Getting to Denmark by train is a breeze, especially if you are the kind of traveller who makes the journey as much a part of your holiday as the destination. In addition, it provides an ideal excuse for a couple of city stop-offs en route. And, you don’t need to live in or around London to consider it; although I live over 400 miles away, I made this into an advantage as it gave me the excuse to recreate one of my favourite childhood experiences and journey to and from the capital by sleeper.
As with any proposed European rail journey, make your first port of call Mark Smith’s indispensable Seat61 Here you’ll find all you need to know, and more, on routes, fares, tickets, connections, as well as a wealth of additional information on major locations.
Loco2 sells tickets for destinations across Europe. You can book online, or by phone. Finalising my dates in late February for a departure in late April and return in early May, gave me just enough time to take advantage of cheaper advance fares. Although this is not always ideal and does conspire against last minute decisions, many European rail providers now work on the same basis as those in Britain and offer bargain fares when the ticketing window opens, usually three months before date of departure. This, of course, is also how most airline ticketing operates.
Step 1: Getting to London
As international rail travel from the UK begins and ends with Eurostar, your initial journey will be to St Pancras International, or Ebbsfleet/Ashford if you live in the south east.
But if you don’t, no problem. A little-known option is to buy a ticket direct from your local station that covers your entire journey through to Paris, Brussels, and other major destinations in the Netherlands and western Europe.
You can, of course, by-pass London and Eurostar completely and travel to the continent by ferry.
You can find full details of all these options here.
The Caledonian Sleeper:
Although, sadly, European sleeper trains have been cut back recently, in the UK overnight services still operate between London and five destinations in Scotland, six nights a week. Now living near Glasgow, I jumped at the chance to travel once again on a journey I remember fondly from my childhood.
The Caledonian Sleeper service is now operated by a new franchise and, hopefully, the upgraded rolling stock promised for 2018 will improve the current fittings, which, although clean, are rather dated and shabby in places. However, both my outward and return journeys were quiet, comfortable, on time with attentive and helpful staff.
The big advantage of taking the sleeper – apart from its environmental and romantic attractions (think Robert Donat in the original 1935 version of the 39 Steps ) – is the flexibility it affords in travelling while asleep, leaving late evening and arriving fresh and relaxed early morning.
It also does not necessarily need to be expensive. I travelled alone and did not want to share a compartment. Even so, booking in advance, I secured tickets for around £80 each way. Given that single compartments are first class and, the fare also includes overnight accommodation, this did not seem at all excessive.
If you travel as a couple, or a family, or in a group, fares can be much cheaper – and great fun for children.
Find out all you need to know about the Caledonian Sleeper here.
Step 2: Eurostar; St Pancras to Brussels
I chose to leave London around 11am, arriving Brussels in less than two hours, as it was the most convenient and affordable service for me. There are several other options
Arriving Brussels Midi just after 14.00, my connection left 20 minutes later. This was potentially the only stressful element of the journey because of security restrictions at Midi, but using Mark Smith’s useful advice there was no problem.
Step 3: Brussels to Cologne
Travelling first class in a state-of-the-art ICE train in less than two hours, was one of the highlights of my holiday.
Sitting comfortably at a spacious seat, with table service for meals and refreshments as we sped through pleasant countryside at about 180 mph, what was not to like?
I chose to spend a couple of nights in Cologne before continuing to Hamburg, but it is perfectly possible to reach Hamburg just after 21.00 the same evening.
Further details of services and timings are here.
Step 4: Cologne to Hamburg
There is plenty of choice as frequent trains run between the two cities. However, study timetables carefully as some trains are much quicker than others. Most are InterCity but some are the faster and better-equipped ICEs.
Hamburg and Cologne are both ideal destinations for a city break. Read about my visits to both cities on my outward and return journeys.
Step 5: Hamburg into Denmark:
From Hamburg you have several options, depending on where in Denmark you are heading to.
The most exciting option is to take the Danish IC3 train where the train itself actually goes into a ferry to cross from Germany into Denmark.
As I was heading for Jutland I changed at Flensburg (just before the border), travelled on to Kolding, before taking a regional train to Ribe .
More details of connections through southern Jutland are here.
There are plenty of options, so check timetables carefully.
Trains on these services also serve Aarhus (European Capital of Culture 2017), Odense (birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen) and Legoland.
So, getting to Denmark by train is easy, can be very affordable and is probably a great deal quicker than you imagine. Like all long distance rail travel, it is way more environmentally friendly than flying. But for me, the raison d’être of travelling by train is that it is far more interesting, makes the journey an integral part of the holiday and is an ideal way to incorporate some city/regional stop-offs en route.
Read more about southern Jutland; Denmark’s hidden corner.
And find out how much you really understand about hygge.