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Train vs Air for long distance travel in Europe

I'm planning to travel to Krakow, Budapest, and Berlin in the spring with my boyfriend. We will be taking about two weeks for the trip, and are looking at ways to get between cities. I've looked at night trains between cities, day trains and regional flights. My understanding is that the flights can be hard to book and they nickel and dime for even carry on luggage (we pack light, but I'll be buying souvenirs). If I take an overnight train, it's essential that I am able to sleep, because I am a wreck for days if I don't sleep. I'm wary of loosing an entire day to an all day train. Has anyone taken trains or planes between these cities and had good/bad experiences and/or know the best ways to go about purchasing tickets? I'm not one to leave things for the last minute!
Thanks!

Posted by
2769 posts

You did not mention it, but check the buses. Orangeways between Krakow and Budapest, there are daytime runs. Same for Budapest-Berlin (both ways)
Krakow and Berlin, see eurolines. Orangeways is seriously cheaper than the train.

Posted by
4062 posts

The bible for train information is www.seat61.com, followed by the German train system www.bahn.com. It shows international schedules even if it doesn't sell tickets for other countries. Then compare with airline times and fares through the well-known variety of search sites, particularly www.whichbudget.com and www.skyscanner.com for European companies. Only you can decide on the trade-offs between prices, time elapsed, and comfortable scheduling. Air is at the fastest speed but you must add in travel times to and from airports, security checks etc. In general, the sooner you buy your tickets, the lower the price on airlines and major train routes, although not everything may be available for late spring yet.
Two more general comments. I prefer riding the rails during the day to enjoy the scenery. The amount a night train saves over a hotel versus a good night's sleep is not worth it (to me.) Then, as to low-fare airline tickets, you are right that there often seems to be a fee for everything. Not an extra fee, though. On traditional airlines the costs are built in to the ticket so you pay whether you want the services or not. The budget lines show the fees and you get at least some freedom to choose. The bottom line is still often cheaper. (All justifications and arguments are suspended when it comes to the labyrinth of RyanAir....)

Posted by
11294 posts

For information about planes, use http://www.skyscanner.com/. Then book directly with the airline. Remember that not all routes have daily service. The flights are easy to book (same as any other on-line booking). As for the extra fees, as long as you know about them in advance and figure them in your total cost, it's fine. Do a dummy booking (up to the point where you put in your credit card information), so you can see what the fees will be like. Be wary of Ryanair, as they have far more complaints than other budget airlines like EasyJet or Air Berlin. For instance, Ryanair charges a fortune if you didn't print out your boarding pass before getting to the airport; the others don't do this (yet). Watch out for the airports used; they may call Katowice "Krakow," for example. (Again, Ryanair is worst about this). Realize that they will enforce ALL their rules strictly, since it means more money. And when they say one carry-on of the approved size and weight, they mean ONE, not one bag plus a purse (sticking your purse in your carry-on is fine, as long as it still meets their size and weight limits). Here's musical warning about the perils of Cheap Flights (not safe for work - contains profanity). As for day train vs. overnight train vs. flying, everyone has different preferences and experiences. Many on this Helpline report great difficulty sleeping on night trains, so if you already have trouble when sleep-deprived, I'd avoid them.

Posted by
5636 posts

I traveled between Krakow and Berlin by train last year, but I broke up the trip along the way by staying two nights in Warsaw. The trip from Krakow to Warsaw was 3 hours and the trip from Warsaw to Berlin was 5.5 hours. I enjoyed the two nights I had in Warsaw. Many Warsaw hotels have discount rates on the weekends. I stayed in a very nice room at the Intercontinental for only 65 EUR. If you don't want to stop along the way, flying is probably a better option between Krakow and Berlin. I think Air Berlin has reasonable flights. I don't find discount flights difficult to book; you just have to do your homework and make sure you understand all the fees before you book. Personally, I can't sleep on night trains so I avoid them now.

Posted by
34 posts

Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm not likely to take a bus because I have trouble using the bathroom on the bus, and my boyfriend and I both like to get up and walk, which is hard on the bus. I hadn't thought about the extra steps involved to getting to the airports in each city - that really would add extra time! I think it's a good point that during the day you get to see the route on the train - I really enjoyed that between Prague and Vienna, even though I napped a lot of the way.
My boyfriend really loves trains, so he may like the day time train option more, too.

Posted by
5636 posts

One more thing ... Check out the various options between the cities before you decide on train or plane. For example, both Lufthansa and Air Berlin have competitively-priced flights between Berlin and Budapest. Lufthansa is not a budget airline so you really don't have to worry about all the extra fees. While I prefer trains, I won't take a 10 hour train ride when I can get a one hour flight. I usually take the train when the trip is under 6 hours. If it is longer, I usually prefer to fly.

