10 Under-rated European Rail Destinations

Published on 17 March 2023 at 11:57

We all know about travelling between large cities in Europe by rail. Paris to Bordeaux? Zurich to Milan? No problem. There are also some small towns that make their living from being charming rural train stops - Bad Schandau, Corrour, and of course, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantisiliogogogoch.


However, what about those towns in between which don't get the same spotlight - that make for great destinations accessible by train, sometimes with far better connectivity than far larger cities? This list shows a handful of stops for your next rail trip that you might not have considered before - selected for you by Train X Europe.


1. Shrewsbury (England)

Not a big name among England's towns, Shrewsbury was historically a border town with Wales, lying on the River Severn. The river itself is an attraction, along with a historic town centre: castle, college, and churches included. Despite being so resolutely old-fashioned, its market and modern coffeeshops are very dynamic, especially for an English town.


For its size, Shrewsbury's station has disproportionately good links. There are good regional services north to Manchester and east to Birmingham, but the greatest range of services here relates to Wales. Despite being in England, Shrewsbury is probably the single best station for visiting Wales: Transport for Wales runs the station!


Shrewsbury sits astride the main line connecting north and south Wales, serves as the terminus for the uniquely scenic Heart of Wales line, and a key interchange for the Mid-Wales line.



  • Transport for Wales (TFW) - The lines above connect to every corner of Wales. That means direct trains west to Aberystwyth (just under 2hrs) and the Cambrian Coast (2 to 4hrs)...

  • North to Llandudno (via Llandudno J'n, approx. 2hrs) and Holyhead (2.5hrs)...

  • South to Cardiff (2hrs), Swansea (3hrs, or 4hrs 15mins if you take the Heart of Wales line), and various Pembrokeshire towns (approx. 5hrs)

  • East (with TFW or West Midlands Trains) to Wolverhampton (40mins) and Birmingham (1hr). Both have great changes to local and express services, but Wolverhampton especially is underrated for how many express services stop there as they skirt the edge of Birmingham


2. Auray (for St Goustan - France)

Brittany is a beautiful area, with TGV connecting you to the north and south coasts. Auray itself is a pleasant, relatively plain town but with excellent rail connections for its size. What makes it especially worth visiting, however, is the nearby river port which is a walkable distance (<3km) from Auray's station: St Goustan. An ideal place to admire beautiful buildings and sample Breton delicacies - pictured below is some chouchen (a kind of Breton mead) and views of the town taken in 2017.


Auray has some direct TGV services to Paris each day, alongside TER local services and a tourist train in the summer, the useful 'Tire-Bouchon'. This is a local train that runs from Auray down to Quiberon, a well-known coastal town for summer visits. It also takes you near Carnac (a legendary prehistoric site) and right by the beach.



  • TGV - You can be in the French capital within 3hrs! More often, high-speed and high-capacity TGV services run from Rennes (20mins from Auray) along Brittany's south coast to Quimper (1hr).

  • TER - roughly every 30mins, local services connect Auray to other small stops between Quimper and Rennes. Many of these terminate at the next TGV stops either side of Auray: Lorient (west), Vannes (east).

  • The Tire-Bouchon - Warning - this only runs in the summer! It's name means the 'Corkscrew', but its an odd name seeing as the route isn't particularly winding!


3. Valença (Portugal)

Where the Minho river forms Portugal's northern border with Spain (with Galicia, to be precise), Valença has a lot to offer. It only sits on one train line - north to Vigo (and Santiago - see below!), and south to Porto, but its well worth visiting by train nonetheless. The town is small, but with a historic fortress and the ability to walk on a beautiful rail-road bridge into another country.


The opposing Spanish town, Tui, has a historic cathedral and offers the chance to grab a nice Estrella Galicia and some tapas (shown here from 2018) - the walk over the river isn't just for the view! That said, the train journey up from Porto takes you along a beautiful stretch of the Atlantic coast north of Viana do Castelo.


Both Valenca and Tui lie on the Camino Portugues, another pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela - worth considering if you like the idea of walking the traditional Camino (the Camino Frances) but want fewer crowds!



  • Comboios de Portugal - Portuguese trains run south to Porto, but it takes two hours and only goes direct every two hours - plan accordingly! You can take other trains south to Viana do Castelo (a nice town as well) and then change to another regional line, but naturally that takes longer.

  • The Vigo-Porto service mentioned below does not stop in either Valenca or Tui - you really need an ALSA coach to go north toward Santiago, but that is cheap and comfortable at least


4. Meran(o) (South Tyrol / Italy)

Whether you treat it as German-speaking, Tyrolean Meran or Italian Merano, this is a beautiful town in the midst of the Alps. The river, the architecture, shops, and mountain views are all top-notch, everything you want from an Alpine town. For all that, it isn't dis-connected from the outside world.


Meran(o) mostly relies on local services connecting to the nearby, larger town of Bolzano/Bozen, where more intercity services go north (into Austria) and south (into Italy). However, you do get some longer-distance services which work to make the town more accessible, and it has a unique connection further into the Alps.



  • Bolzano/Bozen, Brenner(o) - Trains connect to Bolzano/Bozen every hour, taking approx. 45mins, and there are trains making local stops to Brenner(o) on the Austrain border.

  • Innsbruck - direct trains to Innsbruck exist, though they are sadly infrequent - if changing at Bolzano, expect a 3hr trip

  • Verona - likewise, you'll probably need to change at Bolzano for most trips, taking 2.5hrs total to get to Verona for trains onward into the rest of Italy

  • Mals - This is the 250 service, a local train run by the South Tyrol local authorities which takes a little over an hour to climb higher up into the Alps. A unique trip if you want to explore the rural area more!


