What European countries have great public transport? (Bus, Subway)

I have been to London a few times and other places in England. I love it because it is so easy to get ANYWHERE in the country! Tube, Bus, Train. I know it all pretty well now.

But I do want to expand out and visit other places in Europe, but am frightened to death of driving in a country unfamiliar to me and also do not want that kind of expense..

For example: I'm not asking how to get from Germany to Austria ( I know about trains), I mean within a city (How would I get around in Munich versus Berlin? Does Dublin have an easily accesible bus to the city center?)

Taxis are too expensive to use all the time.

So I wanted to ask opinions on other places in Europe that have great bus and/or subway service.

I know France has the Metro, and Rome has a subway.

I could google but I feel it might just give me facts and maps, not "reviews" of how accessible places are, etc. I would rather hear "User Friendly" reviews.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Spain has an excellent public transportation system.
Madrid and Barcelona have extensive metro systems, city buses, and commuter rail links (cercanias) to all nearby towns. Other large cities have extensive buses and commuter railways.
All this is tied together by an excellent network of trains, ranging from the AVE high speed trains to local and regional networks. As well, Spain has great intercity coach (bus) network that is comfortable and inexpensive.
Some resources to explore...
http://www.renfe.es (national, regional, and cercanias commuter trains.)
http://ww.movelia.es (intercity coaches...some companies aren't on this system yet,but it's not difficult to find their schedules.)
http://www.metromadrid.es/en/index.html (Madrid Metro)
http://www.emtmadrid.es (Madrid buses)
http://www.tmb.cat/en_US/home.jsp (Barcelona buses and Metro.)

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

Just to answer some of the specific questions you asked... Munich has the U-bahn and a bus system, although most of the things tourists go to see are within walking distance of each other.

Dublin has the DART, but this was built more to transport commuters from the outlying areas than to get around within the city.

Brussels has a Metro and tram system, although not the most user friendly.

Most Belgian cities have a bus system that radiates out from the main train station... except Ghent and Antwerpen, which use trams more than buses. Brussels, as noted, has it's own system.

Amsterdam uses trams.

St. Petersburg and Moscow both have very extensive metro systems. The stations are some of the most elaborate on the continent.

Warsaw- metro (more for commuters than tourists).

Prague- trams

Posted by Tami
Boulder, CO, USA
780 posts

Thank you so much Norm! I will definately have a look at those links.
Spain is one place that I want to visit, but whenever I tried to find something on it, it just seems everything is so far apart so not sure what to look for! Thanks for giving me somewhere to start.

Plus I keep forgetting that other European places are cheaper since they use Euros instead of the Pounds I am used to having to use in England (SOOOO expensive)!

Thanks Tom! I knew I could get help on here :) Its not as confusing when people have actually BEEN there rather than just ordering brochures, which I have done before, but they don't say much about transport other than what hotels have shuttles to what airport, etc.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4754 posts

Every German town and city has excellent public transportation. Larger cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, etc. have subways of course, but will also include trams and buses.

Just got back from Edinburgh which had a pretty good bus system that was easy to use.

We have used public transportation in Milan, Rome, Brussels, Bruge, Ostende, Paris, Antwerp, Amsterdam and all over Germany.

Posted by Tami
Boulder, CO, USA
780 posts

Thanks Jo! Edinburgh is another place I plan on visiting. I know that the castle is uphill so figured I can work my way down after that!

Posted by Tom
Chicago
2876 posts

I think the main reason is that streets are so much older and narrower in European cities that they just can't accomodate the volume of cars that American cities can. So they're better at mass transit mostly out of necessity.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

I tend to agree with Ilja and Tom. Mass public transit by rail or metro was in place long before the Second World War...it grew because it was the most efficient way to move people over relatively short distances. Nowhere has any poster mentioned any sort of environmental reasons or foresight...it was just the best way to go for many European countries.
It's interesting to know that the U.S. Interstate highway system wasn't begun until 1956, by which time most European countries, with the aid of the Marshall Plan, were well on their way out of the destruction caused by the war. President Eisenhower sawe the German autobahn system (which was built in the 1930's) as his inspiration, and that it was designed for military, as well as civilian, purposes.

