Top 5 overlooked destinations
Reignite your love of train travel at these fresh stops
Are you longing for freedom, wide-open spaces and untouched nature reserves? Look no further as Europe is full of secret spots and hidden beauty, far away from the crowds. Get ready to explore secret gardens, desert islands and breathtaking valleys!
What's more, Europe's extensive rail network puts its scenic spots within reach of the bigger cities, so you can easily escape busy hubs with a Eurail or Interrail Pass. When you're next able to travel, see the restrictions as an opportunity to find lesser-known destinations, like these 5 top stops.
Next stop: Faro's lesser-known beaches
You can reach Faro, Portugal, by train, but you have to invest a little time and pocket-money to reach its hidden beaches.
Get ready for a few lesser-known destinations for sun-worshippers, peace 'n' quiet seekers, birdwatchers or snorkelling enthusiasts. You can reach the busy Praia de Faro island by bus. But it's better to take a private water taxi or ferry to get to the more secluded beaches.
Want to find a desert island? Look no further! Ilha Deserta or Barreta is the only uninhabited island in the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. There's a restaurant near the pontoon, but the rest of the island is uninhabited and yours to explore. Each spring, there's a blossom of fresh colours and scents on the dunes, so it's the perfect time to visit.
Looking for a charming beach town? Ilha da Culatra is a small and lush sandy island that lies beyond the nature reserve. You have to get there by ferry, so it remains mostly idyllic and unspoilt (especially outside the summer season). With its laidback inhabitants, beautiful weather and 2km long sandy beach, you'll be captivated by this peaceful oasis.
Did you know: more than 30,000 birds flock to the Ria Formosa during their seasonal migration pattern?
Getting to Faro from Lisbon: you can reach Faro in 2h 30m. A slower train takes 3h 15m. Seat reservation required.
Next stop: Gdańsk
It's a long train ride from Kraków or Warsaw, but it's well worth heading to the north of Poland to visit this overlooked city. You'll feel like you've stumbled across a prettier and less crowded version of Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
Gdańsk is one of Poland's oldest and once wealthiest cities, with a long and turbulent history. Be sure to walk the length of the Długi Targ (Long Market), to marvel at the Golden Gate, Neptune Fountain, and a picturesque Town Hall, complete with a Gothic clock tower. Top tip: climb the tower for the best view of the city.
Don't forget to cross the Green Bridge to stroll along the Motława River. The most noticeable landmark on the waterfront is the ancient crane, Żuraw.
WWII started just outside of Gdańsk. The Battle of Westerplatte began on 1 September 1939, and it took German forces less than one month to overthrow and annex Poland. WWII shook Poland and its people to the core, and you can learn more about what really happened at the Museum of the Second World War.
Fun fact: Daniel Fahrenheit was born in Gdańsk, so the thermometer is a Polish invention.
Getting there: you can reach Gdańsk from Warsaw in 2h 20m, or the fastest train from Kraków takes 4h 30m. Seat reservation required on both routes.
Did you know that you can go directly to Hel from Gdańsk? Seriously, you can travel by ferry or train to the Hel Peninsula.
Next stop: Lauterbrunnen Valley
Welcome to the Bernese Oberland! Did you know that Lauterbrunnen Valley was the inspiration behind Rivendell? J.R.R. Tolkien was captivated by Switzerland's beauty when he was just 19 years old; immersed between the spectacular backdrop of Lauterbrunnen's waterfalls and dramatic cliffs - the idea for the Fellowship of the Ring was born.
Lauterbrunnen remains as magical as ever and once the snow has melted, the entire valley bursts into bloom with a carpet of spring flowers covering the green Alpine meadows. You'll feel like you've wandered into a dream as you explore the valley and stumble across its 72 waterfalls (be sure to visit Trümmelbach Falls).
More than two million people take the phenomenal train ride from Lauterbrunnen up to the Jungfraujoch (3454m) each year. Yet, most of them bypass the enchanting Alpine village of Wengen (1274m). This tiny village is one of Europe's best-hidden destinations, so be sure to pay extra for the train (not included in your Pass), or hike there for free.
