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10 of the best train journeys in Europe, chosen by Lonely Planet
A new book on rail travel across the continent showcases gorgeous scenery, historic routes and adventures at a slower pace
R ailways in Europe are many things. With their grand stations, history and evocative destinations, they evoke a timelessness that is absent from the uniform experience of flying. In recent decades, high-speed services have complemented classic routes, while the demand for more climate-friendly travel has grown and new options have sprung up, including a recent wave of night trains.
Lonely Planet, which for nearly 50 years has championed a down-to-earth, connected style of travel, has produced a new Guide to Train Travel in Europe aimed at unlocking adventures by rail from any starting point on the continent. Here the authors pick fantastic journeys from the book.
Paris to Berlin – fast or slow
A well-established network of high-speed trains and a huge choice of slower options connects two of Europe’s great cities. A glorious three-country tour would allow you to head from Paris to Brussels, travelling on to Cologne via the space-age architecture of Liège-Guillemins station. Cologne’s cathedral is so close to the station you can hardly miss popping in before boarding an onward ICE German fast service to the capital, which takes less than five hours. To see more than the immediate surroundings of the station buildings in each city, book separate tickets for each leg at trainline.com , or add in a stop of a few hours or an overnight booking via Deutsche Bahn ( bahn.de ). A high-speed connection from Paris via Frankfurt is also possible.
Amsterdam to Vienna on the Nightjet
One of several recent additions to Europe’s sleeper train scene, the Nightjet service operated by Austrian Railways ( oebb.at ) departs every evening at 7pm or 7.30pm from Amsterdam. As you doze off, the train will trundle alongside the Rhine, passing Cologne and Koblenz, then continuing south-east through Germany and entering Austria at Passau. A 9.19am arrival in Vienna ensures time for a lie-in and breakfast. This train can easily be combined with the Eurostar service from London or a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam , or from Harwich to Hoek van Holland .
Loop the loop in North Wales
Some of the world’s most beautiful narrow-gauge railways can be found in Wales and two of the best can be combined in a loop that takes in the mountains and coastal scenery of Snowdonia. Catch a service from Llandudno Junction – which has main line connections – down the Conwy valley to Blaenau Ffestiniog . Change for the celebrated Ffestiniog Railway , a distinctive steam-hauled service that winds 13 miles down to the coast at Porthmadog. Return via the sublime steam service of the Welsh Highland Railway under the summit of Snowdon to Caernarfon, where you can catch a bus to Bangor and main line services.
From Bastia to Ajaccio through the Corsican interior
The Chemins de Fer de la Corse ( Corsican Railways ) is a narrow-gauge railway centred on Ponte Leccia – from where three main lines head to Ajaccio, Bastia and Calvi, all providing incredible views of beautiful and rugged terrain. The route linking Ajaccio and Bastia is the longest and most celebrated, taking three and a half hours, so is best done with an overnight stop, rather than attempted as a day trip. Corsica is well served by ferries from mainland France such as Toulon, Marseille and Nice, opening up a tempting train-and-ferry route from the UK.
Dublin to Madrid by train and ferry
It is possible to head from Dublin direct to mainland Europe. A largely single-track line skirts the Irish Sea heading south as far as Wicklow before veering inland and stopping in the appealing county town of Wexford, set on the estuary of the River Slaney. It’s a short hop along the tracks from there to the port of Rosslare for the twice-weekly ferries to Bilbao , which take about 30 hours. Then it’s a five-hour rail journey on to Madrid. Recommended stops take in Burgos’s treasured cathedral, the former Spanish capital of Valladolid and Segovia’s Roman aqueduct and Alcázar fortress.
Venice to Palermo – across the water in Italy
Heading from top to toe in Italy, this dramatic journey’s potential stopping points need no introduction. Fast Frecciarossa trains connect Venice to the gastronomic centre of Bologna in 90 minutes, with Florence 40 minutes down the line. An hour and a half further on you’re in Rome. From here the south of Italy opens up. For one of Europe’s most unusual rail experiences take a train service all the way to Sicily. At Villa San Giovanni in Calabria, you and your carriage board a dedicated ferry to Messina, in Sicily, from where the hectic fun of Palermo is a slow-rolling four and a half hours’ ride away along the coast. There are several daily intercity and night services that run from the mainland, via the ferry, through to the Sicilian capital including sleepers direct from Milan, Genoa and Pisa.
From coast to coast, via a mountain high – Oslo to Bergen
A contender for Europe’s best train trip, the Bergen Line ( Bergensbanen ) thunders past southern Norway’s mountains and lakes between Oslo and Bergen, reaching 1,222m at Finse station, where a snowball fight is generally on offer. The trip takes nearly seven hours, which passes quickly in a blur of incredible scenery on a comfortable intercity service. There’s scope to do a longer version of this route taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which includes the Flåm Railway – possibly the world’s most scenic branch line – and a boat journey through Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord.
Paris to Barcelona on the slow train
These cities are linked by a fast train , but there’s a leisurely route south through France to the Pyrenees via Limoges, Toulouse and through magnificent rural and mountain scenery to Latour-de-Carol. While it’s possible to reach Latour-de-Carol by direct night train from Paris, you would miss the slowly unfolding views you can enjoy when doing this journey in daylight. From Latour-de-Carol a commuter line runs all the way to Barcelona and takes just over three hours. Possible stops along the way include fortified Ribes de Freser and Ripoll, home to an ancient monastery and a good starting point for hiking trails.
Budapest to Split on a sleeper
During the summer there’s a tempting night service between Hungary’s capital and the Adriatic. In recent years the train has left Budapest at midnight, getting into Split after lunch. En route it passes the Hungarian holiday playground of Lake Balaton and Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. Once on the Adriatic coast, buses head south to Dubrovnik, while ferries and catamarans radiate out to nearby islands.
Locarno to Domodossola through the Swiss Alps
Pretty much any journey in Switzerland promises jaw-dropping scenery, and on several routes trains run slowly specifically to show off the mountains, rivers and lakes that can be seen from the window. Travelling between Locarno in Switzerland to Domodossola in the Piedmont region of Italy, the Centovalli (Hundred Valleys) Railway is a short but scenic service past 52km of waterfalls, chestnut groves, church-topped villages, deep ravines and vineyards. Highlights include the Isorno Bridge near the village of Intragna and Intragna’s gorge.
These routes, plus tips on rail travel, are featured in Lonely Planet’s Guide to Train Travel in Europe by Tom Hall, Imogen Hall and Oliver Smith (£19.99), available at shop.lonelyplanet.com
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Europe’s Greatest Train Journeys
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Each episode in this sumptuous travel series showcases one of Europe’s most extraordinary train journeys, highlighting beautiful natural landscapes, local heritage, regional cultures and, of course, the sheer ease and joy of this fast and eco-friendly mode of transport. It also successfully reveals some of Europe’s hidden gems while offering a whole new level of escapism. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
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Hazel Plush | 07 December 2022
23 of the best rail journeys in europe.
See Europe how it was meant to be seen: from the window of a train! From mountain climbs to luxury sleepers, here's the rail adventures you must add to your bucket list...
1. Glacier Express, Switzerland
Glacier Express, Switzerland (Shutterstock)
Best for… Seeing Switzerland in the slow lane
The journey: Zermatt to St Moritz (290km; seven and a half hours)
We say… Don’t be fooled by its name: the Glacier Express averages 38kph, but who wants to rush when the scenery is this spectacular?
Linking two of Switzerland’s best-loved ski resorts, the route is an opus of snowcapped peaks, rugged valleys, 291 bridges and wild tangles of alpine forest. The view will keep you glued to the train’s panoramic windows – though the traverse of the towering Landwasser viaduct might have you reaching for a second glass of Valais wine.
Top tip: In Zermatt you can extend your trip by taking Europe’s highest cog railway to the summit of Gornergrat (3,089m). The view of the Matterhorn is worth it.
Read next Switzerland's most stunning rail journeys
2. odontotos rack railway, greece .
Odontotos Rack Railway, Greece (Shutterstock)
Best for… Peaks and valleys
The journey: Diakopto to Kalavrita (22.5km; one hour)
We say… Making delightfully slow work of a wild Peloponnese gorge, this heritage railway – built in 1895 – is one of southern Greece’s final remaining narrow gauge lines.
It starts in the seaside town of Diakopto and weaves up to the mountain town of Kalavrita through hand-carved tunnels and plane-tree forests. En route, you’ll cross 49 bridges in total, as the Vouraikos River roils far below.
Top tip: To visit nearby Olympia’s ancient temples and stadium, take the small train from Katacolon – yet another narrow-gauge survivor.
3. Rhine Valley Line, Germany
The Rhine Valley Line, Germany (Shutterstock)
Best for… A riverside ramble
The journey: Cologne to Mainz (152km; two and a half hours)
We say… The Rhine Valley Line finds its muse just after Bonn, where it starts to tightly hug the waterline. Sure, you could take the high-speed intercity route and save yourself an hour on your journey, but then you’d miss out on the patchwork of vineyards, Koblenz’s hilltop fortress and the legend of Lorelei Rock.
Top tip: Interrail passes are valid on this line – and get you a discount on KD Rhine Line boats.
4. Venice Simplon Orient-Express, UK, France & Italy
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Shutterstock)
Best for…The ‘golden age’ of rail
The journey: London to Folkestone; Calais to Venice (1,636km; 24 hours)
We say… While the final descendent of the real Orient Express met its end in 2009, a US businessman had long since bought up 1920s and ‘30s carriages (many belonging to the original service) and resurrected its route to Venice.
This journey is played out on two heritage trains – the British Pullman on the UK leg and the VSOE between Calais and Venice – and as the mountains and meadows slip by, you can sip martinis in the piano bar, devour lobster in its Étoile du Nord restaurant car and just dream.
Top tip: Though the southbound journey is popular, the northbound experience is just as fabulous – and doesn’t book up so quickly.
Read next The best new rail routes around the world for 2022
5. west highland line, scotland.
Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West Highland Lane, Scotland (Shutterstock)
Best for… The wildest of Scottish rides
The journey: Glasgow to Mallaig (264km; five and a half hours)
We say… After slipping away from Glasgow, the West Highland Line weaves some of Britain’s wildest scenery: to lonely moorlands, forest-bound lochs and crumbling castle ruins.
Up here, you’re more likely to spot red deer than humans – though the Glenfinnan Viaduct is familiar thanks to its cameo in the Harry Potter films. If travelling southwards, sit on the right-hand side of the train for the best views.
Top tip: The Royal Scotsman and Jacobite Steam Train are rather luxurious – if pricey – alternatives to this £16.80 (one-way) ScotRail journey.
