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Train vs Flying in Europe, Pro's & Con's

I realize this is strictly a personal choice and also very dependent on length of time you have for your trip. I am working on rescheduling a trip I had planned for summer of 2020 to now the summer of 2022. I am looking at train travel on the following routes.

Paris to Munich: ~ 6 Hours
Salzburg to Vienna: ~ 3 Hours
Vienna to Berlin: ~ 9 Hours

I figure if you fly in addition to the flight time you have to add about 60 - 90 minutes to clear security, etc. for your flight. I would like to hear pro's and con's train vs air.

Thanks ahead of time

Thank you to all who expressed your opinions, it is much appreciated. Certainly gives me some things to think about over the next several months. Since I will already be driving from Munich to Bregenz for their festival, Oberammergau (Passion Play) and Salzburg I may just drive to Vienna as there are many sights to see along the way.

Posted by
348 posts

Airports aren't in the centre of cities - railways are - so add another 90min or so for getting to the airport - normal check in time is 3 hours prior - so add 4.5 hours before the flight and 90mins afterwards compared to the train time.

Plus its a train - you get to see the country, eat real food and have more space in economy than first will give you on a plane

Posted by
3204 posts

60-90 minutes can be a bit tight for security and other airport procedures. Then you need also need to add the time (and cost) needed to get to and from the airport. Trains will also give you the opportunity to see the towns you pass. Flying will let you see clouds, and maybe a bit of green stuff 10.000 metres below you. A train trip is also a lot better for the environment. Planes pollute a lot, trains not that much. Trains are also more comfortable. Apart from giving you wider seats with more legroom, you can get up and walk around as much as you want. You can use electronic devices as much as you like, or walk to the restaurant car and get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to enjoy with the scenery.

Salzburg to Vienna takes around 2 hours with the fastest trains, so there is really no choice. There are no flights between the two cities.

Paris to Munich: 5:40 at the fastest, with one change in Stuttgart. There are usually one direct train in each direction, but I can't find them at the moment. I guess cancelled due to the pandemic. The direct trains are also a few minutes slower. The trip will be a bit faster soon as the Wendlingen-Ulm high speed rail line is scheduled to be opened next year but my guess is that it will open in december, so no change for a summer trip. You will probably save a bit of time by flying, but not that much as the airports in both ends are huge and 90 minutes is probably not enough. The train is also the cheaper option, book in advance and you can get a ticket from city centre to city centre for less than €40.

Berlin to Vienna is a long trip by day train, even if 9 hours is a bit too much. There are direct trains that take 7:43 but there are also overnight trains that will save you both time (since you travel while sleeping) and money (since they save you one hotel night). They leave Vienna at 22:10 in the evening and you then alight in Berlin between 9:43 and 10:03 the next day, depending on which Berlin station you prefer.

Posted by
2712 posts

I have a very rough rule of thumb that if the train takes 6 hours or less it’s better than a direct flight.
6 hours on the train = 7 hours transit (train station is in the center of the city and you don’t need to be there very early).

Plane = 1.5 hour flight, 1.5 hour transit (airports are farther out, this is assuming 30-45 min at each end), arrive 2 hours ahead. That’s 5 hours. More if you have to wait at baggage claim. I figure the hassle of going to/from an airport, the fact that I find flying unpleasant, and the increased risk of delays not worth a 2 hour time savings. As the time difference goes up, flying becomes more beneficial.

So yes, the big advantages of trains are:
-located closer to where I am staying
-More environmentally friendly
-less likely to face significant delays or cancellations
-more comfortable in that I can get up, walk around, stretch
-seeing the countryside pass by is pleasant. Sometimes very impressive. My Venice - Vienna train ride had some amazing scenery.
-no messing with long security lines or any of the airport hassle

The advantage of flying
-faster
-sometimes cheaper on budget airlines, but do factor transit costs (getting to/from airport) into this calculation

Posted by
16779 posts

Quick search on Matrix-ITA, Salzburg to Vienna shows no direct flights. Connections take 4 hours and cost is 50 times rail trip. Between Westbahn and OEBB, there are about 3 trains every hour and take less than 2 1/2 hours.

Munich to Paris, besides the 2 hours check in and security, flight time is 1 1/2 hours and it takes about 1 hour to get between the airport and the city center on both ends. Add at least 1/2 hour from scheduled landing to actually getting off the plane with luggage and getting to airport train station or taxi queue gives 6 hours. There is only one direct train per day, but many with a single connection, all under 6 hours travel time.

