Our recommendations for fantastic European city breaks by train this winter.
Though they receive the bulk of their visitors in spring and summer, Europe’s cities are wonderful places to visit all-year-round. Some are even more charming in winter and there's certainly fewer tourists to contend with.
Thanks to convenient direct trains and fantastic high-speed connections, travelling around Europe by train has never been easier. And since it's more relaxing and picturesque than flying, many people are ditching the plane and hopping on a train for a European city break.
From Roman ruins in Lyon, Christmas Markets in Strasbourg and cosy cafés in Turin, we’ve chosen a few great places to visit by rail this winter.
Winter city break in Lyon
Lyon Croix Rousse and Rhine River (image © ventdusud / iStock)
Lyon is a fantastic city to explore on a winter’s day. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the old town retains its medieval splendour - cobbled streets and all. And the Théâtre Romain de Fourvière gives you a glimpse of Lyon's Roman past, while overlooking its modern incarnation.
There are many museums from the traditional Museum of Fine Arts, to the modern Mac gallery or contemporary photographic exhibitions at Galerie le Réverbère. And during the first week of December, the city hosts the Fête des Lumières, an annual celebration of light at the darkest time of year.
Lyon is famed for its food, boasting 14 Michelin-starred restaurants, countless bouchons and food markets serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. And that's just for starters. Off the beaten track you'll find trendy cafes, boutique shopping, wine-tasting and a chocolate laboratory - plenty 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 the direct train (that previously ran during summer only) has been extended to a year-round service. The direct Eurostar bypasses Paris so you can travel from London to Lyon by train in 4 hrs 41 mins.
Trains depart once a week on Saturdays in winter and three or four times a week in spring and summer. 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.
Visit Strasbourg in winter by rail
Water canal in Strasbourg (image © Razvan / iStock)
Another savvy choice for a winter city break by rail 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.
You'll 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 34 minutes by regional train.
The city has the stunning gothic Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, surrounded by canals and cobbled streets. The bare trees and low sun make for picturesque views during a winter visit and there are plenty of sites to explore. And as the days get shorter, the city comes alive with the famous Christmas Market - the oldest in Europe. Shop, skate, drink vin chaud and enjoy one of many shows, concerts, and musical evenings that take place from November to December.
Turin in winter by rail
Mole Antonelliana and Alps (image © egadolfo / iStock)
Overlooked by the snow-capped Alps, Turin is full of incredible baroque and neoclassical architecture, exquisite cafes and fascinating museums. And throughout winter, 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 whose buffets are so vast and delicious you could probably forego dinner altogether! But if you do still have an appetite, immerse yourself in Turin's slow food movement and savour the food and drink 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 hours 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 high-speed Frecciarossa. The 12-hour journey isn't the most luxurious (we look forward to the completion of Thello's renovation, expected in 2016) but it is an effective way to save on accommodation costs.
For more inspiration, see our blog post about travelling to Italy by train in winter.
Main image and thumbnail: Mole Antonelliana and Alps (image cropped © egadolfo / iStock)