The romance of train journeys is something that has never been lost, largely because they offer what flying just can’t. With railways built in some of Europe’s most inaccessible places, they give an unparalleled opportunity to glimpse a world you can’t appreciate from 36,000ft.
Crossing glaciers, winding through mountain passes, skirting fjords, lakes and waterfalls, these iconic railway lines are just some of the most beautiful routes to travel on as you explore Europe by train.
West Highland line, Scotland
Leaving the urban sprawl of Glasgow behind, the West Highland line whisks you deep into Scotland’s wild west. Cutting through some of the country’s most remote, rugged landscapes, you’ll be glued to the windows as the train sails over the peat bogs of Rannoch Moor towards Mallaig. You may even spot wild deer roaming the heather-clad mountains and forests. The most instantly recognisable section of the track is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, famously appearing in the Harry Potter films.
Oslo to Bergen line, Norway
The journey between Norway’s capital and Bergen – the gateway to the fjords – takes seven hours to complete end to end but it does take in some of Europe’s most achingly beautiful landscapes. It’s also the one of the continent’s highest railway lines, travelling over the Hardangervidda plateau some 4,058ft above sea level. Each season brings a new dimension to the trip, whether it be the steep, lush green sides of the fjords in summer or snow-capped peaks in winter. Factor in some time to change trains at Myrdal for the branch line to Flåm, the world’s steepest railway line.
The Rhine Valley line, Germany
Once one of the busiest routes in Germany, the Rhine Valley railway sweeps along both banks of the mighty River Rhine. Boarding a train in Mainz, you’ll be able to enjoy the views of Riesling vineyards and fairytale medieval castles as it winds its way through the valleys of the Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The journey along the left bank is deemed to be the most scenic but you can make a circuit and travel back from Koblenz along the east line to get the full experience.
Bernina Express, Switzerland
Setting out from Chur – the oldest city in Switzerland with postcard-worthy church towers and terracotta roofs – to Tirano in Italy, the trains on this route chugs past glaciers and alpine forests as it cuts through the snow-capped Swiss Alps. You can also catch the train in Davos or St Moritz – the Swiss playground of the rich and famous – but its best to do the whole route from start to finish. One of the many highlights of the journey is the Brussio Loop, a circular viaduct which curves around 360-degrees.
Settle to Carlisle line, England
While being billed as one of the world’s most beautiful railway journeys is high praise indeed, there’s no question that the line from Settle to Carlisle is one of the UK’s best. You can start your journey on the line from Leeds, travelling across the width of the UK through the rolling Yorkshire Dales to the Lake District, two of the UK’s most important national parks. A definite highlight is crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct, whose 24 arches can be seen for miles around.
Algeciras to Ronda line, Spain
You can reach the dramatic town of Ronda by high speed train from Madrid via Cordoba, but the most scenic route is from the Mediterranean port of Algeciras. From the Andalucian coast, the line takes you on a 90-minute climb through dense oak forests, past white-washed villages, through tunnels and over viaducts until you reach Ronda, a hilltop Moorish town perched high on a jaw-dropping ravine.
Traversing the length of Sweden from Kristinehamn in the south (which has high speed rail connections to Stockholm) to Gällivare just north of the Arctic Circle. You’ll travel over 1,300km cross through 19 Swedish counties to reach your final destination, giving you a rolling view of the diverse landscapes of Sweden in their entirety in the process. The bulk of journeys on the line are made during the summer when the sun barely sets in Lapland.