Vienna to Berlin, same calculation as above, with perhaps more like 3/4 hour to get to and from the airports gives 5 1/2 hours, so this one is a candidate to fly.

And finally, what would Greta Thunberg do?

Posted by
7597 posts

Not to mention, when you take the train, you can pack any toiletries and drinks as you want to, instead of having to pay for a checked bag if you want to bring for example a bottle of Champagne or wine to hosts or friends, or for yourself, or if you want to bring liquid toiletries larger than 300 ml.

Obviously this pales in comparison to the environmental footprint and the more pleasant traveling experience, but it's still worth considering.

Posted by
13542 posts

You might consider the particular of you origin and destination.

Train stations are in city center, in Rome you could still be pretty far away.

You can arrive at a train station 15 min before departure, sure if you know the station, are comfortable with validating tickets, etc.

Airports are far from the city ... my experience has been 30 to 40 minutes generally; except London and Istanbul.

With the train you get a view; never rode a train worth the views.

You have to get to the airport 1 5 hours early: I use it to eat lunch or breakfast.

Trains are cheaper, yes, and that 40 euro train ticket might cost 60 euro on a discount airline.

When the train ride is more than 4 hours I look at flights and times into town and decide.

Posted by
4462 posts

Previous replies have mentioned the additional time to factor for planes, so I won’t repeat it. One other reason I prefer the train is that in the US I rarely take a train - only when visiting the Northeast. And the ones in Europe, especially the faster trains are very comfortable & modern.

Posted by
1109 posts

Everyone has covered most of the pros and cons. I have a limit as well. 6 hours or more I will generally fly. Even though you can stand and walk and eat, 9 hours for example is 9 hours and when you arrive, you will feel it. However, I generally never have to get from one city to another that is such a long distance. Most of my planning is usually in increments to see places along the way.

I am wondering how much real time you are spending in Europe because between all those train distances are a whole lot of very interesting cities to see.

Interesting question for a first time poster.

Posted by
2086 posts

No one has mentioned the extra time checking in at airports now with all the covid mandates: many flights require recent covid testing and tracker paperwork, which takes more time for airline agents to review and enter into their computers.

Not sure how the EU is handing covid testing mandates for trains crossing borders .

Safe travels!

Posted by
21718 posts

Simple -- trains and train stations are designed for convenience and comfort and planes and airport are the reverse. I am with Mira -- our standard is roughly six hours + or - a little. Longer than that and we will consider a flight. A long train ride gives the opportunity to catch on a few things, review travel schedule, write letters, make notes, etc. Cannot do that spending the same amount of time in a plane or an airport. And finally, I think it is easier -- though not frequent -- for airline schedule to be disrupted compared to train schedules. The only pro for flights is time savings. And the time savings has to be significant for us to use a plane.

Posted by
1778 posts

I don’t see direct trains from Paris to Munich and the shortest distance takes 5h 45m but I see nonstop flights for less than $75 on Lufthansa departing from ORY that’s a smaller airport than CDG and closer to the city center. The departure times I’m looking at are 9:40a and 7:10p that allows you time to enjoy a late afternoon / early evening in Munich or a morning / early afternoon in Paris. If you take the train your day would be spent getting from Paris to Munich and seldom is the scenery a highlight when traveling by train.
The trip from Salzburg to Vienna, yes you want to take the train.
From Vienna to Berlin, take the nightjet and reserve a sleeper car.

Posted by
21065 posts

In addition to all the points mentioned above, I find that any flight leaves me feeling tired. I suspect it may have something to do with the very dry air on airplanes, though I do try to stay hydrated.

I feel the need to pad my travel time when I'm heading to an airport, since things can go wrong with the transportation. I'm usually just walking to the train station from my hotel, so in most cases I don't have to build in extra time for things to go wrong when I'm taking a train.

It's not uncommon to have nice scenery on train trips, and I'd say the same about buses. Not all the time, obviously.

Posted by
12886 posts

I take the train, flying within Europe is not an option. My trip is planned for the summer of 2022.

Paris to Munich ...I've done that by night train but that no longer exists, so I take the day train from Frankfurt to Paris, better still would be Munich to Stuttgart by ICE train, then Stuttgart to Paris by the ICE or TGV. day train.

