at Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

“We’re going to continue this grand adventure with new industrial commitments,” since more people are looking beyond metropoles to smaller cities – an apparent allusion to post-Covid prospects.

“We see clearly that life and work are going to be restructured, and that our fellow citizens today want to organise their time for living and time for working differently,” he said.

The streamlined version of the bullet train promises to carry more passengers – up to 740 passengers from 600 – while using 20 percent less electricity.

It will continue to whiz people between cities at a top speed of 320 km/h, making most door-to-door trips shorter and cheaper than on airplanes.

To celebrate the birthday of the TGV (which in French is pronounce tay-shay-vay) blowing out its 40 candles, here are a few fun facts about the super-speedy trains.

Patrick  – That’s the name of the first TGV. Built in 1978 and set into action in 1981 on the Paris-Lyon line, the bright orange Patrick travelled some 13.5 million kilometres before taking his well-earned retirement last year.

574.8 km/h – That’s the world rail speed record, held by the Alstom V150 TGV. Although Japan’s superconductor-powered Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains travel faster – with a record of 603 km/h – they technically don’t run on rails.

3 – That’s how many times the TGV has set the world rail speed record: in 1981 (380 km/h), 1990 (515.3 km/h) and 2007 (574.8 km/h). 

2,734 km – That’s the total length of France’s high-speed rail network, with even more lines set to be constructed in the future. This means France has the fourth-longest high-speed rail network in the world, behind China, Spain, and Japan. 

0 – That’s how many passengers sit aboard the IRIS 320, which travels some 1,500 km every day. Laden with cameras and scanners, this 200-metre-long TGV rapidly inspects the state of the TGV’s train lines in order to ensure travellers’ safety and security.

€7 – That’s how much it costs to take a small pet – including a snail – on the TGV. Animals, even tiny ones, need their own tickets. In 2008 a TGV passenger fined for carrying live snails in his luggage without a ticket for his animals, although the fine was later waived after the story received national attention.

240 That’s the number of stations served by the TGV network. 183 of these stations can be found in France. The others are located in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

3 billion – That’s how many travellers the TGV had hoped to reach by the end of 2021. The pandemic may have derailed their plans slightly, but the service is still looking strong. The network served it’s 2 billionth passenger in 2012, just over 30 years after its launch.

1947 – the last year without a single recorded strike on the rail network in France. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that pre-1947 was a golden age of industrial relations – just that SNCF’s records are incomplete before then.

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