Exploring Europe by train is probably one of the most fantastic experiences you can enjoy in the Old Continent.
There, trains don’t only take you from A to B but, at least the ones we’ve selected for this article, are an experience themselves. Comfortable, punctual and efficient, trains are an important part of Europe’s history and culture. Some of them offer fast journeys while others invite you to enjoy the changing landscapes from the window in a stylish, relaxed and leisurely manner.
Planning a trip to Europe by train is a great idea. Train companies know how challenging travelling can be nowadays due to COVID-19 restrictions and are well aware of all the safety expectations that potential passengers have regarding cleanliness and sanitation of public spaces and are more than ready to face the challenge. Most of these trains offer private coaches, especially sleepers, or they are spacious enough so that travellers are not crammed all together.
If keeping social distance is your main concern, you can easily sort that up by renting a car. Combining train travel with self driving allows you to visit many interesting and unique destinations in Europe while taking the time to explore in depth and at your own pace the ones you are most interested in. It’s super easy to make all the car rental arrangements before departing to Europe. American travelers can even purchase an insurance policy to cover their rental vehicle against any potential damage or issue beforehand!
Are you ready to discover the most wonderful European train rides? Before we start, let’s discuss briefly the different tickets available and the options that you have to save money when doing the bookings and reservations. Depending on how flexible your plans are and how much you want to travel, you’ll have to choose between city-to-city tickets or rail passes.
In the first case, you can purchase open tickets that you can use for one month from the date of issue or be valid for a specific time on a specific train. Rail passes, on the contrary, are your best bet if you´ll be visiting several countries or various cities within a country. They can be consecutive or flexi. You just need to patiently evaluate your options so that you can maximize your journey while optimizing your budget. Whichever you choose, do your research over the Internet and travel agencies so that you make a well-informed purchase decision.
Ride On The Bernina Express
Running from Chur, in Switzerland, to Tirano, in Italy, the Bernina Express goes through the Alps in an amazing and breathtaking trip that takes on 7% inclines, a 360-degree spiral, 196 bridges and 55 tunnels. During the 4-hour ride it reaches over 7390 feet and descends 5905 feet before coming to a stop. It’s mainly a tourist train that invites passengers to relax behind panorama windows and enjoy the spectacular Alpine views, which are even more beautiful during winter and spring.
The Bernina Express is a journey of a lifetime. It’s a direct trip in panoramic cars, with more personal space and an overall better atmosphere. Passengers are offered refreshments on board and there are audio guides in English, German and French available of what you’re seeing from the window. The train ride starts in southern Switzerland, it passes along the Landwasser and Brusio viaducts and finishes in the Italian city of Tirano and it offers passengers the chance to admire lakes, glaciers, peaks and villages, including the pristine lakeside of St Moritz!
Don’t let the word “express” deceive you! The Bernina Express is a slow scenic train and, believe me, you won’t like it to go faster! It’s an impressive feat of engineering that offers some of the most beautiful sights of the Alps! Its spacious panoramic carriages make it easy to admire the best of the Swiss scenery. And it’s not just the views! Both children and adults love the towering stone viaducts, dark tunnels and curving mountainside tracks! Around half of the ride you’ll reach Alp Grüm. There you’ll see the Palü Glacier, the turquoise Lake Palu and the Poschiavo Valley. They are in the heart of the Swiss Alps so make sure you take lots of pictures of the area!
Riding the Bernina Express is a fascinating experience and one of the most beautiful ways of travelling from Switzerland to Italy.
Enjoy the Glacier Express Experience
Riding the Glacier Express, which takes you from St Moritz to Zermatt, in Switzerland is one of the most seek after experiences in Europe. In this panoramic trip, the train rides through the Swiss Alpine heartland, passing through 91 tunnels and crossing more than 291 bridges.
Starting in the shadow of the Matterhorn, the train links two of the most famous ski resorts in Switzerland: Zermatt and St Moritz. The Glacier Express is, paradoxically, the slowest train in the world. Fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows, passengers are invited to breathtaking and panoramic views of glaciers, pristine lakes, wooden chalets and the majestically imposing mountains. There is an on-board kitchen with a restaurant serving delicious local specialties and you can also bring your favourite snacks to enjoy during the long journey. Reservations are needed to ride the train and you can choose between 1st and 2nd class. The glass ceilings allow you to take in the very tips of the peaks!
