European Airports to Start Your Rail Holiday
Wondering where to begin your rail holiday in Europe? You can fly into any airport on the Continent and start your journey from there. But these are a selection of the most popular entry points, with tips on how to connect to the rail network.
Many intercontinental flights, especially with KLM, will bring you into Holland’s main international airport, Amsterdam Schiphol.
The airport has its own station, right underneath the enormous airport complex, which have regular trains not only into Amsterdam but also to other Dutch cities such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Maastricht. International trains also link the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Brussels.
If you land into Schiphol after a long-haul flight, you may want to take it easy for a couple of days in the laid-back city of The Hague, with its wide avenues typical Dutch architecture and the beach resort of Scheveningen. Alternatively you could head straight into the buzz of Amsterdam, perhaps staying close to the Museum Quarter or one of the beautiful canals.
From Amsterdam, there are plenty of river cruises bound for Central Europe or Switzerland, and there are direct train connections to Paris, Cologne, Berlin and Brussels.
Germany’s main hub, Frankfurt is the home of long-haul carrier Lufthansa, and also a crucial destination for many south-east Asian airlines, with excellent connections from Australia.
Landing at Frankfurt and continuing your journey by train is very easy, as Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof (Airport Station) is situated under the terminal building, with regular trains both into Frankfurt city centre, as well as north up the Rhine Valley and south towards the key Bavarian cities of Nuremberg and Munich.
Pleasant sojourns immediately after a long-haul flight include the wine-producing Rhine Valley with its famous Loreley Rock, and the city of Heidelberg with its beautiful castle and old bridge over the Neckar River.
PARIS – CHARLES DE GALLE AND ORLY
If you are flying into Paris from a long-haul destination you will either arrive at Charles-de-Gaulle airport to the north of the CBD, or Orly Airport in the southern suburbs.
Both stations offer easy access by direct RER (rapid metro) into the centre of Paris. Taxis and buses are also readily available. If you are landing at Charles de Gaulle airport, there is a high-speed railway station alongside the airport which has direct trains north to Lille, Brussels and Amsterdam, and to the south to Lyon, Provence and the Côte d’Azur to name just a few.
When you arrive into a Parisian airport, there can be no better way to start your European rail adventure than to spend a few nights in France’s stunning capital, with an array of accommodation options to cater to all tastes and budgets. Once you are ready to move on, there are direct trains to Barcelona, London, Monte Carlo, Milan and Munich, so you can continue in whichever direction takes your fancy.
Italy’s most important airport hub, Milan Malpensa airport, just to the north of the city, welcomes arrivals from south-east Asia and the Middle East, with the usual convenient connections from Australia.
Malpensa Airport has a railway station which links it to the CBD stations of Milano Centrale and Milano Porta Garibaldi. Occasionally, high-speed trains depart Malpensa for places further afield in Italy such as Bologna, Florence and Rome.
There are various options for your first stop when landing at Malpensa. You can either head into Milan itself, with its imposing Duomo (Cathedral) and the famous arenas of La Scala Opera House and San Siro Football Stadium. Alternatively, you are under an hour’s taxi ride from Lake Como, with its spectacular mountainous scenery and gorgeous shoreline villages, an ideal spot to get over the jet lag!
Aside from being an important airline hub, Milan is also a vital railway staging post for onward travel, with world-class destinations such as Venice, Rome, Nice, Zurich and Lake Geneva all within easy reach on a direct train. Beautiful coastlines such as the Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast also have direct links, as do Swiss Alpine destinations such as Lugano and Brig, the latter being an ideal spot to transfer onto the iconic Glacier Express.
LONDON – HEATHROW & GATWICK
If you are flying into the British capital from afar, the chances are you will land into Heathrow or Gatwick Airport. Some intercontinental airlines very occasionally use London Stansted, and if you are connecting with an airline such as KLM or BA from another European city, you may arrive at London City.
If you arrive at London Heathrow, you can access central London either on the London Underground or by Heathrow Express train. London Underground is slower but cheaper, with a one-way into the city centre costing around £5 on your contactless payment card. If you wanted to take the Heathrow Express, this can often be booked in advance for a discount, although paying on the spot can make it quite an expensive option. The Heathrow Express takes you to Paddington station in the western part of central London. Unless you are staying in or within easy reach of Paddington, you may as well take the London Underground. The Piccadilly Line (dark blue line!) runs to popular spots in central London such as South Kensington, Knightsbridge and Covent Garden.
If you arrive at London Gatwick, there is a railway station alongside the South Terminal, with direct connections into various different stations in central London such as Victoria, Blackfriars and Farringdon. Again, your contactless bank card can be used for payment on this, provided you ignore the Gatwick Express, a non-stop service to Victoria which runs with supplements and a proper ticket will need to be purchased. As with the Heathrow Express, it runs direct to one particular station (Victoria) along the same stretch of track as Southern trains (which have only 2 stops anyway) so its not really worth the extra cost for a saving of around 6 minutes. Just be careful not to board a Gatwick Express train without a Gatwick Express ticket! In case you were tempted to take a taxi from Gatwick, do be aware that there is no highway or motorway into London from this direction and the journey to a central London hotel can be very lengthy indeed. We would highly recommend a rail connection, which takes on average 30-40 minutes depending on which London station you need to reach.
With London as your first stop in Europe, you will doubtless want to gravitate into the city centre and take in the museums (many of which have free entry), and world-famous sights such as Big Ben, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. Staying around Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square or Leicester Square puts you right in the heart of the city with easy access to all the sights.
From London, you can travel direct to many destinations in the UK such as Edinburgh, Bath, Salisbury or Liverpool, and then there is the international train, Eurostar, which runs through the Channel Tunnel to Brussels and Paris, so you can travel in one day to cities such as Barcelona, Munich or Milan.
One of Europe’s busiest airports, Istanbul Ataturk has a huge amount of connections via Turkish Airlines and others, serving the Middle East and east Asia. It may seem an unusual place to start your European rail holiday, but the proximity of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles makes it a convenient choice.
After landing at Ataturk Airport, licensed yellow taxis are cost-effective and convenient in terms of getting to hotels on the European side, both in the Sultanahmet area around the Blue Mosque, or over the Golden Horn in the area around Taksim Square.