Train trips that’ll keep you coming back for more: Central Europe
I returned from my first Eurail trip only to be met with the predictable questions. Those about settling down, focusing on the real world, and growing up. And for the first few weeks, I reveled in the predictability of home, and the regaling of my friends with stories from the tracks.
But soon the memories started to fade, and all that remained was my stagnating Instagram feed. Which meant only one thing – it was time to dust off the Eurail map once again and plan a return journey.
Though “Central Europe” isn’t an official region, there are several world-famous countries to focus on that fall roughly within the middle section of the continent. All have incredible sights, unique attractions, and fantastic rail networks.
I’d never planned to visit Switzerland. “Too expensive,” had been my standard response when people asked. But then a friend camping in Switzerland invited me to share a cozy two-person tent. The invitation was accompanied by a picture of the valley in which the tent was pitched. I can’t remember my response, but it was something along the lines of “Be right there.” Three days, and several trains, later, I alighted a train in Lauterbrunnen, a valley so quaint and beautiful it had me lost for words.
Berlin was one of the focal points of my first trips to Europe, and when I eventually reached it, the beautifully gritty big city of the moment, for the past 10 years and counting, did not disappoint. But it was while meandering my way up there by train up from Southern Germany that I stumbled across a vibrant town called Heidelberg. With just one night in town I took a gentle walk up towards a castle on the hill, and found a beautifully tranquil view of the Neckar River below.
Florence was instantly overwhelming. The beauty of the architecture, the flow of crowds along the narrow streets and across the river, and the gravitas of the city as a whole gives it an otherworldly feel. On the recommendation of a new friend made earlier that day, I bought a multi-attraction ticket that included access to Giotto’s Campanile. I thought the aerial view would put the city into context, but after walking the circumference of this narrow bell tower high several dozen times, snapping hundreds of pictures of nearby buildings, and soaking up the spectacular views, I returned to the streets even more spellbound than when I’d arrived.
As I sat atop a hill in the heart of the Zillertal Alps, I had just two thoughts: “How could any one place be so beautiful… and how could I not have heard of it before?” Like many decisions on my Eurail trips, the one to visit this town was based on rail access and the presence of reasonably-priced accommodation. The beauty of this valley, as with much of more remote Austria, deserves to make headlines around the world.
Prague is the obvious choice when visiting the Czech Republic and even Central Europe in general. The history, architecture, and atmosphere that floats around the iconic city are worth braving the crowds for. But it was some two hours away by train that I found the quiet student town of Olomouc. Many call it a mini-Prague. It has an astronomical clock, cobbled streets, quirky bars, and famous churches. On my final morning, I ascended a staircase in an empty church, pushed through a small hatch at the top, and found this incredible view.
The central region of Europe is perhaps the easiest in which to plan a Eurail journey. All countries have comprehensive rail infrastructure, ample accommodation, and a seemingly endless selection of things to see and do. Indeed, each country is worthy of its own trip. But with a Eurail Global Pass in hand, it’s all too tempting to country hop between them all. And then, like me, excuse any brevity in a beautiful city with the flippant remark: “I’ll just have to come back one day.”
Want to discover more about Central Europe? Check out these posts:
- Central Europe in winter: top cities
- Top 10 Beer Destinations in Central Europe
- Switzerland and Italy in two weeks