The 14 most scenic train journeys in Europe

The 14 most scenic train journeys in Europe

Pack a book, hop on board and enjoy the most scenic train journeys in Europe, from west to east and north to south

The scene route between Oslo and Bergen runs through the mountains of Norway

Photograph: Shutterstock.comThe scene route between Oslo and Bergen runs through the mountains of Norway

From glaciers and fjords to deserts and plains, Europe’s home to some of the world’s most mind-blowing natural landscapes. And so, logically, it makes a heck of a lot of sense that the finest scenic rail journeys in Europe – train routes which are specifically designed to show off those spectacular landscapes – are amongst the best in the entire world.

The European continent’s finest scenic rail journeys also double up as pilgrimages to sites of incredible feats of engineering. These trains scale dramatic mountains, plunge through ginormous tunnels and span vast distances. You won’t just be gob-smacked by the view: you’ll wonder how on earth you’re able to experience it from the comfort of a locomotive.

And, before you say anything, no, scenic rail routes certainly aren’t just for rail geeks. Oh no. They’re also amongst the most comfortable and supremely romantic ways of getting around. As well as being much better for the planet than cars and planes, train travel is a destination in itself – and that’s even more the case with scenic routes. So, without further ado, here are our top 14 scenic railways in Europe right now.

Best train journeys in Europe

Oslo to Bergen, Norway

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1. Oslo to Bergen, Norway

Connecting Oslo and Bergen is the fairytale Bergen Line. Take it in spring or autumn, and the voyage plays out like a living painting of all four seasons, as blustery flower meadows and lush valleys fade into icy forests of pine and glittering lakes. It’s a journey that’s quite possibly up there with the best in the world. It makes little difference which way you travel – views are equally OTT in both directions, on both sides of the tracks – but start in the morning to ensure you get a full day of views on the seven-hour trip. Ticket prices are generally quite affordable, but onboard food will set you back, so pack snacks.

Belgrade to Bar, Serbia and Montenegro

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2. Belgrade to Bar, Serbia and Montenegro

Often referred to as ‘the Balkan Express’, the 11-hour (on a good day) jaunt from Belgrade to Bar celebrates civil engineering and natural majesty. A whopping 435 bridges are traversed as the train trundles from the Serbian capital to Montenegro’s largest port, working as a time machine through the twentieth century in these parts. That means socialist architecture in Užice, modern ski resorts in Kolašin and the rapidly developing tourism of Montenegro’s southern coast. The last stretch is particularly stunning.

Palma to Sóller, Majorca

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3. Palma to Sóller, Majorca

The electric train line that links Majorca’s capital, Palma, with the northern town of Sóller was originally built to ship oranges across the island. Its vintage wooden carriages rattle out of central Palma, through the city’s hinterlands and across the great dry plains of southern Majorca. After a stop in Bunyola, it’s a steady climb into the foothills – followed by the sudden pitch black of the Sóller tunnel. And then comes the best bit: a winding route through the lush peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana, with incredible views over Sóller’s distant church, before the final descent. The whole trip only takes an hour, leaving plenty of time to catch the heritage tram down to Port de Sóller and cool off in the sea before the return leg.

Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, Wales

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4. Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, Wales

The small mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog has fallen on tough times with the demise of the slate mining industry, but the little steam railway that connects it with Porthmadog harbour is a gorgeous route showing Wales at its most magnificent. Most of the journey snakes through Snowdonia National Park, with plenty of stop-off options for travellers with time on their hands. The Ffestiniog Railway Company is also the oldest independent railway company on the planet, another layer of awesome to this gorgeous experience.

Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland

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5. Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland

If you’ve high expectations of an experience named ‘The Glacier Express’, get ready for them to be exceeded and then some. This mountain marvel connects the resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz, and the panoramic views make this one of the best ways to embrace all this dramatic landscape offers. The seven-and-a-half-hour journey traverses 291 bridges, 91 tunnels and a whole lot of beauty.

