Low-carbon route advice
By Gareth Hamilton
17th EASA Biennial Conference
EASA2022: Transformation, Hope and the Commons
School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast
26-29 July, 2022
Basic principles and disclaimers
- This is based on my experiences and what I would do, and do do. I have been travelling to Northern Ireland on land and sea exclusively since the summer of 2002, and for the past decade from Latvia, where I work. I am not a particular fan of sea crossings from experience of rough conditions crossing the Irish Sea/North Channel, and that might creep in at times when that particular body of water is being discussed.
- Getting to Belfast via land and sea is more complex the further away one is. This guidance may seem more detailed the closer the starting point to Belfast is. Thankfully EASA has its conferences in different places each time, so if this advice seems too difficult and time consuming for your place of residence, do not be put off for the future.
- This guidance is offered ‘as-is’ and without guarantees, pointing out what I think are the best options. The pandemic may have changed things a little and may change things again. It is hard to know what has actually gone from the scene and what might return. Further, some things I might like and you might not.
- Getting back is more-or-less the same as going, but in reverse. That might sound obvious but best to make it clear. Maybe you would like to go a different way back and that is possible.
- Generally in my opinion, rail is often best – at least in Western Europe – as it is usually quicker and more comfortable and does not always have to be more expensive. Further, a company such as Deutsche Bahn offers carbon neutral journeys by default on its long distance trains. Other options are also mentioned: while I sometimes mention first class/premium travel I recognise that not everyone can afford that. Some people perhaps may need a more comfortable journey in case of painful joints with a need for greater legroom during longer journeys, or for overnight travel etc.
- I do not discuss precise prices as this is somewhat of a difficult thing to do given that special ticket prices exist, with yield management meaning that prices might increase due to demand, like airlines do. However, to get a rough idea of the baselines, see a site which I recommend which does mention prices, in the point below...
- I would very heartily recommend to you a certain website which will fill in the blanks here and which I have found particularly useful for my travels since I stopped flying. This is the website of Mark Smith, a rail travel expert and former railway manager. It is called the Man in Seat 61 (after his favourite Eurostar seat number) and can be found at seat61.com. He is regularly interviewed in the European media and one of the go-to people on rail travel. He seems very nice when I have personally asked him for advice.
- It might be necessary to book overnight breaks. Travel on night trains (which are seeing a resurgence in Europe) is a good alternative. However, if an overnight stop is needed, this will add expense. Despite that, it can be good to get a break for travelling. Some ferries also offer cabins or lounges for an extra price. There are hotels often near stations, often within close walking distance. Indeed, Cologne central station has an Ibis inside it, for example. From experience sometimes these can be more expensive but that must be weighed up against getting public transport or a taxi and back from further afield places, plus also the risk of not arriving on time if there is heavy traffic between the hotel and the station.
- Many railway companies offer discount cards. These can sometimes be worth it, even after one journey. If buying lots of tickets in Great Britain (not NI) then a railcard might pay off. See Railcards for the options. However, these are not available for everyone, and more targeted at specific age ranges and groups of people. Other companies offer cards for all, such as Deutsche Bahn. If buying many lots of tickets from them to connect to Eurostar, then their BahnCards might be of some value, especially as they offer a trial one for three months (the ‘Probe BahnCard’. However, note that BahnCards are offered as a subscription only for most people and you will need to write to them (inc. via email) to cancel them six weeks before expiry lest you end up with a whole year’s card fee to pay and you do not need it.
- I am not going to talk too much about car sharing but I have tried BlaBlaCar and it appeared to be ok. Maybe it is cheaper at times but with connections to trains or coaches it might be more risky if there are traffic jams or accidents.
In France and Italy in particular you might need to validate your train tickets. It will say so on them if necessary. If you do not and it was necessary you can get into trouble.
Having researched special offers as part of my PhD unexpectedly, I am keen to get them sometimes. Watch out for points schemes which can be beneficial if a frequent traveller. However, be careful for unwanted offers, such as those that the Trainline might offer you after buying a ticket!
An ÖBB voucher for a taxi. Stand up for your rights as a passenger. These are guaranteed under EU law.
The core - inside the UK and Ireland
My principal advice, based on when I travel, is to get to the UK (principally London) and then go further by train. For those who have either experience of the potential high prices of railway tickets on the island of Great Britain, or have heard of them, the information on crossing the Irish Sea or the North Channel between the two islands may come as a pleasant surprise in terms of price. It seems that this crossing of the sea means good value tickets!
