Planes, trains or automobiles: the cheapest way to get around Europe in 2023

Woman using smart phone on vacations in Athens

When you factor in the cost of flights to Europe from Australia, travel money cards, international travel insurance, accommodation, and food and drink expenses, it’s only natural that the budget-conscious among us look to trim the fat where we can on our holiday expenses.

So, the question arises: is it cheaper to fly, catch the train, or drive across Europe? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

How much do flights to Europe cost from Australia?

We’ll start off by looking at how much it costs to get from Australia to Europe. 

There are pros and cons to living in Australia. One of the major cons is being an island nation in the middle of the ocean – far, far away from the European mainland where so many of us dream sleeplessly of one day arriving. 

Yep, we’re pretty isolated in our corner of the globe, meaning that for Australians, flying to Europe can be pretty expensive.   

Taking a look at Google Flights data for a range of popular European destinations, a rough estimate of the cost of flying to Europe for a three-month, round-trip holiday during the 2023 peak tourist season (June, July and August) could be in the ballpark of:

  • Sydney to Europe: $2,110 return 
  • Melbourne to Europe: $2,151 return 
  • Canberra to Europe: $2,322 return 
  • Brisbane to Europe: $2,277 return
  • Darwin to Europe: $2,556 return
  • Adelaide to Europe: $2,298 return
  • Perth to Europe: $2,276 return
  • Hobart to Europe: $2,226 return. 

So, for Australians flying to Europe around the peak summer period, you could pay around $2,277 return on average, depending on which city you’re flying from, which country you’re landing in, and even the time of year. These figures should be treated as a guide only. 

Be aware: Generally speaking, the earlier you book your flights, the cheaper they will be. So, make sure you get in early to avoid paying a premium for your flights.

While booking early may seem daunting, in case you need to cancel or reschedule your trip, having an international travel insurance policy with cancellation cover could save you thousands from having to buy new tickets.

How much are flights in Europe?

An aeroplane soaring through a warm sunset sky

To make the comparison between flying, getting the train, and driving across Europe, we’ll look at a standard route through some of the more popular European cities, starting in the west with London. 

Consider this an indication of the sorts of prices you can expect to pay in peak summer in Europe, as per the information on Google Flights at the time of writing.

The example route is as follows: London > Paris > Berlin > Vienna > Athens > Rome > Barcelona > Lisbon. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the approximate plane ticket cost and travel time between countries in Europe:

  • London to Paris: $55 to $140, 1.5 hrs 
  • Paris to Berlin: $40 to $85, 2 hrs 
  • Berlin to Vienna: $170, 3 hrs 
  • Vienna to Athens: $120 to $160, 2 hrs 
  • Athens to Rome: $100 to $145, 2 hrs 
  • Rome to Barcelona: $115 to $150, 2 hrs
  • Barcelona to Lisbon: $79 and $100, 2 hrs
  • Lisbon to London: $55 to $100, 3 hrs.

All up, flying around Europe in this example could cost you between $735 to $1,050 minimum in flights alone, depending on factors like your choice of airline and the time of year. The total time spent travelling (not including time spent in the airport) is roughly 17.5 hours. 

Pros and cons of flying in Europe

ProsCons
Quickly get from destination to destinationMore time spent in airports
More options for flights to and from different countries and citiesCan be expensive, depending on how early/late you book
You can find very cheap flights (however, there may be tight rules regarding things like baggage regulations)Flight delays can be a common occurrence due to weather and other issues (leading to missed connections)
The airport may be far from where you’re staying, meaning you’ll have to shell out extra cash for a bus, train or taxi to get where you’re going

So how does the train compare?

How much does it cost to get the train around Europe?

A man pokes his head out of a speeding train that chugs through mountainous European forestlands

As European countries are quite close by (relative to our neighbouring countries in Australia), catching a train across borders is a real prospect. 

The European rail network is fairly well set up for international rail riding in parts of the continent, with services like the Eurostar to get you to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and more. However, in some cases, there are no direct trains between certain destinations. 