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1687 posts

Most people seem to be talking about city transport systems here, and those are mostly very good.

But rural transport can't be relied upon so much. For instance, in France local public transportation in rural areas can be virtually non-existent outside heavily touristed areas like the Cote d'Azur.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

"I've been amazed that even smaller cities like Prague..."Prague has a relatively small area loved by tourists, but the dreary communist-era sections of the city spread out far beyond where most visitors tread.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7953 posts

To elaborate on what Tom said, since you have apparently some interest in Dublin:

You can catch a bus to the city center. It's exact fare only and I don't know what the price is (had a car). Once in the city, the Dublin Bus office is on the west side of Upper O'Donnel street (two digit number on address, north of the second McDonalds, about five minute walk from the river -- best I can come up with) you can get an all-day pass for five euros or so (sorry again, wife did it while I was goofing off). You'll use the bus a good bit getting out to the Kilmainham Gaol and such.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11256 posts

Munich has an extensive system of commuter trains, starting with the longer distance commuter trains, the Schnell-Bahn or S-Bahn, which goes underground through town but runs above ground well out into the suburbs to the smaller, shorter distance U-Bahn or Untergrund-Bahn, which are mostly inside the inner transit zone. Within town there is also an extensive tram network and all over Munich, buses take you to anywhere the other systems don't.

While I agree that most points of interest in Munich (Rathaus, Residenz, Frauenkirche, Hofbräuhaus, German Museum) are within walking distance of the town center, Marienplatz, a few are farther out and well served by public transit. There is a tram from the Hauptbahnhof to Schloss Nymphenburg. To get to Dachau, you take an S-Bahn to Dachau station. There is a well marked bus stop in front of the station. The bus takes you to the Memorial in less than 10 minutes.

Posted by Brad
Charlotte, NC, USA
214 posts

Thanks, James. I know how big Prague is. What I meant was that there are larger cities in the US that have little or no underground metro service. In Europe, mass transit is a higher priority and generally more effectively deployed.

Posted by Tom
Chicago
2876 posts

Two other cities with great subway systems are Stockholm and Budapest.

Posted by Maureen
Atlanta
1357 posts

To piggyback on Ed's post about the buses in Dublin, it's a fairly easy system. The main street is O'Connell street, lots of buses on there. You can get a day pass at pretty much any market, like Spar. If you pay as you go on the bus, you have to have exact change. Most sights you'll see will be within walking distance, but some like Kilmainham or Guiness or Phoenix park are farther out. If you have a guidebook, it'll tell you which bus to take where. Most of them stop either on O'Connell street or along the river close to there, so if you head that way, you'll find a stop.

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1461 posts

Almost all bigger European city have excellent public transportation system comparing what we are used to here (with the exception of few big east coast cities). I am surprised that nobody mentioned Vienna yet. One of the best public transport anywhere. Buses, trolleybuses, trams, U-Bahn, S-Bahn. If Seattle had something like that I would probably sell my car.

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1461 posts

James got a point but I suspect that is not generally valid. A lot of European cities had very good public transportation including subways well before WWII.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6826 posts

Pre-WWII many US cities (most notably LA) had extensive European-style tram networks. Long story short....General Motors and their subsidiaries, began purchasing these tram companies with the specific intent slowly dismantling them, so people would be forced to purchase cars, and municipalities forced to build freeways. After most of the damage was already done, the US Justice Dept. went after GM on anti-trust grounds. They were indicted for it, but the case was mostly dropped after political pressure from Congress; at the time GM had plants in most all States. For a fictionalized account of this rent the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

The US had limited access highways as early as the 1930s, but they were build ad-hoc by individual states. The Eisenhower plans merely connected and expanded the existing network, and whether or not he was inspired by the German autobahn is a matter of conjecture.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