6. Bernina Express, Switzerland & Italy
Bernina Express (Shutterstock)
Best for… Jaw-dropping (and ear-popping) views
The journey: Landquart to Tirano (163km; five hours)
We say… Starting this summer, you get even more bang for your buck on the Bernina Express , as its trans-alpine journey has been extended for around 50km. It now starts (or terminates) at Landquart before looping through the Prättigau mountains and over Zügen Gorge’s sheer-sided ravines.
Running between May and October, its climax is the 2,253m-high Bernina Pass, the gateway to Italy. It’s a smooth ride but one that’s big on drama, encompassing dizzying and panoramic views from the Brusio Spiral viaduct along the way.
Top tip: For the best views, grab a seat on the rig.
7. Mariazell Railway, Austria
The Narrow Gauge or Mariazell Railway in the Austrian Alps (Shutterstock)
Best for… Alpine hikes and hijinx
The journey: St Pölten to Mariazell (78km; two and a half hours)
We say… Traversing one of the wildest regions of the Austrian Alps, this narrow-gauge service is officially split into two sections: ‘Valley’ and ‘Mountains’.
The former stretches from St Pölten to Frankenfels, a land of pretty grazing meadows and gentle pathways (tickets allow you to hop on and off), while the latter climbs up through the ruggedly handsome Erlauf gorge and the peaks of Ötscher-Tormäuer Naturpark. Allow a full day – at least.
Top tip: For widescreen views, grab a first-class panorama carriage (May to October on weekend and holiday services), while heritage rail fans love the 100-year-old Ötscherbär train that runs from June to late September.
8. Inlandsbanan, Sweden
Inlandsbanan train pulling into Mora, Sweden (Shutterstock)
Best for… A jovial jaunt
The journey: Kristinehamn to Gällivare (1,288km; from two days)
We say… The Inlandsbanan is slow travel at its best, heading up past the Arctic Circle and into Swedish Lapland. In fact, its drivers love an excuse to stretch their legs, and scheduled stops to take a dip in Lake Siljan or visit Sami villages and their reindeer herds along the way are worth it.
Before you know it, you’re cooing over moose and foraging for berries under midnight sun (June to early July) – all thoughts of the timetable long forgotten.
Top tip: At each stop you can order fresh dishes from local restaurants, such as smoked Arctic char and lingonberry crumble.
9. Trenino Verde, Sardinia, Italy
The Green Train travelling through Italy (Shutterstock)
Best for… Island adventures
The journey: Palau to Tempio (59km); Sindia to Bosa (33km); Mandas to Laconi (37km); Mandas to Sadali (58km); Arbata to Gairloch (62km); times vary
We say… The best way to get under the skin of Sardinia is by catching the Trenino Verde – or Green Train – for a picturesque pootle around the island. The Mandas-Laconi line weaves through wild woodlands, the Palau-Tempio track culminates in a town famed for its cork groves, and Sindia–Bosa forges from the island’s untamed interior out to its western coast.
Top tip: Don’t be surprised if the conductor hops out to shoo sheep off the line, or to stop traffic at level crossings. Slow travel at its purest.
Read next Italy's most spectacular rail journeys
10. la ligne des cévennes, france.
La Ligne des Cévennes, France (Shutterstock)
Best for… Gallic grandeur
The journey: Clermont-Ferrand to Nîmes (304km; six and a half hours)
We say… Every twist and turn of this train line is an engineering marvel: it ticks off a mighty 106 tunnels and over a thousand bridges, as well as the seriously lofty (46m high) Chamborigaud viaduct.
With 29 long-legged arches arranged in a semicircular loop, Chamborigaud is a scene-stealer – although the track reaches its pinnacle on the summit at La Bastide (1,023m). There are gentler pleasures still to be found in the rolling vineyards of the Auvergne, the chestnut forests of Cévennes National Park and the track’s picturesque dalliance with the River Allier.
Top tip: Visit in springtime to see the area’s wildflowers in bloom.
11. Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine, Northern Ireland
Derry/L:ondonderry, Northern Ireland (Shutterstock)
Best for… A budget Irish beauty
The journey: Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine (55km; 38 minutes)
We say… This route doesn’t need five-star cabins or steam locomotives for wow-factor: it’s all about the scenery. Explore a banquet of windswept beaches, razor-edged cliffs and wild views on the no-frills Translink service.
Sit on the left-hand side (if travelling eastwards) and settle in for a ride that Sir Michael Palin hailed in his Great Railway Journeys series as “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world”, as you hop-skip peregrine falcon habitats and the thread the longest railway tunnels in Ireland.
Top tip: Stop for a yomp on the wide, wild sands of Benone beach.
12. Linha do Douro, Portugal
Pinhão Station, Portugal (Shutterstock)
Best for…Giving the city the slip
The journey: Porto to Pocinho (160km; three and a half hours)
We say… Don’t take a day cruise from Porto: hop on the Linha do Douro instead. Most boat trips only venture as far as the port-producing village of Pinhão, but this train line ploughs further into the heartlands, past great walls of rock and rambling quintas (wine estates).
Better yet, the track swaps between shores, so there’s no such thing as a duff seat. Pinhão Station must be one of Europe’s prettiest terminals, trimmed with intricate azulejo tilework, but look out, too, for the towering gorge around Régua and the ancient rock art of the Côa Valley at Pocinho.
Top tip: In Pocinho, linger over lunch and local port at Taberna da Julinha (+351 965 398 826) – its steaks are worth the trip alone.
13. Septemvri to Dobrinishte, Bulgaria
Tsepina on the Septemvri to Dobrinishte, Bulgaria (Shutterstock)
Best for… Making new friends
The journey: Septemvri to Dobrinishte (125km; five hours)
We say… Bulgaria’s only operating narrow-gauge railway is a lifeline to its remote south-west, so make room for the babas (grandmothers) heading to market.
The train travels at a glacial speed (you can walk beside it in parts), but it’s a journey to savour, with stops for hiking in Bansko, Velingrad’s hot springs and Belitsa’s dancing bear sanctuary.
Top tip: The train only has a simple café on board, so bring a picnic.
14. El Transcantábrico Clásico, Spain
León, Spain (Shutterstock)
Best for… Exploring the north
The journey: León to Santiago de Compostela (643km; four to eight days)
We say… Never has the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela felt so indulgent. El Transcantábrico ’s lavish compartments and plentiful excursions make for an easy, enlightening ride.
The Clásico itinerary hugs the northern coast, with stop-offs at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, seafood suppers in Santander and, on longer trips, hiking in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Picos de Europa National Park.
Top tip: The rail network actually runs between San Feliz and Ferrol – a few kilometres shy of León and Santiago de Compostela – so the trip is bookended by brief coach journeys.
Read next 6 of the world's most luxurious sleeper trains
15. belgrade to bar, serbia, bosnia & montenegro.
Mala Rijeka Viaduct, Serbia (Shutterstock)
Best for… A cross-country caper
The journey: Belgrade to Bar (476km; 10 hours)
We say… This Balkan line can’t be booked online with national operators, so you’ll need to get tickets at the counter, but once on board you’ll hop ravines and rivers with the greatest of ease, thanks to its 254 tunnels and 435 bridges.
It took railway engineers decades to blast through the Dinaric Alps, traverse the thick birch forests, skirt the shores of Lake Skadar and build the 200m-high Mala Rijeka viaduct, which, until 2001, was the tallest railway bridge in the world.
Top tip: Local sources state this train is currently only operating a night time service. Boo we say! But look out for the return of its day time schedule.
16. Golden Eagle Danube Express, Turkey to Hungary
Golden Eagle Danube Express (Shutterstock)
Best for… The east with ease
The journey: Istanbul (Turkey) to Budapest (Hungary) via Bulgaria & Romania (1,832km; seven days)
We say… On the Danube Express ’s ‘Castles of Transylvania’ route, you’ll whizz between two of Europe’s most beguiling cities in the lap of luxury.
Off-train excursions allow for easy exploration of medieval towns and Romanian castles, while the onboard experience includes opulent perks: think plush double cabins, starched linens and piano recitals.
Top tip: Spend your time socialising in the cocktail lounge; this journey tends to attract fascinating souls.
17. North York Moors Railway, England
Vintage passenger train on the North York Moors Railway (Shutterstock)
Best for… A time-travelling treasure
The journey: Whitby to Pickering (38.6km; one hour, 45 minutes)
We say… With a shrill whistle and a scorching blast, this steamy trip into the North York Moors National Park begins in lively Whitby, so spare time to visit its recenty reopened Abbey.
From there, it travels windswept dales, lush carpets of heather and, so it seems, time itself. Though devoid of most mod cons, the NYMR’s hundred-year-old steam trains make surprisingly quick work of these rolling moors, as you stop off for picnics and village walks along the way.
Top tip: For a taste of life at the steamy end, join the railway’s ‘experience days’ and ride on the footplate.
18. Bohinj Railway, Slovenia & Italy
Bohinj Railway, Slovenia (Shutterstock)
Best for… Slovenia made simple
The journey: Jesenice to Trieste (approx 150km; three hours)
We say… To ford the peaks of the Julian Alps to the northernmost sliver of Italian coastline, the Bohinj Railway must slice a route it has plied for over 110 years.
It was built as a strategic network for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but these days it’s catnip for hikers and cyclists who revel in the easy connections to Most na Soci, Lake Bled and Nova Gorica’s wineries.
Top tip: For a special trip, catch the heritage steam train (May to November) between Jesenice and Nova Gorica, where staff still don the uniforms of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.
19. Semmering Railway, Austria
Semmering Railway, Austria (Shutterstock)
Best for… UNESCO-listed joys
The journey: Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag (41km; 40 minutes)
We say… Praised by UNESCO as ‘one of the greatest feats of civil engineering’, the Semmering teeters on two-storey viaducts and narrow mountain passes, with twists and steep inclines aplenty.
The reward for your fortitude? Swoon-worthy views of the Austrian Alps, and opportunities for great hiking or skiing. It took six years and 20,000 labourers to build this track, and this pioneering project from the 1850s became the blueprint for mountain railways all over the world.
Top tip: Gloggnitz is just an hour by train from Vienna, so don’t miss out.
20. Bergen Railway, Norway
Bergen Railway, Norway (Shutterstock)
Best for… Scandi splendour
The journey: Oslo to Bergen (500km; six and a half hours)
We say… Even in the cosy comfort of your compartment, Norway’s desolate Hardangervidda plateau will send a shiver down your spine. While the forests and lakes outside Oslo are beautiful, it’s the Bergen Railway ’s eerily empty mountain passes that steal the show.
Stretch your legs at Finse, the highest station on the line (1,222m), to see where Robert Falcon Scott and his crew trained in advance of their infamous 1912 South Pole expedition. A lonely spot indeed.
