Jetsetting around the world at 37,000 feet might be time-efficient, but there’s nothing worse than being squashed into the middle seat of an airplane and not being able to stretch those cramping legs. You might be able to witness incredible landscapes, however, it’ll be through a 10-inch tablet, slapped onto the back of the crying child’s seat in front of you. Pass.
What’s infinitely more picturesque, offers greater flexibility (not to mention higher-quality food), and is a tourist attraction in and of itself? Train journeys. While there are impressive routes scattered across the globe, Europe undoubtedly boasts some of the world’s best. So, let’s take a look at them!
10 Glacier Express - Zermatt to St. Moritz (Switzerland)
We’ll kick off our diverse list of stunning locomotive adventures with an eight-hour journey aboard the Glacier Express. With a route that travels through a whopping 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges, the Glacier Express is, without a shadow of a doubt, not only one of Europe’s most alluring train routes, but one of the world’s.
While tucking into an onboard snack or a glass of red, passengers can fill up their camera rolls with snaps of the breathtaking Rhine Gorge, (it’s like the Grand Canyon, just Swiss), the Matterhorn, the Solis and Landwasser viaducts, and the Oberalp Pass, which stands at a dizzying height of over 2000 meters.
9 The Inlandsbanan, Kristinehamn to Gällivare (Sweden)
Night owls, look away now, because the Swedish inland train takes passengers all the way up to the northernmost, coldest, and most abominable-snowman-esque parts of Sweden - home, of course, to the polar circle and the Midnight Sun (essentially, sunshine that lasts almost an eternity).
The journey is both rather slow and rather long, however, that simply equates to more time to take in the endless breathtaking views. Passengers are provided the opportunity to explore every village along the way, meaning the chance to stretch the legs, rent a bike, or even hop in a canoe. June, July, and August are touted as the best months to take the trip, which lasts anywhere from two to ten days, depending on the chosen package.
8 Comboio Histórico do Douro - Régua to Pinhão (Portugal)
We’re leaving the Scandinavian settings in our wake and heading south to a place with entirely different environments, temperatures and highlights - Portugal. Passengers who take the plunge aboard the Comboio Histórico do Douro (Douro Historical Train) will chug past countless towering mountains and be able to snap Insta-worthy photos of the grapevines spread across them.
The onboard journey is a beautiful one, no doubt. But it’s not a one-dimensional attraction by any means, the train itself is a historical five-car steam engine, and the stations along the way are yet to be modernized, meaning that traditional Portuguese charm is aplenty.
7 The Flam Railway, Myrdal to Flam (Norway)
If Norway sits firmly on any given traveler’s bucket list, then there should be two mandatory activities before ticking it off: seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), and taking a trip on the Flam. With jaw-dropping views of snow-capped mountains, gushing waterfalls, and mountainside farms, not to mention the world’s longest fjord (Aurlandsfjord), the journey is understandably considered as one of Norway’s premier activities.
The great (or upsetting, depending on how you look at it) factor is that the journey is a short one - easily on and off in the space of an hour. It’s open all year, however, the summer months are considered prime time.
6 The Orient Express - Paris to Venice
A short and sweet journey was lovely, but we want more. Instead of a one-hour Norgweigen adventure, we’re going multi-day and cross-country! Passengers feel like they’ve been propelled back in time aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (or, simply the Orient Express), and considering that it’s been welcoming journeymen since 1883, it’s easy to see why.
The train ventures from London to Venice, however, the most famous leg is the one that links Paris with the floating city. If you’re searching for a touch extra motivation to climb aboard, grab some popcorn, admire the idyllic views, and watch Hercule Poirot solve a mystery in Murder on the Orient Express.
5 West Highland Line - Fort William to Mallaig (Scotland)
With lush greenery to boot, Scotland offers up some of the most postcard-worthy landscapes not only in Europe, but across our entire beautiful planet. If you’re thinking that you’ve seen it somewhere before, you’d be right... unless you’ve been hibernating under a rock for 20 years. The Glenfinnan Viaduct (pictured) made a few magical appearances as part of the Hogwarts Express’ route in the Harry Potter film series.
Glenfinnan is merely one of the highlights on this stunning journey, which transports passengers from Glasgow to Fort William, traversing through the wilderness of Rannoch Moor, past glistening lochs, and through deep valleys.
4 Chocolate Train - Montreux to Broc (Switzerland)
If sampling a few chocolate frogs aboard the Hogwarts Express’ didn’t squash that sweet tooth craving, then this next European train journey is sure to do the trick. Over in pristine Switzerland, not only do passengers aboard the Broc-bound Chocolate Train get to experience postcard-like views from the large windows, but they get to stuff their face with some of Switzerland’s best chocolate and cheese until their hearts are content.
It’s savory before sweet on this journey, with the first stop being the Maison du Gruyère (cheese factory). After a quick visit to the medieval town of Gruyères, passengers call it a day the renowned Swiss chocolaterie, Maison Cailler.
3 Rhine Valley Line - Mainz to Koblenz (Germany)
Germany (and all of Europe, for that matter) boasts a rail network that is as beautiful as it is complex and efficient. Constantly rated amongst the most scenic of all the country’s locomotive routes is the Rhine Valley Line, which takes passengers through Germany’s picturesque central region. The train shoots through adorable wine county and past ancient castles and, of course, the Rhine River, stopping at each little quaint village along the way.
The train runs year-round, and while summer might offer up walking tours and hiking opportunities, there’s nothing quite as magical as the German forests covered with a sheet of pure white.
2 Harz Steam Railway System (Germany)
From the stunning Rhine region, we’re heading a little further north to a place that looks like it’s been stolen straight out of a fairytale - the Harz mountains. No matter the season, the views can be expected to be nothing less than sublime. Take your pick of endless white (winter), lush greenery (summer), or dazzling color patterns (fall), and don’t forget the camera while you’re at it.
The steam train runs every day across its 86-mile track, which stops at 48 stations along the way, including some small villages that are just too cute to be real. It’s not just a tourist beacon either - the Harz is a necessary transport method for countless locals.
1 Bergensbanen Oslo to Bergen (Norway)
All aboard for the last leg on our European locomotive journey, and we’re headed up to Scandinavia again to jump on board the Bergensbanen. Along the 310-mile railway line, the Bergensbanen transports passengers from the country’s capital in the east, all the way over to Bergen by the North Sea in the west. With a route that traverses through 4,000ft-high mountain landscapes, it should come as no surprise that this train claims the title as highest major rail route in northern Europe.
The views along the way are unquestionably some of the most serene that locomotive transport can offer, with shimmering fjords and contouring mountains beckoning to be featured on your social media.