For a real summer chill out, travel to some of Europe's best beaches 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, Catalonia
Catalonia's Costa Brava has some of the finest Blue Flag beaches in Europe, some with sandy dunes that stretch all along a bay, others more secluded. The coastal region of Catalonia stretches from just north of Barcelona to the French border, promising an enviable climate, excellent beaches as well as some rugged coastal parts. Favourite beaches include Tamari for families, the more remote Sa Caleta, Lloret de Mar, in the shadow of its fine medieval castle and of course La Barceloneta, in Barcelona itself, for liveliness and great seafood eateries. A recent development for keen open water swimmers is the Vies Braves, or sea swimming lanes.
There are several options for taking the train to Costa Brava, depending on your ultimate destination. But a safe bet is Girona and taking the train from London to Girona takes just over 10 hours. Alternatively, take advantage of the direct Eurostar from London to Lyon. In Lyon, it’s a simple same-station change onto a high-speed direct train from Lyon to Girona.
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. There is one beautiful beach after another along Brittany's Pink Granite Coast, all beautifully accessible on the GR34 walking trail. With some of the finest, almost secret seafood restaurants along the way too. Lannion station is a good central point for heading out out on this magnificent way-marked way.
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 which merits its name, beautiful place by the sea. A pretty seaside village just 10 mins by train from Nice and also close to Monaco, it is fringed with palms, sheltered from northerly winds by the rocky hills of Cap Ferrat and Mont Leuze and, therefore, one of the warmest places on the Riviera. The shallow waters make it perfect for families, and there are plenty of water sports too.
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 mins journey from Nice to Beaulieu-sur-Mer. 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's a 15 mins ride by vaporetto to the Lido itself.
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.
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
No rundown of beach breaks would be complete without mentioning Nice, just one of many jewels along the French Riviera. The famed Promenade des Anglais, with its beachfront cafes and prolific people watching, is a hop and a skip from Nice-Ville station. 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. You might want to consider a visit to one of Nice's private beaches with lockers for your belongings, carpets leading to the sea, and deckchair cocktail service. Vraiment.
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 train rom London to Marseille and pick up a local train along the Cote D'Azur - the train from Marseille to Nice takes around 2 hrs 30 mins.
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 sitting. 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 hrs, 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 seafront, or you can hop on a bus to sink your toes into the sand elsewhere in the province.
Sylt, Westerland, Germany
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. With a wild beach feel, sand dunes and plenty of wind for watersports, it is also on the North Sea Cycle Trail.
Other images top to bottom: Lloret de Mar, Spain iStock ©nito100, Sestri Levante (cropped) by Jiuguang Wang reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons 3.0 SA Licence, Pink granite coast Brittany iStock ©Bertl123, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, France ©CanarinhoBR, Venice Lido ©Kim_white, Chairs on Promenade des Anglais, Nice iStock ©Delpixart, Tarragona iStock ©Gerold Grotelueschen, Sylt by Unplug (cropped) reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons 2.0 NC Licence.
Ten scenic train trips for independent travellers
Ten trips to inspire your next holiday by train - and not an escorted tour in sight. Our selection of scenic train trips for independent travellers in Europe.
European city breaks by rail from London
It's easier than ever to take the train across Europe - and capital cities are by no means the only destinations available to those planning a city break by rail.