Top tip: Hop off at Myrdal and pick up the extraordinary 20km branch line to Flam (one hour), whose spiral tunnels and steep gradient will sweep you up further into these breathtaking mountains.
21. Brocken Railway, Germany
Brocken Railway, Germany (Shutterstock)
Best for… Saving your legs
The journey: Drei Annen Hohne to Brocken (19km; 51 minutes)
We say… The summit of Brocken (the Harz mountains’ loftiest point) is a doddle for these steam trains (which, if you book online, you'll have to do in German). They climb thick pines and wildflower meadows up to the 1,141m peak, forming one of three lines on the Harz Railway, Europe’s longest network (140km) still running daily steam trains.
Top tip: Buy a one-way ticket and hike back down, walking the famed trail to Torfhaus.
22. Ffestiniog Railway, Wales
Ffestiniog Railway, Wales (Shutterstock)
Best for… Steaming Snowdonia
The journey: Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog (21.7km; one hour 15 mins)
We say… Operated by the oldestsurviving train company in the world, the Ffestiniog Railway has run for almost 200 years through Snowdonia National Park, and has a gleaming troupe of steam locomotives. The route is a rich feast of rivers, waterfalls, mountains and ancient woodlands, with a looping spiral section lending some thrills.
Top tip: Add on the Welsh Highland Railway – Ffestiniog’s sister route – between Porthmadog and Caernarfon to extend your fun.
Read next Britain's most scenic rail journeys
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Europe's most scenic train journeys: 10 great railway rides for 2023
Feb 3, 2023 • 5 min read
Incredible scenery awaits traveling through the Bernese Alps; Jungfrau, Switzerland © Thomas Barwick / Getty
Clipping through the Alps or coasting along the French countryside, there's no better way to move throughout Europe than via its incredible and comprehensive train system. But with more than 222,924km (138,518 miles) of track to explore, it's hard to know where to step aboard and where to alight.
Fortunately, we've compiled a list of some of the most scenic routes in Europe – best enjoyed from a window seat. So whether you're are navigating the depths of a fjord or spotting romantic castles that dot the Rhine river, turn off your screen, relax and enjoy the most picturesque train journeys in Europe. All aboard!
1. Rauma Line, Norway
Route: Dombås to Åndalsnes Don't miss: Admiring Trollveggen , Europe's highest perpendicular rock face Distance and duration: 70 miles (114km), 1½ hours Best time to ride: June to August
Enjoy sensational views of high peaks, jagged rock faces and mountain slopes leading up to windswept plateaus as you trace the Rauma River aboard Norway 's Rauma Line. Rattling across the lofty Kylling Bridge is one of the highlights of the trip with the driver allowing a short stop to take photos. The train then wends its way through the rugged Reinheimen National Park .
2. West Highland Line, Scotland
Route: Fort William to Mallaig Don’t miss: Sampling seafood in Mallaig Distance and duration: 41 miles (67km), 1½ hours Best time to ride: June to August
The West Highland Line in Scotland is certainly one scenic journey, with rugged highlands, isolated lochs, flashes of coastline, Ben Nevis (Britain’s highest mountain) and spectacular views from the viaduct at Glenfinnan. The route and steam train are so easy on the eye that they crop up as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.
3. Bergen Railway, Norway
Route: Oslo to Bergen via Flåm Don’t miss: Learning more about this feat of engineering at the Flåm Railway Museum Distance and duration: 342 miles (550km), seven hours Best time to ride: July or November to January
Norway's awe-inspiring Bergen Railway links two incredible cities as it rolls through craggy mountain landscapes and across the beautiful Hardangervidda plateau to the country's highest station, Finse at 4010ft (1222m), only accessible by train. On a branch line from Myrdal to Flåm, you go straight up on the world’s steepest railway line. The ride ends on the west coast of Norway in beautiful Bergen.
4. Bernina Express, Switzerland and Italy
Route: Chur to Tirano Don’t miss: Chic, lakeside St Moritz Distance and duration: 76 miles (123km), four hours Best time to ride: April
Relax behind panoramic windows and soak up the spectacular Alpine views that connect northern and southern Europe via the highest railway in the Alps. Following two Unesco World Heritage–listed lines, the Albula and the Bernina, the Bernina Express sweeps among glaciers in Switzerland as it makes it way down through the mountains to the palms of Italy .
5. Cinque Terre, Italy
Route: Levanto to La Spezia Don’t miss: Walking the soon to reopen Via dell'Amore (the Path of Love) from Riomaggiore and Manarola Distance and duration : 12.5 miles (20km), 40 minutes Best time to ride: February to October
Five colorful, rustic villages give Cinque Terre , an 11-mile (18km) stretch of rugged coastline, its name, meaning "five lands." Cliffs tumble into the picture-postcard turquoise Ligurian Sea, and bucolic vineyards and olive groves line the hills. Regional trains stop at all five Cinque Terre villages with plenty of 'wow' views in between.
6. Rhine Valley Railway, Germany
Route: Bingen to Koblenz Don’t miss: Admiring the Lorelei Sculpture south of St Goarshausen Distance and duration: 38 miles (61km), 50 minutes Best time to ride: February to October
Germany's Rhine Valley offers romantic landscapes straight from a fairytale. Castles rise above swirling waters, past the narrows where according to legend the siren Lorelei lures sailors onto the rocks with her song. The Mittelrheinbahn (Central Rhine Railway) follows the snaking left bank of the Rhine River between Mainz and Koblenz.
7. Semmering Railway, Austria
Route: Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag Don’t miss: Hiking along the railway line and then relaxing in a winter sauna in Semmering Distance and duration : 25.5 miles (41km), 45 minutes Best time to ride: Year round
Constructed between 1848 and 1854 by more than 20,000 workers, the Semmering Railway trundles through a picturesque wonderland as the train crosses the 965m-high (3166ft) Semmering Pass, taking in 15 tunnels, 16 viaducts, countless switchbacks and arched bridges on a forested mountain stretch.
8. Centovalli Railway, Switzerland and Italy
Route: Locarno to Domodossola Don’t miss: Strolling along dazzling blue Lake Maggiore Distance and duration : 32 miles (52km), two hours Best time to ride: June to August
The "Hundred Valley" Railway is a spectacle of waterfalls, chestnut groves, lush landscapes and vineyards: the Alps at their spellbinding best. Highlights of this journey include the Isorno Bridge near the village of Intragna and the gorge connecting Intragna and Re as the track passes through more than 30 tunnels and weaves across some 83 bridges.
9. Mittenwald Railway, Austria and Germany
Route: Innsbruck to Zugspitze via Garmisch-Partenkirchen Don’t miss: Schloss Ambras , a commanding white castle in Innsbruck Distance and duration: 51.5 miles (83km), three hours Best time to ride: Year round
The Mittenwald Railway is a beautiful border-crossing route that glides past glittering lakes and glorious mountainous landscapes on its journey between Austria and Germany . At Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can change trains and hop on the scenic Bavarian Zugspitze Railway, which chugs toward the summit of Zugspitze , Germany's highest mountain at 9717ft (2961m).
10. Glacier Express, Switzerland
Route: Zermatt to St Moritz Don’t miss: Getting to know the mountains at the Matterhorn Museum Distance and duration : 180 miles (291km), 7½ hours Best time to ride: November to January
On the Glacier Express , the chances of meeting a millionaire are higher than average as you curl between the eastern and western Swiss Alps, through pristine mountain landscapes and two of Switzerland's most reputable ski resorts. It's de rigueur for the ski enthusiast (and, literally, the upwardly mobile).
This article was first published August 2019 and updated February 2023
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Europe's Greatest Train Journeys
In the heart of the Eastern Pyrenees, 'le petit train jaune', litterally the ' little yellow train', will wind its way through the Catalan mountainside, crossing, among other things, the Cerdan plateau with its grandiose high altitude lakes; the Gisclard bridge, the only railway suspension bridge in the country still in service today, or the incredible network of caves of the Grandes Canalettes, known as the 'underground Versailles of the Pyrenees'.
In Portugal, in the magnificent Douro River Valley, a steam locomotive and a small historic train will take you in turn to the water's edge, on the only railroad line in the world that crosses three sites, classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO - the historic center of Porto, the Upper Douro wine region and the prehistoric rock art site of the Coa Valley.
In Italy, you will embark in the North of the country on one of the most spectacular railroad lines in Europe. Between land and sea, 'The Cinque Terre Express' will run along the Mediterranean coast east of Genoa through these five incredible World Heritage villages, set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery on the planet. Best way to discover its cobbled streets, delicious cuisine, picturesque harbors, terraced vineyards, or pastel-coloured houses, this railroad line is an incredible piece of human engineering in one of the most inaccessible regions of Italy's northern coast.
In Greece, the Intercity Express n53 will take us from Thessaloniki to Athens, passing through some of the country's most mythical sites, such as the Meteors, those vertiginous rocky peaks in the Thessaly plain; the famous ruins of Delphi; or the Acropolis of Athens. We will also embark for the Peloponnese, with the last cogwheel train of the country, running on the narrowest track in the world, through the incredible gorges of Vouraikos!
Corisca, known as The Island of beauty, has never been better named than when contemplated from its incredible railway network. From the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean to the top of the steepest mountains, we will stop at the stations of small towns like Algajola's to go for a dive, or the station of Vizzanova, one of the stages of the mythical GR20, but also the stations of historical cities such as Corte and its famous citadel, or Ajaccio, the cradle of Napoleon
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Europe's Greatest Train Journeys
Every year, nearly a billion passengers travel on board the most beautiful trains in Europe. From the tourist-heavy to the confidential, the continent is revealed through its stations.
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Best rail journeys in Europe
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There’s something enduringly romantic about rail travel, from the rhythmic clatter of the train on the tracks to the vistas of mountains, lakes, rivers and cities as you speed across the continent. On longer journeys, you’ll have the added thrill of falling asleep in your private compartment and waking up at sunrise in a new place. Whether you opt for slow travel across the snow-covered Scandinavian Arctic, being whisked across rural France on the high-speed TGV or the unfettered luxury of black tie and bellinis on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, there’s a train journey for every budget. Here are the most exciting European rail journeys.
Main photo: Pinhao station in the Douro Valley (Getty Images)
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1. Mandas to Sant’Anna Arresi, Sardinia
Trenino Verde, or Little Green Train, trundles sedately across the mountains and valleys of the unspoilt southwest of Sardinia , crossing viaducts and dipping in and out of tunnels, a world away from the glitz and gin palaces of the northern Costa Smeralda. Starting from the medieval village of Mandas, it’s a day trip that’ll give you a real taste of the island that inspired DH Lawrence’s 1921 travel book Sea and Sardinia . Your home for the week is the sleepy town of Sant’Anna Arresi, a short hop from Porto Pino’s pristine beach.
