Travelling by rail is potentially one of the best ways to take in the sights of the breathtaking European countryside, all from the comfort of traditional rail carriages.
So, 2023 may be the perfect time to witness all Europe has to offer by rail and embrace the quote: “it’s not the destination; it’s the journey”. Here are eight stunningly scenic European railway journeys you can enjoy.
1. The West Highland Line, Scotland
While rolling Italian hills and the idyllic French countryside may first come to mind when you think of scenic landscapes in Europe, you don’t need to travel far to have your breath taken away.
Indeed, the West Highland Line in Scotland is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world and is truly a sight to behold.
The line, which runs from Glasgow to Fort William or Mallaig, winds through the dramatic Scottish highlands, passing imposing hills and peaceful lochs.
Better yet, Harry Potter fans and history buffs alike will take immense joy in travelling over the jaw-dropping Glenfinnan Viaduct, which, as well as being the route for the Hogwarts Express, is where Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised the battle standard during the Jacobite rising of 1745.
2. The Dublin to Tralee Line, Ireland
If you’re willing to travel further afield, the Dublin to Tralee line certainly won’t disappoint. As the name suggests, the train runs from Dublin’s Heuston station to Killarney and Tralee in the south-west of Ireland.
On its way to the quaint Irish south-west, the train passes through gorgeous landscapes, such as the Galtee Mountains and one of Ireland’s most stunning vistas surrounding Mangerton Mountain.
After a quick stop in Killarney, the train makes a final dash to the coast, after which you’ll arrive at Tralee Casement, Europe’s most westerly rail station.
3. The Douro Line, Portugal
The Douro Valley in Portugal boasts some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, so what better way to take in the sights of the terraced vineyards and steep valleys than on the aptly-named Douro Line?
This scenic rail journey connects Porto with Pocinho, high in the Alto Douro. After departing from São Bento station in Porto, the train winds through the heart of Portuguese wine country, following the meandering river that snakes across the valley.
Then, when you arrive at Tua station, the train will carry you across the imposing cliffs, offering breathtaking views over the ravine far below. This truly is one of the best ways to witness all the Portuguese countryside has to offer.
4. The Little Yellow Train, France
Le Petite Train Jaune, or “The Little Yellow Train”, is a stunning railway that runs from Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol-Enveitg in the French Pyrenees.
If you’re unsure of heights, this may not be the rail journey for you, as the line hugs the sides of the deep valley of the Tet, winding past dramatic forests, imposing chasms and flowing streams. The train will take you close to the summit of Mont Louis, where you can witness jaw-dropping views of the mountainous scenery.
On your scenic journey to the Pyrenees, you’ll pass over several bridges and viaducts spanning the exciting valleys, including the feat of engineering that is the Pont de Cassagne, the only railway suspension bridge in France.
5. The Cologne to Basel Line, Germany and Switzerland
If you want to take in the sights of the German and Swiss countryside, there may be no better option than the line from Cologne to Basel.
The train departs from Cologne in the German Rhineland to Basel in the Alps, and while many of the trains along this line tend to be high-speed these days, you can still take the scenic train that follows the traditional route along the Rhine gorge railway upstream from Koblenz.
On the journey, you’ll witness the dramatic cliffs and hills of the Rhine Valley, and even be able to spot the Alsace region of France over the river.
If you’re willing to spend a little extra for some additional views, it may be worth buying a ticket for the first-class-only service along this line. The upgrade typically only costs €10 more, and for a small additional investment, you’ll be travelling on a Swiss panorama carriage with unbeatable views.
6. The Rhodope Narrow Gauge, Bulgaria
Alongside dramatic scenery, some rail journeys allow you to experience traditional rail travel. The Rhodope Narrow Gauge line is one such journey, as you will be travelling on a 20th-century train, which is the last narrow gauge line still in operation in Bulgaria.
The route itself connects the Gornotrakiyska Valley with the Rhodope, Rila and Pirin Mountains, and passes through the dramatic gorge of the Chepinska river. You’ll then pass through the highest railway station on the Balkan Peninsula – Station Avramovo – 1,267 metres above sea level.
Running for a total of 124.7 km, the Rhodope Narrow Gauge journey can show you the best of Bulgarian landscapes, all from the comfort of an old-fashioned, yet romantic, rail carriage.
7. The Bernina Railway, Italy and Switzerland
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of breathtaking views in Switzerland and Italy, and the Bernina Railway gives you the chance to see it all.
The journey will take you from Chur in Switzerland, past the Alps to Tirano in Italy, and will take you through jaw-dropping Alpine landscapes, past bright blue mountain lakes, and even through UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Better yet, if you’re visiting during the Easter break, you’ll see the vibrant green fields and quaint farming villages of the Swiss countryside in all their beauty. On your journey to northern Italy, you can make the most of the train’s panoramic carriages to fully experience the dramatic scenery on offer.
8. The Black Forest Railway, Germany
The “Schwarzwaldbahn”, or Black Forest Railway, is a relatively short route from Offenburg to Konstanz in southern Germany. As the name suggests, the route passes through Germany’s eerily still Black Forest.
If you’re a fan of fairy-tale-like scenery, this could be the journey for you, as it winds through picturesque pine forests, Hansel and Gretel-esque villages, and dramatic cliff faces.
The train itself is a double-decker, so if you’re lucky enough to get a seat on the upper level, you’ll get fantastic views of the German countryside.
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