5 of the best train rides from the UK to Europe
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Writer Henry Miller once said: “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things”. A new way of looking at things is discovering Europe by train. I mean, trains were fun to play with as a child but what about an actual adventure holiday of discovery by train and turning those childhood dreams into a reality?
As the U.K. is an island, nonstop train rides to Europe all depart from London at the moment and the furthest you can actually travel direct via scheduled train is Amsterdam. Trips are therefore likely to involve you changing once or more depending on where you are going — so travel prepared, travel light and don’t forget your gadgets for those all-important photos.
Train travel could be the next big thing and it is also better for the environment. In May 2020, the European Commission unveiled a series of measures aimed at helping people to travel safely around Europe by rail. For example, the body set out increasing the frequency and capacity of trains, mandatory seat reservations on long-distance regional trains, social distancing measures on trains, automatic train doors and managing passenger flow at stations.
With safety in mind, we have rounded up our guide to the best train rides to Europe. All the journey prices below have been quoted for mid-September, as it is always lovely to visit Europe as the seasons change and things become less busy.
1. Lyon, France
Like it or not, the Eurostar is going to feature in nearly all train trips from the U.K. to Europe. The Eurostar experience is easy, but it is really important to book as far in advance as possible for the cheapest fares. You’ll also earn 1 Club Eurostar point for every £1 you spend on Eurostar travel. Eurostar is a member of Railteam, which means you can “hop on the next available train” if you experience any delays or cancellations on your journey. As far as redeeming points, If you have an American Express card, you can redeem 1,500 Membership Rewards for 100 Club Eurostar points.
Once you get through that tunnel and arrive in France, you will roll through green pastures and quaint little villages before arriving at the charming, gastro-city of Lyon. If you want to explore more of this region of France by train, you will travel through the vineyards of the Rhône Valley before passing the snowy French Alps, too.
The journey: London St Pancras International to Lyon Part Dieu TGV station, changing at Lille (via Eurostar). Changing at Lille is easier than changing in Paris, as in Paris, you would need to travel from Paris Nord to Paris Lyon to catch the train to Lyon.
Duration: Five to six hours.
Approximate cost: £138 (one-way, standard class, advance booking).
If you must do one thing in Lyon: The central part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that feels more like a town. In Vieux Lyon, check out the amazing architectural feature unique to this city: traboules. These passageways running beneath buildings in the direction of the Saône River gave the city’s silk workers direct access to the riverbank, making it quick and easy to transport textiles, while also offering shelter from the elements.
2. Interlaken, Switzerland
Sounds like the Intercity 125, but thankfully, it’s a lot more picturesque. Take the scenic trip of a lifetime to Switzerland on the Golden Pass Line from Montreux to Interlaken. Spend the day travelling from the U.K. across France and spend a night in Montreux.
As the journey begins on the Golden Pass Line, the train rises above Lake Geneva then through a mountain tunnel at Jaman, Chateaux d’Oex and Gstaad. The highest point of the journey is at 1,274 metres before a stop in Zweisimmen. From Zweisimmen, the train snakes its way through the Simme Valley and then continues on to Interlaken, between Lakes Thun and Brienz.
From Interlaken, you can also spend a day (by train) going to Europe’s highest-altitude railway station (3,454 metres) on Jungfrau Mountain. At Jungfraujoch, survey the breathtaking views of the Black Forest in Germany and the Vosges Mountains in France.
The journey: London St Pancras International to Paris Nord. Then, Paris Lyon to Lausanne then Lausanne to Montreux (10 hours). Overnight in Montreux. Monrteux to Interlaken Ost.
Duration: 10 hours to Montreux. Then two hours from Montreux to Interlaken.
Approximate cost: £140 (one-way, standard class, advance booking, excluding overnight hotel).
If you must do one thing in Interlaken: It is popular with travelling thrill-seekers around the world, so you can go cliff jumping or gently glide over the spectacular mountain scenery.
3. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is a really easy place to travel to by train. Take a lunchtime Eurostar from London to Brussels, then the sleeper train from Brussels overnight to Vienna. The Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) Nightjet from Brussels emits 10 times less CO2 than the same journey by air, so not only is it cheaper than flying but it is also kinder to mother earth.