There are many people who travel between the islands by not flying as was done before air travel, and especially low-cost air travel, and the ways of doing so still exist, facilitated by the railways and ferry companies working together. There are also coach services which operate in much the same way. What they have in common is that both rail and maritime portions come as a joint ticket. For railway travel, they are protected by the International Rail Transport Committee’s (CIT) CIV regulations much as a cross-border journey elsewhere in Europe would be if there were delays and missed connections. You should be able to spot ‘CIV’ on your ticket. For information on the protection, see here. Likewise, it is unlikely that the coach companies alongside their ferry colleagues would see you abandoned to your fate if connections were missed. On more than one occasion, at their expense British railway companies have placed me and fellow passengers into taxis for long distances in order to make a ferry connection. This has also happened in Germany or Austria, for example. The message here is wherever you are, stand up for your rights and if it looks likely trouble is ahead, ask for advice and make sure you get help.
The combined railway and ferry tickets do not have to be booked far in advance – there are actually walk-up fares which cost little to nothing extra – although in terms of rail seat reservations and to guarantee a ferry place it might be more convenient and provide a better sense of comfort and security to do so rather than waiting to the last minute. As mentioned, these prices can be somewhat of a shock and can generally be combined with National Rail railcard discounts. These special tickets are only available in standard (i.e. second) class but the trains are perfectly fine.
There is a choice of routes to take, and in fact you can travel from any UK National Rail station. The island is split into zones for each of the ferry routes and the prices depend on the zone of departure (and destination on the way back).
All these options leave from Euston station in London. I usually take one and another back. This is to do with convenience but you can choose what suits best. Services from Euston will not state the platform until the train is ready for boarding so you should stand looking at the departure boards until this appears, approximately 20 mins before the train departs. Have your railway ticket ready for inspection at the ticket gates onto the platform.
Tickets can be bought from the Trainline for example, or from GB National Rail stations. Note that public transport in Northern Ireland is operated by Translink, a state-owned company. Its railway subsidiary, Northern Ireland Railways (NIR), is not part of GB National Rail. There seems to be at the moment an issue where it appears impossible to book a ticket from GB stations onwards from Dublin to Belfast. This means that in the past one could buy a ticket from London plus ferry plus the ticket onward to Belfast Lanyon Place, but either this has been paused or canceled. Perhaps this will return? If the ticket is not available, ask the ferry companies directly. If buying online, tickets are often collectable at GB National Rail station ticket machines. One thing to note is that if you want to buy singles for both directions, if you buy these on the Internet, they will not be collectable on Northern Ireland train stations as these are not operated by National Rail and have no ticket machines of that type. Either get them delivered by online companies, or collect at Stena Line’s Belfast terminals if buying direct from Stena – in any case, make sure when buying that you will be able to get them! See here (the red box!) for getting tickets from Northern Ireland or Ireland. This also applies to Dublin and both Stena and Irish Ferries. Check their sites for information. I’d also highly recommend checking seat61.com's page on getting to Northern Ireland – I’d almost insist on it due to the specialisation of the site!
The inclusive tickets. Sometimes from Belfast no seat reservation will be included but if you want one, telephone the train company you will be travelling on (most likely Avanti West Coast) and ask for a free one.
Sometimes the UK train toilets can be quite personal. Do not be alarmed if some have a recorded voice!
▶ Holyhead to Dublin
The first option is to go via Ireland (Republic of). This was the classic route to Dublin in the days before air transport, and goes via North Wales. It leaves from the port of Holyhead (‘Holy’ pronounced like the plant ‘holly’). I usually take an overnight ferry as it combines well with when I arrive from the continental mainland, with the direct train to Holyhead, operated by Avanti West Coast, leaving in the early evening. However, ferries go at various times and connect well with ships. There are some direct trains to Holyhead from London Euston, but there are also connecting trains. Further, coming from other places in Great Britain might require changes anyway.
There are two ferry companies, Stena Line and Irish Ferries. Both depart and arrive from the same terminal in Holyhead, and close-by at the port of Dublin. Both companies’ ferries are similar and take similar times of around 3 hours, although Irish Ferries has a fast craft which takes a bit less. Both companies have more comfortable premium accommodation on board which can be booked in advance if buying tickets directly from them, or once onboard. Irish Ferries also has some cabins. These are not necessary but might be worth it overnight. Otherwise, people seem to sleep on sofas etc around the public areas of the ships. On arrival, there is a direct bus organised by Mortons’ Coaches which goes from the terminal to Connolly station for onward travel to Belfast, or there is a municipal Dublin Bus, or taxis. Remember that Ireland uses the euro as currency.
This is checkin in Holyhead for both Irish Ferries and Stena. Do not worry if no-one is here when you arrive early. At the correct time, a checkin person will arrive. Remember to have your tickets ready, plus some ID.
