Where to go on a flight free vacation

Far from limiting your horizons, once you start thinking about going flight free you quickly realise how many potential journeys and destinations are available to UK travelers by land. It may take longer to get to your vacation in Spain or Croatia, but rail is definitely the most enjoyable and relaxed way to get there, especially if you factor in city stopovers. Rail vacation experts suggest making your journey part of the vacation, but you could also consider making it the destination itself, with an Interrailing Grand Tour of European culture, or an epic adventure to Uzbekistan or the Arctic by train. If you have the determination to go flight free, then really the only thing holding you back is your imagination.

1. Albania

Brimming with UNESCO-protected sites, pristine landscapes and a fascinating culture hidden for years behind the Iron Curtain, Albania is just beginning to emerge onto the tourism scene. Already appealing to adventurous travelers, Albania can be reached without flying in two or three days using high-speed daytime trains, a one-night stay in Milan, and an overnight ferry from Italy.

2. Arctic

An epic rail journey for intrepid travelers, the Arctic can be explored year-round on two-week trips encompassing vast swathes of Russia and Scandinavia. Highlights include time in Berlin and Moscow, a two-night odyssey to Murmansk aboard the ‘Arktika’ service, and a cruise along the magnificent Hurtigruten coast. You can get home by train too, via Stockholm, Hamburg and Copenhagen.

3. Croatia

The easiest way to reach Dubrovnik or Split by train is with a one-night stopover in Zagreb. Without rushing, it would take around two full days from London. But once you’re in Croatia you can let the crew of your small ship cruise take over while you relax on deck with your feet up and a drink in hand.

4. France

An easy jaunt over to Paris on the Eurostar is for many of us our first experience of a European rail vacation. But just a little extra effort, and one or two more trains, gets you much further: to chic Biarritz, to idyllic walking vacations in Nouvelles-Aquitaine, to memorable family adventures in the Alps or canoeing in the Dordogne.

5. Georgia

One of Europe’s least-known destinations, Georgia is a lovely country to visit by train. Getting there takes you through Transylvania and Romania’s hauntingly beautiful Carpathian Mountains, as well as a memorable jaunt on the Eastern Express through remote parts of eastern Turkey. The final leg to Batumi is by private car, as there’s no train service between Turkey and Georgia.

6. Portugal

Whether you want to go walking in Sintra National Park or the Algarve, cycle the Atlantic Coast or dive headlong into Lisbon’s fado culture, there are several ways to reach Portugal by train. Among the best would be taking the Eurostar to Paris, then a high-speed TGV to the Spanish border. There, you can connect with an overnight sleeper to Lisbon.

7. Spain

If you were in a hurry, you could get to Barcelona by train in one day. But why rush when you could spend a night in Paris along the way? The rail journey to the Catalan capital through France is wonderfully attractive, and once there you can head further on to Valencia, Andalucia and the Balearic Islands if you wish.

8. Sweden

The concept of ‘train bragging’ originated in Sweden and we like it. You can get to Stockholm in two days by rail via Hamburg, from where you can try sea kayaking off the Baltic coast, continue south to cycle around the lovely Sörmland province, or track wolves and beavers in Bergslagen Forest.
Travel Team
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Sample itineraries

UK to Valencia by rail

London > Paris > Barcelona > Valencia

Depending on train times, from London you could potentially reach Barcelona via Paris in around 12 hours non-stop, although you might want to break up the journey with a night in the French capital. Then from Barcelona you’re just three hours by train from Valencia, or eight hours by ferry from Menorca.

UK to Saint Anna Archipelago by rail

London > Brussels > Cologne > Hamburg > Copenhagen > Stockholm > Norrköping

It takes around two full days to get from London to Stockholm by train at a relaxed pace, with an overnight in Hamburg. From Stockholm it’s less than two hours to the lovely Sörmland province by train, bus or car, and 90 minutes by train to Norrköping, departure point for sea kayaking vacations in the Saint Anna Archipelago.

London to Dubrovnik overland

London > Paris > Munich > Zagreb > Split > Dubrovnik

Getting to Croatia by rail is both uncomplicated and fun. It would take you about 22 hours to reach Zagreb via a sleeper train from Munich. From Zagreb it’s a further six hours to Split, from where you can take a bus or fast catamaran to Dubrovnik, as there is no rail connection between the two cities. After that, you can unwind with small ship cruising around Croatia’s idyllic Dalmatian coast and islands, perhaps combining sailing with walking or kayaking.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kevin Schmid] [Albania: Drini Teta] [Arctic: Michael Parulava] [Croatia: Matthias Mullie] [France: Peter Schulz] [Georgia: Denis Arslanbekov] [Portugal: Red Mirror] [Spain: Jean-Baptiste D.] [Sweden: Ines d'Anselme] [Paris: JOHN TOWNER]