There are many ways to explore the world.
Train travel is by far one of the most impressive modes of transport. Having revolutionized the last century, train travel has in recent years seen a decline, giving way to cheap airfares and the need for people to get from A to B in the fastest way possible. This means we’re sometimes forgetting the age-old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination”.
That’s not to say that train travel has been forgotten completely.
Millions of people continue to choose to travel by train, for many reasons. Some enjoy the purely practical aspects of hopping onto a train and being taken straight into the heart of a city. For others, the environmental benefits of taking a train over a plane is an important factor.
Then there’s the group of people who choose train travel for the love of the experience – it’s a unique and authentic way to travel, watching the journey whoosh past you from the train windows, seeing glimpses of life and the changing of scenery as you pass through.
Why choose train travel? The advantages
- It’s practical and budget-friendly – Cheap train tickets are easy to find especially if you book well in advance and take advantage of available offers. For example, the Interrail Pass.
- It’s less stressful than taking an aeroplane – Taking a plane means arriving at the airport two hours before your flight, long lines of impatient travellers, no liquids in your hand luggage.. And all that jazz. Not to mention when you arrive at the airport you’ll usually have to take a train/bus/taxi to take you to your destination. Train stations on the other hand are (usually) located in the centre of a city. Once you’ve arrived, you’ve really arrived.
- It’s kinder on the environment – Trains are much less polluting than cars, busses or aeroplanes.
- It has a timeless charm – it’s impossible not to give in to the nostalgic charm of sitting in a train carriage reading a good book or people watching as crowds pass through, stepping on and off at each station.
- You can organise a trip in many stages – Trains make several stops along the main routes which allows you to hop on and off as you please!
- The window views are second to none – although we do love staring out of an aeroplane window to see blue skies and white, fluffy clouds – even we have to admit that the same view for hours on end can get monotonous. The view from a train window, however, is ever changing and there’s always something to see (unless you’re in a tunnel of course – in which case, we’ll take the blue skies and white clouds any day).
The most beautiful train routes in Europe
These are our top 10 favourite train routes in Europe, selected for the fantastic views you’ll see from out of the window.
1. The Cinque Terre Express, Italy – 28 km
Starting in Levanto, the Cinque Terre Express stops at all the 5 villages of the area (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare), ending in La Spezia. Climb on board and get to know the most beautiful beaches of the region.
You’ll discover a truly enchanting corner of Liguria with its colourful houses, cliffs shaped by the wind and glimpses of crystal clear sea. Cinque Terre National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. If you’re a lover of trekking, the trails here are second to none. Sea lovers have plenty to do too: snorkelling, diving and watersports are in full force here!
2. The Bernina Railway, Switzerland – 61 km
Get on the red train that follows one of the most famous railway lines in the Alpine area: a 61 km long route that connects Tirano to St. Moritz and which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. From the carriages you can admire incredible panoramic scenes of meadows, valleys and streams, along 55 tunnels, 196 viaducts and steep slopes – It’s undoubtedly the most spectacular alpine crossing in the world!
3. The Train Jaune, France – 63 km
Board the yellow train and set off on a journey through the landscapes of Cerdanya. The route between Latour-de-Carol and Villefranche-de-Conflent uses the highest altitude railway line in France. It is one of the most spectacular rail routes to do in the Pyrenees and crosses mountain landscapes of extraordinary beauty. You will experience the thrill of speeding along two dizzyingly high bridges – the suspension bridge of Gisclard and the viaduct of Séjourné – and no less than 19 viaducts.
4. The Transcantábrico, Spain – 677 km
Imagine a luxury hotel… on wheels.
The Transcantabrico is a timeless travel experience connecting the city of San Sebastian in the Basque Country with Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It’s narrow shape allows it to squeeze through some of the most natural, unspoiled corners of Northern Spain. Watch the scenery from the window as the train winds around mountains, valleys and cliffs. Many of the places where you can stop are part of the UNESCO World Heritage list: the caves of Altamira, the Picos de Europa national park, the pre-Romanesque monuments of Oviedo, just to name a few. Among the various destinations in which to stop, Santiago de Compostela is particularly noteworthy: it is worth spending a night or two in a hotel and dedicating a more in-depth visit to this city that for centuries has attracted tourists and pilgrims from all over the world.