These vending machines at Holyhead might be your first taste of Northern Ireland. There are two Tayto crisp companies on the island but this is the NI one. I think these ones taste better but that is a matter of some debate, in a friendly cross-border way.
The inclusive ticket from London to Belfast via Holyhead and Dublin.
Middle of the night between Holyhead and Dublin
▶ Fishguard to Rosslare
Stena Line offers a connection from South Wales to South-Eastern Ireland. I have never been this way as it would seem to be out of the way for Belfast. However, rail travel is also available in the same fashion.
▶ Cairnryan to Belfast
This is the route that might seem the most sensible as it gets into Belfast and that is where the conference is. This requires, however, being careful as a bus is needed to get to the port and these have been reduced in number. This is one of the routes I suggest booking in advance to make sure there is a bus place for you. This route takes you via Glasgow, then to Ayr, where the bus awaits outside the station in Stena Line markings. It then takes about an hour to Loch Ryan port at Cainryan. From Scotland or upper northern England this would be the most convenient route. See this page for the timetable. P&O also operates at this port but there are no train connections offered, and some might prefer to avoid that company anyway due to recent workers’ rights issues. In any case, its boats take a shorter route to Larne, but a bus or train is required to get from it to Belfast. The Stena boats are quite pleasant, even offering cabins or a spa, but the route is only two hours and fifteen minutes anyway. They once used to ply between Tallinn and Helsinki (hence the spa) but are now owned by Stena and updated yearly. They are called ‘Superfast’ but that is just the name and they are not fast craft. The ferries arrive at the VT4 terminal in the Port of Belfast.
A view from a Stena boat in Belfast harbour. Belfast has become a popular place for cruises and you might see some ships dock while there.
On the Stena boat between Belfast and Cainryan. Here is the island of Ailsa Craig, known also as Paddy’s Milestone.
▶ Liverpool to Belfast
These ferries are operated by Stena and are very new and apparently more environmentally friendly than older ships. However, the journey is longer, and some go overnight. The travel time is eight hours so it might be necessary to get a cabin or at least book a space in the Stena Plus premium lounge. It does, however, mean getting some sleep while travelling more easily than one might otherwise. There is a train connection like the other routes but it goes to Birkenhead Hamilton Square station and that is apparently 15 minutes from the terminal with no bus between them. Stena suggests a taxi instead. The ferries arrive at the VT2 (Victoria) terminal in Belfast, close to the VT4 where the ferry from Cairnryan berths.
NomadIT’s Rohan has done the voyage to Belfast and was very relaxed on the way. Photo taken by Triinu.
Travelling by coach might not be much cheaper unless coming from certain places. From Scotland there are two options via Cairnryan, and both are linked on this webpage by Stena and bookable from there. Translink’s Ulsterbus offers routes from different places in Scotland, and Hannon’s Coaches from Glasgow. There are many students from Northern Ireland in Scotland so these routes are well travelled. From elsewhere, National Express offers connections but with changes and the journeys can be quite long compared to by train.
▶ Crossing the sea border between the UK and Ireland (Republic of)
The UK and Ireland (and Isle of Man and Channel Islands) are part of the Common Travel Area but there is not a common visa area and there are separate immigration regimes for Ireland and the UK. Ireland, while part of the EU, is not in the Schengen Area and a Schengen visa is not valid. British and Irish citizens should not need to have a passport to travel between them but some form of ID is required. Citizens of everywhere else (including EU citizens) should check what documents they need. These will likely be checked at check-in for ferries. It is also not uncommon that travel and identity documents are checked by An Garda Síochána (Irish police) on arrival in Irish ports, or by police or UK Immigration Enforcement in the other direction. I have seen some unaware British citizens being grilled by the Garda and having to resort to stating their UK postcode as a shaky means of proving their citizenship, which is a bit awkward and might cause delays. Even a driving licence will do. It is better to be well prepared with documents in any case. Do remember in any case that crossing between the UK and Ireland means leaving/entering the EU and customs formalities must be followed.
▶ Crossing the sea ‘border’ between Northern Ireland and Great Britain
Certain politicians in Northern Ireland are not pleased that there is now a quasi-customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK brought about by the UK leaving the EU and the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement. Despite the noise, this will likely not affect travellers too much. However, check if bringing a pet as the regulations can change. One of the interesting aspects of the protocol is that you can send parcels from NI to the EU without customs formalities.
