Last Updated on April 12, 2022 by Jim Ferri
Many travelers to Europe don’t consider extending their time in one city and taking a day trip to other cities nearby. However, it’s often worthwhile and very affordable, especially if you’re using a rail pass.
There are numerous and fascinating day trips you can take wherever you travel in Europe. Most times the fastest and most comfortable means of getting to those destinations is by train.
A shorter version of this article appeared in Never Stop Traveling two years ago. We’ve now updated both the time of travel and fares, which in some cases are less than they were previously. We’ve also added bus travel as an option since it is usually the least expensive mode of transportation. And, finally, we’ve included an additional 12 city pairs to the list, making a total of 26.
I hope this will be helpful on your future trips to Europe.
UPDATED FOR 2021-2022
Estimated reading time: 26 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Although European travelers usually don’t think of them, you can often take great day trips by rail to many destinations. This lets you see a lot more without having to pack and unpack at every stop.
Most travelers, however, only use their rail passes or buy tickets for long-distance travel, say traveling from Paris to Berlin or Rome to Zurich. But it makes sense to also use trains for day trips at your primary destination.
Train trips in Europe are usually quite good and comfortable. With a rail pass or a discount, they are also relatively inexpensive. You can often cut those costs even more by making the trip on a comfortable modern bus. The caveat is that bus travel is although frequently – but not always – is longer.
It’s easily doable in Europe, where significant places of interest are often close together. And they’re all usually connected by an excellent rail system. All over Europe, you’ll find a treasure trove of European day trips. Many are well worth tacking an extra day onto your itinerary.
26 Good European Day Trips
Here are 26 good European day trips by rail that are well worth the time and are relatively inexpensive, as well. Many are only a one-or-two-hour ride each way (one only 14 minutes), some two-three hours, two over three hours. We have not included any that were four hours or longer.
We have, however, included information on bus travel which may be of interest to those who want to curtail costs even more.
If you feel a long ride leaves you too little time to see a city, consider making it overnight, staying at a hotel near the station.
All prices quoted are for one-way tickets in 2021.
If you have a Eurail Pass, these trips may be completely “free,” depending on the type of pass you’ve purchased. But always check in advance whether you’ll need to make a reservation.
Also, check to see if the trip requires a change of trains or buses. And ensure that you’re leaving from the correct station since large cities often have several rail and bus stations.
Amsterdam – Delft: A Short, Pleasant European Side Trip
Train: 1h 1m ($13-35) | Bus: 1h 10m ($7-10)
I returned to Delft after many years and found it as charming as ever. It’s so close to Amsterdam and just a stone’s throw from Rotterdam, and it’s lovely with old brick buildings, brick streets, brick sidewalks, and more bikes than you can count.
It’s a quiet place that charms you with its shops, cafes and restaurants, and centuries of culture that beckon from all over town. Be sure to relax with a drink in one of the cafés in Markt Square, which sits between the bookends of the old Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the ornate city hall.
And, as you might guess, you’ll find plenty of antique shops selling the old Delft ceramics. After leaving the antique shops, relax in one of the city’s good restaurants to gloat over your treasures.
Brussels – Bruges: A Great European Day Trip
Train: 1h 3m ($11-17) | Bus: 1h 25m ($9-11)
Little Bruges is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belgium. It’s an incredibly charming and stunningly beautiful city, basically because the compact city center is closed off to cars. You can easily explore it on foot, by boat along quiet canals, or by horse-drawn carriage on cobblestone streets.
Visit the old Markt Square, the serene Begijnhof, the superb 11-room Groeninge Museum, and take a canal tour. One of the city’s biggest draws is its numerous chocolate shops, each with its fans. It’s worth a trip from Brussels just to take a chocolate tour of the town.
Brussels – Ghent: A Fast-Train Day Trip
Train: 35m ($10-15) | Bus: 1h 23m ($9-12)
This is one of the shortest train trips in Europe for a one-day getaway. While many travelers set their sights on famous Bruges, even closer to Brussels is Ghent, a magnificent city that, like Bruges, is also crossed by canals. The difference is that Ghent is more spread out and has many broad open spaces in addition to a wealth of beautiful architecture.
In fact, there are more listed historic buildings in Ghent than in any other Belgian city. In medieval times, Ghent was one of the largest cities in Europe, second only to Paris, and today it continues to have an abundance of museums and galleries. Also, nowhere else have I seen anything like Ghent’s Castle of the Counts, a massive castle at street level right in the middle of a city.
