‘Views, vibes, ventures… and eating ’til you keel over’ Trip of the Week: London to Berlin by Train
Wanna explore Europe like the Europeans do? The advanced train network is a big arrow in this continent’s quiver, so if you’re looking for an authentic European experience, look no further than London to Berlin by Train.
This trip is about more than ‘seeing’. In 9 days, you’ll scratch below the surface of 4 of the best cities in Europe – London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. You’ll travel with a small, tight-knit group, enjoying plenty of time to explore in your own time and at your own pace. The activities go way beyond the ordinary too: you’ll tour London with formerly homeless people; you’ll see the canals of Amsterdam and the streets of buoyant Berlin through the eyes of refugees, and along with a fresh perspective, there’s also fresh food – served by the bucketload at each of these dreamy destinations.
I chatted to Contiki Trip Manager Andrew Bushby to find out if this really is the European adventure for me.
Hi Andrew. First off, can you give me 3 reasons why I’d love this trip:
The cities. The time. The trains.
“You go to some of the coolest and most iconic cities in Europe, and they’re all so different from one another. Also, it’s not the most fast-paced trip, you get plenty of time in each destination to use to your full advantage.
“Last but not least, it’s the trains. You spend much less time travelling, and it’s a more eco-friendly way of travelling too.”
This trip is for me if I want…
An authentic Europe experience with a small, close-knit group.
“You get a good sample of Europe in a short space of time. You get to experience a part of the world that you might not be familiar with. A lot of my friends went InterRailing after school or uni; for me, this trip is a great chance to do that. Something about travelling by train feels more authentic too – you’re using Europe’s public transit system and it feels like you’re properly seeing these places.
“This trip would also be for you if you’re looking for a real and authentic European experience. You go that little bit more in depth, and the groups are smaller as well – you’re not on a coach with 50 other people, it feels like a little family!”
Travelling by train you say, does that mean I’ll have to stand around in ticket queues all the time?
“It’s all done for you in advance. The Trip Manager will share your tickets with you in the morning.”
Impressive. Is this the same with trams, metros, tubes etc?
“It’s really all done for you.”
I’m not very good at Google Maps. Will I get lost on my way to the train station?
“When you arrive in each place, the Trip Manager will do a quick headcount and then we make our way to the hotel together. Most hotels are within walking distance, but we’ll use public transport together if not. It’s the same for making our way from the hotel back to the station too.”
Sounds good, but I like wandering off by myself as well, or with 1-2 close friends at least. Is the trip still for me?
“It’s a great trip if you value your independence. As I say, we get a lot of time in each place, but not all of that is filled with scheduled activities – you get the chance to explore and do your own thing.
“The trip is also good for those who’ve maybe been to Europe before and are looking for more of a deep dive into these places and their culture.”
What’s the best view on the trip?
The view from the A’DAM Tower in Amsterdam.
“It’s an observation tower, one of the highest in Europe. Then if you’re feeling adventurous, you can have a go on Europe’s highest swing and dangle your legs out over the city. My last time around, we went in the morning on a nice clear day – what a great introduction to Europe!”
And the tastiest food experience?
The Paris patisserie tour. Or the London East End Food Tour.
“We walk around an area of Paris that’s famous for its bakeries, with some of the oldest eateries in the city. It’s a nice morning activity – perfect for those who’ve skipped breakfast and want to indulge in some French treats.
“There’s also an amazing foodie experience on the second night, with a tour of Brick Lane in the East End of London. London’s famous for its curries so we go to a little curry house to try a Chicken Tikka Masala; we visit a place that sells my favourite EVER hot chocolate; then there’s fish and chips as well. Basically, on that night, you just east until you keel over.”
What’s the best spot for culture vultures?
The Refugee Voices Experience in Berlin.
“I think of Berlin as a city of contrasts – it has a troubled past but in the present day it’s an amazing melting pot of tolerance and cultural diversity. This tour kind of encapsulates all of this. You learn a little of Berlin’s history, and the guide also draws comparisons to their life growing up in Syria. You hear their first hand experience of moving to a new country and settling in, while also learning about the history of Syria too. It’s an amazing blend of emotions that also manages to leave you feeling hopeful for the future.”
What’s the best included experience?
The Unseen Walking Tour in London.
“You get to see an area of London that you might not have considered before. The tour is run by formerly homeless people, so you’ll see places like Soho from a really unique perspective. You don’t get this on most trips.”
What’s a Free Time Add-On that’d make my friends jealous (if I had friends)?
The Cabaret Show in Paris.
“The cabaret is just a must-see, and a proper Parisian night out as well. You get a three-course meal, lots of champagne, and then a famous show. What more could you want?”
Is there anything about the trip that would surprise me?
How easy it is to get around.
“The fact that you can get on a train from one country to another – and sometimes more – without stopping and having to get your passport out, that’s very surprising to lots of people.”
Describe the trip in 3 words:
“Views. Vibes. Ventures.”
If this trip was a song, it’d be…
‘We Are Family’ – Sister Sledge
“Or at least, if I could choose a day song for the trip, this would be it. It’s very rare to have a group of strangers who gel so well that they’re basically a family unit. Even for me, once all the logistics and hard work were out of the way, I felt like I was just on holiday with a bunch of friends…”
If this trip was a drink, it’d be…
A glass of Champagne.
“It’s classy, it’s something reserved for special occasions… and it never goes out of style.”
Which part of this trip makes you love your job?
“Meeting travellers from all over the world and sharing these experiences together. Seeing their faces light up when they tick something off their bucket list, or when they finally see something they told me they were excited to see at the start. Yeah… just sharing stories, sometimes with people who are in Europe for the first time. It’s nice spending time with a smaller group because you get to know everyone better.
“We had this one night in Paris, the group wanted to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. So we got there early, we made a little picnic, we watched the lights come on… and afterwards we went for a full sit-down meal.”
What’s the accommodation like?
“Very nice. Nothing too jazzy but they’ve got everything you need. The benefit of these train trips is that you usually get centrally located accommodation.”
And finally, is there anything I haven’t asked about that you think I should know?
The group might chop and change.
“You might get people joining or leaving in different locations. The group could double in size when we get to Amsterdam, or shrink down, or stay the same but with 5 people leaving and 5 new people joining. This is perfect if you’re looking to meet lots of new people.
“The way I look at it is: it’s like a wedding. You’re with your family, some people are there all day, others just for the ceremony and others just for the evening do. You might come away with two completely different sets of friends; it’s a great vibe – but it’s useful to know beforehand that you might not travel with the exact same lineup at all times.”
What do Contiki travellers say about this trip?
“Travel between countries is easy and you see the countryside while you’re zooming on a very efficient train.
“My Trip Manager was an absolute hero – I couldn’t have asked for a better person looking after the trip. The majority of the time, it didn’t feel like you had a manager, it just felt like one of your friends was organising the trip!”
“Such a stress-free way to travel. Our [Trip Manager] took care of any and all issues that arose with transportation and accommodations.”
“The other travellers in the group were so much fun! This is my third time travelling with Contiki and I will definitely do it again.”
Well, what are you waiting for?