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Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Train travel is one of the best ways to explore Europe – the continent is fairly compact so it’s easy to get around, and you can sit back and soak up the views. If you want to explore Europe by train, most suggested itineraries are geared up for Interrailers with months to spare.

But that’s not the only option – you can have a mini European rail adventure too. Just choose a region and a few destinations and create your own route. Or if that sounds too much work, here are five of the best one-week European rail trip ideas to get you started.

Read more: Britain by train: Five great one-week UK rail trip routes

Europe by train: The Flamsbana scenic train in Norway
The Flåmsbana train in Norway

Each of the routes is possible in a week’s holiday, but if you’ve got more time then you can take it slower and spend more time in each place. The idea isn’t to wear yourself out trying to see everything in every destination, but to take in the highlights and get a taste for each place (if you find somewhere you love, you can always come back again and stay longer).

From Scandinavia to Spain, there’s the perfect rail route for you – and if you’re ready to go, check out my detailed one-week itinerary posts for the full details of which trains to take, how much they cost, how to book, what to see and where to stay along the way.

5 itineraries for exploring Europe by train

Europe by train: Swiss mountain railway at Kleine Scheidegg
Swiss mountain trains

Northern Europe: Canals and chocolate

Amsterdam > Bruges > Paris > Chur > Milan

This train journey takes you through some of Northern Europe’s higlights – from cosmopolitan capital cities to storybook canalside towns and through the Alps on board one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys. Start your trip in Amsterdam and spend the day exploring the city’s 50km of canals and 1500 bridges. Visit Amsterdam’s museums, take a walk around the UNESCO-listed Canal Ring or hire a bike to explore further afield.

Then take an early train on to the pretty Belgian city of Bruges (3 hours) for an afternoon feasting on local beer and chocolate. Next morning, climb to the top of the Belfort tower or take a boat trip along Bruges canals before catching an afternoon train on to Paris (3 hours).

Along the canals in Bruges
Bruges canals

Paris has something for everyone – big-name museums like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, parks, pavement cafés and boutique shops. Or why not try out some of the city’s more unusual attractions, like the Promenade Plantée railway line turned park or underground Musée des Égouts?

Then take the train on to Chur (5.5 hours) and spend the evening in Switzerland’s oldest city. Catch the Bernina Express the following morning – one of the most scenic train rides in Europe. This four-hour rail journey runs through the stunning scenery of the Swiss Alps, across bridges and viaducts past Alpine meadows and traditional mountain villages.

The Bernina Express terminates in Tirano in Italy, where you change onto a local train to connect to Milan (3 hours). Then spend your final morning shopping and sightseeing in the Italian fashion capital’s historic heart before heading home.

Read the full Northern Europe by train itinerary

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Northen Europe
Northern Europe: Canals and chocolate rail trip itinerary

Italy: Palazzos and pizza

Venice > Florence > Rome > Naples > Sorrento > Sicily

This rail trip is a feast of Italian culture, history, food and wine, travelling from Venice in the north down to Sicily in the south. Begin your trip with a full day in Venice – cruise the Grand Canal, get lost in the backstreets and brave the crowds at St Mark’s Square and the Doges Palace. Then take an early train on to Florence the following morning (2 hours).

Spend the afternoon soaking up Florence’s artistic atmosphere, with galleries, museums, churches and palazzi overflowing with Renaissance masterpieces, and try some delicious Tuscan food and wine. Next morning, take the short train journey on to Rome (1.5 hours).

Explore some of Rome’s historic highlights, from the Colosseum and Pantheon to St Peter’s Basilica and the Trevi Fountain, before finding the perfect piazza for a sunset aperitivo.

Rome buildings at sunset
Rome sunset

Travel further south to the gritty coastal city of Naples (1 hour 10 mins) to spend the day exploring its archaeological treasures and stuffing yourself in the home of pizza before taking the Circumvesuviana railway south to Sorrento. Eat gelato and soak up the seaside views in Sorrento then spend a day visiting some of the nearby sights.

You can go back in time at the buried Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, take a boat trip along the colourful villages of the Amalfi Coast or visit the glamorous island of Capri.