Dublin – Belfast: More Than the Titanic Museum
Train: 2h 10m ($35-55) | Bus: 2h 20m ($15)
Belfast is more than just the capital of Northern Ireland. It’s a charming and fascinating city with plenty to do and easy to reach via a trip by train from Dublin. Certainly, don’t miss the Titanic Museum, an incredible place that tells the story of the building of the great, ill-fated ship and of life in Belfast at the time.
Also, don’t miss Belfast Cathedral, St. George’s Market (open on Fridays only), and the Crown Liquor Saloon. But, of course, the best way to get a good overview of the city is to take a tour with a driver in one of the city’s famous Black Taxis, which will also give you access to the once-troubled Catholic-Protestant neighborhood.
Florence – Venice: More Than Gondolas
Train: 2h 18m ($22-85) | Bus 4h 45m ($18-22)
Venice is one of the most beautiful and unique cities in the world. First-timers can get a good taste of the city on this European day trip from Florence.
After you arrive at Venezia Santa Lucia Station in Venice, walk out the front of the station and buy a day ticket for the Vaporetto. Board Vaporetto #1 and take it to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), one of the most famous places in Italy. If it’s your first time in Venice, you’ll find this trip itself worth the price of the train ride here.
Visit the Basilica and if you go up to the loggia you’ll have a nice view of the Piazza. Then wander around the nearby streets before heading back to the Rialto Bridge on the Vaporetto. Certainly, if you can, visit the nearby fish market (Pescheria di Rialto).
Although it’s a lot of fun just wandering aimlessly about Venice, the city does have some outstanding museums. You may want to visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia, is home to one of the most significant collections of Venetian paintings in the world. There are also several other notable museums in the city. And find a cozy café or ristorante for a late lunch or early dinner before heading to the station.
Frankfurt – Heidelberg: An Über Popular European Day Trip
Train: 55m ($17-70) | Bus: 1h 14m ($8-11)
Heidelberg is not only one of Germany’s most picturesque cities, but it also holds the record for the most European day trips in Germany every year, about 3 million in all.
Once the center of political power, it’s a lively, beautiful university town (the first university in Germany) that’s great for walking and wandering, from the Old Bridge on the Nectar River to the world-renowned castle above the city.
Although the castle is mostly in ruins, be sure to visit it – in addition to boasting the most significant wine barrel in the world, it also provides beautiful views of the city below.
Geneva – Zurich: A Beautiful City
Train: 2h 46m ($90-170) | Bus: 3h 55m ($10-23)
Zurich’s well-deserved reputation as a global center of bank belies the fact that it’s also a beautiful city worth visiting. Switzerland’s largest city, it has a picturesque, pre-medieval Altstadt (Old Town) where one can wander for hours. Interactive exhibits in the Swiss National Museum – that takes you from pre-history to the present – could also while away hours.
If you enjoy art you’ll find one of the most important art collections in Switzerland in the Kunsthaus Zürich. In the Fraumünster Church you’ll find the artwork of Chagall in the beautiful stained glass windows. Walk through Paradeplatz in downtown Zurich and you’ll find world-renowned banks and the most expensive real estate in Switzerland. You’ll find Paradeplatz on Bahnhofstrasse among plenty of high-end shops.
Helsinki, Finland – St. Petersburg, Russia: The White Nights
Train: 3h 27m ($45-70) | Bus: 6h 20m ($14)
St. Petersburg, is easily accessible from nearby Helsinki, which itself was once part of the Russian Empire. This is the reason parts of the city have a Russian aura.
It’s just a bit over 200 miles from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, which makes this European day trip comparatively easy. the second-largest city in Russia. It’s the cultural heart of the country and home to The Hermitage, one of the outstanding museums of the world. You could easily spend an entire day there, but this is a beautiful city with much to see and do.
On the banks of the River Neva, it’s a city known for its canals and cathedrals, palaces, and terraces, and seemingly hundreds of bridges. In Russia, it is unmatched in its splendor. It’s also the northernmost of the great cities of Russia, known for its famous “white nights” in late June and early July.
Lisbon – Coimbra: Portugal’s University City
Train: 1h 45m ($16-35) | Bus: 2h 20m ($14-17)
Coimbra is a city of medieval churches and a maze of medieval streets. In fact, Coimbra is so picturesque you’ll think you’re in another time, which is likely why some consider it the most romantic city in Portugal. It’s an interesting day trip by train from Lisbon or Porto.
Although it was once the capital of Portugal, today, Coimbra is better known for its university, one of the oldest in Europe. You’ll still see students all around the city, identified by the black capes they still wear.
