Ugh, January. It makes everyone want to escape their current lives, whether by resolving to be a better person, or by physically travelling away from their usual abodes. In this article, we allow you to do both: travel by train, to minimise your impact on the planet, and explore some gorgeous European cities. We have chosen seven winter escapes from the Netherlands by train that you can enjoy in 2020.
If you want to check out weekend escapes to Germany, we have a specific article for that- but this one can take you to Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and the Czech Republic: all in under a day.
Why is it better to travel by train? Well, we all want to explore new places, but air travel has a massive impact on the climate because of the amount of greenhouse gases it emits. Especially within Europe, train travel is usually convenient, fairly fast, and relaxing, so it’s time to ditch the planes and get on trains in 2020. And particularly in winter, there’s something very appealing about being cozy in a train, watching the world go by out the window, maybe sipping a hot chocolate.
The most convenient ways to book inter-European trains is either through the NS’s international website, or through Rail Europe. You could also purchase an Interrail pass if you’re planning on travelling for an extended period of time. And, as a more flexible but also more expensive option, you can also just buy tickets as you go. The prices listed are based on you booking a month in advance, so they’ll be more expensive if you book for tomorrow, for example.
1Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Gent
Price one-way: 40 euros
We recently visited the beautiful city of Gent, and we were blown away. But it’s an especially lovely place to visit in 2020, because this year, the city is celebrating the legacy of Flemish master Van Eyck. Included in this will be the most extensive exhibition of his work ever held, so if you want to brush up on your fifteenth century painting, then Gent is a must in 2020. One of our writers describes Gent as a more relaxed and accessible Bruges, with a stunning mix of old and new architecture dotting the city centre.
And honestly with that travel time from Amsterdam, how could you not take the trip? Short trips like this one are pretty inexcusable to take by plane- in fact, flying would probably take you longer than taking the train where Gent is concerned.
2Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Strasbourg
Time: →6 hours
Price one-way: 70 euros
Had enough of one international city of peace and justice? Well, leave The Hague, and head for Strasbourg! Home of the European Parliament, you can get your fill of politics here no problem. But Strasbourg is also a really beautiful city: it has two UNESCO World Heritage sites- the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (not the burnt Parisian one) and the Imperial, or German Quarter. There are lots of beautiful parks to enjoy as well, even in this winter weather. And you can enjoy both Germany and France at the same time, as Strasbourg has been a historically contested city between the two countries, and the cultural blend remains evident to this day.
The train trip will take you through Paris, so although it is a short trip, it could be worth breaking up with a day of exploring the French capital. But otherwise, it’s a very simple trip, which will get you to Strasbourg in less than half a day. The perfect option if you want to go somewhere just for the weekend.
3Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Luxembourg
Time: →6 hours
Price one-way: 50 euros
If you want to get the essence of Western Europe, then you simply cannot miss Luxembourg. In the centre of everything, and multilingual (English, French, German and Luxembourgish are spoken there), it has a deep sense of culture and history. The Fortress of Luxembourg is a must-visit: it was known as the Gibraltar of the North until it was rendered unfit for military use in 1867. It has a great wine-and-dine scene, which is perfect for those winter months where you want to take the chill out of your bones with a delicious meal.
What does the train trip look like? It’s a wonderfully simple one, usually with just one change at Bruxelles-Midi. Start early, and you could be in Luxembourg by mid afternoon, maybe even in time for a late lunch. Download a film onto your phone to watch, and the journey will be over before you know it.
4Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Zurich
Time: →8 hours
Price one-way: 60 euros
The association many of us have with Zurich is an expensive financial centre- which is true. But there’s a lot more to Zurich than that, which is why we’re recommending it as one of our top winter destinations by train. First of all, in Switzerland, you simply cannot escape the beautiful nature. Zurich is a lakeside city with the beautiful River Limmat running through the Old City. In summer, locals swim in both the river and the lake, but unless you’re a bit mad, you probably don’t want to be doing that in winter. There are some gorgeous hiking trails up each of the small mountains that surround the city, so bundle up and get out there. And in winter, you can never go wrong with a museum, and Zurich is full of them.
The train journey is a neat eight hours, and usually includes two changes: one at Frankfurt, and one at Basel in Switzerland. Eight hours is short enough that you shouldn’t need to split the journey, but if you do want to (maybe if you have small children), then Frankfurt is a great spot to do it in.
5Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Vienna
Time: →11 hours
Price one-way: 100 euros
If you’re craving some high quality architecture, Vienna is the place to go. If, for some reason, you really want a city to visit on a Sunday, Vienna is not the place to go. Moving on from a very tragic past mistake, Vienna is the centre of Habsburg imperial history. You can’t come here and not gobble up the castles: Schonbrunn, with its cheerful yellow walls and tales of the private lives of Sisi and Franz Jospeh; or Hofburg, where new architectural styles were added on as each new ruler tried to show off. And then there’s the coffeehouse culture: eat some delicious cake and sip some coffee as you watch the world go by.
The train trip sometimes only has one stop, at Frankfurt, but others have multiple stops in Munich or Saltzburg, for example. Depending on whether you want to split the journey, either option could be a great idea. Saltzburg is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, and Munich, though expensive, is a lovely place to explore for a day. Also, sometime inn 2021, overnight trains to Vienna will come into effect, so that’s also the perfect option if you don’t want to spend a day on a train.
6Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Copenhagen
Time: →11 hours
Price one-way: 80 euros
Ok, some honesty here. If there’s one trip I’d beg you to go on above all others, it’s this one. Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities (outside the Netherlands, of course), and the train journey takes you through some beautiful countryside and cityscapes. What can you do in Copenhagen? Well, given that I’m a bit obsessed with books, the first thing I’ll recommend to you is visiting the Royal Library. Not just for the books, but for the architecture. There are two parts to this library: the nineteenth century redbrick side, and the more recent ‘Black Diamond’ extension, glimmering in the sunlight. Then there is the famous Christiania town, home of hippies and hash dealers. Breathe in the socialism. Not the weed. The socialism. Thank you.
So what does an eleven hour train journey to Copenhagen look like? You’ll have either two or three changes- for sure one in Osnabruck, and one in Hamburg. Hamburg would be the perfect place to split the journey, as it’s about halfway through the journey, but the trip is totally doable in a day. Just make sure you walk around during the changeovers, so you don’t get stiff and remain in peak condition to breathe in the socialism.
7Winter escapes from the Netherlands by train: Prague
Time: →12 hours
Price one-way:100 euros
Prague is well known for its cheap beer, and attracts revellers from far and wide each year. But there is far more than that to Prague: first of all, the architecture is stunning. The Old Town Hall was one of my favourite features. It is adorned with an astronomical clock on its gothic church tower, constructed in 1338. On the ground and second floors, you can find art exhibitions as well as the tourist office. We also loved Charles Bridge. Built in 1390, it is a major tourist draw so don’t expect much peace and quiet here. It is lined with local artists and a fair few hawkers, but that’s all part of the experience.
The train journey to Prague from Amsterdam will take you an entire day, but you’ll pass through some beautiful areas. Passing around Cologne and Frankfurt, you’ll stop in Nuremberg (so if you want to break up the journey into two days, this would be the perfect place to stay). A final interchange at Schwandorf and you’ll be over the Germany border into the Czech Republic. It sounds like a long journey, but bring a couple of good books, or a friend, and it’ll fly by.
Will you be heading off to any European cities by train soon? Let us know your favourite destinations!
Feature image: Pixabay/Pexels.