Then finish your trip by travelling south to Sicily. Getting there’s an adventure in itself – you can take the train all the way as it travels onto the ferry for the 30-minute boat trip across the Messina Straits. Once in Sicily, you can get a taste of the island by choosing between Taormina (6 hours 45 mins), Catania (7.5 hours) or Palermo (9 hours) for your final stop.

Read the full Italy by train itinerary

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Italy
Italy: Palaces and pizza rail trip itinerary

Eastern Europe: Concerts and cake

Budapest > Bratislava > Vienna > Ljubljana > Zagreb

Head east to some of Europe’s cultural capitals to experience world-class art, architecture and music as you travel to five different countries in just one week. Start your rail journey through Eastern European in the Hungarian capital Budapest, with a full day to soak up the city’s culture, steam in its thermal spa baths and party by night in its ruin pubs.

Then catch a train on to Bratislava in Slovakia (2.5 hours), a compact city set on the banks of the Danube. Spend the afternoon checking out Bratislava’s mix of 18th-century and Socialist-era architecture, from the blue-painted Church of St Elisabeth to the quirky ‘UFO’ Bridge.

St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna
St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

Then travel on to Vienna in Austria (1 hour by train – or if you fancy a change from rail travel, the two cities are also connected by a boat which runs along the Danube). Visit an ornate palace, take an architecture walk around the Ringstrasse, watch the horses at the Spanish Riding School, catch a Mozart concert at the State Opera House and fill up on delicious sachertorte at a traditional Viennese coffee house.

Next travel on to Ljubljana in Slovenia (6 hours) along the route of the scenic Semmering Railway through Austria’s mountains. Spend the afternoon exploring the bridges and Baroque churches of Ljubljana’s charming old town and catch sunset from the castle.

Take a day trip from Ljubljana to beautiful Lake Bled (1 hour by train), famous for its island church, hilltop castle and creamy custard Bled cakes. Then end your trip in Zagreb, across the border in Croatia (2.5 hours), with a day wandering around the historic Upper Town, picnicking in Maksimir Park and visiting the quirky Museum of Broken Relationships.

Read the full Eastern Europe by train itinerary

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe: Concerts and cake rail trip itinerary

Spain & Portugal: Paella and port

Barcelona > Valencia > Madrid > Lisbon > Porto

This rail journey takes you across Spain and Portugal, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, with plenty of fantastic food and drink along the way. Start your trip in the Catalan capital city of Barcelona and spend a full day checking out Gaudi’s unique architecture, people-watching on Las Ramblas and soaking up the sunshine on Barceloneta beach.

Next morning, take an early train down the coast to Valencia (3 hours) where you have the afternoon and next morning to explore its mix of old and new – from the traditional buildings of the Ciutat Vella old town to the Space-Age City of Arts and Sciences – and try a paella in the city where it was first created. Then take the short train ride inland to Spain’s capital Madrid (1.5 hours) for an evening of eating and drinking in the city’s tapas bars.

Port tasting at Taylor's in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto
Port tasting in Porto

Spend the next day discovering Madrid’s parks, museums and historic buildings – from the famous Prado art museum and Mercado de San Miguel food market to the largest palace in Europe – before catching the Lusitania overnight train on into Portugal. The train leaves Madrid just before 10pm and you wake up in Lisbon early the next morning.

Spot street art and feast on local seafood and pastel de nata custard tarts in Portugal’s capital. Or take a short day trip to the colourful hilltop palaces of Sintra (30 minutes each way). Then finally travel north to Porto (3 hours) to end your trip with a boat trip on the River Duoro and port-tasting at the famous producers across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Read the full Spain and Portugal by train itinerary

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Spain and Portugal
Spain & Portugal: Paella and port rail trip itinerary

Scandinavia: Fjords and funiculars

Copenhagen > Stockholm > Oslo > Flåm > Bergen

This final Europe by train itinerary takes in some of the scenic highlights of Scandinavia on a journey across three countries. Start with a full day in the Danish capital Copenhagen – cycle the cobbled streets, ride the Tivoli Gardens, rollercoasters walk along the canals of Christianshavn and check out Nyhavn’s design shops and Michelin-starred restaurants.

The following day, take the train across the border to Sweden, travelling to Stockholm across the Öresund Link, a unique combination of a bridge and a tunnel (5.5 hours). Then spend the afternoon and the new morning exploring Stockholm.

