If you think that European train travel is confined to Paris and Brussels, think again. There are a whole host of routes that provide an interesting alternative to those two delightful but mainstream destinations. Here are a few of our favourites that you can visit on their own, or string them together as an off-the-beaten-track itinerary!
With such a short journey time from St Pancras International, you could be in Lille for breakfast, never mind lunch. This city’s French, but once the capital of French Flanders, so it has a distinctive Flemish feel. Head to Vieux Lille, the old town, where you’ll find 17th-century merchants’ houses, cobbled streets and an attractive main square, Grand Place.
Moving on from Lille into Belgium is easy and there are no border formalities of course. It’s known for its mediaeval architecture and also its art: paintings by Rubens at the fabulous Museum of Fine Arts won’t disappoint. The City Museum for Contemporary Art holds its own with works by Warhol amongst others.
If you want to combine cities on your rail trip, the seven-hour journey from Paris to Leipzig is a good alternative to hot-footing it across to Berlin. Leipzig’s packed with interesting sights, from the huge Monument to the Battle of Nations commemorating victory against Napoleon to Auerbach’s Cellar with its connections to Faust. Railway enthusiasts will already know that its station is the world’s largest.
The Czech Republic’s second largest city, Brno is often overlooked by Prague. Despite this, it has much to offer tourists. Don’t miss the 13th-century Špilberk Castle, once a Royal residence, and the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, begun in the 14th-century but only finished in 1909. It also boasts the second-largest ossuary in the world after the catacombs of Paris.
It’s easy to combine Brno with the Austrian city of Graz. Its old town is atmospheric and lends itself to aimless wandering. While you’re on your feet, check out the city’s Uhrturm or clock tower and take the Schloßbergbahn funicular up the mountain for views over this attractive city.
Poland is a great choice if you’re heading east and need to stretch the budget; everything from accommodation to eating out is cheaper than in the big western European cities. If you’ve been to Krakow already, why not try Wroclaw? Located on the Oder River, you’ll love its charming market square and Gothic Old Town Hall.
Head south for the sun, they say, and it doesn’t get any more chic than Montpellier, just 10km inland from the Med. Before you rush off to the beach, pay a visit to the Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier, a 14th-century delight boasting two conical towers. You’ll also find France’s oldest Botanical Garden, receiving visitors since 1593.
Southern Spain is easy to reach from Montpelier but instead of Barcelona, why not visit nearby Girona? Like its larger neighbour, this Catalan city has a pretty old town in the form of Barri Vell as well as the remains of a Roman fortress. Walk the Passeig Arqueològic following the Old Quarter’s mediaeval walls for the best views.
Most people heading for northern Italy make a beeline for Milan or Venice but those looking for something different would do well to check out trains to Turin. The Mole Antonelliana is the city’s most famous landmark, but there’s much to be said for holing up in one of Turin’s cafes and watching the world go by.
Forget Amsterdam with its crowds. Rotterdam’s long maritime history makes this a fascinating destination for a mini-break and, less than 3 hours from Paris, it’s easy to reach by train. Check out the city’s Maritime Museum and wander the 17th-century Delfshaven neighbourhood to get a feel for the flavour of this Dutch gem hidden in plain sight.
Have these destinations fueled your wanderlust? Or is there somewhere else you’d recommend for a European rail trip that goes beyond the obvious? We’d love to hear your suggestions.
We love to travel, which is no surprise as Trainline is the world’s leading train ticket retailer. We go out of our way to make search and booking train tickets as simple as possible via our app so that you can enjoy your trips in and around Europe for the best fare.