7 of Europe’s Most Scenic Train Journeys

Riding the Rails Exploring Europes Most Scenic Train Journeys

From the Alps to Scotland’s wild Highland landscape, these seven train journeys promise bucket-list-worthy panoramic views. Whether you choose to sip martinis in a luxury sleeper or savor lobster in a fine dining car, these routes offer something for every budget.

Experience the clatter and rhythm of Europe’s most scenic rail adventures. From cosmopolitan capital cities to storybook canalside villages and the rugged peaks of Switzerland’s Massif Central, these routes are sure to take your breath away.

1. The Bernina Express

Europe is home to some of the world’s most mind-blowing natural landscapes. The continent’s finest scenic train journeys show off those vistas while also doubling as pilgrimages to incredible feats of engineering. These routes scale dramatic mountains, plunge through ginormous tunnels, and span vast distances. You’ll be gob-smacked by the views and wonder how on earth trains were able to build them.

The Bernina Express is one of the most popular train rides in Switzerland because it takes you through incredible alpine scenery and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The route starts in Chur, an Alpine city that’s famous for its car-free old town. It heads north through the Albula Tunnel and over the Landwasser Viaduct to reach the luxurious ski resort of St Moritz. After that, it continues to Pontresina and the Ospizio Bernina – the highest train stop on the entire route.

Seat reservations are mandatory for Bernina Express travel, and they can be booked up to six months in advance. The Swiss Pass and Eurail Pass cover the trip, but you’ll need to book seat reservations in addition to your pass. For the best experience, opt for the 1st class panorama cars.

The Foyle Valley Railway is a no-frills route that’s all about the scenery. It follows the Foyle River out of Derry to Benone Strand, one of CNN Travel’s favorite beaches. Sit on the left side (if travelling westwards) to soak in the wild, windswept views and spot peregrine falcon habitats. You’ll also get to explore the longest railway tunnel in Ireland – it’s a jaw-dropping ride that Sir Michael Palin called “one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world.”

2. The Flam Railway

Europe has a lot to offer, but its most stunning landscapes aren’t always easy to reach. That’s why it makes sense to take a scenic train journey designed specifically to showcase them. These routes scale dramatic mountains, plunge through ginormous tunnels, and span vast distances. Not only will you be gob-smacked by the view, but you’ll also appreciate the ingenious engineering behind it all.

One such train journey is the Flam Railway, which takes travelers from fjord-side Flam to the mountain station of Myrdal. This is one of the steepest standard-gauge railways in the world, with a gradient of over 55% for much of the trip. The views are nothing short of magical, with snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, and cascading waterfalls like Kjosfossen.

Taking the Flam Railway is a must-do experience for anyone visiting Norway. It’s a major tourist attraction, with tourists often taking the ride as part of a longer train trip from Oslo or Bergen, a road trip through the fjord region, or arriving by cruise ship. As such, it’s often busy, so booking your tickets in advance is a good idea.

The best time to take the train is summer (June-August), when you’ll be able to enjoy warm weather and scenery that looks straight out of a nature video game. But it’s worth taking the train at other times of year too – just be prepared for less reliable weather conditions and fewer other tourists. It’s also a good idea to book your tickets in advance, as they can sell out. Tip: To avoid the dreaded “which side to sit on” dilemma, try sitting on the left on your first trip but then switching to the right on the return. This way you’ll be guaranteed a great seat no matter which side you choose!

3. The Tirano-Rome Train

The glistening water of Lake Como, the UNESCO-listed castles and fortresses along the Centovalli Railway line, and rustic vineyards in between are just some of the mind-blowing sights you’ll see on this scenic train journey from Tirano to Rome. This stunning route is a must-do for anyone seeking the ultimate romantic and glamorous getaway.

A trip on this train is the best way to see Italy from the comfort of a spacious seat, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Departing from Tirano, you’ll travel alongside the mesmerizing Lake Como and its picturesque towns before arriving in Milan, where you can stroll through the city’s historic center to discover the Duomo di Milano. From here, the train meanders down the Centovalli Railway, a UNESCO-listed landscape of waterfalls, valleys, chestnut groves and old villages.

