There’s a lot going on in the world of no-fly travel. Across Europe, high-speed routes grow apace, along with deals to get people off the roads. Germany introduced its £42-a-month regional transport pass and this year France will do similar. And more tour operators are offering rail options as well as flights. New sleeper services are springing up all over. You’ll find our pick of Europe’s 12 most exciting sleeper trains here.
Meanwhile, holidaying by ferry is as popular as ever and when it comes to cruises you’ll be amazed at just how far modern ships can take you from home shores — summer in the Norwegian fjords, the Med, the cool Baltic capitals.
Here, we’ve selected the new rail-based holidays you should know about, journeys that begin with ferry travel and cruises that start from the UK.
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1. Scenic Switzerland
The GoldenPass Express takes passengers over the Swiss highlands
Switzerland is famous for its dinky little trains that break the rules by effortlessly running up mountains, precisely to time. Trains with panoramic views such as the Glacier Express are well established, but now there’s a new one: the GoldenPass Express, a rollercoaster ride from the glitzy lakeside resort of Montreux to idyllic Interlaken. Take a new small-group tour that includes a belle époque cruise across Lake Geneva, the GoldenPass up and over the Swiss highlands via Gstaad, a gondola ride to the Eiger, and then a train ride to medieval Thun for a serene lake cruise back to Interlaken.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £2,695pp, including rail travel and some extra meals (greatrail.com)
2. Rail and sail adventure
Houses perched on a cliff at Bonifacio in Corsica
Opportunities to combine sustainable land and sea travel are few, but this itinerary comes close. The train section — first class all the way — takes you from London to Cannes, then you have seven nights aboard the graceful clipper Star Flyer, scudding eastwards along Italy’s Ligurian coast and down to Elba, where Napoleon was exiled. From there, you’ll tack across to Corsica and Sardinia with stops at the likes of Bonifacio and Ajaccio before turning back north towards Monaco. Expect fabulous coastal scenery and head-turning sailing.
Details Eight nights, including seven full board on the boat and one night’s B&B in Cannes, from £3,199pp, including rail travel (starclippers.co.uk)
3. Black Forest cake and clocks
If trains, cuckoo clocks and cake rock your world, then a new luxury touring holiday of Germany’s Black Forest is your golden ticket. Despite the slightly forbidding name, these rolling hills are a sumptuous mix of pine forest, pasture and orchards with enchanting half-timbered villages rich in spas and that famous gateau. This itinerary starts with daytime trains to Germany’s most eco-friendly city, Freiburg, and ends in the spa town of Baden-Baden. In between are two nights each in tranquil Lake Titisee via the Hell Valley Railway (the name relates to the dramatic topography) and Triberg, famous for its cuckoo clocks.
Details Nine nights’ B&B from £2,040pp, including rail travel (expressionsholidays.co.uk)
4. Golden Age travel to the French Riviera
In the days of Grand Tour travel, les Anglais would take the train across to Paris and then south to Nice, to sashay along the seafront in the winter sun — it’s not called the Promenade des Anglais for nothing. A new rail-based package emulates that original stylish journey, breezing down through rural France to stay in Nice’s Hôtel Windsor, with its lush gardens, and then to glamorous Cannes. There are islands to visit, Matisse artworks to see, seafood to eat and two nights to round it off in Paris.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £811pp, including rail travel (sawdays.co.uk)
5. Swiss mountain views
Lake Lucerne, with Mount Pilatus in the background
The views from the top of Switzerland’s mountains can be gorgeous — but on this trip it’ll only be the view that takes your breath away, because of the ingenious ways the Swiss have for getting you to the top. This small-group rail-based itinerary focuses on mountain-surrounded Lake Lucerne, where the water is so placid that even a puny dinghy can draw lines across it. From here, travellers take five different ascents, including one on the first mountain railway (Mount Rigi) and another on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway (Mount Pilatus). Your base, which you’ll return to every evening, is the lakeside resort of Hergiswil, which is served by vintage paddle steamers.
