Europe is where history mingles with modern flair and it’s also a place where you’ll see some of the most beautiful cities in the world. I personally think one of the best ways is to explore Europe is by rail (ideally before you’re 26 if you can so you can get the best deals). Whilst driving can be fun, train will take you wherever you want without the worry about whether you can work the SatNav… oh and the views are pretty special too. Having grown up in the UK my first major travelling trip took me to Asia and Africa and my second was a little more closer to home. From my own Euro rail adventures, here’s the cities I think you should definitely include on your itinerary…
First up is Amsterdam and not just because it starts with an A! Amsterdam is a great starting place on your Eurorail or Eurostar trip. Having not been there before I didn’t know what to expect – of course I’d heard the stories of the ‘special’ cafes and the Red Light District but the capital does have a lot more to offer. Explore the canals, the attractive Jordaan district and embrace Amsterdam’s new era of hip hangouts and sophisticated joints. Want to keep it more like a local? Hang out at one of the city’s famous nicotine stained ‘Brown cafes’ instead.
My Amsterdam tip – It’s easy to overspend in Amsterdam as you’ll be having so much fun, it’s probably a better idea to have a budget in mind and then double it.
Next up on my list is Prague – a truly beautiful city that has a lot to offer. Yes it has become very touristy but it’s still hasn’t lost any of its charm. Some of the most impressive places of interest include the Old Town (Stare Mesto), Prague Castle and the very attractive Old Town Square (Starmestske namesti). If you’re with a group of friends and want to try something a little different then visit the MindMaze, a live interactive adventure game where you are in a room and have an hour to work out how to get out!
My Prague tip – Stay a little outside the city to get the best prices – here you can have a good night out for less than £20.
If you enjoy Prague then you’ll love Budapest – it’s sometimes known as Paris of the East and if you visit Andrássy Avenue you’ll see why. Take a cruise down the Danube and enjoy the beautiful sites of Buda and Pest and include a visit the Central Market Hall where you can sample some food and drink specialities with the locals. No trip to Budapest is complete without a trip to one of the city’s baths – the Gellért Baths and Rudas Bath are two of the most famous and both worth visiting. There is also the fascinating Király Baths, which is a smaller bath which was built in the second half of the 16th century.
My Budapest tip – If you visit the baths be prepared to only be given a small cloth to cover your modesty! The rare few (all of whom are tourists) who do wear shorts will be stared at!
My next choice is Vienna for both its culture and its beauty. I would suggest spending a couple of days here to really make most of the city’s beautiful historic centre filled with Baroque castles, traditional wine taverns, elegant gardens and contemporary architecture mixed with art deco masterpieces. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is very impressive and boasts a wonderful Egyptian collection as well as a picture gallery that includes work by Caravaggio, van Dyck, Titian and lots of other masters.
My Vienna tip – If you can, experience a live classical music concert in the city, after all this is where Mozart found his fame!
This is a famously beautiful city in Switzerland should definitely be included on your Europe by train trip. Include a visit to the fairytale-esque Château de Chillon (pictured above) and the Place Bourg du Four, a historic town square in old Geneva surrounded by exquisite architecture. Here you can enjoy a beer or coffee and watch the world go by. The Swiss are known for their watch making skills so also include a visit to the Patek Philippe Museum, where you’ll find a vast and intriguing collection of watches and clocks.
My Geneva tip – Budget properly for this stop, this is not a cheap place!
Probably Belgium’s most famous city is Bruges and like Venice and Amsterdam, Bruges is a canal-based city. Here romance fills the air and the historic centre is so beautiful and historically important it’s been listed as an UNESCO World Site (since 2000). Kick back and enjoy a beer and mayo frites at an al fresco cafe or join a popular canal boat tour as a way to explore the city views in comfort.
My Bruges tip – Watch the film ‘In Bruges’ before you go!
Lisbon is another beautiful city and well worth a stop on your Euro trip. It was once often overlooked as a travel destination but that’s changing rapidly and has become a lot more popular in recent years. Apart from taking a sunny stroll and enjoying the gorgeous baroque architecture, make sure you include a visit to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte for the incredible views of the city (especially at sunset).
My Lisbon tip – Lisbon is also great for shopping so take plenty of cash and include a visit to the sprawling modern Amoreiras Shopping Centre.
I also recommend the fun, progressive city of Barcelona – home of Gaudi, one of Europe’s best football teams and the hosts of the 1992 Olympic Games. Spain’s coolest city has lots of intriguing artwork and sculptures as well as a lively beach front. The Picasso Museum is definitely worth a visit but nothing beats wondering around Park Guell enjoying the surreally beautiful architecture on a sunny day.
My Barcelona tip – Go on a tourist bus on your first day, I wouldn’t usually recommend them but in this city it’s a good way to get your bearings and get discount vouchers for the top sites at the same time.
You can’t miss out Paris on your trip, especially if you haven’t visited Europe before. It maybe the city of love but it’s also a great place to visit with just friends. Of course you should visit all the big hitters like the Eiffel Tower, Musee du Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral but also squeeze in a few lesser known spots such as the Luxemburg Gardens, Musee d’Orsay and Paris’ Mosque. Next take the TGV (France’s answer to the Eurostar) to Italy with Rail Europe for example.
My Paris tip – Head to Rue Mouffetard for wide choice of restaurants, my personal favourite is Restaurant Le Jardin D’Ivy.
Last but definitely not least is Rome, my favourite city in Europe. Like Paris there are many classic sites you’ll want to tick off – the Colosseum, St Peters, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. Whilst I would recommend seeing these sites also make sure you go for a walk from Piazza della Repubblica to Barberini and to the top of the Spanish Steps and enjoy the views across the city.
My Rome tip -– To get your authentic Roman experience I would recommend staying, eating and drinking in Trastevere.
I hope you enjoy your Eurorail trip, being Europe there was definitely a lot of competition. Do you agree with my selection?