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Your complete guide to European public transport

19th April 2024

Are all the public transportation options in Europe making you feel lost? Here are the best ways to get across the continent and around bustling city centres.

How to travel around Europe on public transport


Catching the train across Europe

We get it, the train isn’t a go-to in Australia for long-distance travel. But Europe has modern, high-speed rail options that offer great value for money.

First, you’ll need to weigh up whether to buy a rail pass or individual tickets. If you’re only planning a few journeys over the course of your trip, then single tickets are the way to go. You can usually purchase these at the station, but check in advance. Using a travel money card to pay in the local currency – like our Travel Money Oz Currency Pass ¬– will help you avoid extra conversion fees at the station. However, if you have a particular date in mind, you may be able to score earlybird pricing by pre-booking online.

For multi-leg trips, you can get a rail pass that covers travel within a country or across the continent over a period of time. One of the most popular providers is Eurail. It’s a good choice if you’re planning to take lots of train trips or if you want to explore the continent at your leisure.

Do the sums – rail passes won’t cover every route and some countries in Europe aren’t well serviced by the networks. If you’re set on high-speed rail for every journey, there may be extra supplements, too. You can use a transport comparison site like Omio to get a rough idea of how much point-to-point tickets would cost, to see if it adds up.


Bus travel around Europe

Catching the bus across Europe isn’t the most efficient transport option, but it does have some distinct advantages. If you have the time and patience, buses can be a fraction of the cost of a plane or rail trip and tend to offer way more inclusions.

For example, you can travel from the centre of London to the centre of Paris on Flixbus, with on-board Wi-Fi, toilets, power outlets and both checked and hand luggage included, for as little as £25.99. The catch – the bus will take about 9 hours, compared to 2.5 hours on the Eurostar train or 1 hour 20 mins on a plane.

It might be tempting to opt for a budget airline in this scenario – they do offer low fares and sitting on a bus for 9 hours is not ideal. However, the plane isn’t always as cheap as it seems. Low-cost carriers in Europe are notorious for extra fees – they make Aussie airlines look generous.

Airports in Europe are also rarely close to city centres – you’ll have to account for the time and cost of airport transfers both ways. Bus and rail options tend to take you closer to the action.

Wondering how to pay for your journey? You can usually pre-book your trip online with the bus company. If you want to stay flexible, there are often sales points at major destinations or some companies offer the option to buy your ticket directly with the driver. The correct currency or a travel money card are handy here!

Public transport tips for European cities

Arrived at your dream destination? If you want to travel around on public transport like a total pro, there’s a few things to keep in mind.


Get public transport passes

If you’re planning to explore a city extensively, look into multi-day or multi-trip passes. Along with saving money, you’ll avoid both the fuss of buying single tickets and the queues at ticket booths.

If you do need to buy individual tickets, see if they offer the option to use your bank card to tap  on to public transport – it’s becoming more common in Europe. This is when a travel money card, like our Travel Money Oz Currency Pass, is super useful so you avoid conversion fees. In London, for example, you can use the Currency Pass to tap on to the Tube, bus and even the cable car, if you’d like to see London from above. Nifty. For more on this, check out our London travel diary.

Bring local currency in case

While many public transport systems in Europe are now cashless, this isn’t always the case. Do  your research and get enough local currency in advance. It’s usually the Euro, but there are exceptions.

Also make sure you’re across where and how you pay for public transport at your destination. It might even vary within the same country. For example, in Athens, Greece, you can buy a multi-use pass at the airport. But if you hop across to the island of Santorini, you’ll need to pay in cash on the bus.
Travelling on to Italy's Amalfi Coast? You can use cash to buy a bus ticket at the local tobacconist, then use that ticket to get on the bus. It really varies across Europe, so research can help you avoid any transport hiccups at your destination.

Regardless of the public transport system, it can be helpful to carry small amounts of cash on you as a backup. Just be mindful of your safety and security. Like anywhere in the world, public transport can be a prime spot for pickpockets.

Use a public transport app

While Google Maps is a good go-to, there are public transit specific apps that can make your journey seamless. Citymapper, for instance, is supported in all major European cities. Plus, your trips can be saved offline, so you won’t get lost if you don’t have roaming.

Your guide to public transport in London, Paris, Rome and Madrid


London, England

London is famous for its public transport. Whether you ‘mind the gap’ on the Tube (AKA, the underground rail network) or catch an iconic red double decker bus, it’s the best way to traverse this vast city.

There are a range of ticketing options. For journeys on the Tube, you can buy a single or return ticket at the station or get a Visitor Oyster Card that can be loaded up with credit. However, the simplest choice is to just tap and go with any contactless bank card , like our Currency Pass. That way, you can pay as you go and not get stuck with leftover credit.

However, this is when you might be stung with extra fees and charges  if you’re using your regular credit or debit card. Getting our Travel Money Oz Currency Pass will help you avoid this – you can load it up with local currency (in this case, the GBP), lock in that exchange rate and avoid the conversion fees you might get when tapping a regular bank card.

Want to ride a classic London bus? You can’t use cash or buy a ticket at the stop, so you will need to tap and go with your Currency Pass, bank card  or Oyster card. Unlike the Tube, you don’t need to tap the reader at the end of your journey, just when you board the bus.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the ticketing systems, visit one of the Transport for London Visitor Centres, which are located at major Tube stations. There’s also one at the Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 Tube station if you need help when you fly in.


Paris, France

One of the best things to do in Paris is to set out on foot, wander the charming streets, admire the Seine and fuel up on route at a local patisserie. Just like ‘Emily in Paris’ but in more comfortable shoes.

However, it’s a sprawling city, so you’ll likely need public transport at some point. Paris has the bus, tram, metro and RER on offer – that’s the rail network which connects the inner city metro to the outer suburbs .