5. The Linha do Douro, Portugal – 203 km
Next stop: Pocinho, Portugal.
Enjoy one of the most picturesque railway landscapes in Europe, along a railway track that follows the Douro river. The river takes its name from the waters that glisten like gold (ouro in Portuguese). The train is one of the most spectacular ways to explore the valley, between colossal rocks, high cliffs and terraced vineyards that climb the hills. If you are a wine lover, Pinhão is a must. Stop off in one of the typical cellars of the region to taste some of the best varieties of Porto the world has to offer.
6. The West Highland Line, Scotland – 68 km
Calling all Harry Potter fans to board the Hogwarts Express!
Yes, this train really exists and runs the route from Fort William to Mallaig, along the famous West Highland railway line. The steam train puffs and rattles through endless stretches of green rugged hills, red moors and glimpses of blue sea dotted with islands and fjords. The most extraordinary part of the journey is the section on the Glenfinnan viaduct: 21 majestic stone arches on which the train curves and provides a moment of pure emotion!
7. Mostar-Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – 129 km
A gorgeous train line that runs along the river Neretva, this Bosnia and Herzegovina route is the one that connects Sarajevo to Mostar and has the reputation of being among the most scenic train routes in Europe. During the journey you will be able to take in acres of natural beauty from the window.
The train takes a spectacular route, climbing steep mountains and passing through long tunnels. The pièce de résistance is when the train emerges from a tunnel at the foot of the sparkling waters of Lake Jablanica and then skirts along the emerald green river. It’s not to be missed!
8. The Flamsbana, Norway – 20 km
In the heart of Norway, the Flåm railway is the line that runs alongside the fjords and, in 2014, was awarded the title of the most beautiful railway journey in the world by Lonely Planet. It is one of the steepest railway lines ever built (with a gradient of 5.5% for 80% of the journey). It is a tortuous path from Flåm to Myrdal, where you will encounter breathtaking panoramic views of Norway’s most pristine areas, from snow-capped peaks to picturesque villages, from green pastures to valleys crossed by rivers and waterfalls.
Adrenaline lovers can do the journey backwards: the steep slopes will now be downhill and provide an unprecedented adventure on high-altitude tracks!
9. Semmering Railway, Austria – 41 km
Europe’s oldest mountain railway awaits!
This is the Semmering line (named after the mountain pass with the same name), built between 1848 and 1854, it starts from Gloggnitz and ends at Mürzzuschlag. Winding through the Austrian mountains, it crosses 16 viaducts, 14 tunnels and more than 100 bridges . Climb aboard and enjoy the view: a landscape of fairytale forests and lush clearings, as beautiful as it is varied. This train line is truly a product of hard work – it took over 20,000 workers 6 years to build it!
10. The Black Forest Railway, Germany – 150 km
Have you ever wanted to relive the setting of the fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm? Legend has it that they were inspired by the Black Forest in Germany. It is a magical place to visit at least once in your life and you can do it comfortably by train! Rocky walls, springs and dark pine forests that are densely intertwined: these are just some of the breathtaking views that will greet your eyes during the route that connects Offenburg to Lake Constance.
For an even more immersive experience, cross the Black Forest on the Wutachtalbahn, the oldest steam railway in the country. You’ll journey back in time to an era of black carriages, coal dust, and the chunder of train wheels creeping along the railway – you’ll truly feel like you’ve stepped into Germany in the late 1800’s.
Travelling by train is a beautiful discovery of changing landscapes. Not only do you physically journey from A to B, you’re able to fully appreciate the distances travelled, allowing you to mentally move from one place to another whilst being fully present in the journey itself. We truly believe it is one of the most beautiful and exciting travel experiences.