Details Nine nights’ half-board from £2,199pp, including rail travel (hfholidays.co.uk)
6. Group tour from Paris to Madrid
The Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year-old triple-decker aqueduct
Journeys are bonding experiences, and on this low-impact, small-group rail itinerary through France and into Spain you’re likely to make lasting connections. On the first night, with your guide for the week leading the way, you’ll venture into Montmartre, Toulouse-Lautrec’s bohemian home turf in Paris. Next stop is two nights in Nîmes, to kayak or even swim under the extraordinary 2,000-year-old triple-decker aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. And there’s more showstopping architecture in Barcelona, not least Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia church, still unfinished after 140 years. After two nights here, you end up in Madrid, grazing on tapas and churros as you explore the famously late-night city. It’s a 14-hour, two-train journey back to Paris, from £73 (thetrainline.com).
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,675pp, including one-way rail travel and some extra meals (intrepidtravel.com). Take the train to Paris
7. European rail odyssey
Cologne cathedral and the railway bridge across the Rhine
This new holiday connects 10 countries in 15 days. It ticks off some of Europe’s most handsome cities, including Cologne, with its soaring twin-towered cathedral, riverside Dresden, with its war history, and Prague, with its superstar Old Town Square. From there, you’ll head north to beautifully preserved Krakow, and on to Bratislava, Slovakia’s pocket-sized capital on the Danube. Final stops are Vienna, with coffee houses and palaces, and lakeside Zurich. It sounds like a lot, but you’ve plenty of time to get to grips with each, you’ll travel in first class throughout and stay in classy boutique hotels along the way.
Details Fourteen nights’ B&B from £1,895pp, including rail travel (planetrail.co.uk)
8. Exploring north Italy
This leisurely private holiday gives you a sample of three very different Italian destinations, with plenty of time to linger. After a journey down through France with an overnighter in the gourmet city of Lyons, the first stop is Padua, home to the oldest botanical garden in Europe. From there, you’ll travel south to brick-built Bologna, the birthplace of bolognese, then onwards to Stresa on Lake Maggiore to explore palaces and grand gardens before returning home via Lyons. You’ll be staying in noble residences such as Padua’s Grand’Italia and Bologna’s statue-filled Internazionale, while all your travel is in first class.
Details Thirteen nights’ B&B from £2,280pp, including rail travel (ffestiniogtravel.com)
9. Top speed to Marrakesh
This one-off escorted tour whizzes you through Europe to a whole new continent. Meet your guide at St Pancras, then swish down through France and Spain by state-of-the-art high-speed train, with overnights in Barcelona and Ronda. From Algeciras it’s a one-hour ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, the hangout for 1960s hippies and hedonists that’s on the up. After a day here, you’re back on track for the first high-speed train in Africa, to the capital Rabat, from where there’s a rattle-bang service to Marrakesh. The company can also organise the return rail journey, via Fez and Casablanca.
Details Nine nights’ B&B from £1,499pp, including one-way rail and ferry travel, departing on April 16 (tailormaderail.com)
10. Scotland’s bucolic east
An aerial view of the ruin of Dunnottar Castle
Scotland’s west coast may have the drama, but the east is more subtle. This new rail-based group tour takes in castles, follows in the footsteps of royalty and stops off at ancient churches rich in enigmatic carvings. You’ll start with a night in Edinburgh before crossing the Forth Bridge to Dundee, home to the first V&A museum outside London, and on to St Andrews to a tranquil hotel right opposite the famous golf club. From there you’ll travel up the coast to the spectacular ruin of Dunnottar Castle before settling into a lavish baronial property outside Aberdeen, from where the Cairngorms and the royal estate of Balmoral are in range.
Details Six nights’ half-board from £2,415pp, including rail travel (mckinlaykidd.com)
11. Casablanca with kids
The “Harry Potter“ Lello bookshop in Porto
Looking for multigenerational inspiration? The affordable Ambassador Cruise Line has a sailing from Tilbury to Casablanca and back in the school summer holidays on the 1,400-passenger Ambience. You’ll visit Porto, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar and Vigo, and spend a full day in Casablanca itself. There’s plenty for kids to enjoy en route: the “Harry Potter” Lello bookshop in Porto, the superb aquarium and trams in Lisbon, dancing Andalusian horses on a tour from Cadiz and the Barbary apes in Gibraltar, not to mention the trinket-packed souks in Casablanca itself.
