Top 10 Best Train Rides in Europe: Getting the Scenic View

Top 10 Best Train Rides in Europe: Getting the Scenic View

While they’re becoming increasingly redundant in the United States, trains remain one of Europe’s primary modes of transportation. In Europe, trains connect more than just cities; they connect the entire continent

This is why Europe is a traveller’s dream - it’s possible to see multiple countries without buying a costly plane ticket. Trains provide affordable, convenient transportation between Europe’s most popular attractions; however, train trips can also be attractions in and of themselves. 

Many of Europe’s railroads are built atop impressive landscapes and offer experiences that no other mode of transportation can top. Even the train stations are destinations in and of themselves.

Many of Europe's railroad adventures are called “rail cruises.” In addition to transportation, these rail journeys provide comfort and entertainment, sometimes even more attractive than the destination.

What are the most scenic train rides?

Trains are the epitome of the saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” While planes are often more efficient, trains are more affordable and provide a more memorable experience. 

From the Swiss Alps to the Norwegian fjords, Europe offers a plethora of jaw-dropping landscapes. Trains often provide the most unobstructed views of areas not even accessible by hiking or climbing. Below are the 10 most beautiful train rides in Europe:

[1] The Glacier Express

Switzerland is firmly in the conversation of Europe’s most stunning destinations. The top attraction is, of course, the Swiss Alps, one of the most renowned mountain ranges in the world. 

These steep, rocky peaks reach over 15,000 feet and are capped with snow year-round. Connecting Zermatt and St. Mortiz, two of the most popular mountain resorts in Europe is the Glacier Express.

Throughout this eight-hour train ride, riders will have unobstructed views of the Matterhorn, Rhine Gorge, and Oberalp Pass. However, as with any Swiss experience, this ride is not without its luxuries. 

One of the best train-riding experiences in Europe is the Glacier Express’ “excellence class,” which includes: 

  • Lounge seating with guaranteed window seat
  • Regional seven-course meal with wine accompaniment 
  • Afternoon tea
  • Concierge service

[2] The Bergen Railway

While the Alps are hard to beat, Norway comes close with its stunning fjords and glaciers. Running across the length of Norway from Bergen to Oslo is the Bergen Railway. Throughout this journey, riders will have the chance to explore to Norwegian wilderness, passing through:

  1. Hallingdal Valley
  2. Geilo
  3. Hardangervidda
  4. Nærøyfjord,
  5. Voss

Best of all, this train features stops at each of the above locations. Many riders like to take advantage of this, spending a night or two at each stop. This allows riders to delve into all that Norway has to offer.

[3] The Brocken Railway

Germany’s Brocken Railway is more for tourists than the previous two entries. First designed in 1869, this narrow-gauge railway continues to host steam locomotives. 

Running across the Harz mountain range, this railway provides awe-inspiring views of the Harz national park. Riders will additionally see Kalte Bode and the Wurmberg. This railway is named after the highest peak in the Harz mountains, soaring nearly 4,000 feet above sea level. 

The Brocken is the highest point in Northern Germany and is snow-capped and shrouded in mist for most of the year. It's been the subject of myth for centuries and was garrisoned by the Soviet Union after World War II. There is more to the Brocken Railway’s story than the views alone. 

[4] The Rhine Valley Line

Another of Germany’s railway offerings, the Rhine Valley Line, provides a relaxing adventure through Germany’s wine country. Originating in Mainz, this train rides along the River Rhine, often touted as one of Europe’s most romantic stretches. 

Riders can catch prime views of medieval castles such as Pfalzgrafenstein, Liebenstein, and Sterrenberg throughout this fertile valley. Riders are sure to be comfortable throughout their journey, as some of the amenities along this train ride include:

  • À la carte menu restaurant
  • Air conditioning
  • Audio system
  • Children's entertainment
  • Disabled facilities
  • Luggage lockers
  • Newspapers/magazines
  • Power sockets
  • Restaurant/bistro
  • Snack trolley
  • Video screens
  • Waiter service
  • WiFi internet

Best of all, the Rhine Valley Line is included in the Eurail Pass.

