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Top 5 European City Destinations

27 January 2015

In this series we're looking at some of the most amazing cities Europe has to offer. Rail holidays in Europe are becoming increasingly popular, and are a wonderful way to experience the landscape and sights of the continent. The five cities we've looked at are all easily accessible when taking holidays to Europe by train. So feed your wanderlust and make getting lost in some of Europe's most historical cities part of your trip. 

Zurich – The Big Small Town

Located on the northwestern shore of Lake Zurich, the city's history can be traced back around 2000 years. Its central location makes it Switzerland's busiest transport hub, and a major port of call for rail holidays in Switzerland. However that shouldn't put visitors off, Zurich Hauptbahnhof Station is run with the precision of a Swiss watch and great pride is taken by the Swiss in the punctuality of their transport network.

Zurich has a rich engineering history which continues to this day. In 2012 one of the city's last remnants of their industrial age was threatened with demolition due to railway expansion. Instead of losing the 120 year old, 6200 ton building it was put on rollers and moved 60 meters west, proof the city hasn't lost touch with its engineering roots.

Make the most of Zurich's Old Town by foot and wander through the winding alleys, down cobbled streets, past medieval towers and ruins of Roman baths. Zurich has over 50 museums, theatres and concert halls so there's not a shortage of things to do. A trip to Lake Zurich is a must to see the beautiful Swiss Alps across the lake.

Edinburgh – Aulde Reekie

The city 'built on Seven Hills', sits beside ancient dormant volcanos and rolling green moorland. Edinburgh boasts many historic buildings, alongside a host of famous characters ranging from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the infamous Burke and Hare.

Edinburgh is a relatively small city so visitors can make the most of it by foot, but considering its size the city is packed with history. Explore its darker side with a trip to the Edinburgh Vaults. Constructed under Edinburgh's South Bridge in 1795, the vaults were a notorious red light district and the hunting place for the notorious Burke and Hare. Today, visitors can take a walking tour of the vaults and hear tales of the former inhabitants and their folklore, myths and legends.

Visitors should stroll down the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. Often on this route the smell of hops drifts down from the brewery, which is why the city has the nickname 'Auld Reekie'. When you reach the castle be sure to look out for the Witches Well and Mons Meg, aim to get there at lunch time to hear the One O'Clock Gun fired six days a week.

For the active visitor, a climb to the top of Arthur's Seat will give you some amazing views across the city. If you're looking for holidays to Edinburgh by train, the city's Waverly Station is the second biggest in the UK, and from here you can travel further north to explore the highlands.

Berlin – The Grey City

Today the modern city is a buzzing metropolitan hub, but Berlin remembers its dark past with steadfast reverence. The Holocaust Memorial is dedicated to European Jews who lost their lives in WW2. It is a somber, moving reminder of the not too distant past.

The Brandenburg Gate is the commanding former divide between east and west Germany, and much of the country's history was made here. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans in 1791, its imposing architecture was based on the Acropolis in Athens, and reflects Germany's history like no other landmark. From the Napoleonic Wars to the fall of the Berlin Wall, history echoes around this structure to make it one of the most visited landmarks in Europe.

Berlin also holds high acclaim from the scientific world, at the beginning of the 20th Century Berlin was at the forefront of science and technology. In 1879 Berlin showcased the world's first electric railway, which should be on the itinerary for everyone interested in rail holidays in Germany. Then in 1896 the Archenhold Observatory unveiled the Treptow Giant Telescope which is still the longest moveable telescope on Earth. A little later in 1915, again at the Archenhold Observatory, Albert Einstein gave his first ever lecture on Relativity which changed science forever.

Barcelona – The City of Counts

Barcelona's modernist architecture, much of it designed by Antoni Gaudi, is world famous and some appear to be sculptures rather than buildings. La Pedrera is definitely one not to miss with its undulating exterior and intricate cast iron railings. Also make a point of visiting Park Guell to see 'The Dragon', Gaudi's beautiful mosaiced salamander which guards the entrance.

One of Barcelona's most famous former residents is the most famous painter in the world, Pablo Picasso. Set some time aside to visit the Picasso Museum located in the medieval part of the city El Born.

After soaking up the city's artistic side take a stroll down Las Ramblas and indulge in some pintxos and a glass of rioja or two. For sun worshippers looking to soak up some Mediterranean sunshine head towards Barcelona's four kilometers of beautiful beaches to while away an afternoon.

Rome – The Eternal City

All roads lead to Rome, and this beautiful city is steeped in over 3000 years of history and legend. The city is home to the Foro Romano, or Roman Forum which dates back to the 1st Century AD and was considered the heart of ancient Rome. For those interested in classical history there's also the Pantheon and the Colosseum; two beautiful gems of the ancient world, where you can walk in the footsteps of Emperors and Gladiators.

Another site to see is the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). Sometimes referred to locally as 'the typewriter' this imposing building needs to be seen to be believed, and don't miss the elevator located towards the back. This takes you to the top of the monument, and to beautiful panoramic views of Rome.

One of Rome's most popular tourist sites is the Trevi Fountain. Built by Italian architect Nicola Salvi in 1762, amazingly this baroque statue is carved out of a single piece of rock. Local tradition dictates throwing three coins into the fountain will ensure your swift return to Rome, where you will meet a partner and marry - well, when in Rome…

Whichever historic city takes your fancy, European rail holidays are a wonderful way to visit the many sights and sounds Europe has to offer.