I love traveling by train around Europe. With parents working for the national rail company, I spent much of my childhood playing around locomotives and steam trains, and I have witnessed first-hand the evolution of train travel. I was a curious child, and this led to many adventures, from learning about how the oil gets changed on a diesel locomotive (which was offered refereed to as “the camel”), to riding in the cabin of a steam strain, when they would be hired for film productions. I even met Costa Gavras on the set of Amen, but I was too young then to know who he was.
I grew up traveling by train, riding alone the 7 hours between my hometown and my grandma’s house ever since I was 14 years old. As soon as I got my first passport, I started exploring Europe by train, from the northern countries all the way to the Balkans. There was something special traveling around from one place to another, boarding a train in the evening and waking up to a totally new place in the morning. I had so many breakfasts in so many train stations around Europe before grabbing a free map and making my way into the city, deciding on what I wanted to explore. I even went to Vietnam by train, all the way from Europe!
Today it’s easier than ever to do European train tours as they are already planned for you, with self-guided itineraries and beautiful accommodation choices. The touring holidays with Inntravel are a great way to discover Europe at your own pace, based on your own style of traveling, allowing you to discover new places and off the beaten path destinations. Rail holidays in Europe have never been easier!
Out of all my train holidays in Europe, I tried to think of a few that stood out and left memories that are still alive in my mind. Here is my top 5 most beautiful European train tours that I have been on:
Oslo to Bergen, Norway
The journey from Oslo to Bergen was probably the most spectacular European train ride I have ever been on. Many publications along the years have included it in the most scenic European train tours lists, and I can vouch that it deserves that top spot! Snow-capped mountains – even in summer, deep ravines, dramatic fjords, never ending rivers and waterfalls, this scenic train journey kept me gazing at the window for the entire 7 hours it took from the beginning to the end.
Most of the people who travel to Norway limit their train travel to the famous and overcrowded Myrdal – Flam railway. Indeed, it is spectacular, but it only lasts for half an hour or so. By embarking on the seven hours long train journey from Oslo to Bergen you will not only pass by and stop at Myrdal, but also enjoy the same type of scenery for much longer.
The Bergensbanen, how this route is called, has been built between 1883 and 1909, starting in Oslo at an elevation of 2 meters, crossing its highest point at Finse, which stands at 1220 meters above the sea level.
The trains running between Oslo and Bergen and modern, with large reclining chairs, plenty of foot space, and a café on board from where you can order hot chocolate – which must be enjoyed when the train passes snowy landscapes.
Malmo to Berlin, Sweden to Germany
The Berlin Express was a unique train journey which not only offered beautiful views, but also an unexpected surprise about an hour after it left Malmo: it rode on a ferry!
I boarded the Berlin Express train in Malmo, after managing to purchase the last ticket on board, a few hours before, in Stockholm. Due to an event happening in Stockholm, all the trains towards Denmark were fully booked so I had to re-route my travel plans and go directly to Germany, skipping Copenhagen.
After settling in comfortably on my bottom bunk bed, the scenery outside started to change, from beautiful green fields to a very industrial area, where the train stopped. A few sudden movements backwards and forwards, and I started to wonder what was happening. Well, the train was getting on a ferry! Yes, you’ve read correct! The Berlin Express Train crosses the Baltic sea on a ship!
During the four hours crossing the train passengers were free to walk around the ferry, have dinner at one of the restaurants or enjoy the views from the deck.
To book this train you need to travel in summer, as it only runs in the high season. From April until June you can book the Berlin Express only on certain weekends and holidays, whilst from the end of June until August, it runs daily. You can check the exact schedule by clicking here.
Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain
Most of the tourists who visit Barcelona in a weekend decide to stay in Barcelona. Many don’t know that starting in the centre of the city, a fantastic railway takes tourist up the mountain, to the monastery of Montserrat.
Whilst you do need to change the train once to reach the funicular, a visit to Montserrat makes a fantastic day trip from Barcelona, especially if you love nature and you are into hiking.
The Cremallera Funicular ride is nothing less of spectacular as it makes its way up the mountain of Monserrat. Once you reach the Monserrat Monastery, there is another funicular that you can take in order to reach the top of the mountain, from where you will have fantastic views over Catalonia’s countryside.
Once you are at the top of the mountain you can take your time and enjoy the hiking trails around or even have a picnic, if you bring snacks. For a less touristic experience, stay over night at one of the two hotels up the mountain and enjoy the sunrise, without anybody else around.
Bucharest to Brasov, Romania
Romania is still an underestimated travel destination in Eastern Europe which makes it not only very cheap, but also off the beaten path. One of the most beautiful train journeys that you can take in Romania is from Bucharest to Brasov.
Trains in Romania are quite slow, so the almost three hours long trip will give you plenty of chances to gaze at the mountain scenery. There are different types of trains that you can catch, some slower and some faster, but none will get to Brasov in less than 2.5 hours.
The scenery starts to get interesting from Ploiesti onwards, when the train reaches the Carpathian Mountains. Slowly the altitude raises and from yellow sunflower plains and green coniferous forests, the landscape changes to hills, then mountains that get higher and higher. The train passes through the Prahova Valley, which lays at the foothills of Bucegi National Park – home of the second highest mountain peak in Romania, 2,383 meters.
I would highly recommend spending at least a few days in the area, hiking and visiting the beautiful castles around. In Sinaia you can visit the Peles Castle, a fantastic Neo-Renaissance building owned by the Romanian Royal Family. In Busteni you can jump on the cable car and go up the Bucegi Plateau where you can see the Sphinx and the Babele rock formations which were sculpted by the wind and the rain over thousands of years. Keep in mind that the cable car is not functioning on Tuesday and it has a different schedule in summer than in winter, which you can check here. If the weather is bad, the cable car will not go up the mountain.
Around Brasov there are many medieval villages, fortresses, not to mention Dracula’s Castle so, if you love slow traveling, you will enjoy spending quite a bit of time in this beautiful part of the country.
Verona to Bolzano, Italy
Last year I got the chance to travel quite a bit around Italy by train and one of my favourite journeys was from Verona to Bolzano. Some of the trains have panoramic windows all the way up the carriage roof, offering spectacular views towards the mountains.
The train journey from Verona to Bolzano is just shy of three hours long and passes through valleys covered with vineyards overlooking the Dolomites. The best part? Booked in advance, the tickets are as cheap as £10!
The journey however doesn’t have to end in Bolzano. Once you reach this beautiful town, take the cable car up to the Renon Plateau, where you can experience another fantastic scenic train ride, this time on the Rittnerbahn, a historic narrow-gauge railway connecting small villages on a distance of 5.5 kilometres. There are also plenty of hiking opportunities on the plateau, all of them very well marked.
You can also stop along the way, in Trento, to spend a few days exploring the town and Valle dei Laghi which is bordered in the South by Lake Garda.
How about you? Do you like traveling by train? Have you experienced a rail holiday in Europe? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post written together with Inntravel. However, all the opinions in this article are my own and I would not recommend anything that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself doing or think it was a great place to visit.
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