▶ Onward travel: Ireland (Republic of) to Belfast
The most comfortable option is the Enterprise train from Dublin to Belfast. It takes approximately two hours. At times there has been disruption on the line due to vandalism but this is thankfully rare. The service is jointly operated by Translink’s NIR and Iarnród Éireann/Irish Rail. The train leaves from Dublin Connolly station and terminates at Belfast Lanyon Place station. There is a special waiting area for the Enterprise after the ticket barriers at Connolly, off to the right of the platforms. Lanyon Place is not terribly convenient for walking but a bus operated by Translink’s Metro (Belfast’s bus system) goes into Belfast city centre. The Enterprise was refurbished before the pandemic and is quite pleasant. The restaurant car offers nice enough food it if has been reopened before the conference period arrives. The Enterprise has optional seat reservations which are not included in Rail and Sail tickets, but these can be bought separately from irishrail.ie. One thing to watch for is that reservations automatically state your name above your seat so if you so desire click on the option to show the booking number instead for privacy. If the issue I mentioned above with onward travel not being included in Rail and Sail tickets, then tickets from Dublin to Belfast can be bought from that website. The prices increase as the flexibility of the ticket increases. There are also first class tickets.
▶ Crossing the land border
As per the Belfast/‘Good Friday’ Agreement, Northern Ireland remains in the UK until a majority of people voting in both jurisdictions on the island decide it should be a part of the state of Ireland. However, even post ‘Brexit’, to facilitate peace and economic integration, there are no consistent border controls (whether passport or customs) on the land border. This does not mean that you are not subject to border control for either country and you should check you have the necessary documents and visas etc to be in the UK, or in Ireland if travelling via it. Remember that the currency in Northern Ireland is the pound sterling. Northern Ireland more or less remains de facto in the EU’s single market and customs union for goods (not services, freedom of movement etc) but it legally is not in the EU. Check your medical coverage and check that your mobile phone roaming service covers the UK in such a way that you would like. Whereas EU/EEA roaming was once included, depending on your network it is quite possible it no longer is.
Some tickets can have odd cancellations in the UK!
Getting to the UK (or sometimes Ireland) from the mainland
▶ Eurostar, and connecting between it and rail services towards Belfast
Most of the routes mentioned above mention Eurostar services. This is the high-speed train which goes through the Channel Tunnel. The tunnel itself is quite dull, and there is not much to be seen. It is just like going through a long tunnel. Eurostar has three classes: the very expensive and champagne-filled Business Premier, the slightly luxurious Standard Premier, and the comfortable and pleasant Standard. Sometimes I have discovered good deals for upgrades, e.g. an offer sent in an email by Eurostar itself but it is rare. While Standard Premier has broader seats and more leg room, and a free snack and drink, I find Standard perfectly serviceable for a journey this short, and the prices are generally much, much lower. On the way to London and back, you will have to check-in by scanning your ticket barcode at the barriers, then pass security and French, Belgian or Netherlands – plus UK – border control before boarding so be careful with connections and leave plenty of time. Security scanning is not as onerous as in airports. You might have to take your belt off in Brussels, but otherwise it is quite comfortable. Check on Eurostar’s website that your luggage does not contain anything they do not carry at all, or something that needs to be checked in. There are also luggage size restrictions but nothing as strict as airlines. Once again, check on their website for precise details. In any case, there is plenty of luggage space on the trains.
Eurostar services arrive at the fancy St Pancras International. Rail services taking you to the options I mention for travel above leave from Euston. It is possible to get the London Underground (Tube) between these but walking is probably more simple and convenient as it is not far. If you have some time between your trains, St Pancras is probably a more comfortable place to wait, or even the next door Kings Cross, than the potentially packed Euston at the busiest times. Kings Cross also has a public shower that you can use – ask at the checked luggage desk. Services from Euston will not state the platform until the train is ready for boarding so you should stand looking at the departure boards until this appears, approximately 20 mins before the train departs. Have your railway ticket ready for inspection at the ticket gates onto the platform.
There is the question of buying separate tickets for each part of a journey (point-to-point, P2P) or through tickets. To get bargains, in the sense of having to take a certain defined train at a defined time, it is often necessary to get P2P tickets. This causes the problem of connections, where the train company only has the duty to get you to the place on the ticket. With through tickets, the place on the ticket might be the destination for the final train of two or three or more. For those who wish to get bargains, this is partly solved by the Railteam alliance (railteam.eu) ‘HOTNAT’ guarantee, where you can, after getting a stamp from the relevant person, ‘hop on the next available train’. This works for Eurostar, Thalys, SNCF’s TGV, DB ICE trains, ÖBB’s railjet and more. If you have two P2P tickets, then, as long as changing at a hub like Cologne, Paris or Brussels, this should help.
Outside Eurostar check-in at St Pancras International. The monitor might have crashed but the train travelled on time.
Eurostar has WiFi which lets you know where you are, plus has information on your journey. Many rail companies offer free WiFi with information and entertainment portals, as do buses.
