Self drive vs. Train Travel in Europe

Self drive vs. Train Travel in Europe

There are pro’s and con’s of Self drive vs. Train Travel, that is driving yourself or catching trains in Europe, however, we decided relatively early on that train travel is our preferred option. We have done both.

From our own experiences, we have looked at the positives and negatives of both self drive and train travel. Hopefully this will assist in your decision.

Self drive vs. Train Travel in Europe


– Train travel in Europe is efficient. Of all of the countries we have been to date, the trains leave on time and arrive on time. That is a luxury, for us.

– Train travel is best for big cities, though in saying that if you get off at some little known places along the tracks, then you might get that village feel you were after or just something unexpected. Domodossola being a case in point.

– Sit back and watch the world go by on a train.

– Have a coffee or a wine in the dining car.

– Chat to locals in trains or other travellers

– Toilets are on board trains that are more often than not clean.

– Self Drive allows you to go wherever you want, stop whenever you want and explore at will

– Shove your luggage in the boot/trunk and take out what you need when you want

– A lot more independence when driving

Self drive vs. Train Travel in Europe


– Driving in unknown cities can be very stressful, it could even lead to arguments :)

– Train travel does not give as much freedom and flexibility to do what you want and explore where and when you want.

– Research into getting the best priced tickets for public transport can be time consuming.

– Driving on the wrong side of the road (Ok, we are Australian and for us that is difficultJ)

– Watching changes in speed zones and driving on unfamiliar roads

– Understanding the peculiarities of different road rules.

– Understanding the ramifications of infringements

– if the train breaks down, an avalanche covers the track as happened to us in Japan, then your plans can go awry r you are stuck on a train for a very long time

– Parking is expensive

– Parking is often scarce

– Cost of petrol (gas)

– Insurance is expensive

– The driver does not get to enjoy the views, as they have to concentrate on the road.

– Can’t have a beer and drive

– Taking luggage off one train to get to the next

– some train stations are a little seedy so at times you can wonder about your safety.

– as a first impression of a place some, and only some stations, are not the best introduction.

– If you have interconnecting train trips it is a slight headache racing from platform to another. For us to get from Kitzbuhel to Zermatt we had 4 changes at Innsbruck, World, Zurich, Visp. Each however were seamless, so maybe this should go into the positive comments

– Train stations do not always have the same name as what you might expect. E.g., Ghent is Gand. That certainly threw us.

– Freeway tolls can be high and if you get on the wrong freeway/autobahn you may not have the ability to turn around. This happened to some people we met in Sorrento who took a wrong turn at Pompeii and ended up getting in at midnight while we enjoyed the leisurely 40 minute train ride there and got in at 4pm. We had left Pompeii at the same timeMake sure to leave from the POMPEII SCAVI station.

We still remain big advocates for train travel.

Self drive vs. Train Travel in Europe


Some hints:

– Make sure that you get the platform information always from the railway attendants to help if having to change trains particularly if the window of opportunity is 3 minutes.

– Don’t waste your money on 1st class; the difference is barely worth the money

– To explore further afield, get a bus or even hire a car for a day or two keeping in mind the parameters as stated above.

So in our view these are the positives and the negatives of self drive vs. train travel in Europe.

Any thoughts?





paella-valencia, Graduating-from-the-Paella-Academy-in-Valencia-Spain


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  1. Interesting points here! For me I usually find that more expensive countries are better travelled by car, but cheaper places are more interesting on public transport. Thanks for your insight!
    katie featherstone recently posted…Festival Fact File: PitchMy Profile

    • Interesting we possibly find the opposite. Switzerland is not cheap and nor were the train tickets but it saved the driver (not me) from missing he stunning views. Tough call tho :)

  2. Thanks for this! I’m heading to Europe in the fall and trying to decide between trains and cars, since we’ve never done the driving abroad thing. I rather like the idea, since it means we would be able to pull over whenever we want if there is something cool to see!
    Globe Guide recently posted…Guayaquil, Ecuador: The Malecon, and being overrun by iguanas  My Profile