Posted by
11507 posts

My rule of thumb, fly inbetween cities if train ride is more then 5-6 hours. I don't do night trains, I need to lay down, and I do not want to share a cabin with anyone but my travel companions, so there night trains can end up costing more then flying. Case in point, I flew from Paris to Rome for 80 euros , it was 1.5 hours long. I was at CDG 1.5 hrs ahead of flight, and metro to airport from Paris was 35 minutes. So, thats four hours, plus ride into city when in Rome ( think it was about 25 minutes). So , less then 5 hours. Train was an overnight train, was going to cost me over 200 euros( summertime and booked only 2 months in advance, my fault) so cost was much more.
Night trains mean no enjoying scenery, and often arriving bleary eyed VERY early in am. I took a train from Paris to Nice this summer, daytime, was a nice enough experience, we brought a picnic and booked well in advance so got first class seats for 40 euros( great deal) , but ride was 5.5 hours long and I was most definately ready to get off by then. I have flown on Easyjet and Vueling( mulitple times) and there is nothing wrong with them and even with extra fees they can still be dirt cheap.

Posted by
2393 posts

I am probably the odd man out here but I love traveling by train - especially at night. We book a private sleeper, have a nice dinner in the dining car, split a bottle of wine, get a great nights sleep and have a light breakfast before arriving at our destination in the morning. I do not take night trains that arrive too early though - it is no fun arriving in a new city at 0 dark thirty!

Posted by
2829 posts

I think it comes down to whether people can sleep properly in a moving vehicle or not, how safety-conscious people are (only in case of shared compartments) and how likely are there to pay high euro for cruise ship-style private sleepers. I personally wouldn't take night trains, it doesn't let me sleep properly, if I'm to expend on 3-digit-a-night territory I'd rather stay at a firm hotel, and the days of sharing accommodations with strangers, especially in the context of bunk beds in a closed compartment, is something I disregard as uncivilized and awkward past college age.

Posted by
14580 posts

Liz, I have taken the train from Krakow to Berlin. That was in 2001, the early day train ca. ten hours, direct. The difference now is that in Berlin you arrive and depart at Berlin Hauptbahnhof instead of Bahnhof Zoo. I found the day ride very pleasant and interesting going through the well known places in the former Silesia (Schlesien), seeing that Schlesien countryside. Where I sat all the passengers were Germans and Poles, and one American couple. The train stopped also in Wroclaw (Breslau), where I would have liked to have gotten off and visit. If it's important to you to go by day, set aside the ten hours for the ride. Given a choice whether to take the night train Krakow-Berlin as a way to save time. I'd do now. If safety is not the issue, I have no problems with sleeping on the night train. You'll have to decide between the time wasted on a day train or the sleeping factor. If you're going from Budapest to Berlin, check with Air Berlin or German Wings. For a night train to Budapest, I would do it this way: Berlin-Munich on the CNL, then Munich to Budapest on the RailJet.

Posted by
8205 posts

Most trains are not going long, long distances without stopping at night. I too find sleeping on any night train difficult. And then they dump you in the middle of your destination in the early a.m., and you need sleep. But you cannot get into your room until mid afternoon. And what do you do with all that luggage? Then, you feel terrible after losing that night's sleep. I just prefer to travel without screwing up my internal clock, even if means traveling during the day or taking a budget flight to the next city. Note: Berlin to Krakow is do-able But Budapest is out of the way; It's SE of Vienna. Prague and Vienna might be more do-able than Budapest and both are fantastic cities. Mapquest.com has all of Europe in their listings.

Posted by
14580 posts

Hi, I also would not recommend taking a night train that arrives at 4 am. I prefer a couple of hours later. In the summer if the train arrives ca. 0430, I normally would reject that too unless some compelling reason makes that option attractive, such as my knowing the lay out of the station, etc. By ca. 0445 it's already the morning light. In my experience the best arrival time (in the summer) on a night train is between 06:30-07:30, giving you that extra half hour of sleep. By 0600 the food court opens up at the train stations in Germany.

Posted by
34 posts

Thanks all! I'm probably not going to end up taking a night train. I'll look at flying and day trains, and see which is best. I've already been to Prague and Vienna - loved Prague, didn't care for Vienna (too stuffy and too expensive). We are definitely going to Budapest as we have a free place to stay. However, we have decided that if we only have one week, we may not go to Berlin or Krawow, but rather Bratislava instead.

Posted by
3049 posts

Just another word about night trains - I really thought I'd be able to sleep in a private compartment train with my husband, but found myself unable to do so. Some of that was situational to train I was on (it was Romania, the tracks were in poor condition so the train was listing from side to side in a fairly alarming manner most of the trip, and the only ventilation in the cabin was opening the window which was very loud) but it was really made me reconsider night trains in general. I still might consider it in the future in other countries, but I'd be hesitant to. I agree with the others that 5-6 hours is my cutoff time for day training versus flying. Berlin is a 6 hour train ride or a less than 1 hour flight, but "door to door" ends up being about the same whether I fly, train, or drive, but training is more pleasant to me.