Low-cost flights and working visas in Australasia have put an end to the almost obligatory European train-hopping trip. But, with a growing awareness of sustainability and an understanding that trains equal greener travel, there’s interest once again in travelling with friends, family or alone across the continent. Buy an Interrail Pass and start planning your European adventure!
Here are some of the best routes:
1. European capitals
- Paris to Venice
- Venice to Vienna
- Vienna to Berlin
- Berlin to Zurich
- Zürich (to Paris)
This is the perfect whistlestop tour of Europe’s famous and fascinating central cities. Thanks to Europe’s many nightjet trains, which let you save money on a hotel and transport you to a totally different country while you sleep, this packed itinerary is doable in 10 days with a one-month continuous rail pass. This means you can take as many trips as you like, including day trips from all these capital cities.
Take the Eurostar from London to Paris, see the Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triomphe, and swing your way through the Jardin de Tuillieres along the Champs Elysee. A romantic walk along the Seine in summer is always a great way to stretch your legs after a long train journey, while having a cocktail or two in the hip Canal St Martin district will give you another perspective on Paris’ waterways.
Go for a morning jog up and down the steps at Sacre Coeur, and fit in some macaron shopping at Laduree before heading to Venice overnight. Wake up early and make sure you catch the remarkable approach to Venezia Santa Lucia station, and spend the next couple of days eating hot fritti misti drizzled with lemon on the side of Venices’ canals.
Take half a day to visit the incredible San Michele island cemetery just outside of the city. Swap sea-legs for train-legs for another night train, this time to the heart of Fin de Siecle Europe: Vienna. You’re here predominantly to eat Sacher Torte and see Lippanzer horses prance around the 18th century stables. Leave room for a Wiener Schnitzel, listen to some Wagner at the Opera, and take a walk down the Danube.
It’s another overnight, this time to Berlin. Get an early night so you can power through to the early hours at Berlin’s clubbing mecca, Berghain. If the weather’s nice, pull your trainers on for a jog around Grunewald Forest and finish with a nudey dip in Teufelssee, one of Berlin’s 300 lakes. Pig out on some of the best Turkish food outside of Istanbul, explore the Mauer museum, and soak up some history at the Stasi museum.
You’ve still got time to squeeze in some mountains, so hop back on that overnight train, head to Zurich, and spend a couple of days eating chocolate and romping up mountains as the Swiss do. An overnight train should see you back to Paris for a full loop.
2. European beaches
- San Sebastian
- Côte d’Azur
It’s no secret that Europe has excellent public transport. This means its beaches are often accessible by rail too - perfect for train-loving beach bums.
This is a route that stretches right across Europe, so to avoid repetitive travel, consider flying to Faro, Portugal, where the adventure starts. Faro’s beaches are family-friendly and golden. Take a paperback and get into the holiday zone before getting started on the rest of the trip.
After Faro’s hot, wide beaches and surf-friendly Atlantic waves, take a 3 hour train north to Lisbon. Eat pastel de nata and explore the city’s hilly neighbourhoods, before heading south to Costa da Caparica for a quick beach day. For a city and beach all in one, it’s a 12 hour ride to northern Spain’s San Sebastien, home to the highest density of Michelin-star restaurants in Europe. Eat as many pintxo (Basque tapas) dishes as you can, and cool off in one of the town’s two sloping, sandy beaches, before a 15-hour trip to the Cote d’Azur.
Wherever you decide to stop, from Nice, to Cap d’Ail, to Monaco, you can’t go wrong. The beaches are stony and strong along the Mediterranean, which mean perfectly clear water, fresh linen, and evening, sun-soaked cocktails. Take a fast TGV from Nice home.
What’s great about taking an interrail trip through the Balkans is quite often, the trains are slower, more atmospheric, and generally more ricketty than those in Western Europe. This is a good thing because the journey feels like a significant and important part of the trip. It’s also handy because you’re less likely to have to pay reservation fees which can add up on fast intercity trains in Germany and France. There aren’t a lot of trains in the Balkans, so choices are limited to the region’s capitals and transport hubs.
This is a great route to take in either summer or winter. Zagreb is a cosy, cobbled city, full of quaint cafes and great beerhalls. In winter its snowy squares are full of mulled wine stalls, and people stretching aching legs from skiing on the nearby Sljeme mountains.
From Zagreb head to the Serbian capital Belgrade, a city of strategic importance sitting between the old Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. From Belgrade, head into Montenegro to its capital Podgorica, to see Orthadox churches and Roman ruins. Head south towards Bosnia’s historic Mostar with its beautiful 15th century bridge which spans an aquamarine river.
End your trip in Croatian Split, from where you can take the ferry to smaller, picturesque islands and while away the last few days of your holiday eating tangy Croatian sheeps cheese, pickled, plump olives, and ripe tomatoes by the sea.
4. Scandi Europe
- Copenhagen, Denmark
This trip is best saved for summer, when Scandinavia’s snows thaw and the winter sun stretches on late into the night.
Scandinavia is an outdoor lovers paradise. In winter, expect skiing. In summer, it’s all about swimming, sailing and sauna. Start in Copenhagen, and sample some of the city’s summer beaches at Sneglen. Eat cinnamon rolls and ride bicycles around the cobbled old town.
From Copenhagen to Oslo, Norway’s capital, where you should visit some of the country’s most famous art works. In winter you can cross-country ski right across the city. In summer, city life tends to be about drinking beers outdoors and exploring 9th century viking ships. From Oslo to Bergen: this cross country train is one of Europe’s most scenic, incredible in winter or summer. Bergen is a beautiful coastal destination. Bergen’s Mount Floyen seven peak mountain hike is a perfect way to spend a warm afternoon, and the harbour is the perfect place to relax and eat fish soup from Sisters Cafe.
If you can fit it into your schedule, take the long ride to historic Stockholm from Bergen. Forested Stockholm is a great place to base yourself to explore the plentiful lakes and forests around the city, while you can power your creativity up by ambling through trendy Sodermalm.