2. Four trips in the Dolomites
The spiky Dolomites are criss-crossed by narrow-gauge railways and funiculars, which form the basis of four excursions in this week-long idyll on the banks of Lake Molveno, in Trentino. Take a deep breath as the improbably steep Mendola funicular cranks a terrifying 2,800ft at a 64 per cent gradient, with magnificent panoramas from the top your reward. The Railway Renon, too, is 18 minutes of lip-biting drama — the historic carriages haul you up to a high mountain plateau to see 25,000-year-old earth pyramids, bizarre rock spikes left over from the Ice Age.
3. Through French Catalonia and the Pyrenees
The Petit Train Jaune (Little Yellow Train) clatters along 100-year-old tracks over gravity-defying suspension bridges, through tunnels and across flower-filled Pyrenean meadows on its 40-mile journey from medieval Villefranche-de-Conflent, in French Catalonia, towards the Spanish border. The ride is one of the day trips on this week-long break to the Catalan region, travelling by rail from London and staying in the resort of Roses, on the Costa Brava. Rail fans will also revel in the day on the Nuria Rack Railway, which travels eight miles to the Nuria Valley, where mountain pastures fringe a blue-green lake. Visits to Girona — including to Figueres, for the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation — provide a culture fix.
4. Scandinavia and the Baltics by train and ferry
Six countries in 15 nights, entirely by train and ferry: this trip just goes to show what you can pack in without flying. You’ll explore Copenhagen ’s colourful Nyhavn harbour, whizz over the graceful Oresund bridge and head north to Stockholm , then hop on the night boat to medieval Riga and Tallinn. You have two nights in Helsinki before a ferry to Travemünde and Lubeck in Germany. A final train journey will take you to Cologne for your last overnight stay. A tour manager smooths the way, and you’ll stay in smart, city-centre hotels.
5. London to Nice
You could arrive on the Côte d’Azur frazzled from hours on the autoroute — or you could just relax on the train, racing from London to Nice on the Eurostar and TGV and using the city as a base for forays along the coast by rail: swish Antibes, Cannes and pretty Villefranche sur Mer are all easy day trips. In Nice , people-watch on the Promenade des Anglais, admire the Chagalls and Matisses in their respective museums and take a front-row seat for salad niçoise and catch of the day at Le Safari on Cours Saleya, the famous old-town market.
- Eurostar guide: everything you need to know before you travel
6. Paris to Toulouse
The high-speed link from Paris Montparnasse to Toulouse puts this cool university city within quick-getaway reach of the UK. You’ll be in La Ville Rose, named for the dusky pink of its terracotta bricks, in nine hours, ready to plunge into the edgy food scene of the Vieux Quartier. Check out the No 5 Wine Bar, twice voted best in the world, with more than 500 wines by the glass. Load up on cheeses and pâtés from the Victor Hugo market before canoeing on the Garonne, or cycling along the Canal du Midi. The three-star Hôtel Albert 1er is a lovely boutique hotel with a fine line in slow-food breakfasts; coffee comes from Café Bacquié, one of the city’s oldest roasters.
7. Regua to Pocinho along the River Douro
Like the immaculately terraced vineyards, the railway along the Douro Valley snakes round the contours of the hills, making for one of the prettiest train journeys in Europe. On this rail-and-walk fortnight you’ll enjoy daily guided group hikes along the river, across hilltops, through wild olive groves and between the sprawling port wine estates, taking the train between overnight stays in hotels. The trip starts with four nights in edgy, enchanting Porto , with family-run hotels in Miranda do Douro and Regua offering comfortable bases after long days on foot.
8. Paris to Prague
Getting there is half the fun on this romantic escape: jump on the Eurostar to Paris , then take the TGV to Zurich, where you’ll board the night sleeper. Look out for the moon reflecting on the snowy mountaintops as the track snakes along the curves of the Zürichsee and Walensee lakes. You’ll wake to a cup of tea and a lush Bohemian forest, arriving in Prague by 11am. You have three days to roam this unforgettably beautiful city, losing yourself in cobbled alleys and squares, admiring the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, and drinking in the atmospheric beer gardens.
9. Montreux to Interlaken, Switzerland
This route — launched in December 2022 — winds its way from Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva to the glittering glaciers of Interlaken in three hours and 15 minutes. There are 150 seats spread over three classes to glide along in, second, first and prestige, the former with chairs that are warmed at the touch of a button and swivel to take in the 360-degree views from panoramic windows. It’s from these windows that the real magic unfolds: alpine valleys studded with bell cows, snow-dusted chalets and mountains reminiscent of those on Toblerone packets.
10. London to Venice on the Orient Express
For sheer opulence you can’t beat the classic journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, whisking you from London to Venice in a blur of black tie, bellinis and belle époque splendour. Doze off to the swaying of the train as it dashes through the night before being woken by your steward for breakfast amid the snowy vistas of the Swiss Alps. After two nights in Venice, the Frecciarossa — Italy’s flashy “red arrow” express — speeds you through the countryside to Rome for a further two nights.
- Best heritage railways in the UK
11. Lake Bled to Ljubljana, Slovenia
A tiny package of glacial lakes, ice-capped mountains, vineyards, meadows and a sliver of Adriatic coast, Slovenia is easy and rewarding to explore by rail. Your journey takes you from Lake Bled through a bucolic landscape of vineyards and cherry orchards to Goriska Brda, near the Italian border, before heading south to Ljubljana, the leafy capital. After two nights exploring its markets, intriguing streets and riverside cafés, you’re off to the improbably picturesque Piran — all Venetian façades, pretty squares and, around the marina, enticing seafood restaurants.
12. London to Essen
The dream for fans of steam: three days chugging along 87 miles of narrow-gauge lines on Germany ’s venerable Harzer Schmalspurbahnen. You’ll stay in medieval Wernigerode after a leisurely two-day train journey from London, then a Harz Rover pass gives you time to explore; the steam-hauled journey up the Brocken mountain is a highlight, as much for the Cold War museum at the top as the sweeping views. Half-timbered Quedlinburg can also be reached by steam train. The trip ends in Essen, with a chance to ride the Schwebebahn, a futuristic suspension railway that runs eight miles across the city of Wuppertal.
13. San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela, Spain
This seven-night “rail cruise” across Spain’s northern coast is slow travel at its most indulgent. Aboard the opulent El Transcantabrico, polished, inlaid wood features heavily in its four lounge cars — beautifully restored Pullman carriages dating from 1923 — and the suites are pretty sumptuous, too, with private bathrooms and living quarters. You’ll sleep well, as the train remains stationary after dark. The route hugs the coast from San Sebastian west to Santiago de Compostela through Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, rattling through lush countryside beneath the spiky Picos de Europa.
14. Paris to Milan
Reaching Italy’s palm-fringed Lake Maggiore is a breeze on the sleek Thello, which speeds through the night from Paris to Milan . Your base is the comfortable Hotel Cannero, alongside the pink and ochre villas on the waterfront of the pretty resort of Cannero Riviera. From here, explore the lake on boat trips to the Palazzo Borromeo and botanical gardens on the Borromean Islands, or spend a day in arty Stresa, from where a cable car whisks you up to Mottarone for sweeping lake and mountain views.
15. London to the fjords
Visiting Norway the slow way takes six days there and back by train, starting from London, but overnights in hip Hamburg and Gothenburg are all part of the adventure. You get two nights in Oslo before speeding past forest and lakes to the fjord-indented west coast. At the Myrdal mountain station, high in the vertiginous Flamsdalen valley, you’ll switch trains onto the Flam railway, one of the world’s steepest standard-gauge lines, slowly trundling in and out of 20 tunnels on its hair-raising journey down to Flam itself, a sleepy village at the head of Aurlandsfjord. After three days exploring the walking trails around Flam, board the ferry for Bergen, sailing the length of Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord.
16. Paris to Corfu
Lunch in Paris, dinner in Milan, then a beautiful train journey the length of Italy to the Adriatic port of Bari is the slow way to reach Greece . The night ferry to Corfu gets you in at sunrise, the Ionian sea sparkling against a landscape of forested hills and olive groves. You’ll spend seven nights in Corfu’s quiet northeast, at peaceful Kalami Bay, where tavernas line the shingle beach.
17. South through Italy to Sicily
Take in the antiquities of Rome , the ravishing Amalfi coast and chic Taormina in one trip, speeding across Italy’s rolling hills and lush countryside by train and staying in locally owned four-star hotels. Pack a picnic for the train journey from Naples to Taormina and settle back to marvel at the views, with mountains on one side and flashes of sparkling blue Mediterranean on the other. For the 20-minute crossing of the Strait of Messina from Villa San Giovanni in Calabria to Sicily , the train is actually loaded onto a ferry, passengers enjoying the spectacle from the boat’s upper decks. You have optional day trips to Pompeii, Capri and Etna — but throw in some fun with the more immersive tours on offer: gelato-tasting in Rome, pizza-making in Sorrento and dinner with a local family in Sicily.
18. London to Bordeaux
The Eurostar and TGV combo from London to Bordeaux is so efficient that you can whizz from work to wine country in just six hours. Bordeaux sweeps in a graceful half-moon along the banks of the Garonne, the salty scent of the Atlantic on the breeze. There’s loads to see in a weekend: the elegant Place de la Bourse with its reflecting water mirror, the futuristic La Cité du Vin museum, the grand, 18th-century city centre and riverfront cafés and markets. Stay at the cool, Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter boutique hotel in the centre; the rooftop bar buzzes on balmy nights.
19. Across Corsica
Napoleon claimed he could smell the maquis, an intoxicating perfume of wild brush and herbs, as he crossed the sea to his beloved Corsica . You’ll have plenty of chance to breathe in the mountain air and soak up rugged coastal scenery on this week-long exploration of the island by the quaint Trinighellu trains. Highlights include the atmospheric port of Calvi; the old capital, Corte, its extraordinary citadel teetering on a vertiginous rock outcrop; and the captivating train journey from here to Ajaccio, across Eiffel’s Vecchio viaduct and through forests of pine and chestnut.
20. Istanbul to Budapest
Mysterious, mist-shrouded Transylvania lends itself particularly well to old-fashioned train travel. This private adventure on the luxurious Golden Eagle Danube Express starts in Istanbul , crosses Bulgaria and climbs through the wild, forested Carpathian Mountains before speeding across the vast Hungarian steppes into Budapest . Stops include medieval Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s former capital, where a jumble of stone houses cling to the banks of the Yantra River, as well as the turreted Bran Castle in Romania — said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula . On board, expect lots of polished wood and brass, fine dining and cosy compartments with private bathrooms.