Wander through the medieval streets of the Gamla Stan old town, learn about Sweden’s most famous exports at the ABBA and Nobel Prize museums, or take a boat trip to see some of the 30,000 islands which make up the Stockholm Archipelago.

Historic buildings in Bryggen, Bergen, Norway
Colourful buildings in Bryggen

Then catch an afternoon train across the border to Oslo in Norway (6.5 hours), where you have the next day to soak up Scandinavian culture at the city’s museums, art galleries and the impressive modern Opera House. Next head west on the scenic rail route towards the coast – first taking a mainline train to Myrdal (4.5 hours) and then the stunning Flåmsbana mountain railway to Flåm, passing mountain peaks, lakes and waterfalls (50 mins).

Spend the night on the edge of the fjords in Flåm, and take a boat trip out into the Sognefjord the following morning before travelling on to Bergen (2 hours). Finish off your trip visiting the colourful wooden houses of the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen district, checking out the views from the funicular to Mount Fløyen and eating local seafood at Bergen’s fish market.

Read the full Scandinavia by train itinerary

A one-week European rail trip itinerary in Scandinavia
Scandinavia: Fjords and funiculars rail trip itinerary

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Jeremy Rivera

Monday 20th of January 2020

Thank you for all this info, I’m looking to take my first rail trip in September/October. I want to visit Paris, Switzerland, Italy and end in Munich Germany for Oktoberfest, any suggestions?

Lucy

Monday 27th of January 2020

Hi, I'd suggest something along the lines of Paris > Interlaken > Lucerne > Munich as should be some great scenery through Switzerland and across into Germany, and if you have time you could add on a section of the Bernina or Glacier Express trains.

Tom Byrne

Tuesday 15th of October 2019

Great content! We just spent the whole last summer in Europe, and it was terrific. Our Europe train travel took us to 10 countries, including a trip to and within Hungary, Austria, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Lucy

Tuesday 15th of October 2019

Wow that sounds like an amazing trip! I'm hoping to do an extended trip round Europe by rail next year and get to a few of the countries on your list.

Jo Lowe

Tuesday 15th of October 2019

Hi Lucy. Thanks again for your itinerary. We regularly fly back to U.K. from Perth, Western Australia and now stop off in Europe and some train/city exploration. We previously did Perth flight-Barcelona-Valencia-Madrid-fly to U.K. which was great - thoroughly recommended for ease of travel and interesting historic cities. This last time we did Perth flight - 4 nights Lisbon - 4 nights Porto - flight to U.K. - thought it would be hard to beat Spain but this was amazing too. Even more historic architecture, relaxed yet buzzy nightlife - and we hit a major festival in Lisbon. Ended up in Edinburgh too so great Harry Potter connections! We are now complete train converts - even did NY to Washington DC recently. Train travel is so convenient and relaxing compared to air travel. Thanks again.

Lucy

Tuesday 15th of October 2019

Sounds like you've had some great trips! I've not seen much of the US by train yet so that's one I'd like to do, and absolutely love Portugal – it's one of the most underrated countries in Europe as far as I'm concerned!

Mary

Sunday 22nd of September 2019

Hi I am planning a Euro fast-pace trip (lol). 8 days begin in France end perhaps Venice/wherever is easier. I want to see as much as I can and don't mind travelling overnight, sleeping on train. I'll make up after my trip! I am struggling with logistics. Is Eurail global pass the best and cheapest option? Please help.

Lucy

Monday 23rd of September 2019

If you're taking a lot of trains then the Eurail pass will probably be cheapest – there are various different versions either for a continuous amount of time or a certain number of days in a time period. You will need to book and pay for reservations on top of the pass though, especially for the overnight sleeper trains.

Mara

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

Outstanding itineraries!! My husband and I are taking a baby-moon and heading to Europe for 12 days. We were thinking about flying into Portugal (its only a 10 hour flight from us) and the traveling to Spain and France. We were also thinking about tacking on Germany. Do you think that is too much in that timeframe. Any suggestions are so appreciated!! :)

Lucy

Monday 2nd of September 2019

Hi, it might be a bit much to do Germany too but will depend on how many stops you want to make in each country – I usually advise going for a few stops in each place rather than whizzing through as you can end up spending most of your trip travelling, and there are tons of great places in Spain and France – tough to narrow it down!