Top European holiday destinations by rail from London

View of the metal work roof of St Pancras train station at night

Cutting down your carbon footprint doesn’t mean that you don’t have to travel anymore. As many have said before me “the adventure is in the journey”; why not get your holiday off to a roaring start, be it a city break by rail or something a bit longer, and travel to your destination by train?

Train was once the way to travel. It was cutting edge, exciting and a downright sophisticated affair. If you have the funds, it still can be today but for many of us, trains might not be particularly glamorous but there are plenty of great reasons to go on holiday by one. Apart from the obvious win for the planet, it’s a much more relaxed way to travel – there’s no airport stress, the views out of the window, you arrive right in the heart of the action, it’s more comfortable, you can choose what you eat, it’s more romantic and on some trains in Europe there might even be a bar to prop up.

Sounds dreamy, right? Now, we all know that we can pop onto a Eurostar at St Pancras and zoom off to Paris or Brussels, but let’s think a bit outside the box here…how do these lovely places sound?

Avignon, France

Set in the picturesque landscapes of southern France, the beautiful city of Avignon is built around the dramatic Palais de Papes, a 14th century palace and fortress. A centre for food, drink and art, you can certainly get your fix of all three here, and Avignon’s small town vibe makes it even more of a pleasure to explore.

Avignon is also at the heart of Provence, so you’ve also got a breathtaking coastline, rolling vineyards (including the world famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape close by), sleepy villages and a deep history that spans as far back as the Romans to explore.

To reach Avignon, take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then the TGV onwards. It takes about 2 hours 40 minutes and you’ll traverse much of the length of France, passing vineyards, mountains and lots of glorious countryside.

Avignon, France – the Pont de Avignon and the Palais de Papes

Riems, France

The heart of the celebrated Champagne region, and home to a spectacular Gothic cathedral, (one of its three UNESCO world heritage sites) Reims is the perfect mix of history and booze and ideal for a long weekend living le bon vie.

Spend a couple of days wandering the champagne house lined streets of Epernay to really live it large. 

To reach Reims, hop on a Eurostar from London to Paris. From there you have a choice of a quick 40 minute TGV ride, or a more meandering local train which takes 1 hour 20 minutes through Paris’ suburbs and rolling countryside.

Milan, Italy

Sat in the shadow of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s modern metropolis, economic powerhouse and it’s fashion capital. Contemporary and cosmopolitan as it may be, it has rich historic roots to explore, and some to-die-for food. It’s also the gateway to Italy’s spectacular lake district, so why not tack on some time to gaze over Lake Como while you’re there.

This one is a bit of a mission, but entirely worth it! From London take the Eurostar to Paris, then the TGV to Zurich (Switzerland) then a local train to Milan. You’ll pass through the Alps, cross the Landwasser Viaduct and whoosh along the banks of Lake Como.

Cologne, Germany – Hohenzollern Bridge and Cologne Cathedral

Cologne, Germany

Overlooking the Rhine River, Cologne is arguably Germany’s most delightful city. It’s roots are Roman and there are plenty of historical sights to stumble across, as well as a huge Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline. There’s also an atmospheric old town and a chocolate museum.

Germany’s North Rhine – Westphalia region, easily accessible from Cologne, is also home to the cities of Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Bonn, is dotted with medieval hill and spa towns and contains prime wine country – definitely worth exploring!

Located in east Germany, not far from the Belgium border, Cologne is very easy to reach by train. Take the usual Eurostar from London to Brussels, then hop on one of the frequent fast trains to Cologne, which takes 1 hour 40 minutes.

Barcelona, Spain

A vibrant, colourful seaside city, Barcelona is a city that ticks many boxes. There’s centuries worth of history written in a wealth of spectacular architecture, the food is ridiculously good, the nightlife epic and there’s plenty of sunshine. Perfecto.

Catalonia’s beaches are some of the best, so this could be a fantastic option for those who like an ‘explore and flop’ sort of adventure.

This is one for people who like a leisurely journey, as it takes a couple of days. London to Paris Eurostar, then a slower intercity train up into the Pyrenees to Latour-de-Carol, then the Rodalies de Catalunya train down into Barcelona. Those views though!

Barcelona, Spain – From Parc Guell overlooking the city

Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Luxembourg, capital of the tiny nation of the same name, is often overlooked for its powerhouse neighbours, but that simply makes it a hidden gem! This city combines the beauty of old-world Europe with its wealth of historical buildings and world-class museums and galleries with all the conveniences of a modern metropolis.

With Luxembourg city as a base, the whole country is easy to explore – there are plenty of historic gems and beautiful nature to see and areas of Germany, France and Belgium are easily accessible.

Another easy one; Eurostar from London to Brussels then and intercity trains to Luxembourg, or take the Eurostar to Paris and hop on a TGV to Luxembourg. Both journeys take roughly the same time, but services are more frequent via Brussels.   

And for anyway who fancies an ultra luxurious train experience:

Venice, Italy

Departing from London Victoria, the Belmond Orient Express is epitome of luxury, harking back to the golden age of train travel in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, the carriages are from that very time! Departing London on the Belmond British Pullman the train passes through the lush landscapes of Kent to Folkestone, where you board a shuttle through to Paris, before boarding the Orient Express. Then you journey through the ever-changing scenery of France, spending the night on the train and waking in the Swiss Alps, before pulling into the timeless city of Venice, Italy. Food and wine onboard are of the utmost quality, and all interiors, from cabins to dining rooms are the pinnacle of art deco opulence. This is a once in a lifetime journey! 

Venice, Italy – Santa Maria della Salute across the lagoon

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