Having had a year which was devoid of travel, culture and diversity, many of us are taking those tentative steps towards making plans for the coming year. But where to start?
To narrow down the options a little, our friends at Great Rail Journeys have picked out the very best cultural tours taking place in 2021 across the continent to help holidaymakers rediscover their love affair with Europe.
The five fantastic tours promise to provide access to the very best that Europe has to offer at a relaxed pace, and allow guests to rediscover the romance of rail. Journey through epic scenery, explore cultural hotspots and enjoy excellent company with like-minded travellers on a small group tour, providing an experience only possible by rail.
Grand Imperial Cities
Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary
Discover the culture and history of some of Europe’s grandest cities; Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Berlin.
With guided tours, delicious local favours and unique experiences, including a railway run entirely by schoolchildren, this once turbulent region is brought to life as you journey across four countries.
From Mozart’s home city, filled with impressive architectural landmarks such as Hofburg Palace, to Berlin, where the lasting marks of World War II remain scattered across the city, this tour is set to take travellers on a journey through time.
Classic Glacier Express
There is no better way to experience Switzerland and its various faces than journeying through stereotypically Swiss meadows, vineyards, dense forests, and snow-capped mountains.
Amble along the beautiful Rhine Valley aboard the ‘slowest express train in the world’, soaking up the scenery from panoramic carriages as you cross the Rhine Gorge and climb up to the Oberalp Pass, the highest point of the journey at 6,670 feet.
Such spectacular views and stunning scenery have made the Glacier Express famous the world over.
Highlights of Tuscany
Discover the colours and flavours of this region on a journey that highlights the true beauty of Tuscany.
Ochre and terracotta hill towns, linked by winding white roads and pathways lined with cypress trees, contrast with the magnificent architecture of great Renaissance cities.
Experience true history in towns such as Lucca where you can stroll around the wide walkways along the top of the ancient ramparts, in what can only be described as a stroll through time.
Discover the true charm of the city while soaking in a bird’s-eye view from the Guinigi Tower, which has an oak tree growing from its top. Architectural wonders and natural delights await all travellers on this spectacular tour across Italy.
Sirmione on Lake Garda
Known as the ‘Pearl of the Lake’, Sirmione is perched on a peninsula on the southern shore of Lake Garda.
Sample Italian wine in the rural wine region of Valpolicella, and discover unique culture in Verona, Malcesine, and the iconic ‘Floating City’ of Venice.
Sirmione itself is a pleasure to discover; the town is bursting with history and charm, including the Rocca Scaligera – a beautifully preserved 13th-century castle surrounded by a large water-filled moat that dominates the Old Quarter of the town.
Take the opportunity to wander narrow streets and picturesque piazzas whilst indulging in Italian culture and romance.
The Italian Riviera
Discover the colourful villages that cling to the dramatic coastline of the Italian Riviera, with the glittering Mediterranean delivering picture-postcard vistas as you explore the Cinque Terre and Portofino.
Explore the breath-taking scenery of the beautiful Cinque Terre – an excursion which is only possible by rail and boat. This stretch of Italian coastline is famous for its five colourful villages, set within a National Park and sharing UNESCO World Heritage status.
Travel by regional train, along the rugged coast to Riomaggiore, where pastel houses are seemingly stacked atop one another, rising from the tiny harbour.
Take to the waters next, sailing to Vernazza, whose cobbled streets are lined with quaint cafés, and Monterosso, known for its stretch of sandy beach and lemon trees, with time to explore with a local guide.
Carcassonne and Cathar Castles
From timeless vineyards and sun-drenched hills to imposing Cathar castles and historic abbeys, experience the very best of the Languedoc region.
Explore UNESCO-listed Carcassonne – renowned for its original city walls, defensive towers, and drawbridges – before visiting historic Narbonne and immersing yourself in the French way of life. Accessed by an ancient bridge which crosses the former moat, the city encapsulates romantic medieval France.
For more history, embark on a saunter along the Robine Canal, lined with pretty promenades, and an exposed section of the Via Domitia Roman Road in the town square.
Finally, dine like the Kings and Queens of mediaeval France at Les Halles market. Built in 1091, the market remains a feast for the senses to this day.
Harz Mountains and Rhine Gorge
Explore the half-timbered houses and peaks of the Harz Mountains by railway before discovering the natural beauty of the Rhine Gorge, where the legendary Lorelei Rock still casts its spell.
Relax on board the charming Selketal Railway as it makes its way on a nostalgic journey through mysterious landscapes, made up of dense forests and brooding mountains. On arrival into Gernrode, continue by coach to beautiful Quedlinburg, a gorgeous town with a peaceful Romanesque church and incredibly preserved, red-roofed houses that give the town the feel of a model village.
Winding up from the old town is a road which leads to Quedlinburg castle. From this vantage point, the Harz Mountains can be seen peeking out over green forests. Get lost in the fairytale-like magic on this remarkable journey through Germany.
Jungfrau Express All Inclusive
The highlight of this tour is the journey onboard the Jungfrau Railway to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest station.
Guests will join the train in Grindelwald to begin the ascent. Climbing from Kleine Scheidegg, the distinctive red and yellow carriages transport you through a tunnel carved out of the Eiger Mountain. With a pause at the halfway station, a guide will give a fascinating talk about the history and construction of the line.
Finally, you will reach the ‘Top of Europe’ – Jungfraujoch reaches over 11,000 feet above sea level. Here, you can explore the Ice Palace with its many ice sculptures, or simply soak up the views. From the Sphinx Observatory terrace, enjoy 360-degree views of the eternal winter wonderland, made up of endless frosty peaks and the vast, ancient Aletsch Glacier.
Lake Como and The Bernina Express
Italy and Switzerland
Soak up the beauty of dazzling Lake Como; beginning in Cadenabbia, cruise on the sparkling waters, taking in lakeside villages and beautiful villas, before experiencing one of Switzerland’s greatest rail journeys – the iconic Bernina Express.
Visit the picturesque village of Bellagio with old-world streets that wind away from the main square, Piazza San Giacomo. Here, find a bustling hive of activity and the town’s historic Basilica di San Giacomo.
Built in the early 18th century for a Milanese Count, Villa Carlotta is a stunning building which once belonged to the Prussian Monarchy and boasts magnificent gardens and superb artworks, including sculptures by Canova. With elegance, charm and sophistication around every corner on this tour, this is not one to be missed by anyone looking for some culture to soak up.
All of these trips are available to book at Great Rail Journeys, with prices starting from £1,495. The company monitors travel restrictions and will make decisions on whether a tour can operate no later than 14 days before the departure date. If a tour is cancelled, customers will be able to transfer the date of their holiday to another 2021 date free of charge.