Embarking on a scenic train journey through Europe is almost like stepping into a real-life movie set, from the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps to the idyllic charm of the Mediterranean coast in Italy; the scenes are simply breathtaking.
In our fast-paced world, where everything is on-demand, slow travel (and by train at that) is a great experience that allows us to truly appreciate the journey and not just the destination. Even if you are not a train enthusiast, this mode of travelling is laid-back and easy-going; perfect for unwinding and soaking in the passing scenery while you sit back and enjoy the gentle sway of the train.
Without further ado, come join us on this listicle and get a front-row seat to the 10 most breathtaking train journeys in Europe. And at the same time, explore a new horizon by embracing a more sustainable travelling style.
1. Glacier Express, Switzerland
The Glacier Express stands proudly as one of Europe’s most enchanting train journeys. Despite its name as an ‘express’ train, it is also known as the slowest express train in the world for a great reason. This eight-hour-long journey will take you between Zermatt and St Moritz, in comfortable and spacious seating, with large panoramic windows for uninterrupted views of the Swiss Alps.
What’s unique about the ride is that you ‘experience’ all four seasons throughout the journey. From passing through sunny green pastures to scaling high in the snowy mountain tops, it’s quite a trip!
Time flies while you’re on the Glacier Express. To add to the luxurious experience, there’s the option to treat yourself to a delectable four-course meal onboard (additional cost applies) while admiring the picturesque landscapes unfolding outside your window. If you plan to take it slow and easy during your visit to Switzerland, the Glacier Express will be a memorable experience.
2. Bernina Express, Switzerland to Italy
Bernina Express is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed railway that takes passengers between Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy, and vice versa, via the highest railway in the Alps. Spanning approximately four hours, this scenic rail adventure takes you along a panoramic trail of vibrant blue lakes, picturesque mountain villages, and majestic alpine vistas — an experience you will remember for many years.
During the trip, the train takes a 15-minute stop at the peak station of Alp Grum, where you can soak in the beautiful mountain view before proceeding with the rest of the journey. The Bernina Express is a year-round delight, but for the ultimate winter wonderland experience, hop on board between November and February when the train glides through a pristine white snowy landscape, a truly magical winter affair.
3. The Douro Line, Portugal
The Douro Line connects Porto and the tiny village of Pocinho, passing by the most beautiful scenery of northern Portugal. The journey on the Douro Line begins in the historic city of Porto, making its way through lushes of vineyards, charming rural countryside, scenic rivers and greenery landscapes as far as the eye can see.
Throughout the route, you have the chance to get a glimpse of life at Douro Valley by visiting small charming riverside towns such as Régua, Pinhão, and Pocinho, where you can indulge in some delicious local cuisine, visit traditional wine cellars, and appreciate the historical landmarks.
Enhancing the journey’s allure, the carriage of the Douro Line is a remarkable relic from the 1940s that has been meticulously preserved, adding to its charm. The vintage train carriages offer an immersive and authentic train travel experience, allowing you to feel the gentle breeze as you open the window and savour the rhythmic melody of the train gliding along the tracks.
4. Bergen Line, Norway
The Bergen Line, or Bergen Railway, is an eco-friendly, electrified mountain railway connecting Oslo and Bergen. This scenic train route covers a distance of approximately 500km, passing through towns and small villages along the way as it is used as a common mode of transport for the locals.
The Bergen Line may be an ordinary train, but the route is extraordinary. The journey offers the stunning natural beauty of Norway, from deep fjords and cascading waterfalls to diverse mountain landscapes. If you plan to travel from Oslo to Bergen, or vice versa, consider taking the Bergen Line instead and enjoy a blissful seven-hour front-row seat to Norway’s most scenic views.
5. The Flåm Railway, Norway
Beyond just a train journey through the stunning Norwegian landscape, the Flåm Railway is an iconic and immersive train experience that brings passengers up close to the raw nature this country has to offer. As one of the steepest gauge railway lines in the world, the route takes you through the Flåm valley to the Myrdal station up in the mountain, approximately 866 metres above sea level, then makes its way down to the final stop in Flåm.