Where there are no direct trains, you may be able to country-hop on the existing rail networks. For example, there is no train from Vienna to Athens. So, instead, you’ll need to catch trains from Vienna to Budapest, to Belgrade, to Thessaloniki, and then to Athens. 

Alternatively, consider catching a flight when the price is right or using a mixture of trains, buses, and ferries to get where you’re going.  

Take the following prices and times as a rough guide on what ballpark figures you’re likely to encounter around peak summer tourist season. 

The prices may also vary depending on when you book, usually growing more expensive to buy as your date of travel nears. So, get in early to avoid paying more!

  • London to Paris (Eurostar): $92 to $240, 2 hrs 
  • Paris to Berlin: $74 to $150, 8 to 9 hrs 
  • Berlin to Vienna: $60 to $350+, 8 to 12 hrs 
  • Vienna to Athens: No direct trains available, so you'll need to use a mixture of transportation or catch the train via another city, like Budapest. 
  • Athens to Rome: No direct trains available (you could take a mixture of trains, busses and ferries, but the travel time is upwards of 20 hrs). 
  • Rome to Barcelona: No direct trains available, however, there is a bus that takes almost 23 hrs and costs around $95, if you’re feeling brave. You could also catch a ferry from Civitavecchia (a coastal city, north-west of Rome). 
  • Barcelona to Lisbon: No direct trains available, so you'll have to catch a series of trains from Barcelona to Madrid, then to Lisbon.
  • Lisbon to London: No direct trains available, but you can catch the Sud Expresso train from Lisbon to Hendaye (France) that connects to Paris-bound TGV trains. Make the journey to Paris, then catch the Eurostar back across the channel to London. 

Eurail Pass 

Travelling Europe, you’ll also have the option to purchase a Eurail Pass

The Eurail Global Pass is a replacement for having to buy individual tickets when using trains across 33 European countries. Global Passes start at about 185 Euros. 

These countries include Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

There are a few different options for Eurail Passes that run for different lengths of time and different ‘travel days’. You’ll have to do a bit of reading to decide what pass works best for your travel plans. 

All in all, the average cost of international train tickets in Europe is generally less expensive than flying. However, the catch is in the time it takes you to get from place to place.

Usually, trains are slower than flights, even when you consider the time spent in an airport checking in and waiting around for connecting flights. 

While on the ground you’ll get to see more of regional Europe than those who fly, catching the train comes at a considerable time cost. It’s up to you to weigh up the benefits of trains and planes, as you might find you’re willing to pay upwards of $50 more for a plane ticket if it gets you there in a quarter of the time.

Pros and cons of getting trains in Europe

ProsCons
Less time spent checking in inside airportsTrains can take significantly longer than flying
See more of the European continent outside your windowNot all destinations have train stations you can get to easily or directly
More environmentally-friendly than planesYou may have to change trains or stop-over in other places en-route
Faster than driving or going by busYou may have to take your luggage on-board, rather than checking it into a plane as cargo
Usually more reliable than planes when it comes to leaving on timeFinding trains that connect you to your destinations can be difficult, and require workarounds and changes to your travel plans – researching takes time!

How much does it cost to drive around Europe?

Atlantic Ocean Road at sunset, Norway

If you’re keen to see as much of the European continent as possible, then you might like the idea of a good old-fashioned road trip, as opposed to flying or taking trains and buses. 

Driving may provide you with the ability to get to towns and cities which don’t have airports or a solid public transit network. 

But is driving worth it? 

The main factors which contribute to the cost of driving a car around Europe include: 

  • The cost of car hire (or the cost of bringing your own car over)
  • Finding a travel insurance policy that covers rental car excess 
  • Fuel costs 
  • Tolls and vignette costs.

Car hire costs in Europe 

According to Cheapflights, hiring a car in Europe can cost anywhere from $7 to $23 per day, with Athens being one of the cheapest cities to hire a car in, and Prague being one of the more expensive ones.  

