Europe by train: 10 must-do routes

Comfortable, convenient, ecological and always exciting, traveling by train can give great satisfaction to anyone who wants to discover the most fascinating landscapes in Europe.

The whole old continent is crossed by one dense rail network that connects the most famous cities or leads to the discovery of remote corners immersed in nature, long-distance routes between several countries or short and enchanting routes in areas off the beaten track.

Beautiful views, comfortable carriages, the hustle and bustle of crowded platforms and the thrill of a new adventure: there are so many good reasons to travel Europe by train.

Here are our suggestions for 10 train trips on the most beautiful routes in Europe living on the ship and with your face stuck to the window.

Golden Eagle Danube Express – Istanbul, Budapest

Golden Eagle Danube Express

The long train journey from Istanbul to Budapest through Bulgaria and Romania feels like an adventure from a bygone era.

The route is 1,832 km long to be covered in seven days in comfort on the luxurious Golden Eagle Danube Express train.

The journey starts in Istanbul, crosses Bulgaria and climbs into the wild and forested Carpathian Mountains before crossing the vast Hungarian steppes to Budapest.

Stops include medieval Veliko Tarnovothe ancient capital of Bulgaria, where a row of stone houses overlook the banks of the Yantra River, and the towers of Bran Castle in Romania, said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Excursions off the train allow for interesting visits to Romania’s medieval towns and castles, while the onboard experience maintains a high level of luxury.

Oslo Bergen
Oslo Bergen

The railway from Oslo to Bergen not only offers views of landscapes of rare beauty from behind the windows of its carriages, but represents the eternal conflict – meeting between human ingenuity and the cruelty of mother nature.

This connection between Norway’s capital and its second city involves approximately 6.5 hours of travel along the west coast, crossing hostile plateaus, fjords and mountains through some of Norway’s wildest scenery.

Once you leave Oslo behind, the landscape transforms into wide valleys, fjords and waterfalls, then slowly the trees begin to fade, the alpine landscape opens up with great views across the arid Hardangervidda plateau to the highest station on the line to Finse (1,222m) , which is also the gateway to the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap.

Freezing cold and snow everywhere will be the evocative companions of this adventure among the ice.

Balkan Express – Belgrade – Bar

Belgrade what to see
Balka Express

The train that connects Belgrade (Serbia) to Bar (Montenegro) is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque and underrated in all of Europe.

Better known as “the Balkan Express”, the train makes an 11-hour journey from Serbia to Montenegro crossing hundreds of bridges on its way and passing socialist architecture buildings in Užice and modern ski resorts in Kolašin as the train runs towards the Adriatic coast and the largest port of Montenegro.

The last part of the journey to the south coast of Montenegro is particularly evocative, especially when the train passes over the marshy Skadar lake.

Once you arrive at the Bar terminal, you can explore the Stari Bar area with its ruined old town and aqueduct, or go straight to relax on the beaches dotted along Ulcinj’s coast.

El Transcantábrico, Spain

Oviedo
Oviedo

The luxury train Transcantabrico takes its passengers on an 8-day journey of 643 kilometers along the northern coast of Spain, meeting the cities of Santander and Bilbao, the sea views of Cantabria, the green peaks of Asturias, the beaches of Ribadeo and the rocky landscapes of Picos National Park of Europe.

The route connects historic Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, San Sebastian in the Basque Country, also passing through the Roman city of Leon and some of the most natural and unspoilt corners of northern Spain.

Many of the places where a stop is planned are part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, among them: the caves of Altamira and the pre-Roman monuments of Oviedo.

The interior of the train features re-imagined 1923 carriages with luxurious suites, private Jacuzzi bathrooms and restaurant carriages serving remarkable à la carte menus to ensure a fantastic travel experience in every respect.

The Little Yellow Train, France

Jaune train
Jaune train

The Little Yellow Train, or Le Train Jaune in French, is a unique train journey that takes passengers through the beautiful Pyrenees in southern France.

The Petit Train Jaune runs along centuries-old lines over suspension bridges, tunnels and flower meadows from the medieval town of Villefranche-de-Conflent in French Catalonia to the Spanish border, up to the summit of Bolquère Eyne, which at 1,592 meters it is the highest railway station in France.

