Travelling across Europe by land and sea

If you enjoy seeing new places in Europe, and you think that the journey itself is as important as the destination, or if you're dead against air travel for one reason or another, then it's easy to travel across Europe by land and sea.

I find air travel deadly dull, and I'd far rather travel to new places by car ferry, catamaran or passenger ship, or by overnight train. Even though it's usually cheaper to fly (partly because governments still don't properly tax aviation fuel), flying economy class is about as interesting as sitting in a bus for several hours but without anything to see out of the windows.

By comparison, travelling by sea is great fun. Nothing quite like being out on the deck of a ship which is being battered by gale force winds, then returning inside to a warm cabin, or to a bar or restaurant on the ship.

And overnight rail travel can be fun too, sat in the buffet car with friends, watching unfamiliar train stations slide past while you enjoy food and drink, and then heading back to a bunk-bed in a cabin to try to sleep while the train rocks and jolts towards your destination. Far preferable to dodging DVT and dire airline food on a plane.

Example journey: London to Copenhagen and Stockholm

(Prices from summer 2009.)

A photo of the ship DFDS Dana Sirena leaving port.
Leaving Harwich International by ship.
  1. London Liverpool Street station to Harwich International by train, £17.30.
  2. Harwich International to Esbjerg, Denmark by the ship DFDS Dana Sirena, bunk-bed in a 3-berth cabin, £52.00.
  3. Esbjerg to Copenhagen by Danish InterCity train, £41.71.
  4. Copenhagen to Stockholm by Swedish Rail X 2000 train, £50.74 (return journey).
  5. Copenhagen to Cologne by Deutsche Bahn City Night Line overnight train, bunk-bed in a 4-berth cabin, £62.96.
  6. Cologne to Brussels by Thalys train, and then Eurostar train to London St. Pancras, £73.50.

The total transport cost for this entire journey was £298.21 and it took just over twenty-six hours to get from London to Copenhagen by ship and train. The train journey to Stockholm is another five hours (but the excellent X 2000 trains show you what all intercity trains should be: fast, spacious, comfortable and clean). For variety the return journey was entirely by rail, taking an overnight train from Copenhagen to Cologne. Once you're in Cologne, you're only five or six hours away from London by train. To break up the journey, a stop in Cologne gives you a chance to visit a few beer halls and see Cologne Cathedral in more detail.

Another example journey: Gothenburg to Bergen via Oslo

(Prices from summer 2010.)

  1. Gothenburg in Sweden to Oslo in Norway on an NSB train, £22.14 one way.
  2. Oslo to Bergen on an NSB train, £33.26 one way.
A photo of an NSB train at Bergen Station.
The train which took us to Bergen.

In this case we'd flown from London to Gothenburg and flew back to London from Bergen, but the train journeys between the Scandinavian cities were much more enjoyable than the flights. Plus the train stations were all located in the centre of each city, whereas the airports were both a costly half-hour journey away from town.

The total cost of the two rail journeys was £55.40. The journey from Gothenburg to Oslo takes about four hours. The journey from Oslo to Bergen is supposed to take seven hours and twenty minutes, but a problem on our journey led to an unscheduled stop for more than two hours at the very peaceful station of Hønefoss and in the end the journey took about nine-and-a-half hours. However, the train company served the passengers well and did their best to make up for the later arrival.

The journey to Bergen takes the train through mountains and snowy train stations which service little ski resorts and hotels, then past waterfalls on the way down the other side. It's a very pleasant and scenic journey.

Other ideas

Getting from London to Vienna and Bratislava entirely by train involves taking the Eurostar to Brussels, then a Thalys train to Cologne, then a Deutsche Bahn City Night Line overnight train to Vienna, which took us just over twenty hours. From Vienna it's just a ninety-minute train journey to get to Bratislava, or you can take the Twin City Liner boat along the river Danube instead.

Shorter trips from London include a quick hop to Paris on the Eurostar, which now only takes two-and-a-half hours. Or if you fancy Ireland, you can get from London to Dublin by train or coach and then ferry in eight to twelve hours.