The data also shows that July, the summer season in Europe, is the most expensive time to hire a car with prices around the $123 per day mark. 

It’s also important to note that the type of car you hire will affect the hire cost. So, the larger the car, the more expensive. Luxury car hire can be anywhere from $108 to $1,707 per day – yikes. 

Travel insurance with rental car excess 

If you’re going to be driving around Europe in a rental car, then it’s a sound idea to make sure your travel insurance policy covers rental car excess. 

Rental car excess is something you have to pay the hire car company if you have an accident in one of their vehicles. 

Travel insurance policies that have a hire car excess benefit can help you cover that expense, leaving you with more money in your pocket for your holiday. 

The cost of petrol in Europe 

According to FuelsEurope, the average price of gasoline in May 2022 across Europe was around 1.63 Euros per litre, which is generally quite a bit more than we pay in Australia.  

Taking into account that the average fuel consumption of a passenger vehicle is around 11.1L per 100km, you could end up spending about 18 Euros for every 100km you drive. 

Tolls and vignettes in Europe 

Some European countries have toll booths where you’ll need to pay to use the roads. Countries where toll booths operate include Croatia, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and England. 

If you’re curious about how much you’re likely to pay in tolls, use a free toll calculator site, like Tollsmart, to get an estimate of how much you could be up for. 

Other countries operate on a vignette (or sticker) system. Instead of paying at the toll booths, you’ll need to purchase one of these toll stickers from petrol stations, post offices, or border crossings, or you can purchase an electronic toll sticker (e-Vignette) from a country’s relevant road toll website.

These vignettes are stuck to your car's windshield and will likely be checked for by police if you’re ever pulled over. Not having a vignette can carry heavy fines, even for foreigners. So, make sure you’ve got your sticker sorted before you hit the road. 

You’ll need a vignette for the following European countries: 

  • Austria
  • Bulgaria 
  • Hungary
  • Moldova
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia 
  • Switzerland. 

The cost of a vignette changes from country to country. You may also have the option for, in some cases, an annual vignette, a one or two-month vignette, or even just a toll sticker for the long weekend, depending on what you need.  

In the end, travelling around Europe by car will be a much slower way to see the continent. Chances are, the cost will also outpace the cost of both flying and catching trains from destination to destination. 

If you’re planning to drive, you’ll either need more time on your hands or a shorter list of destinations on your itinerary.

Pros and cons of driving around Europe

ProsCons
Freedom to go off the beaten path and explore places not connected by train stations and airportsYou won’t be resting or enjoying the view as much
Just you and your travel companionsYou can be slowed down by traffic, accidents, or bad weather
Renting a hire car to drive around may be expensive
Fuel prices in Europe are heavily taxed, so may be expensive compared to what you’re used to
Tolls and vignette costs
Will likely be more expensive and slower than a train or plane
Parking costs

So, what’s the cheapest way to get around Europe?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It really depends on when and where you’re going, alongside how far ahead you book. In fact, a mixture of trains, planes, and cars may be the cheapest if you’re willing to do a little maths and a lot of research. 

For you, it might come down to wanting to get to a place quickly and efficiently, so you choose to fly. For others, the allure of potentially saving a bit more money by catching the train is worth the extra time it takes to chug along the European countryside. Others will prefer the freedom that comes with driving across Europe, despite the cost of hiring cars, filling up the tank, and paying for tolls. 

Still, some of the major travel expenses you’ll encounter come out of the woodwork when things go wrong. 

That’s why it’s always a good idea to pack an international travel insurance policy that caters to your needs and travel plans when overseas. A travel insurance policy can cover you for things like rental car excess, missed connecting flights, travel delays, emergency expenses, and much more. Check out some of the options available in the Mozo database below, or have a look at the best travel insurance page for policies to start your deal-hunting with.