The views along the 3-hour route covering 60 kilometers are breathtaking and the stops full of interest, such as the stunning Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou, the picturesque villages of Olette and Fontpedrouse and Font Romeu, one of the most famous ski resorts of the Pyrenees.

In addition, the view from the train on the way to the Pyrenees mountain village of Odeillo, Font Romeu is amazing.

The line serves 22 different stations, but the train stops automatically at only 6 stops, those wishing to explore the other 14 stops must request in advance. The little yellow train in summer allows you to travel in open carriages to fully enjoy the mountain panorama.

Odontotos Railway, Greece from Diakopto to Kalavryta

Toothed
Toothed

This historic route dates back to 1895, it is one of the last remaining narrow gauge lines in southern Greece.

It is a cog railway that allows the train to climb steep slopes and negotiate sharp bends in the gorge, driving through the beautiful Vouraikos Gorge in the Peloponnese.

The train journey starts from the seaside town of Diakoptos and climbs up the gorge to the mountain town of Kalavryta, passing waterfalls, bridges and tunnels along the way.

The journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete and covers a distance of 22 kilometers filled with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and plane trees.

West Highland Line: Fort William – Mallaig, Scotland

West Highland Line
West Highland Line

The West Highland line between Glasgow and Mallaig is one of the most scenic train journeys in the UK.

The route, also known as the Road to the Isles, is 190km long and passes through stunning Scottish scenery, crossing the shores of Loch Lomond, ruined castles, mountains and waterfalls to the west coast.

The journey starts at Glasgow Queen Street station to continue along the River Clyde in the north-west before entering the wild Scottish countryside between valleys, silver lochs and steep birch-lined slopes.

After Tyndrum the train makes a horseshoe bend at the foot of Ben Doran before heading to Fort William where Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, comes into view. Towards the end of the journey the train crosses the impressive Glenfinnan Viaduct at the top of Loch Shiel.

The Douro Valley Railway – Portugal

Duoro Valley
Duoro Valley

The Douro Valley Railway crosses northern Portugal between rolling hills and vineyards on one of the most beautiful train journeys in Europe.

The steam train departs from the beautiful city of Porto and proceeds along the Douro River from Régua via Pinhão to Tua.

Pinhão station is considered one of the most beautiful terminals in Europe thanks to its intricate azulejo decorations, while the spectacular canyon around Régua and the ancient rock art of the Côa valley in Pocinho offer stunning views of nature.

This three-hour journey is one of the most spectacular ways to explore the magnificent Douro Valley and takes passengers into Portugal’s wine region to see where their grapes are harvested and taste test the vast local wine estates.

Pinhão in particular is full of typical wineries of the region offering some of the best varieties of Port.

Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine, Northern Ireland

Derry

The journey from Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine takes just 38 minutes, but its 55km gives it the surprise and thrill of one of the continent’s most scenic routes.

Outside the window, windswept beaches, steep cliffs and wild panoramas alternate with long tunnels.

The train follows the River Foyle from Derry, crossing the countryside until it flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Benone Strand, one of Ireland’s longest and wildest beaches. Here the tracks run right next to the sand and the nearby Castlerock stop offers the possibility of a fantastic sand ride. From here, the train heads inland again, this time following the River Bann, to Coleraine and passing the first human settlement on the entire island of Ireland Mountsandel Fort, high on the high bank of the Bann.

Semmering Railway, Austria

Semmering
Semmering

Inaugurated as far back as 1854, the Semmering Railway is still considered one of the most fascinating in Europe, to the point that it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Semmering route starts from Gloggnitz and ends in Mürzzuschlag, in 41 km and 40 minutes it crosses the Austrian Alps crossing 16 viaducts, 14 tunnels and more than 100 bridges. Once on board, you are treated to a stunning mountain panorama with virgin forests, spectacular sharp curves and impressive mountain passes high up.

This route can also be understood as part of a longer journey between Vienna and Venice and apart from the magnificent view of Semmering, the numerous mountain cottages built for the railway staff distributed along the line are also recognizable.

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