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  • Writer's pictureHarry Brennan

Flight Free Travel: London to Zagreb

Harry Brennan, founder of Train X Europe, shares how we can travel from London to Zagreb without flying


Croatia might seem a little far to some would-be flight-free travellers in Britain - it’s hardly a single Eurostar or ferry away. However, don’t be afraid - you can absolutely take a trip to the beautiful islands and hills of Croatia in a sustainable way. Even flying one way and not the other will make a dent in carbon emissions and make for a much more interesting trip!


I’ll outline all the details below, and then sum up with how I would personally do this trip. Every journey is a balance of speed, comfort, and cost - and everyone has different priorities. Whichever way you go, you’ll get at least one high speed train and one sleeper train on your trip, so you’ll get the full experience of travelling across Europe by train!


Step 1: You have to go via London

While it's a shame that other options like ferries from Poole, Newcastle, and Harwich don’t work well for this trip, it keeps things simple. Your trip to Zagreb is going to start with getting to London (unless, of course, you’re already there).


That probably means a Eurostar - there are *some* coach options for traversing the Channel, but even at the current elevated price, a Eurostar is likely your best bet. One advantage of this is that you’ll probably want one of the first Eurostar trains leaving London in the morning anyway, and the first or second trains each day are usually the cheapest.


So - you either live in London or get there the night before. Either way, you’re ready to take a Eurostar early in the morning.


Step 2: Brussels or Paris?

You’ll need to go to either Brussels or Paris, and there is some difference in the options these two cities give you. Paris has a greater range of high-speed train connections to carry you further east, but the Eurostar to Brussels tend to be slightly faster (by 20-30 minutes), cheaper, and more frequent.


Also, you don’t have to change stations in Brussels, unlike Paris. Every train you need to take to or from Brussels will involve Brussel Zuid/Midi, while in Paris you will have to change stations to continue east toward Zagreb.


It’s also usually cheaper to spend a night in central Brussels than in central Paris or London. Depending on Eurostar fares on the day you travel, it might be worth taking an evening train to Brussels and staying there instead of in London.


Step 3a: The Brussels Options

Let’s say you take a morning Eurostar to Brussels. With a few exceptions (mainly on Sundays), you could expect to travel at the following times:

- 06:16 - 09:12

- 08:16 - 11:12


With either of these services, you arrive nice and early into Brussels. There, you can get a pair of German ICE trains to Stuttgart, leaving Brussels at 12:25 and arriving at 16:38 with one change at Frankfurt Flughafen (Airport).


Step 3b: The Paris Options

Your morning Eurostar options to Paris are likely to be:

- 07:01 - 10:20

- 08:01 - 11:20


Arriving at the Gare de Nord, you transfer over to the Gare de l’Est, which is thankfully as quick as crossing the road: the two terminals are right next to each other, similar to King’s Cross and St Pancras in London.


At the Gare de l’Est, you take either a German ICE or a French TGV to Stuttgart. For example, the 13:55 - 17:04 service. Alternatively, you can change to the Gare de Lyon (using the RER D) and then take a TGV to Zurich, e.g., the 12:20-16:26.


Step 4: A Sleeper Train from Stuttgart or Zurich

Whether you travel via Paris or Brussels, you will end up in Zurich or Stuttgart and need to take a sleeper train for the final leg to Zagreb. There are a few important things to note here:

  1. Brussels to Zurich takes too long compared to the other options, so only take the Zurich sleeper if travelling via Paris

  2. Both sleeper trains are operated by Croatian railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice) and can be booked the same way

  3. The Stuttgart sleeper also continues further to Rijeka in the summer months, so this option might be better for those planning on travelling onward to Croatia’s coastline

The timings are almost identical for both sleeper trains. If travelling from Stuttgart, get some dinner after your high-speed train, stock up on snacks, and board the sleeper at 20:29. The sleeper train from Zurich to Zagreb departs at 20:40. Either way, you should be in Zagreb at 10:39 the following morning.


My Two Cents

The short answer? I would go from London to Zagreb via Paris and Zurich - but only if I can get good prices on the particular days I travel.


Each alternative route for this journey has a lot to recommend it. Brussels is simpler - no change of terminus stations - and likely to be a little cheaper. However, the ICE trains from Brussels to Stuttgart aren’t always as reliable as TGVs. There’s enough leeway to be a few hours late before the sleeper leaves, but still, not fun to deal with.


Paris and Zurich will likely cost a little more, but I like the idea of getting to Zurich before 5pm. Plenty of time to get dinner before the night train, good punctuality records, and *slightly* cheaper sleeper fares on average. Often that will be enough to make up for the slightly less convenient Eurostar, but the exact prices will depend on the day!


The only other tie-break - going via Zurich means you might need a handful of Swiss Francs, whereas every other country mentioned here uses Euros. Croatia switched over from the kuna in January this year.


Whichever way you go, you’ll see some great sights, travel in a sustainable and relaxed way - and you’ll wake up in Zagreb with all Croatia ready to explore. Happy travelling!


By Harry Brennan ©


Train X Europe was founded in 2022 by Harry Brennan, an enthusiastic advocate for flight-free travel, and it is a fully customisable, no-fly travel service for Europe.


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