Feeling hungry? The best way to breathe in the clear mountain air is from the many open-air terraces; be sure to order the Swiss Cheese fondue, Rösti or Älplermagronen (Alpine macaroni). Wash your meal down with a glass of hot chocolate or Schümlipflümli (coffee laced with plum brandy).
Getting to Lauterbrunnen from Interlaken-Ost: take the Bernese Oberland Railway to Lauterbrunnen. Go one stop further to Wengen on the Jungfrau Railway. Both of these private railways offer a 25% discount to Pass holders.
Next stop: Utrecht
It's no secret that the Netherlands is famous for tulips, windmills, castles, canals, and its cycling culture. Yet, the city with the busiest train station is surprisingly overlooked! Utrecht has something for everyone with hidden courtyards, secret gardens, Endless Poems and walkways, beautiful parks and a labyrinth of canals.
The Pandhof belongs to the Domkerk or St. Martin's Cathedral; this monastery garden is guarded by impressive neo-Gothic gates and protected by watchful gargoyles. Get ready to step back in time when you walk through the vaulted cloister and into its secret garden. There's also the Pandhof St. Marie near the Conservatorium (pictured); it's a peaceful innercity oasis away from the hustle and bustle.
A maze of canals, bridges and remnants of ancient city walls connect the city. Some sections of the Oudegracht's unique dock cellars are 800 years old, nowadays filled with a plethora of quirky cafés and restaurants with waterside terraces.
Want to explore Utrecht's best-kept secret? Hire a bike and cycle through the beautiful Wilhelminapark on your way to the Botanical Gardens.
Did you know that Utrecht is the UNESCO City of Literature? Children everywhere love the world-renowned Miffy books (Nijntje in Dutch), and Dick Bruna's legacy is hidden all across the city. There's also the lesser-known Endless Poem that's carved into the paving stones on the Oudegracht.
Fun fact: there are more bikes than people! The Netherlands is home to17 million inhabitants and 23 million bicycles, and Utrecht has the world's largest bicycle park.
Getting there: you can reach Utrecht by IC train in 27 mins from Amsterdam or 37 mins from Rotterdam.
Next stop: Whitby
Everyone loves a trip to the seaside, but the English weather is unpredictable at best! Instead, get ready to explore the darker side of this fascinating waterside town on the stunning coastline of North Yorkshire.
Love a good horror story? Did you know this coastal town was one of the locations in Bram Stoker's famous novel? Count Dracula arrives on Whitby's shores after a shipwreck and ascends the iconic 199 Steps (leading to St. Mary's church and the Whitby Abbey ruins) in the form of a terrifying dog.
There's also a legend about Mad Maggie of Whitby, a witch who lived at the bottom of the infamous 199 Steps. Maggie could predict who was about to die! She even envisioned a devastating storm that she knew would result in her own demise.
As a reminder to commemorate the town's early heritage (and to elevate the spooky factor), visit the Whale Bone Archway on West Cliff. You'll be pleased to hear that the Whitby Whaling Company stopped whaling in 1837 and that the current bones were a gift from Alaska.
Ready for a bite? No trip to Whitby is complete without trying Fish 'n' Chips or a 99 ice cream!
Fun fact: the Whitby Whaling crew were so inexperienced they hired Dutch harpooners.
Getting there: you can reach Whitby by train; this route takes you along the iconic North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
Next stop: thinking ahead!
What's included? The destinations mentioned in this article are covered by Eurail and Interrail Global Passes (although some trains require an additional seat reservation).
What's not included? The Bernese Oberland Railway from Interlaken-Ost to Lauterbrunnen and the Jungfrau Railway from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen. Take advantage of the 25% discount offered to Pass holders on these private railways.
Be mindful of the COVID-19 measures even when travelling in less-crowded places; some precaution is still needed to protect yourself and others around you. Always be wary of your surroundings and follow the local rules, and you’ll have a fun and safe travel experience.