Ten of the best – Europe’s best big city day trips

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One of the most fun aspects of a Europe vacation is the number of day trips that can be made from some of the major cities.

Although the definition of a day trip may vary for some people, for this purpose I would regard it as a place that is no more than an hour and a half maximum from the main city. Taking a rail trip through Europe can certainly be something of a rite of passage, especially on your first visit.

Accessible by train journeys of little more than an hour, here are ten of the best places to visit.

If you are staying in LONDON then why not spend a day in OXFORD


Radcliffe Camera Oxford
The Radcliffe Camera in the heart of Oxford. Photo courtesy of Tejvan Pettinger / Flickr

Getting there:- Great Western Railways run a regular service direct from London Paddington lasting no more the 1h15m. Chiltern Railways also operate a direct service from London Marylebone once an hour. Purchasing in advance could save a lot of money.

Reasons to visit:- From the historic university and its many great college buildings through to its usage in the Harry Potter films and Inspector Morse, the universal appeal of this city is timeless. Marvel at the artefacts on display at the Ashmolean Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum among others, absorb the serenity of Britain’s oldest Botanical Gardens or go for a quiet punt along the canals. Wander through the “Dreaming Spires” of the college building by foot or by bicycle.

If you are staying in PARIS then why not spend a day in VERSAILLES


Gardens of Versailles
The immaculately beautiful Gardens of Versailles. Photo courtesy of Tammy Lo / Flickr

Getting there:- The route by train may not be as straightforward at first, but it all makes sense when you digest it. Basically, find your way towards any Metro Station with an RER line connection (I would suggest Invalides). From there take RER line C towards Versailles-Chateaux. A return should set you back €7 approximately.

Reasons to visit:- The extravagant residence of Louis XIV with its stunning gardens and famous “Hall of Mirrors” makes for an essential full day-trip from Paris. Although it will be much busier in the Spring and Summer, this is when the unmissable water display occurs. A definite reward for your patience!

If you are staying in BERLIN then why not spend a day in POTSDAM


Potsdam - Sanssouci
The ever colurful Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam. Photo courtesy of André Zehetbauer / Flickr

Getting there:- Half an hour from Berlin Hbf with the RE1 heading towards Magdeburg (Regional Express Train 1).

Reasons to visit:- The Schloss Sanssouci with its vividly yellow exterior is at the forefront of any visit to Potsdam. Spend the bulk of your day at the summer residence of Prussian kings of the past and take in its most splendid gardens and other palaces within Sanssouci Park. Further afield, an exploration of the quaint redbrick “Dutch Quarter” retains a nice village feel. Since the German reunification, Potsdam has returned to its roots as one of Europe’s greatest centres of research and this is certainly evident in its student population and selection of great cafes and bars in the Brandenburger Strasse.

If you are staying in VIENNA then why not spend a day in BRATISLAVA


Slovakia-03054 - Bratislava Castle
Bratislava’s castle overlooks the Danube below. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis / Flickr

Getting there:- 1 hour from Wien Hbf.

Reasons to visit:- Bratislava may not have as much of the prestige as other former Eastern Bloc cities such as Prague or Budapest, but a day trip over the border from Vienna is certainly worthwhile.

The city possesses a quaint old town of well preserved old buildings, and also another castle for the list. Away from traditional and Soviet architecture, a boat trip to Devin Castle is worthwhile. The ruins of this medieval fortress are another great location for wonderful views of the city from afar.

If you are staying in MADRID then why not spend a day in TOLEDO


Toledo - Spain
City view of Toledo, the historic former capital of Spain. Photo courtesy of Mussi Katz / Flickr

Getting there:- A direct 50 minute train ride from Madrid Atocha Station.

Reasons to visit:- Less than an hour away from Madrid is a vision of Europe from a distant time. Meandering through the narrow, winding streets and looking up at the Roman Alcazar on one side and the Cathedral on the other feels like being transported back to the Middle Ages. The legacy of the city’s most famous adopted son “El Greco” is on display at a superb museum, and the views from the Alcazar at dusk are spellbinding.

