Train or shine: 9 magical European cities where you don’t have to fly

Whether you are concerned about the environment, hate traveling by plane, or want a cheaper option, traveling by train could be a good choice for your next vacation.

With growing awareness of the carbon footprint left by global tourism, train vacations in Europe are becoming increasingly popular. An extensive rail network means the mainland is easily accessible by train, and the stunning views along the way make land journeys memorable. It’s not always about the destination, after all.

From cultural hubs in the north to sunny destinations in the south, we’ve handpicked nine fantastic cities in Europe that you don’t have to fly to.

For mountain landscapes: Bern, Switzerland

The postcard-perfect Swiss capital is located on the banks of the Aare and surrounded by the imposing beauty of the snow-capped Alps. It is also home to 6 km of sheltered sandstone shopping arcades full of independent cellars, cafes and craft shops. For the best views of medieval Altstadt (Old Town), climb the 344 steps to the top of Bern Cathedral, the country’s tallest bell tower at 101 meters.

Direct trains run to Bern from Paris and Frankfurt in 4.5 hours. From Brussels and London, the journey takes 7.5 hours with one change.

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For gourmet delights: Florence, Italy

It’s impossible to pick a single gourmet spot in Europe, but the charming Italian city of Florence is a particularly tempting choice. Emphasizing local, sustainable, and seasonal food, Tuscan treats such as schiacciata flatbread and savory Florentine steak are often on the menu. Taste tagliatelle made with locally sourced truffles and porcini mushrooms, or opt for wild boar pappardelle pasta, followed by arguably the best ice cream in the country.

Night trains reach Florence in 10 hours from Munich, making the city an ideal destination for a sleeper train vacation. From Geneva, the journey takes less than 6.5 hours.

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For culture lovers: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Thanks to famous painters like Van Gogh and Rembrandt, Amsterdam is an iconic city of art. Home to the works of the Dutch masters in the Rijksmuseum and the equally attractive modern rooms of the Stedelijk, it’s easy to see why the capital of the Netherlands is considered one of the cultural centers of Europe. Explore further and you will discover much more, from outdoor sculptures to small independent galleries.

You can take a direct train from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in four hours, from London in just over 3.5 hours, and from Paris in three hours.

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For sunny visits: Seville, Spain

Although a little out of the way, Seville in southern Spain is a vibrant destination that generously rewards visitors keen to cover those extra miles. It is a city steeped in history, with architectural highlights ranging from the largest Gothic cathedral in the world to the exquisite Royal Palace of the Alcazar. A sensual and sunny setting of winding streets, heavenly tapas and flamenco dances, it will certainly leave its mark on you.

Seville is 2h30 by direct train from Madrid. A trip from Paris or Lisbon takes 12 to 13 hours.

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For fascinating architecture: Cologne, Germany

The Germany of Cologne is a fascinating mix of ancient Roman walls and medieval churches. The twin spiers of its Kölner Dom cathedral are an iconic part of the skyline, and the view of the eye-catching sprawl of the city from the south tower is well worth the 533 step climb. This structure also houses the largest free-swinging bell in the world, weighing 24 tons.

You can get to Cologne from London in 4.5 hours, with a change in Brussels. From Paris, the direct journey is three hours, making it an ideal option for your train vacation in Europe.

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For lush vineyards: Bordeaux, France

Undoubtedly the wine capital of France, Bordeaux delights visitors with its neat and pretty vineyards. Here you can visit some of the hundreds of aristocratic wineries, or chateaux, to learn more about the winemaking process and taste the final product. In the city itself, the ultramodern Cité du Vin museum is an impressive place dedicated to introducing wine and its heritage to a young generation through immersive exhibitions.

Bordeaux is two hours by train from Paris. You can get there from London or Amsterdam in about 5.5 hours with a change or 4.5 hours from Brussels.

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For Imperial Greatness: Vienna, Austria

The Austrian capital is recognized as the world city of music thanks to a heritage that includes Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Strauss. Visit the famous Musikverein, home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, or explore the interactive exhibits of the innovative Haus der Musik museum. You can also learn about the imperial heritage left by the Habsburgs at the Hofburg Palace, which dates back to the 13th century and is one of the largest palatial complexes in the world.

You can reach Vienna from Paris in 10 hours with a single change, or from Brussels in 11. A direct trip from Frankfurt takes just 6.5 hours.

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For a romantic getaway: Rome, Italy

It’s hard to think of a more romantic option than traveling from Paris to Rome. Take a leisurely stroll through the cobbled alleys to see some of the world’s most famous historical monuments. Many couples who visit choose to stop at the Trevi Fountain – the largest in town – and toss a coin over their shoulders. One coin promises a return to town, two mean you’ll come back and fall in love, and three offer the promise of marriage.

The Paris-Rome journey takes around 11 hours. You can interrupt the trip by choosing to take an overnight train to Milan and jump on a connection with Rome that will allow you to arrive on time after breakfast.

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For a weekend: London, United Kingdom

London is one of the most visited cities in the world and not without reason. A thriving dining scene and a host of free or low-cost cultural attractions make this the perfect location for a quick weekend getaway. You’ll want to come back, however, to make sure you experience each of its distinct and diverse neighborhoods.

Traveling from Paris to London by train couldn’t be easier with a journey of around 2.5 hours on the Eurostar. Stay and enjoy what London has to offer or use the UK’s extensive rail network to explore other metropolitan hubs including Manchester, Liverpool and even Edinburgh.

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COVID-19 Tips

Please note that there are currently travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19. Depending on the country you are visiting, restaurants, bars and museums may be closed. Always check government advice before making reservations.

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