Details Twelve nights’ full board from £1,699pp (from £99 per child sharing with adults), departing on August 10 (ambassadorcruiseline.com)
12. Adults-only Baltics
Follow the midnight sun to Scandinavia on a leisurely 16-night cruise from Southampton on P&O Cruises’ adults-only Arcadia. There’s a day in each of Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm, as well as visits to Klaipeda in Lithuania and Warnemünde in Germany, gateway to the medieval Hanseatic League city of Rostock. In Denmark, Arcadia calls at the buzzing city of Aarhus and pretty Skagen, where artists have long been drawn by the quality of the light, the dunes and the vast skies.
Details Sixteen nights’ full board from £1,379pp, departing on June 25 (pocruises.com)
13. Midnight sun at the North Cape
Sail to the northernmost tip of continental Europe on a 14-night voyage from Southampton to Honningsvag in Norway and back on the 3,660-passenger Sky Princess. You’ll be at the North Cape around the summer solstice, when you can enjoy the slightly disorientating sensation of 24 hours of daylight; this is one instance where an inside cabin could be an advantage. Other ports include Flam, Geiranger, Trondheim, Olden and the gorgeous art deco town of Alesund, with activities such as kayaking, king crab fishing, high-speed Rib rides, hiking and cycling on offer.
Details Fourteen nights’ full board from £1,029pp, departing on June 15 (princess.com)
14. September in Spain
Celebrity Apex is arguably the most exciting ship to be sailing from the UK this summer, with dozens of bars and restaurants, cutting-edge entertainment and the Magic Carpet, a tennis-court sized platform suspended over the side of the ship serving as a chic outdoor lounge and restaurant. This is the perfect spot for soaking up September sunshine as you cruise the Balearics on a 13-night voyage from Southampton to ports including Ibiza (where you’re in port until midnight), Mallorca, Cadiz, Barcelona and Valencia. And while you’re on board, don’t miss the juggling waiters in the Martini bar.
Details Thirteen nights’ full board from £2,025pp, departing on September 18 (celebritycruises.com)
15. Luxury Greenland
An Arctic fox
Here’s a chance to see Iceland and Greenland in depth, with no flying and absolutely no compromise on comfort. This 20-night expedition cruise on Regent Seven Seas’ sumptuous Navigator takes you on a round-trip from Southampton to Orkney and the Faroe Islands before crossing the North Atlantic to Iceland, where you could visit an abandoned village or hike to a waterfall as included excursions. You’ll then visit Nuuk, Paamiut and Qaqortoq in Greenland, where there’s a chance to spot whales, Arctic foxes and musk oxen and to experience life on the edge of the ice cap. Dining, drinks, tips, wi-fi, a range of tours and even laundry are included.
Details Twenty nights’ all-inclusive from £8,113pp, departing on August 5 (rssc.com)
16. Cape Verde winter sun
Volcanic landscapes and sandy beaches await at Praia on Santiago
Enjoy a pre-Christmas getaway to captivating Cape Verde and the Canary Islands on Fred Olsen’s 1,338-passenger Bolette, which sails from Liverpool. You’ll break the journey in Lanzarote on the way south to Cape Verde’s Mindelo on Sao Vicente and Praia, on Santiago, where volcanic landscapes, lush greenery and long, sandy beaches await. On the way back, stops include Tenerife, La Palma and Lisbon. On days at sea, there’s ample time for lazing by the pool, visiting the spa and joining in with activities that include stargazing sessions, lectures, dance classes, singing in a choir and even learning the ukulele.
Details Eighteen nights’ full board from £2,199pp, departing on November 24 (fredolsencruises.com)
17. Fjords family fun
Norway’s glassy fjords are possibly at their most beautiful in midsummer and the meadows are strewn with wildflowers. This week-long hop from Southampton to Stavanger, Olden, Flam and Zeebrugge is on Royal Caribbean’s fun-packed Anthem of the Seas, a great ship for a family getaway with teens, who will love the sky-diving and surf simulators, the bumper cars and the abundance of grazing food. Join a tour from Stavanger to the Pulpit Rock, towering 604m above the Lysefjord, and ride the scenic Flam Railway, one of the steepest in the world.
