The Grand Trans-European Tour – A Multi-Country Rail Adventure

Take in the beautiful landscape of Europe on this relaxing train vacation. Discover iconic capitals and stunning countryside as you travel across the continent on local and regional trains with guaranteed reserved seats.

Once the preserve of the upper classes, the Grand Tour prompted writers like Laurence Sterne and James Boswell to pen their own accounts of these great journeys. Today, train tours offer a stress-free alternative to air travel and the comfort of luxury accommodations and sightseeing.

Start in London

The Grand Tour could last from several months to years and was commonly undertaken in the company of a cicerone, a guide or tutor. The itinerary shifted across generations, but it usually began in England, where the tourist would cross the English Channel into France or Belgium, then rent or buy a coach and travel around Europe.

A modern train journey can be just as magical and just as comfortable, and the experience of seeing a new part of the world from your seat on the train can be an incredible one. Europe is experiencing something of a rail renaissance, with old tracks being revived and new routes opening up. With many travelers turning their backs on air travel for environmental reasons and the discomfort of budget airline seats, a trip on a long-distance train is an attractive alternative.

Day 1: London

Dive into thousands of years of history at the British Museum, see a royal ritual during the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and wave hello to Big Ben at Westminster Abbey. On day 2, visit the Roman spas in Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon, or explore Yorkshire with tours of York Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre and a trip to Bettys Tea Rooms.

Spend the night in the cosmopolitan city of Rotterdam, where you can walk amongst the famous “cube houses” and check out the Show Cube Museum, Erasmus Bridge and Van Nelle Factory. Then, travel to Edinburgh to visit its castle, stroll the Royal Mile and shop along the Shambles before taking a ride up Arthur’s Seat.

Head to Paris

As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” And when you start in London and end in Paris on an in-depth cultural tour of Europe, you’ll have a whirlwind experience that’s sure to leave you inspired.

Stroll past iconic landmarks like Trafalgar Square and the baroque-style St. Paul’s Cathedral perched on Ludgate Hill. Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, or visit the Tower of London and the London Eye. And don’t miss a trip to the world-renowned Louvre, where you’ll discover art that has inspired fashionistas, royalty, revolutionaries, and artists like Vincent Van Gogh.

If you choose to upgrade your tour with a luxury train, enjoy a comfortable ride on the Belle Epoque–styled Le Grand Tour. With just 18 cabins, you’ll feel a sense of grandeur as you relax to soothing music and calming lighting in your private salon by day, and sleep peacefully in your cabin by night.

With our insider access to Europe’s best rail companies, hotels, and sightseeing tours, you can trust that your trip will be seamless and enticing. So book now, and get ready to set off on a journey you’ll never forget.

Explore the French countryside

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was customary for young upper-class men of rank and means to travel around Europe (particularly Italy) on a Grand Tour as part of their education. They were often accompanied by a cicerone, a family member or tutor. The trip also served as a rite of passage, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The journey could last months or even years. It was not unusual for the travelers to write of their experiences in detail, which provided published accounts that were widely read. These included such notable writers as Joseph Addison, William Thomas Beckford (his Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents was embellished with stream of consciousness associations), Samuel Jackson Pratt, Elizabeth Craven, Tobias Smollett, and Thomas Browne.

Since the advent of steam-powered transportation in the 19th century, a new form of the Grand Tour emerged that was cheaper, safer and more accessible to people of all classes. While the traditional Grand Tour focused on classical antiquity and Renaissance art, modern tour routes may focus on food, wine or regional history.

With its beautiful countryside and quaint villages, France is the perfect starting point for your Trans European Trail adventure. After Nancy, the track heads west to Toul, where it passes by a cathedral and changes from field roads to forest trails. The route then enters Bois Le Compte, where it feels particularly secluded and serene before heading north to Nancy again.

Visit Germany

The soaring mountains of the Alps aren’t far from our train as it rolls through Germany. This is a country with plenty to see and do, from its impressive Krimml Falls to its stunning castles. But don’t rush, it takes time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and take in its rich culture.

The Grand Tour custom of the 19th century whipped educated young men of privilege through a dizzying number of European countries in a matter of weeks or even days. It was also fashionable for upper-class women to undertake a similar “tour” of their own, accompanied by a spinster aunt or other chaperone.

With the advent of steam-powered transport around 1825, the Grand Tour became cheaper to undertake, more widely available, and more accessible to all. The tour’s popularity waned in the 20th century as short-haul flights lured business travelers and city breakers away from the rails, but a revival has seen passenger numbers double over the past decade.

Experience the beauty and history of Europe’s rivers on this section of The Grand Trans-European Tour. Visit Cologne’s soaring Gothic cathedral with Viking Guide Angela Scarpati, or climb to the top of Amorbach Abbey for an exclusive look inside its impressive library with Tour Guide Leah Meixner. It’s all part of the cultural wealth you will discover along 3 of Europe’s most enchanting river routes.

Head to Switzerland

Featuring world-famous capital cities and stunning landscapes, this grand European tour is the perfect way to sample some of the continent’s most iconic destinations. You’ll be able to see the best of Denmark with its Viking history and regal castles, explore Germany and its colourful regions, and marvel at the stunning mountain scenery of Switzerland.

You’ll also have the chance to experience two of the world’s most famous railway journeys – the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express. During these epic trips, you’ll see lush fields, rushing rivers and snowy mountains pass by through the panoramic windows of your train.

You’ll also be able to visit some of Switzerland’s most beautiful and historic towns and villages. From the charming storybook city of Lucerne to the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt, there’s plenty of time to indulge in local cheeses and enjoy the pristine alpine scenery. The glistening lakes of Lake Lugano, Interlaken and Lake Lucerne are also sure to leave you breathless – the waters are surrounded by snowy peaks and glaciers.

Finish in Berlin

A Grand Tour might last several months or even years, and was typically undertaken with the support of a cicerone (tutor). The more well-off could rent a coach that could be reassembled for each stage of the journey. They could also buy works of art, scientific instruments, and cultural artifacts – from snuff boxes to paperweights to fountains and statuary – to adorn their libraries, cabinets and drawing rooms back home, where they would become emblems of worldliness and gravitas.

In the 2020s, the train travel that was once the pinnacle of European luxury is viewed as unfashionable and undesirable by many travelers. The rise of short-haul air travel – and the cost of premium train fares – has left long-distance routes largely neglected.

But if you can brave the winter cold, it’s still possible to relive the golden age of the TET with new sleeper trains that slash journey times between cities and countries across Europe. Plans for Stockholm-Amsterdam-Paris, Stockholm-Hamburg-Paris and Berlin-Brussels are all in the works, with Germany’s “TEE Rheingold” set to launch a stylish American-style panorama car seating a lucky few atop its raised glass dome.

While the TET’s jaw-dropping scenery is a big draw, it’s often the unexpected bits that make the most lasting memories. Whether it’s tip-toeing past a herd of goats, a spontaneous lunch with another traveler or circumventing park gates, Runa, content creator at YouTube channel Off She Goes, is sure to find something special along the way.

Related Posts