21. Montreux to Lucerne
Connecting lakes Lucerne and Geneva, the GoldenPass Line in Switzerland is actually three separate trains that make the jaw-droppingly dramatic five-and-a-half-hour journey across the Bernese Oberland. A rack-and-pinion system cranks the train (and passengers) up over the Brünig Pass before you descend into Interlaken and rattle through valleys and meadows, past shimmering lakes and over high passes. Panoramic windows give uninterrupted views of the towering faces of the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau along the way. You’ll bookend the adventure with overnights in Montreux and Lucerne.
22. Stockholm to Abisko on the night train
Journey across wintry landscapes on the night train from Stockholm to Abisko, deep inside the Arctic Circle on the banks of frozen Lake Tornetrask. Activities you might book include trekking through snow-laden forests on snowshoes; dog sledding; ice fishing; and spinning across the icy tundra on snowmobiles, keeping an eye on the sky for the rippling green curtains of the aurora borealis. You have three nights for Arctic adventures, following train travel there via Münster and Copenhagen , and two in Stockholm.
23. Vienna to Salzburg
Vienna’s graceful baroque heart is easy to explore on bicycle, foot and tram. This eight-night holiday by rail gives you three nights in the Austrian capital and three in dreamy Salzburg, stopping in Frankfurt on the way out and Zurich on the return. Check out the Hofburg Palace and the State Opera, get your art fix at the Museumsquartier and gorge on coffee piled with whipped cream in the 19th-century cafés. In Salzburg, just two hours and 20 minutes away on the speedy Railjet service, there’s the legacy of Mozart and the von Trapps to explore.
24. Seville to Granada
Spain’s grand, belle époque Al-Andalus train takes a six-day circular route round the great Moorish cities of Andalusia , from Seville and Cordoba to Granada, sprawled at the foot of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. You’ll taste sherry in Jerez, poke around the ancient port city of Cadiz, tap your feet to flamenco in Seville and, of course, explore Granada’s exquisite Alhambra Palace. While the plush velvet and polished, inlaid wood make the vintage carriages a magnificent base, you won’t miss out on Andalusian cooking, as most meals are taken in local restaurants and you’ll stay two nights in Seville.
Additional reporting by Lucy Perrin
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The 14 most scenic train journeys in Europe
Pack a book, hop on board and enjoy the most scenic train journeys in Europe, from west to east and north to south
From glaciers and fjords to deserts and plains, Europe ’s home to some of the world’s most mind-blowing natural landscapes. And so, logically, it makes a heck of a lot of sense that the finest scenic rail journeys in Europe – train routes which are specifically designed to show off those spectacular landscapes – are amongst the best in the entire world .
The European continent’s finest scenic rail journeys also double up as pilgrimages to sites of incredible feats of engineering. These trains scale dramatic mountains, plunge through ginormous tunnels and span vast distances. You won’t just be gob-smacked by the view: you’ll wonder how on earth you’re able to experience it from the comfort of a locomotive.
And, before you say anything, no, scenic rail routes certainly aren’t just for rail geeks. Oh no. They’re also amongst the most comfortable and supremely romantic ways of getting around. As well as being much better for the planet than cars and planes, train travel is a destination in itself – and that’s even more the case with scenic routes. So, without further ado, here are our top 14 scenic railways in Europe right now.
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Best train journeys in Europe
1. Oslo to Bergen, Norway
Connecting Oslo and Bergen is the fairytale Bergen Line. Take it in spring or autumn, and the voyage plays out like a living painting of all four seasons, as blustery flower meadows and lush valleys fade into icy forests of pine and glittering lakes. It’s a journey that’s quite possibly up there with the best in the world. It makes little difference which way you travel – views are equally OTT in both directions, on both sides of the tracks – but start in the morning to ensure you get a full day of views on the seven-hour trip. Ticket prices are generally quite affordable, but onboard food will set you back, so pack snacks.
2. Belgrade to Bar, Serbia and Montenegro
Often referred to as ‘the Balkan Express’, the 11-hour (on a good day) jaunt from Belgrade to Bar celebrates civil engineering and natural majesty. A whopping 435 bridges are traversed as the train trundles from the Serbian capital to Montenegro’s largest port, working as a time machine through the twentieth century in these parts. That means socialist architecture in Užice, modern ski resorts in Kolašin and the rapidly developing tourism of Montenegro’s southern coast. The last stretch is particularly stunning.
3. Palma to Sóller, Majorca
The electric train line that links Majorca’s capital, Palma, with the northern town of Sóller was originally built to ship oranges across the island. Its vintage wooden carriages rattle out of central Palma, through the city’s hinterlands and across the great dry plains of southern Majorca. After a stop in Bunyola, it’s a steady climb into the foothills – followed by the sudden pitch black of the Sóller tunnel. And then comes the best bit: a winding route through the lush peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana, with incredible views over Sóller’s distant church, before the final descent. The whole trip only takes an hour, leaving plenty of time to catch the heritage tram down to Port de Sóller and cool off in the sea before the return leg.
4. Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, Wales
The small mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog has fallen on tough times with the demise of the slate mining industry, but the little steam railway that connects it with Porthmadog harbour is a gorgeous route showing Wales at its most magnificent. Most of the journey snakes through Snowdonia National Park, with plenty of stop-off options for travellers with time on their hands. The Ffestiniog Railway Company is also the oldest independent railway company on the planet, another layer of awesome to this gorgeous experience.
5. Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland
If you’ve high expectations of an experience named ‘The Glacier Express’, get ready for them to be exceeded and then some. This mountain marvel connects the resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz, and the panoramic views make this one of the best ways to embrace all this dramatic landscape offers. The seven-and-a-half-hour journey traverses 291 bridges, 91 tunnels and a whole lot of beauty.
6. The Brocken, Germany
Another gorgeous journey from base to summit, The Brocken Railway picks wide-eyed passengers up from the settlement on the edge of Harz National Park called Drei Annen-Hohne. When the ride is over, those passengers find themselves on top of the world, or at least on top of the Brocken, the highest peak in Northern Germany. The journey is all tight turns, dramatic valleys, snowy vistas and lose-yourself imagery at a maximum speed of 40km/h.
7. Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain
There are plenty of ways to travel from Barcelona to the base of Montserrat mountain, but we’re putting our eggs firmly in the basket marked ‘train’. Actually, that would be ‘tren’ in Catalan, but you get the idea. There is a wide range of tickets available for the journey, though we recommend getting one that covers not just your train from Barcelona and then either the cable car or rack railway up the mountain itself, but also entry into the Montserrat Museum.
8. Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland
A constant on lists of the world’s most beautiful train journeys, Scotland’s Jacobite Steam Train is an 84-mile stunner traversing the magic of Scotland from Fort William to Mallaig. Booking ahead is an absolute must but totally worth it, as the journey transports visitors across a landscape that takes the term ‘rugged’ and redefines it in that inimitable Scottish way. Some call it the Hogwarts Express after its turn in the Harry Potter films, and you can insert your own magical comment here.
9. Myrdal to Flåm, Norway
Another frequent face on lists of the world’s best train journeys, the line between Myrdal and Flåm in Norway bridges the divide between impossibly cute and absolutely monolithic. That’s Norway in a nutshell, right? The small things are all quaint and idyllic, while the big ones bluster through stunning cliffs, jagged mountains and awe-inspiring scenery. The Flåm Railway climbs a whopping 867 metres into the sky and back, with a short shop at the Kjosfossen waterfall as the cherry on top.
10. Chur to Poschiavo, Switzerland
Switzerland is every bit as spectacular as its reputation suggests it might be. Actually, this place is woefully undersold and the rail route between Chur and Poschiavo is further proof, a jaw-dropping run that takes lucky passengers through the heart of the Swiss Alps. The famous mountains unravel on either side of the train, scenery that tends to see passengers put their cameras down and stare at the wonders at hand. The Bernina Express continues toward Tirano in Italy for those who need even more scenery.
11. La Rhune, France
What an absolute stunner of a ride. From the foot of the Pyrenees to the top via an early 1900s cog railway, the quaintest of quaint trains scaling a mighty height. It can be a little jarring, but the cobwebs are soon blown away by the stunning vistas and the majesty that awaits at the summit. The train only runs from April to September, round-trip tickets cost €20 (an absolute bargain), and it begins its journey in the town of Sare, some 10km or so from Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
12. Prague to Bratislava, Czech Republic and Slovakia
Okay, the scenery outside the window between Prague and Bratislava is nothing to write home about. Is it pretty? Sure, we’d expect nothing less from this part of the world, but the real fun of this route is found inside. A train journey spent in a Central European restaurant car is one of those most eccentric travel experiences, so make an immediate beeline for that part of the train when boarding. Line up some excellent Czech pivo and enjoy the conveyor belt of characters who will invariably make their way through the car.
13. Málaga to El Chorro, Spain
While you can’t get a train across the thrilling and terrifying Caminito del Rey walkway, you can still experience a great journey on the way. The train from Malaga to El Chorro is a stunner, a fast route that takes less than 45 minutes and will set you back less than a tenner. That gives you just under 45 minutes to enjoy the stunning scenery and dredge up the courage to traverse the famous walkway.
14. Mostar to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn’t have many trains, but it remains an absolute must for lovers of rail travel. Why? Well, the stretch of track between Mostar and Jablanica quickly answers that question. It offers a jaw-dropping array of twists and turns that hug the cerulean blue of the ice-cold Neretva river, as jagged cliffs hem everything in from all sides. Sure, you need to get up early to catch the train, but it is worth that sunrise alarm. The route continues to Sarajevo, passing through charming Konjic and several satellite towns along the way.
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The 16 Ultimate European Journeys by regular Express Trains
This list of Europe's most beautiful train journeys uniquely focuses on the most epic routes taken by regular express trains between cities.
Introducing Europe's greatest express train routes:
Where were the images captured?
From clockwise top left, they were taken at;
- Heading through the Brennero Pass on a München/Munich - Venezia/Venice journey
- Near Flam station on the Oslo - Bergen journey
- Between Bad Gastein and Spittal on the Salzburg - Zagreb journey
- East of St Raphael on the Marseille to Genova/Genoa route
- Travelling by the River Sava on the Wien/Vienna to Ljubljana route
- The bridges over the Tyne on the York - Aberdeen journey
- Passing the Wallensee on the Zurich - Graz journey
- Through the foothills of the Italian alps on the Paris - Torino/Turin route
This guide to Europe’s most wonderful express train routes, taken by direct regular trains between fabulous cities, inevitably features easy to access journeys; likely to be on many exploring Europe by train itineraries .
