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Europe’s Top Three Cultural Rail Holidays

European countries share a lot in common: a currency, thousands of years of culture, and easily navigable rail networks. The close proximity of countries and efficiency of Europe’s rail system make exploring easy and planning holidays even simpler; companies like Great Rail Holidays make it as simple as clicking a button once you’ve decided where to go. Here’s a list of the top three rail holidays to Europe’s most culturally rich cities:

Paris to Lyon

Closest to home is Paris, the most popular tourist destination in the world. The city of love needs no introduction; everyone has heard of must-see destinations like the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. Parisian cuisine is renowned worldwide and can be found between the brasseries and cafes of the Parisian restaurant scene.

The SNCF, France’s primary rail company, can get you to Lyon in two hours on its high-speed TGV. Built around two rivers, Lyon is friendlier, smaller and warmer than Paris, with well-preserved Roman ruins, impressive museums and an architecturally ground-breaking opera house. The food here is pretty good, too, with its rich quenelles being one of Lyon’s most popular exports.

Rome to Munich

One of Europe’s oldest cities and the heart of the ancient Roman Empire, modern Rome is now the heart of Italy’s political and religious traditions. History confronts modernity around every corner, with modern streets and Mussolini-era buildings giving way to crumbling Roman ruins and pagan temples, repurposed for medieval churches.

From Rome, take the famous Brenner line, which winds its way to Munich through the heart of the Italian peninsula. The route is a stunning journey through white-capped mountains and quaint villages of Tyrol and Alto-Aldige. This is undeniably one of Europe’s most beautiful routes.

The Brenner line ends in Munich, the largest of Germany’s cities and its financial and literary centre. Again, history contrasts sharply with modernity here, with classic medieval squares meeting modern museums. There’s also a tradition of Bavarian beer and sausage that makes Munich an ideal destination for beer-lovers and foodies alike.

Budapest to Istanbul

Arriving in Budapest, you will have to change your euros into the local currency, the forint. Despite the hassle, the low prices make the foray into Eastern Europe well worth it. The Danube Express, which runs from Prague to Istanbul, takes you directly to the heart of the city. Known as the Paris of the East, Budapest is traditionally split by a river between two formerly separated cities, unsurprisingly known as Buda and Pest.

On the Buda side of the Danube, the Royal Place and Gellert Hill are requisite tourist destinations. The business district is located in Pest, along with the City Park and the main cathedral. When you’re not sightseeing, you can relax in one of the many spas.

The final destination on the Danube Express is Istanbul, the gateway to the East and another city split by a river. Here, you can haggle at the celebrated Grand Bazaar and explore the opulent Topkapi Palace and basilica-turned-mosque-turned-museum, Hagia Sophia. A simple bridge over the Bosphorus connects the continents, meaning you can day trip in Europe and have a night out in Asia—an ideal way to spend your rail holiday.

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