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Ghent Canal

Under-the-radar European cities to visit by rail

Ghent-Canal

With high-speed modern rail services whisking travellers from city centre to city centre at speeds of up to 320km per hour, exploring Europe by train has never been easier. It’s also eco-friendly (around 10 times lower carbon emissions than travelling by plane) and much easier to book tickets than you think. In fact Voyages-sncf, Europe’s leading rail ticket agency have teamed up with us and several other bloggers for #TheEasyWay campaign to show you just how hard it could potentially be – to find out watch the fun video at the end of the post! So all you have to do now is choose your city destination. Not a fan of crowded capitals? Try these lesser known cities in mainland Europe instead…

Perpignan, France

Perpignan

Despite its beautiful location in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this Southern France town is often overlooked as a tourist destination. It’s also located near Spanish border meaning it has flavours of both Spain and France with a little North African thrown in for good measure. Head past the sprawling suburbs and go straight to the old town where you’ll find palm tree lined cobbled city squares, a warren of shady alleys and the majestic Mallorcan kings’ 13th century palace. With over 320 days of a sunshine, the nearby beach (only a 10-minute bus ride away) is a good option too.

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent Canal and sky

This is our favourite city in Belgium. While most head for Bruges, this small but perfectly formed city is probably Europe’s best kept secret. Once one of the most powerful cities in Europe, today it’s a laid back place with a faint bohemian air. With its collection of Michelin-starred restaurants, quirky boutique stores, picture perfect canal-side medieval architecture, and a rich calendar of cultural events, it makes a perfect place to kick back for a day or two.

Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano

This city is so popular with the rich and famous it’s sometimes known as the Monte Carlo of Switzerland. Located near the border of Italy, Lugano is blessed with a warm climate, beautiful Alpine scenery and a large natural mountain lake – perfect for a spot of waterskiing or boating. The historic town centre is traffic-free and filled with Lombardy style buildings, alfresco cafes and a packed calendar of cultural events. If you time your visit around springtime, the beautiful camellia flowers will be out in full bloom.

Koblenz, Germany

Koblenz

Although this is one of the most beautiful and oldest towns in Germany, 2000 year old Koblenz is vastly underrated. It occupies a beautiful position on the banks of the romantic River Rhine just where it meets the River Mosel. Surrounded by a backdrop of four mountain ranges, vineyards and forests this part of Germany is arguably one of the most picturesque. Also home to a superb collection of grand town houses, beautiful churches, castles and palatial residences it’s an ideal place to stop and explore.

Benicassim, Spain

Benicassim

This under-the-tourist-radar beach resort (located in the province of Castellónis home to an annual music festival that draws thousands of rockers and ravers from all corners of the world. Although if you’re planning to explore just the place itself then we’d recommend avoiding the month of July (accommodation around festival time can be booked up for months in advance). Other reasons to visit include the six kilometres of sandy beaches surrounded by beautiful high mountains, the fine sunny weather and the historic centre complete with a Neoclassical 18th century church.

Turin, Italy

Turin Architecture

Despite being surrounded by green hills and Alpine peaks, Turin isn’t always the first city on people’s minds when they plan their trip to Italy – the city’s industrial car making past tends to deter the tourist masses. Although it’s a city that’s starting to change with the aid of a handful of gorgeous design hotels, impressive contemporary galleries and exhibition centres. Make sure you also head for Turin’s historic centre, home to beautifully preserved baroque palaces, art nouveau mansions, time-warp coffee houses and a labyrinth of shady arcades lined with designer stores.

How to get there

When it comes to booking your European rail tickets you could either take the #TheHardWay or #TheEasyWay. This fun video will show you all the options (watch out for the scary tiger in the cage!) Personally we’d recommend #TheEasyWay by using Europe’s leading rail ticket agencyVoyages-sncf newly streamlined website.

Competition

Those lovely people at Voyages-sncf are also running a competition where 12 pairs of train tickets from London to Avignon, Barcelona, Geneva or Milan will be up for grabs. Here’s how to enter..

This post is brought to you as part of a campaign created and managed by iambassador and Voyages-sncf. All our opinions are our own.

Born in England, with a few family roots from Bavaria, and a heart in Scandinavia I’ve always been a bit of a restless soul. My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I’ve lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up over 40 countries on trips and living in Dublin, South East Asia and Australia. I’m a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, easy-on-the-eye travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian – from cloudberry liquors to Scandi Noirs. When not wandering the world, you’ll find me walking my rescue dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Laines on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about returning to my all time favourite places in the world; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Thailand and the frozen landscapes of a wintry Iceland. Follow Becky on Twitter and Google+.

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