Are you and your bell-ringing two-wheeled companion inseparable? If you love cycling and active holidays, here are some great scenic routes to choose from so you can ride high when it comes to planning your next trip!
1. France: The Tour de France Challenge
The Classic Cols: Annecy-Albertville-Valloire-Bourg d’Oisans
Every cyclist’s dream is attempting the challenging mountain climbs made famous by the Tour de France. This thrilling and spectacular route takes you past stunning mountain peaks, hanging glaciers and epic Alpine scenery – perfect for advanced cyclists and thrill- seekers. It starts in the picturesque town of Annecy where you can swim in the lake’s turquoise waters, sample the local dish raclette or stroll alongside canals before cycling up two of most renowned ascents in the world: Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez’s hairpin bends. This is the ultimate achievement for any cycling enthusiast, following in the footsteps – or should we say tracks – of some of most elite cyclists on the planet. For not so advanced friends or family, Lake Annecy is ideal for cycling around. Simply hop on a train with your bikes and head for the “Venice of Savoie”. Your mountain adventure awaits!
2. Italy: Riding the Riviera
Parco Costiero del Ponente Ligure Cycle Route
This route is the perfect option for families and cyclists of varying levels, as it‘s both flat and traffic-free. It allows you to explore one of Italy’s hidden gems as it follows the course of an old railway line, opening up new areas of unspoilt coastline to cyclists. Ride past vineyards, olive groves and fragrant flowers and stop off at idyllic sandy beaches along the way. Continue your journey through tunnels, past vibrant seaside towns and restaurants dotted along the coast. The best way to access this route is by catching the train to San Remo and joining the path at Villa Nobel. Advanced cyclists can extend this 24 km route by going 74 km from the South of France to Tuscany.
3. Spain: A Pedalling Pilgrimage
EuroVelo 3 Cycle Route: Santiago de Compostela-Trondheim
If you love history, culture and city-hopping, this is the ideal option for you. This 5,100 km track takes you along the famous pilgrimage route and past stunning cities with impressive ancient religious buildings and architecture such as the cathedrals of Cologne and Santiago de Compostela. If you wish to do the entire route, you can catch the train to Santiago or join the route further on in Paris or Hamburg, cities renowned for their incredible nightlife. Another option is splitting up the route and going part of the way by train, for example, from Paris to Bordeaux and cycling from there. The options are endless!
4. Germany: Riverside Roadies
The Elbe Cycle Route
This idyllic rural route allows you to be at one with nature, cycling past luscious meadows, breathtaking valleys and extensive marshes. Animal lovers will particularly love this track, as beavers, storks and white-tailed eagles are just some of the incredible wildlife you can spot along the way. Furthermore, you can explore some of Germany’s cultural treasures, from Hamburg’s Speicherstadt to Magdeburg’s imperial palace, you’re really spoilt for choice. This 1,260 km route is easily accessible by train and can be joined at many points such as Hamburg, Magdeburg or Dresden.
5. The Netherlands: Wheelies along the Waterfront
The North Sea Cycle Route
Want to cycle on the world’s longest cycle path? Then this route is for you. The North Sea Cycle Route is the result of an international project between 8 countries. The Netherlands’ section of the route goes past endless pastures, panoramic polders and superb sand dunes as you cycle with the sea breeze in your hair. You can simply get the train to the start of the Netherlands’ 40 km trail at The Hague and cycle to Zandvoort, with several beach access points along the way. Or you can cycle across all 8 countries – the choice is yours!
Foodies on Tour
Are you passionate about cooking, trying local culinary delights or going on tantalising tasting tours? Here are some scrumptious routes around Europe to give you serious food for thought!
6. France: The Culinary Capital to Wine-Lovers’ Paradise
Going from Paris to Bordeaux is the ultimate food-lover’s route. Start your trip in Paris with its haute cuisine restaurants, casual bistros and delicious bakeries. Visiting Le Precope, the oldest restaurant in Paris, which exudes history and charm, is an absolute must. After exploring Paris, take a direct train to Bordeaux in about 2 hours. As the largest wine-growing region in France with 6 wine routes in the countryside, this is the ideal location for a wine-tasting experience organised by the Bordeaux Tourist Office.
7. Spain: The Tapas Trail
Seville to Granada
Which food instantly springs to mind when you think of Spain? Yes, tapas! The south of Spain specialises in these tasty nibbles, given out free alongside your drink in almost every bar. Usually you're given enough tapas to fill you up without needing to buy lunch! This route takes you between two of the main tapas capitals, Seville and Granada, with direct trains in just over three hours. Why not try a tapas cooking class in Seville with Cooking Olé and explore some of the best tapas bars in Spain in Granada, such as Bodegas Espadafor?
