Long considered one of the most romantic forms of travel, rail journeys certainly have something about them that continue to inspire a proper sense of wanderlust. Join me as I take a closer look at 10 of the greatest railway routes across Europe!
Sure – most people’s experiences of trains are more than likely the morning commutes into work spent crammed together or waiting an eternity for that one delayed train to finally turn up. But when there’s breathtaking scenery at every turn and such a relaxed atmosphere, you feel you’re in your own little world.
Even on those longer journeys, the hours really do fly by when the views out of the window are picture-perfect at every turn. And it’s brilliant knowing that you’re seeing a country in a way you’d never experience driving on the roads. With that in mind, I thought I’d go ahead and put together a list of some of my favourite rail journeys across Europe. From shorter trips you can easily do in a day to epic voyages that traverse borders and mountains, it’s fair to say these journeys are a must!
I think it’s fair to say that Italy certainly is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. With its history, culture, cuisine and landscapes, there’s plenty to love about this corner of the world. The first journey on the list is an Italian masterclass of sorts, taking you along the west coast from the bustling city of Genoa to Civitavecchia, an ancient harbour town with fantastic onward links to Rome.
As you cruise your way past the verdant hills of the Italian Riviera, you’ll eventually pass through Cinque Terre. Toted as one of the most romantic stretches of coastlines in all of Italy, this little string of five colourful villages cling to impossibly steep cliffs, surrounded by sprawling vineyards and the glistening waters of Tyrrhenian Sea below. Be sure to stop off here for an afternoon soaking up those views!
The flat landscapes of the Venetian Lagoon couldn’t be any more different from the mighty snow-capped Alps! The first on my list to traverse several countries, this journey from Venice to Munich is one of the most beautiful, yet least well-known in Europe. It’s a hidden gem that any and all rail aficionados need to do at least once, taking you from the legendary city on water through to Munich – all via the majestic Austrian Alps. Munich is easily one of the grandest cities in Germany – a visit to one of the iconic beer halls is a must of course, if you’re not too busy getting stuck into all of the brilliant museums and palaces. Direct trains between the two cities take around 6 1/2 hours, passing through the Dolomites in South Tyrol and gorgeous Alpine cities such as Innsbrück.
Another beautiful journey along Italy’s west coast, this time taking you all the way down towards the south to the idyllic island of Sicily. After a busy couple of days sightseeing in Rome, you’ll have time to make yourselves nice and comfy on the train and enjoy the views of rural Italian countryside passing by. But here’s the thing – to actually reach the island of Sicily, your train has to get shunted onto a ferry which then makes the short hop across the sea!
Once you’re in Catania, you can then head out to some of the most breathtaking beaches on the island including Licata, Mondello and Isola Bella. One secret beach you can also reach by train is Lascari – just a short distance away from Cefalù, this gorgeous stretch of sand manages to avoid the heaving crowds and boasts a remarkably relaxed atmosphere. The perfect way to end this epic Italian voyage if you ask me!
Easily one of the most glamorous places you can visit in Europe! France’s gorgeous Riviera has long been the retreat of choice for the well-heeled, drawing in visitors with its Mediterranean climates, grand architecture and stunning landscapes. Luckily for you, this region is dead easy to explore by train. The route between Fréjus and Ventimiglia takes only two hours, but it stops off at all the top names: Cannes, Antibes, Nice and even Monaco, to name just a few. The railway goes right up to the sea as well, so make sure you’re sitting on the proper side to make the most of those glorious views of the Med.
One of the most popular routes in Europe takes you between two of the most famous city break destinations. A new high-speed service was launched just a few years ago, cutting the journey time to just over 6 hours! Seeing as Catalonia is a region famed for its connection to Dalí, why not stop off in the town of Figueres to pay the Dalí Theatre-Museum a visit? It’s just two stops before/after Barcelona, and there’s even an area by the reception for you to drop your luggage off as you browse through all the exhibitions.
Planning a city break to Madrid and want to fit a proper day trip in your itinerary? There are loads of beautiful cities you can reach from the Spanish capital such as Granada, Salamanca and Valencia. But if I can recommend one route, definitely check out the service to Toledo. This is a truly stunning little city in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, perched on the top of a dramatic gorge carved out by the River Tajo. Its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In it you’ll see the distinct influences from Jewish, Arabic and Christian cultures that have lead to Toledo earning its nickname “City of Three Cultures”.
The train from Madrid is just half an hour so this is easily done as a day trip, but to fully experience Toledo, definitely book yourself somewhere to stay for the night. That way you’ll be able to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets from Mirador del Valle without worrying about having to get the last train back to the capital.
We’re now heading east for another brilliant route between two more capitals. There’s actually a lot which connects Berlin and Warsaw – both are the crossroads between East and West, both feature artsy, gritty neighbourhoods with seriously cool bars, and they’re both amazing cities to go to if you’re after some awesome vegan cuisine. While Berlin certainly hogs most of the limelight, more and more people are discovering Warsaw as a top city break destination in itself, so there’s never been a better time to hop across the border and discover all the hidden gems in Poland!
The Eurostar service to Paris is easily one of the most well-known routes going into Europe – but have you ever thought of taking the other branch to Amsterdam? With a journey time of just under four hours, it’s a dead easy trip to make, taking you to one of the most popular city break destinations going! You could even combine the trip with a quick stopover in Brussels along the way before continuing on. If you love travelling but hate the hassle of having to face the crowds and check-in woes at the airport, this is a fantastic alternative.
As far as landscapes go, this is as good as it gets! The route between these two cities follows the mighty Arlberg Pass, winding its way through steep valleys, crossing pine-fringed gorges and passing beautiful cities such as Salzburg and Innsbrück. It’s quite incredible that railways were able to be built in such extreme landscapes! Direct trains take about eight hours, but if you want to break up the journey then stop off and soak up the classical beauty of Salzburg for the night, or enjoy the historic architecture of Innsbrück. The dramatic backdrop of the Alps is just breathtaking and I’ll guarantee you’ll be glued to the window for the whole trip!
Rounding up the list for today is an awe-inspiring journey much closer to home that’s been routinely named as one of the greatest railway journeys in the world. You’ll be leaving the urban vibes of Glasgow far behind as you journey through some of the Scottish Highlands’ most pristine and remote areas, passing through the Trossachs and the Great Glen before heading west to the coast at Mallaig.
There are loads of highlights you’ll pass along the way. You’ll stop off at Corrour of Trainspotting fame, one of the most remote stations in the UK with the nearest main road a whopping 10km away. Then there’s the amazing crossing through Rannoch Moor, one of the emptiest, bleakest and most spectacular corners of the Highlands. Harry Potter fans will also definitely recognise the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct and the islands of Loch Eilt!
Starting to feel the wanderlust set in? Loco2 are experts in European rail, selling tickets to 20,000 destinations in over 25 countries – and there are no booking fees to contend with either. For more detailed itineraries and routes, be sure to check out their website or app and start planning your next adventure…