It’s one of the most picture-perfect train lines on the planet; an absolute feat of engineering that takes eight hours to travel less than 300 km so that you have plenty of time to enjoy the scenic and majestic views. The whole route is delightfully beautiful but the climb to the Albula Tunnel is also a railway engineering marvel with its spiral tunnels and viaducts. Other highlights of the trip are the Oberalp Pass and the famous Landwasser Viaduct, a single-track, six-arched limestone bridge that curves towards a dark hole in the mountain ahead.
Slowly moving forward through wonderful natural views, the Glacier Express offers enough scenery to last a lifetime. It’s a memorable train journey indeed!
Travel Elegantly Back In Time on The Venice-Simplon Orient Express
Ride onboard the iconic Venice Simplon Orient Express and turn the calendar back in time to the 1920s and 1930s in one of the most glamorous train lines in the European Continent. Elegant and sophisticated, it’s one of the most charming experiences and ways to travel from London to Venice that you can find.
The blue and golden carriages have been accurately and elegantly restored with original art deco style and mahogany corridors and passengers are expected to dress accordingly for dinner.
The journey London to Folkestone; Calais to Venice is around 1640 km long and lasts 24 hours. Passengers ride two heritage trains (the British Pullman and the VSOE) in order to complete this fantastic trip.
Joining two of the most beautiful cities in Europe that most of us would dream to visit some day: London and Venice, the Venice Simplon Orient Express takes the experience to the next level with its superb sophistication and impeccable service. In fact, riding any of the varied routes offered by this train line (Venice to Stockholm or Budapest to Paris or Paris to Istanbul for instance) remains anybody’s rite of passage. The train journey, made famous by Agatha Christie, is a real treat and one for which most people save up for many years before even booking their seat.
The Jacobite Steam Train: Harry Potter’s Fan’s Favourite Ride!
If you’ve read J.K. Rowling’s saga and watched voraciously all of Harry Potter’s films, then the Jacobite Steam Train Ride, from Fort William to Mallaig Return in Scotland should definitely be in your bucket list. Featured as The Hogwarts Express, it’s a steam train that runs 135 kms joining Fort William and Mallaig. The journey itself really deserves to be mentioned in a book: rolling meadows, toppling mountains, breathtaking views and you’ll even have the chance to ride right over the top of the iconic Glenfinnan viaduct.
The route has usually been considered amongst the most scenic routes in the world as you can appreciate the lush green countryside and craggy mountains of Scotland’s west coast. It offers passengers an excellent opportunity to admire the country’s wild scenery. Once the train leaves Glasgow, you’ll enjoy the verdant glens and tranquil lochs. As it heads northward, you’ll pass through Rannoch Moor before Ben Nevis and finally reach Fort William. It’s a round trip. There’s a 20-minute stopover in Glenfinnan Station adn in Mallaig passengers are allowed almost 2 hours to go for a walk and do a bit of sightseeing. The Jacobite Steam Train runs from April to October on specific times and during Christmas Time a few rides are offered as well.
The Jacobite Steam Train is one of Britain’s best-loved scenic railways on this epic 135-kilometer journey through the Scottish Western Highlands. The natural sights from the window are absolutely breathtaking!
Enjoy the Semmering Railway!
Both an unforgettable ride and a feat of engineering, the Austrian Semmering Railway chugs on two-storey viaducts and narrow mountain passes, with steep inclines and plenty of twists and turns. Definitely not a ride for the faint of heart, the reward are awe-worthy sights of the Austrian Alps and great opportunities for hiking and skiing. The train will take you from Wiener Neustadt to Bruck an der Mur and it lasts around 45 minutes in an exceptional journey. It’s not only one of the first alpine gauge railways but it’s also one of the highest in the world. Built over high mountains between 1848 and 1854, the train passes across 16 viaducts and through 16 tunnels.
The Semmering Railway is world famous because it crosses some of Austria’s highest peaks and untouched pristine beauty. It’s definitely a trip with tons of Instagrammable moments!
This railway is part of the Südbahn railway that runs between Vienna and Graz, continuing to Maribor, Ljubljana and eventually to Trieste.