We give the budget airlines a run for their money. Check out our pick of beach holidays in Europe, every one easy to reach by train.
Ditch the plane and hop on a train to a beach on mainland Europe. No matter what the season, beaches are beautiful although nothing beats that first dip in spring, or a fuller immersion in summer. Here are some of our favourite beaches near railway stations for some coastal therapy. The beach is always what the doctor ordered.
Costa Brava, Spain by train
Spain's Costa Brava has some of the finest Blue Flag beaches in Europe, sandy dunes that stretch to deep into the bay and secluded smugglers’ coves to explore. Though Spain is famed for its popularity with holidaying Brits, steer clear of the southern resorts and you won’t catch a glimpse of them.
The coastal region of Catalonia stretches from just north of Barcelona to the French border, and promises an enviable climate, excellent beaches and rugged coastlines. Beaches popular with families include the white sands of Tamari, while grown-ups may prefer the tiny but perfect formed, Sa Caleta, Lloret de Mar, in the shadow of a medieval castle.
There are several options for taking the train to Costa Brava, depending on your ultimate destination. But a safe bet is Girona, the region's capital. Taking the train from London to Girona has become very easy thanks to the high-speed rail route from France to Spain that opened in 2013. The entire journey takes just over 10 hours, by Eurostar and double-decker TGV Duplex.
Alternatively, take advantage of the new direct Eurostar from London to Lyon, and skip changing trains in Paris. In Lyon, it’s a simple same-station change onto a direct train from Lyon to Girona, on board a high-speed Spanish train.
The journey south from Barcelona to Alicante is also recommended as one or our great coastal train trips. From the Catalan capital, to the Roman city of Tarragona and the more sedate Valencia, the train hugs the coast, offering fantastic views of the Iberian Sea and white sandy beaches below.
Sestri Levante, Liguria, Italy
A peaceful slice of paradise on the Mediterranean, the enchantingly named Bay of Silence sits on a peninsula that divides the shoreline between La Spezia and Genoa. The fishing village of Sestri Levante is a real gem on the Ligurian coast, and has become a favourite amongst Italians, even giving Portofino and Cinque Terre a run for their money.
On the other side of the bay is the Baia delle Favole, or Bay of Fairytales, named in honour of Hans Christian Andersen. And there are plenty of white sandy beaches to sink your toes into on the surrounding coastlines. Nearby delights include gorgeous towns such as Portofino, Levanto, Vernazza and the coastal greenway, through former railway tunnels, from Levanto to Framura - great for cycling.
To get to this beach by train, take the Eurostar to Paris, and hop on a night train to Milan, and finally a scenic InterCity ride to Sestri Levante. If the night train doesn't appeal, it's also possible to make the journey in one day from London to Turin by Eurostar and high-speed train, where you can pick up local trains to Genoa and Sestri Levante.
Top tip: Cinque Terre can be incredibly busy with tourists so consider a trip in the off-season for a cooler climate and fewer visitors. See Italy by train in winter.
Brittany Coast - France
Picnic and paddle on the fine white sands of Cap-Coz and discover the Celtic heart of Quimper with a trip by train to the Brittany Coast in France. Learn to sail at Bénodet, a resort that is often considered Brittany’s best resort for families, or head out on a coastal walk in Pointe du Raz, the most westerly point of France.
The journey is easy - just take the Eurostar from London to Paris, then board a high-speed TGV direct to Quimper. Journey time from eight hours from London with an optional stop for lunch in Paris. Once you're there, this part of Brittany lends itself to exploration by train, with regional services available inland to Auray or out to the coast of the Quiberon peninsula.
Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Côte d'Azur, France
We could write an entire blog post about the beaches of the Côte d'Azur, since almost all of them are gorgeous and easily reached by train. In the end though, we settled on Beaulieu-sur-Mer since we felt that anywhere that goes by the name of "Beautiful place on sea" deserves a special mention.
