Best festive flight-free trips

Best festive flight-free trips

What Christmas rush? Welcome to the life of slow travel. Thanks to our partnership with fellow travel experts, Byway, you can have a very happy, flight-free Christmas. Take your trip by train, bus or boat and see far more of Europe and beyond than you would just flying over it. Catch the changing scenery out your window and see places before you’ve even stepped foot off the carriage. The journey is just as important as the destination, and it’s brought to you stress-free. How? Your travel and accommodation are included. And in the unlikely event there are disruptions en route, you’ve got free rerouting and on-demand support – all on WhatsApp with the Byway team. So, fancy adding a flight-free trip to your wishlist? Here are our top festive trips to pick from to travel easy this Christmas…

1. Sustainable Christmas markets itinerary

7 days – Cologne, Berlin and Amsterdam 

This is the big one. Everyone’s after a Christmas market break at this time of year, so why not squeeze three into one week with the Sustainable Christmas markets trip? Sit back, relax and enjoy the seasonal scenery as you journey through some of Europe’s most festive city break destinations. Cologne’s markets are widely considered to be Germany’s best and are set up next to the River Rhine and beneath the Cathedral. Hello, pretty and dramatic shopping scenes. Next up is Berlin, where there are over 60 markets to seek out some winter charm – there’s even one dedicated to vegan food. After a cosy stay here, it’s back on the train for the final stop in Amsterdam. Throughout December, this city puts on its annual Festival of Lights, lining the canals with artwork and illuminations. Grab a mulled wine, hit the ice rink and then it’s one smooth ride on the Eurostar back home.  

2. Sleeper to Lapland itinerary 

18 days – Cologne, Stockholm, Helsinki, Rovaniemi and Berlin  

You might not have heard of Rovaniemi but that’s because it’s where Santa lives – shhh. The Sleeper to Lapland train journey takes you to the capital of Finnish Lapland and largely uses sleeper trains, so you can savour every daylight moment of this festive trip. Start off with a tour of Cologne’s chocolate museum and then wake up in Stockholm for an artsy adventure. Helsinki’s cool Kallio district is brimming with coffee spots and cheap eats. In the evening, hit up the clubs or warm up in a public sauna. Then enter the main event… Rovaniemi. Now’s your chance to spot the Aurora Borealis, native reindeer and the big man himself. On your way home, you get to retrace your steps – plus go on an overnight cruise – in case there’s anything you missed. You’ll also get an extra stop in Berlin – perfect for picking up some last-minute treats and souvenirs from the city’s famous markets. 

3. Alpine explorer itinerary

9 days – Paris, Zurich, Arosa and Lecco 

The Alpine explorer is all about the views, where pine-cloaked mountainsides and snowy peaks scream winter out your window. A night in Paris is all about the festive window shopping and crisp garden walks. Then, Zurich is the start of the countryside scenes, with its huge lake and Uetliberg mountain. The old town here’s got charm and there are some cool new bars. Bag yourself a window seat for the next leg as you ride to Arosa, an Alpine resort village within the Schanfigg Valley. Its two mountain lakes make for perfect ice skating rinks in winter and a cable car takes you across the Grisons peaks.  

You’ll then make your way along the Rhaetian Railway to Tirano, Italy. The UNESCO-listed line goes across 196 bridges, through 55 tunnels and over the Bernina Pass, 2,253m above sea level. So, keep your camera at the ready – this is one of the world’s finest set of tracks! After a connection to Lecco, you’re at the foothills of the Bergamo Alps on the east of Lake Como – it’s all hiking, sledding and laidback vibes here before you swing by Paris again on your way home.  

4. Nordic nights itinerary

19 days – Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Narvik and Utrecht  

Scandinavia paints quite the Christmassy picture with its mountains and famous fjords. Cue the Nordics nights trip by train. First stop – Hamburg. The maze of rivers, canals and waterways is a walker’s paradise, and it’s also got quite the live music scene. Copenhagen’s next and is the perfect place to get into the Danish Christmas spirit and ‘hygge’. The Tivoli Gardens are dressed like a fairytale and on the 13th of December, there’s a floating parade down the canal. In Stockholm, you’ve got to try the Julbord AKA Christmas table – a traditional assortment of ham, sausages and salmon. Then, all aboard one of the most scenic railways in the world, the Arctic Circle sleeper. Taking you through forestry and the iconic Norwegian fjords, you’ll be in no rush to arrive. In Narvik, the mountain landscapes are just as epic and you’re above the Arctic Circle, so maybe you’ll spy the Northern lights. It’s not all holiday blues on the way backUtrecht is thrown in with its pretty canals and classic windmills to look forward to before you reach London. 

5. Austrian opulence itinerary

10 days – Vienna, Graz, Salzburg and Zurich 

Want to winter like the best of them? Austrian opulence is all about grand coffee houses and palaces. Start your trip on a sleeper train and wake up in Vienna, the former capital of the Habsburg dynasty. Treat yourself to a night at the opera or Café Central – a classic coffee house with live piano music. The journey from Vienna to Graz goes along the UNESCO-awarded Semmering line, through forests and valleys – bagsy a seat on the left for the best views. Graz is Austria’s culinary capital but its Medieval old town and Habsburgian houses are just as much a feast for the eyes. Then, it’s all about Salzburg, home of the Sound of Music, Mozart and now, a lesser-known jazz scene. This place feels right out of a childhood storybook with the Austrian Alps, the Salzach River and numerous gardens. Back to big city life in Zurich, where museums and bars are ready to be explored. Ps. You can also take to its lake or the Limmat River on a boat tour before it’s home time. 

6. Chocolate-box Belgium itinerary

5 days – Ghent and Bruges 

After more of a mini-break before the big man and his reindeer arrive? The Chocolate-box Belgium duo of Ghent and Bruges is an ideal combo to get your Glühwein and waffle fix this winter. A connection in Brussels brings you to Ghent, a vibrant University city, which is as green as they come – not so much in winter – but its huge parks and nature reserves are calling for a crisp walk. This city also loves a bike, so rent yourself a set of wheels and follow the well-signposted Scheldt River Valley Route. There’s a castle and cathedral to poke your head into, too. Bruges is just as quaint and very on-brand for a Christmas escape with its gingerbreadcoloured houses and popular markets. Its leafy canal cries out for a boat ride and then nothing washes the day down better than a beer – the culture here’s so good it’s been declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site. You’ll see Brugse Zot served a lot. It’s a refreshing blond ale from Bruges’ most famous brewery, so give that one a try and cheers to five days of Christmas well spent.  

In the mood for more?  

Check out these and our other flight-free winter holidays and Christmas market trips to find your festive pick. 

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Author: Lily Owen 
Last updated: 28/11/2023