7 best city breaks by train
Take a city break by train for a more sustainable holiday. Our top picks include European cities like Rotterdam and UK hotspots like Edinburgh.
Avoid anxiety-inducing airport check-ins and a costly carbon footprint and opt for a no-fly holiday. Speedy trains put Europe's culinary hotspots within easy reach for a long weekend. Or stay in the UK and make a beeline to these fail-safe foodie hubs.
Train travel is the perfect solution for a no-fuss city break. Discover the best foodie spots in these vibrant, modern cities.
For more recommendations, see our travel hub.
1) Toulouse, France
Best for... rustic recipes in a pretty pink setting.
Toulouse is often called La Ville Rose (the Pink City) because of its unique architecture that uses peachy pink terracotta bricks. Set in France’s rural Occitanie region, it's ideal for those seeking a relaxing long weekend sampling rustic French cuisine. Grab a tourism pass for entry to most of the city’s museums and galleries, plus guided tours and use of public transport.
Your first food stop should be to sample cassoulet. This ancient casserole dish, laced with white beans and packed with Toulouse sausage, duck confit and pork, is traditionally served in an earthenware bowl. At Émile (three-course menus from £19), chef Christophe Fasan brings years of knowledge and his family’s recipe for Toulouse’s signature dish.
The Taste of Toulouse Food Tour (£62) explores the marché Victor Hugo food hall, with tastings of local cheeses, rich duck products and regional wines. If you’re looking for a Michelin-starred experience, Restaurant Le Cénacle is set in the dramatic dining rooms of Hotel La Cour des Consuls. Tasting menus change on a monthly basis (three-course menus from £34), with dishes like ravioli with black garlic & goat’s cheese and experimental desserts combining beer, coffee and chocolate. Stay at the riverside Hotel des Beaux Arts, with eccentrically designed bedrooms, each the work of a different artist.
How to do it: Doubles at the Hotel des Beaux Arts cost from £78 per night. The fastest train from London St Pancras to Toulouse goes via Paris, takes seven hours 38 minutes and costs from £61.50. More info.
Written by: Esther Clark
2) Edinburgh, Scotland
Best for... architecture and traditional eats.
It’s far more enjoyable to take the train rather than fly to the Scottish capital, with stunning scenery along the way. Try the traditional breakfast of kippers on sourdough toast with poached eggs at The Huxley (£8.50). Or go Italian at Contini – Nonna’s waffles and the breakfast focaccias are hard to resist (dishes from £5). Try Cannonball for the haggis and creamy Cullen skink. The two-course lunch menu is a steal at £15. If you’ve got room for dessert, quirky plant-filled café Lovecrumbs has fabulous cakes and brownies.
With its close proximity to the coast, seafood is a highlight in Edinburgh, and nowhere does it better than Ondine. Start with Dunbar brown crab with crab mayonnaise and buttery, featherlight crumpets, followed by whole lemon sole (mains from £18). Try The Fishmarket for local sustainably caught fish and fabulous views of the harbour from every table.
For the best views across Edinburgh and out to the coast, head to Calton Hill. If you fancy an after-dinner tipple, Copper Blossom and Badger & Co specialise in inventive cocktails in stylish settings, while Heads & Tales is a great spot for gin fans.
Stay at the Rutland Hotel on Princes Street with comfortable beds, modern art, and colourful furnishings. Breakfast is served at The Huxley next door, and top steak restaurant Kyloe is above, specialising in ethical Scotch beef from Hardiesmill in the Borders (steaks from £17).
How to do it: Rooms at the Rutland from £130 per night. Edinburgh is the northern terminus of the East Coast Mainline from London Kings Cross, and the fastest journey takes around four hours 20 minutes, with returns from £147. More info.
Written by: Fiona Forman
3) Lausanne, Switzerland
Best for... cheese, wine and Alpine panoramas.
