It’s hard to embrace the romance of the railway when your standard interaction with it involves pushing your way onto a delayed service during rush hour. But travelling by train can be a relaxing way to get around, especially when the views outside the window are this good.
Plus, London has fantastic transport links, which means that finding an aesthetically-pleasing new adventure is easy. Our city’s trains are well-linked to other parts of the UK and across Europe, so you can forget about schlepping to the airport for your next break. For beautiful train journeys, through picturesque mountain ranges, past rugged castles and over sparkling rivers just take your pick from the list below. Here’s just a handful of the most scenic train journeys in Europe, starting in London and ending somewhere new. No Oyster card needed.
Beautiful European train journeys from London
Look out for Once you hit France it’s all rolling fields and quaint little villages. After passing through the charming, gastro-city of Lyon and on to the vineyard-strewn Rhône Valley, look out for the Massif Central mountains to the right and the snowy French Alps to the left before arriving in the incredibly beautiful, walled medieval city of Avignon.
Journey London St Pancras to Avignon TGV station, changing at Paris (via Eurostar), to Avignon city centre (via shuttle train).
Journey time 6 hours
Approx cost £213 (one-way, standard class, advance booking)
Look out for En route to Penzance, try and spot the giant Westbury White Horse, carved out of chalky Salisbury Plain. Cross engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous bridge over the river Tamar and keep a look out for the sign welcoming you to Cornwall in actual Cornish. Trundle along the breathtaking clifftops of St Ives Bay before arriving at the seaside town with its postcard-perfect harbour.
Journey London to St Erth via the Night Riviera Sleeper, St Erth to St Ives (by bus).
Journey time 5 hours 45 minutes
Approx cost £89-£135 (one-way, single sleeper)
Look out for More scenic and cheaper than the TGV high-speed equivalent – rolling through the Rhône valley you’ll see countless pretty villages. Notice the Foix Castle emerge on the right before winding your way through the snowcapped Pyrenees. From the grand Latour-de-Carol station it’s a three-hour wobbly descent down the mountains to Barcelona. Look out for cascading waterfalls, tiny houses perched precariously on the hills and ancient ruins.
Journey London to Paris (via Eurostar), Paris to Latour-de-Carol (via Intercité de Nuit couchette train), Latour-de-Carol- Enveitg – Barcelona (via Rodalies de Catalunya train).
Journey time 2 days
Approx cost £80
Look out for Race alongside the banks of Lake Como and into luscious green mountains. From Tirano, enjoy views of the mist-covered Alps, then it’s a fir-tree-lined descent past the vast Lake Poschiavo and over the six-arched curved limestone Landwasser Viaduct. Once in Milan you can hotfoot it on to a high-speed train and take a trip to Florence, Rome or Venice.
Journey London to Paris (via Eurostar), Paris to Zurich (via TGV plus overnight stay), Zurich to Milan (via local train).
Journey time 2 days
Approx cost £161 (one way, 2nd class, excluding overnight stay)
Look out for Waking up on board the Caledonian Sleeper in Bonnie Scotland is pretty special, but the return leg is even nicer. Unspoilt Scottish scenery will have you glued to the window until bedtime. Pass by Loch Lomond bordered by craggy mountains and make sure you keep your eyes peeled for deer on the marshy flatlands of Rannoch Moor. Add on a train trip to Mallaig at the end of the line, to travel over the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the 21-arch bridge featured in the Harry Potter movies.
Journey time 13 hours
Approx cost £50 seat/£140 single-bed bunks/£395 double bed (one way advance ticket)
Look out for Taking you all the way from Shrewsbury to the edge of North West Wales, you’ll pass the top of the Shropshire hills, the Cambrian Hills, and then Snowdonia. If you want to exit the train, your route takes you near to Ynys-hir Nature Reserve, where you can take a stroll whilst overlooking the Dyfi estuary. Don’t miss Harlech Castle, an impressive Medieval structure situated on the edge of a near-vertical cliff face.
