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The best way to travel between Warsaw and Riga is a Ryanair flight. Period. It’s priced roughly the same as a bus ticket, but takes third of the time even if you count in the commute to the airport, security checks and boarding. And is more comfortable.
However, there are a few problems with Ryanair and other cheap airlines.
Firstly, their airline schedules become way less frequent outside the tourist season, roughly between October and April.
Secondly, if you have larger bags to transport, it quickly becomes uneconomical.
Thirdly, on some days Ryanair only offers very early flights before 6AM, also known as “zombie flights“. This means that you have to leave your home by 4AM or earlier to get to Modlin airport, giving you very little sleep.
This is where travel by bus comes in.
I have taken the FlixBus route between Warsaw and Riga via Lithuania multiple times. This is my review of the service, so you know what to expect and how to prepare yourself if you plan to take the same route.
I’ll first cover what the bus trip was like, and then provide some additional information.
- I definitely got more sleep during the FlixBus ride from Warsaw to Riga compared to an early morning flight. The ride was not very comfortable, as you are sitting upright the whole time. However, it depends on what you compare against. For me, the alternative was an early morning (5:30 AM) Ryanair flight.
- Preparation for sleeping on a bus is key. Unless you are a person who can sleep through everything, prepare for a loud, light, and uncomfortable environment with many interruptions. At the very least, take along earplugs and a neck pillow. An eye mask and a blanket will give you even more comfort.
- The Warsaw – Riga FlixBus serves a niche market in 3 cases. 1) There are no flights by Ryanair or Wizz Air between Warsaw and your destination. 2) You need to transport large bags. 3) You are afraid of flying.
- The frequent stops – 8 in total – can be an annoyance or a blessing. I suggest you make use of them to stretch your legs, have a smoke, visit a fuel station toilet. If you want to sleep through the stops, be adequatelly equipped that you don’t notice the stops.
Boarding the bus
When you arrive at the bus, be sure to ask the drivers on which side of the bus you should put your larger suitcases. The drivers organize storage in way that it’s easily retrievable in the main stops.
In my last bus ride they asked everyone getting off in Poland or Lithuania to put bags on the right side, and everyone getting off in Latvia or Estonia on the left side.
If you have pre-purchased your ticket, you don’t have to print it, but can show it on your phone.
One last thing to do as soon as you board – move the isle seat outwards. There’s a special button for this on the isle seat next to the recline button. Many people don’t use it. While this way you make the isle narrower, you will not have to sit as close to your travel companion.
Let me first talk about the seats. FlixBus in this route has your regular inter-city bus seats. Nothing too comfy, but not too bad either. However, once you’ve taken the Lux Express lounge seats, all other seats don’t seem too comfortable.
The good news – there’s plenty of knee space even for taller persons (I’m 6’4″ or 197cm) and my knees didn’t touch the seat in front. The only complaint – I couldn’t really stretch my legs under the seat, as it’s too low. But, hey, you can’t have it all, can you.
By the way, FlixBus offers to pay something around 13-25 EUR extra and keep the neighboring seat free for your comfort. If I’ll get the lower price range, I’m considering to do this next time to avoid a neighbour and have a place to put my backpack on.
If you can’t afford to buy the 2nd seat, try to get a window seat on night trips. Why? Because this way if your neighbour has to get up for any reason, you will not be woken up.
Regarding on-board internet, I cannot say a bad thing. It was available whenever there was coverage on my mobile phone. So – don’t expect to have a data connection in the middle of Polish forests and fields. Each connected device is allocated 250 MB, but I’m not sure if it’s per day and resets at midnight, or it’s for a trip and is measured differently.
There was some throttling, so you would not be able to watch TV series, YouTube or other videos through it. However, it was sufficient for email and news browsing. Due to the throttling I was not able to measure the speed neither through Ookla, nor Fast.com.
FlixBus advertises that its busses have power outlets under each seat. This is what they look like. While there are two USB power outlets, there is only one regular power socket. If pluging in your laptop or another device is very important for you, consider taking along a small power splitter to have guaranteed access to the socket.
The WC has always been surprisingly clean when I enter the bus in Warsaw. I am surprised as the bus already has had a long journey from Berlin. I do not think that the drivers clean it during the trip, hence, WC cleanliness on your trip probably will depend on other passengers’ passengers’ behaviour.
However, there was one unwelcome development on one of my trips – the lavatory was closed and inaccessible from Panevezys onwards, apparently, because it was “full”. I have no idea what would happen if one of the passengers would really “have to go”.
The bus makes several stops along the route, including in fuel stations and smaller bus stations. Consider doing your No. 1 and No. 2 in these locations. Be sure to ask the drivers for how long they’ll park in a particular stop and maybe ask not to leave without you if you need more time to do your business.
Stops en route
Regarding announcements, drivers made these in English and Russian. I’ve so far had only Lithuanian drivers hence the choice of these languages. I assume, Polish drivers would also announce stops in Polish.
