Love them or loathe them, budget airlines have changed everything. The ability to whisk ourselves away to interesting European cities for a pittance has transformed our notion of travel. Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz Air have us flying to new destinations on a whim.
But you don’t have to take to the skies for this; there’s also Eurostar. Since May 1994, when the Channel Tunnel opened for business, Paris, Brussels, Lille, Bruges and Amsterdam have been the top destinations for train travellers, but there are plenty more options to satisfy our voracious appetite for new city breaks. How about Dijon? Or Antwerp? Or Luxembourg, Rotterdam, Marseilles, Tours, Frankfurt or Cologne?
Dijon, for example, in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, has a rich history dating back to the Dukes of Burgundy, an attractive medieval centre, famous mustard, first-rate wines, picturesque lakes, fascinating museums and galleries packed with works by Cézanne, Monet and Rodin. What’s more, it’s five hours from St Pancras International, via a change to a TGV train in Paris.
Or why not tick off somewhere more obscure, like Luxembourg, with its delightful Old Town, combining medieval fortifications, ancient spires and dramatic cliffs plunging to a deep gorge. The capital of the Grand Duchy is a relaxing spot with lovely walks in the surrounding countryside, a 16th-century ducal palace and historic defensive tunnels to explore (Luxembourg’s nickname is the Gibraltar of the North due to its almost impregnable fortress-like setting). Day trips by train to Trier in Germany take you to Roman ruins and the Karl Marx House Museum, where the man who co-authored The Communist Manifesto was born in 1818. It’s an easy five hours and 15 minutes journey time from St Pancras International, via Paris.
Yet more Roman remains can be explored on weekends away in Cologne, with its brilliant Romano-Germanic Museum, stupendous cathedral, fine art galleries, national football museum and numerous lively beer halls in its Old Town — all just five hours and 10 minutes from London.
How to do it
Oui.sncf has London St Pancras International-Dijon returns from around £140 and Luxembourg or Cologne returns from £160. Tickets to Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Marseilles, Tours and Antwerp are also available.