Vienna to Berlin.... I go by night train transferring in Hannover Hbf. (ÕBB Night Jet) used to do that route by day train until I discovered the advantages of going by night.

Posted by
3204 posts

Vienna to Berlin.... I go by night train transferring in Hannover Hbf.
(ÕBB Night Jet) used to do that route by day train until I discovered
the advantages of going by night.

There are direct Nightjets between Vienna and Berlin now, so no need for a transfer in Hannover.

Posted by
12886 posts

Thanks for information. Good to know.

By the time the Night Jet arrives in Hannover Hbf, it's time for breakfast and coffee which Hannover Hbf has good eateries.

Posted by
166 posts

Others have already covered the logistics. I love taking trains in Europe whenever possible. For the views and ease of travel. So much more relaxing

Posted by
13542 posts

No one has mentioned the extra time checking in at airports now with
all the covid mandates: many flights require recent covid testing and
tracker paperwork, which takes more time for airline agents to review
and enter into their computers.

I have taken no less than 15 flights to and from Europe or within Europe since COVID began. This has involved crossing no less than 8 borders. The COVID issues have added no more than 10 minutes to any check-in (really not even that, I am trying to be open minded). Just isn't an issue. Although it is correct that there are situations when traveling by land eliminates any and all COVID restriction checks.

This is really more of a personal preference issue, bias and perception issue than anything else.... at least when deciding to start looking for a plane when the trip is more than 4 or 6 hours by train. That's why I suggested researching the facts (including COVID border crossing requirements by land and air - and they can be different) then let your bias drive you.

Posted by
2086 posts

James E., I was reporting about our actual experiences from this past September. The Covid paperwork issues slowed the airport check in lines in front of us considerably, both in the US and in Europe. The biggest problems came from folks who hadn't completed their tracker forms, who unbelievably didn't know they needed a negative test result, airline staff who seemed unfamiliar with the paperwork presented, lack of sufficient airline check-in staff, etc.
Safe travels to all!

Posted by
292 posts

I like trains. Even if I could take a plane, I find it much less stressful and less expensive to take a train. Everyone has their own preferences. Arriving at the train right before it leaves, carrying on my own bag and a nice seat where I can watch the scenery, that works for me. If you think you are spending too much time traveling, maybe you need to rethink your travel.

Posted by
13542 posts

Pat, that's unfortunate I just never had that experience; but I do believe you.

I will say that 90% of my flights were Turkish Air and maybe they are better organized.

I generally arrive 2 hours early putting me near the front of the line, so 15 minutes delay just means 15 fewer minutes in the coffee shop (or wine bar).

I have an upcoming flight from Budapest to Houston with a 1 hour layover in Istanbul and I will rush between flights, but I am not kidding myself, I know i will miss the connection.

Knew it when I purchased the tickets and the COVID thing will be a contributor to missing the connection, but I doubt I would make it anyway.

Posted by
344 posts

I haven't read through all the comments, so I may be repeating, but there is also security for trains. In 2019, the last time my husband and I were in Europe, we took the train several times and always had to go through security. It was not as time consuming as at airports (fewer travelers) but it does exist. Also this was pre-covid, so I'm not sure if you now have to be at least 6' away from other travelers which can slow things down just like in airports. I would still opt for the train under 6 hours of actual time on the train.

Posted by
21718 posts

Unless something has changed recently. the only train security check has been in Spain. They have light security, quick, physical check of luggage at the access to the platform. Not allowed on the platform until 15 minutes prior to arrival of train. Also in England, France, and Italy at that time and no train security. There was a check in process and security for the Eurostar between Paris and London.

Posted by
51 posts

Also, think of the environmental impact of flying v train. Carbon emissions are something like 30% for the train.

Posted by
18302 posts

I've not been to Europe since 2017 (pre-Covid), but up until then (11 trips since 2000), I had never had any security what-so-ever at a train station over there.

Posted by
21718 posts

There has been light security at Spanish train station for at least the past 15 years or so. It start just after the terrorists blew up a couple of passenger cars. Don't remember that exact date. And there is fairly tight security -- much more than in Spain -- on the Eurostar between Paris and London.

Posted by
6633 posts

We were in the UK in 2017. We had security checking to make sure only ticketed passengers got into the track area at Kings Cross. Nowhere else.

Posted by
3204 posts

What stan mentions sounds more like a ticket inspection and not a security check. Apart from the Eurostar I've never encountered a security check when travelling by train in the UK.