Journey London Euston to Shrewsbury changing at Birmingham (via Virgin), Shrewsbury to Pwllheli (via Cambrian Railway).
Journey time 7 hours
Approx cost £65 (one-way, advance booking)
Look out for Apparently the sunniest city in Germany, Freiburg is a quant area with delicate miniature streams and cobbled streets. On the journey there, you’ll fly across the vibrant French countryside, through the Regional Natural Park of Lorraine, and then across the border into Southern Germany where you can expect incredible views of The Black Forest. We recommend hopping off and visiting the Forest on foot, or riding in a cable car to get a bird’s eye view of the incredible dark treetops. If you fancy extending your trip, there’s also a Black Forest train route running between Offenburg (30 minutes from Freiburg) and Konstanz.
Journey London St Pancras to Paris Nord (via Eurostar), Paris Nord to Paris Gare de L'Est (via Paris RER), Paris Gare de L'Est to Karlsruhe Hbf (via TGV), Karlsruhe Hbf to Freiburg.
Journey time 7 hours 35 minutes
Approx cost £120 (one way, 2nd class)
Look out for Let’s be honest, once you’re on board the Belmond Orient Express you’ll struggle to take your eyes off the art deco interiors in your vintage cabin. But if you can, you’ll see spectacular views of imposing mountains and lush valleys. Your journey starts as you whizz through the French countryside whilst enjoying a four-course meal and fizz. When you rise in the morning, you’ll be greeted by the all-encompassing Swiss Alps over your morning coffee, just like Hercule Poirot.
Journey London Victoria to Folkestone (via Belmond British Pullman), Folkestone to Paris (via shuttle), Paris to Venice (via Orient Express).
Journey time 32 hours (overnight, sleeper)
Approx cost £3,920 (single, one way)
Look out for On this steam train service, you’ll begin travelling across a patchwork of pretty English hills and farmland towards the Yorkshire Dales. As you weave across the country and towards Carlisle, you’ll pass through tunnels and over impressive viaducts, such as Ribblehead. The train also travels through Mallerstang, home to Pendragon castle, past the River Eden and up to Ais Gill, the highest railway summit in England.
Journey London Euston to Carnforth (via Electric), Carnforth to Carlisle (Steam).
Journey time 1 day
Approx cost £99 (return, standard class)
Look out for Beginning in Venice, where you’ll see the romantic Venice Lagoon and Grand Canal, the super luxurious Balkan Odyssey follows the Adriatic coast to Budapest, stopping off at beautiful and intriguing European spots. You’ll be taking your time to explore the different places along the way, but when you’re on board make sure you keep your gaze out the window to spy gothic castles, gawp at the Carpathian Mountains in Romania and see the glistening Danube in Hungary.
Journey London to Paris (via Eurostar), Paris to München (via SNCF), München to Venice (via Nightjet sleeper), Venice to Budapest (via The Balkan Odyssey).
Journey time 10 days
Approx cost £9,983 (single, one way)
Look out for As you whiz through Germany look for the Elbe River, one of Europe’s major rivers, as you travel south of Dresden. You’ll also spy Bad Schandau, a scenic spa town located on the bank of the river, and Děčín Castle where the Elbe meets Ploučnice river, before travelling alongside the incredible River Vltava on the way into the historic city of Prague.
Journey London St. Pancras to Frankfurt (via Eurostar), Frankfurt to Berlin (via DB), Berlin to Dresden (via DB), Dresden to Prague (via Czech Railways).
Journey time two days
Approx cost £76 (one way, not including overnight stay)
More amazing weekend breaks from London
Recently, 1920s theme park Dreamland has reopened after an 11-year campaign by locals. The UK’s answer to New York’s hyper-kitsch Coney Island, it boasts a mix of retro rides, seaside sauciness and a Tracey Emin-endorsed rollerdisco. Entry costs £17.95 and covers all rides. Skating is £4.95 Fri-Sun and £4.50 Mon-Thurs. With ‘Dreamland’ spelled out like the Hollywood sign across the back wall, it’s the most Instagrammable pleasure beach I’ve ever been to.
