Just like the 80s, train travel is making a comeback in a big way. And if you’ve ever dreamed of booking a Eurail Pass to travel Europe by train and forget about life for a little while, this is the time to do it. Skip the long airport security lines, grab your carry-on and head to Western Europe where we’ve found a route that will have you covering six countries in two weeks. Life (on the rails) is good.
Start: Paris, France
There’s plenty to see in Paris, and if you’ve never been there before, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre-Dame should definitely be top of the list.
But there’s something to be said for just winding your way through the neighborhood streets or the tree-lined sidewalks of the Champs-Élysées, stopping for a croissant or a glass of wine and people watching at one of the plentiful outdoor cafés.
If your interests turn to the macabre, visit the Paris Catacombs, a series of underground tunnels where millions of the cities’ inhabitants found their final resting place.
Next Stop: Switzerland
Get off in Geneva and get your government on with a tour of the United Nations. Then visit Old Town for French-inspired cobblestone streets and cafés. Spend some time on Lake Geneva and soak up stunning views of the town and snow-capped Mont Blanc.
Take a boat ride (free for Eurail pass holders) or head to the Pâquis Baths, a public beach with a huge sun deck, saunas, a restaurant and water sports. For fans of more extreme sports, hop back on the train and head to Interlaken for the ultimate snowboarding, skydiving or whitewater rafting adventure.
Next Stop: Austria
Hop off in Innsbruck and you are surrounded by idyllic Tyrolean mountains as far as the eye can see. There’s a reason that Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, so for the ultimate ski experience, head to one of the nine ski resorts that make up Olympia SkiWorld.
If you can manage to take your skis off, take a stroll through Old Town (the Altstadt) and make sure your camera is ready to go. Recharge with the most amazing strudel you’ve ever tasted at Strudel-Cafe Kroell.
Just under two hours from Innsbruck is Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and home to the Sound of Music Tour. Top off your day of touring with a treat at one of the several Michelin-starred restaurants in the city — our favorite just for the name alone is Carpe Diem Finest Fingerfood.
Next Stop: Germany
Just a short hop over the border of Austria and you’ll be in Munich. Visit during Oktoberfest for the ultimate beer-drinking festival. But any time of year here you’ll find plenty of biergartens to enjoy.
Take a break from the beer and visit Marienplatz, Munich’s main square. Formerly host to jousting competitions and executions, the square now hosts street performers, shops and vendors selling bratwurst. A Christmas market takes over the square during holiday time.
Six hours from Munich (plenty of time to recover), you’ll be in Berlin, where some of the world’s most fascinating history and culture can be found. See the remnants of the Berlin wall and Checkpoint Charlie or visit the Topography of Terror museum for an eye-opening experience.
Wind down from the day by hitting one of the many music festivals or clubs. The music scene in Berlin has something for everyone — from classical to punk and everything in between.
Next Stop: The Netherlands
The next stop on your European tour is the tiny, picturesque capital of the Netherlands: Amsterdam. Rent a bicycle to see the city, or follow the Amstel River south for 40 minutes to the 12th-century village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel and stop for an innovative dining experience at the popular Jaimie van Heije restaurant.
Back in town, be sure to visit the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum to stock up on culture before a night on the town. Yes, there’s the Red Light District, so see that if you must, but don’t pass up one of the cozy, traditional brown cafés (bruin café) for a local beer.
Final Stop: Belgium
Every vacation should include beer, chocolate and french fries (well, at least this author thinks so), and the medieval town of Bruges has them in spades. Start off with a visit to Choco-Story, a museum dedicated to the sweet treat. Next, head to Frietmuseum, surprisingly touted as “the world’s only museum dedicated to Belgian potato fries.”
Finally, visit the 16th-century De Halve Maan Brewery for a tour and samples. Absolute heaven.