Coming from France by rail is not complex in terms of connecting to Eurostar, given one of its terminals is Paris Gare du Nord. SNCF will sell tickets for Eurostar from all destinations in France at SNCF Connect or you can us the Eurostar website itself for many destinations in France. Eurostar offers direct trains in the summer from Marseille and Lyon, Covid-19 permitting. It is best to check. The Eurostars that go to Brussels stop at Lille generally so that is another boarding point for Eurostar.
Coach travel is another option. For example, BlaBlaBus offers four departures a day from Paris to London, taking around nine hours. Flixbus offers a similar service, also four times a day. Certain routes will use the Channel Tunnel, others use ferries. Onward travel is then possible using the UK rail network and further ferries as described (above/below). Another thing to remember is that buses coming from further afield (e.g. Central or Eastern Europe) might be possible to board. Check a website such as Omio in case to see if there are any options available.
Ferries can also be used easily on their own. It is possible to get a direct ferry to the island of Ireland with Irish Ferries from Cherbourg to Dublin, with onward travel to Belfast by train. Stena Line offers a route from Cherbourg to Rosslare, further south than Dublin, but again with train connections via Dublin.
Ferry travel via the UK is also possible, with the main route being Calais to Dover. It is possible to get from Dover to London by train, but a taxi might be needed from the ferry terminal to the station.
A high-speed image from a high-speed TGV train on the way between Marseille and Lyon.
Information panels at Marseille St Charles
▶ Belgium and the Netherlands
Eurostar has a terminal in Bruxelles-Midi station and travel time is around two hours. Eurostar tickets can be purchased which, for a small extra fee, allow travel from any Belgian station. Eurostar offers direct journeys from Amsterdam, calling at Rotterdam before Bruxelles-Midi and Lille. On the way to London, you will have to checkin and pass security and both Belgian or Netherlands plus UK border control before boarding so be careful with connections and leave plenty of time. Tickets can be bought from SNCB International or NS International. The system seems to be quite similar on both.
Coach travel is also possible. Flixbus offers a journey of around eight-and-a-half hours from Brussels via Lille and under 13 hours from Amsterdam via Rotterdam, Antwerp and Bruges. Another thing to remember is that buses coming from further afield (e.g. Central or Eastern Europe) might be possible to board. Check a website such as Omio in case to see if there are any options available.
Another option to get to London from the Netherlands to connect onwards is via Stena Line from the Hook of Holland port to Harwich in Essex. Stena Line offer a Rail&Sail ticket like those mentioned from any UK station to Irish ferry ports. It would be necessary to get to Euston station from Liverpool Street, where these trains from the Harwich boats arrive. At the time of writing there seem to be some issues with ticket sales, so best read the information carefully. DFDS also have a sailing from IJmuiden to Newcastle in North East England where a train can be got to Carlisle then to Glasgow following the route and fare mentioned in the UK travel advice above. There is also a ferry from Rotterdam to Hull with P&O.
Liège-Guillemins station, where you can also join the ICE train from Cologne to Brussels.
The train booking systems will likely route you via Paris via the LGV Est as this seems to be the quickest route. Tickets can be bought from CFL online but it uses the SNCB ticketing system with CFL branding. The TGV arrives into Paris Gare de l’Est and it is possible to walk easily between it and Gare du Nord, from where Eurostar leaves. There are signs, but I find asking for directions from a member of staff helps! Then follow the travel advice for France.
It is also possible to go via coach but these seem to be indirect and a change is needed.
The most comfortable and quickest way from Germany to get to London to enable a further onward journey with rail and ferry is to travel by train. Unfortunately this is not as simple as it once was in terms of tickets. Before Eurostar updated its booking system in 2020, it was possible to get a ‘London-Spezial’ ticket from almost anywhere in Germany to London. Now two tickets have to be purchased but this can be done easily still using Deutsche Bahn which then links to DB’s international booking system once one searches for connections. With the old ‘London-Spezial’ it was necessary to travel via Cologne and Aachen and Brussels on DB’s own ICE International trains. The ICE International trains usually begin in Frankfurt am Main, then go via Cologne, Aachen and Liege. The staff often make announcements about pickpockets and bag thieves on board: I am not sure whether this is really likely but better to be safe than sorry.
The ticketing system on Deutsche Bahn might now direct a traveller via Strasbourg and Paris which might be more convenient for people coming from the south. In any case, Railteam connection guarantees should be usable, but it is best to check where any connections are supposed to be made. It is also quite useful to speak to a DB conductor on a train when it seems there might be trouble. Check your connections on the DB Navigator app before and after your train journey, and even set a notification for potential issues. I have found this to be particularly useful on many occasions when potential delays have appeared on the horizon. When DB sold Eurostar tickets in the past, these did not have the relevant barcode on them so you needed to go to the staffed desk at Eurostar check-in to be allowed through to security. I am not sure what format the new online tickets that DB sell are in, but it might still be the case that this extra step is needed.