8. Italy: Along the Olive Oil Road
Strada dell’Olio di Puglia, Brindisi
Puglia produces almost 40% of Italy’s olive oil with approximately 60 million olive trees in the region. Following the gastronomic Strada dell’Olio di Puglia (Puglia’s Olive Oil Road), learn all about olive oil production and see how olives are grown and picked. This 140 km route goes past several museums and ancient farms, such as the Olive Oil Museum in Fasano and the Museo dell’Olio in San Vito dei Normanni. Simply get the train to Brindisi, and let the exploring begin.
9. Belgium: The Chocolate Way
The Chocolate Way is an ethical network of artisan heritage sites throughout Europe. You can follow part of this route by taking the train between two of the main chocolate-making hubs, Brussels and Bruges in just under an hour. In Brussels there are over 500 chocolatiers – that’s one chocolatier for every 2,000 people! Visit Choco-Story Brussels, a museum helping you journey through the world of chocolate and the Choco Jungle Bar in Bruges, renowned for its delicious hot chocolate. Chocoholics, this is a dream come true!
10. Germany: The Beer and Castle Route
For beer lovers and culture vultures this is a superb route. It runs 500 km from Passau to Thuringia, with history, nature and drinking spots all along the way. Marvel at castles such as Theuern and Heidecksburg, explore the Frankenhausen forest or take a boat trip on the Danube, always knowing there is a cool pint of beer waiting for you on your return. Bayreuth has the highest density of breweries than anywhere else in the world, so what better place for a brewery tour?
Backpackers on a Budget
Looking to explore as much of Europe as possible on a tight budget? Trains are the perfect option for backpackers, as you get cheap deals and explore several countries at ground level. Here are some of the best routes for adventurous explorers on a budget.
11. France-Italy: The Overnight Timesaver
When backpacking, a great way to save money is by getting the overnight train. This extends the time spent in your chosen destination and saves you money on accommodation, as the train is your bed for the night. Sleeper trains are also an extremely fun and memorable experience. This direct overnight route from Paris to Venice is the perfect way to explore two beautiful cities renowned for their expensive accommodation. From the Louvre to the boat trips on the Seine and the Doge’s Palace in Venice, you’ll have plenty to marvel at by taking this route.
12. UK-The Netherlands: The Country-Hopper
The aim of backpacking is to see as much as possible on a limited budget. Trains are perfect for this as most stations are centrally located in big cities so you don’t need to spend extra money or time on transfers when you arrive. This country-hopping route is the ultimate backpacking trip around Europe, taking you from London to Paris, Paris to Rome, Rome to Florence, Florence to Venice, Venice to Munich, Munich to Heidelberg and finally Heidelberg to Amsterdam. Not only do you get to explore the wonderful sights of four capital cities, you also get to experience some iconic Italian and German locations which exude culture, history and architectural excellence.
13. The UK: The Highland Harry Potter Route
The West Highland Line
For those unable to get tickets for the popular Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and backpackers looking to combine their love for hiking and Harry Potter, the West Highland Line is a fantastic choice to take. Not only is it one of the most scenic train rides in Europe, going past rugged landscapes and isolated lochs, it was also featured in the Harry Potter films. You can feel more like a wizard and less like a muggle in no time by simply taking this picturesque route from Fort William to Mallaig.
14. Germany: The Romantic Central Rhine Railway
Another good thing about travelling by train when backpacking is that you can save money on tours by choosing a scenic route. The Central Rhine Railway, between Bingen and Koblenz is the perfect way to see scenery up close and parts of the countryside you would not normally get to. It journeys past quaint villages, romantic castles and vineyards alongside the Rhine. This particular section of the route, known as the Rhine Gorge, is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s not every day you get to go past a World Heritage Site on the way to your next destination!
15. Italy: The Ultimate Money Saver
Booking in advance means you can get some absolute bargains for getting to your next destination, so you can spend more on accommodation and activities. One route, which will not break the bank if booked beforehand, is the Rome to Naples train. You can get a ticket for as little as 9.90 euros and reach your destination in just 1 hour 20 minutes. This truly is the perfect money and time saver for budgeting backpackers.
Are you mad about city breaks? If you love incredible landmarks, shopping sprees and buzzing atmospheres, these top routes will be right up your street!
