How to avoid Europe's hotspots this summer
Summer is the perfect time to travel. The weather is warm, the days are long, and there's nothing like passing Europe's forget-me-not bays, lakes and mountains by rail. However, most of the popular train journeys that require a Pass holder reservation, such as Paris to London or Rome to Milan, are in high demand this summer.
In addition, many of Europe's tourist hubs are busier with the sheer influx of travellers making up for all those lost milestone moments. Therefore, why not take to the rails on our reservation-free routes? Avoid overcrowded trains and hotspots, and get off the beaten track for a more authentic feel for this vastly diverse and spellbinding continent with Interrail.
We know that everyone loves the romance of rolling into London, Paris or Istanbul. Still, the beauty of Interrail is that you can hop off in lesser-known destinations such as Velky Rozsutec in Slovakia or Lago Bianco in Switzerland. Not only will you enjoy breathtaking locations without the crowds, but you will also experience the beating heart of the local culture.
Here are 5 reservation-free gems to help you avoid Europe's hotspots this summer...
Looking to avoid the bustling towns of Munich, Berlin or Prague? Dresden is a unique alternative in the middle of this triad of tourist traps. Get ready to see its rich tapestry of baroque architecture, world-class art, and the chance to relax on the banks of the Elbe without the crowds.
This open-air museum of a town is within walking distance of the station - arrive early for a self-guided tour of the palace grounds and city centre before the shops and cafes open. Dresden consists of the Neustadt and the Altstadt – with the River Elbe providing the boundary. Although the Allies destroyed most of the city in WWII, you'll find that the buildings have been restored to their former glory.
How to get there: It's easy to reach Dresden with your Interrail Pass from Munich or Berlin. You don't have to pay for a mandatory reservation for most trains in Germany, but you can pay extra to reserve a fixed seat on ICE trains.
Zell am See, Austria
Mother nature wasn't short on inspiration when she created Zell am See with its snowcapped mountains, flower-strewn meadows, and crystal-clear waters. This hidden paradise is so idyllic you won't need an Instagram filter to capture the beauty of this Austrian town on Lake Zell.
While most of the crowds make a beeline for Salzburg or Vienna, you can enjoy total tranquillity as you hike up Austria's impressive Schmittenhöhe mountain range in search of wild goats, eagles, and deers.
In the summer months, you can swim in the gin-clear lake at Strandbad Thumersbach or in the solar-heated swimming pool - the perfect way to cool off after hiking through green meadows, rocky ranges and lush flower-strewn pastures.
How to get there: you can reach Zell am See from Salzburg in 96 minutes or Vienna in just over 4 hours. You don't need to pay a supplement on regional trains in Austria with your Interrail Pass.
It's no secret that France boasts a rich tapestry of enchanting towns, villages and peninsulas. Still, the holy island of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy has captured the imaginations of pilgrims, writers and artists for hundreds of years.
You'll feel like you've stumbled into a dream when you see the gravity-defying abbey at sunset. Legend has it that the Archangel Michael told Bishop Aubert to build a church on the top of the tiny island - it's impossible to verify if this happened. Still, you could only reach the island at low tide for centuries, so it's an absolute miracle that this vision is now a reality.
Although this pilgrimage site is a popular tourist destination, it's a much less crowded alternative to Paris, Lyon or Nice (it's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
How to get there: you can take a regional train from Rennes to Pontorson station and then catch the direct shuttle bus to Mont-Saint-Michel (the bus takes 15 minutes).
Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Stunning scenery, green-blue lakes, limestone canyon? Check. Ready to escape the hustle and bustle of Slovenian cities like Ljubljana and Maribor? Head to the pretty town of Jesenice by train to reach one of Europe's oldest parks instead.
Here you'll find Triglav, Slovenia's highest mountain (2,864 m), overlooking the country's largest protected national park. You can enjoy hiking through stunning woodland and Alpine valleys, canoeing on crystal clear lakes, and babbling brooks. Remember to pack a change of clothes and a pair of binoculars to spot the resident deer, bears, and wolves (preferably from a distance).
Get ready for the perfect Alpine destination to relax, unwind, and get close to nature. As a bonus, you can take plenty of envy-inducing photos of this fairytale location.
How to get there: you don't need a reservation to take the direct train from Ljubljana to Jesenice, but you do need to take a private transfer or bus to reach the National Park (own expense).
Instead of heading to the bucket list destinations of Bruges, Antwerp, or Brussels, why not hop off the train in the overlooked city of Ghent?
You can walk from the station into the city if you're feeling adventurous, but it's best to pay for the tram if you have lots of luggage. You'll find that Ghent is the perfect place to linger for longer as it's a mecca for delicious Belgium beer, waffles, and chocolate.
You won't be disappointed with the backdrop of historic buildings (such as the medieval castle overlooking the city) and picturesque canals that rival the typical tourist traps of the Benelux region. Ghent has three gothic towers dominating the skyline on Limburgstraat—the Gothic masterpieces of the Church of St. Nicholas, St. Bavo's Cathedral, and the Belfry.
How to get there: you can travel all over the Benelux without a reservation on trains run by the respective national railway companies (NS, SNCB, CFL).
Want to know more about regional trains?
Regional trains are the best way to see Europe when you want to slow down, get off the beaten track, or save money (they're often free with your Interrail Pass too). Indeed, they're not as sleek, sexy and speedy as high-speed trains, but they reach the remote destinations overlooked by most tourists.
Missed your train? Want to explore a remote beach? No problem! Regional trains give you the freedom to hop on the next one without the hassle of making a reservation.
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