Once the thundering pride of the industrial age, the train is undergoing a bit of a renaissance as a growing number of travellers look for an alternative to flying. But where to start? And how far can you go?
If you’re reading this in Europe then congratulations —everything from snow capped peaks to sizzling volcanoes, wild landscapes to urban sophistication, and over 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are waiting for you, just a train ride away. That’s right, just 24 hours is enough to get you from Sheffield to Rome, from London to Budapest, or from Paris to Lisbon, with not an airport in sight.
It can, however, all seem a bit daunting for the uninitiated. How do you buy tickets? Are there luggage restrictions? And what happens if you miss your connection? If your interest is piqued, one good place to start is ‘The man in seat 61’ (www.seat61.com). Run by former British Rail employee Mark Smith, the award-winning site offers information and advice, including tried and tested routes, pictures of the trains, an idea of costs, and help on how to book tickets. If you’re looking for inspiration, there’s also a section on some of the world’s loveliest train journeys, such as the Deerstalker, which leaves London in the late afternoon and carries you overnight to the heart of the Scottish Highlands, or the Swiss Glacier Express, which slowly weaves its way through spectacular mountain scenery.
If you’re keen to avoid complicated itineraries and dealing with multiple international train companies, one option is the Eurail pass (https://eurailgroup.org), which allows you to travel across 31 European countries. If, on the other hand, you simply want to get from A to B, Loco2 (https://loco2.com) is a site well worth checking out – the one-stop-rail-ticket-shop allows you to book tickets for trains across 37 European rail operators with just a few clicks.
Of course, trains are slower than planes, and are usually more expensive. However, it’s worth remembering that children often travel for free, and that there are no hidden charges for luggage or taxes, so the total price difference isn’t as great as it might at first seem. And with no hanging around in departure lounges, the beauty of ever-changing scenery rolling by your elbow, the luxury of being able to spread out over a table, and the convenience of being deposited in the heart of a city — as opposed to in a bleak hinterland which then requires a costly and annoying airport transfer — you could argue that the actual travel experience is more pleasant.
And after all, as science fiction doyenne Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”