An important tip: if you are coming back via Brussels-Midi and need to connect to an ICE train or Thalys, look for the ‘connections’ exit on the platform rather than going down to the front end exit. It saves a good bit of walking, especially if your Eurostar train was delayed.
Night trains might be another option for getting to Paris or Brussels. See ‘Austria’ below.
Coaches are another option. Flixbus, for example, offers direct coaches from Cologne to London which take about 12-13 hours.
Berlin main station (Hauptbahnhof/Hbf) is very impressive. It has good views over to the Bundestag.
Cologne main station is right beside the city’s cathedral. Like many German stations it has shops which are opened late and on Sundays.
German train breakfast.
Do not worry about knowing where you are. Announcements are common, but here, on a German ICE train there are also monitors letting you know where the next stop is, etc.
An information screen on a DB ICE train lets you know your connections on arrival at the station.
Train station platforms often tell you where your coach will be.
In terms of rail, it is best to go via Germany. ÖBB’s Nightjet overnight services are expanding and this might save time. There are trains from Vienna to Paris via Linz, Salzburg and Munich, or from Vienna to Brussels instead. This would mean connecting to Eurostar in either of those two places. Night trains can be delayed at times so be careful of buying tickets without too much time in between. Night trains can also be good as they avoid the need to spend a night in an hotel or hostel which seems likely for a journey from Austria.
If a normal day train is better, then there are plenty of these. There are direct trains to Germany from most large Austrian cities, and ÖBB will sell through tickets, including online. Some of these are for particular named connections so be careful that you board the correct train. If trouble arises with delays, speak to train or station staff for assistance on removing these restrictions and getting you to where you need to be. ÖBB used to be able to sell Eurostar tickets from their ticket offices (and likely still do), however it might be that these do not have the relevant barcode on them so you will need to go to the staffed desk at Eurostar checkin to be allowed through to security.
Coach services are also available to take one to Germany, where one can either change coaches, or change to railway services. Flixbus offers a service from Vienna to Cologne Airport which then connects to a coach to London. However, this is a long journey of about 30 hours.
Vienna central station looking festive.
Depending on which direction you would like to go it is possible to travel via France or Germany and Belgium, and thus depart on Eurostar from either Paris or Brussels. It might be possible to connect with a Nightjet (see ‘Austria’ above). National carrier SBB/CFF/FFS sells tickets online, but it appears not always the whole way to these two places. You can ask in one of their sales places for help. SBB operates in cooperation with SNCF high-speed TGV Lyria services to Paris.
Zürich main station
Here, by rail the task is to connect to the German network and then follow the instructions stated under ‘Germany’. There are a number of direct routes to Germany. From Warsaw, a Eurocity train travels multiple times per day and takes about six hours. Further, there is a direct train from the Tricity area. There is a direct train from Przemyśl which goes via Kraków, Katowice and Wrocław. There are reduced price, fixed train tickets sold by both national carriers Polish PKP Intercity and German Deutsche Bahn. It might be a matter of seeing which is cheaper when trying to book. These tickets might not go on sale until 45 days before travel, or even less if the timetable is not confirmed due to engineering work, so keep checking if it appears there are no seats left (the message that DB sometimes gives when the tickets are not yet on sale).
Bus travel is also possible. For example, Flixbus offers direct coaches to London from Warsaw, but this takes 38 hours.
I really like Warsaw żurek soup. Two soups in this case.
A view across to Warsaw Central station.
There are in principle four ways to go by rail, either via France, via Switzerland/France, via Switzerland/Germany or Austria/Germany, and then all connect with Eurostar. However, I would choose via France. From Milan, there are both SNCF TGV trains and Trenitalia Frecciarossa direct trains which take around six-and-a-half hours to Paris direct. TGV trains seem to go via Turin. This is probably the most sensible option, and a variety of tickets at differing prices can be obtained depending on the flexibility of the ticket and when it is booked. There are also tickets with changes. To get to Milan or Turin, there are of course multiple options. From larger places, either .Italo or state operator Trenitalia’s Freccia trains will likely be available. Depending on personal preference, or price for the level of comfort, it is a matter of choosing which suits one best. Regional trains, naturally, connect to these. Night trains run by Trenitalia are possible from the south, including Sicily. For a rather more detailed picture and the options via Germany and Austria, see the relevant Seat 61 page for Italy.
An ÖBB railjet high-speed train in Venice.
