I’ve always felt that taxis are underrated, scenic timesavers that can zip you effortlessly from one sight to the next — except during rush-hour traffic, when they’re stuck like everyone else. In the past, cabs were expensive for a lone budget traveler, but a good deal for a group of three or four. Now, with the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber, there are more deals than ever for getting around European cities.
AFTER-DINNER TAXI TOUR
One of my favorite cab experiences is to hire a taxi after dinner for a private, tailor-made tour of floodlit Paris. The last time I was in Paris, I tried this “taxi tour” with Uber instead of a cab. It was a great little gig for our driver — who really got into the fun. I hopped out at each stop with my fellow travelers to shoot goofy selfies and celebrate the magnificent floodlit monuments so emblematic of the City of Light. What a fine way to cap the day — and especially fun after a tasty dinner and a bottle of wine. The price for our Uber ride: about $40 for a 75-minute party all over Paris.
Uber is available in a number of European cities, including Amsterdam, London, Prague, Berlin, Rome, Athens and Vienna, and rides can be cheaper than taxis. Like at home, you request a car via the Uber app on your mobile device, and the fare automatically gets charged to your credit card. It’s best to do it when you’re on Wi-Fi, unless you have an international data-roaming plan. They can pick you up anywhere, and you can text them if you can’t find them. Keep in mind that some countries don’t allow traditional ride-sharing that uses private drivers, so you may find your Uber car is a licensed cab or a limousine service — and can be more expensive.
TAXI VS. UBER
Taxi companies are not standing by and letting Uber take over. There are several apps that work like Uber but are for booking a regular cab. One popular European app is Hailo, which covers a number of cities, mostly in Britain and Ireland. Another is mytaxi, which operates in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Spain and Italy. For pricey limousine service and airport pickups, there’s Blacklane.
The “gig economy” has also changed the way you can pay for a taxi. European cabdrivers still prefer cash, but many have started taking credit cards. London, for example, has required all its official “black cabs” to accept credit cards by October 2016. For convenience, you can’t beat a smartphone app: Uber, Blacklane, mytaxi and Hailo all use credit cards exclusively.
There are still plenty of times when taking a taxi makes sense or is your only alternative. If you didn’t bring a smartphone or don’t have coverage, it’s easy to flag down a cab in some cities; otherwise, you can always find cabs at a taxi stand. These stands are often listed as prominently as subway stations on city maps; look for the little Ts (or ask a local to direct you to the nearest one). When hiring a cab, make sure it has a big, prominent taxi-company logo and telephone number. Avoid using unmarked beaters with makeshift taxi lights on top.
A taxi zipping you right to your hotel can be a relief after a long flight or train ride. But dishonest cabbies sometimes lurk at major transit points, ready to take advantage of travelers who are jet-lagged and travel-weary — and at their most susceptible to getting ripped off. To avoid problems at airports and train stations, head for the official taxi stand and join the queue, rather than flagging down a taxi. (If you don’t want to worry about getting conned the minute you arrive at a new destination — or to save money — skip the cab and link to the city center by public transportation.)
Shrink and tame big European cities by hopping into the occasional taxi or using a ride-sharing service. By knowing when a private ride is the best way to get somewhere, you’ll save time, money and energy.