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Up and over the mountains to Italian lakes and cities
The UK to Italy overland trip is suitable for those who want to enjoy the journey and give kids a unique geography lesson. The most spectacular route is via the Treno Gottardo, a converted 19th-century railway line that circles Lake Lucerne and meanders through snow-capped mountains in the Ticino Valley between Basel and Locarno, Switzerland’s warmest city, on Lake Maggiore.
Just seven hours from London via Paris, Basel is doable in a day, although the Alsatian town of Mulhouse, with its eye-catching street art and ornate central square, makes a good stop. Once in Locarno, local Italian trains and ferries provide plenty of opportunities to explore the lakes. Sipping an Aperol Spritz or slurping spaghetti on an Italian lakeshore feels worlds away from Britain. Those with more time can make the most of Italy’s great rail service and head to Milan and even Verona or Venice. From Milan, the high-speed Frecciarossa service takes less than seven hours back to Paris.
Rail Europe recommends purchasing a 1-month Interrail pass for this journey, which costs £260 for an adult (Children under 11 travel free, there are surcharges for Eurostar and some high speed trains)
A piece of the good life in Normandy
Le Perche is a 250,000 hectare national park in southern Normandy that is often overlooked by Brits heading south. Unlike much of northern France, Le Perche has preserved its forests and wildlife thanks in part to its hilly terrain, and food producers are small and often organic.
Le Perche has long been a popular destination for Parisian families and is also easily accessible by train from the UK. Fun family activities include exploring the Bellême Forest by horse and carriage with Bellême Attelages, meeting Percheron horses, donkeys and cattle at the Courboyer Manor, and touring an organic cider factory and orchard at Cidrerie Traditionnelle du Perche.
This summer, 13 artists will bring art installations into the mix with the summer festival Orne Contemporary, filling villages with sculptures and paintings. The Country Lodge is an excellent option for younger children with its wooden cabins (from €165 per night for four people), an adventure playground and a pool in a farm setting. The recently renovated Château du Gué aux Biches has B&B rooms and a brand new gîte (sleeps six from €1,200 per week) in a private park near Bagnoles and offers free transfers for train travellers.
Oui.sncf offers return train tickets from London to Briouze via Paris from £125
Summer in the Alps
Morzine, better known for its winter holidays, transforms into a mecca for active holidaymakers every summer in the Portes du Soleil region of the French Alps. It’s also accessible by train, taking around eight hours from London with just two changes – in Paris and Annecy. Spring and summer are great times to explore the mountains at a much lower price than skiing.
Between mid-June and mid-September there is plenty of mountain biking and hiking on the winter ski slopes, and unlimited chairlift and gondola rides are just €2 a day. Nearby, the River Dranse offers white water rafting and Lac de Montriond is an idyllic spot for paddling and swimming. Sustainable chalet company AliKats offers self-catering chalets of all sizes in and around Morzine and a 10% discount for train travellers. The bijou chalet Petit Lumina (from £634 per week including rail discount) is centrally located and sleeps four. La Bergerie is a family-run hotel with an outdoor pool and plenty of entertainment on tap – children under 12 stay free in their parents’ room (or family rooms start from £194 per night).
Train tickets from London to conclusions cost from £150 one way
wild camping in the night train, highlands
While wild camping struggles to survive in England, it remains commonplace in Scotland’s remote glens and heather-covered Highlands, guaranteeing a true adventure for older children. For those a little nervous about packing the right gear and trekking into the hills with the whole family, Wild Roots Guiding’s Anna Danby is on hand. Your 3-day guided wild camping and walking tour (from £950 for a family of four, including food, drinks, accommodation, guidance and equipment) travels from Fort William to Corrour via Glen Nevis, two stations served by the Caledonian Sleeper service from London .
The sleeper itself is an important part of the adventure, with connecting cabins offering proper beds and privacy for families. Anna meets families in Fort William to discuss the route, sort out gear (she can provide as much or as little as needed) and distribute homemade cakes.
From Fort William the walk follows the Glen Nevis south in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. Highlights include the Nevis Gorge and the 400-foot (120-meter) waterfalls of Steall Waterfall and Steall Meadows. Going deeper into the gorge means there are few day-trippers. With a daily route of about eight kilometers, families have plenty of time for wild swimming. After two nights of wild camping, the Corrour Station House offers comfortable beds and locally sourced food before heading home.
Tickets for the Caledonian Sleeper start from £285 each way for two adults and two children in connecting cabins
City and sea in the Netherlands
Since 2020, Eurostar has operated a twice-daily direct service from London to Amsterdam via Rotterdam, taking less than four hours. Although the Netherlands is best known for city breaks, it also has long sandy beaches perfect for families. From Amsterdam, it’s a 25-minute train ride to Bloemendaal aan Zee, a dune-fringed beach nicknamed the Dutch Ibiza.
Further up the coast, between car-free hiking and biking trails in the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, Camping de Lakens is a quieter spot for families, with pre-erected furnished tents (from €360 for three nights), fitness classes and water sports, and an adventure playground.
Related: Six of the best slow train journeys in Europe
From Rotterdam, it’s just a short metro ride to Scheveningen, the country’s largest seaside resort. Scheveningen Strand has a pier, a promenade with cafes that reach the sand and a Legoland Discovery Centre.
Eurostar tickets from London to Amsterdam start from £51 one-way trip in summer