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Holiday habits: In praise of public transport

Using public transport, or walking and cycling when holidaying abroad is good for the planet and your pocket, writes Sylvia Thompson

Renting a car for two weeks can add at least €1,000 to the cost of a holiday, so it’s worthwhile considering other modes of transport when travelling abroad. Using public transport also cuts down on carbon emissions and can be a more relaxing way to travel than by car. Exploring a city on foot, on a bicycle, e-bike or e-scooter also brings you closer to the atmosphere of the place and allows you to wander off the well-trodden tourist trails.

The key to switching from the habit of renting a car to using public transport is to do a little research before you leave. And the first thing to ensure is that you choose accommodation carefully, checking that it is on a public transport route.

You also need to have faith in modern public transport systems, as most major cities will have plenty of buses, trams or commuter trains for residents that will adequately meet your needs as a tourist. Also, most urban transport networks now have signage in both the local language and in English, and travel apps which offer real-time information on departure and arrival times and possible connections.

Airport transfers

There will almost always be public transport options from the airport you arrive in heading for the city you are visiting. So, while hopping in a taxi might be tempting, it will cost between five and 10 times more than taking the bus, train or metro from the airport. The only disadvantage is that you may have to wait a bit longer if using public transport to get to your accommodation.


Take for example Lisbon, which has become a popular destination for city breaks. It takes about 30 minutes to get from the airport into the city by metro and costs less than €2. Once in the city, you can travel easily by metro, tram or train. Most cities also offer cheaper fares if you buy a travel card, so checking out these options should be one of your first tasks on arrival.

By way of contrast, consider a holiday on the Greek Island of Crete, which doesn’t have a railway network. Again, it may be tempting to hire a car to explore the island, but there are bus stations in all the hubs which have regular connections between all the major towns and cities – particularly during the tourist season. Traversing the mountainous Cretan terrain on one of these buses offers better views and is less stressful than travelling by car. There are also ferries which connect the island with the Cyclades and the Greek mainland. These ferries also bring passengers on return day trips along the coast.

Embrace slow travel

For those ready to embrace slow travel, there are options to take ferries and trains to a variety of destinations across Europe. Interrailing is not just for students ticking off cities on their summer in Europe. Families can also discover Europe at a slower pace, either opting to take the whole trip by train/ferry or by flying to one city – say Barcelona, and making your way by train along the Mediterranean coast to Rome and flying home from there. There are lots of suggested itineraries in northern, western, central and southern Europe – travelling across 33 countries in total – on the Interrail website. You can even change your travel plans as you go with mobile passes, but beware that some high-speed trains and night trains in Europe – particularly in France, Spain and Italy – require prepaid seat reservations that aren’t included in the Interrail Pass. The website Seat 61 is a useful place to start if you’re planning a train trip in Europe.

More and more cities now have city bicycles or scooters that can be hired for short periods of time. Signing up for a walking or cycling tour is another option for those who would like to get orientated before exploring independently on foot.

And if you decide to holiday in Ireland without a car, check out sustainable holiday options on Sustainable Travel Ireland. There’s everything from kayaking tours to boat tours on the River Barrow and the Boyne canal. Also, there are plenty of walking and cycling holidays on offer which are of course the most sustainable way of all to travel.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment