Train with a view: The European routes that offer the most breathtaking scenery

The Bernina Express passes by the stunning Morteratsch Glacier in Switzerland
The Bernina Express passes by the stunning Morteratsch Glacier in Switzerland Copyright Andreas Stutz via Unsplash
By Saskia O'Donoghue
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

From luxurious routes to relatively undiscovered journeys, we have the inside scoop on the prettiest European train routes to explore this spring.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now we’re in March, it seems as if spring might be just around the corner. As the flowers bloom and baby animals appear, it’s a great time to plan a trip to some of Europe’s most beautiful destinations.

Plus, with the shocking statistic that planes emit on average almost five times more greenhouse gas emissions than trains - according to data from the European Environment Agency - more of us are turning to sustainable methods of transport.

Travelling by train also has the benefit of allowing passengers to see so much more of the places so easily missed if going by air.

So read on for some of the prettiest train routes to add to your travel bucket list this spring.

See stunning Alpine views with the Bernina Express

This Swiss train line runs between Chur or St. Moritz in the Alpine nation to Tirano in Italy via the Bernina Pass.

This scenic route is often hailed as one of the most stunning train journeys it’s possible to take worldwide.

Taking four hours and covering 155 km of striking landscapes, you’ll take in impressive snowy mountain peaks as well as beautiful Italian vistas.

The line, part of the Rhaetian Railway, runs all year but has an expanded timetable during spring and summer months. The 120-year-old route is made extra impressive by its UNESCO World Heritage status, which recognises its remarkable engineering feats and glorious views.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not the cheapest journey, thanks to its base in the ever-expensive Switzerland as well as its popularity.

The cheapest ticket comes in at €70 one way and some passengers have complained that panoramic carriage seats - those with extra large windows - cost at least an extra €47. Most people say the price tag is absolutely worth it for the pure beauty of the trip, however.

Turn back time with a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

If you’re on the hunt for a bargain train journey, this is not the one for you either - but it is, arguably, the most legendary route in the world.

Hop aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and you’ll be taken on a luxury voyage, seeing some of Europe’s most incredible scenery on the way.

It’s possible to board in London but, since last year, passengers have had to change onto another train in Paris.

On arrival in the French capital, you’ll be transported back to the glamorous world of train travel in the 1920s and ‘30s, thanks to the carriages which hail from those decades.

Leaving Paris, the journey takes 24 hours to get to its destination of Venice but, along the route you’ll see true European icons - including the Swiss Alps, the French Riviera and the rolling hills of Italy.

Previous passengers say the journey is like stepping back into a time capsule. Donning classic evening wear, you’ll be entertained by a live pianist and try famously delicious foods.

It’s certainly one for a special occasion; the absolute cheapest ticket for the route comes in at just over €4,000 per person each way.

Why not visit Venice's iconic canals via train?
Why not visit Venice's iconic canals via train?Henrique Ferreira via Unsplash

Take a bargain train trip on the Belgrade-Bar Railway

At the other end of the price scale is the Belgrade-Bar Railway. The journey kicks off in the Serbian capital and takes passengers through some of the most impressive landscapes in all of neighbouring Montenegro.

ADVERTISEMENT

Taking half the time of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to reach its own destination of Bar, a coastal town in the south of Montenegro, it’s also significantly less expensive. The most affordable tickets are around €24, with first class seats available for just a few euros more.

While the landscapes of Serbia and Montenegro are not as famous as those on the Orient Express route, they certainly merit their place on this list.

On the journey, you can marvel at mountain peaks and their contrast with deep canyons, as well as Montenegro’s Biogradska Gora National Park - one of UNESCO’s network of biosphere reserves.

While the train runs year-round, the ideal time to travel is the spring or summer. Making the most of the increased daylight hours, you’ll be able to see so much more of the stunning scenery than in the autumn and winter.

Explore Serbia's capital on the Belgrade-Bar Railway
Explore Serbia's capital on the Belgrade-Bar RailwayDimitrije Milenkovic via Unsplash

Explore a different side of Greece on the Odontotos Rack Railway

If you prefer to incorporate train travel into your holiday, rather than making it the main focus, Greece’s steepest railway could be perfect for you.

ADVERTISEMENT

Just south of Patras, the country’s third-largest city, the Odontotos Rack Railway takes you on a relatively brief journey - but one steeped in history.

Opened in 1896, the line has been enthralling visitors for years. It’s a must for engineering enthusiasts too, thanks to its unique rack and pinion system, which allows the locomotive to climb some 720 metres above sea level, all while taking sharp turns in the stunning Vouraikos gorge.

On the sometimes hairraising journey, you’ll see waterfalls, forests and mountains, all while taking in relatively undiscovered Greek countryside.

Trains run significantly more in the summer than in the spring so this journey is perhaps one to plan for slightly later in the year.

It’s another affordable trip, too; a one-way ticket costs from €9.50 per person.

ADVERTISEMENT

Marvel in the rugged beauty of Scotland on the West Highland Line

Scotland is infamous for its less-than-clement weather in the autumn and winter months, so the West Highland Line is a journey perfect to embark on in the spring.

The route starts in the country’s second city of Glasgow and, in four hours, takes you to the Scottish Highlands, ensuring you’ll see an enormous variety of views unique to the journey.

Onboard, you’ll be able to take in the rugged beauty of the Scottish countryside, including lochs, moors and mountains, as well as the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made even more famous for its role in the Harry Potter films.

While a sunny day is perhaps the optimal time for this train ride, it’s also spectacular when snow has fallen or when the autumn leaves are turning their rich, vibrant hues.

With tickets starting from €19.50 one way, the train travels along Scotland’s west coast, before splitting at Crianlarich, a picturesque village billing itself as ‘the gateway to the highlands’.

ADVERTISEMENT

From there, you can opt for one of two routes, continuing your journey to either Oban or to Fort William and Mallaig. You won’t have to compromise on views on either route, with both offering up unmissable views of the iconic highlands.

Scotland's Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the most beautiful sights on the West Highland Line
Scotland's Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the most beautiful sights on the West Highland LineSimon Wiedensohler via Unsplash

Avoid adding to Italy’s overtourism issue via the Cinque Terre Express

Italy is home to a seemingly endless list of destinations swamped with overtourism.

Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera is one of those suffering the worst - despite its place on UNESCO’s world heritage list.

If you’re still keen to visit the five stunning coastal villages, though, taking the train could be the way to go, to beat the crowds and reduce footfall.

The Cinque Terre Express costs from €14.80 a day and offers unrivalled views of the coastline and Mediterranean sea constantly splashed over social media.

ADVERTISEMENT

The journey begins in the town of La Spezia, before winding its way through the villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza before arriving at Monterosso al Mare.

The train stops at each of the five villages, allowing passengers to hop off wherever they choose.

Seeing Cinque Terre by rail is a smart move for tourists keen to experience something a little out of the ordinary, too.

The train offers up unique views of the villages and surrounding landscapes - vistas that are so often overlooked by more traditional tourists.

Share this articleComments

You might also like