16. Italy: The Romantic Route
Looking to whisk your partner away for a city-hopping break? This route not only takes you through charming Tuscan farmland, it also goes via one of the most romantic cities in the world, Verona. Visiting Juliet’s balcony and re-enacting the famous scene from the Shakespeare play is an absolute must. Take a stroll up Rome’s Aventine Hill for an intimate setting and impress your loved one with a gondola ride in Venice for the ultimate finale to your trip. Love will most definitely be in the air on this route.
17. France-Italy: The Fashionista and Shopaholic Tour
Passionate about haute couture? This route takes you between two of the most iconic fashion capitals in the world, Paris and Milan. Renowned for fashion shows, luxury boutiques and ateliers, this trip is every shopaholic and fashionista’s dream. Rue de Passy and Via Montenapoleone are not to be missed and are the perfect spots to buy designer souvenirs. Furthermore, the train costs as little as 30 euros, so you can spend less on travel and more on luxury goods!
18. Germany-The Netherlands: The History Buffs’ Route
Start your journey in Berlin. Walk along the remains of the Berlin wall, visit the Holocaust memorial and marvel at the Brandenburg Gate, one of the ancient city gates built in 1791. After a train ride to Amsterdam (of which there are 40 a day), you can explore Anne Frank’s house, visit some of the city’s many museums or cycle round its ancient canal belt. This is an ultimate route for budding historians.
19. UK-France-Spain: The Sports Extravaganza
If you are a big sports fan, you can go on a complete European stadium tour. Start at London’s Wembley stadium and from there, continue your journey on to Paris, home to the Stade de France. Finish off the tour in Barcelona at Camp Nou, the largest stadium in Europe. Plan ahead and you can coincide your trip with a football match or a concert.
20. Switzerland-Germany: The Lap of Luxury
Looking to travel in style? Go first class and explore these two luxurious destinations, Zurich and Munich. Renowned for banking and finance, the city of Zurich is a vibrant city with a crystal-clear lake, cobbled medieval streets and a beautiful botanical garden to explore. Next, take the train to Munich, the home of highbrow art, cutting-edge technology and designer shops. Taking this route will be the ultimate indulgent experience.
For beach lovers who enjoy relaxing seaside holidays, take a look at the following routes – planning your next trip will be as easy as A, B, Sea!
21. France-Italy: Cruising the Cote d’Azur
This route is for glamorous beachgoers who wish to bathe in the French Riviera’s warm sea, walk on golden sand and explore glitzy marinas, dotted with exclusive restaurants. Not only can you enjoy visiting some of the best beaches in Europe, you can also take in the scenery on the train from Fréjus to Ventimiglia with its stunning sea views. It goes via Cannes, Nice and several quirky seaside towns in between, all well worth a visit.
22. Italy: The Cinque Terre Express
Beach holidays are not necessarily just for lazing about. You can also explore pretty seaside towns such as the Cinque Terre villages. This scenic train ride allows you to explore all five villages with their vibrant houses, incredible seafood restaurants and fresh seaside air. It runs alongside rugged coastline and goes from Levanto to La Spezia. Remember to incorporate a breathtaking coastal walk into your trip.
23. Germany: The Westerland Wanderer
This route takes you from Hamburg along the scenic 11 km Hindenburgdamm causeway by train to the island of Sylt with 25 km of sandy beaches, West Coast surfing and the calm Wadden Sea on the eastern side. It has an array of unspoilt dunes and heathlands with a magnificent clifftop backdrop: the perfect choice for beach lovers in search of a holiday full of variety.
24. Belgium: The Alternative Beach Break
If you are looking for an alternative beach holiday this is an excellent route, combining both a city and seaside break! Knokke-Heist is a secret Flemish gem where Frank Sinatra used to sing. It’s perfect for water sports, promenade cycling and walks along the dunes. There is even a special designated area for children to play: the Kidsbeach. Escape the bustling city life of Brussels and get fresh sea air into your lungs in just over 1 hour 30 minutes.
25. Spain: The Classic Costas
Finally, we can’t talk about European seaside holidays without mentioning the Spanish costas. Several of Spain’s cities have fantastic train routes taking you out to the surrounding beaches. This particular route starts in Barcelona and ends in Valencia – a perfect journey for exploring two beautiful Spanish cities, but also three extremely varied Spanish costas. The sunshine, warm sea and golden beaches await.
There are many European routes to try for every kind of traveller. All you need to do is choose one to suit you: your European adventure is just a train ticket away!