The European rail network is a gift to natural adventurers and, if you book in advance, you can get some great value tickets too. You are also cutting your carbon costs big time. As well as being very green, travelling by train is a fantastically laid-back start to your walking holiday, with no luggage restrictions, no airport hassle and one that takes you into the heart of your walking terrain. Check out our list of top walking holidays accessible by train below, followed by a few key pointers on how to find and book cheap train tickets.
Spain by train
The trains in Spain don’t mainly go by the plain. They have superb train connections countrywide and, for international visitors, one of the exciting journeys is the direct train between Paris and Barcelona, which takes just under seven hours, and links up easily with Eurostar services. Our walking holiday in Catalonia’s wine region of Priorat starts in Falset, a two hour direct train journey from Barcelona and, although it ends in the exquisite village of Siurana, it’s only a 30km transfer back to a train station.
On our Coastal Trails of Catalonia holiday, it’s a one hour transfer from Figueres Vilafant train station to the starting point of Begur. This holiday ends in the elegant resort town of S’Agaró, from where you can get a direct bus back to Girona, a major train hub. Or, if you prefer to go walking in Catalonia’s mountains, this trip includes transfers from Girona at the beginning and end of your walking adventure.
France by train
Travelling by train to or within France is facile, as it boasts one of the most superb railway networks in Europe. You can take on the iconic Tour de Mont Blanc, starting and ending at Chamonix train station or, for gentler slopes check out the Hidden Gems of Provence which starts in Avignon and ends in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, just one hour by direct bus back to Avignon.
There are two picture-perfect promenades easily accessible by train: one is following in Cézanne’s footsteps through the Calanque, which starts in Marseille and ends in Aix-en-Provence, two bustling rail hubs. Or, if you are more of a Van Gogh-er, follow in his footsteps between the stations of Avignon and Arles, through the vineyards and olive groves of Provence. Our Dordogne Valley walking holiday starts and finishes in the region’s medieval capital of Sarlat, a week of walking that has a beautiful finale in Montignac, just a 30mins bus journey back to Sarlat. Or walk through some divine villages of the Côte d’Azur, heading inland on a journey that starts in Sospel and ends in Menton, a trip that’s topped and tailed with gorgeous gares.
You can also cycle the Loire Valley Trail between Nevers in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region all the way to the Atlantic coast at Saint-Brévin-les-Pins near Nantes, with an array of cathedrals and châteaux en route. Cycle the whole route in 15 days, or choose a week-long section between Nevers and Orleans, Orleans and Saumur or Saumur to the Atlantic, all accessible by train.
C’est la viaduct – travelling by train in France is living!
Switzerland by train
Switzerland is like the supermodel of train travel. It has striking scenery on just about all of its rail networks, trains are punctual and timetabling is smart. Check out the Via Alpina and Bernese Oberland walking holiday, starting in Meiringen, which is just an hour from Lucerne by train. Or the iconic Tour de Mont Blanc, which takes you through Switzerland, and starts and ends at Chamonix, a popular Alpine train station. You can start and finish the St James Way by train and another glorious option is to go hiking alongside the world famous Rhaetian Rail route, hopping on and off the train whenever you please.
Germany by train
In summer 2023, Germany is launching a digital Deutschlandticket, at €49 for travel on all services, except on the speedy intercity ones. In addition, young people up to the age of 14 travel free with the national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, when travelling with adults. You can bask in the Bavarian Mountains and Lake District, starting your walking journey at Munich and finishing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, with a finale in Zugspitze massif, the highest mountain in Germany.
Hike King Ludwig’s Way and a kingdom of castles by taking a train to Bernried, on the shores of Starnberg Lake, and walk your way through Bavaria to the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle and nearby Füssen station. Or mosey along the Moselle Trail, a slow travel idyll along the iconic, vine-bedecked river with handy Hauptbahnhofs at both Perl and Trier to start and finish. For more ideas, read our blog on German holidays accessible by train.
Scotland by train
Taking the train in Scotland is not only the low carbon way to travel but it is also the best introduction to Scottish slow travel. The Harry Potter franchise may have brought Scotland’s magnificent train journeys to the world’s eyes, but the country’s spectacular, scenic rail routes have been world renowned for a long time. Travel on the West Highland Railway to start your Great Glen Way walking holiday in Fort William, or take it all the way to Mallaig for hiking tours on Skye. For a perfect finale, treat yourself to the sleeper train if you are heading to England after finishing the West Highland Way, Great Glen Way or the Rob Roy Way, and travel back the Caledonian way.
Travel on the West Highland Railway to start your Great Glen Way walking holiday in Scottish style.
Ireland by train
Ireland is really not that far away from Great Britain by train and ferry and so, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint by around 70%, there are some options open to you. One of the best is the Rail and Sail tickets, a combined ferry and train connecting some of the UK’s leading mainline stations to Ireland via UK ferry ports of Holyhead, Fishguard or Cairnryan. Your ticket includes the train, ferry and, in some cases, your onward train journey within Ireland. These tickets are also excellent value and they stay the same price all year round, and aren’t hiked up in peak season.
The easiest walking holiday in Ireland to access by ferry and train is the 132km Wicklow Way, which includes some magnificent trails in the vast open boglands of Wicklow Mountains National Park.
The Netherlands by train
Netherlands tours (albeit all cycling ones, not walking) are easy cheesy by train, with Amsterdam now accessible directly on Eurostar from the UK, taking just under four hours from London. Eurostar also runs services from London to Brussels, and Thalys operates high-speed trains between Amsterdam to Paris. So, you could easily take a train at the start and finish of our Amsterdam to Paris cycling tour, or our cycling from Amsterdam to Bruges holiday. Although you need to hire a bike as Eurostar doesn’t carry them at present. We will organise any bike rental for you, of course.
In terms of your carbon footprint, a return flight from London to Amsterdam emits 113.13kg of CO2 compared with just 5.1kg when travelling by train. You could even make the most of being in Europe and add another cycling tour in neighbouring Germany or France into the mix.
How to find cheap train tickets
One of the best tips, when it comes to travelling by train in Europe, is to get in early, because International rail operators release their tickets in advance, in phases. You also need to get in quickly, as they release the cheap seats first, but then you can usually set up ‘booking alerts’ and the relevant companies will let you know when tickets on certain routes have been released. We have gone into more details on how to book cheap train tickets in this blog.
Another great value and adventurous option is to just buy an Interrail Pass (aka Eurail Pass if purchased in the USA) and combine a couple of walking tours over a set period of time. And Interrailing has gone multi-generational, with Senior and Youth Passes available, so jump on board, whatever your age! For example, you could buy a Pass that allows you to travel seven days within one month, anywhere in Europe, meaning that you could do a week of walking in Germany, followed by another week of trekking in Switzerland, with time to spare!
How to book European train tickets
For booking international rail tickets, you can book through Rail Europe and Trainline, with the former allowing you to book from anywhere in the UK to anywhere in the rest of Europe all on one booking, and the latter only lets you book from London’s Kings Cross International, as this is where the international part of the journey begins. Rail Europe also lets you set up the all important booking alerts, for when tickets are released. Both charge a booking fee, but they will save you a lot of time. You can also book directly through European rail companies, and Mark Smith’s Seat 61 is excellent at holding your hand through this maze.
We value the importance of travelling within Europe and the UK by train, which is why we have plenty of other blogs on flight-free travel. If you want to slash your carbon footprint but also get to know Europe’s superb rail networks, check out our blogs on How to book cheap train tickets, French holidays by train, German holidays by train, and Best train journeys in Switzerland.