Five great Interrail itineraries across Europe

Posted by on May 23, 2018

Lakes and mountains

Suggested duration 15 days
Stops Lausanne, Annecy, Chamonix, Zermatt, Lucerne, St Anton, Zell am See, Innsbruck, Bern
Shortcut Head straight to Zermatt to make it an 11-day trip
Best Interrail pass 15 days within two months (£337 youth/£439 adult/£395 senior/under 12s free) or the tighter 10 days within two months (£274/£357/£321/free). Plus train reservations

The sight of a gleaming railway snaking over an Alpine pass or hugging a lake has long inspired travellers, and both are well served by rail routes. This itinerary weaves from France through Switzerland to Austria, with spectacular views that will glue you to the train windows.

Sète is perfectly placed as a stop-over between Barcelona and Nice. Photograph: Getty Images

Suggested duration 14 days
Stops Toulouse, Barcelona, Sète, Nice, Genoa, Rome, Stresa, Zurich, Cologne
Shortcut Head straight to Nice to make it a 10-day trip
Best Interrail pass Same as for the Lakes and Mountains itinerary.

Rail pilgrimages to the Côte d’Azur began many years ago, when affluent Brits would venture south on the Train Bleu. This itinerary widens the route, spanning Barcelona and on through scenic French and Italian Riviera coastline to Rome, and then home via Switzerland.

On your first evening, in Toulouse, admire the grand architecture of the Place du Capitole before drinking in the nightlife in the Carmes neighbourhood, starting at Chez Vincente bodega. From here there’s a choice of routes to Barcelona: a fast train via Perpignan or Narbonne, or the longer but much more scenic regional train via Latour-de-Carol with a change at the Spanish border (no reservations needed or available, three connecting trains each day). Between Latour-de-Carol and Toulouse, sit on the left to get the best views. Once in the Catalan capital, check out the Museu d’Història de Barcelona. Sète is a bustling port town crisscrossed by canals, close to eight miles of unsung beaches. Give your legs a workout in Nice on the climb up Colline du Château, past waterfalls to a panorama over the city.

Itinerary

London to Toulouse (Eurostar + TGV, 8 hrs 10 mins, stay one night); Toulouse to Barcelona (TER + regional, 6 hrs 20 mins, stay two nights); Barcelona to Sète (TGV + TER, 3 hrs, 27 mins, stay one night); Sète to Nice (TER + TER, 5 hrs 25mins, stay two nights); Nice to Genoa (EuroCity, 4 hrs 4 mins, stay two nights); Genoa to Rome, (Frecciabianca, 5 hrs, stay two nights); Rome to Stresa (Frecciarossa + EuroCity, 4 hrs 22 mins, stay one night); Stresa to Zurich (EuroCity + InterCity, 3 hrs 37 mins, stay two nights); Zurich to Cologne (ICE + ICE, 5 hrs 5 mins, stay one night); Cologne to London (ICE + Eurostar, 5 hrs 17 mins).

Scandinavian adventure

Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

Suggested duration 17 days
Stops: Amsterdam, Lübeck, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Oslo, Bergen, Lillehammer, Trondheim, Östersund, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Antwerp
Shortcut Miss out Norway to make it an 11-day trip
Best Interail pass 15 days within two months (see South to the Med itinerary) or the 22-day continuous pass (£354 youth/£461 adult/£415 senior/under 12s free). Plus train reservations

Scandinavia’s expanses just beg to be explored by train, and this route offers a ringside seat for some of its spectacular scenery. Before the fjords of Norway come the canals of Amsterdam, now linked easily by Eurostar from London. Hire a bike to explore highlights such as the masterpiece-filled Rijksmuseum and then lounge in the leafy Vondelpark, home to innovative cafes such as the saucer-shaped Blue Tea House (Blauwe Theehuis).

Photograph: graphics

Itinerary

London to Amsterdam (Eurostar, 3 hrs 55 mins, stay one night); Amsterdam to Lübeck (InterCity + Intercity + regional, 7 hrs 17 mins, stay one night); Lubeck to Copenhagen (EuroCity, 4 hrs, 58mins, stay one night); Copenhagen to Gothenburg (regional, 3 hrs 40 mins, stay two nights); Gothenburg to Oslo (regional, 4 hrs, stay one night); Oslo to Bergen (regional, 6 hrs 30 mins, stay two nights); Bergen to Lillehammer (sleeper train + InterCity, 9 hrs 40 mins, stay one night); Lillehammer to Trondheim (regional, 4 hrs 35 mins, stay two nights); Trondheim to Östersund (regional + regional, 3 hrs 44 mins, stay one night); Östersund to Stockholm (SJ, 4 hrs 42 mins, stay two nights); Stockholm to Copenhagen (SJ, 5 hrs 7 mins, stay one night); Copenhagen to Hamburg (InterCity + InterCity 6 hrs 10 mins, stay one night); Hamburg to Antwerp (Intercity + Thalys, 6 hrs 44 mins, stay one night); Antwerp to London (Thalys + Eurostar, 3 hrs 24 mins).

