Ride the rails in search of adventure with these epic train trips.
There’s something nostalgic and romantic about riding the rails and heading off for pastures new. Plus, with the continuing rise of the ‘flight-shame’ movement, railway travel is coming back in fashion in a big way, especially in Europe. Overnight train trips let you snooze your way to adventure – and they’re slightly more exciting than falling asleep on the Night Tube to Morden – whilst you can also strike out for Europe on grand railway journeys. Here are some lovely train trips from London we’re just itching to try!
Train trips from London to UK destinations
Fair England and friends have a wealth of exciting destinations to get to – like Edinburgh for just £25! – but for truly special train trips, try one of these on for size.
1. Caledonian Sleeper, Euston to Fort William
The recently-renovated Caledonian Sleeper is the longest night train journey in the UK, departing from Euston by night and rolling into Scotland before sunrise. There are two routes, one heading to Glasgow and Edinburgh that arrives just after 7am, and another that skips the major duo and heads for Aberdeen, Stirling, and Inverness. On the latter, one could hop off for a round of golf at Gleneagles, skip out at Aviemore to ski, or, as we’d do, stay in bed until the overnight train rolls into Fort William at 10am. This leaves you well placed to climb Ben Nevis, explore Loch Ness, or if you’re really train-mad, ride the rails to Mallaig aboard steam train service The Jacobite, which takes you over the Glenfinnan viaduct made famous by Harry Potter. Read our review of it here.
2. Night Riviera Sleeper, Paddington to Penzance
Nestled right down in the southwestern corner of England, Penzance and the surrounding areas are well worth the trek. Sure, you could fly, but there’s a more relaxing way – hop on The Night Riviera sleeper from Paddington, and you’ll hopefully be drifting off by the time the train departs at 11:45pm. By the time the clock strikes 6am, you’ll have crossed the Tamar Bridge into Cornwall, and by 7:50am, the train will pull into Penzance. From here, strike out for St Ives, explore Land’s End, or make a pilgrimage across the shifting sands to beautiful St Michael’s Mount, which watches benignly over Mount’s Bay. More info here.
3. The Cumbrian Mountain Express, Euston-Carlise-Euston
The last of our UK train journeys is actually a day trip, one which leaves the capital just after 7am to whisk you up to Carlisle, skirting the edge of the Lake District on the way. Once you’ve arrived at Carlisle and had a little wander, you’ll depart on a steam train, which takes a scenic route along the Cumbrian coastline, including the sights of Grange-over-Sands and the Kent Viaduct before stopping at Carnforth. From there, you’ll pick up the fast service back to Euston, arriving back at 10:30 and presumably heading straight to bed. Find out more here.
Train trips from London to Europe
These train trips require a little more dedication – and, crucially, the ability to entertain oneself on long journeys – since you won’t be able to sleep the whole way there. However, waiting at the end of these trips are some of the most exciting cities in Europe, and you can get there without feeling the guilt of having caught a polluting flight!
4. Eurostar, St Pancras to Amsterdam
Cards on the table, the Eurostar is going to be the starting point for a lot of the more ambitious train trips coming up now – but for now, here’s our favourite of the direct Eurostar routes. From April 30th, trains from St Pancras (Europe’s favourite station, dontcha know) will run directly to Amsterdam and back, eschewing the need to change trains at Brussels on the return leg. The Dutch capital offers myriad delights (yes, that too), but a wander along the canals, a visit to the Rijksmuseum, and scoffing your face with everything in sight at Foodhallen should make for an excellent start. Learn more here.
5. Nightjet, St Pancras to Vienna
Technically, once you’ve reached Brussels on the Eurostar, the Nightjet can take you to a whole variety of destinations across Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy overnight. Still, we’ve opted to snore our way to historic Vienna, for a tour of its coffee houses, a ride on the Riesenrad, and lessons in history from the Jewish Museum, and in psychology from the Sigmund Freud Museum. The Nightjet, which is run by Austria’s state railway service ÖBB, departs Brussels around 6pm – Vienna waits for you at 8:30am, although Frankfurt and Cologne are earlier stops. It’s a pretty brilliant way to city-hop across the continent without spending on accommodation, as overnight trains to Rome, Venice, and Berlin also run from Vienna. With typical Germanic efficiency, they’re frighteningly on-time too. Find out more here.
6. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Victoria to Venice
As the Nightjet proves, there are other trains to Venice, but none will get you there with quite as much style as this route. It begins at Victoria station, as you hop aboard a gorgeous vintage Belmond Pullman train – a welcome brunch and Bellini being the icing on the cake. Once you’ve crossed the English Channel, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is waiting at Calais, complete with 1920s sleeping cars. You get a French-inspired, four-course dinner aboard this one, and winning views of the Alpine scenery before crossing the Venetian Lagoon around dusk. At a bare minimum of £2500 per person, though, it’s one for when you’re feeling extravagant!
Seriously though, it’s bloody fancy. See more here.
7. Paris-Moscow Express, St Pancras to Moscow
Again, the Eurostar is your first stop, this time arriving in Paris. A fine city, as our pals over at Paris Secret can surely attest, but we’re setting our sights a little further afield. Every Thursday around 7pm, a train rolls out of Paris Gare de l’Est, with the final destination being Moscow, some 2000 miles away (it’s one of the longest direct passenger trains in Europe). The downside is that you’ll spend the entirety of Friday on the train – unless you stretch your legs during brief stops in Berlin and Warsaw – but come midday on Saturday, you’ll be in Russia’s capital. Red Square and the Kremlin are a must (go say hi to Lenin!), and a wander through the city offers chances for drinking, clubbing, and an enervating Russian bath experience. You can see more and book here.
8. Multiple routes, St Pancras to Istanbul
Oof, time to settle yourself in for a long one. First up, Eurostar to Paris (standard fare for you by this point), before you catch the TGV from Paris to Munich. You’ve got options from here to Istanbul, either taking an arguably more scenic route via Budapest and Bucharest, or following the more traditional route of the old Orient Express via Belgrade and Sofia. Both lovely, both requiring a commitment of about four days, but it’ll make for one hell of an adventure. Once in Istanbul, start with Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, and then explore from there! Check out The Man in Seat 61 for details.
An intriguing new option was revealed recently, with the Swedish government unveiling plans to launch an overnight train from Malmö to Cologne. Assuming the reverse is true, and knowing that Cologne is reachable in a matter of hours thanks to the Eurostar and a connecting train, this means London-Malmö is a distinct possibility, with a journey time of around seventeen hours. That might get cut even further if future plans to connect Malmö to Brussels via overnight trains come to fruition. The earliest we could see these trains is 2022 or 2023, but it’s an exciting start for sure. Read all about it here.
Of course, if you’re still committed to flying, Air New Zealand’s economy bunk beds might prove an enticing option for long haul flights.
Also published on Medium.