Jack Montgomery, 08 March, 2022
Europe boasts many stunningly beautiful railways. We take a look at seven of them.
Seven scintillating train trips around Europe
Trains are a relaxing, enjoyable, and environmentally friendly means of travel; you take your seat, make yourself comfortable, sit back, and watch an ever-changing panorama scroll past your window. But there are some train journeys that offer much more than an efficient and pleasurable way of getting from A to B. Here are seven which are worthy of ‘attraction’ status in themselves.
The Glacier Express – Switzerland
One of the most panoramic train journeys in the world, the Glacier Express is the slowest express train on the planet, which is a good thing as the scenery is rarely less than sensational. Carriages feature huge windows for optimum views of rolling meadows, dense forests, mirror-glass lakes, traditional villages, and rugged mountains, including the Matterhorn. In summer it’s spectacular, in winter, when a blanket of snow carpets the world outside your window, it is magical.
The ground-breaking Semmeringbahn has been whisking passengers through dramatic Austrian scenery since 1854, making it Europe’s oldest alpine railway. Beginning in Gloggnitz, south of Vienna, the line climbs over 455 metres and passes through an impressive series of tunnels and double-decker viaducts as it burrows through the mountains. Considered one of the greatest feats of civil engineering of its time, the line was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1998.
When we think of travelling through the Douro Valley, we imagine sailing upriver on a traditional rabelo. However, the Linha do Douro offers an equally scenic way to experience one of the most stunning valleys in Europe. The train shadows the river’s curves, weaving through sculpted vineyards bearing familiar Port producers’ names and alongside silver olive groves and riverside villages. Travelling from Porto, choose the right-hand side of the carriage for the best views.
Often described as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, the Flåm Railway starts at Myrdal, high in the mountains, descending some 886 metres and through myriad tunnels over the course of just 20 kilometres. It’s a thrilling experience, further enhanced by thundering waterfalls and plunging ravines viewed from the train’s retro wood-panelled carriages as it wends its way down to sea level at Aurlandsfjord, one of Norway’s most picturesque fjords.
The Ferrocarriles Españoles de Vía Estrecha (FEVE) isn’t a particularly fast or luxurious mode of transport. But it does encapsulate the ethos of Slow Travel as it trundles amid the lush green hills, secluded beaches, and jaunty fishing ports of Spain’s Costa Verde. With no fewer than 100 stops, there are numerous opportunities for jumping off for an impromptu coastal walk, to spend time on a golden beach, or to indulge in a sumptuous seafood lunch before continuing onward.
Part of the appeal of travelling between Dresden and Prague lies in the knowledge you are journeying through landscapes that were off-limits to the West just thirty years ago; in many ways, this is both a historical and cultural voyage, amplified by the scenery outside the window. From Dresden, the route takes you into ‘Saxon Switzerland’, passing towering sandstone turrets and through the narrow gorges of the Elbe Mountains before crossing over the Czech border.
A personal favourite of Inntravel’s rail specialists, the Bernina Express is a narrow-gauge railway which weaves from St Moritz in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy, and is named after the Piz Bernina mountain that towers above the route. With an incredible 55 tunnels, 196 bridges and ever-changing views – think green valleys, snow-capped mountains, pine forests, glaciers and waterfalls – this is a truly spectacular way to cross the Alps, and perhaps the most scenic train journey of them all.