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Tips for riding Europe's subways and buses

BY RICK STEVES Modified: October 2, 2012 at 11:14 am •  Published: October 2, 2012

Before getting on a subway, you'll usually need to insert your ticket into a slot on the turnstile, then retrieve it (and keep it — you might need it to exit as well). On buses, you may need to validate the ticket by inserting it into an automated time-stamp box; or you may just have to show it to the driver. Observe and imitate what the locals do.

Buying tickets and boarding is half the battle. Figuring out where to get off can be just as challenging. Subway trains are equipped with maps detailing their route — track the different stops as you ride. An automated voice usually announces which stop is next, and you'll also see the names of each station as you roll through.

Usually these are posted prominently on the platform or along the wall. When the train stops, the doors generally open automatically, though you may have to open them yourself by pushing a button or pulling a lever.

Buses offer fewer cues for stops, so it's even more important to stay alert. Have a sense of how long the trip is going to take. As you ride, follow along the route on your map, looking for landmarks along the way: monuments, bridges, major cross streets, and so on. Some buses pull over at every stop, while others only stop by request. If in doubt, look for a pull cord or a button with the local word for "stop."

When riding on any public transportation, watch out for thieves. Per capita, there are more pickpockets on Europe's subway trains and buses than just about anywhere else. They congregate wherever there are crowds or bottlenecks: on escalators, at turnstiles, or at the doors of packed buses or subway cars as people get on and off. Wearing a money belt is the best way to avoid having your pockets picked.

Despite occasional hassles and stress, using public transit is efficient and economical. And with the proper attitude, it can also be a cultural experience, plunging you into the people-filled river of European workaday life.