5 best countries to visit off-season
For over 50 years, the Interrail craze has taken Europe by storm, making fully flexible multi-stop travel across Europe a reality. And, if you want to take to the rails once the autumn crowds disperse, look no further for inspiration this winter.
We've handpicked our favourite countries for the perfect off-season getaway by rail (and it will still be warm enough to enjoy sitting on a terrace or strolling on the beach).
Turkey: the gateway between Europe and Asia
If you can't decide between bustling cities or postcard-perfect beaches, why not enjoy the best of both worlds in the Ottoman wonderland of Turkey? Imagine sailing over the jagged peaks of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon, exploring the stunning Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or relaxing on the beach in Bodrum to soak up the South Aegean coastline.
With its rich cultural heritage, you'll find remnants of Byzantine architecture, stunning mosques and lively bazaars scattered throughout the country. Head to the coastal town of Yalikavak to dive into the crystal-clear Aegean, or visit Antalya or Marmaris to swim in the Mediterranean.
However, Turkey is so much more than its colourful bazaars and inviting beaches. Head south and make a beeline for the train stations of Gaziantep or Mardin to marvel at the Arabic influences in the architecture. From there, you can explore the majestic stone heads of Nemrut or the world's oldest known megaliths of Gobekli Tepe. Alternatively, head east to glimpse the beautiful forests and tea plantations from the comfort of the train.
At the captivating crossroads between Europe and Asia, you're bound to find a kaleidoscopic mix of contrasting landscapes and cultures.
Getting around: you can travel all over Turkey on trains run by the national railway company (TCDD). While you don't need a reservation for regional and suburban commuter trains, you will need a reservation to travel on Intercity trains.
Italy: go fast or slow by rail
Who can resist the call of the dolce vita? You're bound to find a multitude of delights riding the rails through Italy. From charming fishing villages and beaches to captivating World Heritage Sites and rolling hills, there's plenty for you to see.
Not only will the delicious food tickle your senses, but this country will cater to your every desire. Enjoy the array of World Heritage Sites (where time has stood still for centuries) or the vineyards, where you can get lost in the intoxicating scents of citrus and lavender. Be sure to sample the produce as you go!
Armed with an Interrail Pass, your trip to Italy knows no bounds. You could rock up in Rome for a slice of pizza or discover Florence from a room with a view. Head to Bologna for fast cars and perfect pasta, or travel to Venice to explore this floating city from a private gondola.
Want to get out of the fast lane? We've got you covered. Take the train transported on a ferry across the Straits of Messina to stunning Sicily, or explore Tuscany's awe-inspiring countryside. From hiking through the Dolomites to enjoying the tranquillity at Lake Como, there are endless ways to relax in this Mediterranean paradise.
Top tip: winter is the absolute best time to visit if you love the holidays - the whole country celebrates the Christmas season with parades, festive markets and religious holidays.
Getting there: you can travel all over Italy on trains run by the national railway company (Trenitalia). While you don't need a reservation for regional trains, you do need a reservation to travel on high-speed trains like Intercity and Le Frecce.
Portugal: hidden gems and colourful castles
Green-blue waters, seaside rock formations and sandy beaches? Check. Vibrant cities and rustic villages? Check. Instagrammable forts and colourful castles? Check.
There's something for everyone in Portugal; we guarantee you'll have an unforgettable escape. Why not embrace the blissful Portuguese way of life? Enjoy pastéis de nata for breakfast, sun-drenched beachside lunches (try the Bifanas), and balmy evenings spent sipping cocktails and watching the sunset.
You could stay in one place to rinse and repeat this formula or use the Portuguese rails to explore to your heart's content. Get ready to see the whitewashed sands and rugged rock formations of the Algarve with its forget-me-not skies, or enjoy the forested hills outside Lisbon. You could head to the colourful castles of Sintra to feel like you've stepped into a fairytale or enjoy blood-pumping flyboarding or windsurfing at the beach.
Getting around: you can travel all over Portugal on trains run by the national railway company (CP). While you don't need a reservation for regional and suburban commuter trains, you need a reservation to travel on Intercity trains.
Spain: high-speed trains and lazy siestas
There's so much more to Spain than rowdy seaside resorts, sangria and siestas. When you venture further than the typical coastal tourist traps, you'll discover a rich tapestry of different landscapes, from the sleepy hill-perched villages of southern Spain to the snow-dusted Pyrenees.
Due to its rich and turbulent history, the cultural fabric of Spain is even more diverse than its delicious tapas. Many empires have been and gone to these shores, and each has left its mark - so you will find ancient aqueducts, Roman ruins, Moorish mosques, and grand Catholic cathedrals dotted around the country.
All have stood the test of time, and these architectural wonders will take your breath away. There are plenty of buildings that divide opinions too! No visit to Barcelona is complete without witnessing the colourful and iconic structures made by Antonio Gaudí. You can decide for yourself if you think his masterpieces, such as the Sagrada Família or Casa Batlló, are grand or gaudy.
When the bustling Catalonian metropolis gets too much for your senses, you can head to the city beach or take the train to a beautiful mountainside monastery. Santa Maria de Montserrat is well worth a visit for the peace and some of the most Instagrammable vistas in Spain.
We also highly recommend a trip to Madrid, Segovia, Seville or Córdoba.
Getting around: you can travel all over Spain on trains run by the national railway company (Renfe). However, due to the exceptional high-speed railway network, you will need a reservation for most of the trains with your Interrail Pass.
Benelux Pass: three countries for the price of one
The Interrail Benelux Pass is your ticket to diving into a trio of delights: decadent chocolates in Belgium, sticky stroopwafels in the Netherlands, and sweet pretzels in Luxembourg.
If these sugary delicacies don't tickle your fancy, there are plenty of savoury treats or lyrical landscapes to delight your senses. Although the topography of these countries is primarily flat, you can burn off unwanted calories by cycling on the Wadden island of Texel or exploring the Hoge Veluwe. This national treasure is home to red deer, foxes and a couple of rogue wolves.
Alternatively, hike across the rolling hills, ridges and valleys in the Belgian Ardennes or Luxembourgish Oesling. You'll feel like you've stumbled into the pages of a novel as you walk through the rock formations and picture-perfect meadows. When you've seen enough of the countryside, you have three charming capitals to explore: Luxembourg, Amsterdam & Brussels.
Don't overlook the following stops:
Luxembourg: you can't visit the Grand Duchy without seeing the main attraction: the city of Luxembourg. It may be compact, but it packs a punch with a royal palace, its own Notre Dame cathedral, and impressive city walls (Bock Casemates) built into the cliff edge. Although the train connections aren't great, taking a detour to get here is worth the effort.
Netherlands: you can find a few more rolling hills by visiting Holland's oldest city: Nijmegen. This fortified city transports you back to Roman times, particularly when you walk through the Grote Markt and past the impressive cathedral. We also recommend Utrecht, Amersfoort and Giethoorn.
Belgium: Dinant is one of the most beautiful towns in Belgium, and it offers stunning views from both sides of the River Mease. You can also visit the Leffe beer abbey, fortress and citadel in the most idyllic town in Flanders. You should check out Bruges, Ghent and Leuven too.
Getting around: you can travel all over the Benelux without a reservation on trains run by the respective national railway companies (NS, SNCB, CFL).
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