Top 10 rail journeys Aimée Smith | Posted: 03 January 2019

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

We don’t think we’re speaking out of turn when we say that travelling by train in the UK isn’t always a great deal of fun.

However, we’re pretty lucky here at Inntravel – many of our impressions of rail travel have been formed on the continent, where things not only tend to run a lot  more smoothly, but where some routes are so scenic that the odd signal failure or slow-moving train wouldn’t actually seem such a bad thing, if only to give more time to admire the spectacular landscapes outside the carriage window.

This year, we’re very excited to introduce a wonderful new train journey to our collection – one which takes in Europe’s first-ever alpine railway line. This has prompted us to think about the many other iconic rail routes which feature on our holidays, and to compile this list of our ten favourites…

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

1) Semmering Railway, Austria

The ground-breaking Semmeringbahn may be new to Inntravel, but it has been whisking passengers through the beautiful Austrian mountains ever since 1854, making it Europe’s oldest alpine railway. Beginning in Gloggnitz, to the 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 high mountains. It is a monumental feat of engineering, and – in our opinion – a very deserved recipient of its UNESCO World Heritage status.

Features on: On the Trail of the Habsburgs

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

2) Le Truffadou, France

Cut into the cliffs high above the Dordogne river, ‘Le Truffadou’ is a heritage steam railway which owes its nickname to the years it spent transporting truffles along the valley. First opened in 1889, the line was temporarily suspended during World War I – when the rails were sequestered to provide steel for the war effort! – before closing more permanently in 1980. Today, a section of the line is once again open for business, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy a fabulous hour-long journey between Martel and St-Denis (selected days only).

Features on: Castles, Caves & Gardens, & many of our other breaks in the Dordogne

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

3) Linha do Douro, Portugal

The Douro Valley may be best known as the birthplace of Port wine, but it is also home to a rather wonderful railway which clings to the sliver of land between the river and the steep hills above. If you’re catching the train from Porto, we recommend settling into a seat on the right-hand side and waiting patiently (the ‘real’ views begin about an hour into the journey). You will be rewarded with an excellent panorama of this timeless valley, with its silver-green olive groves, half-forgotten villages and neatly striped vineyards.

Features on: Cities, Palaces & Wine, Valley of Gold & Porto & the Douro Valley

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

4) Flåm Railway, Norway

When it comes to memorable rail journeys, there are few to rival the route from Myrdal to Flåm. The fact that this world-famous railway descends some 886 metres over the course of just 20 kilometres makes for a thrilling experience, further enhanced by the thundering waterfalls, deep ravines and innumerable tunnels that it passes on the way. Even when you reach the end of the line, the scenery is just as spectacular – the village of Flåm sits at the head of Aurlandsfjord, one of Norway’s most picturesque fjords.

Features on: Bustling Cities & Serene Fjords, Norwegian Highlights & From the Fjells to the Fjords

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

5) The FEVE, Spain

Amid the lush green hills, secluded beaches and colourful fishing ports of Spain’s Costa Verde trundles a very special train. The Ferrocarril Española Via Estrecha , or FEVE for short, is not a particularly fast nor luxurious mode of transport, but it does provide a delightful means of exploring northern Spain: with no fewer than 100 stops, there are plenty of opportunities for jumping off and enjoying an impromptu coastal walk, some time at the beach, or even a tasty seafood lunch, and the decidedly leisurely pace of the FEVE is perfect for soaking up the sumptuous views outside.

Features on: Slow Train through Asturias

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

6) Centovalli Railway, Italy & Switzerland

The Centovalli is one of Europe's great train journeys, and owes its memorable name to the hundred delightful valleys it crosses as it winds from Locarno in Switzerland to Domodossola in Italy. The railway is particularly popular with walkers, affording easy access to a number of excellent trails, but it is far more than just a means of getting from A to B – spending some time on board the Centovalli gives a unique insight into one of the most beautiful corners of Europe.

Features on: Italian Lakes Explorer & Lake Maggiore to Lake Lugano

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

7) Dresden-Prague, Germany & the Czech Republic

Part of the appeal of travelling between Dresden and Prague lies in the knowledge that you are journeying through landscapes that were off-limits to the West just thirty years ago. Another attraction is the scenery: after jumping aboard your Eurocity train in Dresden, sit back and enjoy the ride as the route takes you into ‘Saxon Switzerland’, passing towering sandstone turrets and through the narrow gorge of the Elbe before crossing over the Czech border and making the final approach to Prague.

Features on: Beyond the Iron Curtain to Prague

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

8) The Glacier Express, Switzerland

The Glacier Express is not just one of the most panoramic train journeys in Europe, but anywhere in the world, and there is no time of year when its mind-boggling beauty cannot be appreciated. We happen to think the route is at its most dramatic during the winter months, when the rolling meadows, silent forests, deep lakes and traditional villages are blanketed with snow, and the surrounding peaks glisten in the sunlight.

Features on: The Glacier Express in Winter. To enjoy the journey in the summer months, add a stay in Sils to Across the Roof of Europe.

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

9) Bordeaux-Nice, France

Some of the journeys which feature in this list are relatively short but have a real ‘wow’ factor. In the case of the Bordeaux-Nice railway, it’s the variety of scenery across the route as a whole which impresses. Travelling between Bordeaux and Carcassonne, you'll be struck by the ancient towns of Auch and Toulouse, whereas the next section – between Carcassonne and Avignon – sees you skirt the Rhône delta and the flamingo-frequented lakes of the Camargue. The final stretch to Nice is different again, characterised by the glittering waters of the Mediterranean.

Features on: Atlantic to the Mediterranean

Cultural rail journeys through Europe

10) Bernina Express, Switzerland & Italy

A personal favourite of Inntravel’s rail specialist, Kylie, 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...

Features on: add an extra night to the end of Villages of the Engadine to enjoy a trip on the Bernina Express.

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