You don’t have to travel long distances across Europe to enjoy a fabulous rail based holiday.
A much more relaxed approach for taking railway journeys to multiple memorable destinations, is to base yourself in one location and then set off on a series of easy day trips by train.
You’ll also save the hassle of trying to book multiple accommodation options and then repeatedly having to transfer yourself and your luggage to wherever you will be staying.
Spontaneity is another big plus of having easy access to multiple day trips, as you can choose your destination of the day depending on your mood, or the weather.
Hence the suggestions of spending an extended holiday in these cities and towns, which are all great locations from which to take multiple fabulous day trips by train.
Some of them aren’t particularly obvious holiday locations, but what’s being focused on is where you can go, rather than where you will be staying.
ShowMeTheJourney chose to holiday there because Gent it’s where two of Belgium’s main railway lines, the Bruxelles <> Oostende and Antwerpen <> Kortrijk routes cross each other, so the city is a great base for exploring the best of western Belgium by train.
As tickets for journeys by train within Belgium won’t cost any more when booked last minute at the station, you can be entirely spontaneous with the choice of the day’s destination.
Though if you’ll be taking five day trips a Belgian Rail Pass could be a money saver.
In addition to easy trips of less than 80 minutes to the likes of Antwerpen, Brugge (a 20-25 min journey from Gent on up to 4 x trains per hour), Bruxelles, Mechelen and Ypres, there are also direct trains from Gent to Lille in France; in most hours there are departures over the border, which complete the journey in less than 80 minutes.
A special way to explore the Belgian coast by train
Despite its inland location, the city of Gent is also a great base for exploring the Belgian coast.
So days by the sea can be combined with those visits to numerous other charming cities.
The wonderfully useful coastal tram links the resort towns along Belgium’s coastline from Knokke in the north to De Panne in the south, with stops in Blankenberge and Oostende.
All four of these towns have at least an hourly train service from Gent on journeys which take at most 80mins, so an idea is to divide the coast in half and explore it in two day trips from Gent.
On day one take a train to Oostende and then go south, hopping on and off the trams heading to De Panne, in both towns the tram stops are right by the train stations.
Then on day two take a train to Blankenberge or Oostende and make the easy transfers into the trams to to De Haan, which is commonly cited as the most charming seaside resort in Belgium.
Where to stay in Gent/Ghent
Choose the location of your accommodation with care because the main station, Gent Sint-Pieters is a 25-30 min walk from the city centre, so it’s a good idea to either stay by the station, ShowMeTheJourney can recommend the Hotel Carlton, or to be located by one of the tram lines which serve the station.
Or choose somewhere to stay with easy access to the city’s other station – Gent Dampoort, it is closer to the city centre and has direct trains to Antwrpen, Ypres and Lille, plus 4 x trains an hour to Gent Sint-Pieters for onward connections from there.
In winter Innsbruck is a magnet for those that want to combine easy access to winter sports, with the attractions of a big city, but for those who don’t want to take to the slopes, the city has much to to enjoy.
Although what drew ShowMeTheJourney to Innsbruck like a moth to a flame was the opportunity to take a ride on the Hungerburgbahn funicular railway, the first major public transport project of renowned architect Zaha Hadid.
Innsbruck station is where the main railway route from Germany to Italy crosses the main route from Switzerland to Austria.
As a result other cities including Munich, Salzburg and Bolzano are all within two hours from Innsbruck by train.
Take some of Europe’s most fabulous local train journeys…
Though you don’t have to head so far from Innsbruck to experience some of Europe’s most stunning train rides.
Few commuter journeys anywhere are as spectacular as those from Innsbruck to Brennero (take a seat on the right) or to Seefeld-in-Tirol (take a seat on the left).
Lovers of landscapes with a couple hours to spare on a sunny afternoon in Innsbruck can make a quick return trip on either of these lines.
…to Germany’s highest railway…
Most of those frequent trains to Seefeld-in-Tirol continue on to the German town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the trains from Innsbruck arrive at station which is steps away from the terminus of the Zugspitzebahn rack railway.
This railway line makes a spectacular ascent up to Zugspitzplatt, the highest station in Germany!
…or take a ride on not one, but two Austrian mountain railways
Outside of Switzerland, the city of Innsbruck is a second to none location for those who enjoy riding beautiful mountain railways.
Closer to Innsbruck than the Zugspitzebahn are the wonderful Achenseebahn, which is mainly powered by steam locomotives, and the Zillertalbahn.
Both of these lovely railway lines share the station at Jenbach with frequent mainline trains, which take only around 20 minutes to make the journey from Innsbruck.
Or travel further west than Jenbach on the wonderful Alpine train journey to charming Zell-am-See.
