The Orient Express
The very name of Europe’s most famous train exudes glamour, sophistication, and, of course, a little bit of mystery. Get your glad rags on and prepare for a luxurious journey. The route originally spanned the continent from London to Istanbul, but today has been shortened – passengers can choose from several routes including from London to Venice and from London to Paris. The train’s 1920s cabins have been beautifully restored to the highest design standard and guests can relax in the champagne car with a glass of something fizzy.
One of Europe’s most epic railway journeys is a 9,200km (5,700-mile) odyssey from Moscow to Vladivostok, close to Russia’s borders with China and North Korea. The world’s longest railway journey is not for the faint-hearted – accommodation can be rustic at best – but adventurous passengers are rewarded with fantastic views of the epic Russian landscape, from vast green fields, through pine forests, and past glimmering lakes.
The West Highland Line
The windows of the West Highland Line, which travels from Glasgow northwards to the port town of Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands, frame the lush green countryside and craggy mountains of Scotland’s west coast. The route has often been voted the most scenic in the world, and for Harry Potter fans it holds a special significance; the Glenfinnan Viaduct – aka the Harry Potter railway bridge – is located along the line.
Norway’s Bergen Line runs between the capital, Oslo, and the country’s second city of Bergen, through some of Europe’s most striking and dramatic landscapes. The 500km (310 mile) journey is the highest in Europe, traversing the Hardangervidda plateau, at over 1,220m (4,000 feet). One of its most picturesque portions is the branch Flåm line – its 19km (12-mile) route descends a sharp 725m (2,380 feet) making it the steepest line in Europe. It includes 20 tunnels, show shelters, and spectacular views over the mountains, valley, and river below.
The TER (Transport Express Régional) snakes along the coast of the French Riviera, stopping at some of the most beautiful and famed towns of the classic coastline. Take the line from cinematic Cannes, through Antibes, and through beautiful seaside towns including Villefranche-sur-Mer, Èze-sur-Mer, and Menton. The train also stops in Monaco and ends in the Italian town of Ventimiglia.
If you prefer rails to boats, opt for the train that snakes along the River Rhine, through the Rhine Valley in western Germany. Watch out for castles, vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides either side of the river, and pretty little villages along the way. Stop off in pretty towns like Rüdesheim, where you can sample some local Riesling wine and take a cable car up to the Niederwald for great views of the valley.
Switzerland’s Bernina Express, one of Europe’s most famous train journeys, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in in 2008. The line is a white knuckle ride from St. Moritz up to the Bernina Pass, where passengers are treated to views over the Morteratsch Glacier and the peak of Piz Bernina. The journey takes around four hours, crossing 196 bridges and going through 55 tunnels.
The Balkan Express
The 10-hour train journey from the seaport of Bar on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast to the Serbian capital Belgrade takes in some of the most impressive landscapes of the Balkans. It crosses one of the world’s highest railway viaducts, Mala Rijeka, stops in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, and chugs through mountainous scenery.
The Douro Line
This scenic journey runs from the Portuguese city of Porto along the Douro River, giving passengers beautiful views along the river valley. The stepped vineyards, lush green hillsides, and cute little villages could tempt you to disembark and split the journey into two or three stages. The whole route, from Porto to the northern village of Pocinho, takes around three-and-a-half hours.
The Semmering Bahn, which runs from Gloggnitz, over the Semmering Pass, to Mürzzuschlag, in Austria, is one of Europe’s most incredible feats of engineering. Built over high mountains between 1848 and 1854, the railway passes through 15 tunnels and across 16 viaducts and was the first single gauge track mountain railway in Europe.
For incredible mountain vistas, take the Jungfraubahn in Switzerland, a nine-kilometre (5.6-mile) track up to Europe’s highest railway station, Jungfraujoch. The train is named after the highest peak above it, the 4,089-metre (13,415ft) Jungfrau. The route makes its way into the mountains, where passengers can disembark at one of the underground stations and get a unique view of the mountains from the inside.