Driving through French wine regions, touring Venice’s canals and city-hopping breaks are available on a budget.
Three classic destinations for €25
The Prague-Budapest-Vienna triangle is a wondrous hub from which to take in all the sights of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and Regiojet has a service linking these capitals. For as little as €9 (£7.70), you can take the train from Vienna to Budapest, while the route linking Prague and Budapest starts from €16 (£13.60). The fares cover the cost of seat reservation and Wi-Fi, with the provision to upgrade to a seat with free water, newspapers and a built-in LCD screen for an extra €2.30 (£2) (regiojet.com).
If the Regiojet deal is unavailable when you plan to travel, Czech Railways has €21 (£17.90) advance fares from Prague to Budapest (cd.cz/en).
Park your motorhome for free across France
The France Passion Scheme (france-passion.com/en) has a simple premise: participants who own their own motorhome, van or converted van with waste and water facilities and have bought an up-to-date Stopover Guide (annual kit costs €30/£25.50) have access to more than 2,100 gourmet sites and 10,000 parking spaces, many of which are spread across rural France, free of charge. Those using the scheme can sample the local produce and hospitality of farmers, winegrowers and friendly hosts.
Save money with a night train
An overnight sleeper train cuts the cost of accommodation and frees up more daylight hours for sightseeing. The Nightjet train leaves Paris’s Gare de l’Est at suppertime and reaches Vienna mid-morning (nightjet.com). For €60 (£51), you can secure a spot in a six-seat carriage or, for €20 (£17) more, upgrade to a couchette. Other European overnight services to try include the Caledonian Sleeper between London and Edinburgh (sleeper.scot), the Nightjet from Munich to Zagreb and the Helsinki to Kolari overnight train (vr.fi/en/night-trains), for a foray into Finnish Lapland.
See cities from the water
Water buses, ferries and boats help with the daily commute and, in many European cities, are included in the cost of a public transport ticket. In Copenhagen, use the harbour buses to flit between attractions such as The Royal Library, Islands Brygge and Nyhavn (dinoffentligetransport.dk).
If visiting Berlin, try its six ferry routes, including a scenic crossing of Wannsee Lake (bvg.de). You might also make use of the free ferries from the IJ to Amsterdam Noor (reisinfo.gvb.nl), four public transportation lines along the Danube in Budapest (bkk.hu) and the cheap commuter ferries of Lisbon (ttsl.pt). Plus, in Venice, opt for the vaporetto instead of expensive gondola rides and water taxis.
Compare rail fares
It is always worth comparing booking platforms when travelling between two or more countries. Train travel between Germany and the Czech Republic can be quite steep, especially if booking through the Deutsche Bahn website. Tickets can be up to a third cheaper when bought via Czech Railways (cd.cz/en). A sample fare from Prague to Munich at the time of writing was €15 (£12/80), compared with €42 (£35.80) on the Bahn site.
City-hop in Sweden for €12.99
If you are visiting Stockholm, consider adding on a trip to Gothenburg. Known for its maritime history, the city is peaceful and has many green parks for recreation. The nearby archipelago means that Gothenburg also offers opportunities for island-hopping. Flixtrain (flixtrain.com) has fares from €12.99 (£11.10) for travel from Stockholm to Gothenburg.
Buy an InterRail pass
This tried-and-tested way in which to enjoy unlimited travel on national train services in 33 European countries is particularly good value for passengers aged 27 or under or 60 or over; cheaper tickets are available for both age groups. Options for multi-country tickets range from four travel days in a month to three months of continuous travel (myinterrail.co.uk). You could try a Nordic adventure, from Copenhagen to Bergen – best for summer or spring – or tick off capital cities: from London, head to Paris, Amsterdam and then Berlin.