Other guides to Europe’s most scenic journeys tend to include special trains, such as The Glacier or Bernina Expresses along with journeys slightly off the beaten track; because spectacular landscapes don’t tend to be compatible with fast express train travel.
But in Europe some regular express trains can’t avoid mountains or coasts, or have to follow routes through deep river valleys, so it's those we have focused on with this list!
What also makes these guides different from the norm, is that the images aren't of the trains taking these routes, instead they were taken from the train, so give an insight into the journey experience. Plus each of the journeys guides also have access to the practical info you'll need to take these trips yourself, such as the station, train and ticket details.
Oh and the context for left/right is facing the direction of travel. Most of these journeys can of course be enjoyed in either direction, so flip the left/right advice if you will travelling in the opposite direction.
All the journey details
Three fast trains per hour spend close to two hours passing through a dramatic landscape.
Britain's most spectacular westward rail journey features rolling countryside, sea views and some fabulous views from spectacular bridges and viaducts.
The only rail journey that travels through both the Rhine Gorge in Germany and on the incredible Tauern route in Austria.
Five hours of rushing across the landscapes of Spain on Europe's most thrilling high speed rail journey.
Travel by both Lake Maggiore and Lake Geneva and through the mountain valleys in between.
Featuring spectacular views of no less than five Swiss lakes.
More than three hours of spellbinding views including the passage through the Brennero Pass.
Plateaus in the mountains above the tree line, crystal lakes, rivers and fjords; this journey has them all!
The only journey by train which features both a high speed section and a stunning passage through the Alps.
With more than four hours of sea views, this is Europe's ultimate coastal train journey.
End-to-end incredible scenery, featuring the Tauern route in Austria, beautiful Slovenia and the Sava River gorge.
The only route which includes both the The Semmering Railway and the River Sava gorge.
More than three hours of glorious Austrian scenery plus Italian mountain peaks and the lovely arrival at journey's end.
All of the journey details
Four of the world's best views from railway bridges and more than three hours of coastal landscapes.
Through the stunning valleys in Slovenia and then over the Semmering Pass in Austria.
The 'Transalpin Express' is the only train that travels over the epic Arlberg route and then through the mountains east of Innsbruck.
The inclusions above aren't quite a comprehensive list, as ShowMeTheJourney wanted to illustrate each journey with recently captured images and videos.
So at a future date, we plan to add these fabulous express train routes to this guide:
- Rimini <> Bari (though SMTJ has travelled the northern part of this route ).
- Athens <>Thessaloniki
- Beograd <> Bar
- Zagreb <> Split
- Sanremo <> Roma (though SMTJ has travelled on the most spectacular part of this route ).
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I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney , which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.
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Historian and Archetypal Englishman Julian Davison travels from the frozen wastes of Norway to the sunny shores of the Italian Adriatic coast, sampling the delights of some of the most drama... Read all Historian and Archetypal Englishman Julian Davison travels from the frozen wastes of Norway to the sunny shores of the Italian Adriatic coast, sampling the delights of some of the most dramatic and fascinating railway journeys in Europe. In Norway he explores the capital Oslo be... Read all Historian and Archetypal Englishman Julian Davison travels from the frozen wastes of Norway to the sunny shores of the Italian Adriatic coast, sampling the delights of some of the most dramatic and fascinating railway journeys in Europe. In Norway he explores the capital Oslo before boarding the super-fast intercity express train towards Bergen. This takes him high i... Read all
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Europe’s greatest train journeys pyrenees – series premiere (sbs saturday 24 december 2022).
Europe’s Greatest Train Journeys airs a new episode tonight Saturday 23 December 2022 on SBS .
Pyrenees – Series Premiere Le petit train jaune, or the “little yellow train,” will wind its way through the Catalan mountainside in the Eastern Pyrenees, passing over, among other things, the Cerdan plateau with its impressive high-altitude lakes, the Gisclard bridge, the only remaining railway suspension bridge in the nation, or the amazing system of caves known as the Grandes Canalettes, also referred to as the “underground Versailles of the Pyrenees.”
Airdate: Saturday 23 December 2022 at 5.30pm on SBS.
Featured Image Credit: SBS
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10 of the Best European Train Trips
Our ten favorite European trains don’t necessarily offer the fastest journeys—just the most memorable. All aboard!
Much of European train travel is about efficiency and comfort—punctually leaving and arriving and having a cozy seat or sleeper compartment in which to devour the latest issue of the Economist . But rail travel in the United Kingdom and on the Continent is also about experience: gaping out the window at Alpine glaciers, savoring gourmet cuisine in a restored last-century dining car. Accordingly, our ten favorite European trains don’t necessarily offer the fastest journeys—just the most memorable. All aboard!
Sweet Switzerland: The Chocolate Train Route: Montreux to Broc, Switzerland Duration: 9 hours, 45 minutes, roundtrip www.raileurope.com This charming train running in summer and fall climbs from Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva to the medieval town of Gruyères, population 1,600, home to the cheese of the same name. Tour the cheese factory and the local castle, have lunch, then reboard the train and continue on to Broc. There you’ll bus to the Cailler-Nestlé chocolate factory, tucked between Lake Gruyères and mountain peaks, for free samples, before making the return trip.
Tunnels Galore: The Bernina Express Route: Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy Duration: 4 hours, 14 minutes www.raileurope.com This narrow-gauge, vertigo-inducing train takes on seven-percent inclines, a 360-degree spiral, 55 tunnels, and 196 bridges—reaching an apex of 7,391 feet and then descending 5,905 feet before coming to a stop. The word “express” refers to the availability of short-notice seat reservations, rather than the train’s velocity as it courses through the Alps south from Switzerland’s oldest town to a charming Italian town of just under 10,000 people. Part of the route is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A Hotel on Wheels: Trenhotel Route: Lisbon to Madrid Duration: 10 hours www.renfe.com Leave Lisbon in the evening, enjoy a sumptuous meal and the increasingly rural scenery, slumber to the soothing rhythm of the rails, and wake the next day as you arrive in Madrid, rested and ready to tour the sixth-most-populous city in the European Union. Gran Clase includes a wake up call, club lounge access, parking, and en-suite facilities.
The Epic Journey: Trans-Siberian Railway Route: Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia Duration: 19 days www.trans-siberia.com This fabled route, an icon of Russian culture, crosses eight time zones to connect the Russian capital with a port on the Pacific Ocean. On board, poor mingle with rich, young with old, foreigners with locals. Social barriers disappear as passengers share a unique rail experience—and shots of $3-a-liter vodka. You can book a private car via a tour operator for added comfort; schedule any number of side excursions from trekking and scuba diving to city tours.
Waterworld: The Flam Railway Route: Flam to Myrdal, Norway Duration: 1 hour www.visitflam.com A must-do on any tour of fjord country, the Flam Railway, rising from a village on the shores of Aurlandsfjord, mounts a steeper climb than any other non-cog, normal-gauge railroad in the world. In just 12 miles, the train climbs over 2,838 feet to reach the mountain plateau of Myrdal in under an hour. See the Rjoandefossen waterfall with a free drop of 459 feet, and the Kjosfossen waterfall, plunging 305 feet, where the train makes a photo stop during the summer.
Bavarian Bullet: InterCity-Express (ICE) Route: Munich to Nuremberg, Germany Duration: 1 hour www.bahn.com Want to go fast? This high-speed wonder zooms you between two historic Bavarian cities at speeds up to 199 miles an hour. “It’s amazing to watch the landscape change so quickly,” says Gillian Seely, a Boston resident who traveled widely by rail while living in Europe for 22 years. “The train is completely quiet inside,” she says. “Vibrations are barely enough to cause ripples in your strong German coffee.” In December, visit various German cities via the ICE rail network to take in traditional Christmas markets selling seasonal foods, handmade gifts, and gluhwein, a mulled spiced wine.
The Elegance of Yesteryear: Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Route: London to Venice Duration: Two days, one night www.belmond.com Step aboard the VSOE, as the train is known, and the calendar turns back to the 1920s and ’30s, the golden age of rail on the Continent. The operator spent $16 million restoring 35 sleeping cars to their original art deco sophistication; passengers are expected to dress elegantly for dinner: at a minimum, suit and tie for men and the equivalent for women; black tie and gowns encouraged. Awake to the sight of the snowcapped Alps and learn the story behind each of the restored carriages.
Roughing it by Rail: Balkan Flexipass Route: Belgrade, Serbia, to Bar, Montenegro Duration: 10 hours, this leg www.raileurope.com Explore the heart of the former Yugoslavia via a Balkan Flexipass (which offers unlimited travel for five, ten, or 15 days through Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Turkey). Start in Belgrade, with its glitzy all-night club scene, hop off at any of various stops to shop or overnight, then board a later train to continue on to sleepy Bar, an ancient town influenced by various conquering cultures on the sun-swathed Adriatic. “Relax, and budget extra time for the inevitable delays,” says Chris Deliso, a travel writer who lives in Macedonia. “The trains are run-down, and the local characters you meet are salt-of-the-earth types.”
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Luxury on Wheels: The Balkan Odyssey Route: Venice to Budapest Duration: 11 days (including stays in Venice and Budapest) www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com At the top of the food chain among European trains is the Danube Express, a private train with classical elegance, modern conveniences, and fine dining. On this route, which begins in the infamous waterways of Venice, you penetrate the heart of the Balkans and enjoy a walking tour of the medieval town that is rumored to be the birthplace of Dracula. Eventually you approach Budapest along the Danube, where the Hungarian Parliament Building marks the skyline.
A Nostalgic Journey: El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Route: San Sebastián to Santiago de Compostela Duration: 8 days www.renfe.com Explore northern Spain in utmost luxury with a five-star journey through historic towns and evolving scenery. Combining original 1923 Pullman coaches with 21st-century modern comforts, this vintage train features spacious suites complete with a separate living room and en suite bathroom. After touring destinations like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the beaches of Ribadeo throughout the day, enjoy live entertainment in the evening while the train parks at a station until morning.
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6 of the best luxury trains around the world, how to plan the ultimate european rail adventure, 10 airport and train station restaurants that are actually good, a city guide to bergamo, italy.
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Europe’s Most Scenic Train Journeys
Most scenic train journeys in europe – according to us.
Most lists of great European train journeys focus on the well known classic rail journeys – think novelty steam trains and luxury dining cars. But that’s not really what we’re about at Euroventure. Interrailing on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t take in some awesome scenery while you’re at it! Travelling by train means that you’ll never be too far away from an awesome viewpoint – but you don’t need an oak panelled luxury cabin to enjoy it! So ditch the gold plated price tag – here we’ve collected some of our favourite, most underrated and most scenic train journeys from across Europe. Why not include some of these in your Euroventure trip – loads of them appear in our most popular routes!
