With interconnected railroads that crisscross the continent, train travel is much more than just a means of transportation in Europe. It’s a passport to traversing multiple countries and seeing the best that each has to offer, all in a single journey. From mountaintops to metropolises, rail travel in Europe is an adventure you can’t miss. Of all the rail lines available, there are a few world-class trips that should be at the top of your list.
Best Train Trips in Europe
There are hundreds of European train tours across the continent to consider. But if you’re serious about experiencing the best of the best of scenery, luxury accommodations, and culinary marvels, a trip on the Glacier Express, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, The West Highland Line, the Bernina Express, or the Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Train is the way to go.
1. The Glacier Express
The Glacier Express takes guests along an unforgettable journey between Zermatt and either St. Moritz or Davos. Known for its leisurely pace, the train takes eight hours to trek about 180 miles of bridges and tunnels through the heart of the Swiss Alps. Riders pass by the snow-capped peaks of the Matterhorn into deep valleys with charming alpine villages. Other noteworthy sights include The Rhine Gorge, considered the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland,” and the iconic Landwasser Viaduct.
But it’s not just the stunning natural scenery that makes the Glacier Express such a delight. The train has modern, spacious carriages with large panoramic windows that ensure every guest, regardless of class, has a comfortable ride and a great view along the way. The service on board is also second to none and includes regional fine dining selections.
2. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
The VSOE is one of the most famous trains in the entire world. It’s known for being the luxurious, 1920s Art Deco-styled successor to The Orient Express, which was featured in Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” With its restored vintage train cars, gorgeously decorated cabins, and evening dress codes, a ride on the VSOE is very much like taking a walk back in time to rail travel’s golden era.
Though the VSOE offers travelers many different routes, there are two that are particularly notable: London to Venice and Venice to Istanbul. The first takes passengers from Victoria Station to Santa Lucia, trekking through picturesque English and French countrysides into the Swiss and Italian Alps. The second trip brings passengers along the original Orient Express route across Eastern Europe’s many different landscapes.
3. The Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Train
The Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Train is an all-inclusive, luxury train that runs parallel to the Cantabrian Sea along the mountainous coast of Northern Spain. The 500-mile ride begins in Santiago de Compostela and ends in San Sebastián, showcasing the region’s lush greenery, pristine beaches, and jaw-dropping mountain ranges. Stops along the way offer passengers the chance to take day-long excursions to local cathedrals, parks, markets, and other cultural sites.
Often considered a hotel on wheels, the Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Train is revered for its beautifully designed cabins and suites with private bathrooms and air conditioning, a true luxury in Europe. The train also has a heightened taste for gastronomy, so guests can expect nothing but the best Spanish cuisine and accompaniments served onboard and prepared by first-rate chefs.
4. The Bernina Express
The Bernina Express takes passengers on a ride from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy. The 90-mile ride delivers four hours of panoramic views, including the spectacular sights of the Swiss Alps, Lake Lago Bianco, and the Poschiavo Valley. Seasonally, the train has special open-air cars for an uninhibited view of the surroundings. The Bernina Express crosses Glacier Express lines along the way, so it’s a great option if you’re looking to include multiple train trips in Europe on your itinerary.
5. The West Highland Line
The West Highland Line offers passengers a glimpse into some of Scotland’s most stunning, remote regions. Running from Glasgow to the small fishing port of Mallaig, the train steams by Loch Lomond and Loch Shiel and mountains like the Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. The railway even operates the Jacobite Steam Train, a vintage steam locomotive featured in the Harry Potter film series. Guests can experience what it’s like to ride on the “Hogwarts Express” which takes them on a magical ride over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. For those who have seen the film series, you’ll recognize this as the famous bridge from aerial shots.