The next morning, you arrive bang in the middle of Vienna city centre. You can then also travel directly to the Bavarian capital of Munich and the Austrian cities of Linz and Innsbruck. There are single, double or triple sleeper cabin compartments available and breakfast is included. Trains currently run twice a week from Brussels to Vienna.
The journey: London St Pancras International to Bruxelles-Midi followed by overnight sleeper train from Brussels to Vienna.
Duration: One day.
Approximate cost: £185 (one-way, standard class, advance booking, in an overnight standard sleeper cabin for two).
If you must do one thing in Vienna: Visit the Hofburg Palace. It’s the official residence of the country’s president, as well as being home to many of Vienna’s top museums, attractions and galleries — definitely worth checking out.
4. Moscow, Russia
Although Russia isn’t technically in Europe, it does enter the Eurovision Song Contest. Also, Moscow is actually in European Russia. Just two trains from London, Moscow is every bit the European city offering a wealth of history and culture coupled with modernity and edge.
The Paris-Moscow Express will take you from Europe to Russia with a touch of chic. Nicknamed the Trans-European Express, this train covers almost 3,500 km across France, Germany, Poland, Belarus and Russia making it one of the longest direct passenger trains in Europe. Departing from Paris’ Gare de l’Est to Moscow’s Belorussky Station once a week, all-year-round, the train has two and four-bed sleeper cars, or luxurious one or two-bed sleeping cars, with prices varying from £300 to £1,000. The changing scenery is incredible and later this year, there will be an option to leave from Nice so you can take in the sun-kissed glamour of the French Riviera before Moscow.
The journey: London St Pancras International to Paris Nord. Paris Gare de l’Est to Moscow.
Duration: Two days.
Approximate cost: £360 (one-way, standard class, advance booking, in an overnight standard sleeper car for two).
If you must do one thing in Moscow: Red Square and the Kremlin are total bucket-list attractions. Immediately outside the Kremlin’s northeastern wall is the celebrated Red Square, the 400-metre by 150-metre area of cobblestones that is the very heart of Moscow.
5. Venice, Italy
For a total splurge, it has to be the most talked-about train on earth— the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Board the Belmond British Pullman at London Victoria then meet the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Calais. The experience includes all meals and, of course, a dedicated steward service.
If you can tear your eyes away from the gorgeous interiors, you’ll see spectacular views of the French countryside and in the morning, you’ll be greeted by the all-encompassing Swiss Alps over breakfast. During the day, the berths in your cabin are transformed to offer comfortable banquette seating from which to admire the views and as night falls, crisp damask sheets and fine blankets create a comfortable bedroom for a restful night’s sleep before arriving in Venice.
The journey: London Victoria to Folkestone, Kent (on The Belmond British Pullman), Folkestone to Paris (via shuttle), Paris to Venice (on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express).
Duration: 33 hours (one night).
Cost: From £2,573 per person (one-way in an overnight twin cabin).
If you must do one thing in Venice: A gondola ride. Yes, it may be cheesy, but it is a great chance to sing the smash hit song “O Sole Mio” with the “Just one Cornetto” words of course.
Interrail Global Pass
For really intrepid train travellers, The Interrail Global Pass is an exciting way to discover Europe with a flexible multi-country train pass that lets you create your own trip in 33 countries with unlimited train travel. There are many options to choose from up to three months of continuous travel. Seven days of train travel within one month costs £201. The Interrail One Country Pass is a great choice if you want to focus on only one particular European country. For example, five days of train travel within one month in Germany costs £178.
From Berlin to the Polish port town of Gdansk, Warsaw, Kraków, the Tatra Mountains in Zakopane, Budapest and Bratislava, Eastern Europe is easily discoverable by train. If you want to maximise your trip while also getting a glimpse of the landscape and leaving room for spontaneity, train travel is a great option.
Travelling by train is really fun, and with a little planning, it can be cost-efficient. The European Commission already had plans to make 2021 the European Year of Rail and are set to promote rail travel across the EU with goals to create a network of railways without borders to make it easier to travel.
Featured photo courtesy of Belmond
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