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Updated: 1 Jun 2022

5 exciting European cities you can reach by train in under 7 hours

In the time it takes to get through the airport, fly and retrieve your luggage at the other end, you could be taking the scenic route by train and still get there quicker.

With continued airport chaos, you might be thinking twice about flying to Europe this summer - but there is a solution. The time waiting in security queues could be better spent winding through the countryside with a glass of wine in hand on a cross-country train.

Below, we’ve listed some of the best European cities to visit by train which can all be reached in under seven hours. There is the usual suspects, but did you know your Eurostar ticket can get you to Bruges without paying a penny extra, or just how close Bordeaux and its wines are  

For each, we’ve included how to get there and the journey time from London, as well as our tips for saving money. 


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Why travel to Europe by train?

Well for a start, train travel is more convenient. You won’t have to worry about luggage allowance, long waits at security or retrieving your suitcase at the other end (and praying that it got there). And while airports are typically between 20-40 minutes away from your destination, trains tend to stop right in the heart of the city you’re visiting. 

To give an example, the flight time to Amsterdam is one hour, 15 minutes.. But you have to add up the total travel time, the two hours before departure (minimum at the moment), security and baggage reclaim at the other end and then a 15-20 minute drive from the airport to the city centre and it’s not as fast as you think. The train takes you right to the city centre in four hours. 

Is it cheaper to buy an interrail pass?

It depends on where you’re going, how many stops you want to make and your age. An interrail pass will give you unlimited travel on most European trains. Once you’ve purchased your pass, you have 12 months to activate it and on your travel days, you can max it out as you please. But if it’s just a short trip which doesn’t involve lots of different trains, it will likely be cheaper to book point to point using a site such as Trainline, Rail Europe or Eurostar.

For example, the cheapest global pass gives you four days of unlimited travel in Europe within a month. You could get to Malaga and back for £304 using that time (including estimated seat reservation fees). Whereas if you booked from point to point in June for July with Rail Europe, it would cost you £430. 

You need to add up the cost of seat reservations too. In France, Spain and Italy it’s mandatory to reserve a seat for an additional fee on all trains, which isn’t covered by the interrail pass. 


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Amsterdam

Time from London: Four hours

Changes:

This canal latticed city is so much more than red lights and coffee shops. Amsterdam is a cultural hub brimming with life on its 17th century streets. The Anne Frank Museum is well worth a visit before finding a canal-side terrace for borrelen - aka beer o’clock - in the afternoon. You could opt for a guided bike tour to experience Amsterdam like a local while ticking off all of the main attractions.

How to get there: The Eurostar goes direct from London St Pancras International to Amsterdam Centrale.

Lille

Time from London: One hour, 30 minutes

Changes:

In the time it takes to cross the city of London, you could be marvelling at Lille’s Beaux Arts streets and Gothic architecture. Top sights include the Palais des Beaux Arts, which houses a vast collection of European fine art, and the ornate 17th century stock exchange building La Vieille Bourse. For a view over the entire city, head to the top of the Beffroi de Lille and for places to eat and shop, head for the Place du Général de Gaulle.

How to get there: The Eurostar goes direct from London St Pancras International to Lille-Europe.

Brussels

Time from London: Two hours

Changes:

Brussels’ Gothic square is one of the most spectacular in Europe with its gold embellished buildings and grotesque gargoyles standing guard. Explore the Royal Palace before getting lost in the paintings housed in the nearby René Magritte neoclassical gallery. Then, no trip to Belgium is complete without tasting some chocolate. Follow your nose down the Sablon, a high-end antique alley which has been colonised by artisanal chocolatiers.

How to get there: The Eurostar goes direct from London St Pancras International to Bruxelles-Midi and you can use your ticket for onward travel in Belgium for 24 hours.

Bordeaux

Time from London: Six hours, 45 minutes

Changes: 1

Bordeaux is the hub of France’s wine growing region and its Gothic centre is ranked the best in the country. A must-do is the Cité du Vin museum, where you’ll learn about the region’s 2,000 years of winemaking before sampling a glass or two on the rooftop bar. Other notable points of interest are the 11th century Bordeaux Cathedral and the iconic Place de la Bourse, a Unesco World Heritage square in the old town. After some sightseeing, take a romantic walk or boat ride along the river Garonne.

How to get there: Take the Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord. Then, make your way to Paris Montparnasse where you’ll pick up the SNCF (French state railway) to Bordeaux St Jean. You can purchase all of your tickets on Eurostar’s website, but it’s worth looking at Rail Europe as it accepts UK rail discount cards and you might be able to get some money off. 

Bruges

Time from London: Three hours, 30 minutes

Changes: 1

The capital of West Flanders, Bruges is characterised by its canals, cobbled streets and medieval architecture - none more iconic than the Belfry of Bruges. The Groeningemuseum is where you can delve into six centuries worth of Flemish and Belgian art while the 17th century English Convent is where to truly get away from it all for a while. Ring the bell in the courtyard and a resident Augustinian nun will walk you in. Remember to look up at the exquisite paintings on the ceiling.

How to get there: Take the Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Bruxelles-Midi. Your Eurostar ticket is valid for onward travel to any Belgian station for 24 hours, including Bruges. From Bruxelles-Midi, take the SNCB (Belgian national railway) to Brugge.