Take a glorious journey through the Rhine Valley to Vienna, stopping off in charming Cologne and eclectic Brussels
A VIENNESE WHIRL AND A DAB OF COLOGNE
In just five days, travel through Brussels and Cologne, to the heart of the old Hapsburg Empire. Vienna is a gentle waltz between the architectural wonder and historic power of the 19th century and the ease and charm of a modern city built on the civilising tenets of music, coffee and conversation. The overnight train journey to the Austrian capital wends through the glacial, Alpine Rhine Valley passing moonlit mountains, waterfalls and lakes on the way. Three nights in Vienna allows a full exploration of this glorious city, equally charming silhouetted by snow, or gilded by sunlight. Along the way, have dinner in Cologne and lunch in Brussels.
Leave London in the early afternoon. The Eurostar sets off from the beautifully refurbished St Pancras station, speeds through the countryside and takes just twenty minutes to dash through the Channel Tunnel and emerge in France. The journey is deceptively fast- the comfortable train rockets trough Kent, beneath the channel and emerges in France in the time it takes to queue at an airport.
Check-in is smooth and simple, up to 30 minutes before departure, and there is a lounge with wifi and plug sockets, shops including WH Smith and Costa Coffee and comfortable seating in the departure lounge, with an escalator which delivers passengers directly to the platform. There is a buffet card on board, on an executive upgrade means food service at your table, a quieter carriage, more spacious seats and a plug socket and free wifi. After just over two hours, passengers alight in Brussels after a quiet, relaxed journey.
Arrive in time to take the onward connection to Cologne on the excellent Thalys or ICE trains. You could buy some snacks from the Bio supermarket at Brussels station. These are modern, comfortable trains with wifi, buffet cars and plenty of room for your luggage. The journey takes just under two hours. The connection is easy at Brussels. Simply follow the directions on the screens. There's full disabled access and staff are on hand if you need further help.
For the Cologne - Prague sleeper train catch the 18.25 ICE service to Cologne (or the earlier 17.28 Thalys service on Saturdays).
For the Cologne - Vienna sleeper train take the 17.28 Thalys service.
Days 1 - 2
Taking the overnight train is a wonderful way to travel and, although it will be dark for most of the journey, you can still sometimes make out the distant Alpine landscape in the moonlight. For couples it can be romantic and for children it can be an adventure they'll never forget.
The Euronight overnight train offers comfortable 1 and 2 berth compartments- two are deluxe, with private bathrooms. Couchette cars with up to 6 berths are also available. Compartments all have 220V power sockets which can be used to charge a phone. The sleeping car attendant will direct you to your berth, and take tickets and passports, to avoid disturbing sleepers on the border crossing. They will returned before you disembark. There is no restaurant car on this train, only bottled water, tea and coffee, so be sure to have dinner beforehand or buy food- and wine- for the journey. A light breakfast is served on the train just before arriving in Vienna.
Days 2 - 4
Take a cab or U-Bahn train and check the bags into the hotel, before sightseeing. Vienna is full of palaces and museums, great architecture and memorable art. Spend the morning in the world-class Museum Quarter, where several major museums are gathered, before lunch at Café Sperl, a traditional Viennese coffee house. In the afternoon, admire Vienna’s exquisite art nouveau buildings including Otto Wagner’s Majolica House and the Secession building, and then stroll to the Opera House, the heart of Old Vienna. Later, visit the rooftop bar of the new 25 Hour Hotel for drinks and a twilight view over the city, before dinner at a traditional Viennese bistro such as Gasthaus Poschl.
Spend the following morning immersed in history at the astonishing Hofburg Palace, home of the Hapsburg emperors. In Summer, the palace park is a lovely place for a picnic- in Winter, take lunch at the bellw époque Café Central, or the nearby Café Sacher, of world sachertorte fame. In the afternoon, take a stroll or a ride in a traditional horse-drawn fiacre, before exploring the streets of Old Vienna, near St Stephen’s church. Enjoy an early dinner at the 23-hour Café Drescher before returning to the station to board the overnight train back to Cologne.
Days 4 - 5
Return to Vienna Westbahnhopf to board the overnight Euronight sleeper train to Cologne on the first stage of your journey to Brussels. Choose either a 4 or 6 berth compartment or a more luxurious 2 or 3 berth sleeping car. Perhaps take a picnic and a nice bottle of wine for the journey. You arrive in Cologne in time for breakfast, which is included in the price.
Take a morning train to Brussels. You could take a picnic for the journey on either an ICE or Thalys train if you think you'll be too hungry to enjoy a late lunch in Brussels. The trains, which are fast and modern, have buffet cars too.
If arriving from Prague the first available train is at 07.43
If arriving from Vienna connect with the 11.43 ICE service.
Catch a late-afternoon Eurostar for the journey home. Arrive back at St Pancras early evening, in time for any onward connection.
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