    • We have done both and the stress with driving mostly is not worth it. Thanks for comment

  3. Good advice. I’m still equally torn between self-driving and travelling by train. Having a car certainly gives you independence and flexibility (and my hubby has no qualms about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road) but trains do give you the chance to sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery – and arrive much quicker in most cases. I usually let our itinerary determine if car or train will be our main mode of transport – or a combination of both.
    Carolyn @ Holidays to Europe recently posted…How did I become addicted to Europe? I blame it on Contiki!My Profile

    • True, it can go either way as both have their pro’s and con’s. Just love trains tho :)

  4. We think your negatives and postives are spot on. I would like to add that if you are traveling at night, you can rest/sleep on a train but a driver never gets to do so.
    Corinne recently posted…MICA Building SingaporeMy Profile

    • Good point Corinne, I forgot about driver fatigue. Thank you :)

  5. Maybe it’s because we live in France (and my husband is French) but I’d choose driving over taking a train any time! As Globe Guide says, it means you can pull over whenever you want to see something cool. We’ve driven in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia Herzogovina, Lichtenstein and maybe more that I can’t remember, in the last few years.

    Our previous arguments about directions have disappeared now we have a navigator (Tom-Tom, GPS). Parking can be a problem with large cities and it can work out cheaper to get a more expensive hotel with free parking. You need to do your homework first – Dubrovnik turned out to be a challenged because we had a flat in the middle of the walled city and you can’t even take your car in to drop off luggage!

    We now keep large cities for 5 to 8 day visits by plane, staying in the centre and walking everywhere.
    RosemaryK (@AussieFrance) recently posted…Secret Venice – the Gondola RideMy Profile

  6. This is a very nice summary of driving patterns in Europe. I often do both: driving and train travels across Europe and I think you got the full picture. I agree with most of your thoughts. I wonder if you ever tried to drive a scooter in Italy or any other European country? I recently have and this is a totally new quality of travel.
    Agata recently posted…Discover Sorrento in a DayMy Profile

    • I rode a bike in Vietnam and am now terrified of bikes and having seen the traffic in Italy I think that would be a no to a scooter also :))

  7. Excellent tips. You can get 10 or monthly travel pass in Europe that can reduce your costs and take the need to find the ticket office and purchase your ticket. We did a Europe backpacking tour with a flexible 10 day ticket and it was great. We regularly travel by car in Europe and toll costs are horrendous especially in France and petrol isn’t cheap either. Another advantage of trains is that you can take an overnight sleeper train that saves you money and time.
    TC recently posted…How to Reduce Car Fuel Consumption?My Profile

    • This is what we need to look into, a train pass and see if it is a better option. I actually love sleeper trains. I know the reunification express in Vietnam was an awesome journey

  8. I have done both train and driving and mostly agree with your points. I just returned from a European trip where I did some of both. I used trains to cover long distances and cars for the countryside. Sadly, the other travelers on the trains were a nuisance and really diminished the quality of those trips. I really was wishing for one of the quiet carriages like those in Switzerland.

    If you have more than 2 people, a car will most likely be cheaper, even with the French tolls! :) Having a car gives you the freedom to enjoy the countryside at a leisurely pace as well as pull over and stop where ever you would like if something grabs your interest. Also, I much prefer staying in apartments in small villages and train travel doesn’t work well for those. I wouldn’t drive without my GPS…love my TomTom!

    For big cities, ditch the car! I have stayed outside of big cities and just taken a train into town for sightseeing, thus avoiding the driving in a city and expense of parking.

    Just some of my random thoughts!

    • I don’t disagree with any of your points and maybe we have got lucky with our company. I agree that a car can give you that extra freedom but so does getting off at some random stops that no one else does – Domodossola being a case in point.



  1. Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Car or train in Europe? – Chartres – Saint Bernard dogs | Aussie in France - […] From our own experiences, we have looked at the positives and negatives of both self drive and train travel. …

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