Raised in Massachusetts. University years in New York City. Graduate school in Utrecht. Amsterdammer...
Ride the Rails: Weekend Train Trips from the Netherlands14 March 2014, by Benjamin Garstka
With warmer days upon us and a string of official Dutch holidays coming up over the next few months, now is the perfect time to plan some weekend getaways!
Although recent years have seen a swell in budget airlines, the hassle has increased exponentially: far off airports, outrageous luggage fees, showing up early just to queue... the list goes on!
This spring, avoid the tumult and ride the rails! With such a central location and multiple high-speed routes, the Netherlands is a great base for exploring Europe by train. Forget that tired trinity of weekend escapes (Paris, London, Berlin) and rediscover your wanderlust by checking out some of the destinations we’ve highlighted below.
Escape the Netherlands by train!
Using Amsterdam as a starting point, all of the following cities are easily reached by train within a day and involve no more than one transfer!
Just Next Door: Within 2 Hours by Train
For those wanting to travel just a few hours, look no further than Belgium!
Time: 01:50 | Thalys
Thanks to the Thalys, the European capital is just a short ride away. Truly international, Brussels has a character all its own with attractions ranging from the curious Atomium and mini-Europe to the Grand Place and Royal Palace. Beer, fries and chocolate? You bet!
Time: 01:53 | Intercity(IC)/Intercity Direct
Easily reached by local trains for half the cost of the Thalys, the heart of Flemish speaking Belgium offers more than enough to merit a weekend away. Highlights include the Central Station, one of the oldest zoos in the world, the Guild Houses on the Grote Markt and the Rubens house.
Short Trips: 2 to 4 Hours by Train
Expanding the radius a bit further, a variety of comfortable trains can easily bring you to some beautiful destinations in France, Belgium and Germany.
Photo by Flickr user phgaillard2001
Time: 02:34 | Thalys
Often overlooked for big sister Paris, this small city in northern France is home to a remarkably restored Old Town, a formidable Fine Arts Museum and enough quaint, yet smartly priced French restaurants to make dining out a pleasure.
Photo by Flickr user interbeat
Time: 02:26 | Thalys/IC
Bruges may get more attention, but Ghent is the livelier of the two. With the Lys River at the heart of the city, Ghent is home to the Graslei houses, historic Beguinages, the monumental Castle of the Counts and of course the van Eyck brothers’ Ghent Altarpiece.
Photo by Flickr user AnaChristina
Time: 02:41 | ICE
Just over the German border on the relaxing ICE, the fourth biggest city in Germany possesses the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, yet the mix of museums, student life and a substantial gay population give the city a contemporary feel.
Photo by Flickr user peatc
Time: 3:06 | IC
In the heart of Wallonia along the river Meuse, this former industrial city has recently experienced a renaissance of sorts and is worth a visit to see the beautiful Hill of the Citadel, the Cathedral district and to further explore the gorgeous forests and towns of the Ardennes.
Midrange Journeys: 4 to 6 Hours by Train
For those who have never ridden a train for more than a few hours, these cities are perfect as the routes will allow you to discover the picturesque countryside of the Lowland's neighbours!
Time: 05:11 | IC
This north German gem is home to a vibrant harbour district. Wander the historic warehouse area where cobble stone streets are lined with industrial architecture, mosey through the Reeperbahn red-light district and bask in the beautiful botanical gardens.
Photo by Flickr user Μanu
Time: 05:22 | Thalys/IC
The capital of one of Europe’s smallest countries is home to a spectacular symbioses of architecture and landscape. Easily explored in a weekend, pay visits to the magnetic Grund neighbourhood, the rocky faces of the Bock and Casemates, the hill-top town of Esch-sur-Sûre and the Vianden Castle.
Time: 05:42 | Thalys/TGV
Divided by the Rhône and Saône rivers, France’s third city sprawls onto the surrounding hillsides while the beautiful Basilica of Notre Dame looms over the ancient theatre of Fourvière. Diehard foodies, the world renowned Lyonnaise cuisine awaits you.
Long-hauls: 6 to 8 Hours by Train
Whether you're a seasoned traveller or simply have a passion for trains, these destinations further out are certainly worthwhile. The routes are diverse, the trains are comfortable and the simple pleasure of watching the scenery morph from flat to mountainous or Mediterranean awaits you!
Time: 06:23 | ICE
Transfer: Frankfurt Airport
Along with historicity and World War II infamy, there is so much that makes modern Nuremberg lovable: the Castle Quarter with its timber frame houses and Imperial Castle, the house of Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer and the mix of monumental churches to name a few.
Time: 07:28 | Thalys/TGV
The TGV is a miracle for the weekend warrior and can get you to the south of France in under 8 hours. Designated European Capital of Culture in 2013, witness how Marseilles has evolved into a hub of diversity. Of course, there’s also the timeless beaches, bouillabaisse and calanques!
Photo by Flickr user Zurich Film Office
Time: 07:56 | ICE
Clocking in at just under eight hours is Switzerland’s largest city. Mountain-scapes, sparkling water, highbrow art and culture- it’s everything one could want in a Swiss getaway.
Practical Train Travel Tips
› Book early
Like airlines, prices for tickets fluctuate, especially for the ICE, Thalys and TGV.
› Curious about a certain train?
The Man in Seat 61 describes the seating situations and quality of these and many more trains.
› Confused about a connection?
Check RailEurope’s interactive map.
Keep in mind that high-speed rail is significantly more expensive than inter-city trains when planning your trip.
Book your tickets here and enjoy riding the wonderful rails of Europe!
Did we miss something? Let us know your favourite train trips in the comments!