Travel insurance comparisons on Mozo - last updated 24 April 2024

Search promoted travel insurance below. Advertiser disclosure Important information on terms, conditions and sub-limits.
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    International Travel Insurance
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    Yes
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    $5,000 limit per policy with option to increase limit

    Get protection in a few simple steps with Freely travel insurance all in the palm of your hand. Freely Travel offers 24/7 emergency and medical support, 24/7 customer service. Plus, you can tailor your policy so you only pay for what you need, and adapt your cover in near real time. Add-ons such as car rental excess, snow sports or other activities also available. Receive 10% off your travel insurance policy with promo code: MOZO10. T&Cs apply, go to site for full detail.

    Details
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    Comprehensive
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    No
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Unlimited

    Enjoy unlimited medical cover and 24/7 emergency assistance services when you travel. Get unlimited cover for cancellation fees and prepaid travel expenses. Cover for luggage and travel documents. $5,000,000 personal liability cover.

    Details
  • International Travel Insurance
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    Yes
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Optional Extra - up to $40,000

    Be prepared for the unexpected on your adventures with Butter Travel Insurance. Emergency medical and hospital cover. COVID-19, accident and personal liability cover. Optional trip cancellation & interruption cover. Customise your cover with added extras like Motorcycle and ski cover (T&Cs apply).

    Details
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    Comprehensive
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    Yes
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Choose $10,000 to Unlimited

    Backed by the NIB, one of Australia’s largest travel insurance providers, Travel Insurance Saver brings you peace of mind on your travels. Compare three tiers of insurance cover, featuring benefits like 24 hour emergency assistance, emergency medical cover, luggage cover, cancellation cover and more.

    Details
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    International Comprehensive Single
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    Yes
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Choose $2,500 to Unlimited

    Enjoy the security of single trip cover on your next holiday with Southern Cross Travel Insurance. Get 24 hour emergency assistance, cover for cancelling or changing your journey before you leave, protection for lost, stolen or damaged goods as well as cover to replace lost or stolen cash, banks or travel documents. Be in to win 1 of 5 $1,000 cash prizes! T&Cs Apply. Offer ends 30 September 2023.

    Details
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    Top
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    Yes
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Unlimited

    Be covered for international overseas and medical expenses. Emergency medical assistance 24 hours/365 days a year. Cover for cancellation fees and lost deposits. Cover for luggage and personal money. Dependents covered free of charge (conditions apply). Limited COVID cover available. Cancellation cover for COVID claims limited to $3,500.

    Details
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    Standard
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    No
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    $25,000

    Get the security of unlimited medical cover and 24/7 emergency assistance services when you travel. Get cover for cancellation fees and prepaid travel expenses. Cover for luggage and travel documents. $2,500,000 personal liability cover.

    Details
  • Comprehensive
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    No
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Choose $0 to Unlimited

    Australia Post International Comprehensive Travel Insurance covers overseas medical expenses, cancellation costs and more (T&Cs apply). Optional extras like cover for existing medical conditions and winter sports available. 24/7 emergency support. Get a quote in minutes. Reduce your premium with variable excess. Policies may not be available to all travellers. Australian Postal Corporation ABN 28 864 970 579 (AR No 338646) is the distributor of Australia Post Travel Insurance.

    Details
  • Comprehensive
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    Yes
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    Unlimited

    Know that you have some protection for your holidays with Fast Cover's worldwide 24-hour emergency assistance. Cover is available for emergency medical and hospital expenses, cancellation costs, lost luggage and more. 25-day money back guarantee when you buy a policy and provided that you have not started your trip, made a claim or used your policy to obtain a visa. Cancellation cover for COVID claims limited to $5,000.Please refer to Fast Cover’s PDS for more information on what their Comprehensive Travel Policy offers as well as terms, conditions, exclusions and limits that apply.

    Details
  • Mozo Expert Choice Badge
    Medical Only
    covid medical cover
    Yes
    covid cancellation cover
    No
    overseas hospital
    Unlimited
    cancellation cover
    No

    Travel with peace of mind with unlimited medical cover and 24/7 emergency assistance services. Get cover for overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses. $2,500,000 personal liability cover.

    Details