For many of us in America, the European train travel can sound like a blast from the past. With train travel fairly uncommon in all but a few regions of the US, we tend to think of trains as novelties. Kids love trains, but then they grow up, right?
But in Europe, train travel isn’t just normal, it’s really great. Convenient, comfortable and offering fantastic sightseeing, European train travel can be faster than flying between some major cities. Ever heard the phrase, “it’s the journey, not the destination”? It’s sure to pop into your mind while you’re enjoying the view from your train window. Here are five reasons why travel by train in Europe is perfect for your next vacation.
You’ll Experience Europe’s Great Train Stations
Tourist attractions in themselves, Europe’s great train stations can be as breathtaking as any medieval castle or baroque palace. Madrid’s Atocha, for example, received design input from Gustave Eiffel, and today houses a lush tropical garden, with palm trees reaching up to the curving steel and glass roof.
London’s St. Pancras International features a historic brick façade with arched Gothic grandeur, and right across the street, King’s Cross Station features a Harry Potter photo-op with their very own Platform 9 3/4. Sure, it’s fun to visit these stations to shop and look around while you’re in town, and you definitely should. But imagine how much more exciting it will be to actually hop on board a train from one of their platforms and chug away to a new destination. Now how’s that for experiential travel?
European Train Travel Offers Incredible Sightseeing
We all want a window seat when we’re flying, but all it takes is one gray cloud to spoil the view. Besides, you can only stare at ant-sized cars crawling on the ground miles below for so long. A train window, on the other hand, puts you at eye-level with the passing towns and countryside. There’s something unique about the way the landscape is framed as you peer out a train window, giving you little snapshots of the life of small towns and great cities. Plus, it’s the ultimate way to view some of Europe’s most splendid landscapes, like the majestic Alps.
European Train Travel Can Be Faster Than Flying
Trains take longer than air travel, right? Not always. High speed trains broke that barrier, and now trains are faster than planes between many major cities. The Eurostar whisks you between London and Paris in two and a half hours. While a flight between London and Paris has slightly shorter air-time, the time you spend waiting at the airport can stretch your total travel time out to five hours. Several other sets of European cities are closer by train than air, including Brussels and Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, and Rome and Milan.
Flexibility for Those Spontaneous Travel Moments
If you like to leave wiggle room for spontaneous adventures, or if you’re just waiting to see if the weather will cooperate before you commit to a day trip out to the coast, the flexibility of traveling by train in Europe is a major plus. Although high-speed trains such as the Eurostar often require reservations, many trains throughout Europe do not require advance booking. Regional trains, perfect for day trips, don’t require reservations and often don’t offer discounts for advance bookings, so you won’t miss out on anything if you decide at the last minute to add a quick excursion to your vacation.
Room to Move and Stretch
If you need extra wiggle room in real life, you’ll love traveling by train in Europe. Get up and walk around, visit a panoramic or dining car if your train offers it, and enjoy the spacious seating arrangements. Some trains will offer you tables, perfect for perching your drink while you stretch out your legs underneath. You’ll often find you have a choice between First Class and Second Class, or perhaps Standard Class. First Class bookings will offer more spacious and comfortable seating, and on high-end trains will include food and beverage service directly to your seat. But don’t be afraid of Second Class, which will still offer plenty of room for most (although very tall people might want the upgrade for extra leg-room).
European train travel offers you the opportunity to explore Europe’s most beautiful landscapes at eye-level. However, booking trains can be complicated, with many different rail systems to negotiate, especially if you’re crossing borders. Virgin Vacations offers easy booking options to simply your rail vacation. Choose from classic combinations like London and Paris, Paris and Barcelona, or Rome, Florence and Venice. Or build your own European vacation with our online Vacation Builder. Visit our European Rail Vacations page to see all of our handpicked itineraries and get started planning your dream vacation today.