The build-up to Christmas is, for many, a stressful one, but less so if you opt to travel home by train. Whether you are going to Glasgow, Geneva or Grenoble, you can easily travel home for Christmas by booking UK and European rail ticket. Find your own version of peace and joy from the moment you step on the train.
Pack as many presents as you like without worrying about whether to carry on or check in your luggage. Take home homemade bottles of elderflower wine or sloe gin that you have got it together to make as gifts this year, or pack all those pamper products without worrying about the 100ml nightmare. No arguing over road maps, no winter road conditions to worry about and, if you need to hire a car at the other end, think about travelling by train and then hiring one instead. Or, if your more senior relatives don’t want to fly anymore, which is so often the case, do show them how easy it can be to travel by train. And cost saving too, with plenty of senior railcards out there.
Our top tips for train travel during Christmas and New Year
You can already book the majority of trains all over Europe for Christmas train travel but do book quickly if you can. Not only to make sure that you have a seat but also to get a better fare. Booking early is always the best tip for getting the best value fares for the big Christmas exodus, whether in the UK or other European countries. So if you missed the chance for early bird bargains this year, put a note in your calendar for next year, and read more here about how far in advance you can book. Six months in the case of Eurostar, for example. But rest assured it isn’t too late at all to get some great deals, especially within the UK.
It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many of us book our time off work at the end of the working week. So for Christmas 2019 a lot of people will head off Friday 20 December. You will have a cheaper and a more chilled journey if you head off before that. So treat yourself to that extra day or two off work.
Eurostar at Christmas
There are approximately 300,000 French nationals living in the UK and so, along with Francophiles intent on having a ‘Joyeux Noel’, Eurostar’s London to Paris route can get pretty busy at Christmas. The departure point for most people is London St. Pancras International. However, you can also park and board at Ebbsfleet International or Ashford International. Just make sure that you book the right ticket from either Ebbsfleet or Ashford, as not all Eurostar services go through these stations.
To avoid the queues at Gare du Nord to buy a Metro ticket, you can get them on board the Eurostar in the buffet car, but make sure you have Euros to hand as they don’t accept card payment. The queue at the bar is quicker than the one at Gare du Nord, and you can treat yourself to a festive vin rouge in the process.
For train travel to and within France, it is often better to travel via Lille and not Paris as it gets less crowded and sometimes more tickets available. So if you want to travel to Lyon, Bordeaux or Nice, for example, you can get the TGV in Lille instead of dealing with Paris’ stations in full Christmas craziness.
Christmas Day travel by train
Travelling on Christmas Day itself can be a total treat, and often much quieter. Not in the UK, however, where there is a shutdown of all trains on 25 December, and some engineering on some routes during the Christmas period generally. This means that Eurostar doesn’t run on Christmas Day either. Most other European countries’ rail networks are well and truly open for business on Christmas Day, however. So you can spend the day with family in many European cities and then head further afield at the end of the day. You can, for example, travel from Paris to Marseille in three hours or into the Alps for possible white Christmas, travelling from Paris to Annecy in four hours. Get some more ideas in our ‘Winter getaways by rail’ blog.
Imagine travelling to Rome by train to celebrate Christmas in St.Peter’s Square? You can travel by train from Milan to Rome, for example, in under three hours. The main mass is on Christmas Eve, but there are Papal blessings on Christmas and Boxing Day too. Or for a very different Christmas route, you could travel from Madrid after lunch on Christmas Day, take on your own train pilgrimage and arrive in Santiago de Compostela five hours later.
We like to wrap ourselves up as much as our presents at Christmas, but with Christmas trains getting pretty steamy, don’t overdress. Sometimes we forget to bring a water bottle on train journeys in winter, something so many of us do in summer, so don’t forget to pack one and do your bit to eliminate plastic.
Travelling with young children
Train travel is better for family trips in so many ways. Although if you are still at the pushchair stage, we know that it can be tricky. Here are some tips from Benjamin, father of three children and one of our team:
“Consider buying child tickets for under fives, as this reserves extra seats you might want to have. For two adults and a 2-3 year old, you should be fine with just a pair of seats - I'd recommend airline-style to give you privacy, rather than sharing a table with two strangers. If you've got two kids you may want to buy a third (or fourth) seat around a table.”
“Some trains have larger luggage storage areas, perfect for buggies. Look for the bike sign on the outside of the carriage as that’s usually the one!” Read more in our 12 tips for travelling by train with children article.
Apart from the fact that a discount railcard can be a lovely Christmas present for someone, getting one in time for your Christmas trip home brings lots of savings. Depending on the country where you plan to travel, there are lots of different discount railcards out there and we support the majority of them on our site. In UK, or example, there are ten discount cards available, and you can get online versions of these nowadays, so you don’t have to wait for one to arrive in the post. Just always remember to carry it with you when travelling. One lesser known Railcard in the UK is the Two Together Railcard, which gives you up to a third off UK rail fares for you and your regular travel companion.
There is nothing like Santa bringing a new bike at Christmas, but of course, some of you may also want to bring your bike with you so that you can work off some of the Christmas calories. Or indeed just get away for a bit of a breather when Christmas cabin fever kicks in. Read our more detailed ‘Taking bikes on trains’ help article to see which train company lets you do what. Some make it easier than others to get your bike down that chimney at Christmas.
The season of goodwill
Last but not least, please be patient with your fellow travellers during the busy season of train travel. Parents of young ones may be feeling exhausted after a long year, with a lot of last-minute Santa sorting and so on. Children may be off the scale excited. Take a deep breath and remember you were in that Santa world once too. And if you haven’t watched it, treat yourself to a couple of hours on board the Polar Express and see if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye. And swap that bah humbug feeling for some festive joie de vivre. As Tom Hanks’ character says in Polar Express “One thing about trains: It doesn't matter where they're goin'. What matters is deciding to get on.”
Image credits, top to bottom: Winter apple fruit and mulled wine alcohol drink on Christmas train iStock ©Boarding1now ©wanderluster King's Cross and St Pancras Station roof and artificial Christmas tree iStock ©Alphotographic, San Peter basilica in winter ©MicheleAlfieri, Amsterdam snow sunrise, iStock ©dennisvdw Sleeping boy in front of window iStock ©Leo_Kostik.
Best outdoor activities in London
Whether you are looking for alternative things to do in London with families or just seeking some solo time in the city, here are top tips for enjoying a greener side to London.
Italy by train in winter
Mild weather, fewer tourists and cheaper prices - a few good reasons to visit Italy by train this winter.