Zurich – Milan
This route encompasses some of the incredible alpine scenery covered by the Glacier Express – the famous Swiss train with panoramic mountain views. The route is exceptionally beautiful throughout, but particularly the area around Zermatt where you’ll spy breathtaking views of the Matterhorn up close. If you don’t fancy paying for the upgrade to this special Glacial service, you can still take the same journey on a regular train (it just doesn’t have the glass roof) for a fraction of the price.
Sarajevo – Mostar
Traditionally this route has always been served by the rickety train that winds along the Neretva valley – ducking through tunnels and snaking around the glorious peaks of the surrounding national park. At the moment the train is out of service, so the journey is restricted to coach travel. Despite the slightly less romantic form of transport, the views are just as stunning as the mountain road hugs the same valley as the railway. Hopefully, the railways will be back up and running soon!
While you might not know a lot about Bosnia yet, taking this route is guaranteed to make you wish you could spend longer there. The water is as pure and clear as it comes, gleaming turquoise between craggy peaks and lush forests. It’s glorious in summer but takes on a totally different feel when Autumn comes around. Rolling mist and ochre leaves lend the Balkan landscape a mysterious beauty – one of the truly great European train journeys.
Prague – Berlin
This is one of our most frequented routes – winding right through the heart of central Europe, between two of its biggest and most visited capital cities. Between Pilma and Děčín, sitting each side of the German/Czech border, the route from Berlin to Prague passes through a region nicknamed “Bohemian Switzerland” – České Švýcarsko National Park. Following the Elbe river gorge, your train window will provide you with all the best views as it passes the mountains, emerald green forests and rock formations that make the area so popular.
Split – Dubrovnik – Kotor, Montenegro
Few coach journeys could be more enjoyable than the one that winds its way down the Croatian coast. Whether you do it all in one go or stop off along the way to admire the incredible medieval cities of Split and Dubrovnik, ensure you sit on the right-hand side to make the most of some of Europe’s most naturally beautiful coastlines. You’ll head inland at the border with Montenegro, but don’t worry; here’s where you begin your journey around the entire bay of Kotor. Trust us – you’ll be glad there’s no shortcut around the fjord when you get a full hour of these views.
Ljubljana – Venice
Slovenia is a country which hardly lacks in natural beauty – and its train routes are no exception. The journey from the country’s chocolate box capital to Venice may not be a speedy one at around 7 hours, but you’ll be well rewarded for your time. This route is one of the most breathtaking in Europe. You’ll start by heading up to the mountain town of Jesenice, breathing in the fresh alpine air before beginning the descent towards the Italian border. On the way, you’ll pass the Julian Alps and Lake Bled to one side, the snow-capped mountains of Triglavski National Park and Lake Bohinj to the other. Once you’re past the mountains, you’ll wind your way down the river Isonzo towards the Italian border before admiring the vineyards of Veneto on your final approach to the canals and gondolas of Venice .
Fort William – Mallaig, Scotland
It might not link up with the rest of your European rail adventures, but we couldn’t leave the West Highland line out of our list. Crossing some of Scotland’s most rural and remote landscapes, your train window will give you a whirlwind tour of the region’s Lochs and distilleries – all from the world famous Glenfiddich Viaduct (as featured on the Hogwarts Express). Why not link some of the most scenic train journeys in Scotland up with the rest of your Euroventure – just stop off at London and then take the Eurostar across to Paris . Or explore the UK by rail!
Stockholm to Abisko
If you’re more of a cold weather traveller you can’t get better than the epic rail journey up to Swedish Lapland from Stockholm . Passing through almost 900 miles of bleakly beautiful plains, the pine trees are slowly buried under a layer of soft snow as you speed further and further north. You’ll travel overnight in cozy sleeper compartments – magical! Plus, with nearly 24 hours of darkness a day in the Arctic winter, you might even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the northern lights from your window.
Poprad to Zakopone
You might not have heard of these two little border towns, but they sit astride some of the most spectacular mountains in Eastern Europe. The route from Poprad to Zakopone is actually by coach since the High Tatras sit on the border between Slovakia and Poland. Putting up with the winding roads will serve you well though – catch a glimpse of this gorgeous snow-capped mountain range through the dense forests and it’ll make it all worthwhile.
Going back to Italy, here’s one journey everyone’s heard of already; the Cinque Terre – or 5 Lands. Situated in the North Western coast of Italy, this National Park includes 5 rainbow-coloured towns which cling precariously to the Mediterranean cliffs, as well as the rolling Tuscan countryside which connects them. Take a day trip out from Florence or Pisa and admire the views from the tiny local train service that runs between La Spezia and Monterosso Al Mare.
Innsbruck to Zurich
Last but not least, we have another great Alpine gem – this time from Austria to Switzerland. Tracing the valley all the way through across the border, on a clear day you’ll get spectacular views of the towering alps on either side of your train. Summer gives you clear glacial pools, rocky craggs and glorious green meadows, while your winter outlook is more likely to be a smooth white blanket of snow and plenty of skiers! Either way, you’ll be assured of a stunning journey – and thanks to the all-weather Austrian efficiency you’ll be punctual to boot.
We could go on and on… But these are just a few of our favourite, most scenic train journeys to take in Europe.
In a continent with such a vast variety of climates, landscapes and cultures in such a small space it would be criminal not to admire the view as you travel – and what better way to do so than to make use of Europe’s awesome rail network. Learn more about travelling Europe by rail here – or check out our destination guide to see where you should travel in Europe!
If you fancy planning a route around some of these great European train journeys, check out our Ultimate guide to travelling Europe. Why not create your own trip and tell us what you’d like to see! Otherwise, check out our ready made routes for some ideas…
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The Most Scenic Train Journeys You Can Experience in Europe
There is something romantic and glamorous about taking the train; watching the world go by out of the window as you speed through the changing landscape. From frozen fjords to lush green hillsides, some of Europe ’s top railway journeys give passengers a front row seat for the continent’s most stunning scenery.
View all trips, the orient express.
The very name of Europe ’s most famous train exudes glamour, sophistication, and, of course, a little bit of mystery. Get your glad rags on and prepare for a luxurious journey. The Orient Express route originally spanned the continent from London to Istanbul, but today has been shortened – passengers can choose from several routes including from London to Venice and from London to Paris. The train’s 1920s cabins have been beautifully restored to the highest design standard and guests can relax in the champagne car with a glass of something fizzy.
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One of Europe ’s most epic railway journeys is a 9,200km (5,700-mile) odyssey from Moscow to Vladivostok, close to Russia’s borders with China and North Korea. The world’s longest railway journey is not for the faint-hearted – accommodation can be rustic at best – but adventurous passengers are rewarded with fantastic views of the epic Russian landscape, from vast green fields, through pine forests, and past glimmering lakes.
The West Highland Line
The windows of the West Highland Line, which travels from Glasgow northwards to the port town of Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands , frame the lush green countryside and craggy mountains of Scotland’s west coast. The route has often been voted the most scenic in the world, and for Harry Potter fans it holds a special significance; the Glenfinnan Viaduct – aka the Harry Potter railway bridge – is located along the line.
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Norway’s Bergen Line runs between the capital, Oslo, and the country’s second city of Bergen, through some of Europe ’s most striking and dramatic landscapes. The 500km (310 mile) journey is the highest in Europe , traversing the Hardangervidda plateau, at over 1,220m (4,000 feet). One of its most picturesque portions is the branch Flåm line – its 19km (12-mile) route descends a sharp 725m (2,380 feet) making it the steepest line in Europe . It includes 20 tunnels, show shelters, and spectacular views over the mountains, valley, and river below.
The TER (Transport Express Régional) snakes along the coast of the French Riviera, stopping at some of the most beautiful and famed towns of the classic coastline. Take the line from cinematic Cannes, through Antibes, and through beautiful seaside towns including Villefranche-sur-Mer, Èze-sur-Mer, and Menton. The train also stops in Monaco and ends in the Italian town of Ventimiglia.
If you prefer rails to boats, opt for the train that snakes along the River Rhine, through the Rhine Valley in western Germany . Watch out for castles, vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides either side of the river, and pretty little villages along the way. Stop off in pretty towns like Rüdesheim, where you can sample some local Riesling wine and take a cable car up to the Niederwald for great views of the valley.
Switzerland’s Bernina Express, one of Europe ’s most famous train journeys, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in in 2008. The line is a white knuckle ride from St. Moritz up to the Bernina Pass, where passengers are treated to views over the Morteratsch Glacier and the peak of Piz Bernina. The journey takes around four hours, crossing 196 bridges and going through 55 tunnels.
The Balkan Express
The 10-hour train journey from the seaport of Bar on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast to the Serbian capital Belgrade takes in some of the most impressive landscapes of the Balkans. It crosses one of the world’s highest railway viaducts, Mala Rijeka, stops in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, and chugs through mountainous scenery.
The Douro Line
This scenic journey runs from the Portuguese city of Porto along the Douro River, giving passengers beautiful views along the river valley. The stepped vineyards, lush green hillsides, and cute little villages could tempt you to disembark and split the journey into two or three stages. The whole route, from Porto to the northern village of Pocinho, takes around three-and-a-half hours.
The Semmering Bahn, which runs from Gloggnitz, over the Semmering Pass, to Mürzzuschlag, in Austria, is one of Europe ’s most incredible feats of engineering. Built over high mountains between 1848 and 1854, the railway passes through 15 tunnels and across 16 viaducts and was the first single gauge track mountain railway in Europe .
For incredible mountain vistas, take the Jungfraubahn in Switzerland, a nine-kilometre (5.6-mile) track up to Europe ’s highest railway station, Jungfraujoch. The train is named after the highest peak above it, the 4,089-metre (13,415ft) Jungfrau. The route makes its way into the mountains, where passengers can disembark at one of the underground stations and get a unique view of the mountains from the inside.
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7 Luxury Trains with Next-Level Dining Cars
By Marianna Cerini
Luxury trains can easily compete with five-star hotels these days. They boast beautiful living quarters and around-the-clock services, exquisite design, and just as many comforts as you’d find in a ritzy presidential suite in New York or Paris.
The same can be said about the dining. Embark on any high-end rail journey across Europe, Africa, India and beyond, and you’ll be treated to meals that could be straight out of a Michelin-starred restaurant. This is achieved through elaborate presentations (no easy feat, considering they’re prepared in a moving kitchen) and tantalizing flavors—often courtesy of chefs with more than a stellar award under their belt.
To match those menus are lavish dining cars featuring bespoke tableware and studied interiors that make having breakfast, lunch, or dinner not just a matter of substance but style, too.
Have we piqued your interest yet? Below are some of the most sumptuous restaurant cars to consider when booking your next big adventure on wheels. Take note: Your taste buds (and IG grid) will thank you.