East to Istanbul

The Bosporus and Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul. Photograph: Anton Petrus/Getty Images

Suggested duration 19 days
Route stops Paris, Munich, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Niš, Plovdiv, Istanbul, Veliko Târnovo, Bucharest, Vienna, Venice, Milan
Best Interrail pass Same as the Scandinavia adventure itinerary

The legendary Orient Express route, all the way to Istanbul, is the stuff rail dreams are made of – a journey peppered with some of Europe’s most interesting cities

The trip begins with a night in Paris – with time to visit the romantic Palais-Royal gardens – before speeding by ICE train to Munich, with its vibrant, open-air Victuals Market. European sleeper trains can cover vast distances overnight, so sleep to Ljubljana and wake up in a city whose grand central streets are beautifully car-free. Head up Ljubljana castle and then dine out at the Cankarjevo nabrežje, a riverside walkway lined with eateries.

Itinerary
London to Paris (Eurostar, 2 hrs 26 mins, stay one night); Paris to Munich (ICE + ICE, 5 hrs 33 mins, stay one night); Munich to Ljubljana (Euronight train, 6 hrs, 37 mins, stay two nights); Ljubljana to Zagreb (Euronight train, 2 hrs 8 mins, stay one night); Zagreb to Belgrade (sleeper train, 6 hrs 19 mins, stay one night); Belgrade to Niš (4 hrs 27 mins, stay one night); Niš to Plovdiv via Sofia (sleeper train + regional, 9 hrs 56 mins, stay two nights); Plovdiv to Istanbul (sleeper train, 7 hrs 21 mins, stay three nights); Istanbul to Veliko Târnovo (sleeper train, 12 hrs 24 mins, stay one night); Veliko Târnovo to Bucharest (INT, 8 hrs 49 mins, stay one night); Bucharest to Vienna (Euronight sleeper train, 19 hrs 21 mins, stay two nights); Vienna to Venice, NightJet sleeper train, 10 hrs 57 min, stay two nights); Venice to Milan (Frecciarossa, 2 hrs 13 mins, stay one night); Milan to London (Euronight + Eurostar, 14 hrs 37 mins).

Great European cities

Old Town Square, Prague. Photograph: Pauline Lewis/Getty Images

Suggested duration 20 days
Stops Bordeaux, San Sebastián, Madrid, Barcelona, Lyon, Turin, Florence, Salzburg, Prague, Kraków, Warsaw, Berlin, Brussels
Shortcut Head straight to Lyon to make it a 14-day trip
Best Interrail pass Same as the Scandinavia adventure itinerary

A combination of high-speed daytime routes and sleeper trains makes a whirlwind rail tour of some of Europe’s finest cities eminently doable. This trip spans eight countries – a massive dollop of European culture in one tour. Set out to reach Bordeaux before the sun sets, to celebrate the start of your trip with a glass and some charcuterie at wine bar La Ligne Rouge, overlooking the Garonne river, before an evening stroll along the Pont de Pierre, which was commissioned by Napoleon.

Then it’s over the Spanish border to San Sebastián in the Basque country, for pintxos and the splendid seafront walk between La Concha and Ondarreta beaches. Next, venture south to Madrid, where restaurant Mercado de la Reina is the spot for generous portions of elaborate tapas. A fast AVE train will whisk you to Barcelona, to explore La Boqueria, the epic food market, and the architecture of the Gothic Quarter.

Itinerary
London to Bordeaux (Eurostar + TGV, 6 hrs 1 min, stay one night); Bordeaux to San Sebastián (TGV + HotelTrain 4 hrs 6 mins, stay one night); San Sebastián to Madrid (ARC, 5 hrs 31 mins, stay two nights); Madrid to Barcelona (AVE, 2 hrs 30 mins, stay two nights); Barcelona to Lyon (AVE, 4 hrs 55 mins, stay one night); Lyon to Turin (TGV, 3 hrs 52 mins stay one night); Turin to Florence (Frecciarossa, 2 hrs 50 mins, stay two nights); Florence to Salzburg (NightJet sleeper train, 8 hrs 20 mins, stay two nights); Salzburg to Prague (RailJet + regional, 5 hrs 55 mins, stay two nights); Prague to Kraków (EuroNight sleeper train, 8 hrs 1 min, stay one night); Kraków to Warsaw (InterCity, 2 hrs 22 mins, stay two nights); Warsaw to Berlin (EuroNight sleeper train, 7 hrs 8 mins, stay two nights); Berlin to Brussels (ICE + ICE, 6 hrs 45 mins, stay one night); Brussels to London (Eurostar, 2 hrs 1 min)

The latest Rail Map Europe costs £11.99 + p&p from europeanrailtimetable.eu, which also sells the European Rail Timetable Summer 2019 (£19.99 + p&p), and Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries (£15.99 + p&p). Interrail passes and rail tickets are available from: interrail.eu, switzerlandtravelcentre.com, and ffestiniogtravel.com

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

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