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Flight-free mini breaks: European train trips that take less than five hours from London

Take the train from London to Bruges in under four hours.
Take the train from London to Bruges in under four hours. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons
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Hop over to France, Belgium and the Netherlands with these quick train trips from London.

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Trains are fast eclipsing short haul flights for European travellers.

As flight prices soar and a summer of airport chaos looms, air travel is losing its appeal.

Europe’s rail network, meanwhile, is entering a new heyday. New routes launched with EU support or by private companies are making cross-border train travel easier, cheaper and faster than ever before.

But for many, it’s the climate impact of travel that’s behind the switch. According to Carbon Footprint’s carbon calculator, a flight between London and Paris will release 110kg of CO2 equivalent versus 10kg by train.

Ready to plan your flight-free European adventure? Here are the best European train escapes under five hours from London.

Trains from the UK to Belgium

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Brussels is just two hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Brussels for comics and culture

Journey time: 2 hours

Price: From £39 (€45) each way

Brussels is the seat of the European Union - but that’s not all the Belgian capital has going for it.

Start your sightseeing in the beautiful Grand-Place, where the turreted town hall vies for attention with seasonal installations. Every other August, a flower carpet of more than half a million begonias fills the square, while at Christmas time a twinkling tree takes the floor.

When you’re done discovering the city’s folklore in the Brussels City Museum, enjoy pop up art installations as you cycle alongside the canal. In 2024, Kanal Centre Pompidou will reopen on this hip stretch.

Art lovers should also embark on Brussels’ Comic Book Route, which traces murals and historic sites relating to some of the city’s most famous exports, including Tintin, The Smurfs and Asterix.

For the cheapest train tickets, book at least two months in advance.

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Bruges is less than four hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Bruges for canal-side breweries

Journey time: 3 hours 25 minutes (change in Brussels)

Price: From £51 (€58) each way

Bruges may be small but it packs a punch. Criss-crossed with canals, the medieval city is best explored by electric boat, hitting up some waterfront breweries along the way.

Cure your hangover at one of the city’s many artisanal chocolatiers or waffle shops before atoning at the gilded Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Once you’re fully recovered, climb the 366 steps up the striking Belfry of Bruges for sweeping views over the city.

Trains from the UK to France

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Brussels is just two hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Lille for crowd-free art museums

Journey time: 1 hour 25 minutes

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Price: From £39 (€45) each way

Closer than Paris and far less crowded, Lille is ideal for a short weekend getaway in France.

The sprawling Palais des Beaux Arts rivals the Louvre with works by Raphael, Donatello, Rembrandt, Rubens, Rodin and many more.

A 24-hour city pass (€25) will get you pocket-friendly access to this and more than 30 other tourist sites and attractions, as well as free public transport.

In summer 2024, the city will play host to Olympic handball and basketball at Pierre Mauroy stadium.

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Brussels is just two hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Paris for gritty romance

Journey time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Price: From £39 (€45) each way

The French capital needs no introduction. Whether you’re a first timer climbing the Eiffel Tower and getting lost in the Louvre or a seasoned expert lounging in hip Canal St-Martin, this romantic yet gritty city will draw you in.

A hub for train travel in Europe, Paris is also the ideal jumping off point for a longer rail adventure. For warmer weather, head south to Bordeaux in under three hours by TGV or hop over to Milan in seven hours. In just over three hours, you can also travel onwards to Geneva or Basel in Switzerland.

Trains from the UK to Germany

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Brussels is just two hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Cologne for a sweet escape

Journey time: 4 hours 10 minutes

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Price: From £65 (€74) each way

Despite being much closer to London than Munich and Berlin, Cologne is often (unfairly) overlooked by city breakers. Beyond its double-spired cathedral lie hip boutiques, innovative cocktail bars, a thriving arts scene and the mouthwatering Chocolate Museum.

You can easily tick off two cities in one weekend, with Bonn - home to the futuristic Kunstmuseum Bonn and the Haribo headquarters - just a 20-minute train away. In four hours, you can be in the German capital, making Cologne a great overnight stop on a longer trip, too.

Trains from the UK to the Netherlands

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Brussels is just two hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Amsterdam for clean fun

Journey time: 4 hours

Price: From £54 (€62) each way

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Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past year. Skip the hours-long queues with a quick and easy train ride to the Dutch capital.

Once there, mind your Ps and Qs - the city has made pointed remarks about pesky British tourists exploiting it for drugs, drink and sex.

With world class museums like Rijksmuseum, quirky neighbourhoods like De Negen Straatjes and arty hangouts like NDSM Wharf, Amsterdam has so much more to offer than red lights and coffee shops.

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Brussels is just two hours from London by train.Canva

Get the train from London to Rotterdam for creative energy

Journey time: 3 hours 35 minutes

Price: From £50 (€57) each way

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Creative energy surges through Rotterdam’s futuristic skyline and art licked streets. Soak it up in the culture-packed Museum Quarter and the quirky bars and vintage stores lining Witte de Withstraat.

The buzzing port city is also a foodie haven best experienced at markets like Fenix Food Factory, Afrikaanderplein and Binnenrotte Centrummarkt.

In July, the city roars to life with the annual North Sea Jazz Festival and January ushers in the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

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