The wonderful thing about Paris – aside from the art, the museums, the fashion, the cafes, the history, the architecture, the language, the pain au chocolat, the wine, the cheese, the metro, the boulevards, the Seine, and anything mentioned in Midnight in Paris – is that when (or if) you’re ever ready to leave, it’s easy to get to the next place on your list. It may be true that, as they say, “all roads lead to Rome,” but it could also be said that “all trains lead to Paris.” Several of Europe’s most popular cities are just a quick, high-speed train ride away. For some, Paris is a fairy tale; for others, it’s a Hemingway novel; for more still, it’s a Woody Allen movie. But one thing’s for sure – these European cities are the perfect sequels to any Parisian story, no matter your genre of choice.
1. Paris to Munich
Once in Paris, all that separates you from Munich is about 523 miles and a 6-hour TGV Est train ride. Take in the sights from your roomy window seat while enjoying the classic, efficient service of the TGV train system, as you travel from Paris to Munich.
Choose between Economy (second class), Comfort (first class), or Premier (business class). Economy offers you all the trappings of a comfortable train ride – spacious seats, power outlets, and reading lights. Comfort class adds roomier seats, more legroom, and quieter train cars to the mix. Premier class is for the serious business travelers, with all of these amenities and a meal service at your seat. All travelers are welcome to sample the TGV bar, which offers films on DVD, magazines, games for children, Paris Metro tickets, even USB sticks.
If you prefer the conveniences of overnight travel, the City Night Line train is your best bet. This is a popular train and it fills up quickly, so advance reservations are required and can be purchased online. Take your pick of 6 person couchettes, 3 or 4 person compartments, or double and single sleeping compartments. With a full service restaurant and bar service on most routes, you might even be able to sneak in dinner or breakfast — or both. Passengers in the deluxe single or double compartments receive a complimentary welcome drink in their compartments, as well.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: I loved taking the overnight trains in Europe! I wouldn’t choose that option every time, because I do also love the feeling of sitting with my nose pressed against the window, watching the landscapes quietly pass in the daylight, but overnight trains can’t be beaten for convenience. The couchettes are a good deal, but I recommend earplugs. And I always try to treat myself to a nicer compartment every now and then, because – I mean, why not?
2. Paris to Berlin
Although Berlin is about 130 miles further from Paris than Munich is, the train route is just as simple. The train from Paris to Berlin combines the TGV and ICE services – TGV Est from Paris to Frankfurt, and ICE from Frankfurt to Berlin. The total travel time is about eight hours. Many travelers like to get a good long day train route crossed off their European to-do lists, and this route would be a scenic one to check off.
When you arrive in Berlin, you’ll be rested – possibly even restless? – and ready to do some exploring. The Berlin City Sightseeing Tour is a good place to start and will give you a thorough overview of the city, from the Berlin Wall to the Brandenburg Gate and even the Zoological Garden Railway Station.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: I used the Malaga City Sightseeing Tour when I visited that city just over a year ago, even though I don’t generally like activities that are blatantly “touristy.” I used it half as a tour service and half as a means of basic transportation – I didn’t have to pay for the public bus system since this sightseeing bus pretty much had a stop at each of the main areas around the city. I was able to use that money for the wonderful food instead! City Sightseeing tours are definitely worth looking into for your trip.
3. Paris to Cologne
Tired of Germany yet? Us neither. The train route from Paris to Cologne utilizes the sleek Thalys train, TGV’s often overlooked cousin. This 300 mile trip will only set you back about 3 hours, which is the perfect amount of time to whip out your guidebook or journal and plan for your next adventure. The Thalys is known for its streamlined design and gourmet meals — meals are served in first class for every route over 50 minutes long, and the menu changes with the seasons.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: I’ve never personally ridden the Thalys (not yet, I should say), but when I was working in Rail Europe’s contact center I heard plenty of great reviews. Apparently the VIP Thalys lounge in the Cologne railway station is an excellent place to pass a few hours — you’ll have to try it out and report back!