Visit Santa Cruz Monastery, a national monument, and the resting place of two of Portugal’s early kings, and the Convent of Santa Clara, the final resting place of the former Portuguese Queen St. Isabel. Wander around the old town near the tourist office near the river, and you’ll find a miniature “best of Coimbra” all rolled into one relatively compact area.
London – Bath: A Good European Day Trip
Train: 1h 18m ($50-65) | Bus: 2h 20m ($14-17)
Famous as a European day trip by train from London, Bath offers a glimpse into Roman (with the best-preserved ancient temple and baths in Northern Europe) and 18th-century Georgian Britain.
In addition to visiting the Roman baths, see the adjacent Bath Abbey, built-in 1499, and the Royal Crescent often called the most majestic street in Britain. Number One Royal Crescent, a home museum that provides a glimpse into aristocratic life in the 18th century, is quite interesting.
From there, walk up to the Circus and over to the Jane Austen Centre. In addition, the small Holburne Museum, on the other side of the city, provides a pleasant short museum experience for day-trippers.
London – Brussels: Gourmet Food and European Charm on This Trip
(Chunnel) Train: 2h 10m ($120-400)
Undoubtedly one of the most popular cities in Europe, Brussels is historic and beautiful. It’s a good European day trip from many cities, not just London. It’s a very charming and walkable city with a lot to see and enjoy.
First, visit the city’s magnificent masterpiece, the Grand Place, and its incredible ancient guild houses. Then head over to see the Manneken Pis, the icon of the town.
Brussels is also a city of great art, considered wonderful by some, weird by others. Walk about the Place Royal and visit the world-class Musee Magritte and Musees Royauxdes Beaux-Art de Belgique. And visit some of the chocolate shops on Place du Grand Sablon.
Above all, leave time to relax in one of the city’s famous restaurants. Rue des Bouchers is one of the streets renown for its many cafes and ambiance.
London – Paris: A City Like No Other on Any European Trip
(Chunnel) Train: 2h 16m ($130-410) | Bus: 8h 15m ($54)
There’s a lot to see in Paris, undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. On this European day trip, If you take the early morning Chunnel train and return to London on the night train, you can squeeze a lot into the day. The first thing to do is buy a carnet of Metro cards in the train café to avoid wasting time standing in line at metro stations.
Head for Montmartre for a quick taste of old Paris after you arrive at the Gare du Nord in Paris at about 10am. Have some crêpes or a glass of wine in one of its little cafés before heading for a few hours in one of the city’s great museums.
When I took the trip, I visited the Musée d’Orsay. It’s a fantastic museum that’s just about the right size for a short visit. Then wander about the Left Bank or walk over to the Eiffel Tower. Finally, leave time for dinner at one of the restaurants near the train station.
Madrid – Barcelona: A Wonderful City
Train: 2h 30m ($70-140) | Bus: 7h 30m ($35-80)
This is another excellent and outstanding European train trip to an incredible city. What makes Barcelona stand out is its trove of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all architectural treasures. (For some perspective, the entire city of Paris has one.)
As you should with any of these day trips, ensure that you purchase any tickets online to skip the line. The problem may be, however, that you’ll have a timed entry.
If you can, certainly see La Sagrada Família, one of the most incredible churches anywhere (and still under construction) designed by Antoni Gaudi. Visit the Gothic Quarter and the famous Picasso Museum. Have a quick lunch in a tapas bar. Tour at least one other of Gaudi’s masterpieces, perhaps Casa Batlló or La Pedrera.
And above all, find a good restaurant near the train station that evening – Barcelona is a great city for foodies.
Madrid – Segovia: Where Madrialeños Go for Lunch
Train: 1h 30m ($14-43) | Bus: 1h 20m ($6)
Because of Madrid’s central location in Spain, many European travelers take day trips from the Spanish capital. A significant number opt for Toledo, the former home of the artist El Greco, about a half-hour train ride south of the city.
Madrialeños, though, head north to Segovia, a wonderful old town with medieval walls, a former royal palace, and a great ancient Roman aqueduct, still intact in the city’s center. They don’t come here for a history lesson, but for the food since Segovia is a renowned food town.
Wander the old streets and lanes and then have a leisurely lunch in one of the cafés on the Plaza Mayor near the Gothic Cathedral (the last built in Spain) or beneath El Acueducto in the Plaza Azoguejo.
Madrid – Sevilla: A Very Seductive City
Train: 2h 38m ($35-110) | Bus: 6h 10m ($30-60)
You’ll likely love Sevilla, perhaps Spain’s most seductive city. Stroll along Avenida de la Constitución, the main pedestrian-only artery in the heart of the town, to Seville Cathedral. It’s the third largest in Christendom and the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.
