Flight-free summer holidays: Trains are cheaper than planes on these exciting European journeys

Flight-free summer holidays: Trains are cheaper than planes on these exciting European journeys

As holidaymakers ditch airports and the acccompanying hassles, delays and expense, European rail is their alternative of choice.

But catching the train isn’t just better for the planet. It can also be better for your wallet.

According to research by Which? Travel, families can save money by opting for sleeper trains over short-haul flights.

A family of four could save nearly £100 (€115) travelling by sleeper train, the consumer advocacy organisation says.

A larger family could save more than £250 (€287).

So all aboard - here are the routes where you can save some holiday spending money.

Which sleeper train routes will save you the most money?

Which? analysed the cost of travel for three European and two UK sleeper routes.

For the European routes - Paris to Vienna, Brussels to Vienna and London to Berlin - they compared the price of the cheapest private compartment in the first week of August, with the cost of the cheapest flight and a night’s accommodation.

The Paris to Vienna and Brussels to Vienna services are run by Nightjet, Europe’s largest sleeper train company.

On these services, a couple would save money by flying. But a couple with two or four children would be better off catching the train.

“Groups of four could save £94, while a bigger group could reduce their holiday bill by a whopping £267,” Which? concluded.

The Which? analysis reveals which sleeper trains are cheaper than their short-haul flight equivalents. - Which?

On the London to Berlin sleeper route - operated by European Sleeper - a ticket is marginally more expensive than a flight and a night’s accommodation.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, conceded that price remains a “barrier” to climate-conscious travel.

“While new sleeper train routes have launched across Europe, fares are prohibitive for many travellers,” he said.

“Our research found solo travellers and couples would have to pay significantly more to choose the train over the plane. But the good news is that there are savings to be made for families and larger groups who can share train compartments.”

Sleeper trains in the UK cost a similar amount to flights

The UK has two sleeper services: GWR's Night Riviera from London Paddington to Penzance, and the Caledonian Express from London Euston to the Highlands.

Cornwall’s sleeper service cost about as much as a flight would. However, it’s cheaper if you have a railcard, which gives you a discount of around £50 (€57.50). Passengers can also take a surfboard or bike for free.

The Caledonian sleeper - a famously luxurious option - is more costly than flying for two adults, while a family of four or six would pay a similar amount.

Which? analysis reveals that sleeper trains and flights in the UK are comparable in terms of cost. - Which?

How much better is flying for the planet?

You can slash your carbon footprint by ditching air travel.

A flight from London to Berlin emits around 242kg of carbon dioxide per passenger - about the same amount the average citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo produces in three years.

A train journey along the same route would release around 32kg of CO2 per passenger, a sevenfold reduction on the flight emissions.

The UK’s domestic flights are also far more carbon intensive than rail. Travelling from London to Aberdeen by rail emits 50kg of CO2 per passenger, but by air it more than doubles to 119kg per person.

‘Slow travel’ and the rail revival

With no queues for security, more relaxed baggage rules and amazing views, rail travel is an antidote to the hassle and boredom of flying.

You’re also less likely to get stranded by a last-minute flight cancellation or lengthy delay - a nightmare that can destroy the most meticulously-planned holiday.

With 200,000km of rail across Europe, there are plenty of ways to see the continent through a train window.

Check out our list of the best new routes for 2023 and 2024 here.