4. Paris to Luxembourg
A lot of people forget about Luxembourg. The TGV didn’t though, and travel time from Paris to Luxembourg is only about 2 hours — just enough time to take a break from the hustle of traveling and relax with some charming views out the window.
Like Berlin, this city also has a City Sightseeing Tour option. It’ll take you to sights you didn’t even know you wanted to see. Fortress Museum? Luxembourg Casino? Wenceslas Cultural Circular Walk? Yes please. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass that includes Benelux, make sure not to miss out on the “lux” portion of that medley.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: I haven’t heard many stories about Luxembourg, but I’d like to! My tip here is to visit it, take notes, take pictures, and share your stories with us! We need some unique and fun picture submissions for our newly launched Instagram account, @RailEurope.
5. Paris to Milan
If you’re heading down to Italy, Milan is a great place to start. Being the northernmost of the four most popular cities – Milan, Rome, Florence, and Venice – it’s as easy of a jumping off point for Italy as Paris is for the rest of the big European cities. Take a direct TGV train the whole 7 hours from Paris to Milan, or try out the fairly new Thello overnight train.
The Thello offers both couchettes and sleeping compartments, and attendants are available to assist passengers at all times. Breakfast is included in your ticket whether you travel in Economy or Comfort class, and dinner meals are available for purchase in the restaurant cars.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: I know for a fact that this train sells out in a heartbeat, as do many of the overnight trains. This is because there is usually only one train running per night, whereas during the day you normally have the option of several different departure times. The Thello also requires its own ticket – it isn’t covered by any rail pass. This means you get to save one day on your pass to use for that day trip you just can’t stop thinking about. You know you want to.
6. Paris to Venice
The Paris to Venice train route offers the ultimate night train experience – at just over 13 hours, this trip allows time for a good night’s sleep, a leisurely breakfast, and some morning sightseeing outside your window. This Paris to Venice option is also serviced by the Thello, and it’s the only direct service between the two cities. If you’d like to travel during the day, you’ll need to travel from Paris to Milan and Milan to Venice.
When you arrive in Venice, well-rested and savvy overnight train traveler that you are, you’ll probably want to start exploring the city in its most famous method of transportation: boats! The Venice in 1 Day Tour combines a boat ride with a walking tour and covers all of the main sights.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: When I was working in Rail Europe’s Contact Center, travelers would always ask if they should fly from Paris to Venice rather than taking the train. My vote is to always, always choose a train if you have the option. Often the money you might save with a budget flight will just be spent on baggage fees and transportation to and from the airports. I think a lot of people are worried about losing time with that 13 hour train ride, but when you think about it, you aren’t really losing much time – you’d be sleeping and eating a fabulous Italian breakfast anyway, so why not do it on a train?
7. Paris to Barcelona
We’ve saved one of the most popular for last – Paris to Barcelona. Once Paris gets travelers in the mood to play, many feel the urge to frolic to Barcelona to continue the party. When traveling by day, you’ll need to take two trains: Paris to Figueres (6 hours) on a TGV train, and Figueres to Barcelona on an AVE train (1 hour).
The only direct option for this route is the overnight Elipsos train. This train is nicknamed the “train hotel,” and rightfully so – it’s the most elegant and most expensive of all the night trains we’ve mentioned. But don’t worry, you’ll definitely get the most for your money here: in the most deluxe compartment, you’ll receive a single or double bed, a private shower and toilet, magnetic key cards for your door, complimentary water and toiletries, complimentary breakfast and dinner, and access to the VIP lounges in certain train stations.
Jackie’s Travel Tip: When I traveled to Barcelona, I used the Barcelona Card to get around the city. The card covers public transportation (and the metro system is awesome), plus free entrance or discounts to almost any activity you can think of — even things that aren’t usually tourist activities. I used the card for everything from the famous Casa Batllo to a tiny, semi-hidden spa off one of the main streets. I used it for restaurant discounts and entrance into a bar one night, and it even had discounts for things like bicycle rentals, sports activities, and certain shops.
Paris is the perfect setting for any traveler’s European escapades, but it’s only the beginning of your story. Where will you take it next?