City or Countryside: Explore Both on These Europe Rail Holidays

Whether you are looking to explore scenic country views or discover architectural delights in the city, you can do both and more on some amazing Europe rail holidays. Rail journeys traverse paths where other modes of transport can’t easily get to, offering you a unique opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy a perspective like no other.

We love slow travel and spending more time in one place so you can make some personal connections to the people and the place. Rail travel is an interesting way to travel slow, hopping effortlessly between city sights while taking in some of the most stunning backdrops along the way. Then it isn’t a question of how but when… and where, of course.

This year, our travels took us through some of Europe’s most iconic cities, ticking several off our ever-growing Europe bucket list. We’ve often wondered what it would have been like to travel more by train instead of our planes, trains, and automobiles approach.

As Americans, we also marveled at all the rail journeys Europe is known for — you can get to so many incredible places in such a short amount of time, seeing both beautiful countryside and grand cities in one trip. We have some serious train envy!

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On our next trip, we will definitely be hopping on board more. If you’re eager to do the same, here are some of the top destinations for your next European rail journey.

 
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

Germany

Beginning your journey with a weekend in Berlin, where you can trace the timeline of a historical and cultural revolution onto Leipzig, Dresden and even cross the border into the Czech Republic. It’s the perfect journey for anyone who loves history as much as they love exploring.

With an abundance of architectural treasures to discover; from Leipzig’s hilltop Schloss Colditz Castle to Prague’s Astronomical Clock, it’s the ultimate city break. From Prague it’s just a short train ride south to the fairytale town of Cesky Krumlov or Ceske Budějovice, the original home of Budweiser beer.

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

Austria

Explore the city life by rail in the Austrian cities of Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna and see all these vibrant cities have to offer.

Begin your journey in the capital of Austria’s Tyrol region, Innsbruck, surrounded by the majestic Alps. Picture perfect Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is next on the list with a host of castles, palaces and churches to discover. Make time to visit the historic city centre, too, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Salzburg, you can travel through the idyllic countryside of the Wachau Valley following the Danube River through quaint small villages for stretches, past centuries-old abbeys, country churches, and charming small towns. Hop off and explore on foot or try a local wine tasting before getting back on board and heading to spend 2 or 3 days in Vienna, the Imperial City.

You could end your rail journey in Vienna while you enjoy its coffee culture and majestic grandeur — there's a never-ending wealth of things to see and do in Vienna throughout the year in what’s often described as Europe’s cultural capital.

Or, you can head south toward the green heart of Austria and the city of Graz, then onto Ljubljana, Slovenia a quick hour away over their international border — two cities linked by their imperial past and shared role in Europe’s first coffee craze.

 
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all
— Helen Keller

Spain

This quote above by Helen Keller describes a rail journey through Spain well — it’s one of my favorite inspiring travel quotes. In many ways, Spain offers travelers the best of Europe: stunning scenery, fairytale villages, inspiring art and architecture, vibrant cityscapes, and of course, delicious Spanish cuisine —some of the best in the world.

In southern Spain, the city of Seville is the birthplace of flamenco and one of the best destinations to visit Europe, especially in Spring. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Seville, a city as colorful as any in Spain.

This part of Spain is renowned for its beautiful coast and is the perfect destination for slow walking holidays from Malaga up to Barcelona and beyond. Madrid has been the Spanish capital ever since the Golden Age and is top of the list for cities to explore for some of the best museums in Spain.

Foodies will especially love the beautifully restored and historic Madrid food market just steps from the Plaza Mayor. From Madrid you can travel to the Kingdom of Castile via train to Segovia where Ferdinand and Isabella united the dynasties of Castile and Aragon. Heading westward will lead you to Salamanca, an ancient university town with a historic city centre and one of the great places to visit in Spain.

Seeing the important Gothic, Moorish, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque monuments is a historical and artistic voyage through the heart of Spain that explores the impressive cultural explosion that happened during the 16th century.

Salamanca UNESCO World Heritage site, Spain

Salamanca UNESCO World Heritage site, Spain

Portugal

You can visit three of Portugal’s vibrant cities on a holiday by rail. Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra all have something unique to offer so whether you visit one or all of them, it will be a trip to remember!

Coimbra is a charming university town and one of Portugal’s oldest cities. Home to one of the world’s first universities it's the perfect place to step back in time. Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, boasts grand architecture, a lively culture, and an amazing food scene. The city effortlessly blends its traditional heritage with striking modernism. Or take a side trip to the coast by train. Lisbon to Albufeira is just two hours away.

The city of Porto sits on the steep banks of the Douro river and is renowned as one of the best cities in Europe for Baroque, Neoclassical and Belle Epoque architecture, all in varying degrees of preservation.

France

The options are seemingly endless when it comes to discovering stunning views and landscapes by rail in France. You can book a self-guided rail journey from Bordeaux to Nice and discover the Canal du Midi, the Rhône delta and the Côte d’Azur along the way. They’re all great destinations for slow travel holidays which we love, so you can spend more time in each area for a more immersive experience.

Provence and the Alpes-Maritimes are also high on the list to visit in France, along with taking the Train Des Merveilles train route. Aptly coined the Train of Wonders, this route covers 1000m in elevation and 81 tunnels traveling from Nice to Tende, one of France’s charming small towns. From here the Burgundy and Rhône Valley areas are easily reached as well.

 
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
— Robert Louis Stevenson

Norway

Traveling by rail between Bergen and Oslo will take you through the steep and narrow valley of Aurland past Sognefjord - the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. Along the way you’ll also see stunning views of the many waterfalls and mountain the area is known for.

Summer is the best time to visit Europe for a voyage like this through Norway. You might also consider a voyage on the famed Hurtigruten coastal steamer, too. Showing you all that the Norwegian coastline has to offer, it’s a great way to discover three unique Arctic Islands; the awe-inspiring island of Austvågøya, the island of Senja and the quaint island of Tromsøya.


Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.
— Erol Ozan

Nordic Explorer Through Scandinavia

 

This has to be one of my favorite quotes about wanderlust, and apropos if you plan to visit Scandinavia. To relish in Scandinavian city life, consider a trip to some of Northern Europe’s most exciting city destinations. Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki can all be reached by rail or even a boat for part of the way — perfect for those looking to mix things up!

Copenhagen is the epicentre for Scandi cool with historic palaces, churches and warehouses that share streets and waterways with bold, contemporary architecture.

The coastal capital of Stockholm spreads across 14 islands and is sure to impress with its pretty medieval streets, immaculate parks and vibrant waterfront promenades. Autumn in Europe is spectacular and The Nordic Explorer takes full advantage of the fall colors.

Copenhagen, Denmark, Destinations for Europe rail holidays

Hip Helsinki, on the other hand, is all about the fusion of grand architecture and contemporary design.

How cool would it be to slow your next holiday down a bit, and take your time seeing a new part of the world? Incorporating a relaxing rail journey into a European holiday would be our idea of a great trip, then all we need to do when we get there is explore.

There are so many European itineraries you could do in a week, given its size and close proximity within countries. Whether you ride the rails or explore other option, Europe is waiting.

Have you taken a rail trip through Europe? Where would you recommend we go first?


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