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Travel future: A European rail adventure

Scenic train journey in Switzerland

It’s not often that I can say that I’ve travelled as much as I’d like. Normally I’d happily squeeze another weekend break or night away into any given month. But the last couple of months have been pretty manic compared to my normal slow-paced travel style. During the last seven weeks I’ve taken six flights, visited five countries and 11 different destinations – going all the way from Bergen in the north to Santorini in the south. Phew! And I’m not slowing down just yet. Summertime usually sees me exploring destinations closer to home in the UK, but before that I’m packing my passport again and heading off on another European adventure. After taking my first cruise earlier this month, I’ll be taking another transport-based trip in July, but this time I’ll be staying on dry land and travelling by train.

I’ve always wanted to do a big Interail trip, travelling all the way across Europe by rail, but the time’s never been right. So rather than waiting for a spare month (and the money to go with it), I thought I’d start off a bit smaller scale. So I’ll be spending ten days travelling across three countries, along with my husband and parents. The plan was to incorporate some of Europe’s stunning scenic train routes, but go slow enough that we had time to explore the places we stopped off too. Here’s where our route will be taking us…

London to Vienna by train

Our rail trip route from London to Vienna

Celebrating in Strasbourg

The first of many train journeys of the trip will take us from Cheltenham to London to catch the Eurostar to Paris, and from there on to our first destination – Strasbourg. We’re renting an apartment for three nights, just outside the historic Petite-France area, with its beautiful half-timbered buildings and flower-lined canals. Right on the border with Germany, Strasbourg is at the heart of the Alsace region, which mixes German and French influences as well as being home to some great wines. And I plan to celebrate with a few of them while I’m there – the 14th of July is my birthday as well as being Bastille Day, France’s national day. I spent my 30th birthday in Paris – drinking Champagne and watching the fireworks from the Pont des Arts – so I’m hoping Strasbourg is going to put on a good party for me too.

Canals and half-timbered houses in Strasbourg, France

Pretty canalside buildings in Strasbourg – photo credit ArtySil on Flickr

Summer days in the Alps

From Strasbourg we head south and across the border into Switzerland, where our longest train journey takes us through Zürich and along the route of one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys – the Bernina Express. We only have a one-night stay just outside St Moritz (sorry Switzerland, you’re just too pricey) before travelling into Austria for our second Alpine stop at the ski resort town of St Anton. I love the gorgeous mountain scenery of the Alps, but have only ever seen it in the depths of winter. So I’m looking forward to taking a cable car up into the mountains and seeing the landscape covered in green grass and wildflowers rather than a thick carpet of snow – and not having to wear ski boots and thermals!

Mountains in St Anton am Alberg, Austria

Mountain scenery around St Anton – photo © TVB St Anton am Arlberg/Wolfgang Burger

Mozart and museums in Vienna

From the peaceful Austrian mountains, our final train journey takes us to the country’s largest city – Vienna. We have three nights in an apartment near the Burggarten park and plan to take in some of the city’s museums, galleries and makets, refueling with a few stops for coffee and sachertorte. My husband’s a big Mozart fan so we’ll follow his footsteps around the city – to the house he lived in, St Stephen’s Cathedral where he got married, and the Schönbrunn Palace Orangery where he played and where you can see a performance of his music every night. And if there’s time we might even take a boat trip along the Danube to Bratislava in Slovakia, before leaving the trains behind and hopping on a plane back to the UK.

Mozart statue in Vienna, Austria

Statue in Vienna’s Stadtpark – photo credit George Duroy on Flickr

Have you ever visited any of the destinations on my train journey route? If so I need your help! The last few busy months means I haven’t had chance to do much research so if you have any suggestions for things to see, do, eat or drink, please do let me know.

54 Comments Post a comment
  1. This looks like it’s going to be an AMAZING trip. Safe and happy travels!

    June 30, 2014
    • Thanks so much, I should have lots of blog posts and photos about it when I get back!

      June 30, 2014
    • I’ll definitely check back! 🙂

      June 30, 2014
  2. This sounds amazing! I’m hoping to do a Europe train trip this year but still not completely sure where to go so it’ll be good to get some inspiration.