There were very many stops en route. Some just for a few minutes, some for 10-15 minutes. The below image shows the official stops, but we stopped at least three other times while in Poland.
The stops are actually not a bad thing. It gives you a chance to relieve yourself in more comfortable circumstances compared to the bus WC. You can also stretch your legs by walking outside. And, of course, the breaks were very much welcome by smokers.
Time zone change on the border of Poland and Lithuania
One important thing to remember – Germany and Poland are in one time zone (CET), and the three Baltic Countries are in another time zone (EET). This means that when you cross the Polish – Lithuanian border, you will change time zones and will have to adjust your watch, or be aware that it will change automatically.
Remember to always buckle up while seated. The Baltic States have one of the worst road safety records in the whole of the EU. While the FlixBus drivers were very diligent and I didn’t notice any speeding or aggressive driving, you are equally at the mercy of other drivers. Also – do get insurance like you would for any other trip. The fact that you are riding a bus not a plane does not decrease your incident risk. In fact, statistically ground travel is considered riskier than flying.
How bright is the bus interior?
I experimented with taking a picture so it looks the same as for the human eye. As you can see, the bus interior is quite bright. Because of this it’s better to prepare for sleep with eye shades if you are light-sensitive.
Packing list for long bus journeys
Ear plugs and / or headphones
At the very least, take some ear plugs with you. I prefer ear plugs with a string so they don’t get lost as easily.
In-ear headphones with a tight fit will also do the job if you put on white noise or some music. My favorite ones with a great quality / price ratio are from the JBL Tune 110 series.
Active noise cancelling headphones are a real “nice-to-have”, if you can afford them. I’m using the Bose QuietComfort 45, however, if I’d buy ones now, I’d go for the Sony WH-1000xm5, or the cheaper but almost just as good WH-1000xm4.
Besides ear plugs or heapdhones, a neck or headrest is an absolute necessity for the bus ride. While any neck rest will be better than nothing, don’t get the very basic neck rest. Better invest in something like this – a bit more sophisticated neck rest as it provides much better head support. This will also be useful on any plane rides.
Any eye shade is better than nothing. However, I recommend investing around 15-20 eur in a decent eye shade. My main complaint with the cheap ones is that they press on my eyes and eye lashes and don’t fit the face. The more expensive ones have more cushion and better light seal.
Inflatable pillow & this new weird sleeping thingy
If you’ve ever taken a longer bus, train or plane ride, you’ll know that after a few hours you really struggle finding a comfortable positions.
This leads to the funny memes on internet where people sleep in the most weird positions.
You will thank yourself if you’ll take along an extra inflatable pillow. If it’s winter, your jacket will also come in handy.
I tried out this new inflatable thingy, also called a travel pillow as it lacks a proper name. It was a bit too small for me as I’m 6’5″ / 197 cm, however, shorter folks and children will find it very useful. I was able to use this by putting my backpack under to lift it up a bit.
If you have nothing with you, you’ll sleep like this – not very comfortable.
If you get cold easily, take a compact travel blanket with you. Not necessary if you have a coat. Some of my bus rides have been very warm, and other quite chilly, so be better be ready for everything.
I use compression socks for running. Interestingly, these came in useful on this bus ride as well, as your in a confined position for hours. A must for people with vein issues.
On this particular route the bus crew didn’t hand out any water, and there was no onboard coffee maker or hot water for tea. Take your own drinks along.
My favorite drink container is a collapsible water bottle. It is also useful on flights when you have limited luggage space.
Food and snacks
While you can stock up on food during several stops in fuel stations, take at least some favorite foods with you. This will also save you money, as things in fuel stations are more expensive compared to regular shops.
Be aware that your bus might occasionally be delayed. My only delay so far happened in the long Berlin – Warsaw – Riga – Tallinn route in late November, when there already was snow. I don’t know if weather was the reason for the delay, but it’s likely.
The delay message was sent over SMS with a web link. Delays are a good reason to install the FlixBus app and register your ticket there. This way you’ll get notified of delays most quickly and won’t miss emails in case you’re not checking your inbox regularly.
This is what my delay notification was like. It was great that I was still at a shopping centre, and could continue to hang out at a cafe, instead of the cold bus stop.
Btw, I didn’t know that bus companies to this, but FlixBus sent me a 15% discount voucher for the next ride within 6 months due to the delay. Well done, FlixBus!
Other useful information
Finding departure/arrival points in Warsaw and Riga
In Warsaw you can board and exit the bus in two locations: the railway West Station vicinity and the bus terminus near the Marymont Metro Station. You can find this information also on the FlixBus website, but here are the precise addresses.
FlixBus has actually a very helpful app, where you not only can have your electronic ticket, but also find the precise departure locations, stops en route, and other useful info.