Posted by
492 posts

Thank you, Shannon, for mentioning the environmental impact.

That's one of the reasons I prefer trains when they're an option, and wish they were more often an option for travel in the US. The carbon footprint of your train trip will likely be a fraction of what it'd be if taking the same trip on a train.

Beyond that, I just find train travel that much more pleasant. Plane travel is, more often than not, a chore - a hassle you must go through to get from A to B; suffering that must be endured to get to where you want to go. I find myself enjoying train trips a great deal more, and able to enjoy them as part of my trip and experience as opposed to a chore that interrupts my trip or experience or must be endured to get to my trip or experience.

Posted by
4462 posts

Oh yes, Nick, now I remember the Atocha train station in Madrid had us place our suitcase on the x-ray machine during our trip in 2017.

We also had officials in 2016 board a train midway between Annecy & Lyon or Torino & Annecy - don’t remember which one asking to see passports. My husband handed them his, and when I went to hand them mine, they didn’t want it. Guess I didn’t fit the description of who they needed to check.

Posted by
18302 posts

I've always been amazed at the number of people who seem to visualize Europe as a few major cities with all of the attractions with nothing but wasteland in between. So, I guess, for them, flying between major cities seems normal. However, they still tend to look only at the time and cost of their flights and seemingly ignore 1) the time and cost of getting to the airport, 2) the time it will take them at the airport before they can board their flight, 3) the time at the other end deplaning and finding ground transportation, and 4) the time and cost of getting to their destination.

Maybe, because of the places that their visualization of Europe leads them to stay, they expect there to be an airport within a short commute of where they are staying. But for some of us, this is not the case. Of the 39 places I've stayed in over the last 20 years, 85% of the time I've stayed in towns (29) with less then 20,000 inhabitants. I just find small towns to be the most interesting from a cultural standpoint. Almost all of these places have not been close to an airport; I think that maybe 2 were within 45 minutes of an airport. So for me, the lack of convenient airports makes flying very impractical.

Not only is there the travel time to and from the airports, but there is often a mismatch between the arrival time of public transportation and the departure time of the aircraft, so instead of arriving a minimum of 1½ hrs before flight time, you might have to arrive 1¾-2 hours early.

Case in point, 4 years ago I went from St Goar to a town in the Ostallgäu, fairly close to Füssen. The time for the train was a little less than 6½ hours. I traveled with my partner on a Sparpreis ticket with seat reservations. Today, the trip would cost 55,80€ for the two of us.

The only airports I could have used were FRA and MUC. It takes 1½ hours to get from St Goar to FRA. Then add 1½ hours for checkin, security, and boarding, and you have to leave St Goar a minimum of 3 hours before flight time. The flight actually is only scheduled for 55 minutes. On the arrival end, it will take at least 30 minutes to get off of the aircraft, out of the terminal and over to the S-Bahn station to go to the Hbf, from which you catch a series of trains to the town in the Allgäu. That journey, from FRA to the Allgäu takes 3H19. Time wasted at airports due to the mismatch between surface transportation and flight time eats up another 60 minutes.

So the trip "by air" from St Goar to the Allgäu takes about 8½ hours, two hours longer than by train, even thought the flight itself only takes 55 minutes. And, the cost of airfare plus getting to FRA and MUC to my destination would be 250€ including a shared Bayern-Ticket for the Bavarian train connection.

Posted by
1109 posts

This was a first time poster who never responded to the question about all places in between as many of us know exists between major cities. Most experienced travelers "rarely" have extreme distances because we know there are some great places in between and plan accordingly. Sometimes it is necessary for me, but generally I try to do a route which connects my entry and exiting points of Europe. However, sometimes it is unavoidable.

Posted by
27720 posts

he did, I think, edit the OP to put feedback at the end.

Posted by
18302 posts

Most experienced travelers "rarely" have extreme distances because we
know there are some great places in between and plan accordingly.

Nope. Paris, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Berlin. Except for Rome and London, that just about covers everywhere in Europe worth seeing. Everything in between is just empty wasteland.

Posted by
16779 posts

Yes, and as a first time poster, he did not realize that he should have posted his edit as a reply, so we all know when he edited it and perhaps cut off the debate.

Posted by
2 posts

I wanted again to thank everyone that expressed their opinion on the topic of train vs. plane. Obviously some passionate views. Safe travels everyone as we see how this pandemic plays out in 2022.