Details Seven nights’ full board in a balcony cabin from £1,169pp, departing on June 21 (royalcaribbean.com)
18. Sail to Switzerland
You can of course join a European river cruise without flying if you take the train there. Planet Rail has teamed up with A-Rosa River Cruises to offer first-class rail from London St Pancras, a night in a Cologne hotel pre-cruise and seven nights on the Rhine on the 140-passenger A-Rosa Clea. Your round-trip sailing takes you through the craggy Rhine Gorge to the wine-growing town of Rüdesheim and on to Speyer, Breisach (on the edge of the Black Forest), Basel and medieval Strasbourg.
Details Eight nights — seven all-inclusive on board and one B&B in the hotel — from £1,695pp, departing on September 28 (planetrail.co.uk)
19. Iceland in depth
You’ll visit six different places in Iceland on this circumnavigation aboard the sumptuous Seabourn Sojourn — and you may even be able to spell some of them after your cruise. As well as Reykjavik and Akureyri, there are visits to remote Isafjordur, which is framed by a vast, glacier-carved valley and Heimaey Island, inhabited by eight million puffins. Tiny Djupivogur is also on the map thanks to its commitment to sustainability and mindful living; it’s been awarded Cittaslow, or “slow town” status. You’ll break the journey from Dover with stops at Invergordon, Lerwick and Kirkwall.
Details Fourteen nights’ all-inclusive from £6,459pp, departing on August 24 (seabourn.com)
20. Caribbean with Mr Motivator
The harbour of Port Elizabeth, Bequia
If you long to feel the tropical warmth of the Caribbean, this month-long Saga cruise from Portsmouth could be the answer. You’ll visit Barbados, Bequia, Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia, Montserrat and Antigua, so a good haul of islands, with the Atlantic crossing broken at Madeira on the way out and Tenerife on the return. What’s more, Derrick Evans, aka Mr Motivator, will be on board to lead exercise classes — no bad thing considering the open bar and Saga’s epic afternoon teas.
Details Thirty nights’ all-inclusive from £8,525pp, departing on November 5 (travel.saga.co.uk)
21. Remote St Kilda
Explore some of the furthest-flung corners of the British Isles on a 14-night adventure from Edinburgh to Portsmouth on the ultra-luxurious Silver Endeavour, one of the poshest expedition ships afloat. You’ll visit the Shetland Islands, the Shiants, bleakly beautiful St Kilda, Boreray, Lunga and Iona. In contrast, the southern ports of call, the Isles of Scilly, Guernsey and Dartmouth, are positively bucolic. Activities include kayaking, hiking, forays along remote shorelines by Zodiac and, in Orkney, a tour of the neolithic sites with an archaeologist. On board there is a spa and a glass-enclosed pool as well as a crack team of expedition leaders for just 220 passengers.
Details Fourteen nights’ all-inclusive from £8,050pp, departing on April 20 (silversea.com)
22. Chase the northern lights
Sail on Cunard’s glamorous new Queen Anne in her maiden season, heading from Southampton to the north of Norway in search of the northern lights. As well as Alesund and Stavanger, you’ll have time in snow-covered Tromso and Narvik, both inside the Arctic Circle, where there’s a strong chance of a sighting. The ship stays in both of these ports until early morning, so you can join an evening tour with a local expert to search for clear skies and those rippling green curtains.
Details Twelve nights’ full board from £1,187pp, departing on October 15 (cunard.com)
23. Wildlife safari from Mull
Search for otters around Mull
Leave the bustle of everyday life behind on a six-night meander around Mull in search of otters, seals, puffins, whales and dolphins. You could also spot white-tailed eagles, hen harriers and even magnificent golden eagles, as well as enormous basking sharks. You’ll sail from Oban on the tiny Glen Massan, a smartly converted fishing boat sleeping 11. The food alone is reason to go, with fish, mussels, meat and cheese, among other items, all sourced locally and beautifully prepared.
