Rail and Surf: Exploring Europe’s Best Coastal Breaks by Train

Swap your plane for a train and discover Europe’s best beaches this summer. From hidden coves like Barafundle near Pembroke in Wales to the rocky shores around Quimper in Brittany, these beach getaways are easy to reach by train.

Owen and Ahmed aren’t the only ones to take their surfboards on trains – train surfing is a popular pastime for young people. Read on to find out more about this quirky trespassing activity.

1. The French Riviera

The French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur as it’s better known in English, is one of Europe’s most renowned coastlines. Stretching from the Italian border to urban Toulon, this area screams glamour and luxury. Beaches and quaint fishing towns sit in the shadow of dramatic cliffs, and the lush landscape is peppered with vineyards, olive groves, and glistening Mediterranean waters.

In the 19th century, wealthy European aristocrats came to holiday in charming coastal towns like Nice, Cannes, and Monaco, and the idea of a Riviera was born. Today, the area is home to dazzling hotels, flamboyant casinos, and beautiful botanical gardens.

The rocky coast is ideal for exploring on foot, though it can get crowded in summer. It’s also a fantastic place for surfers, with the winding Gorges du Verdon providing some of the most spectacular scenery and challenging waves on the entire continent.

You can take a dip in the warm turquoise seas off the shores of Marseille, or head to a sheltered cove like Calanque d’En Vau for a swim backed by towering white limestone cliffs. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also go canyoning and rock climbing in the region.

A must-see is Eze, the tiny cliffside village that is home to a chateau that was once the winter retreat of the Swedish Royal Family. It dominates the town and offers stunning views over jagged cliffs and seas, as well as an expensive-but-worthwhile tearoom on a clifftop overlooking the coastline (and the azure blue water).

To make the most of your trip, find a rental in a local beachside town like Nice, Antibes, or Menton. Slow down and match the local energy, and don’t be afraid to explore a little further afield on day trips. Whether it’s to wander the narrow streets of Eze or admire the vibrant plants in the seaside botanic garden, you’re sure to leave with plenty of snaps and memories for your friends back at home. And, of course, the all-important Instagram.

2. Brittany

The French province of Brittany is a land of sea, lakes, forests and legends. It is also a place where people have kept many of their ancient traditions. The word “Brittany” comes from the Latin britainia, derived from a Brythonic ethnonym meaning “land of the Britons.” Brittany is home to numerous festivals, traditional foods and Breton folk music and dance.

In the 19th century, many Bretons emigrated to France’s urban centres, especially Paris and Lyon. But the region was also modernising. Nantes specialised in shipbuilding and food processing (sugar, exotic fruits and vegetables, fish). Fougeres was a centre of glass production and the village of Lochrist was renowned for its shoe manufacturing. The ports of Quimper and Lorient were busy with merchant ships trading with the Orient.

Today, tourism is the main industry. The region is dotted with ancient castles, cathedrals and manor houses which are all open to visitors. There are several museums devoted to the arts, crafts and history. The most important cultural institutions are the National Centre for the Breton Language and Culture and the Centre of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rennes. There is a strong cultural revival in Brittany. Bilingual schools have been created, and the traditional music and dance are being revived. The Bagadou, a group of musicians playing bagpipes, bombards and drums, are a major symbol of the region’s heritage.

Whether you prefer to relax by the ocean or get up close and personal with a wild coastline, these train routes will take you on a journey you won’t forget. From rattling through the winding river estuary of Hayle to the dramatic cliffs of St Erth, sweeping high above Porthkidney beach and sunbathers on its golden sands, to arriving at the coastal town of St Ives, these trains offer scenic bursts of beauty. You won’t need five-star cabins or steam locomotives to appreciate the scenery – all you need is a Eurail Pass and a sense of adventure.

3. Italy

Swap planes for trains and you can tick off a lot more of Europe’s coastal gems. From sweeping views of razor-edged cliffs to sun-soaked beaches, these scenic routes are more than just a way to get from A to B. Here are some of the best beach getaways to explore by train this summer.

In Italy, the world-famous Amalfi Coast is a must for all sunseekers. With Railbookers, you can plan a trip that includes a cruise to the idyllic Isola Bella, or gorge on fresh seafood in the gritty town of Sorrento before hopping over to Capri for an afternoon of vineyard strolling and secret sea cave exploring.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is a sun-soaked delight. The coastal capital of Taormina is an alluring mix of ancient ruins and awe-inspiring scenery, and it’s a popular stop for honeymooners. You can take a no-frills train from Rome or Naples to Taormina, where you can spend the day dipping into crystal blue waters or admiring the sweeping sea views and rugged coastline.

For a more offbeat, cultured break, head to England’s creative port of Folkestone. Lying between two cliffs, this vibrant coastal town is a hub of arts and crafts. Spend a day here wandering the streets and soaking up the creativity of this buzzy little place, or head for a beach walk along the chalk cliffs.

For a truly spectacular journey, hop aboard the Glacier Express for a breathtaking train ride through Switzerland’s snow-capped Alps to reach St Moritz. This is a trip Sir Michael Palin has hailed as one of the most beautiful in the world, and for good reason. From here, you can connect to the Amalfi Coast or explore the glistening lakes and volcanoes of Sicily. For even more coastal escapades, you can also travel to a range of other Italian destinations with ease. Start planning your next European beach holiday today. With Railbookers, you can enjoy a stress-free train travel experience that takes the hassle out of holiday planning and gives you more time to soak up those rays.

4. England

England’s seaside resorts may not offer the same dramatic cliff tunnels and glorious sandy beaches of France, but they make up for it with plenty of classic family-friendly fun. Start your journey at Clacton-on-Sea, a town that serves up a fair helping of childhood nostalgia with a fine Victorian pier and decent-sized stretch of beach. Hop on a Greater Anglia train from London Liverpool Street and you’ll be steps away from the water in less than an hour.

Heading south, you can enjoy a scenic train ride all the way to Weymouth. Known for its award-winning three miles of golden sand, this is the perfect spot for an old-fashioned day at the beach complete with Punch and Judy shows and donkey rides. If you can drag yourself away from the beach, the town has a variety of classic seaside attractions, including an impressive waterpark and Madame Tussauds (get 2FOR1 tickets here).

Surfers will love Newquay, with its many famous surfing spots and legendary surf school. If you want to get in on the action, hire a board and wetsuit at Fistral Beach. Otherwise, hike the blustery coast path past craggy Lewinnick Cove and along steep-sided River Gannel for crab sarnies at Fern Pit cafe above the tidal ferry.

Brighton is another popular choice for sun-soaked weekend getaways. Miles of shingle beach flank this fun-loving city, with tons of great nightlife and dining options. You can also visit nearby Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE Blackpool (get your 2FOR1 tickets here).

To the north of England, you’ll find charming coastal towns and villages with plenty of charm and character. From the quaint fishing village of Whitstable to the classic seaside amusements of Brighton, these coastal destinations are perfect for families and couples alike.

If you want to explore more of Wales’ coastal beauty, our Britain by train itinerary offers a perfect 10-day trip starting in Cardiff. See the historic side of the city amongst its castle and contemporary buildings, then cross into Wales to the unspoilt coastline and mountains of Aberystwyth (2 hours). Or take a scenic train ride north to Shrewsbury (2 hours), a traditional market town that Charles Darwin called home.

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