The Swiss city of Lausanne, known as The Olympic Capital and home to The Olympic Museum, will see an influx of visitors next year when it hosts the Winter Youth Olympic Games in January 2020. It's effortless to get around using your free Transport Card (given to every hotel guest upon arrival). Entry to most museums is free on the first Saturday of every month. Due to its focus on business tourism, many hotels have cheaper rates at weekends.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, you can peruse the bustling Lausanne farmers’ market on the Place de la Riponne for vast cheese varieties and a range of flavourful meats. The nearby delicatessen La Ferme Vaudoise offers must-try venison pies encased in a meaty jelly and buttery pastry, as well as hanging boutefas sausages.
Just a short walk along the cobbled streets is the award-winning La Chocolatière, where you should try the more unusual jasmine tea and apricot chocolate. If you’re struggling to choose dinner options, Eat Me serves small plates (from £8) featuring foods from all over the world.
Sample wine at the family-run vineyard Domaine de la Croix Duples. The Calamin Grand Cru is one of their most popular whites, made with the region’s renowned chasselas grape, harvested by hand. For a livelier setting, head to Ta Cave, Switzerland’s first crowdfunded bar, which highlights a different wine region on its menu every month.
How to do it: The Hotel Royal Savoy has doubles from £200 per night. You can travel by train from London to Lausanne in seven hours, with one change in Paris, from £69 return.
Written by: Marianne Voyle
4) Cheltenham, UK
Best for... casual regency elegance.
Cheltenham’s calendar is packed year-round with festivals and famous horse races like the Gold Cup. It's a good base from which to explore the surrounding Cotswolds countryside, but it makes for a great weekend away in itself.
Check into No. 38 The Park, a stylish Georgian guesthouse set on a corner of Pittville Park. From here, it’s just a 10-minute stroll into town to Huffkins, the award-winning bakery and tearoom established in 1890. Try its famous lardy cake, a spiced bread made with lard and dried fruits (from £3.50). Stop by The Cheeseworks to stock up on local cheeses and take in guided tastings led by its friendly cheesemongers (from £7.50 per 300g).
For lunch, try The Tavern, which, like No. 38, is owned by local foodie group The Lucky Onion. It serves an incredible twice-baked wild mushroom soufflé as well as local partridge (mains from £14). Take in afternoon tea at the Well Walk Tea Room (from £12.95 per person), the site of the town’s most continuously trading shop.
Try the five-course tasting menu at Prithvi, the classy Indian restaurant that recently moved from the centre of town. Dishes such as fallow deer with cinnamon pumpkin curry, wild mushrooms with pickled coconut curry and truffle oil naan are very much based around the area’s seasonal produce (mains from £22).
How to do it: Doubles from £100 per night. The guesthouse is just two miles from Cheltenham Spa station, which is on the Bristol-to-Birmingham mainline route.
Written by: Keith Kendrick
5) Rotterdam, Netherlands
Best for... industrial chic and cool Dutch dining.
Eurostar’s new direct service zips between Rotterdam and London within three hours, making this ideal weekend break territory. Try De Markthal – a huge indoor food market with around 100 food stands selling everything from local cheese to spices, as well as restaurants, a cook shop and a supermarket.
Old Scuola arguably serves the best pizzas in the city – Neopolitan-style, with charred, pillowy dough and largely traditional toppings (pizzas from £8). The restaurant forms part of the Het Industriegebouw building, which is also home to noteworthy Héroine, a down-to-earth fine dining restaurant (from around £40 for a four-course dinner menu). Lovers of botanicals should head to Ballroom, a popular bar specialising in gin and tonic, stocking an impressive 163 different gins.
Try Fenix Food Factory, a food market in a former warehouse selling local produce along with affordable dishes from weekly-changing chefs. Cosy restaurant De Matroos en het Meisje serves an impressive seasonal chef’s menu (£31 for three courses). FG Food Labs is one of eight Michelin-starred restaurants in the city. It features innovative but delicious flavour combinations, fusion mash-ups and food theatre. Go at lunchtime when the three-course menu costs £37 or £55 for the ‘all-in menu’ which includes matching wines, coffee or tea and homemade friandises (must be booked in advance).
