Travel future

My European rail journey wishlist

European rail journey wish list

I’ve always loved train travel. There’s something mesmerising about watching the world go by through the window, whether you’re passing through wide open landscapes or catching flashes of people’s lives as you ride through town. I’ve travelled by train around the world, but one thing I’ve always wanted to do is an Interail trip around Europe, crossing countries as you travel by train from one city to the next. So this summer I’ll be doing a 10-day rail trip – the only problem is deciding where to go. I’ve been scouring rail websites for destinations and routes, and am amazed by how all the options. Europe has so many scenic rail journeys that I could easily spend months seeing them all, but I’ve had to narrow them down. Here are my current favourites – hopefully at least a couple of which I’ll get to do this year.

The Flåm Railway, Norway

Top of my wish list is the Flåm Railway – or Flåmsbana – in the Norwegian fjords. Running between Myrdal and Flåm, near Bergen, the route is only 20km long but it packs in a lot in that short distance. The Flåmsbana is one of the world’s steepest railway lines, an incredible piece of engineering considering it was built back in the 1920s. You start up at 863 metres above sea level in Myrdal and then pass by steep snow-capped mountains and roaring waterfalls as you travel through twisting tunnels. The journey ends up at sea level in Flåm, with its red buildings among the green pastures on the banks of the Sognefjord.

Myrdal to Flam railway, Norwegian fjords

Passing by villages on the Flåmsbana Railway

The Glacier Express and Bernina Express, Switzerland

I could probably write a whole wish-list just of Switzerland’s scenic rail lines. For a comparatively small country it has more than its share of spectacular train journeys. Top of the list for me are the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. Both travel through the Alps so have plenty of snowy mountain scenery. The Glacier Express runs between the ski resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt, taking 7.5 hours and climbing up to the 2033-metre-high Oberalp Pass. The Bernina Express (which travels at about 20 mph so it’s a bit of a misnomer) travels from Chur via 200 bridges and 55 tunnels to Tirano on the Italian border.

The Glacier Express scenic mountain train in the snow

The Glacier Express travelling in winter – photo credit Kabelleger on Flickr

The Black Forest Railway, Germany

In a corner of south-western Germany, the Schwarzwaldbahn or Black Forest Railway runs alongside thick conifer forests, lakes and ruined castles on its journey between the towns of Offenburg to Singen. You pass by villages that look like something from the pages of Hanzel and Gretal – appropriately enough as the Brothers Grimm set their stories here. The railway runs for 93 miles, travelling 600 metres up on the way by doubling back on itself through tunnels and viaducts. From the terminus at Singen you can then join the Upper Rhine Railway and follow the river down to the shores of Lake Constance.

Black Forest Railway, Germany

The Black Forest Railway – photo credit Jim Woodward on Flickr

The Cinque Terre Train, Italy

Perched precariously on the cliffs of the Northern Italian coast are the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre or ‘five lands’ – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. These pretty pastel-coloured fishing villages sprawl from the waters edge right up into the hills behind, using every scrap of available space. There are no cars allowed in the Cinque Terre but walking paths run through the hills above the villages, or if that’s too energetic then you can take the train. From La Spezia regional trains run along the coast, passing through tunnels with flashes of the sea visible between them.

The Cinque Terre in Italy

Pastel-coloured Cinque Terre villages – photo credit Daniel Stockman on Flickr

The West Highland Line, Scotland

My final choice is a bit closer to home – the West Highland Line in Scotland. Voted the world’s best railway journey, this 164 mile route runs between Glasgow and Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands. It starts off by following the banks of Loch Lomond and runs past the base of Ben Nevis, over the moors and across the Glenfinnan Viaduct (which might look familiar from the Harry Potter films). To make it even more scenic you can travel by steam train in the summer. Known as the Jacobite, the train travels between Fort William and Mallaig, where you can catch the ferry over to the Isle of Skye.

The West Highland Line, Scotland, UK

Crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct – photo credit Asim Amtiaz on Flickr

So that’s my European train travel wish list – which journeys would make it onto yours?

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My European rail journey wishlist, featuring some of the continent's most spectacular train trips, from the Scottish Highlands to the Swiss Alps – ontheluce.com

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74 Comments

  • Reply
    wisemonkeysabroad
    March 27, 2014 at 11:35 am

    We love train travel too!! Those are very cool train journeys that we would like to travel on one day too 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      It’s definitely the best way to travel! Hope you get to try out some of these routes one day.