▶ Spain and Portugal
I am still a bit sad that the pandemic came and EASA2020 understandably had to go online, as it robbed me of my first first-hand experience of travelling by land to Iberia. As a result, I do defer here to seat61.com in particular. However, even before getting to that point, the idea is to get to France, then follow the instructions from there.
For Spain, the simplest route by rail seems to be to get to Barcelona and then take the TGV operated by SNCF and Renfe to Paris, from where Eurostar can be taken. There are plenty of rail links in Spain to Barcelona, even if changing in Madrid, or at least travelling via it, is needed. Renfe’s AVE high-speed trains seem to be excellent. However, from northern and western Spain, it might be more sensible to go via western France, via Hendaye and Irun at the Spanish/French border. seat61.com has an excellent interactive map on its page for Spain.
From Portugal, the route to take depends on the starting point, but there are a number of routes. From Lisbon there is some freedom in choosing, either via Porto then Vigo in Spain and then via Hendaye and Irun. This then goes via Bordeaux. There is also a route via Madrid to Barcelona. Covid-19 seems to have made travel from Portugal with night trains less simple, as they have been cancelled. Check seat61.com's page on Portugal for more information, but the advice there is that both of these routes are similar in terms of choice.
▶ Czechia and Slovakia
From Czechia there are a number of options in terms of rail routes, somewhat depending on where one begins. From Prague there is a route via Cheb and Nuremberg towards Cologne, or via Dresden and Berlin. Via Austria, there is a route via Linz but I think the routes via Germany are quicker. I recommend checking seat61.com for this route given the options and to weigh them up. Tickets can be bought from Deutsche Bahn or České dráhy online and that site discusses the prices and benefits somewhat of the different options.
There are also coach options, such as from RegioJet which has a direct route from Prague and Pilsen via Luxembourg and Brussels. However, this takes up to 19 hours on the one bus. RegioJet also has routes to Amsterdam and Paris from where Eurostar can be taken if that sounds preferable.
From Slovakia, the journey will go likely go via Austria, via Vienna, given the proximity of Bratislava to that city and the plentiful rail links between the two (as well as bus links). Regional trains go hourly between the two capitals. From the east, you might be routed via Hungary even, via Budapest.
National railway company MÁV Start offers cheap tickets as far as Belgium, and if needs be, DB does as far as Germany which can then be combined with other tickets, but be aware of the advice above on point-to-point tickets. It seems the best route is via Vienna, as might be expected with geography. Eurocity trains or ÖBB’s fast railjet services are quite frequent. I have had troubles checking ticket purchases on MÁV’s website but try DB’s for tickets if this does not work, or visit a ticket sales office. Those railjet trains normally go via Salzburg which is classed as also being a German station for DB’s purposes and thus a special from there to Brussels could be available depending on the train combination. It might thus be a good idea to check which ticket combination is cheapest or shortest in time.
▶ Baltic States
Unfortunately train connections between the Baltic states are not particularly practical for these purposes, i.e. for getting to Poland, via where it is best to go, unless one desires to cross the sea to Sweden or Germany and go that way. To get to Warsaw, from where trains can be taken to Berlin, a number of coach services are available. There is LuxExpress, Ecolines or Flixbus, and Eurolines for example. Choosing these goes partly on personal preference (whether one wants to spend a little more and get a more luxurious seat on LuxExpress), and partly on whether one wants to change buses or not, and connected to that, where one’s point of departure is. For example, from Riga, LuxExpress does not offer a direct connection to Warsaw (requiring a change in Vilnius), but Ecolines and Flixbus do, and Flixbus does from Tallinn.
Coaches often have stops. So while many do have toilets, other stops for nicotine updates or buying food are possible. Some buses also sell refreshments or blankets.
A LuxExpress bus
There is a certain complexity here due to multiple options and I recommend consulting seat61.com for more granular detail. However, I suggest that by rail the task is to get to Germany via Flensburg, e.g. to Hamburg where a train to Cologne can be taken in order to travel to Brussels to get Eurostar. Coming from Sweden or Norway by train, getting to Copenhagen is the key, either across the ORESUND bridge, or ferries can be taken from Norway and Sweden to Northern Denmark and then heading south by rail. SJ offers high-speed rail in the form of X2000 trains from Stockholm and Gothenburg to Copenhagen without changes. Trains can be taken from Oslo perhaps with one or two changes, with obviously more if starting in other locations. After getting to Copenhagen, it is a question of getting to Germany. This now has to be done by land (and bridge) as the old train ferries are shut due to the new tunnel between Germany and Denmark being built. One option that would be useful inside Sweden and for getting to Germany is likely offered by private operator Snålltaget which now has a night train between Stockholm and Berlin via Hamburg. For day trains, DB offers special tickets between Sweden and Denmark and Germany but tickets can be bought from the Norwegian ticket website or from SJ, or DSB. Shop around and see what is cheaper. Going to and coming back to EASA2018 was quite simple and pleasant by rail.
