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From the Hogwarts Express to alpine adventures: Europe’s best steam train journeys

Chug along the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous in Harry Potter on the Jacobite Steam Train.
Chug along the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous in Harry Potter on the Jacobite Steam Train. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela SymonsKaty Dartford
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Experience the true romance of slow travel on these historic steam train journeys in Europe.

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Futuristic high-speed trains are usually the focus of Europe’s rail revival. But to really experience the romance of slow and sleepy travel, you need to venture back in time.

Across Europe, rail enthusiasts are keeping historic steam trains on the tracks, offering nostalgic journeys into the past.

Trace train travel’s heritage on these leisurely steam train journeys in Europe.

Chug through English countryside on the Bluebell Railway

Riding Bluebell Railway’s vintage steam train is like travelling back in time.

Accompanied by railway staff in period clothing, you’ll chug through 18 kilometres of beautiful Sussex countryside - plan your trip in May to catch the eponymous bluebells.

You’ll stop at four stations - Sheffield Park, Horsted Keynes, Kingscote and East Grinstead - preserved in different periods in history, including Victorian, 1930s and 1950s.

Look out for special events like murder mystery trips throughout the year. Dining trains are also in operation on certain dates offering everything from afternoon tea to silver service dinners and real ale evenings.

Standard all-day tickets start at £25 (€28).

Travel in Harry Potter’s footsteps on Scotland’s Jacobite Steam Train

Harry Potter fans flock to the Jacobite Steam Train, which was used for the Hogwarts Express - but its history stretches back much further than the film.

Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, the train takes an 135 km round trip between Fort William and Mallaig.

Journey through the Scottish Highlands, passing lochs, sleepy villages, coastline and the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct along the way.

The train runs between April and October, with standard day returns starting at £57 (€65).

Experience the lap of luxury on the Northern Belle

Named ‘Britain's most luxurious train’, the Northern Belle is steeped in royal history.

The oldest of its seven ornately-decorated 1930s-style Pullman carriages, named The Duart, was once used by Queen Elizabeth II as part of her Royal Train.

It offers several steam-powered journeys, with the carriages hauled by one of five black steam engines, including the 88-year-old locomotive, Princess Elizabeth.

Sip a glass of champagne, enjoy a leisurely brunch or a multi-course gourmet dinner as you chug through north Wales and England and into Scotland.

The train’s most affordable trip, a champagne afternoon tea in Manchester, starts at £295 (€335).

Roll through alpine meadows on Austria’s Achensee Steam Cog Railway

Austria’s oldest coal-fired steam engine has been carrying passengers from Jenbach past alpine meadows and forests up to the shores of Lake Achensee since the late 1800s.

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The 6.8 km trip in the Austrian state of Tyrol tackles 440 metres of elevation and takes around 50 minutes. When you reach the top you can catch a steamboat from the lake to continue the panoramic journey.

Adult tickets are priced at €27 one way or €36 return.

Watch the Alps roll by on Switzerland’s Furka Railway

Watch the Swiss Alps and Rhone Glacier glide by on the Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway - or Damfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke (DFB).

Running almost 18 kilometres between the pretty villages of Realp in the canton of Uri and Oberwald in Valais, it winds through wild gorges and up steep mountains reaching over 2,000 metres above sea level.

Look out for special brunch and raclette trips to enjoy a bite to eat along the way.

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The preserved railway line opens up between June and September with steam train prices set at 75 CHP (€76.50) for the full route. 

Take in the Provence countryside on France’s Cevennes Steam Train

A 13-kilometre trip between Anduze and Saint-Jean-du-Gard in old open-air carriages is a unique way to enjoy the Provence countryside.

The Cévennes Steam Train carries passengers along viaducts above the Gardon river, stopping to visit the botanic gardens of La Bambouseraie, 2 km before Anduze.

Special event trains run each year, ranging from a wine harvest trip in September to a fireworks night train on Bastille Day.

Regular round-trips cost €16.50 for adults.

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Admire rainbow tulip fields on the Netherlands’ stoomtram

Take a trip through Amsterdam's tulip-filled countryside on a steam 'tram' from Hoorn’s railway museum to Medemblik.

You can continue from Medemblik with a picturesque boat trip across the IJsselmeer Lake to Enkhuizen, and then catch a modern train back to Hoorn to complete the journey, known as the ‘historic triangle’.

Trips on the heritage railway and boat cost €25.95, while a single trip on the train costs €15.50.

Escape London on the Sunset Steam Express

London's unending train strikes make for a pretty stressful experience when visiting the UK capital, but heritage rail company Steam Dreams offers a far more relaxing way to travel.

As well as various day trips throughout the UK, it runs the Sunset Steam Express in summertime. Head on an evening tour from London through the beautiful Surrey Hills, enjoying a three-course meal onboard as you watch the sun go down.

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The round-trip from London Victoria takes 3.5 hours and costs from £69 (€78) for standard class to £115 (€130) for Pullman style dining.

Explore forests and medieval villages on Germany’s Harz Railway

Fairytale villages, mythical witches' meeting points and forested peaks dot Germany’s Harz mountains, which you can explore via the Harz Railway.

A fleet of 25 steam trains, the oldest dating from 1897, operate along the 138 km, 48-station line. Unlike the other trains on this list, these serve locals as well as tourists.

The most popular route for visitors is the Brocken line, which takes you to the mountains’ mist-shrouded highest summit.

A three-day pass for the entire network is available for €99.

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