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There are lots I love about Europe: the different countries’ history, the languages, the cuisines, and, tying them all together, the efficient rail network connecting them. A train trip allows you to sit back, relax, and watch the world go by your window. Travel across borders and to numerous capitals and regions in a brief journey, often much easier and faster than it would be if taking a plane.
It’s so easy taking trains in Europe, and when I lived in Paris, I was forever hopping on the Eurostar for a day in London, while exploring France and nearby countries too. There is something magical about train journeys; watching the ever-changing scenery roll by, sipping a coffee, a glass of wine, or, depending on which train and which route you are taking, enjoying a full-blown fancy dinner with champagne.
Here I have chosen a few fantastic trips — in no particular order — that will connect you in comfort from London to other European capitals and cities. This list allows you to keep London as a base, taking in a few other grand cities on your vacation without having to worry about catching flights and spending hours at an airport.
Sit back, look out of the window, or even lie down, and let these easy train journeys from London inspire you.
This is a busy Eurostar route, you could nearly call it a commuter route, because the fast connection between the two capitals makes a day trip eminently possible and convenient. Start at the wonderful London St. Pancras station, where there is a very lovely champagne bar above the tracks. You’ll then head straight to Gare du Nord in Paris, where you can hop on the metro and start your sightseeing without any noticeable fatigue after the brief journey. You can go standard class with no frills but absolutely comfortable for the duration, standard premier with a light meal, or business premier where you can enjoy a three-course meal with champagne and have full use of the lounges at either end.
Pro Tip: Should you be traveling with the grandchildren, there is even a direct service through to Disneyland Paris running every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Please note that this direct service will be stopped by summer 2023.
An even quicker Eurostar journey takes you from St. Pancras to the Belgian capital of Brussels, which is full of grand sights, much art and architecture, plus a perfect place for sampling the famous Belgian foods and drinks. The relative compactness of the inner city makes it perfect for a short visit, allowing you to see most of the famous sights within a few hours. But, if you decide to stay a little longer, you have Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent within an easy train journey from the main station, allowing you to explore Belgium more in-depth.
Pro Tip: To add an extra city along the way, you can hop off in Lille, a perfect mix of French and Flemish flair, full of history and great food. Or indeed just take the day trip to Lille, have a look around, and stop for some moules frites and a Belgian beer before heading back to London.
While not so far in miles, Amsterdam might be a little long of a ride for a day round-trip. But it is still a very comfortable ride through the French, Belgian, and Dutch countryside. With nearly 4 hours on-board, and the café bar on the train offering limited choices, consider bringing a picnic or book into one of the premier classes and enjoy a meal and wine en route to avoid arriving parched and hungry.
Pro Tip: There are direct Eurostar routes between London and Amsterdam, and some where you can change in Brussels, adding a chance to extend your trip and take in two extra capitals in one swoop.
An absolutely fabulous journey is traveling from London to Brussels on the Eurostar, and then connecting onto the Austrian Nightjet. The Nightjet is a sleeper train that leaves Brussels in the evening (offering a possibility for daytime sightseeing before heading onward) and arrives in Vienna in the morning, after breakfast. Traversing Germany, traveling through cities such as Aachen, Koblenz, Wurzburg, Nuremberg, and Passau, it is nearly a shame that you will be snuggled up in your cabin. You can also take this journey during the daytime on a regular train to enjoy the German countryside flying past your window, but if you schedule your visit over the summer, you will have plenty of daylight to enjoy both the views and your sleep.
Pro Tip: Depending on your budget and how many people you are traveling with, you can also get bunk bed cabins (without a toilet) or single cabins with a bathroom. You can even do the hostel thing and join gender-separated bunk bed cabins, making it really economical.
You can enjoy the opportunity of traveling on one of the world’s most luxurious trains, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express direct from London. Launched in 1883, the long-haul Orient Express was the first luxury train of its kind, with stylish cabins and restaurants on-board catered to the rich traveling long-distance to Istanbul. This service has just been relaunched, but, honestly, it costs an arm, a leg, and then some. If you don’t have the budget, you can still enjoy this historic way of traveling, between London, Victoria, and Venice, taking time to enjoy the utter extravagances on the train. You can indulge in anything from gourmet meals served with champagne to a celebratory midnight brunch, and also have time to sit back to enjoy the fabulous views from your window across changing European landscapes to the Alps and northern Italy. Depending on your budget, you can continue onward, maybe all the way to Istanbul, or return on the same train to do it all over again. Most packages include a one-way train ride and a return flight. Either way, this is your chance to pack your best outfits and enjoy.
Pro Tip: If this whets your appetite for experiencing the Orient Express train but the budget is tight, you can opt to travel on the train not far from London while enjoying anything from afternoon tea to dinner.
Let’s just get the most important point out of the way: This is not the Orient Express. But, while not luxury, the Caledonian Sleeper is a viable alternative to flying when you think of hassle, time spent, and carbon footprint. You will get a comfortable cabin with ensuite bathroom or a simple sleeper seat, depending on your comfort requirements and budget. All accessible, the train departs London Euston in the evening and you’ll wake up in Inverness on the doorstep of the Scottish Highlands. The train splits into three in Edinburgh, parts heading off to Aberdeen, Fort William, or Inverness. With Inverness being the northernmost city in Scotland, you actually have a chance to look out of the window for a while in the morning after breakfast.
Pro Tip: There are also direct daytime connections between Inverness and London, so you can easily sleep one way and look out of the window the other.
Want to check out the south of France from London? No problem. Taking the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, and after a quick change of train stations, you can be on your way south from the rather pretty Gare de Lyon. Whether you stop over in Paris for a croissant or head straight to the next train, you can leave London in the morning and reach the south of France around lunchtime. Marseille itself is one of those underrated cities that seems to get a bad rap simply because it is a port city and there were some troubles decades ago. Today, the stunning old harbor, the super-modern Mucem modern art museum, the cobbled streets, and the famous cuisine are just some of the reasons to pay the city a visit. Add the fact that Provence, Aix-en-Provence, the Cote d’Azur, and even Monaco are just around the corner, you potentially have a city break, beach vacation, and road trip all rolled in one. It’s all just a few hours’ train ride from London.
Pro Tip: If you are even vaguely interested in architecture, you should visit La Cite Radieuse by le Corbusier, a unique concept of habitation.
A travel writer and guidebook author for the last 20 years, Ulrike’s work has been seen in National Geographic, BBC, The Independent, Australian Women’s Weekly, The Telegraph, The Australian, Fodor’s, France Today, CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, CNTraveler, numerous inflight magazines, and many others.
She has written three books for Moon Travel Guides: ‘Living Abroad in Australia’ (3rd edition), ‘Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef’, and the shorter version ‘Spotlight Sydney’ and are all available in print and as e-books.
Having lived in seven countries (Germany, UK, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Australia, and France) to date and traveled to more than 90, she specializes in writing about travel, art and architecture, expat living, and life and style.