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Mapped: 123 great European cities you can reach by train from London in a day

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 27/09/2022 Oliver Smith
map europe best cities reach london train journey rail travel day trip 2022 © Provided by The Telegraph map europe best cities reach london train journey rail travel day trip 2022

It has been a bad few years for rail travel. Back in the heady days of February 2020, The Telegraph was touting train journeys as the perfect way to explore Europe: more enjoyable than flying, better for the environment, and increasingly efficient – with our research uncovering 124 fantastic cities that could be reached from London in a single day. 

Then came the pandemic. Holidays were off the cards for months, prompting rail operators to decimate their services, and when tourism was finally rebooted, wildly varying testing and vaccination rules made train journeys through two or three countries a far less appealing prospect.

Now, however, things are looking up. All but four European countries (Spain, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Luxembourg) have scrapped every single Covid restriction and rail services are almost back to pre-pandemic capacity, so with the autumn city break season approaching, we’ve taken a fresh inventory of the options for British travellers. 

Each dot on the map below represents a destination; the darker the dot the longer the journey. Select a dot to discover which city it represents, how long it takes to reach by rail, and three reasons to go – then follow the links for more advice on planning a trip.

The good news is that only one city – the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana – can no longer be reached by rail on the same day you depart London. An impressive 123 cities that we think are worth (at least) a weekend of your time still can, ranging from Aarhus in Denmark to Zaragoza in sunny Spain. 

The bad news is that some journeys have become a little trickier. Eurostar suspended its direct summer service to the south of France in 2020, and it remains on ice. This means trips to Lyon, Avignon and Marseilles all require a change in Paris, adding an extra layer of planning to journeys, if not any additional travel time. 

Furthermore, some of its services to Paris and Brussels previously paused to disgorge passengers in Calais-Fréthun, a few miles from Calais town centre – a journey that took 61 minutes. No more. Those hoping to visit the French port would be wise to choose the ferry rather than the new two-hour-and-29-minute option via Lille. 

“The direct train to the south of France will not be returning this summer as we are focusing on our core routes between capital cities, which have the highest demand,” said a spokeswoman for Eurostar. “We also don’t yet have a date for the restart of direct services to Calais.” She added that its services are currently running at around 80 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity. 

While some journey times have increased since 2020 – trips to Barcelona and Hamburg will take more than 30 minutes longer, for example – others have fallen. Genoa and Vaduz are more than 30 minutes’ closer, and the long trip to Venice can be done more than an hour faster. 

The closest destination is no longer Calais but Lille, at 1 hour and 22 minutes from King’s Cross St Pancras. The furthest you can reach in a single day is now Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, a 16-hour-and-24-minute odyssey featuring stops in Paris, Stuttgart, Munich and Vienna. 

Thirteen fantastic places can be reached in under four hours, including Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bruges and Antwerp, and 43 can be reached in under six, including Frankfurt, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Luxembourg City and Lyon. 

Perhaps the most surprisingly speedy journey is to San Sebastian. In just nine hours and nine minutes you can swap London’s glass-and-concrete jungle for the pintxos bars of the Basque Country, with changes in Paris and Hendaye, where you must swap the high-speed rails for a 37-minute metro. 

Sleeper trains

Our map only considers the places you can reach in a single day. Should you prefer the idea of a sleeper service – which has the added benefit of saving you the cost of night’s hotel accommodation – there are a few options. 

The Intercités de Nuit service lets you fall asleep in Paris and wake up in Marseille, Toulon, Cannes or Nice. 

The Austrian operator ÖBB’s Nightjet links Paris with Munich, Salzburg and Vienna, and Vienna with the likes of Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Venice. 

The EuroNight takes passengers once a day from Munich to Budapest (with a stop in Vienna). 

The Metropol sleeper links Prague and Budapest (with stops in Brno and Bratislava). 

Czech Railways offers an overnight service from Prague to Zurich, and – in a joint venture with Polish State Railways – from Prague to Krakow. 

Italy’s sleeper trains will take you from Milan as far south as Palermo in Sicily.

A new operator, Midnight Trains, has promised to launch a slew of overnight rail services by 2024, with cities including Edinburgh, Copenhagen and Porto in its crosshairs. 

Sadly, Thello’s sleeper service from Paris to Venice, with a stop in Milan, was suspended at the start of the pandemic and has now been permanently shelved. The same applies to the Trenhotel Lusitania, which previously linked Madrid and Lisbon. 

Lunch stops

To reach 87 of the 123 cities on our map, you will need to change trains in Paris. But where to refuel? Our Paris expert recommends avoiding the rather underwhelming bistros that line the streets around the front of the station and heading instead to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, where you’ll find yourself on the edge of Paris’s Indian and Pakistani district. Among many great vegetarian canteen-style restaurants, Saravanan Bhavan is an extra popular favourite thanks to its delicious selection of South Indian cuisine, including excellent dosa. The perfect light lunch before or after your train. 

If your outbound train departs from the Gare du Lyon, you could do far worse than dine at Le Train Bleu. This ornate and iconic restaurant is among the finest to grace any railway station in the world. 

To reach 23 of the 123 cities, a change in Brussels is necessary. Not far from Brussels Midi, where Eurostar services arrive, is Colonel. It specialises in beef, but everything on the menu – cured meats, scallops and skrei (Norwegian Arctic cod) – is worthy of attention. 

This article is kept updated with the latest information.

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