No visit to this former capital of Spain can be done without a slice of the marzipan for which supposedly has its roots in Toledo.

If you are staying in VENICE then why not spend a day in VERONA


The Arena, Piazza Bra, Verona
The Arena di Verona, Italy’s other famous colosseum. Photo courtesy of Elliot Brown / Flickr

Getting there:- A journey of little more than 1hr15m by Trenitalia from Venezia’s Santa Lucia Station.

Reasons to visit:- Immortalised by Shakespeare as the choice of location for three of his plays Verona in some ways also feels like a mini-Rome. It is hard to deflect attention away from the crowds photographing “Juliet’s Balcony”, but the legacy of the Bard is not the only reason to visit.

An important trading post in Roman times, its Arena (similar in style to Rome’s Colisseum) is its most famous site. The summertime location for one of Europe’s biggest opera festivals but also has played host of acts of the rock and pop genres on tour.

The great Castelvecchio Castle is a must see, and shop for goods on the Via Mazzini and all routes will inevitably take you through the Piazza delle Erbe. Why not cool off with a gelato here?

If you are staying in PRAGUE then why not spend a day in KARLOVY VARY


Karlovy Vary - Czech Republic
The spa town of Karlovy Vary. Photo courtesy of Traveltipy / Flickr

Getting there:- Although there is a direct train route from Prague, trains are infrequent (leaving every two hours) and could take close to three hours to get there. Worth doing if you are a keen rail buff but a bus is actually a more convenient and cheaper option. Less than 2 hours from Prague “Florenc” bus station.

Reasons to visit:- Whether you are recovering from a raucous party night in Prague or just keen for somewhere different, this is a place worth visiting. Popularised in James Bond, the city otherwise known as Carlsbad is defined by its thermal spas and colourful buildings. There are spa facilities for all budgets, and great scenery for hiking.

If you are staying in SEVILLE then why not spend a day in CORDOBA


Cordoba Mezquita
The maze of arches inside Cordoba’s historic Mezquita. Photo courtesy of Albert Vieten / Flickr

Getting there:- Less than an hour’s train ride from Sevilla.

Reasons to visit:- Like Toledo, this is another medium sized city that offers a perfect glimpse into Spanish history and tradition. The one time Moorish capital still retains many influences from that period, most significantly the Mezquita with its distinctive arches.

If you are staying in STOCKHOLM then why not spend a day in UPPSALA


Gamla Uppsala
The historic mound of Old Uppsala, just a short cycle ride away from the main city centre. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Feinstein / Flickr

Getting there:- SJ offers a 40 minute high speed service from Stockholm.

Reasons to visit:- Notable for its university and substantial student population, the Swedish Oxford has also played a great role in history and science. The alma mater of Anders Celcius and Carl Linneaus played a great role in many scientific breakthroughs.

The twin spired Domkyrka (Cathedral) dominates the skyline and if the weather is fine and you have the energy, take the pilgrimage to Gamla Uppsala. This isolated green field with its three mounds was a notable Viking resting place that saw many battles take place. If you want a few minutes to sit somewhere in quiet reflection, there’s no better place!

If you are staying in AMSTERDAM then why not spend a day in KEUKENHOF

The Keukenhof Gardens is an absolute horticulturalist dream
The colours of the tulips at Keukenhof are in full bloom between the middle of March and the middle of May every year.


Getting there:- Two separate bus journeys for this – take the 197 to Schiphol airport, then change for the Keukenhof Express. Only €29 both ways.

Reasons to visit:- What more can I say? To many people, tulips are the Netherlands. And the Keukenhof is without question one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Between mid-March and mid-May when the plants are in full bloom, marvelling at the sea of bright colours and so many different Spring perennials on a nice day is like walking through a dream!

As the gardens are only open for two months, if you are visiting Amsterdam during any other time of year then the old university city of Leiden (itself only around 20 minutes drive south of Keukenhof) is also a recommended idea.