Across from it is the magnificent Real Alcázar (Royal Palace). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s the oldest Royal Palace still in use in Europe. Also visit the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), set in a restored convent if you have time.
It has the most outstanding collection of Spanish art outside of the Prado in Madrid. Also, visit the extravagantly tiled Plaza de Espana, built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. From Madrid it’s an easy and pleasent European trip.
Milan, Italy – Lugano, Switzerland: A Taste of Ticino
Train: 1h 17m ($28-80) | no bus service
Here’s the best of two worlds – the ambiance of laid-back Italy combined with everything-works-on-time Switzerland.
Lugano is Switzerland’s “Little Italy,” a place where attitudes, customs, and food are more Italian than anywhere else in the country. Even many of its buildings are built in Italianate Lombardy style.
This is a good and scenic train trip in Europe. Stroll along its palm-lined lakeside or across one of its piazzas, and you’ll see for yourself. The city’s center is a cluster of little neighborhoods, each with a different feel, that spill out into numerous small piazzas.
In October, it hosts the Festa d’Autunno, which features gastronomic delicacies, wines, and typical regional products.
Munich, Germany – Salzburg, Austria: The Sound of Music
Train: 1h 30m ($22-80) | Bus: 2h 4m ($5-8)
Salzburg is a beautiful city made for walking. First, visit beautiful Mirabell Gardens, where parts of the Sound of Music were filmed, then cross the river into the old town. This is a great European trip by train through the beautiful countryside.
Once in Salzburg you’ll feel that you’ve stepped back into another century, and you can wander about it for hours. Next, visit Mozart’s birthplace (9 Getreidegasse), Salzburg Cathedral, the famous Residenzplatz, and the beautiful Mirabell Gardens for the iconic view of the castle looking over the city (even better, take the funicular up to it).
Finally, go for a carriage ride but be sure to leave time to while away in a café.
Paris – Versailles: An Incredible Royal Residence
Train: 14m ($17) | No buses listed – Taxi: 17m ($35-45)
If you visit no other château in France on a European trip, visit Versailles, considered the quintessential royal residence in Europe.
It began life as a hunting lodge in the 17th century but was later transformed by Louis XIV into the largest palace in Europe, capable of housing 20,000 people. The Treaty of Versailles, which brought World War I to an end, was ratified in its famous Hall of Mirrors.
Look out the window in the hall for a view of the palace’s incredible formal gardens and then take a walk through them. Almost 2,000 acres in size, they took 40 years to complete.
Paris – Dijon: A Relaxing European Trip
Train: 1h 35m ($40-80) | Bus: 3h 45m ($14-24)
*Note: buses leave Paris in the evening and arrive in Dijon after midnight*
Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, is so famous for its food and wine that Parisians make day trips by rail there on the super-fast TGV just for lunch. Join them, but also wander about the old city and admire its beautiful architecture.
Visit the Palais des Ducs, where the Dukes of Burgundy (responsible for all those beautiful buildings) once held court. Today it’s home to great art treasures, as is the well-regarded Musée des Beaux-Arts and several other excellent museums scattered about the city.
Also visit the merchants’ quarter in the old town where medieval half-timbered houses still line the street. And, of course, buy some mustard to take home.
Rome – Bologna: Some of the Best Food in Italy
Train: 2h 23m ($25-110) | Bus: 3h 50m ($14-35)
If you enjoy good food, really good food, this European train trip will be over-the-top for you.
Bologna is a legendary city well known for fantastic, delicious, glorious Bolognese food. It’s the reason that in Italy, the city is known as La Grassa or “The Fat One.” It’s also the reason it’s one of the top places to visit in Italy.
Visit the old Quadrilatero market area adjacent to the Piazza Maggiore by the basilica. Quadrilatero is the only place in the city where everything of high quality is brought together in one spot. The number and variety of foodstuffs all around are nearly overwhelming.
Stop in the 100-year-old food shop Paolo Atti & Figli on Via Caprarie before continuing to A. F. Tamburini. Founded in 1932, it also is one of the city’s most famous food stores. Best yet, in the rear, there’s a small cafeteria with many tables for patrons to sit and eat. The food is delizioso!
Rome – Naples: Birthplace of Pizza
Train: 1h 12m ($17-80) | Bus: 2h 35m ($13-19)
Many travelers who visit Naples only stay for a short time since they’re often en route to the Amalfi Coast, the islands of Capri and Ischia, or Pompeii.
Naples isn’t a popular destination for travelers in Italy since it’s somewhat chaotic and dirty, and its massive garbage and crime problems are world-renown. Still, though, it retains a charm for some.