Margate retains an eccentric seaside spirit though. We paid £3.50 to pop into the Shell Grotto, a series of caves discovered in Victorian times (FYI, there’s a shell phallus), then visited the Mad Hatter, a tearoom in the old town, which has been covered floor-to-ceiling in Princess Diana memorabilia for the past 20 years.
And that’s the thing – Londoners are always chasing trends, when we could be heading to Margs for some properly old-fashioned fun. A walk on the beach, a ride on the Ferris wheel, maybe even a stick of rock… Exactly the same things your nan enjoyed on holiday.
By Kate Lloyd
Getting there: By train from St Pancras or Victoria to Margate: around one hour 30 minutes.
Doomsday is upon us, and you are one of the few survivors! At least, that’s how it feels visiting this Kent coastal desert. Splintered remains of old boats litter the large shingle expanse, rusty train tracks run to the middle of nowhere, and a nuclear power station looms over you in the middle distance. Bring your camera and watch out for zombies.
Getting there: By train from King’s Cross to Appledore (change at Ashford): around one hour 30 minutes. Then taxi.
One of the few sandy beaches within an hour of London (and a lovely one it is too), Sunny Sands hosts the annual Folkestone Mermaid Festival and Sandcastle Competition, where the Michelangelos and Da Vincis of the sand-crafting world go head to head. You’d best get practising.
Getting there: By train from King’s Cross to Folkestone Central: around one hour.
You don’t really know a city until you’ve seen its shitty underside. This Southern Water tour (£12 adults, £6 children) will take you beneath the streets of Brighton, through a network of impressive Victorian tunnels that channel waste and water out of the city, before emerging from a manhole into a busy street!
Getting there: By train from Victoria to Brighton: around one hour.
A short train ride away from hordes of sweating sightseers, I find myself setting off on a two-mile punt down the river Cam. Scudamore’s punts can be hired at Mill Lane (£100 a day, £25 an hour), from which point you can drift out of town. Go far enough and you’ll reach the Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester, once frequented by Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, EM Forster and other dead types. As promised, everywhere is pleasantly scented, truly beautiful and – since the students have gone home for summer – nice and empty.
The theory of punting is thus: drop the end of a metal pole to the riverbed, push and it will propel you forwards. The journey’s hard going (Scudamore’s also runs one-way guided trips up to Grantchester for the pole-shy) but ultimately worth it. We moor up by the tea room; there’s a charming, sun-dappled little orchard full of deckchairs and nattering locals. As I bite into a carrot cake, I let the tranquillity wash over me. And I’ve got the perfect way to hold on to this feeling: on the way back, I’m not doing the punting.
By Alexi Duggins
Getting there: By fast train from King’s Cross to Cambridge: around 45 minutes. Then walk (25 minutes) or taxi to Mill Lane.
As well as sampling award-winning wines produced by England’s largest vineyard, you can take indoor and outdoor tours of the estate (£6-£16).
Queen Victoria used to ‘weekend’ at this country estate, 18 miles from central London. It’s now a fancy hotel with luxurious day packages on offer at its spa (£195-£350). Treat yo’self.
Getting there: By train from Euston to Watford Junction: around 20 minutes. Then taxi.
Order a G&T and chill out on this vintage steam train, travelling along a heritage railway line (£79-£195). Getting there Departing from Victoria and returning to Waterloo takes 13 hours, including three hours to spend in Weymouth.
Getting there: Next train, July 22.
Pangbourne is a picturesque village with two or three nice pubs – and some of the best wild swimming within reach of London. We arrived in time for a riverside lunch at The Swan, then strolled down the Thames Path to the water meadows, a prime bathing spot (goose shit notwithstanding) with a slipway providing easy access to the river.