Details Six nights’ full board from £2,850pp, departing on July 13 (themajesticline.co.uk)
24. France and Belgium mini-cruise
The market square in Bruges
Fancy the idea of a holiday afloat but not ready for the big commitment? Then try a mini-cruise. MSC Cruises is offering a series of short breaks from Southampton this year on the flashy MSC Virtuosa, where the heart of the ship is the Galleria, a promenade lined with shops and restaurants, crowned by a giant LED dome that ripples with colour. Over three days, you’ll visit Cherbourg and Zeebrugge, jumping-off point for dreamy Bruges, with plenty of time on board to enjoy the VR games, razzle-dazzle song and dance shows, spa and waterslides.
Details Three nights’ full board from £369pp, departing on September 21 (msccruises.co.uk)
25. Northern taster
Sail from Greenock, the port for Glasgow, on a ten-night odyssey around the Hebrides, Ireland and the Isle of Man, taking in historic and natural highlights as well as numerous whisky distilleries. There’s a tasting on Islay, home of Laphroaig and Ardbeg, and further opportunities on Arran and Mull. Because this is an expedition cruise, various activities are included, from guided hikes to a chance to join beach clean-ups in Dublin and Douglas, and a herding demonstration with sheepdogs in Portrush. You’ll sail on the 220-passenger MS Spitsbergen, which comes with Scandi decor, a glass-walled sauna, a cosy bar and a science centre.
Details Ten nights’ full board from £5,053pp, including expedition gear, activities and drinks with meals, departing on March 31 (hurtigruten.com)
26. Hiking to Mont St Michel
Take a coastal path to Mont St Michel
The Emerald Coast of Brittany is a mix of beaches and pink granite cliffs, as well as being a veritable buffet of delicious seafood. Step directly off a Brittany ferry into the walled city of St Malo and pick up the GR34 coastal path, known locally as the Sentier des Douaniers (Customs’ path). You’re making for Mont St Michel, which emerges on the horizon as an unmistakable silhouette, but en route you’ve got the oyster centre of Cancale and a château stay at Mont Dol, an outcrop where St Michael supposedly clashed with Satan.
Details Six nights’ B&B from £1,379pp, including transfers and some extra meals (headwater.com). Take the ferry to St Malo
27. Normandy landings
The Normandy landings — the 80th anniversary of which falls in June — remain a compelling example of human endeavour. An assortment of museums and cemeteries along the coast bring the history to life, and if you cross the Channel with Brittany Ferries to Caen the first museum is right there, honouring the audacious night-time sortie to Pegasus Bridge. Arromanches-les-Bains, where a giant port was assembled overnight, is another key destination. But it is not all war — elegant Honfleur, much loved by the impressionists, is here too, as is the charming, orchard-rich Calvados country.
Details Five nights’ B&B from £1,080pp, including ferries (expressionsholidays.co.uk)
28. Cycle the Avenue Verte
The DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe is particularly popular with cyclists because it allows them to pick up the Avenue Verte, or Greenway, which over nearly 300 miles links London with Paris (avenuevertelondonparis.co.uk). For something even more bucolic cycle the 40 miles from Dieppe to Rouen (or take the train) then explore the new Seine à Vélo route, which runs to Honfleur downstream and Giverny upstream, with some lovely riverside stops en route (laseineavelo.com).
Details Return ferry crossing to Dieppe with a bicycle from £54
29. Amsterdam city break
The Newcastle-to-Amsterdam ferry service is a leisurely overnight sailing that arrives at a reasonable hour and leaves at a decent time in the evening, maximising your time in the city. This also allows you to minimise costs, as you are lulled into sleep in a cabin rather than at a pricy city-centre hotel, unless — to continue the watery theme — you stay downtown on the canals (houseboatrental.amsterdam). Packages including hotel stays are also available.
