Flying might be faster than a good ol’ fashioned train journey, but it’s certainly not as romantic. And unsurprisingly, given Europe’s well-developed railway infrastructure, in many cases it’s certainly not as scenic.
Here are 8 1/2 of Europe’s most scenic train journeys. It’s enough to make you invest in a rail pass…
1. The West Highland Line (UK)
Travellers can start in London, travelling north overnight on the Caledonian Sleeper, or else begin their journey in Glasgow. Maybe it’s the mountains. Maybe it’s the lochs. Maybe it’s the fact that you go over the viaduct from the Harry Potter films. Either way, the West Highlands Line has been voted the world’s best train journey by Wanderlust readers for three years running.
2. The Ferrocarril de Sóller (Mallorca)
This train is just too adorable for words. Linking Palma de Mallorca with the tiny harbourside village of Sóller, the Ferrocarril makes an ideal daytrip. Clamber into this teeny weeny traditional wooden train, which has remained much unchanged since it first began running this route in 1912 – even today, the track remains less than a meter wide. Then sit back and enjoy the cool breeze as you meander over mountains, bridges and viaducts through lemon groves and mountain scenery. This is the perfect antidote to the debauchery of nearby Magaluf – AKA Shagaluf.
3. The Semmering Railway (Austria)
Running from Gloggnitz to the winter resort town of Semmering, this railway journey takes in some awe-inspiring Austrian mountain scenery – not to mention 16 viaducts and 15 tunnels. Covering 41 km of mountainside, you’ll be able to experience some of the 19th Century’s greatest feats of civil engineering – and rail passes are valid on this train too.
4. The Inland Line (Sweden)
This 1,300 km journey takes you up the backbone of Sweden, running from south to north. This railway route has been running for over 100 years, and much of the countryside it runs through has changed little in this time. Spend your days taking in landscapes of lakes and forests while keeping an eye out for passing reindeer, elk and bears before coming to a stop north of the Arctic Circle.
5. The Glacier Express (Switzerland)
Linking St-Moritz to Zermatt, the Glacier Express takes riders through the heart of Switzerland’s stunning Swiss Alps. The entire trip takes 7 ½ hours to travel less than 300 km due to its narrow gauge and precarious route – the average speed is just 24 mph. No matter – more time to sit back and enjoy the panoramic Alpine view. Expect to pass through 91 tunnels, over 291 bridges, and along the 2,033 m high Oberalp Pass before arriving at the foot of the infamous Matterhorn.
6. The Orient Express (UK, France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy)
The Orient Express of Agatha Christie’s time may be no more, but nowadays the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express offers a suitably luxurious alternative. Ensconced in original 1920s carriages, visitors enjoy 24 hours of five-star treatment as they are whisked from London to Venice. If you like the sound of sipping champagne in an evening gown as England, France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy roll by, then this is the journey for you. Be warned though: this is not a journey that can be covered using your rail pass. The cost of a one-way ticket runs into the thousands…
7. The Flåm Railway (Norway)
Kill two birds with one stone by travelling down Europe’s longest and deepest fjord along the world’s steepest railway – it descends 865 m over just 20 km. Starting in mountainous Myrdal, the Flåm Railway first takes your down into the heart of the narrow Flåm Valley, stopping at Kjosfossen waterfall en route.
8. The Centrovalli Railway (Switzerland and Italy)
Travel through Switzerland’s magic ‘Hundred Valleys’ – with a name like that, you know it’s going to be good. Experience waterfalls, vineyards, chestnut forests and historic villages set amongst unspoilt landscapes as you travel the 60 km from Locarno, Switzerland, to Domodossola, Italy.
8 1/2. The Trans-Siberian Express (Russia and China)
OK, so it’s only partly in Europe – hence the ½. The Trans-Siberian Railway (along with its partners-in-crime, the Trans-Mongolian Express and Trans-Manchurian Express) famously connects Russian with China, by way of – you guessed it – Siberia – over the course of a week. Whether you choose to stop off en route – your certainly aren’t spoilt for choice when it comes to attractions – or do the whole journey in one go is up to you.
Have you ridden any of these trains? Or do you have another scenic route you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.