The Brocken, Germany

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6. The Brocken, Germany

Another gorgeous journey from base to summit, The Brocken Railway picks wide-eyed passengers up from the settlement on the edge of Harz National Park called Drei Annen-Hohne. When the ride is over, those passengers find themselves on top of the world, or at least on top of the Brocken, the highest peak in Northern Germany. The journey is all tight turns, dramatic valleys, snowy vistas and lose-yourself imagery at a maximum speed of 40km/h.

Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain

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7. Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain

There are plenty of ways to travel from Barcelona to the base of Montserrat mountain, but we’re putting our eggs firmly in the basket marked ‘train’. Actually, that would be ‘tren’ in Catalan, but you get the idea. There is a wide range of tickets available for the journey, though we recommend getting one that covers not just your train from Barcelona and then either the cable car or rack railway up the mountain itself, but also entry into the Montserrat Museum.

Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland

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8. Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland

A constant on lists of the world’s most beautiful train journeys, Scotland’s Jacobite Steam Train is an 84-mile stunner traversing the magic of Scotland from Fort William to Mallaig. Booking ahead is an absolute must but totally worth it, as the journey transports visitors across a landscape that takes the term ‘rugged’ and redefines it in that inimitable Scottish way. Some call it the Hogwarts Express after its turn in the Harry Potter films, and you can insert your own magical comment here.

Myrdal to Flåm, Norway

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9. Myrdal to Flåm, Norway

Another frequent face on lists of the world’s best train journeys, the line between Myrdal and Flåm in Norway bridges the divide between impossibly cute and absolutely monolithic. That’s Norway in a nutshell, right? The small things are all quaint and idyllic, while the big ones bluster through stunning cliffs, jagged mountains and awe-inspiring scenery. The Flåm Railway climbs a whopping 867 metres into the sky and back, with a short shop at the Kjosfossen waterfall as the cherry on top.

Chur to Poschiavo, Switzerland

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10. Chur to Poschiavo, Switzerland

Switzerland is every bit as spectacular as its reputation suggests it might be. Actually, this place is woefully undersold and the rail route between Chur and Poschiavo is further proof, a jaw-dropping run that takes lucky passengers through the heart of the Swiss Alps. The famous mountains unravel on either side of the train, scenery that tends to see passengers put their cameras down and stare at the wonders at hand. The Bernina Express continues toward Tirano in Italy for those who need even more scenery.

La Rhune, France

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11. La Rhune, France

What an absolute stunner of a ride. From the foot of the Pyrenees to the top via an early 1900s cog railway, the quaintest of quaint trains scaling a mighty height. It can be a little jarring, but the cobwebs are soon blown away by the stunning vistas and the majesty that awaits at the summit. The train only runs from April to September, round-trip tickets cost €20 (an absolute bargain), and it begins its journey in the town of Sare, some 10km or so from Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

12. Prague to Bratislava, Czech Republic and Slovakia

Okay, the scenery outside the window between Prague and Bratislava is nothing to write home about. Is it pretty? Sure, we’d expect nothing less from this part of the world, but the real fun of this route is found inside. A train journey spent in a Central European restaurant car is one of those most eccentric travel experiences, so make an immediate beeline for that part of the train when boarding. Line up some excellent Czech pivo and enjoy the conveyor belt of characters who will invariably make their way through the car.

Málaga to El Chorro, Spain

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13. Málaga to El Chorro, Spain

While you can’t get a train across the thrilling and terrifying Caminito del Rey walkway, you can still experience a great journey on the way. The train from Malaga to El Chorro is a stunner, a fast route that takes less than 45 minutes and will set you back less than a tenner. That gives you just under 45 minutes to enjoy the stunning scenery and dredge up the courage to traverse the famous walkway.

14. Mostar to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn’t have many trains, but it remains an absolute must for lovers of rail travel. Why? Well, the stretch of track between Mostar and Jablanica quickly answers that question. It offers a jaw-dropping array of twists and turns that hug the cerulean blue of the ice-cold Neretva river, as jagged cliffs hem everything in from all sides. Sure, you need to get up early to catch the train, but it is worth that sunrise alarm. The route continues to Sarajevo, passing through charming Konjic and several satellite towns along the way.

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