Tickets can be bought at metro stations, some bus terminals and selected retailers, like tobacconists – look for a RATP sign. You can usually use cash or card to pay at the ticket machines, so it’s handy to have our Currency Pass ready for payments to avoid extra fees. Bus tickets can be bought on board with cash, but you’ll need to use small change – so have your Euros ready. FYI, you’ll also need small change to use public bathrooms in Paris, so it’s worth having some on you.

If you’re planning a few trips on public transport, then a travel pass is a great choice – either the Paris Visite Pass or Navigo Easy Pass. The Paris Visite Pass gives you unlimited travel within Paris for a set amount of days. You can choose between a pass that covers the inner suburbs (zones 1-3) or one that covers destinations that are further afield, like the airport, Disneyland and Versailles (zones 1-5). Use it on the metro, RER, tram and bus within selected zones. Purchase them at metro stations, RER stations or Paris tourist offices.

Otherwise, the Navigo Easy Pass comes loaded with 10 journeys and can be recharged. It can be used on the metro, RER lines in central Paris, tram and most buses. Purchase one at counters within metro stations, then simply recharge it at ticket machines if you need extra journeys.

In general, the metro is the best way to travel around Paris. It’s a big network and trains run regularly. Usually stations are marked with a big yellow ‘M’, but it is Paris after all, so there are creative signs in the mix. If you’re buying a single ticket, hold on to it for the entire journey as inspectors may check your ticket on route.

Want to explore the streets of Paris at your own pace? Try Vélib' – that’s the city’s bike sharing scheme. There are regular bikes (green) and e-bikes (blue) available for hire. You can buy single trips, 24-hour and 3 day passes online.


Rome, Italy

Rome wasn’t built in a day… and it also wasn’t built for cars. If you’re travelling around the centre of Rome, avoid getting in a taxi. Besides the fact that taxis can be tricky to find and flag down in the first place, the roads get super congested.

The metro is the best option to skip traffic and travel between the city’s incredible historical sites. Use it to get to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican and more. There’s also a large tram and bus network, which is a scenic way to get around and explore Rome’s outer suburbs.

Like most major transport systems, you can purchase single tickets as well as daily, multi-day and weekly passes. Tickets can’t be purchased on board, so get them in advance so you don’t get delayed and miss your guided tour of the Roman Forum. You can buy tickets for the metro, buses and trams  at stations, convenience stores and newsagents.


Madrid, Spain

Whether you’re off to watch some Flamenco, explore the lush El Retiro Park or catch a Real Madrid game, you’ll likely need the metro or bus. The best two travel pass options for tourists are the Tourist Travel Pass or the Multi Card.

The Tourist Travel Pass allows unlimited travel on all types of public transport in the city centre. You can choose between two zones – zone A is the best for central trips. Zone T will cover you for day trips to popular spots like El Escorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Tourist Travel Pass is loaded onto a Multi Card, but you can also just purchase the Multi Card for €2.5 and load up it up with trips. Get Multi Cards or Tourist Travel Passes from ticket machines at the metro stations and pay in cash or via card.

It’s possible to pay for a single bus ticket on board, but you’ll usually need to pay the driver in small change so have your Euros ready.

FYI – now you’re a real public transport buff, don’t miss the ‘ghost metro station’ Chamberí. You can visit this beautifully restored 1919 station, which closed in 1966. It’ll give you a taste of what metro travel was like years ago.

Pay for public transport like a pro

Using public transport in Europe is an efficient way to get around, see the sights, travel like a local and help you stick to your budget. So, if you’re choosing a cost effective transport option, you really don’t want to get slammed with extra fees because you haven’t considered the way you’ll pay.

Using Card for European Public Transport

When paying for public transport by card, our Travel Money Oz Currency Pass is a smart choice. You can load up to 10 currencies in advance, lock in a competitive exchange rate and avoid the conversion fees and hidden surcharges that can come with using your regular bank card.

You can get your hands on our Currency Pass prepaid travel cards two ways: if you want a personalised card (embossed with your name), and you can get order this online or at any of our stores – just make sure you don’t wait until the day you leave to get it sorted as it’ll take up to a week for your Currency Pass to be created. Alternatively, if you’re in a bit more of a rush, you can grab an Instant Card version (which won’t be personalised with your name) in store instead!

Using Cash for European Public Transport

If you’re using cash to pay, make sure you’ve got the right currency for your destination. Most countries use the Euro, but there are a few notable exceptions, including the UK, Norway, Türkiye, Switzerland and more.

See our ultimate Travel Money guide to Europe for the full breakdown and clever currency tips. Get the correct currency before you leave so you’re ready to go at your destination.

We have several ways you can grab the foreign cash you’ll need for your upcoming trip to Europe:

Exchange Currency at our Travel Money stores
You can visit our friendly Travel Money experts in store, and this means you can be a bit more specific with the denominations you want, and we’re always thrilled to talk to fellow travellers about our favourite travel money tips and tricks!

Order online for Same Day Delivery or Click & Collect
If what you’re after is convenience, then you can also order online for same day delivery or click and collect!

Our Same Day Delivery option is perfect for those who are time poor and want the most convenient option possible – of course, like Uber Eats you’ll need to pay for the delivery service (which is fully insured by the way!), and our online rates are ultra competitive.

Same Day Click & Collect has all the convenience of getting it organised when you want it, and because you’re collecting it yourself, it’s free! We like using this option when we’re going on an errand run anyway and want to be a bit more budget-conscious.

Now you’ve read our comprehensive guide, you can pack your bags, stash your currency and take all our top public transport tips with you to Europe. Before you know it, you’ll be getting from A to B with ease .