There are some morning departures which provide a direct link from Innsbruck on journeys which take less than two hours, or you can head off in any hour to Zell-am-See by making a straightforward connection bwtween local (REX) trrains in Worgl.
Those trains heading to Zell-am-See also call at Kitzbuhel.
The possibility of seeing Hallstat from Innsbruck
It’s also feasible to make a round trip from Innsbruck to the utterly charming village of Hallstat by train, though straightforward connections will be required in both Salzburg and Attnang-Puchheim.
The end-to-end journey in each direction will take around 4hr 15 mins and three hours or so in Hallstat is enough time to make the most of the visit.
The journey between Attnang-Puchheim and Hallstat is also one of the loveliest Austrian train rides.
Though for the journey to Hallstat and or the journey to Zell-am-See, you’ll save money by booking discounted Sparscheine tickets in advance online, the further ahead you book the cheaper the tickets will be
Something to be aware of is that by booking those Sparscheine tickets you’ll be committed to taking specific departures for both directions of travel and won’t be able to obtain a refund if you subsequently change your plans.
Though our advice is not to let that stop you.
If you're thinking that Hallstat, Munich and the mountain railways at Jenbach are at the top of your must experience list, then basing a holiday in Salzburg rather than Innsbruck could be a better option.
The train journey to Hallstat will take less than 2hr 30mins and you could also be in Munich city centre in less than two hours, if you take the trains from Salzburg which call at Munchen Ost station and head on to the city centre from there.
(Definitely head to Munchen Ost if you want to experience the Deutsches Museum).
Jenbach is much further from Salzburg than it is from Innsbruck, but it can be reached from Salzburg in around 90 minutes on direct trains which typically depart every other hour.
(1) In a country as large as France, the must-see sights tend to be some distance from each other, but the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur region is blessed with a multitude of beautiful day trip locations, with stations that are served by trains which travel to and from Marseille.
Within 90 mins of departing from Marseilles St Charles station you can be in the centres of multiple fabulous other destinations including; Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, Nimes and Toulon.
All five of these lovely cities can be accessed from Marseille by TER trains on which you won’t pay any more for the tickets if you book at the station just before boarding, the ticket machines are fairly easy to use.
Also when travelling to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, you’ll also arrive at the stations which are much more central and convenient than those used by the TGV trains.
Stunning coastal journeys
(2) Some of those day trip locations are inland, but others are by the coast, so by heading east or west from Marseille by train, you can appreciate some of the best sea views, which can be enjoyed on a European rail journey.
There are some fine sea views to be enjoyed on the journey to Toulon, take a seat on the right-hand side of the upper-deck, but they are surpassed by the sights which can be seen by taking the Côte Bleue route.
Seek out trains to Mirimas on TER line 7, which travel through Port De Bouc and avoid those that travel through Rognac.
Though the best of the views on this route are between Marseille and Sausset-Les-Pins, where the station is a 10 min walk from its marina - so making this town your destination on a short trip from Marseille makes for a lovely means of spending a morning or an afternoon.
(3) By using Marseille as base for exploring by train, it’s possible to benefit from an aspect of travelling by train in France which has recently changed for the better.
Namely the regional TER trains on the shorter distance routes, are beginning to operate to more regular timetables, departing at the same time in each hour; and Marseille has more of these routes with at least hourly trains than most other French cities.
However when staying in Marseille it’s worth taking the trouble to look up the departure times before heading off to Saint-Charles station.
As for where to stay, because of the elevated position of the city’s main station, it can be a good idea to stay in the streets to the west of the station, or select a location with easy access to a metro station – both of Marseille’s metro routes serve Saint-Charles.
Day trips to the coastal villages scattered along the eastern Cote D’Azur
Cannes is just over a two hour journey by train from Marseille and after the train has passed through Les Arcs, there are a sequence of spectacular views over the coastline.
If you want to make these longer day trips east of Marseille by train, it’s best to look up the connections in advance.
The TER trains aren’t especially frequent, particularly at weekends, and TGV trains, which in this part of France use the same railway as the regular trains, may be more convenient.
Though you’ll save money if you book in advance for the TGVs.
In Cannes connections are available into frequent local trains to Juan Les Pins and to Grasse.
The trains from Marseille to Cannes go on to call in Antibes, where connections are available to Cagnes sur Mer, and then they travel on to Nice.
At Nice-Ville station it’s possible to connect into trains that typically depart every 30 minutes to the utterly charming destinations along the Alpes-Maritmes coast, including Villefranchee Sur Mer, Bealieu Sur Mer, Eze, and Cap Martin-Roquebrune.
Those same trains also link Nice to Monaco-Monte Carlo.
Or connect in Nice to take a journey along the spectacular railway to and from Digne operated by Chemins de Fer de Provence; between May and October steam trains (le train des Pignes) operate on part of the route.