Yes, it was bloody freezing. But only a few minutes in, I was surprised by a genuine feeling of being ‘at one with nature’. I was more literally bonded with some squishy mud near the bank, but a few feet out the bottom dropped away. Suddenly I was doggy-paddling in the clean, clear waters of Big Daddy Thames.
It was glorious: enough to make you never want to dip a toe in chlorinated water again. On a sunny day I’d have been there all afternoon; but given the weather, a pint at The Cross Keys was a decent alternative. And we were back at Paddington by half six. Next time I go, I might even check the weather forecast.
By James Manning
Getting there: By train from Paddington to Pangbourne: direct, around one hour 30 minutes; change at Reading for a journey of less than an hour.
Want to be able to survive in the most inhospitable environment? The place to start is… the New Forest. These family-friendly bushcraft courses (£70 adults, £55 12-18s) will teach you the basics of outdoor survival: how to build a shelter, make a fire, find water and wrestle bears to the death (well, the first three at least).
Getting there: By fast train from Waterloo to Brockenhurst: around one hour 35 minutes. Then taxi.
You’ll be howling with approval after a visit to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. Open to the public every Wednesday (£8 adults, £5 children), the centre is home to ten wolves from places including North America and the Arctic. They’re all kept in enclosures, but maybe still err on the side of caution and avoid wearing any sheepskin.
Getting there: By train from Paddington to Midgham (change at Reading): around one hour. Then taxi.
Dogs are soooo 2014! When you go for a walk in the countryside these days, you want a freakin’ llama by your side. Lead one of the friendly furries through the beautiful Surrey Hills on a day-long trek (£75 adults, £38 nine-15s), stopping for a picnic en route. Just don’t piss your llama off or you’ll learn the true meaning of ‘spitting distance’.
Getting there: By train from Waterloo to Milford: around one hour. Then taxi.
The little island of Mersea (pronounced ‘Mersey’) is one of those places you don’t want to shout about. Let everyone else go to twee-on-sea Whitstable, with its bunting and overpriced oysters. Mersea has crept on to the food map in the past few years, but it’s still down-to-earth.
Seafood shack The Company Shed is exactly that – a big shed that grew out of the family oyster-farming business, with cheapo furniture, kitchen rolls plonked on tables and angry lobsters and crabs awaiting their fate in a tank on the back wall.
Order at the counter then sit back like a Roman emperor as ridiculous piles of shellfish are brought to you. We go for the famous Company Shed seafood platter (£15 per person): a monster smorgasbord of crab, locally cured salmon, smoked peppered mackerel, prawns, crevettes and mussels.
There’s plenty to do on the island – crabbing, a country park, cycling, boat trips, a tour of Mersea Island Vineyard and its microbrewery. But to be honest, we’re really here to feed our faces.
By Cath Clarke
Getting there: By train from Liverpoool Street to Colchester: around 50 minutes. Then taxi (30 minutes), bus or bicycle. You can also pick up a passenger ferry to Mersea from Brightlingsea.
London’s favourite (and presumably only) canal boat cinema has gone cruising out west this summer, on a tour from Brentford to Bristol, along the Kennet & Avon Canal. You can take easy day trips to any of the places where it’s mooring for a range of workshops, talks and free outdoor screenings.
Getting there: Transport and timings vary. See the website.
Follow in the footsteps of Alan Turing (statue pictured) and his legendary team at the very place where brainy Brits cracked the Nazi Enigma code (£16.75 annual adult ticket, £10 12-16s, free under-12s). After taking in the incredible wartime history of the park at its fascinating museum, visit the huts where maths whizzes worked around the clock on German ciphers – work that is estimated to have shortened the war by two years.
Getting there: By train from Euston to Bletchley: around 45 minutes.
Steel yourself and head for Britain’s most haunted village. A screaming man, a suicidal schoolmaster, a burning lady and a murdered highwayman are among the 12 spectres said to hang out in this unassuming corner of the Kent countryside.
Getting there: By train from Charing Cross to Pluckley: around one hour ten minutes.