Details Three nights’ room only — one in Amsterdam and two on board — from £111pp
30. Cruise the Seine
The town of Les Andelys
Many passengers on European river cruises prefer not to fly, so some operators include either a self-drive option or — as is the case here — coach travel. You’ll overnight in Kent before heading to Paris and boarding a river cruiser to travel downstream, ticking off Monet’s house in Giverny, the grand cathedral in Rouen and charming small towns such as Les Andelys, where Richard the Lionheart built Château Gaillard, at the time one of the most impressive fortresses in France.
Details Seven nights’ all-inclusive, with one night’s B&B in Kent, from £1,769pp (justgoholidays.com)
31. Bike the Baltic
With its fine-sand beaches and old-fashioned spa resorts, the Baltic coast of Germany was the hangout of eastern European aristocracy before air travel whisked them to warmer destinations. Here the island of Rügen — connected to the mainland by a causeway and a bridge — has chalk cliffs that were painted by Caspar David Friedrich, a reborn holiday resort originally built by the Nazis and a steam railway that trundles between belle époque resorts. Sample it all from a round-island cycle path, staying in reed-thatched hotels and snacking on ice cream flavoured with sea-buckthorn berries.
Details Seven nights’ half-board from £1,520pp, including bike hire (inntravel.co.uk) Take the ferry to Amsterdam
32. Ambling up the Dordogne
Le Buisson-de-Cadouin in the Dordogne region, which is reachable with Brittany Ferries
Long favoured for its tranquil river, welcoming weather and honey-coloured towns, the Dordogne region of France also has the advantage of being eminently reachable with Brittany Ferries via Caen, thus avoiding Paris. Set off on a self-guided walk upstream to the higher wooded grounds of the Périgord Blanc plateau. Move from village to village, staying and dining in attractive family-run hotels and visiting places including Cadouin Abbey and Biron Château. End your trip in Monpazier, a jewel of a bastide (fortified town) that’s on the list of the most beautiful villages in France.
Details Six nights’ mostly half-board with luggage transfers from £969pp (rambleworldwide.co.uk). Take the ferry to Caen
33. Irish drive and hike
The Wild Atlantic Way passes the Cliffs of Moher
The atmospheric Wild Atlantic Way, with its unspoilt cliffs and beaches, is among the world’s most memorable road journeys. Starting from Dublin, where the ferry from Holyhead docks, this circular itinerary heads first for Co Donegal, with hikes up the flat-topped mountain of Muckish and to megalithic tombs. Then comes the bustling yet friendly city of Galway, with the remote Aran Islands offshore from here, followed by a trail walk along the iconic Cliffs of Moher. Killarney, on the Ring of Kerry, is the last of the coastal destinations before a cross-country return to Dublin.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,095pp (macsadventure.com). Take the ferry to Dublin
34. Dutch island-hopping
Travel by ferry, train, sailing ship and bike on this trip to the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands. The ferry is from Hull to Rotterdam and the train to Enkhuizen (£21; ns.nl), a port town from the Dutch Golden Age; here the 12-cabin schooner will be waiting. Spend a week sailing and motoring across the IJsselmeer and out to the open sea, overnighting at the islands of Texel and Terschelling, with daytime explorations made possible by the on-board fleet of bicycles. The Wadden is a fascinating, Unesco-recognised seascape, with great beaches on Terschelling.
Details Seven nights’ full board from £904pp (freedomtreks.co.uk). Take the ferry to Rotterdam
35. The Belgian Riviera
At 42 miles, the Kusttram is one of the world’s longest tram journeys, trundling along the Belgian shore — lined with sand and resorts — via Nieuwpoort, the largest yacht marina in northern Europe, and Blankenberg, the “Belgian St Tropez” (delijn.be). Take the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk then nip across the border to the tram via the No 20 bus (free; dkbus.com). Get off the tram in Ostend, a faded belle époque resort with a grand casino, and jump on a local train to Ghent, a spectacular, canal-webbed, medieval Flemish city that isn’t quite as overrun by visitors as Bruges (£9, belgiantrain.be). Stay by the Graslei quay, its vibrant watery hub, at Hotel Gravensteen.
Details Room-only doubles from £102 (gravensteen.be). Take the ferry to Dunkirk