Its trains depart from a station that is a 10 minute walk north of Nice-Ville, but there are only 4 x trains per day in each direction so it’s a journey that needs to be planned in advance.
If you’re concluding that the likes of Digne, Grasse and Monte-Carlo are all on your must-see list, along with some destinations to the north and west of Marseille, then it’s worth splitting your accommodation, so that you can spend at least a couple of nights in both Marseille and Nice.
Opting to holiday in Rotterdam may raise an eyebrow or two, even ardent fans of 20th century architecture, of which many fine examples can be found in the city, will likely concede that it’s not the most beautiful of Dutch cities.
Though one of Rotterdam’s most fabulous contemporary buildings is its stunning railway station, an inspiring beginning and end to any day out by train.
And thanks to the city’s excellent tram and metro network, you’ll have multiple locations to choose from, which offer easy access to the station
When considering a holiday by train location in the Low Countries, the city of Rotterdam has two aces up its sleeve;
(1) Staying in Rotterdam is generally (much) cheaper than in Amsterdam, but you can be in central Amsterdam within an hour of departing from Rotterdam Centraal station, if you take one of the frequent ‘InterCity Direct' trains.
Plus thanks to the 24hr train service between the two cities, there’s no need to rush for the last train back to Rotterdam when enjoying a night out in Amsterdam
(2) Rotterdam is an ideal base for exploring the best of The Netherlands (and beyond) by train.
In addition to the trains to Amsterdam there are a minimum of 2 x trains per hour between Rotterdam and a swathe of must-see Dutch towns and cities such as Den Haag (look out for the trains going to Den Haag Centraal), Delft, Gouda, Haarlem and Leiden.
Because all of these destinations can be reached in under 1hr 15mins from Rotterdam by train, it’s also feasible to visit multiple towns on straight forward day trips.
For example, you can combine Den Haag with Delft or Gouda, or see both Leiden and Harlem in a single day.
Those fast InterCity Direct trains to and from Amsterdam also provide a fast and frequent connection to Schiphol Airport, so getting to and from Rotterdam by a combination of plane/train is straightforward - AND at Schiphol, during the tulip season, you can connect for a bus link to the Keukenhof gardens and tulip fields.
And buying tickets isn’t complicated
What makes those suggested mini-itineraries as easy can be are Holland Travel Tickets, because after 9:00 they provide for a day of unlimited travel across The Netherlands on any train operated by NS, plus any bus, tram and Metro service.
Or for days when you’ll be spending less than the €41 cost of a Holland Travel Ticket, travel as most Dutch people do and use touch and go travel cards instead
In the Netherlands these are known as OV-chipkaarts and they're sold by NS (Dutch Railways) HERE – they’re also valid on the buses, trams and metros, as well as the trains.
Though before making some journeys on the faster InterCity Direct trains such as Rotterdam <> Amsterdam, you need to pay a supplement by tapping your card on the posts which you'll find on the platform/spoor.
Or if you just want to make a simple out and back trip to one destination, you won’t pay any extra for journeys by train within The Netherlands if you book tickets last minute at the station, so you can be spontaneous.
Three other day trips from Rotterdam by train ideas
Three other big ticks in the why Rotterdam can be a better option than Amsterdam box are:
(1) Rotterdam is closer to Belgium – the journey time by the hourly InterCity trains from Rotterdam to wonderful Antwerpen is just over an hour*.
Thanks to easy connections at Antwerpen-Berchem station (the stop after Antwerpen-Centraal), both Gent and Brugge are also an easy day trip from Rotterdam by train.
*You’ll save 25 mins buy taking a high speed Thalys train, but you’ll need to book ahead and commit to specific departures in order to save money.
(2) The largest collection of Dutch windmills at Kinderdijk can be easily accessed from Rotterdam.
First take the D or E metro lines from central Rotteram to Zuidplein station and then connect there for buses on Lijn 90, taking the bus to the ‘Molenkaade' stop – the buses run mostly hourly and the journey time from Zuidplein station is around 50 minutes.
(3) In summer the popular beaches of Zeeland are within two hours of Rotterdam by train, either transfer to bus line 53 at Middelburg station, taking time out to explore its beautiful town centre between connections, or remain on the train until it arrives in Vlissingen/Flushing.
Other great holiday locations from where you can explore by taking day trips by train in...
Britain stay in Glasgow, Leeds, Machynlleth in Wales; Manchester, Penzance in Cornwall, Reading or Stirling in Scotland
or Germany stay in Cologne, Erfurt, Frankfurt or Munich or Offenburg
or Italy stay in Bologna, Milan or Vicenza
or Switzerland stay in Basel, Bellinzona or Olten
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.