    June 30, 2014
    • It’s so tough to narrow it down, there are a huge amount of great routes to take. Look forward to seeing where you choose in the end!

      June 30, 2014
  3. Looks fantastic! Travelling across Switzerland by train will be beautiful – can’t wait to see your pics. My only suggestion would be to swing by the tiny village of Hallstatt in Austria if you get time – that place looks incredible!

    (P.S. Bratislava is in Slovakia, not Slovenia)

    June 30, 2014
    • Oops, just changed it, thanks (I have such a problem with mixing up those two!). Thanks for the tip about Hallstatt too, I will look that one up. Am hoping for lots of sunny weather for the Switzerland pics!

      June 30, 2014
  4. I literally JUST got back from Vienna, and we also did a day trip to Bratislava (as someone else has pointed out, it’s in Slovakia not Slovenia). Posts to come on the blog, but one really interesting thing is something called “Dialog im Dunkeln” – dialogue in the dark. It’s basically and underground room that’s been equipped with various obstacles (like a bridge) and is left entirely dark. You’re given a white stick at the beginning and you go in with a blind person who knows the surroundings. Your blind guide then helps you get around the place, cross a road (not a real one obviously), find items in a shop, etc. You have to book a place in advance and they do the tour in English as well. HIGHLY recommended! Other than that the zoo at Schönbrunn is quite nice (oldest zoo in Europe that’s still open).

    In Austria, you have to eat all kinds of Knödel (dumplings). And obviously a genuine Wienerschintzel in Vienna 😉

    Strasbourg is just down the road from me and I’ve been loads of times. Definitely go in the cathedral and have a look at the fascinating clock. We did a boat trip once, which was nice. Eat Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen in German – not sure what they call it in Alsace). I don’t know if you will have time for a day-trip from Strasbourg, but if you do I can recommend Colmar:

    Phew, sorry about the extra long comment. I think I got a bit over-excited 😉

    June 30, 2014
    • That’s fab, thanks for all the tips! I am feeling a bit unprepared so it’s good to have some ideas of what to see. Dialog im Dunkeln sounds really bizarre but a fascinating experience, and a Strasbourg boat trip sounds fab too!

      June 30, 2014
  5. Sounds amazing! Not been to any of your stops, but I believe Strasbourg Cathedral is well worth a visit. And Bratislava (Slovakia) has a cute old town and a nice castle with a view. I look forward to seeing your pics when you get back!

    June 30, 2014
    • Thanks, I can’t keep up with my photo editing at the moment and I suspect this trip is seriously going to add to the backlog! Strasbourg Cathedral sounds good, and I hope that we can make it to Bratislava, it looks beautiful.

      June 30, 2014
  6. Wow! What colour am I? Green!! 🙂 I can only give you advice on Paris, which you probably don’t need anyway 🙂 Have fun Lucy. And keep us posted.

    June 30, 2014
    • Thanks Madhu, sadly we’re just transiting through Paris this time, but no doubt I’ll be back there again soon – don’t seem to be able to stay away for long!

      July 1, 2014
  7. Jealous! If you make it to Bratislava (and you should), go to the UFO cafe bar at the top of the SNP bridge. You can’t miss it, the city centre is tiny and perfect for a daytrip.

    June 30, 2014
    • Thanks, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Bratislava so hopefully we can fit it in!

      July 1, 2014
  8. travelinginyourtwenties #

    That sounds awesome! I took the train for my last trip through Europe. We went from Amsterdam down through Munich and then to Prague and Budapest. The country was beautiful in Bavaria but we didn’t get to see the mountains like you’re going to! Will definitely have to check back for that

    June 30, 2014
    • There are so many different train routes through Europe it’s hard to choose! We did think about the Prague-Budapest route but that’ll have to be one for another time, am really looking forward to seeing the mountains in summer though.

      July 1, 2014
  9. My wife I and I used the train as our main mode of transportation on a visit to Germany and Austria a few years ago. We loved it. Be sure to check out the multi-country Railpass options if they are available to you. Rick Steeves has some good information on this on his site. I’ve also been fortunate enough to go across Canada from coast to coast on the train. Enjoy!

