Explore Europe by train with five of the best European rail trip itinerary ideas you can do in just one week, covering Northern Europe, Italy, Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal, and Scandinavia.
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Train travel is one of the best ways to explore Europe – the continent is fairly compact so it’s easy to get around and there’s a wide network of train routes and rail passes available, so you can just sit back and soak up the views. But if you want to explore Europe by train, most suggested rail itineraries are geared up for InterRailers with months to spare.
That’s not the only option though – 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.
Each of the routes is possible in a week’s holiday, but if you’ve got more time 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 European rail route for you – and if you’re ready to go, check out my detailed one-week itinerary posts, which are linked to after each route description and give you the full details of which trains to take, how much they cost, how to book tickets, what to see and where to stay along the way.
5 itineraries for exploring Europe by train
Northern Europe: Canals and chocolate
Amsterdam > Bruges > Paris > Chur > Milan
This train journey takes you through some of Northern Europe’s higlights – from its cosmopolitan capital cities to its storybook canalside towns and on through the mountains of the Alps on board one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys.
Start your trip in Amsterdam and spend the day exploring this vibrant city with its 50km of canals and 1500 bridges. Visit one of Amsterdam’s art and culture museums, take a walk around the UNESCO-listed Canal Ring or hire a bike to explore further afield.
Then take an early train 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 to Paris (3 hours).
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 on 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
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 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 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.
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 the next day visiting some of the nearby sights.
You can go back in time with a trip to the buried Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, climb Mount Vesuvius, take a boat trip along the coast to the colourful villages of the Amalfi Coast or head across the Bay of Naples to 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, get a taste of the island by choosing from Taormina (6 hours 45 mins), Catania (7.5 hours) or Palermo (9 hours) for your final stop.
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 to Bratislava in Slovakia (2.5 hours), a compact city on the banks of the Danube. Spend the afternoon checking out Bratislava’s mix of 18th-century and Socialist-era architecture, from the blue Church of St Elisabeth to the quirky ‘UFO’ Bridge.
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 Museum of Broken Relationships.
Read the full Eastern Europe by train itinerary
Spain & Portugal: Paella and port
Barcelona > Valencia > Madrid > Porto > Lisbon
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.
Then take an early train down the coast to Valencia (3 hours) where you have the afternoon to explore its mix of old and new – from the traditional buildings of the Ciutat Vella to the Space-Age City of Arts and Sciences – and try a paella in the city where it was created.
The next day take the short train ride inland to the Spanish capital Madrid (1.5 hours) for an evening of eating and drinking in the city’s tapas bars. Spend the next morning 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.
Then travel across the border to Porto (6 hours 45 minutes via Vigo) and spend the next day taking a traditional rabelo boat trip beneath the six bridges over the River Duoro and port-tasting at the famous producers across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Finally travel south to Lisbon (3 hours) to end your trip with a feast of local seafood and pastel de nata custard tarts in Portugal’s capital. Check out the city’s street art scene, ride one of the vintage trams and get a workout climbing to the top of the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcantara or Miradouro do Graça for views across Lisbon’s red rooftops.
Read the full Spain and Portugal by train 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 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 Stockholm’s Gamla Stan old town, learn about Sweden’s most famous exports at the ABBA and Nobel Prize museums, or take a boat trip to explore some of the 30,000 islands which make up the Stockholm Archipelago.
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 or historic 13th-century Akershus Fortress.
Next head west along the scenic rail route towards the coast – first taking a mainline train to Myrdal (4.5 hours) and then catching the stunning Flåmsbana mountain railway down to Flåm, passing mountain peaks, lakes and waterfalls (50 minutes).
Spend the night in Flåm on the edge of the fjords, and take a boat trip into the Sognefjord the next morning before travelling to Bergen (2 hours). Finish your trip visiting the colourful wooden houses of the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen district, checking out the views from the Mount Fløyen funicular and eating seafood at Bergen’s fish market.
Read the full Scandinavia by train itinerary