  • Reply
    A Crafty Traveler
    March 27, 2014 at 11:54 am

    That sounds like a great trip, no matter which one you choose!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks so much! I hope to do at least a couple this year, fingers crossed.

  • Reply
    Aggy (@dewtraveller)
    March 27, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Love trains! I think they give the best views and the best way to travel in Europe. I enjoyed my train trip from Zurich to Innsbruck as well as my Romanian train ride from Bucharest to Brasov during the winter – it was stunning!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      The Zurich to Innsbruck journey is probably going to be part of my trip this summer so can’t wait! It’ll be really interesting to see the Alps in summer as I’ve only been there to ski before, though the snow does make everything look so beautiful.

  • Reply
    lucyabbers
    March 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Reblogged this on The Lifestyle Notebook and commented:
    Something for the travel bug in all of us, here are some of the world’s most scenic railways. This post only adds fuel to my wanderlust fire!

  • Reply
    PassionSearcher
    March 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    The Flåm Railway, Norway. I’m on a Nordic kick lately.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      I’ve really got keen to see more of Scandinavia recently too – I’m heading out to Norway and suspect it’ll be the start of an expensive obsession with the region!

    • Reply
      Heyjude
      March 27, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      Norway is stunning, but you need deep pockets for anywhere in Scandinavia 🙂

  • Reply
    Beachbums1
    March 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I love traveling by train and all those journeys look fabulous. If I HAD to pick just one, it would be Norway ~ only because it’s the only area I haven’t been too. Looking forward to your posts on which ever one you choose.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks – I hope to do the Norwegian trip in May so look out for posts on that! Then will see if I can fit another one (or two) into my European trip this summer.

  • Reply
    The Very Hungry Londoner
    March 27, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve always wanted to go on the one in Norway! Especially during winter – it’s meant to be stunning.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      I’ve seen so many gorgeous photos of it, it’s made me want to go even more!

  • Reply
    Andi
    March 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I’m obsessed with train travel! The Cinque Terre train would be amazing!!!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Me too! The Cinque Terre looks so pretty – and I love that there are no cars so you have to take the train or walk there.

  • Reply
    Viaggiando con Bea
    March 27, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Beautiful places thank you for reminding us how many places there are to visit all over the world. Bye Beatrice

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Thanks so much Beatrice – even within Europe we are spoilt for choice for beautiful railway journeys!

  • Reply
    Rana H
    March 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Through Catalyuna in Spain to the Basque Country was one magical train ride for me! this is Tried to capture it but it was just so mesmerising http://instagram.com/p/k9eX1dtSWU/

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Looks great – that’s not a route I know much about but it looks beautiful.

  • Reply
    bevchen
    March 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I’ve been on the Schwarzwaldbahn a couple of times. The train that goes on that stretch starts in Karlsruhe 😀 The views are amazing (when you’re not stuck in a tunnel).

    The West Highland Line looks amazing!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      I planned to do the West Highland Line a few years back but had a bit of a transport disaster and my first train was late so I missed the rest! So must get back and actually do it sometime.

  • Reply
    Heyjude
    March 27, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I love train travel too as it is one form of transport that I can read a book on! (Exception is the Virgin Pendolino which swings so much I feel ill). The Swiss trains have to be done in winter – all that lovely white snow! The Flam railway is where you can take a bus trip up to the hotel I told you about before, Stalheim. It has amazing views and a serpentine road leading up to it. We used to get tourists from Flam on a daily basis. I think there used to be a tour called Norway in a Nutshell too that might be worth looking at.

    I did the Canadian train journey from Totonto to Vancouver a few years ago, which was pretty amazing, 3 days on a train! And that Cinque Terre looks like one I’d be interested in 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Totally agree with those Virgin trains, there’s something about the motion that I really dislike! My tentative Norway plan is to take the train to Flam and then spend the night there so will see if we can get up to the Stalheim hotel too. I’ve always wanted to go to Canada and take one of their epic train journeys too!

  • Reply
    Shmruthi
    March 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    You have definitely made me go frenzy with rail craze through all those amazing pictures. I want to do them all!!! Btw, love your blog 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Thanks so much, there were so many great railway journeys in Europe that it was tough to narrow it down to just choose five!

      • Reply
        Shmruthi
        March 28, 2014 at 9:28 am

        I am definitely doing a research on all of them 🙂 I will have the later six months of this year in Europe and hope my student budget will let me travel in at least a few of these incredible train routes.

