With a rail network spanning hundreds of thousands of kilometers, Europe is one of the most diverse and accessible destinations for rail travel in the world. From luxury five-star beds in Spain to 100-year-old train routes in Slovenia, we select the continent’s most spectacular train travels for your next European train adventure.
For five-star luxury: El Transcantábrico, Spain
The extravagant Transcantabrico sleeper train takes guests on an 8-day journey from Spain’s historic Santiago de Compostela to the Roman city of Leon. Traveling through the northern coastal cities of the countries Santander and Bilbao, the 643 km long route offers views of the Cantabrian Sea and the green peaks of Asturias, as well as the opportunity to explore Picos de Europa National Park and Ribadeo coast. Naturally, the route also celebrates Northern Spain’s world-class food and wine, stopping at some of the best seafood restaurants in the region and serving up a Michelin-worthy a-la-carte menu. Inside the train, the 1923 Pullman carriage was redesigned with luxurious suites, a bathroom in a jacuzzi and a vintage dining car awaits.
For more information and how to order, visit Renfe.com
For fjords and altitude: Bergen Railway, Norway
Traversing Hardangervidda National Park at 1,237 meters, the Bergen Railway is the highest main railway line in northern Europe. The 371 km long route starts in Oslo, past green lowlands and indigo lakes, then hikes past glass-like fjords, wooded rivers and snow-capped mountain trails. The journey from Oslo to Bergen, which passes through 180 tunnels and stops at 22 stations, takes about seven hours, but many visitors combine the route with a trip on the Bergen Railway branch line, Flåm, Europe’s steepest standard railroad track.
For more information and inspiration on other Norwegian rail journeys, see Visit Norway
For epic history and engineering: Bohinj Railway, Slovenia and Italy
The three-hour journey from Jesenice in Slovenia to Trieste in Italy climbs through the snow-capped peaks of the Julian Alps, over the world’s largest stone bridge (the main arch alone spans 85 meters) and Slovenia’s longest railway tunnel (6,327) meters). This 100 year old line was originally built to connect Western Austria and South Germany with the Austrian-Hungarian port of Trieste. Today, however, the Bohinj Railway caters to cyclists and hikers accessing scenic trails and wine enthusiasts exploring Nova Gorica wineries. From May to November, steam trains tow their carriages and their staff wear the same uniforms worn during the 1900-1906 Austro-Hungarian Empire.
For more information, visit Bohinj
For alpine views: Glacier Express, Switzerland
Switzerland’s most iconic train journey passes through a winter wonderland with snow-capped peaks, lush mountain forests and a 61-meter-high rock bridge that rises from a deep valley gorge. Reaching an average speed of 38km / h, it takes seven and a half hours for the Glacier Express to travel from Zermatt to St. Petersburg. Cortez, give passengers ample time to enjoy the views of Swiss Alp as they sip champagne or feast on smoked trout and beef tartare. While many visitors complete the trip in a day, slowing down means enough time to cross-country ski in the Oberwald or hike the Gornergrat on Europe’s highest gear train to show off views of the Matterhorn.
For more information, visit Glacierexpress.ch
For a little magic: West Highland Line, Scotland
All aboard the Hogwarts Express. On the West Highland Line in Scotland, you can retrace the journey of the world’s most famous wizard as you glide on the Jacobite steam train over Glenfinnan, the 21 arch bridge made popular by the Harry Potter films. The five-hour journey takes passengers from the lowland city of Glasgow to the highland port of Mallaig, past the 267 km of glass lakes and moorland heather that make up Loch Lomond, Trossachs National Park and Rannoch Moor. Trains go through some of the wildest parts of England, which means you’re much more likely to spot a deer or eagle that occasionally soars than any other human.
For more information, visit ScotRail
For rainforests and ancient lakes: Montenegro Express, Montenegro and Serbia
Opened in 1976, Montenegro Express is one of the youngest long-distance rail routes in Europe. However, while it may not compete with older rail travel in terms of history, the mountain views are definitely a match for it. The 12-hour journey starts from the port city in Montenegro, Bar and continues through 254 tunnels and 435 bridges through the Dinaric Alps to reach the Serbian capital, Belgrade. In just 475 km, the Montenegro Express enters the Biogradska Gora National Park (one of the few remaining rainforests in Europe), Lake Skadar (the largest lake in southern Europe), and even into parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the best views, make sure you sit on the left side of the train when traveling from Bar to Belgrade.
For more information, visit Interrail.eu