5. Roermond (The Netherlands)

Few tourists have heard of Roermond, but given how easily accessible it is by train, maybe that needs to change! A small, walkable town with cobblestone streets just off the Maas/Meuse river, old churches and charming bars? Germany and Belgium within a cyclable distance?


Rail-wise, this relatively small town has a strong mix of local and intercity services, though these are biased toward the Netherlands - getting across the German and Belgian borders unfortunately requires a few changes.



  • Stoptrein - This is a more local service, running every 30 minutes north/south between Nijmegen and Maastricht. Very useful if you want to get into/out of Roermond from the north, or for exploring the rest of the Limburg province

  • Intercity - These are the larger, faster Dutch trains running every 15 minutes or so: south to Maastricht (30 mins) and north to Amsterdam (2hrs) via Eindhoven, Den Bosch, and Utrecht. If you want to get in/out of Roermond in a hurry, or connect to Eurostar and ICE trains, these are for you.


6. Waterford (Ireland)

Waterford is a medium-sized town in southern Ireland, lying on the placid River Suir. It may seem unassuming, but it has more to recommend it than many Irish people would admit! The best thing about Waterford is that it has some of Ireland's best and least-known areas of coastline on your doorstep - the UNESCO-recognised Copper Coast, Tramore's gorgeous beach, and charming towns like Dungarvan.


The station in Waterford - Plunkett station - is over the river from the town centre. It has trains in only two directions - north, and west. However, that still gives you better connectivity than a lot of Irish coastal towns, and there ae good quality Bus Éireann services too!



  • Iarnród Éireann - Trains north go to Dublin Heuston, the largest Irish rail interchange. The journey takes around 2.5hrs total, and goes via Kilkenny - a highly recommended place to visit!

  • West - there are trains to Limerick Junction, where trains connect to Limerick (30 mins) and Galway (2hrs) on the west coast and south to Cork (1hr). This is definitely the scenic route - 1hr 45m to the Junction.

  • For reference, travelling Waterford to Galway takes roughly the same amount of time (4hrs 45m / 5hrs) whether you go via the Junction, or all the way to Dublin!


7. Sopot (Poland)

Sopot is one of three parts to an urban area on Poland's coast, along with Gdynia and Gdansk. Gdansk is well-known as a tourist destination, and rightly so - its a great place to visit! However, Sopot is easy to get to via the SKM - the three cities' metro - and well worth a visit by itself. It has beautiful, churches, parks, restaurants, and an enormous pier extending into the Baltic sea.


While most long-distance rail connections for Sopot come from Gdansk itself, you can take direct intercity services to/from Sopot as well.



  • SKM to Gdynia and Gdansk - Simple metro connections, though there are also trams across the three cities that help you get around

  • Intercity trains - Szczecin, Warsaw, Poznan, and Wroclaw have a few direct trains to Sopot each day

  • Local stops in Pomerania - Słupsk or (via Gdynia) Hel, if you want to get out of the city!


8. Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

More than a legendary name, Santiago de Compostela is easy to get to. You don't have to walk the Camino - Santiago lies at the end of a high speed line, the "Atlantic Axis", which runs straight out from Madrid. Its a walkable town with a unique history, and solid connections north, south, and east.


The high-speed line to Madrid runs on Talgo's gauge-changing trains, going fastest between Madrid and Ourense. Santiago de Compostela station has a mixture of local and long-distance trains at different gauges - and the station is continually undergoing expansion and renovation, so things should only get better!



  • A Coruña and Ferrol - half an hour to the north, A Coruña is also a historic city well worth a visit, but on Galicia's northern coast. Connecting to Ferrol, this lets you travel on the slow-going FEVE narrow-gauge trains across Spain's northern coats.

  • Vigo and Porto - You can reach Vigo in less than an hour on fast trains, some of which come direct from Madrid. While they aren't frequent, trains south to Porto depart from Vigo - but watch out, you have to change stations! Until a planned high-speed line south is built, you'll have to head downhill from Ursaiz to Guixar for the train south.


9. Inverness (Scotland)

Inverness isn't always top of tourists' itineraries in Scotland, yet most visiting the Highlands will at least pass through - its hard not to, given how central the city is to the area. It might surprise you to hear that Inverness is also one of Europe's fastest growing cities, and one which sits at the heart of public transport networks in northern Scotland.


Inverness is a rail terminus for services going south toward the Central Belt and England, as well as the Far North Line (guess where that goes!). It also has a bus station which you'll need to go beyond the reach of Scotrail services, e.g., going to Loch Ness or Ullapool (for the ferry over to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides).



  • Kyle of Lochalsh - a slow rural line which terminates just across the water from Skye

  • Thurso & Wick - as far north as you can go by train in Scotland, with a line that weaves its way slowly north from Inverness and passes by all kinds of towns, estuaries, and distilleries!

  • Direct connections to 5 of Scotland's 6 other cities (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Perth - just not Dundee): expect 2.5 to 3.5 hours for most of these trips

  • 2 trains to London - one day-train (LNER), and the night-train, the Caledonian Sleeper. While the Caledonian service to Fort William gets you further from London by hours travelled, the service to/from Inverness goes further north!


10. Bielefeld (Germany)

A real underdog of German cities - but that's what happens when many are convinced you don't even exist (look it up if you don't know). Its not going to be overwhelmed with tourists, yet Bielefeld has an imposing castle, and old town (Mitte) and a great U-Bahn tram/underground system to get around it.


Bielefeld sits on a fairly high-speed line, just off the eastern side of the dense Nord-Rhein Westphalia area. You can take fast trains into that area, or just as easily east across the country - its a through-station rather than a terminus.



  • ICE high-speed and express trains - Berlin, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Cologne

  • Regionla trains (RE) - smaller towns with their own good rail connections, such as Paderborn, Halle, Osnabrück


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