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TOURISM IN Europe and the UK is continuing to recover at record speed. While many major cities remain a firm favourite among first time visitors and repeat travellers, Rail Europe suggests the following nine destinations to enhance any itinerary.

Zaragoza, Spain

The capital of Spain’s north-eastern Aragon region, Zaragoza is less than 90-minutes away from Barcelona and Madrid by high-speed rail.

This 2,000-year-old city (and fourth biggest in the country) is home to some incredible architecture, monumental remains of the Roman Caesar Augustus, Renaissance-style palace houses and one of the most diverse gastronomic scenes in the country.

Must-sees include the Basilica of ´El Pilar` and its Goya paintings (the first Marian temple in the world), the World Heritage ´Mudejar´ art in the La Seo cathedral and Aljaferia, the northernmost Arab palace in Europe.

Nature lovers can also enjoy a range of outdoor activities including caving, white-water rafting, trekking and gardens in the surrounding area, or even embark on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Bad Ischl, Austria

Just two hours by train west of Salzburg is the imperial city and spa town of Bad Ischl, which can also be reached via a three-hour train ride from Vienna.

The secret capital of the picturesque Salzkammergut region right in the heart of Austria, the town will be the focal point of the European Capital of Culture in 2024.

Travellers can visit the Imperial Villa, the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph or enjoy coffee and cake at Café-Konditorei Zauner, a pastry shop and former purveyor to the Viennese court. Dine at Villa Seilern where Johann Strauss provided entertainment back in the day.

Waterford, Ireland

Founded by the Vikings in 914, Waterford was once one of the great ports of Ireland. Today, the city is famous for its Waterford Crystal factory, the Waterford Greenway and its history and culture-laden Viking Triangle.

About two hours by train from Dublin, Waterford delivers medieval surrounds, elegant Georgian architecture, greenways, manicured gardens and superb views of the Comeragh Mountains.

No visit is complete without a stop at the globally renowned House of Waterford Crystal to learn about their history and crystal making process. Before leaving, an authentic meal at O’Mahony’s Pub towards the end of the Waterford Greenway comes highly recommended.

Lucca, Italy

Vast bastions and gigantic walls may envelop the city of Lucca, but it bursts with charming historic treasures. One of Tuscany’s most beloved artistic cities, it sits in the centre of the Lucca plain, a landscape sculpted by the river Serchio and dotted with well-preserved medieval towns.

Nicknamed the ‘city of 100 churches’, Lucca is easily reachable by train from both Pisa (under 30 minutes) and Florence (80min). The train station sits right outside the southern walls of the city with an entrance below the balcony of San Colombano, which accesses Lucca’s cathedral and into the heart of the fortified town.

Reims, France

Just 45 minutes by train from Paris, Reims in the Champagne region of France is an open-air history book.

Chosen as the place where the kings of France were crowned, the city’s prestigious past has left a legacy of monuments that are now UNESCO World Heritage listed, including the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Visitors are encouraged to not only enjoy Reim’s streets lined with Art Deco architecture, world-class restaurants and scenic surrounds, but also some of the region’s cellars and winegrowers.

Tasting the famous pink biscuit of Reims, invented by bakers in Champagne at the end of the 17th century, is also a must. As is dinner at chef Arnaud Lallement’s Assiette Champenoise, one of the top five restaurants in the world.

Le Rocher, Monaco

A visit to Monaco when in France or Italy is easy, as it’s just a 25-minute train ride from Nice or a little over four hours from Milan.

Witnessing the changing of the guard at the Prince’s Palace or visiting the State Apartments (open to visitors from April to October) offer a surreal living history experience.

Visitors can head to the Roman-Byzantine style Cathédrale de Monaco to see the tombs of Monaco’s former Princes and Princesses (including Prince Rainer and Princess Grace) or stroll through Saint Martin Gardens to take in some of the world’s most exceptional plants and sculptures.

York, England

This medieval walled city in North Yorkshire is easily accessible from around Britain with direct train connections from London, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The compact city invites visitors to explore its backdrop of medieval lanes and Snickelways on foot or by pedal. Stroll down the cobbled streets to explore the quirky boutiques along York’s famous, The Shambles.

There’s a thriving culture scene with 30 world-class museums, award-winning restaurants, one-of-a-kind gin distilleries and year-round calendar of festivals and events.

For outdoor adventures, head to the picturesque Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, or raise a glass at England’s most northerly vineyard in the rolling Yorkshire Wolds. 

Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Less than 40 minutes by train from Zurich, the historic and traffic-free Old Town of Schaffhausen in the northernmost corner of Switzerland is considered one of the prettiest in the country.

Perfect for a relaxing day trip, visitors will enjoy this picturesque town full of well-preserved Renaissance architecture with oriel windows and intricately painted facades alongside fine guild houses and merchant’s houses from the Gothic and Baroque periods.

Enjoy the atmosphere at the town square of Fronwagplatz surrounded by laneway cafes and boutique shops, before visiting the commanding Munot Fortress overlooking the river and Old Town, and the nearby Rhine Falls, the highest falls in Europe.

Pinhão, Portugal

Departing from Porto’s S. Bento station featuring rich hand painted tiles, travellers can enjoy views of terraced vineyards along the Douro river before arriving in Pinhão in just under two hours and 30 minutes.

Home of the famous port wine, Pinhão is the ideal base to explore the region’s ‘Quintas’ (wineries). While there, take a cruise to Peso da Régua, visit the Douro Museum, cycle along the panoramic N222 road and indulge at Michelin star chef Rui Paula’s DOC restaurant.

From July to October, the special edition vintage steam Douro Historic Train will take passengers on a journey back to the early 20th century.