Beaulieu-sur-Mer is is a pretty seaside village situated between Nice and Monaco on the French Riviera. Surrounded by palm trees and sheltered from northerly winds by the rocky hills of Cap Ferrat and Mont Leuze, it is one of the warmest places on the Riviera. The shallow waters make it perfect for kids, and there are plenty of water sports and activities for the more bold amongst you.
Due to its proximity to Nice, hitting this beach by train is very straightforward. Trains from London to Nice, via Paris, are frequent and fast with four or five options each day, the fastest of which take around nine hours. It's only a 10 minute journey from Nice to Beaulieu-sur-Mer by regional TER train which can be booked in advance or on the day.
There's also an option to take a direct train from London to Marseille and pick up a local trains along the Cote D'Azur - the train from Marseille to Beaulieu-sur-Mer takes around 3 hours.
Venice Lido, Italy
Not all visitors to Italy's lagoon island of Venice know that besides being famed for its labyrinth of canals and crumbling bridges, it's also home to a fantastic beach. Technically an 11km sandbar, the island known as Venice Lido in the Venetian Lagoon, is a welcome break from the tourist-packed city.
It is easy to travel by train from London to Venice. There is an overnight option, using the night train from Paris to Venice. But many prefer travelling by day trains from London to Venice. It’s a long journey for one day, but easily done with an early start from London. If that doesn't sound like your idea of fun, consider an overnight stop in Paris or Milan. It's a 15 minute ride by vaporetto to the Lido itself.
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
No rundown of beach breaks would be complete without mentioning Nice, just one of many jewels in the French Riviera. The famed Promenade des Anglais, with its beachfront cafes, is a hop and a skip from Nice-Ville station. And if you're in the mood for exploring, you can use Nice as your base to explore more Côte d'Azur beaches by train.
Beware though that public beaches are packed in summer so you'll be toe-to-toe with your fellow sunbathers, and must be vigilant for bag thieves. If this sounds too much like hard work, consider a visit to one of Nice's private beaches that boast lockers for your belongings, carpets leading to the sea, and deckchair cocktail service.
Taking the train from London to Nice, is easy thanks to four or five journeys by Eurostar and TGV that run every day. The fastest of these take around nine hours. Depending on the day you depart, you can also consider taking Eurostar's direct from London to Marseille and pick up a local trains along the Cote D'Azur - the train from Marseille to Nice takes around 2 hrs 30 mins.
Tarragona seafront, Spain
Like France, Spain has its fair share of gorgeous golden sand beaches. Tarragona, just an hour south of Barcelona, is no exception with stunning pine covered headlands and 200km of unbroken beach lining its coastline. But there's no reason not to stick in town - the immaculately preserved Roman Colosseum overlooks the main stretch so you can get your culture and sun in one siting. Getting to Tarragona from the UK by train is simple thanks to the high-speed connection between Paris and Barcelona, though perhaps a little far for one day. The journey from London to Tarragona takes just over 12 hours, so it's a long journey. Consider breaking your journey with an overnight stop in Paris, Barcelona or Girona. From Tarragona's main station, it's a short walk to the front, or you can hop on a bus to sink your toes into the sand elsewhere in the province.
Sylt, Westerland, Germany
As well as suggesting classic beach breaks by rail, we decided to end on a surprise note. Germany is not a place usually associated with beach holidays, which is why the tiny, northernmost island of Sylt is so special. Situated on the North Sea, it's supposedly the St.Tropez of Germany, with a New England Hamptons feel about it (or so we've heard).
Expect sand dunes and invigorating sea air. And, for those of you who like to be busy when you relax, Sylt is a haven for watersports, with surfing, kite surfing, sailing and catamaran sailing on the menu.
The journey by train from London to Westerland (Sylt) takes the best part of a day, but if you book in advance you'll likely find tickets from £50 one-way. Break your trip in Cologne or Hamburg to make the most of the journey.
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