The old center of the city is crowded with churches, monasteries, and convents. In the center, you’ll also find the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, a world-renowned archeological museum.
The capital of Campania, the city, provides an excellent introduction to southern Italian cooking, including its famous pizzas.
Rome – Florence: An Easy European Day Trip You’ll Love
Train: 1h 36m ($19-85) | Bus: 2h 20m ($18-26)
If you’re short on time and want to make a quick day-train trip outside of Rome, this is your place. One of the great cultural capitals of the world, Florence remains a monument to the Renaissance. The city is home to innumerable cultural treasures that you’ll find in numerous world-famous museums and galleries. This is a great European day trip by rail.
Seek out Michelangelo’s David, the beautiful Duomo, and its Baptistry, Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Piazza Della Signoria…the list is near-endless.
As the capital of Tuscany, it’s also renowned for its food and wine. One needs to spend days or weeks in Florence to get a taste of the city’s gastronomic and cultural banquets. But it’s well worth taking a bite of it in a day.
Salzburg – Hallstatt: The Prettiest Lakeside Village
Train: 3h 15m ($17-60) | Bus : 2 h 36m ($11-15)
While this is a relatively long trip either by train (the time includes a one-hour transfer) or bus, if you’re in a rush you can make this trip by car in about one hour. Either way you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Hallstatt, which is often called “the prettiest lakeside village in Austria.” (And to tell you the truth, that may be an understatement.)
If you arrive on this European trip by train at the tiny station, you board a ferry that takes you across the lake to the town. It’s best if you can stay overnight and enjoy the village after all the other day-trippers have left.
The trip to Hallstatt takes you through the Salzkammergut, the stunning Lake District in western Austria. It’s the region best known to Americans for its meadows and mountains in the opening scenes of the “Sound of Music.” It’s an easy town through which to amble, with plenty of little cafés sprinkled about.
Trieste, Italy – Ljubljana, Slovenia: Wonderful Art Nouveau
Train: 2h 39m ($9-29) | Bus: 1h 24m ($17-24)
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a beautiful and affordable city that’s too often missed by travelers. What you can’t miss here is some of the most beautiful Art Noveau and Baroque architecture you’ll find anywhere. It’s one of the most beautiful and charismatic cities in southeastern Europe.
It’s a fascinating place with a fairytale castle looming up on a hillside right in the middle of the beautiful Old-World city. In its Old Town, you’ll discover old churches, intriguing little shops and markets, and little-cobbled streets worthy of its Old-World character.
In its New Town, you’ll find the Modern Gallery and the National Gallery. Prešeren Square on the river is a perfect place to start exploring both sides of the river.
Vienna – Budapest: A Great Old-World City for a European Trip
Train: 2h 12m ($6-20) | Bus: 2h 45m ($9-20)
You’ll find plenty to do in Budapest since it’s a unique and charming Old World city. In fact, it’s the most stunning on the Danube. It’s a beautiful place shaped by a history that offers travelers a multitude of great experiences.
Walk along its avenues, and you’re surrounded by turn-of-the-century architecture, cozy cafés tucked away on cobbled streets, and excellent music and art. Certainly visit the beautiful and historical Mátyás Church and the adjacent Neo-Romanesque Fishermen’s Bastion, one of the most popular places in the city.
Take a taxi to Heroes’ Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home of the Museum of Fine Arts. Then walk back down Andrassy Street towards the Danube, passing the Opera House and the St. Stephen Basilica.
When you reach the river, turn right and walk a few hundred yards to the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. It’s incredibly simple and incredibly moving.
Vienna – Salzburg, More of the Sound of Music
Train: 2h 22m ($9-85) | Bus: 3h 55m ($19-24)
Many of the things to do in Salzburg, Austria, connect to the Sound of Music because the city and the movie are forever entwined. In fact, in Salzburg today, the only sound you hear more than “Do-Re-Mi” is ka-ching, ka-ching.
Salzburg is a storybook city with domes and spires set below an imposing fortress. It’s surrounded by a backdrop of mountains, a scene you never tire of. There’s also enough art, incredible Baroque and modern architecture, wonderful food, and great festivals to make your head spin. Everywhere you look, the city oozes charm and beauty.
If you visit on your European trip, head first for the Altstadt, the city’s Old Town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where horses clip-clop through the streets pulling their carriages to Residenz Platz, the most famous plaza in the city.
Go to Getrapidegasse, a picturesque street with tall narrow houses and plenty of shops and shoppers. There you’ll find the home that was Mozart’s birthplace. Delve into the maze of streets about his birthplace, and you’ll find these courtyards now brim with little cafés and shops. Keep wandering and then go up to the castle for a great view of the city.