At Myrdal station, you can also catch the famous Bergen line and a one-way journey between Myrdal and Flåm is around one hour. The ride consists of scenes of serene valleys and endless breathtaking vistas, with the highlight being the stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall — where you can hop off and get close to appreciate the magnificent scale of its beauty.
6. Odontotos Rack Railway, Greece
The Odontotos Rack Railway in Greece is a historic 750mm narrow railway that runs from Diakopto through the Vouraikos Gorge, and all the way to the picturesque town of Kalavryta. The train passes through narrow tracks clinging to the cliffs, which is not ideal for the faint-hearted, particularly if you fear heights, but that makes this trail experience more exhilarating!
The tracks are well-maintained even though they were constructed 120 years ago; and it’s now powered entirely by electricity. In just under one hour, the trail takes you across the beautiful natural biodiversity of Chelmos-Vouraikos UNESCO Global Geopark, passing through lush forests, glistening rivers, and stunning waterfalls. Exploring the Odontotos Rack Railway is not just a scenic adventure, but also an opportunity to appreciate the remarkable engineering constructed over a century ago.
7. Inland Line (Inlandsbanan), Sweden
Inlandsbanan trail takes you to some of Sweden’s most pristine and untouched natural areas, stretching over 1,300km from Mora to Gällivare. The train only operates during a limited period during the summer, from mid-June to mid-August. The vintage red train of Inlandsbanan passes through numerous nature reserves and national parks along the way, even to the Arctic Circle! You can stop along the way and explore local villages or indulge in activities such as hiking or fishing.
During the ride, the train conductor will provide all the information you need about the journey, including interesting antidotes and stories. The Inlandsbanan train is the ideal slow travel mode of transport, allowing you to explore the authentic charm of rural Sweden; perfect for all nature and wilderness enthusiasts!
8. Mariazell Railway, Austria
The Mariazell Railway, or Marizellerbahn, has operated since 1907, travelling between St Polten and Mariazell. The journey includes diverse scenery, from a narrow-gauge railway crossing through the Ötscher-Tormäuer Nature Park to a hilly country and the scenic view of Lassing Reservoir.
The 84km long journey is described as the ‘stairway to heaven’ as it slowly climbs through the twist and turns of the mountains, offering an uninterrupted view of the majestic Austrian scenery.
If you want to experience the nostalgic steam locomotive, you can catch the adventure train, Ötscherbär, every Saturday. Whether you’re a railway enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply searching for a unique train experience, the Mariazell Railway in Austria will not disappoint!
9. Cinque Terre Express, Italy
Cinque Terre, also known as the ‘Five Lands’, is a picturesque cluster of five seaside villages––nestled into the mountain of the Eastern stretch of the Italian Riviera. The Cinque Terre Express is the most convenient way to explore all five villages, offering stunning views of the coastline on one side and the majestic mountains on the other. With the convenience of a Cinque Terre day-pass ticket, you can hop on and off the train anytime during the day as you explore the beauty of these idyllic coastal villages.
From colourful houses perched on cliffs to the turquoise water of the Ligurian Sea, Cinque Terre Express is an enchanting coastal train experience and a convenient mode of transport to explore the unique charm this place offers.
10. Mittenwald Railway, Austria & Germany
The Mittenwald Railways is a captivating train route that connects the Austrian city of Innsbruck to Zugspitze in Germany. When transferring at Garmisch-Partenkirchen station, passengers must change to the Zugspitze Railway line to reach Zugspitze, the highest mountain summit in Germany. This three-hour-long cross-border journey takes you on a seamless, breathtaking adventure through all seasons, witnessing the glorious Bavarian Alps and charming mountain villages along the route.
Take advantage of the stop at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a charming Bavarian town popular amongst skiing and hiking enthusiasts. Here, you can also visit one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, Lake Eibsee. With crystal-clear turquoise waters and a magnificent mountainous backdrop, the view from around Lake Eibsee will leave you breathless.