This train ride will take you through the heart of Italy, stopping at enchanting historic cities that are famed for their food, culture and art. You’ll start in the charming Tuscan town of Florence, known for its Renaissance architecture and captivating Uffizi Gallery. From here, the train will wind its way to the renowned cosmopolitan city of Rome, where you’ll find Romanesque and Renaissance cathedrals, towering marble palaces and cobbled streets lined with artisan boutiques.

There’s another option for a same-day journey, but I’d recommend booking a connecting Swiss intercity train instead (see my article on this). You can catch the TGV-Lyria from Paris Gare de Lyon to Zurich HB and transfer at Chur, arriving in Tirano the following day. This option is slightly cheaper, with 1st & 2nd class seats, a cafe-bar, power sockets at every seat and free WiFi, but it’s not quite as comfortable as Trenitalia’s luxury Frecciarossa.

4. The Venice Simplon-Orient Express

While train travel may not get the same amount of love as its airborne counterpart, Europe has some truly beautiful rail journeys that are a vacation in themselves. From breathtaking scenery and mountain villages to UNESCO-listed routes, there’s something to please even the most well-travelled rail traveller.

Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient Express is one such example. A gleaming collection of vintage carriages, many of which date back to the 1920s and 1930s, it transports passengers back in time to an era of true luxury. Authentic polished woods and sumptuous upholstery set the scene while onboard service is impeccable and meals are expertly devised by French chef Jean Imbert.

The Venice Simplon-Orient Express is also famous for its Grand Suites, which are so opulent that they evoke the feeling of being aboard a luxury cruise ship. Oversized windows infuse the cabins with light and offer sweeping views of the countryside. When it’s snowing, the carriages’ windows twinkle with swirling snowflakes for a moment truly evocative of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

For those keen to see the sights of Italy and Austria, the company also operates a route between Vienna and Venice that takes in the stunning Semmering Pass. This spectacular railway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts 14 tunnels, 16 viaducts and over one hundred curved stone bridges along its 41-kilometer route.

In late December, Belmond will launch an extravagant new itinerary that combines riding this iconic train with a glamorous European ski trip. The overnight journey will whisk travelers between Paris and the Alpine towns of Albertville, Moutiers and Bourg-Saint-Maurice – all home to world-class ski resorts. The itinerary will include two nights on the train and three nights in the resorts, with dinner and entertainment provided onboard.

5. The Rhine Valley Line

The Rhine Valley is one of the most scenic train routes in Germany, with a stretch of the river named a World Heritage Site. Along this route, the Rhine is flanked by cliffs, and its shoreside hamlets boast Gothic style houses, medieval castles, and vineyards. This evocative journey has inspired fairy tales, fables, and poetry since ancient times, and it is an especially popular excursion in the spring when the trees start to bloom.

For a trip that will immerse you in the beauty of the Rhine Valley, travel from Cologne to Koblenz on the Rhine Valley Line. This route hugs the shoreline, past cruise boats and barges that bob in the water. On the shores, you will find picture-postcard towns that owe their wealth to the production of Riesling wine. Many of the cliff-top castles are open to visitors, including the infamous Loreley Rock near Sankt Goarshausen, a symbol of the Rhine Romanticism movement that influenced Wagner’s Ring opera cycle.

To make the most of the scenery, be sure to sit on the left side of the train so you can see the banks of the river from your seat. The east-bank perspective is also beautiful, but you will miss some of the castles.

The Rhine Valley Line is also a popular choice for those who want to explore the region by train but don’t have enough time to take a long-distance tour of the area. This route is commonly paired with the Eurostar from London to Brussels, and it is part of the Nightjet sleeper train between Dusseldorf, Cologne, Munich, and Vienna. The high-speed rail line (shown in red on the map below) is the fastest option, but taking the scenic route will give you a chance to admire the picturesque scenery at a more leisurely pace.

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