Car or Train?

My husband an I are planning to go to Europe in 2013. Since we would like to visit multiple countries I thought it would be cheaper to rent a car. As an example, we are looking into flying to Northern Europe (like London) and traveling down through France, Germany, Italy and perhaps Greeece. We would then fly home out of one the Southern destinations (like Rome/Venice etc) - or we can do everything the opposite way!! But, I thought it would be cheaper to rent a car and drive down. We thought it would be nice to visit some of the smaller cities and some vineyards. Do you know of any general car rental companies that aallow ou to travel and drop-off on in another coutry? Would this be cheaper than the train? Are there some cities that we would be better off NOT having the car and just trying public transportation?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21982 posts

Michelle, Travelling from London and through France, Germany and Italy to Greece in three weeks is going to be VERY difficult to accomplish, especially in a rental car. As Nigel pointed out, there's usually an astronomical drop-charge when renting a car in one country and dropping in another. You'll also have to consider high fuel costs, high CDW costs, tolls, highway tax vignettes, fines, possible ZTL or other tickets, etc. Using a combination of public transit along with strategic use of rental cars would be a much better option! Where are the brew houses located that you want to visit? That will have a bearing on transportation choices. Also, is this your first trip to Europe? If so, I would highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. Once you've decided on specific destinations, use the country Guidebooks for information on hotels, restaurants, transportation, sightseeing, etc. The easiest way to get from London to Paris is via the EuroStar, which goes from London St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. Have a look at THIS excellent website for all the information you'll ever need. If you pre-book 120 days from departure, significant savings are possible. Transportation after that will depend on where you'll be going in France, Germany or Italy. I'd suggest skipping Greece this time, as there simply won't be enough time with such a short trip. If you could post additional information, I'm sure the helpful and well travelled group here will be able to get your trip sorted. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1673 posts

Would not drive in any major cities, have done that and too much a hassle, believe me. Secondly, I believe if you rent a car say inFrance or Germany and want to drop off in Italy for example, you would pay a very high drop off fee. You might look into a combination of train travel and maybe discount airlines. If you are starting in London and going down towards Greece, can you not fly home from Athens instead of back tracking to Italy? Just an idea.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
12292 posts

Hello Michelle, That sounds like quite a broad and wide odyssey. I assume that you will be taking 4 to 6 weeks to cover that much ground? If that is the case you might be happy with a lease car - but you will be looking at a non-France dropoff and associated fee. With just the two of you, almost certainly the trains will be less expensive, especially if you can plan ahead and buy cheap but non-changeable tickets. Is this your first trip? Or are you doing such a long-stretched trip as a reprise? For answers to your specific questions, any general car rental companies that allow you to travel and drop-off on in another country? Yes, most of them. And most of them will make you hand over your first-born child as a penalty for that other country drop charge, especially for Italy or Greece. It is very unlikely you could find a company willing to allow you to cross the Channel with a right-hand drive car that you would drop on the Continent side without remortgaging your house, and your first-born thrown in too. Would this be cheaper than the train? Maybe, but I'd doubt it. If you had more than the 2 of you, maybe, maybe not; when you add in the tolls, fuel at about the equivalent of $9.50 US (don't know CDN exchange), parking at 20€ or £25 a night, mandatory Vignettes, the dreaded ZTLs, extra driver charges, all the required insurance especially for entering some countries not encouraged by the companies, and that mountainous drop charge - I doubt it. Are there some cities that we would be better off NOT having the car and just trying public transportation?
Yes, virtually all the big cities and many of the smaller ones. Others are likely to chip in here advocating train or car - but I don't think any will suggest using the car in the cities. Keep coming back with more detail and we will help...

Posted by Michelle
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
5 posts

That is wonderful information, thank you! We are probaly going to try and go for about 3 weeks! My husband is a liquor rep, so we wanted to visit a couple of their vineyards or brewinghouses in France, Germany or Italy. I was told the train was really expensive and that is why I thought of the car rentals! But, I am thinking that I might look into a combination of the 2.
Originally we thought of flying into France and going down to Italy. Then I noticed that London really didn't seem too far away from Paris. But is there a ferry that will take you across from England to France? What would you suggest for the trip?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
12292 posts

That's good information. You haven't said >> when << in 2013. It makes a big difference. Trains can be expensive, just like flights, if you allow them to be. Use First Class tickets bought on the day, or worse fines from Train Conductors because they weren't bought at all and, yes, they will add up quickly. Again, like the airlines, if you buy non-changeable tickets well in advance (that takes planning) you can travel well and very, very cheaply and extremely quickly. For example, £39 London to Paris in just over 2 hours by Eurostar train centre city to centre city. For example, Venice to Rome, straight from the side of the Grand Canal to the centre of Rome in 3:47, much much faster than by flying, let alone driving. Price? 9€. It is all your choice, Michelle. Save money? Maximum flexibility? Leather seats? Your own private space? You have the power, you have the choice. You choose where the balance lies for you and your husband. You can get pretty much anywhere in many countries by a combination of trains and long or short distance buses. You could even get to most vineyards by train plus taxi for less than a car rental. Your trip looks very ambitious for 3 weeks if you want to see much of sucha wide swath.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5691 posts

Be sure to consider all the costs of driving. You will pay a large extra fee (possibly hundreds of euros) to rent in one country and drop the car in another. Fuel is very expensive. Many countries have toll roads. Many places you will have to pay for parking. Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-driving. In the last 6 years I have been to Europe 5 times, and have had a car a portion of 4 of those trips. But I do pick and choose when to have a car. It is ideal to have one in Provence and Tuscany. It is not ideal to have one in Paris and Rome. I take the train when possible, but drive when I want to go to places not easily accessed by public transportation. Doing a combination of car/train and not returning a car in another country would be ideal.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2029 posts