  • Reply
    aBitofCulture
    March 27, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    If you’re going to Scandinavia, you might as well do the Copenhagen to malmo trip across the Oresund bridge. And if you get a chance, try to see Scandimania (it was on channel 4 a couple of months ago). The Bergen to Oslo trip was recently made into a real-time TV programme in Norway.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      A whole Scandinavian adventure would be amazing, but think I’d have to remortgage my house! So I’ll start off small with 5 days in Norway and save up for Copenhagen next time!

  • Reply
    500adventures
    March 27, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    This is pretty much my exact european train journey wish list as well! My pick would be the Bernina Express – I think the journey through the Alps would be stunning at any time of the year!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 27, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      We obviously have the same good taste! The Bernina Express does look fantastic – if Swiss rail would like to sponsor me I’d happily spend a month or two just travelling on the railways around Switzerland!

  • Reply
    Vanessa
    March 27, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    I am not a huge fan of travelling by train in my home country (Germany). Here it is only a mode of transportation to get me from A to B, but I do love taking trains in other countries and on other continents as it gives such a great insight into the country and its culture. I especially love travelling by train in Asia and I loved the overnight sleeper trains in Thailand, Vietnam, India and China, even though in the beginning we needed getting used to those in India. I could imagine to travel on the Transsiberian/Trans Mongolian from St Petersburg respectively Moscow to Beijing someday in the future.

    Once again, thanks for the tips

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 28, 2014 at 11:14 am

      I did a few sleeper trains in SE Asia and India too, though as you say the Indian ones were quite an experience! Would love to do a long-distance train route like the Transsiberian or the train across Canada someday too – there are so many spectacular train routes around the world to choose from!

  • Reply
    Laura
    March 27, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    I think you already know I’m a fan of the Swiss ones, but the one in Norway looks incredible as well!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 28, 2014 at 11:15 am

      There are so many great Swiss routes to choose from, it’s been a serious challenge planning this rail trip, got to resist the temptation to spend the entire time on a train!

  • Reply
    brittbeerbavaria1
    March 28, 2014 at 1:41 am

    This sounds incredible. I’m sure you will have lots of fun no matter where you go! Excited to see what you choose!!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 28, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Thanks so much, I’m hoping to do at least a couple of these journeys this year and maybe more!

      • Reply
        brittbeerbavaria1
        March 28, 2014 at 10:23 pm

        That’s awesome! This summer I’m taking a big trip to Europe so I decided to make a blog. Just a question, how do you make your blog more well known? I just made mine but I want people to see it haha!

  • Reply
    Jen
    March 28, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I think of myself as a bit of a train nerd and always try to travel by train over any other form of transport. Your list is great Lucy and from the ones I haven’t done already I hope to do soon, especially The Flam in Norway. I would add 2 more from Switzerland. The Golden Pass from Lake Geneva to Lucerne which I did by accident and it turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done and the journey up to Jungfrau where you take three different types of trains over 2.5 hours to reach the top and be completely surrounded by snow. I really want to get back to Switzerland one day and enjoy their trains some more.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 28, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Thanks Jen – I did part of the train journey up to the Jungfrau as far as Kleine Scheidegg a few years ago and it was spectacular, would love to go back and go all the way to the top. You are so spoilt for choice with scenic trains in Switzerland, though it’s such an expensive country I think I’ll only end up doing a couple of days there on my European rain trip.

  • Reply
    loupeacock, travel and photo
    March 28, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    check out ‘The man in Seat 61″ http://www.seat61.com/ it’s worth a look for rail journeys anywhere in the world

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 28, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Seat 61 is a great website! I’ve been using it for years and it’s a fantastic resource for rail journeys – I’ve been known to lose a few afternoons browsing through the different train routes around the world.

  • Reply
    mjg1886
    March 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    This list from Lonely Planet is a pretty good one, not too dissimilar to yours. We have done the Flam – Myrdal as part of ‘Norway in a Nutshell’.

    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/europe/travel-tips-and-articles/77541?intaffi=lpemail

    We like to imagine travelling using the various options on this Seat61 page, too.

    http://www.seat61.com/Trans-Siberian.htm#.UzWoiulF2Uk

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 31, 2014 at 10:14 am

      There’s a few more good ones on the Lonely Planet list too – like the sound of the Munich to Innsbruck and Centovalli Railway too, think I am going to need a few more rail trips!

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    March 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

    This is an incredible train wish list! I would put the Black Forest trip at the top of my list as well. Such a relaxing and scenic way to travel. My favorite train journey to date has been through Alaska. If you ever get the chance, you must do it. Absolutely breathtaking!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 31, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Alaska would be fantastic – hope to make it out there sometime in the next few years so will definitely try to incorporate the train trip!

