European Rail Connections for Summer 2012: An overview of seasonal rail links

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Both Thalys and Eurostar offer seasonal services to the south of France this summer. Photo © hidden europe
Both Thalys and Eurostar offer seasonal services to the south of France this summer. Photo © hidden europe

It’s that time of year when, with the onset of summer, Europe’s rail schedules are amended to reflect holiday travel patterns. The exact dates when new services kick in vary by country, but here’s a flavor of what’s on offer for 2012.

Summer means vacation and many European rail operators run holiday specials to coasts and mountains. All the trains mentioned here can be used with regular tickets and rail passes (subject to any national regulations on supplements for holders of InterRail passes). The summer specials reviewed below here are all shown in the current edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable — a book that is very much the bible for dedicated explorers of Europe by rail. It is published monthly.

Day trip to the West Highlands

Festival revelers in Edinburgh can take time out for a day trip through Highland scenery to the west-coast port of Oban. The Sunday excursion train from Edinburgh to Oban and back runs from June 24 to the end of August.

The Atlantic Coast Express

The north Cornwall coast becomes ever more popular with Londoners, so First Great Western’s seasonal Atlantic Coast Express train from London to Newquay will run daily during the months of July and August. We rate the run from London Paddington to Newquay as one of the finest train journeys in England. From the Thames Valley, it cuts through the chalklands of Berkshire and Wiltshire to reach Somerset. Then on along the coast of Devon, skirting Dartmoor and culminating in a slow trundle along an exquisitely beautiful Cornish branch line to reach Newquay — a resort that styles itself as the capital of English surfing.

The journey from London’s Paddington station to Newquay takes about five and a half hours. Sit back and just enjoy a feast of summer scenery. And, as with all main line daytime services in Britain, no supplements for rail pass holders.

Black Sea, the Baltic and the Adriatic

It’s not just in Britain that sun, sea and sand pull the vacation crowds. Brand new for 2012, a seasonal train link from Budapest to the coast of Istria debuts this week, with an overnight train linking the Hungarian capital with the resort of Pula. The train runs twice weekly from Budapest until August 24, 2012.

Many time-honored favorites return to the summer schedules, reminding us that vacation patterns are often very stable over many, many years. Thus, as in previous years, the regular through sleepers from Prague to Varna and Burgas (both on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast) feature in the 2012 schedules. The services started last weekend and run thru early September. The traditional overnight City Night Line train from Zurich to the Baltic island of Rugen will run in July and August 2012.

The Adriatic region is ever popular with Russian travelers and a new Moscow to Split service launches this week. The inaugural train arrived in the Croatian resort this morning.

The lure of southern sun

Thalys returns to the south of France this year with its regular seasonal program of direct services from Amsterdam to Marseille. The first outing for 2012 is on June 30 and the trains run until September 1.

Eurostar also has its usual holiday season direct trains from London to Avignon during the English school summer hols. The last direct departure from Avignon back to London is on September 8.

City specials

Certain links between principal cities are especially popular at holiday times, and the seasonal changes in rail schedules reflect that. So the summer season for the Dacia Express kicked in last weekend. The train runs every night from Bucharest to Vienna until the end of September. That’s such a convenient link that there should surely be year-round demand, but the train runs only for fifteen summer weeks and then for a short spell over Christmas and the New Year.

Elsewhere across Europe, extra trains are drafted in to accommodate the summer crowds. Frequency on the Minsk to Riga service more than trebles during the months of June, July and August. At the other end of the continent, many train services in north-west France are much amended to cope with vacationers heading to the coast of Brittany (and then traveling around the region once they are there).

Routes to the Riviera pull big summer crowds and SNCF throws in an extra daily fast TGV from Paris to Nice and back. It runs from July 7 through August 26.

And on the busy Copenhagen to Hamburg route, famously popular with InterRail pass holders, there is extra early afternoon departure to cope with the summer crowds. It started last Friday and runs daily until August 26. Until the same date, there is also a convenient extra evening train from Hamburg to Copenhagen. We really like this route for the way in which it blends rail and sea travel. The entire train is shipped on a ferry between Germany and Denmark.

Rebuilding in Oslo

The summer break is a chance for some operators to undertake vital track work and major infrastructure projects. Starting next week, expect disruption thru early August on several main routes in and out of Oslo. This particularly affects main line trains from Oslo to Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim and Stockholm. Travelers will be bussed for the first part of the journey out of Oslo. On the run to Bergen, for example, travelers will be taken by bus from Oslo to Honefoss, a road journey of more than an hour.

New links, new routes

This past week or two has seen a number of new services launched across Europe that are intended to be much more than merely seasonal. European Rail News gives a digest of what’s new, but here’s a handful of highlights:

  • Better links across the border between Serbia and Romania, with a new local train service linking the two countries
  • A new slow train option from Barcelona to Madrid and vice versa
  • A fast new AVE train service linking Valencia with the Andalucían cities of Cordoba and Sevilla
  • A new daily EuroCity service linking Berlin with Poland’s Baltic coast
  • A new local train service linking Villach in Austria with neighboring Italy


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About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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