Chefs prepare local Peruvian cuisine onboard the Andean Explorer .
The Andean Explorer has two dining cars.
Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru
Peru’s first luxury sleeper train ticks all the boxes of an over-the-top ride: impeccable service and spectacular landscapes, Peruvian-inspired interiors and on-the-move pampering thanks to an onboard spa. But it’s the food—and the perfectly mixed Pisco sours—that really elevates the experience (besides, of course, the altitude itself: you’ll be 16,000 feet above sea level).
Two lavishly appointed dining cars, named Llama and Muña, welcome guests with plush leather seats, artisanal millwork, and polished macramé divider screens to keep things private if you so wish, creating an ambiance that’s both intimate and eminently refined. On the menu are seasonal dishes that spotlight Peru’s bountiful raw ingredients and culinary traditions, inspired by the country’s flavors from the coastline, highlands, and rainforest—think spices like cumin, smoked paprika, coriander, and ancho chile, as well as fresh produce spanning corn, quinoa, and plenty of vegetables. Jorge Muñoz, the newly appointed executive chef at Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, Cusco (and one of the country’s brightest gourmet stars) is the mind behind it all, so you know you’ll be in for a real treat.
Whether before or after dinner, do make a stop at the bar in the observation car. With its open deck, it’s the perfect spot to sip your Pisco while gazing at the Peruvian sky. Tickets for a twin bed cabin on a three-night Cusco-Puno-Arequipa journey start around $7,500. A two-night trip from Cusco to Puno starts around $5,500 for two adults in the same room category.
The Palace on Wheels, India
If Europe has the Orient Express , India has the Palace on Wheels . The luxury train, first introduced in 1982 (it got an overhaul in 2017), is, quite literally, a railroad mansion, with decor fit for a maharaja, and a series of services designed to make the journey live up to its high price tag. That includes the cuisine on board.
The train’s two restaurants, Maharaja and Maharani, serve up regional Indian dishes in regal surroundings embellished with hand-carved furnishings and colorful wall lamps, intricate floral tapestries, and mahogany paneling. Sumptuously draped curtains and crisp linens add to the royal aesthetic , though both dining cars have panoramic windows on both sides, to ensure you enjoy the breathtaking views with your meal.
On the menu, the focus is mostly on Rajasthani specialities given the Palace ’s route through the desert state. Offerings change daily but always feature the star ingredients of local cooking: Rich ghee and sweet jowar (sorghum), nutty bajra (pearl millet), and earthy lentils, all rendered in mouth-watering dals and curries.
There are plenty of meat choices, too, from mutton saagwala to tandoori chicken. Guests can also expect North Indian and Mughlai classics, as well as continental, Thai, and international options, which are alternated throughout the trip. Can’t take the heat that often comes with Indian food? Fret not. The chefs— some of India’s best —will happily adjust the level of spices and salt to your request. The bottom line though: Everything tastes—and looks—phenomenal. Tickets start around $5,820 per person for an 8-day journey in a deluxe cabin during the low season.
The Art Deco bar lounge on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Stewards cater to guests' every culinary need.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe
A recurring name on pretty much any list of the best luxury trains in the world, Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has, unsurprisingly, three really great dining cars. To add to that, there’s also a brand new cabin category, the Suite, which features its own dining area for afternoon tea and breakfast, and might just be the most luxurious train accommodation yet ).
Called L’Oriental, Etoile Du Nord, and Côte d’Azur, each restaurant dates back to the 1920s and has since been meticulously hand-restored to preserve some of the original period details, from the floral marquetry to the Lalique glass panels and lacquer decorations, transporting you right back to the heyday of luxury train travel.
Don’t expect the atmosphere to be stuck in the past, though: French culinary master Jean Imbert, who was appointed as the new chef for the iconic train last year, has brought in a new visual identity for the cars, introducing new mood lighting, bespoke art-adorned French porcelain dinnerware, and menu designs that reflect the distinct color palette and history of each carriage.
He’s also revamped the food offerings, blending the Simplon ’s gastronomic heritage with a renewed attention to seasonal and local produce (read: French and Italian, with a touch of Austria for the Paris to Vienna itinerary). That means dishes that change over the course of the train’s calendar and an eye for the highest quality ingredients. Recent menus included lunches of free-range guinea fowl with corn polenta and marinated carrots and dinners of lobster vol-au-vent with white pudding and spinach.
Add to that the expert stewards and sommeliers who tend to passengers with a breezy manner that never feels stuffy and some of Europe’s most spectacular landscapes, and you have got yourself one of the most enjoyable train rides there are. For a one-night journey from Paris to Rome , tickets start at $4,594 per person in an entry-level cabin.
Rovos Rail criss-crosses the African continent.
Four-course dinners are served to guests decked out in formal attire.
Rovos Rail, Africa
A gong heralds lunch and dinner aboard the Rovos Rail , Africa’s most luxurious train journey. It’s a formal call signaling more formal things to come: The restaurant cars—one or two depending on the number of passengers, as itineraries vary from 48-hour trips to 15-day explorative tours—look straight out of the Edwardian era with high-backed, tufted leather chairs, thick carpeting, dark wood, and bell-shaped lamps befitting of an early 20th century private members’ club. In the evening, guests take their seats in long dresses and suits, and happily so: The frill is part of the experience on the high-end sleeper (lunch, while less fancy, is still ‘smart casual’).
Food-wise, things are equally elaborate. Four-course meals created by Cape Town-based executive chef Maryke Reuvers alternate between international and South African cuisines, and focus on fresh ingredients that spotlight the territories the train rides through. Among the local staples, expect delicacies like springbok loin and karoo crumble (a mature hard cheese), as well as treats like amarula (a cream liquor) parfait and koeksister (traditional South African sticky donut).
Everything is, of course, paired with a strong selection of South African wines , making for a dining experience to be enjoyed leisurely and at length as the train passes through craggy mountains and sprawling desert landscapes that can be admired from the comfort of your table. That is, if you manage to peel your eyes off the dishes in front of you. Tickets usually start at $1,630 per person for short journeys in an entry-level suite, or $13,600 per person for long journeys (15 days) in the same room category.
Jupiter, the dining car on board Seven Stars , serves local cuisine made with ingredients sourced from trusted farmers in Kyushu.
Seven Stars, Japan
Getting on Japan’s most exclusive sleeper train , the Seven Stars , requires some luck—and we mean it. Aspiring passengers must enter a lottery months in advance for a chance to experience it. But manage to snag a seat, and you’ll be in for a truly outstanding ride. That applies to everything from the 10 beautifully appointed cabin suites to the amenities and the dining car.
Called Jupiter, the carriage features a similar decor to the rest of the ride: rich wood paneling, beautifully carved screens, plush floral fabrics for the chairs, and suffused lighting. Once seated, passengers are served seasonal cuisine from the island of Kyushu —the part of Japan the train travels through—crafted by a team of local masters that only works with trusted farmers in the area. The quality of the food is excellent and varied, as dishes are customized to each journey, although you can expect classics like takiawase (an assortment of bite-sized vegetables served with fish, meat, or tofu), and takikomi gohan (seasoned rice cooked with seasonal ingredients, from mushrooms and vegetables to meat and fish).
Besides the train, guests also have the opportunity to eat at some of the region’s most sought-after restaurants, from the French La Verveine to the all-Japanese Imoto—one of Kyoto (and Japan)’s best dining spots—where dinner is a full omakase affair of 10 to 12 dishes that change seasonally. Tickets start at $4,330 per person for a two-day trip.
The Ghan, Australia
The Ghan—the legendary luxury train linking Adelaide to Darwin since 1929 (it also runs from either destination to Alice Springs and back)—offers a full-immersion into Australia’s wild outback. So does the food on board, which is essentially a celebration of Australian cuisine.
Guests get to enjoy not one, but two different restaurant cars and two lounges, plus a swish private club, each designed to have their own character and specific ambience. The classically styled Queen Adelaide with its Art Deco details, for instance, serves hearty breakfasts, two-course lunches, and three-course dinners, while the more relaxed Outback Explorer is a lounge-meets-social hub where you can sip tea or beer over a board game. Then there’s the newly introduced Gold Premium Dining—another beautiful display of Art Deco design by design firm Woods Bagot—which does two-course regionally inspired lunches and four-course dinners with well-thought-out Australian wine pairings; and the Gold Premium Lounge, where you can go to for a morning cup of coffee or an evening night cap. Lastly, the more exclusive Platinum Club, accessible to Platinum Service passengers only (top-of-the-line ticket holders), is the ideal place for a quiet formal dinner with decor that features quartzite tabletops, timber flooring, and leather banquette seating.
The culinary team works closely with local suppliers, farmers, and providers to source ingredients from the diverse environments the train travels through across all of its cars, offering a regionally inspired menu that includes local lamb, saltwater barramundi, Margaret River cheeses, and grilled kangaroo filet. Tickets start at $1,840 per person one way for an entry-level (Gold Twin) cabin from Adelaide to Darwin, and $1,200 per person one way in the same cabin category from Darwin to Alice Springs (in low season). Platinum fares start at around $3,100 per person one way.
Fine china and tweed upholstery make the Royal Scotsman's dining cars fit for a monarch.
Royal Scotsman, Scotland
Another Belmond train, the Royal Scotsman really is all about the journey and giving guests one of the most memorable experiences of their lives. Leaving from and returning to Edinburgh's Waverley Station by way of the Scottish Highlands , the uber-indulgent ride places a strong emphasis on its dining offerings as well as the libations, with some 30 fine wines, liqueurs, and malt whiskies to tickle guests’ fancy throughout the day. There are two dining cars, Raven and Swift, appointed with mahogany-paneled walls and on-brand tweed upholstery (you are in Scotland after all), stark white linen, and fine china.
The best of Scottish produce from both land and sea makes up the menu created by head chef Mark Tamburrini, with plenty of Scottish specialties featuring at each meal—think smoked salmon, kidgeree, spiced roast halibut and pigeon salad. At breakfast, the Full Scottish is a must-try if you like meat—it’s a hefty combination of eggs, back bacon, sausage, black pudding, and haggis (a type of pudding composed of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep).
But it’s not just about the food. Together with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the Royal Scotsman also does a five-day Scotch Malt Whisky Tour that—besides three-course lunches and four-course dinners (which you get on the regular trips as well)—comes with tasting opportunities and distillery visits.
And when it’s time for a little R&R, you can either head to the recently unveiled Dior Spa Royal Scotsman , the only spa on rails in the UK, or book yourself into one of the new ultra-luxe Grand Suites set to debut for the 2024 season.
Tickets start at around $7,000 per person for two nights in a twin cabin.