Stop over using Deutsche Bahn’s international tickets
When using Deutsche Bahn’s international train travel ticket, consider adding a stopover in a city mid-journey. A Berlin to Prague train trip is priced at €18.90 (£16.10) (bahn.com/en) and a 24-hour stopover in Dresden can be included for no extra cost. Alternatively, a Berlin to Budapest trip with a 24-hour stopover in Prague amounts to a sample fare of €46.90 (£40).
Travel from Paris to Nice for €19
France’s Voyages SNCF includes low-cost, high-speed nationwide train service Ouigo (ouigo.com). Tickets between Paris’s Marne-la-Vallée and Lyon and Bordeaux start at €19 (£16.20) (be sure to book well in advance). Marne-la-Vallée is the location for Disneyland Paris and is a €15 (£12/80), 10-minute ride from the train station at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport or a 35-minute, €7.50 (£6.40) ride on the RER line A from Châtelet-Les-Halles (take the underground to this station first).
Journey from Barcelona to Madrid for €9
Ouigo also offers a route between Barcelona to Madrid route for as little as €9 (£7.70) one-way connecting the two cities in two-and-a-half hours (ouigo.com/es/en). The service extends to Zaragoza, Spain’s fifth-largest city and home to underground Roman remains, and Tarragona, where you can also delve into Roman history at the National Archaeological Musuem of Tarragona and the seaside ampitheatre. For the basic €9 fare, passengers can carry a small bag and cabin-sized luggage. For a rucksack or suitcase, an extra €5 (£4.30) fee applies.
Free rail travel in Spain
Between 1 September and 31 December this year, passengers will be able to ride certain Renfe trains (renfe.com/es/en) across Spain for free. The offer will apply to Cercanías and Rodalies (commuter trains) and Media Distancia routes (regional lines covering journeys of less than 300km), more details will be released in the coming weeks. Aimed primarily at local season-ticket holders, it will be valid for multi-journey tickets and excludes single fares – but tourists could use the scheme for city-hopping breaks, such as Bilbao to Madrid or Barcelona to Seville.
Use free public transport
European destinations in which certain modes of public transport are free include Manchester (three metro shuttles), Tallinn in Estonia (all public transport), Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands and Amsterdam (both offer free ferries), and Luxembourg, which has free public transport nationwide. In Austria, the Pinzgau mobility card (zellamsee-kaprun.com/en/activities/summer/free-mobility) offers free access to transport in the Zell am See-Kaprun region, while if you stay three or more nights in the Bregenzerwald region, you also receive a card that offers free public transport (bregenzerwald.at/en/activity/guest-card). Bus travel is free in around 30 French towns and cities, including Calais
Enjoy unlimited travel through Germany until September
You can travel throughout Germany for €9 (£7.70) across a calendar month this summer (bahn.com). The ticket is valid on all forms of public transport in Germany, including buses, trams, subways, light rail, regional and regional express trains. Some ferry connections in Berlin and Hamburg are also included, plus a few international connections such as the Bavarian regional train (BRB) service to Salzburg and Kufstein in Austria.
Book a bus
One of the cheapest ways to travel across Europe is by bus. Flixbus (global.flixbus.com) has a network of 200,000 daily connections, serving 1,200 destinations in 24 European countries. Among the other low-cost European services are Lux Express (luxexpress.eu/en) in the Baltics, Finland’s Onnibus (onnibus.com/home) Alsa in Spain (alsa.com), Regiojet in Czechia (regiojet.com) and, across several European countries, BlaBlabus (blablacar.fr/bus) and Eurolines (eurolines.de).
Collect Swiss city cards
Swiss cities can be expensive, but city cards will help you stick to a budget. The Geneva Transport Card, available upon booking accommodation, offers free public transport around the city (geneve.com). In the canton of Ticino, a public transport day pass worth CHF50 (£43) is handed to guests on the day of arrival (ticino.ch/en/ticket.html). The Zurich card provides unlimited second-class travel by bus, train, boat and cableway (zuerich.com/en/zurichcard). And, finally, the Basel Card is included with any hotel booking and offers free use of public transport (basel.com/en/baselcard).