    July 1, 2014
    • The trains in Europe are really great – there’s such an extensive network. I did look into the country railpasses but it actually worked out cheaper to buy the individual tickets on this occasion, sadly I’m a bit past the under-26 discount so the savings weren’t as good! (I may do a post with the maths at some point).

      July 1, 2014
  10. Oh, this is my dream trip! Can’t wait to see more of this trip!

    July 1, 2014
    • Thanks Karen, am really looking forward to it now – fingers crossed for some sunny weather!

      July 1, 2014
  11. Acabo de leer que un buen destino en Suiza para visitar es Grindenwald. Ya que estás lista para subir a la Tirolesa , aquí las vistas deben ser espectaculares en esta época.
    Que buen recorrido te espera igual que el precedente mar adentro. Estaremos atentos a las fotografías espectaculares que sin duda obtendrás.
    Un saludo y buen viaje!

    July 1, 2014
  12. Sounds fantastic! I was talking to a friend about a European rail trip this weekend and she said how much she loved Strasbourg. Happy travels!

    July 1, 2014
    • Strasbourg does look so pretty, I loved canalside cities like Bruges so am hoping it’ll be a bit like that!

      July 1, 2014
  13. Sam #

    This looks like it’ll be a wonderful trip! Celebrating your birthday on Bastille Day in France should be fun. Vienna is a wonderful city. Everywhere you look there’s some gorgeous architecture and the parks are lovely. I was working there just a couple of weeks ago for the first time in several years and had forgotten how beautiful it is. Have a great time!

    July 1, 2014
    • Thanks so much, yes it should be a good birthday – I spent a few of them on holiday in France when I was a kid and my parents used to tell me that the fireworks were especially for me! Really looking forward to Vienna too, it’ll be my first time in Austria and it looks fantastic.

      July 1, 2014
  14. Pop a quick stop in Innsbruck on your itinerary, you go right through on the train. It is DELIGHTFUL, in my mind not to be missed.

    July 1, 2014
    • I had so much trouble deciding on my Austrian stops – Innsbruck was high up there as was Salzburg but I was outvoted in favour of Vienna this time! I already have plans for a couple more rail trips in the pipeline and will make sure Innsbruck is on one of them if not this time!

      July 1, 2014
  15. Sounds fabulous Lucy – sadly can’t help you with any tips on those destinations. We’re taking the train to Poitier this month and will be celebrating Bastille Day in France too – I’ll raise a birthday glass to you! Have fun 🙂

    July 1, 2014
    • Thanks Suzanne, hope you enjoy Poitier too and happy Bastille Day!

      July 2, 2014
  16. rinmelia #

    This sounds like a fantastic trip! I hope it goes well, I’m planning a month long interrail around Europe next summer 🙂

    July 1, 2014
    • A month would be fantastic, hope you have a great time! I would’ve loved to do a longer trip but think a few shorter ones might work better for me.

      July 2, 2014
  17. Advice? Enjoy it! Strasbourg looks so pretty 🙂

    July 1, 2014
    • Thanks Jo, it does, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping the sun shines for us!

      July 2, 2014
  18. I really enjoyed Strasbourg when I stopped there on a Rhine river cruise – the sightseeing boat tour on the canal is definitely worth doing although the queues looked quite long, so I’d get there early

    July 1, 2014
    • Thanks Heather, we are staying nearby so will try and get up early and out before the queues!

      July 2, 2014
  19. Omg! Makes me wanna do the same!! Good luck there and have FUN!

    July 2, 2014
  20. workmomtravels #

    Well, this itinerary makes me quite envious. Aside from Vienna, I haven’t been to any of these places – including your starting point, London. I’d love to take a train journey through Europe, too. Since your husband is a Mozart fan, I recommend dining at Griechenbeisl in Vienna. It was established in 1450 and Mozart was a regular patron back in the day. Today, the food and ambiance are unbeatable.

    July 3, 2014
    • The Griechenbeisl sounds great, I will look that one up. Really looking forward to it now – I know we are quite spoilt having the whole of Europe just a train ride away!