West Station (Warszawa Zachodnia), Aleje Jerozolimskie 144 (Google Maps link)
Metro Marymont, ul. Włościańska 39 (Google Maps link)
If you will try to reach the departure location at the Metro Marymont stop by tram or metro, this is how to reach it. It’s about 500 meters from the tram stop. If you have large bags, it’s better to choose a bus with a stop at this location, or opt for a taxi.
Once you arrive at the Metro Marymont bus terminus, don’t worry if you don’t see a FlixBus bus or a clearly marked / branded stop. Hang around there, and the green hard-to-miss busses will arrive around 10 minutes before the departure time.
Our bus stopped at one of the free city bus stops. If you are unsure if you’re at the right location, there are usually other travellers there, so strike up a chat. Someone will have take the bus before, will be able to answer any questions.
In Riga you can board and exit the bus in location, at the Riga International Bus Terminal, Pragas iela 1, which is next to the Central Railway Station (“Rigas Autoosta” in Latvian).
It looks like that the main reason FlixBus is in business in this route and can compete with budget airlines like RyanAir, WizzAir etc. is trip frequency. While Ryanair flies daily between Warsaw and Riga during the tourist season of May-September, there are only 2-3 weekly flights in the October-April period.
At the same time, FlixBus offers at least 4-5 daily departures from each city, spaced roughly 3-6 hours apart.
Luggage allowance and cheap additional bags
I would also recommend taking FlixBus if you need to transport large bags. The default ticket price entitles you to a backpack, and a very large suitcase.
If you need to take an additional bag, this costs you only 5 euros for a regular bag and 7.49 for an ovesized bag.
FlixBus does not compete with price
I must admit I was slightly shocked when I realized that FlixBus does not compete with Ryanair or Wizz Air over price. As you’ll see in the image above, for an average trip, even with cabin luggage, Ryanair is priced the same or even more cheaply than FlixBus. Even if you would add a check-in bag, the Ryanair flight would be still slightly cheaper than the most expensive FlixBus trip.
By the way, I don’t even discuss the “regular” airlines LOT and AirBaltic that also service this route, as for these companies one-way tickets start at 150 EUR and are mostly geared towards business travellers.
Railway Station, Prāgas iela 1 (Google Maps link).
Full bus route
The full buss route is Berlin – Warsaw – Lomza (Poland) – Suwalki (Poland) – Kaunas (Lithuania) – Panevezys (Lithuania) – Riga – Parnu (Estonia) – Tallin.
The practical information in this article applies to the entire route, and probably also to similar bus journeys.
Why and when to choose FlixBus over alternatives
There are probably three reasons why you would choose a bus over flying in this route:
- Unavailability of budget flights
- Need to transport lots of luggage or a pet
- Fear of flying
Companies offering bus services between Warsaw and the Baltic States
The following companies offer bus travel in the Warsaw – Kaunas / Vilnius – Riga route:
Why I don’t take Lux Express in the Warsaw – Riga route?
Lux Express is hands down our favorite bus company to travel between the Baltic capitals. The busses offer the highest level of comfort. The company has a great safety record.
However, there is a major downside to Lux Express services between Warsaw and Riga or destinations in Estonia (Tallinn, Parnu, Narva, Tartu) – layovers. Lux Express buses always have a layover in Vilnius. The shortest one is 1 hour and 15 minutes, but the longest one is over 6 hours. Also – you are dropped at the Panorama Shopping Centre in Vilnius. This can be quite nice if the layover is during working hours.
However, for the night bus that leaves Warsaw at 20:50 and arrives in Riga at 10:55, the layover is between 5:45 and either 7:00 or 10:30. I can’t imagine what you would do in Vilnius in this morning hour when the shopping centre is closed. And I know as I lived in Vilnius for 3 years.
Why I never use Ecolines services?
If you have never taken Ecolines busses, you might be tempted by the low prices they sometimes offer and the shorter driving times. However, before you ride with Ecolines, please Google “Ecolines bus crash” and similar phrases in English and your native language. Chances are, you will uncover articles about a crash in the past year.
Ecolines has a bad reputation in Latvia, because it seems that no winter goes by without an Ecolines bus accident or crash on one of their routes. There is something wrong with the company’s internal ethos, as their bus drivers are known for wreckless driving just to shave off a few minutes of the total ride duration.
Regarding the Warsaw – Riga route, FlixBus offers the same (minimal) level of comfort, but is one hour faster as FlixBus does not stop in Vilnius, which is a detour on the Riga – Warsaw route as the straightest route goes past Kaunas.
FlixBus does not transport dogs no other pets
FlixBus has a strict no pets on-board policy in all of Europe. The only exception are service dogs. By the way, pets are also not allowed neither on Ryanair nor Wizz Air flights, unless they are service animals.
If you need to transport a dog, cat or another pet by bus, Lux Express allows that. The Lux Expres pet ticket costs 60% of a regular ticket.