You've been getting good advice. Visiting wineries in particular in France can make having a car a very good idea, but that doesn't mean you have to drive your entire trip. It makes more sense to train inbetween big cities, then pick up a car for a couple days to see smaller towns and wineries, then return it before moving onto your next destination. Train is the cheapest way to travel for a couple if you buy your tickets well in advance and are willing to commit to specific trains for the discount prices.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
2918 posts

Michelle: You're taking on an ambitious trip, and it might be best if you limited your travels to 3 major cities. You could spend 4 days in London (pubs) and take the Eurostar down to Paris for another 4 days. Then take a train over to Munich (500 miles), as it's the place for beer. From here, you could rent a car and hit the incredible Augustiner Brewery in Salzburg and maybe drop down to Innsbruck and the incredible Alps if you have time.
Munich is a great place to fly back to the U.S. from. Italy has great wineries to visit, but it is a trip to itself.

Posted by Michelle
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
5 posts

I have been informed that the weather would be nicer in Aug/Sept/Oct and that the prices are also lower after the summer months. I am looking at the following options for travel in the early fall of 2013: Option 1: Start in London, then down to Paris and end either in Germany or Italy. Option 2:
Start in Scotland, go over to London, down to Paris (not sure if we should end it there as we could run out of time! Do any of you think that one of those options could be completed in 3 weeks! I know for a fact my husnbands company has some wineries in France, Italy and a brewery in Italy. I know he would like to visti them - if it is possible. Since we have never travelled Europe I would like to keep the trip as wasy as possible - especially if we are going to travel the trains (as I don't wish to get lost)! Could we also sign up with tourist groups to see some sights in the outlying areas of the cities? Please let me know what you all think.

Posted by Lo
1448 posts

We have both driven and taken public transportation on our trips. We drive when we want to see something that is more easily accessible that way. We take the train when we want to get someplace more quickly or go directly between large cities. We have also flown between major European cities on the small European airlines when that was the best way to go. Based on our experience, you are less likely to get lost taking the train than driving. In looking at your two options, neither really includes visiting the wineries or brewery your husband wants to see. Where are those? A trip including some of them and the areas around them could be a lot of fun and very doable in 3 weeks, as could the other two options you mention. Visit for lots of information on driving in Europe. You can also rent a car through them more cheaply than any other way we've done it. Use the DB website (; to check for train schedules and routes on the continent. You may not be able to buy tickets through them, but you can see how long it will take to get places and click on the maps to see the route the train will take. Compare that with Google mapping the directions between the places you want to go for the time it will take and route options. You may find that it will take much longer than you expect even using a major highway.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2166 posts

Michelle, if you have exactly 3 weeks that's 19 nights (2 travel days). If this were my trip I would go in early September. 1) Fly into London, out of Rome. 2) 4 nights in London, then Eurostar train to paris. 3) 5 nights in Paris, including day trip to either Giverny or Versailles depending on what you like (both easy and cheap by train) and to one of husband's wineries if they're accessible from Paris. 4) find a cheap flight from Paris to somewhere in Italy (depends on where your husband's brewery/winery is in Italy) pick up a rental car and explore for 5-6 days. 5) end in Rome, drop off car, do 3 nights then fly out of there. One caveat, if you intend to stay in Paris in Sept, know that they have lots of trade shows then so hotels book up early - need to plan well ahead. Lots of other options, have fun planning. Whatever you decide, I'm sure you'll have a wonderful trip.

Posted by Irv
Beverly Hills, MI
486 posts

some simple thoughts: 1)You obviously don't want to pick up a car until you are on the continent because of the right and left hand drive issues. 2)You are planning way too much for three weeks. I would definitely skip Greece and give London a lot of thought before I did it. 3)Think about flying into Paris and out of Rome of Venice. Pick up the car at CDG when you are ready to leave Paris and drop it off at the airport in Rome before you go into Rome. If you have enough time to do a Renault or Peugeot lease program, you will only have to pay about $300 to do the drop off in Rome, the brand new car built for you will come insured to the hilt, there will be no extra driver charges and you can return it as low on fuel as you dare to drive. I track the price of fuel in Germany which is pretty representative of the continent (Not the UK) and as of the first of this month diesel was $7.25 per gallon and gasoline was $7.61 (US $). We have leased the 1.6l turbo diesels and gotten well over 40 mpg. on four trips. 4) Don't drive into the big cities, park outside of town and train in. In Venice you have to park at the Troncheto (SP?) anyway and take a boat. We arrived there in steady rain and transferred what we needed for two nights into day bags and found it very nice to navigate Venice sans suitcases. 5)The really neat places in are the smaller towns, and a car really gives you flexibility to see them without being slaves to a train schedule. Every year there are fewer and fewer trains that go to these places and in the case of a place like Rothenburg odT it's a long walk from the train station to the old town which is where you want to stay (and don't forget the night watchman's tour).

Posted by Lewis
Pompano Beach
2 posts

definately do not drive in London, unless you are familiar with left-side of the road travel. In fact, stay away from driving in any large city. If you have never done it before the traffic, road signs, etc can be very, very confussing. I would suggest you reduce the size of your trip (make it a little more simpler, less confussing) and use euro-rail pass. Hope this helps.