      July 3, 2014
  21. Sounds AMAZING! I’m super jealous. I’ll definitely do a Europe rail trip next time I’m in Europe 🙂

    July 4, 2014
    • Thanks, its a great way to see Europe – so many of the destinations are close together you can see a lot, plus there are some good rail passes available.

      July 4, 2014
  22. You always have such brilliant ideas Luce re shorter trips rather than longer and spending ten days travelling across three countries is so much more manageable as I want to do everything and go everywhere but I have the constraint of school. I’m a corporate teacher and I also have a 12 year old. And I live in Germany. They frown on taking kids out of school LOL!

    These are excelloent destinations and I should know since I live in the region. :). I have of course, been to Paris and Vienna, but not by train. I tend to take the trains to Eastern Europe but prepare yourself for comfy trains and wonderful scenes. Take your own snacks and drink with you. I’ve no idea how long you’ll be on the train. In Switzerland, Germany and Austria, there will be refreshments on the train but they won’t be cheap. I’d also recommend making seat reservations as summer is busy on the Continent!

    In Austria, make sure you have the white sausage and mustard, their enormously famous apple strudel, and their schnitzel. Lovely! In the Germanic countries try the beer and wine from the Mösel area. The River cruises if you have the time are wonderful on both the Rhine and the Danube. I took the Danube cruise in Hungary. Well worth it.

    Have a fanstasic bithday and a lovely trip. You deserve it. 🙂

    July 5, 2014
    • Thanks so much! I was a bit tempted to try and see a load of places on the one trip but it wouldn’t be doing them justice – and I’d come home needing another holiday to recover! It was tough to narrow down the choices to just a few though, I suspect this might the the start of a whole range of similar trips.

      Good idea to make sure we pack food and drink – none of our journeys are ridiculously long (all four–six hours) but I know how expensive train food can be, so I think a picnic might be in order! Will try and do a boat trip down the Danube too, sounds lovely.

      July 7, 2014
  23. I knew that last sentence looked wrong. I meant to say “Have a fantastic birthday…”

    July 5, 2014
  24. kinnearjulie #

    I found a lot of inspiration for my European adventure here, thank you Lucy! Seems like you really know how to link exploring and a tighter budget, which usually discourages people from travelling more. I hope I can read here an article about budget travelling through Canada some time in the future! Have safe travels!

    July 9, 2014
    • Thanks so much! I’m making my first trip to Canada later this year and can’t wait, so there will no doubt be lots of photos and posts coming up about it!

      July 10, 2014
  25. Hey Lucy! Sounds an awesome journey and story. Many many happy returns of the day…:)

    July 14, 2014
  26. Hi Lucy!

    Me and my boyfriend interrailed around Europe for 3 weeks in may/june of this year! Can honestly say it was the best decision 🙂 We thought we would try and fit in as much as possible in the 3 weeks so we were only in one place for 2 days max! Which we learnt was a bad idea as it was far too rushed and there wasn’t enough time to relax with a glass of wine haha (which is definitely needed).

    Unfortunately our interrail tickets got stolen in Budapest! So we missed out on venturing around Italy. We also had tickets for the Bernina Express which we missed out on as we were stuck in Budapest for 5 extra days while our tickets were sorted. Not that i can complain as Budapest was incredible and the highlight of our trip! So our trip started in Paris then to Brugge, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Salzberg, Munich, Zurich, Bern and then back to Paris. We were also meant to visit Rome, Italy and were going from Chur to Tiranno on the Bernina Express. That will have to be next time now!

    Next time we’ll take your advice and narrow down our options so we can fully appreciate the beautiful places! I must say, we really needed another holiday once we got back just to recover! haha.


    August 16, 2014
    • Wow sounds like you had an eventful trip! Yes it can so really tempting to try and see too much, especially as the distances between each place seem pretty small. The only problem as you found is that it means there’s not much time to spare if anything goes wrong! Hope you get to go back and do the Bernina Express sometime – I have a post coming up tomorrow about Swiss scenic train routes, the scenery is just amazing.

      August 17, 2014
  27. I did a road trip with my Volkswagen Polo a few years ago and it was one of the greatest experiences in my life.
    Good trip!

    August 21, 2014
    • Thanks – I do like a good road trip too!

      August 23, 2014

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