The James Hotel is ideally located, within walking distance from the train station, Markthal and Witte de Withstraat. You can also rent bikes from the hotel at around £13.50 for 24 hours.
How to do it: Doubles at The James cost from around £60 a night. The Eurostar from London St Pancras to Rotterdam Centraal takes three hours, and costs from £35 one-way.
Written by: Anna Lawson
6) Newcastle, UK
Best for... a culinary country retreat in the city.
A stone’s throw from Newcastle city centre, Jesmond Dene House has it all. This independently owned hotel is home to a superb restaurant led by chef Danny Parker and has chic, modern guestrooms in its Grade ll-listed mansion set in extensive leafy grounds. Our room had been recently refurbished to a cool, contemporary standard but it still retained real character through its wood panelling, cosy window seats and soft velvet furnishings.
It’s the food that really marks Jesmond Dene House as one of the north-east’s premier dining spots. Top-notch casual dining is on offer all day long, as well as fantastic lunches on Sunday, especially if you can get a table in the restaurant’s lovely glass house annex.
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The à la carte menu is the true star. The beef tartare with oyster and caviar was unexpected and delicious, while the pig terrine was a firm favourite (two courses from £20). The restaurant, which is currently being refurbished and is set to reopen in early July, is a progressive experience that comes highly recommended.
How to do it: Doubles from £89. The hotel is 2.5 miles north of Newcastle Central station, which is on the East Coast mainline route. It’s easily reachable via regular buses from Newcastle’s Haymarket or Ilford Road metro station.
Written by: Chris Kerwin
7) London, UK
Best for... Indian eats.
Secret Food Tours offers an insider’s guide to one of London's most popular Indian food neighbourhoods. The Brick Lane tour consists of around six stops (which vary from night to night), and includes, almost literally, all the food you can eat, plus limited drinks that range from cold Indian beer to wine or a mango lassi.
Our first stop was Café Grill – unprepossessing on the outside, but Tardis-like once you step through the doors. We were served fried piazu with black chickpeas. Next, we visited Taj Stores, a spice emporium where everything from dhal to chilli powder comes in 5kg sacks, before sitting down to a sharing extravaganza at Eastern Eye Balti House. We tucked in to puréed channa (chickpea) wraps, fennel-infused saag lamb, spicy chicken karahi, and creamy tarka dhal served with naan and rice.
Then it was off to Madhubon Sweet Shop across the road to sample delicacies such as syrup-soaked gulab jamun (fried dough) and kalakand (cheese fudge) before taking a short walk to the bustling Punjabi canteen Lahore Kebab House. There, we devoured tandoori lamb chops, paneer and chicken fresh from the tandoor oven.
At £59 for a three-and-a-half hour tour, this is great value. So what was the ‘secret’ in the Secret Food Tour? Along with the expert intel on dishes, ingredients and where to shop, you’ll be surprised with a secret extra dish that’s revealed on the day.
How to do it: Secret Indian Food Tour from £59 per person for adults. The nearest station is Aldgate East on the Circle, Hammersmith & City or District lines, just a few stops from King’s Cross or Liverpool Street mainline stations.
Written by: Keith Kendrick
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Which city do you want to visit by train? Let us know in the comments below...
All recommendations have been reviewed and approved as of July 2019 and will be checked and updated annually. If you think there is any incorrect or out of date information in this guide, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice for the country they are travelling to.
Photography credits: iStock/Getty Images, Jourdenuit – Florian Calas, Toulouse Tourist Office/d Viet And Agence Pgo, Yuen Li/Alamy Stock Photo, Anna Lawson, Jess Shurte Photography, Paolo Paradiso, Simon Reddy and Simon Leigh, Secret Indian Food Tour, Kristin Stoylen, Kirstie Young, Chris Terry, Peter Atkinson, Alexandria Dawn Photography, Brittany Ferries, Age Footstock, Michael Berman, Jorg Greuel and Samuel Betkowski.
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