Update 2019: When traveling in Europe, I usually prefer trains instead of short flights of under 2 hours – it’s usually quicker and cheaper, I avoid all the hassles involved with airports and, most importantly, I get to see more of the country I’m visiting. On my recent Baltic Explorer trips, I was looking for options to travel from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius and Warsaw and settled on bus trips with LUX Express! Read on to see if that is a good alternative to flying!
When I researched transportation options, I noticed that trains are not really as good as in Western Europe – most of the train lines are not necessarily connecting the Baltic countries, but leading back to Russia, probably a leftover from the Soviet era! But local entrepreneurs have jumped in to fill the gap and there are plenty of options to go by bus between the major cities in the region and I picked LUX Express for my first trip from Tallinn to Riga as the most convenient option – I was very pleased with their service and continued to use them for the trips to Vilnius and Warsaw as well.
Who are they? LUX Express is the largest international coach company operating in the region and was established after the fall of the iron curtain. Their main hubs are Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and St. Petersburg and they go as far as Berlin and Budapest! They operate nearly 80 buses on international and domestic routes with different classes of service to choose from. Similar to trains, they operate from city center to city center, so you don’t have to deal with the time consuming and expensive trips to airports at either end!
They don’t operate like traditional bus or train companies, but more like a discount airline: They have a great, easy to use website where I found the routes, available classes of service, schedule and ticket prices. It was easy to buy tickets and even find the closest bus stop!
Prices for international trips start from as little as $8 and my tickets were all around $20, making it a lot cheaper than flights or even train rides! Credit cards are accepted and you can print your own ticket or just show up with your ID at the bus!
What’s the experience? On all my rides, the buses left on time – they would make a Swiss conductor proud – and the service was very professional!. They check your ticket and/or ID, store big luggage and show you to your seat (if needed). The driver brought a water bottle before departure and coffee was available throughout for self service.
I left from the central bus stations in each case, although they usually had one additional stop on the way into town on each route! The bus terminals were convenient, safe and had some stores for drinks, food and necessities. The arrival was on time in 2 out of 3 cases. On one trip there was road construction and a lot of traffic, resulting in a significant delay. Similar to trains or airlines, that can always happen and your best bet is to avoid busy travel times and allow for some delay if you have connections or appointments to catch!
I did enjoy the ride through the countryside rather than flying over it. You get a much better impression of the difference between rural areas, towns and cities or the industrial districts, suburbs and city center as you pass through!
LUX operates several different classes of service, giving you a choice of personal space and comfort features:
The most basic one is Simple Express, with seats in a 2-2 configuration. All buses have reclining seats, air conditioning, a toilet, power outlets and free WiFi on board. Some have even built-in video screens with music, movies and games!
The next step up is LUX Express, with a similar 2-2 seat layout, but a little more leg room and video screens on all buses. There’s also free coffee and tea in a self-service set-up in the middle of the bus and free water on longer trips. I traveled with Lux Express twice and had plenty of space, similar to an Economy Premium seat on a plane or Economy on a train. There was lots of leg room, the buses were very clean and well maintained. The wifi was working well, despite traveling through the countryside. My video screen wasn’t working on the first trip, but was great on the second route with a good selection of movies resembling the offer on better airlines!
The LUX Express Special offer even more personal space with wider seats in a 1-2 configuration. I was traveling solo, picked the single seat and enjoyed a lot of space and legroom. The seat had a legrest, was clad in leather and very comfortable. I’d compare it to a first-class recliner seat on a US airline or on trains in Europe. Unfortunately, the one used on the route to Warsaw didn’t have video screens built in, but all the other features were there.
The LUX Express Lounge is a mix of LUX Express and LE Special, with the front section resembling the LUX Express and the back arranged like the LE Special. All seats have video screens here and the features are the same!
Your choice of class really comes down to schedule and to price versus comfort. As an example, the 4 hour ride from Riga to Vilnius will cost EUR11 on a Simple Express, EUR18 in LUX Express and EUR25 in LUX Express Lounge. If you want to just get from A to B, any of them will do. For me, the extra room, privacy and comfort was well worth the extra money spent. We all have different priorities, so you can make your own choice!
I enjoyed my trips with LUX Express and would do it again. It was a lot cheaper than flying, took about the same amount of time and was a lot more comfortable. Seeing the country, having lots of space and access to the internet throughout made for a great ride and I’d recommend to consider it for your trip around the Baltics.