Travellers from Finland can take a ferry from Turku or Helsinki to Stockholm and then take the train from there. They could also cross to Tallinn by ferry and follow the instructions for the Baltic States. However, there is also a ferry from Helsinki to Travemünde on the Baltic coast of Germany operated by Finnlines.
Copenhagen main station
Many different companies travel cross the Gulf of Finland. A view from a Tallink ferry across to an Eckerö Line competitor.
There are two principal options, by taking a boat to Italy and following the instructions for there from there, or by travelling by rail to North Macedonia and Serbia and then following the instructions from there. Alternatively by rail there is the route via Bulgaria and following the instructions from there. Ferries sail from Patras to Bari. I especially recommend checking seat61.com for information on this route.
Ferries depart from Dürres to Bari in Italy, and the instructions for that country can then be followed. Alternatively, there is a land route via Serbia and Kosovo. I especially recommend checking seat61.com for information on this route.
▶ North Macedonia and Kosovo
There are buses and trains between these countries and Serbia, from where the instructions for that country can be followed. I especially recommend checking seat61.com for information on this route.
▶ Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia
To get from Ljubljana, for example, there are two rail main routes which both go via Villach in Austria. One then goes via Switzerland and France to join with Eurostar in Paris. The other goes via Munich and then bifurcates either using the TGV or ICE to Paris from there, or to go via Cologne and Brussels. The proximity of Zagreb to Ljubljana means that many of these trains actually begin there, so starting in Croatia might mean taking the same trains. DB offer cheap tickets to/from both Slovenia and Croatia, or tickets can be bought from state operators SŽ or HŽ as is relevant. Buses such as Flixbus might also be useful in getting to Germany or Austria and then going further from there via bus or train.
From Bosnia, unfortunately there is not a train to Zagreb from Sarajevo any longer (which is a shame as it was very pleasant) so a bus might be the best idea to get to there and then follow the rail route. However, seat61.com also suggests taking a taxi for part of the route (Banja Luka to the Croatian border)! This seems a bit strange, but you can check it out there. I’d take a bus. There are many options and I suggest checking local bus stations for advice.
▶ Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova
From Romania, there are rail routes via Hungary, Austria, and either Germany and Belgium or Switzerland and France. seat61.com recommends the latter. Check with CFR to buy tickets at least as far as Vienna, or using ÖBB online (but be sure that online tickets are valid and can be collected or printed depending on the direction of travel). There are also direct bus routes to London, from companies such as Bulgarian Union Ikovni. I have been told that there are bus routes from Romania to Belfast but I can find no trace of these online.
From Bulgaria by rail, there are routes via Romania, Hungary and Austria and then either via Switzerland and France or Germany and Belgium. There is also a route via Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and France. I recommend checking seat61.com for more advice on which route is best. There are also direct bus routes to London.
From Moldova it will be necessary likely to get to Bucharest and there is a train which goes on that route. I have also used the bus company called MirTransExpress and I found them to be very pleasant.
There are two main rail routes here, either Budapest via Subotica then to follow the instructions from there. There are cheap fares between Belgrade and Budapest. There is also a route via Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and France. I recommend checking seat61.com to check which route sounds best. There are also bus routes which might be helpful in doing part of the route instead of rail.
There are two train routes, both via Bulgaria. This requires travel via Istanbul and Edirne. This has not been simple for some time due to renovation works on the line, so check. seat61.com discusses which route to choose in some detail. One is via Romania, in order to get the train towards Vienna. The other is via Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Once decided, follow the instructions relevant to the countries concerned, but I would pay attention to seat61. This route was one which confirmed to me the importance of that site, particularly as it explained the need to get off the train for border control which is not that common in comparison in terms of European rail travel.
▶ Ukraine, Russia and Belarus
I have not discussed the options due to the ongoing terrible situation in Ukraine. Given the plight of refugees from there it seems flippant to discuss it. Further, given sanctions and restrictions, travel from Russia and Belarus is unclear and was becoming complex even before all this.
Gareth E. Hamilton
Gareth E. Hamilton is assistant professor (docents) and researcher in cultural and social anthropology at the University of Latvia in Riga. He received his PhD at Durham University in the UK on personhood and rhetoric in eastern Germany. In the recent past he has been working on violence and its prevention in Latvia, and is also interested in consumption, travel and was researcher on the Europe Capital of Culture collaborative project film Cats in Riga.