I should also point out- many US cities, particularly on the east coast, have very robust public transit systems, particularly New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, and Chicago. Commuter rail services are very much alive and well in all these cities. New Jersey even operates it's own intrastate rail network. I seem to recall that Toronto and Montreal both have an extensive subway systems as well. Of course, we don't have real high speed rail corridors, but for many reasons, this probably isn't feasible in the US.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Tom..."merely connected and expanded"....merely is probably a little out of place here. The 1956 act caused tens of thousands of miles of interstates to be built over the next two decades, a process which continues to this day. The highways you speak of were functional for various small areas, but did little to promote transportation on a regional or national basis.
As for Eisenhower's use of Germany's autobahns as a role model, consider the following quote, from his book, "At Ease...Stories I Tell to Friends" published in 1967. He discusses his participation in a 1919 U.S. military convoy from coast to coast.....
"The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land."
My point is that the modern U-S highway system came into being when the automobile had become ubiquitous. European cities, and indeed those you mention along the U.S. eastern seaboard, had to cope with the problem of moving large numbers of people before cars were popular....hence the excellent Metro and communter rail systems. Contrast that with the public transit available in many of the "younger" cities in the west.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

"There's just the matter of funding (major expenditures)" That's the part that makes it unfeasible. The existing right-of-way that Amtrak follows in the northeast was obtained in the middle of the 19th century, and obviously, nobody back then was planning ahead for the unique needs of a 200 mph bullet train. The locomotives they use for the Accela service are capable of speeds on par with the TGV, but they can't run them anywhere near that fast because of all the twists and turns on the track. To build the straight, level track needed for a true high speed line in the Northeast, the only region where such a service would make economic sense (well, maybe on the west coast and parts of Texas and Florida as well), they would need to undergo a massive building project. If the completion of the federal highway project is a model, most of the funding and time for the completion of this track would not go to the actual building, but into the legal battles that would certainly arise to obtain the right-of-way. It took 30 years to finish the federal highway system, not because it actually took that long to build, but because that's how long it took for the court cases to wind down. Most of the roads only took about 5 years to build.

I watched route 476 near Philadelphia evolve over decades in the same fashion. The plan was drawn up and approved in the late 1950s, small sections were built in the 1960s... then litigation from various local municipalities and interest groups stopped the project until the late 1980s, and it was finally completed in the early 1990s. And this was just in one state in only two counties. Imagine all the litigation that would arise for a plan that would cross multiple state borders!

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6826 posts

Call me a dreamer, but one of these days when that "peace dividend" promised after the end of the cold finally war kicks-in, there will be plenty of funding;) The February issue of Wired magazine, had an extensive article of the future of high-speed rail in the US. Transportation and Urban Planning experts were quoted as saying that in places like in places like California and the Northeast, high-speed rail has to be constructed. There physically isn't anymore space to build more highways, or airports. With the expected population growth there isn't any other alternative. Tracks can easily be built above and below current highways.....steel reinforced concrete is a wonderful thing:)

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

Hey, I'd love to see it too, but I don't see it happening, no matter what Wired magazine says. A good case study- the proposed "Purple Line" of the DC Metro that would run parallel to the Beltway and act as the "wheel" that would connect the "spokes" of all the other lines, and the "Silver Line" that would connect Dulles airport to downtown. Anyone who has ever been stuck in the daily gridlock of the DC Beltway, or tried to get to Dulles from downtown would agree on the obvious benefits of these extensions. And yet... it took almost 40 YEARS of court battles to clear the last legal barrier for the Silver Line (which FINALLY broke ground last year). And due to on-going legal fights, the Purple Line may never see the light of day, or at most, only connect a few of the lines in Maryland.

So the problem in the US isn't funding- the most problematic battles usually aren't about finding the money for the projects- it's getting around all the lawsuits opposing the projects on various environmental, commerce and NIMBY objections.

Almost makes one long for the old days of the railroad robber barons, who could always find ways to get ANYTHING built...

The only other option would be to grant the federal government much more robust powers of eminent domain than it currently enjoys... and obviously, that's not going to happen in today's political climate.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9091 posts

PS- Probably the same reason why bicycle lanes are few and far between in the US...