  • Reply
    jpilkington09
    March 29, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Fantastic list – particularly the last one. I had a bit of a fascination with steam trains when I was younger and still love them now. What an amazing way to see scenic Scotland.

    I would add two more:

    1. the narrow-gauge Welsh Highland Railway in North Wales, which has been lovingly restored over the past few years and goes through Beddgelert, my favourite place on Earth.

    2. An overnight train in Russia. Not the quickest or most comfortable way to get around, but an amazing experience. Moscow-Kiev is great, but only if you don’t mind being woken up by the police at border checks…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 31, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Great suggestions, I’d not heard about the Welsh Highland Railway but it’s not too far from me so will have to check it out – and a Russia trip is on the cards too so will make sure to include a train trip!

  • Reply
    JenR
    March 29, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Love this list! The Norway trip sounds amazing! High on my list is the chocolate train in Switzerland!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 31, 2014 at 10:17 am

      The Chocolate Train sounds great – combines two fantastic things!

  • Reply
    loupeacock, travel and photo
    March 31, 2014 at 10:08 am

    we travel every where by train as my wife won’t fly. have done the trans mongolian to china and
    back ( see http://promenading-peacocks.blogspot.fr/ . also went to bergan by train from our local station here in france and back to see the northern lights on a hurtigruten cruise.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      March 31, 2014 at 10:18 am

      I’m not very keen on flying so try to take the train as much as I can – I’ve not done any really long journeys like that though yet, must be quite an experience!

  • Reply
    Taswegian1957
    April 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I love your list. I used to have a guide book about European train travel and had hours of enjoyment planning imaginary trips. Hubby and I did do the West Highland Line back in 1990 and although it was winter and we did it in a railcar it was fantastic. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I also really liked Ffestiniog although it is a tourist railway. We liked it so much we went twice.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      I remember having one of those huge European train timetable books and spending hours working out possible trips when I was younger – bit easier now with internet timetables! Ffestiniog is another journey I’d like to do sometime too, must make sure to do some of the British routes as can easily fit them into a weekend.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Courtney
    April 1, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Well, they all look fabulous – I’d be hard pressed to choose. I’ll look forward to travelling the tracks via your blog later in the year.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      Thanks Suzanne, I’m having trouble too, think I’m going to need a few rail trips to do them all!

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    April 2, 2014 at 6:31 am

    These look like excellent choices. I love the train too and will be going to Poland in a couple of weeks. By train! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 2, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks – the train journey to Poland sounds really interesting too, hope you have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Steven
    April 5, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    I’m taking the train between Stockholm and Oslo in May. I’m *really* looking forward to it.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 6, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Sounds like a fantastic trip – hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    Carolyn @ Holidays to Europe
    April 7, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Great list. I’ve been on the Flam Railway and also the Bernina Express. Both were fabulous. I’m sure whichever trips you decide to take, you’ll enjoy them.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 7, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks – both those two sound fantastic, I hope to fit in the Flam Railway and at least one of the Swiss trains this summer, fingers crossed!

  • Reply
    photoroads
    April 7, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Both Bernina Express and West Highland Way are stupendous. Think about taking a train from Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro – it is my favourite railroad in Europe, an amazing 12-hour-journey from the living Serbian capital through mountains and valleys, over the Tara canyon and along rivers to a small Mediterranean town. The views are amazing and so is the atmosphere in the rather old train (:

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 7, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      I spent a week in Montenegro last year and would love to get back and see a bit more of that part of the world, so will definitely look out that train journey, sounds great!

  • Reply
    About Algeria
    April 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    I love so much travel in train

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 10, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Me too – it’s definitely my favourite way to travel!

  • Reply
    rlishman84
    April 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration and guidance Lucy! And I love your blog’s layout and title!

    I work full time but am planning a European trip in September – hoping to take in as much as possible in 3 weeks and I think train travel is a satisfying way to take in a country’s landscape!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 28, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Thanks so much Rachel! Train travel is definitely one of my favourite ways to travel – so much more relaxing than flying and you get some great views. Look forward to reading about how you get on on your European trip too!

  • Reply
    Karbonkel
    January 4, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    I just found your blog and i love it! I’m going to travel by train this summer, for the first time outside Holland, with a train. Norway is on my wishlist, with the car and train, on the highest place. But i’m going to Italy! I love it. Cinque terre is part of the trip 🙂 Great list!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 7, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Hope you enjoy the Cinque Terre, I’m thinking about trying to take a trip down there this year too!

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