In terms of travel, few transportation methods are as relaxing as a train ride. You don’t have to do any work – you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Plus, thanks to the hard-working engineers of the past, today’s trains are fully equipped for travel through some of the most scenic landscapes in the world.
If you’re planning on touring around Europe any time soon, you’re in for a real treat. Trains are one of the most popular modes of transportation for Europeans, allowing travellers to see everything from the comfort of their own cabin, at very reasonable prices. From romantic valleys to medieval castles, hopping on board a European train is one of the best ways to see a country.
To make your trip a bit easier to plan, these are some of the most scenic train rides across Europe.
1. The Jacobite Steam Train, Fort William to Mallaig Return – Scotland
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this train adventure should be at the very top of your list. For Potterheads and muggles alike, the Jacobite (aka The Hogwarts Express) is a steam train that runs 135 kilometres from Fort William to Mallaig. The views are breathtaking, from rolling meadows to toppling mountains. Plus, you’ll ride right over top of the iconic Glenfinnan viaduct, an iconic landmark from the Harry Potter films.
- Best time to visit: June to September (but book early, it does sell out fast)
- Distance and time: 67 kilometres (each way), 2 hours
2. The Glacier Express, St-Moritz to Zermatt – Switzerland
It’s hardly a trip to Switzerland if you don’t make your way up a glacier, and thanks to the Glacier Express, that bucket list item can be checked off rather leisurely. This panoramic trip passes right through the Alpine heartland of Switzerland, passing through 91 tunnels and crossing over 291 bridges. The trip may be a bit longer, but it’s definitely one of the most scenic tours in Europe, not to mention the best way to get from the Eastern to Western Swiss Alps.
- Best time to visit: September
- Distance and time: 300 kilometres, 8 hours
3. The Inlandsbanan, Kristinehamn to Gällivare – Sweden
This journey takes you all the way from the Swedish countryside, to the snow-covered valleys of the Arctic Circle. Travelling through whimsical forests and bogs, you’ll spot reindeer right from the train windows and perhaps an abominable snowman or two. This train ride is a long one, however it allows you to stop in every town and village to explore, so whether you rent a bike for the day or go canoeing, your train ride is complemented with adventure and activity.
- Best time to visit: June to August
- Distance and time: Up to 1,363 kilometres, between 2 and 10 days (depends on which adventure package you choose)
4. Linha do Douro, Porto to Douro – Portugal
Regarded as one of the most picturesque railways in Europe, the Linha do Douro weaves through some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern Portugal. Snaking through vineyards, steep valley, and colourful villages, this tour is perfect for anyone looking to see a lot of Portugal in a little bit of time. Plus, with regularly scheduled stops, you can take the time to hop on and off to view the villages along the way.
- Best time to visit: May to August
- Distance and time: 160 kilometres, between 3 and a half hours
5. The Flam Railway, Myrdal to Flam – Norway
Considered one of Norway’s most iconic tourist attractions, The Flam Railway should not be missed by anyone touring through the country. A trip on this railway leaves tourist gawking at the views of mystical rivers and waterfalls, steep snow-covered mountain peaks, and charming farms clinging to the mountainside. At the bottom of the mountain, one can enjoy the scenic landscapes of Flam Valley and the beautiful Aurlandsfjord – the world’s longest fjord.
- Best time to visit: Open year round, but May to August can be the most beautiful
- Distance and time: 20 kilometres, around 1 hour
See Also: How to Enjoy Norway on a Budget
6. The Golden Pass, Lucerne to Montreux – Switzerland
If you’re looking to get a taste of everything Switzerland has to offer, the Golden Pass is the train ride for you. This charming tour includes panoramic cars, allowing for 360-degree views for nearly the entire train ride, and VIP seat options if you’re looking for a top-notch experience. Complete with flower-covered chalets, the Brünig Pass, vineyards, lakes, and some of the most historical cities in the country, the Golden Pass is a slice of heaven tucked within the Swiss countryside.
- Best time to visit: June to September
- Distance and time: 191 kilometres, just over 5 hours
7. Cinque Terre Train, Levanto to La Spezia – Italy
When you think of Italy, you probably imagine beautiful seaside towns surrounded by colourful homes and vineyards – which is exactly what you’ll see when you ride the Cinque Terre train. This small section of railway hits five-century-old seaside villages of the Cinque Terre. These breathtaking coastal towns are filled with steep terraces, handsome fishing boats, and timeless vineyards. Plus with a relatively short ride time, you’ll have time to get off and explore every stop along the way.
- Best time to visit: May to September (warmer months, but the off-season is less busy)
- Distance and time: Roughly 20 kilometres, between 40 minutes and an hour (depending on where you start and stop)
8. Rhine Valley Line, Mainz to Koblenz – Germany
Of all the train rides in Germany, the Central Rhine Railway is by far the most German and the most breathtaking. Filled with terraced hillsides and 14th-century castles, this picturesque tour chugs through some of the most quaint wine countries in all of Europe. Stopping at each village along the way, you won’t miss the castles of Marksburg, the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, or Burg Pfalzgrafenstein – all tucked carefully in the middle of the Rhine.
- Best time to visit: Beautiful all year round, but summer months are warmer for walking tours at each stop
- Distance and time: 60 kilometres, about 1 hour
TOURING TIP: To save a buck or two, consider in investing in a Rail Pass. The pass is valid for thousands of destinations across Europe and helps you get around by train for a lower price.