Holidays without flying:  Arriving in Greece by train + ferry from London...

Arriving in Greece by train+ferry from London, under blue skies and even bluer sea.  The journey becomes part of the holiday...

Ideas for holidays without the plane

If you don't like flying or want to cut your carbon emissions, you can easily spend a week in Spain or Italy or a fortnight in Malta, Morocco or Greece, without setting foot on a plane.  I know it's possible, because I've done all of those myself.  The journey is part of the holiday. On this page are ideas for holidays & short breaks from the UK without flying, some you can put together yourself, some are offered by specialist rail travel companies.  Here are some ideas...


Short breaks

To the Highlands by Caledonian Sleeper

To Cornwall by Night Riviera sleeper train

To Paris, Brussels, Bruges or Lille:  www.railbookers.co.uk, www.lastminute.com

To Amsterdam:  www.railbookers.co.uk or www.lastminute.com

To Amsterdam by ferry from Newcastle or Hull, www.dfds.co.uk or www.poferries.com

To Cologne, Berlin, Nice, Prague, Salzburg, Zermatt:  www.railbookers.co.uk

To Dublin by train & ferry:  railtoursireland.com or www.railbookers.co.uk

Book a holiday by train with Railbookers


Cruises

Mini-cruises

Several ferry companies offer mini-cruises, around trip from the UK on a comfortable cruise-ferry.  Some operators also offer longer holidays:

Full-size cruises


Holiday packages & tours by train

If you want a holiday by train arranged for you, departing any date you like with trains, transfers & hotels all sorted as a package, a handful of specialist companies can do this.  The one that stands out is Railbookers.  A key advantage over arranging everything independently is that if you book the whole trip as a package with a tour company, they'll look after you if something affects part of the trip, for example in the event of a national strike.

Railbookers

Tailor Made Rail

Byway


Escorted tours by train

If you want a holiday in Europe with travel by train, but with a small group of fellow travellers and a tour manager looking after you, several companies offer escorted tours from the UK to Italy, Switzerland, Spain, France, eastern Europe and even Morocco by train, with regular departures from London by Eurostar, no airport hassles and no whole days spent in cramped coach seats on motorways.

 

Companies offering

escorted tours by train

rather than plane:

  Great Rail Journeys logo

01904 527120

   

Rail Discoveries logo

01904 730 727

   

Great Rail Journeys, www.greatrail.com, 01904 527120

Great Rail Journeys are the original train-tour specialists and the best-known name in this business.  They offer 5-star inclusive escorted tours from the UK to many European countries with 1st class train travel and 5-star hotels.  Check the tour details online, then call 01904 527120 to book or use their online booking form.  Tours include:

The Great Rail Journeys meeting point at London St Pancras   Inside Great Rail Journeys meeting point, London St Pancras

The Great Rail Journeys meeting point at London St Pancras, upper level.

Rail Discoveries, www.raildiscoveries.com, 01904 730 727

Rail Discoveries is Great Rail Journeys' sister company, offering more affordable tours with standard class train travel and 3-star hotels.  They run regular escorted tours to many European countries using overland travel from the UK by Eurostar and onward high-speed train.  For example:


Put together your own holiday

Why not go independently?  Just decide where to go, book a hotel and buy a train ticket or two, independently!  It might seem daunting if you've always booked a package, but it's really easy to book train travel from London to anywhere in Europe and choose your accommodation separately.  None of the big package tour companies offer an overland option instead of a flight for their packages to Morocco, Greece, Malta and so on, so booking independently is the way to go.  Here are some ideas.

Step 1.  Decide where you want to go.  I really, really recommend buying a Lonely Planet or Rough Guides guidebook, even in this age of free information on the internet.  You will get so much more out of your trip.

Step 2.  Book your accommodation at www.booking.com with free cancellation.  Any hotel with a review score over 8.0 won't disappoint.  Free cancellation means you can change your plans if you need to, and you can book accommodation risk-free in advance, before train booking opens.

Step 3.  Buy travel insurance - never skimp on this, it's a must.

Step 4.  Book your trains when booking opens, as shown on this website.

Holiday in Italy by train

Holiday in Spain by train

Holiday in Morocco by train

Morocco is fantastic, and getting there by train is easy.  Leave London in the morning, spend the night in Barcelona, and step ashore in Morocco the following evening.  The journey is an experience in itself, and you can stop off on the way to see Spain, too.  Much more to write home about than a cramped flight!

Holiday in Greece by train + ferry

Greece is a wonderful, relaxing destination, especially with no airports and planes to stress you out on the way.  You can travel by train and ferry, stepping ashore in Corfu or mainland Greece just 48 hours after leaving London.  The journey is an experience, and you can stop off on the way to see something of Italy if you like.

Tour central & eastern Europe by train

Holiday in the Norwegian Fjords

Skiing in the French Alps, Switzerland, Austria or Andorra


Hotels & accommodation

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.


Car hire

If you can Fly-Drive, why not Rail-Drive?  I travelled to Marrakech by train and ferry, then hired a car for 3 days and drove south over the High Atlas mountains, perhaps the most amazing 3 days car hire I've ever paid for!

Car hire logoCompare 50 different car hire companies:  www.carrentals.co.uk

The award-winning website www.carrentals.co.uk compares many different car hire companies including Holiday Autos, meaning not only a cheapest price comparison but a wider choice of hire and drop off location.


Travel insurance & VPN

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Columbus Direct logo

Always take out travel insurance

You should take out travel insurance with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with Staysure.co.uk myself.  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flag  www.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection and gets 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot.

UK flag  www.columbusdirect.com is also a well-know brand.

US flag  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Maya.net logo

Get an eSIM with mobile data package for Europe

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a mobile data package for Europe and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM card so you don't need to buy a physical SIM, including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility listMaya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, 500 per month as I write this.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than getting a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card, they'll give you 5 cashback through that link.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I get a small commission to help support this site.

 

Anker Powerrbank

Always carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, vaccination records and Interrail or Eurail passes are often held digitally on your mobile phone, so it's vital to keep it charged.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over if I can't get to a power outlet.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or from Buy from Amazon.com.

Touring cities & museums?  Use hill walking shoes!

One of the best things I've done is swap my normal shoes for hill-walking shoes, in my case from Scarpa.  They're intended for hiking across the Pennines not wandering around Florence, but the support and cushioning for hiking works equally well when you're on your feet all day exploring foreign cities.  My feet used to give out first and limit my day, now the rest of me gives up before they do!


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