Our recommendations for top European city breaks by train this winter.
Though Europe's cities receive the bulk of their visitors in spring and summer, they offer cultural and natural delights all year round. Forgo the summer crowds by taking a city break by train, when the veil of winter casts a quiet glow on Europe's most scenic cities. From Roman ruins to merry markets and cosy cafés, here are some of the best places in Europe to visit by train this winter.
Lyon is a lovely city to explore on a winter’s day, its UNESCO-listed old town and medieval streets offering a wealth of sights to explore. Wander around the Place Bellecour, netled between the Rhône and the Saône rivers before taking the F2 funicular (buy locally) to the Fourvière hilltop for views of Lyon’s basilica and the city below.
Lyon also boasts many museums, from the traditional Museum of Fine Arts to the modern Mac gallery or contemporary photographic exhibitions at Galerie le Réverbère. During the first week of December, the city hosts its most famous celebration, the Fête des Lumières, an annual festival of light that brightens up the darkest time of year.
Lyon is also famous for its food, boasting 16 Michelin-starred restaurants, countless bouchons and food markets serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. And that's just for starters. Off the beaten track there are trendy cafes, boutique shopping, wine tasting and a chocolate laboratory, offering more than enough to keep you entertained for a long weekend.
With its extensive rail network, taking the train to France has never been easier. And Lyon is top of the list for a city break by rail this winter, since there is a direct Eurostar train from London to Lyon, taking just 4 hrs 41 mins. Alternatively, stay on board and travel further south to reach Avignon in 5 hrs 49 mins or Marseille in 6 hrs 27 mins for a taste of the French Riviera in winter.
Another savvy choice for a winter city break by train is Strasbourg, on France’s eastern border with Germany. It’s easy to take the train from London to Strasbourg since the 5 hour 41 minute journey requires a simple change of stations from Gare du Nord to Gare de l'Est in Paris, possible on foot in just 10 minutes. Read more about changing train stations in Paris in our blog.
Travel from London by Eurostar, with time for coffee in Paris before hopping on a double-decker TGV Duplex to Strasbourg. From there, you can easily explore the region including the Alsatian city of Colmar, just 30 mins away by regional train.
One of Strasbourg's most iconic sites is the Gothic Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, surrounded by canals and cobbled streets. In December, the city comes alive with its famous Christmas market, the oldest in Europe. Shop, skate, drink vin chaud and enjoy the many shows, concerts, and musical evenings that take place during the festive season.
In the shadow of the snow-capped Alps, Turin is teeming with Baroque and Neoclassical architecture, cafes and myriad museums. Throughout the winter season, Luci d'Artista, an event dedicated to the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene, lights up the whole city with beautiful installations that add a touch of magic to winter evenings.
Take in the sights and enjoy an aperitivo at one of the city's many cafes, or immerse yourself in Turin's slow food movement and savour the delicacies of northern Italy.
By visiting Italy by train in winter you'll avoid the busiest, hottest and most expensive months and make big savings on accommodation and travel. Though further away than our other recommendations, Turin is a fantastic choice since it's easily accessible by train from the UK.
Travelling from London to Turin by train takes 10 hrs by Eurostar and TGV with a quick change in Paris. It is also possible to travel overnight by Eurostar and Thello night train to Milan, then onwards to Turin by high-speed Frecciarossa train. For more inspiration, see our blog on travelling to Italy by train in winter.
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