What are the most fun train rides?

Many opt for Europe’s train system not just for the views they provide but also for the amenities they offer. Like traditional cruises, rail cruises can provide a travel experience that is both comfortable and entertaining. 

Here are some train rides that offer unforgettable onboard experiences: 

[5] The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Connecting 13 cities throughout Europe, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is an experience of timeless glamour. Riders are transported not just between cities in France, Italy, and the UK but to a time when railways were in their most opulent heyday. 

Some amenities include:

  • Fine dining is provided by world-class chefs and sommeliers 
  • Cocktail parties scored by live music
  • Midnight brunch
  • Private suites featuring beds with luxurious sheets
  • Breakfast in bed
  • Unobstructed views of Europe’s most beautiful destinations

This sleeper train is a vacation by itself. Those who love nostalgic experiences and fantasise about living in a previous century should look no further. With stops in popular destinations like Paris, Istanbul, and Venice, this rail cruise is one you don’t want to miss.

[6] The Children’s Railway

American travellers may have never heard of a Children’s Railway. Most popular in Eastern Europe, Children’s Railways are extracurricular institutions geared toward children interested in trains. 

Except for the conductor, the railway is operated completely by children aged 10 to 14. The Children’s Railway in Budapest is the longest in the network at seven miles. 

Budapest’s Children’s Railway also offers “nostalgic trains,” including trains operated by diesel and steam. These are an excellent choice for families with curious children.

[7] The Chocolate Train

Perhaps even more so than its mountains, Switzerland is known worldwide for its chocolate. Running between Montreux and the Cailler-Nestlé chocolate factory, the Chocolate Train is a homage to Swiss chocolate culture and a must for all sweet-toothed travellers. 

This train experience includes:

  • A tour of the Cailler-Nestlé factory and tasting
  • A visit to a Gruyères cheese factory
  • First-class travel on an elegant Belle Époque Pullman car
  • Morning coffee and croissant 
  • Time to visit the castle of Gruyères

Throughout the train ride, riders can expect plenty of sweet treats. They will also pass through the vineyards of Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Eight hundred years ago, medieval monks planted 2,000 acres of vineyards that now overlook Lake Geneva and produce excellent wines.

Which train rides have the best destinations?

While train rides are great for those who want the ride to be its own experience, others just want to get to where they’re going. This is what Europe’s railways do best –– provide an easy and affordable way for travellers to explore the continent. 

For those who want to experience as many destinations as they possibly can, look no further than these trains: 

[8] The Bernina Express

Switzerland is home to many railways, as they are the most efficient way to traverse miles of alpine terrain. The Bernina Express railway line provides passage over the steep Alps, linking the following Swiss cities:

  • Geneva
  • Basel
  • Zurich
  • Chur
  • Davos
  • St. Moritz
  • Tirano

This train route provides a comprehensive tour of Switzerland's most popular cities, making it an excellent option for those who want to experience all Switzerland offers. It even passes over the Brusio spiral and the Landwasser viaducts. 

On top of that, its last stop is the stunning mountain town of Tirano, Italy. After exploring this beautifully-preserved Italian village and the beautiful vistas surrounding it, travellers will have ample access to the rest of Italy, including historic cities like Milan.

[9] Costa Verde Express

Spain is a country of incredible cultural and geographical diversity. While best known for its gorgeous beaches and delectable tapas in Barcelona, Spain is also home to vast countryside, rocky mountain ranges, and quaint villages. 

The Northern Region is especially indicative of this, and Costa Verde Express covers it all. Stops along the Costa Verde Express include:

  • Santiago de Compostela
  • Ferrol
  • Viveiro
  • Ribadeo
  • Luarca
  • Candas Guon
  • Oviedo
  • Covadonga
  • Ribadesella
  • Llanes
  • Santillana
  • Cabezon
  • Santander
  • Bilbao

Best of all, this train provides a luxurious experience, operating on original 1923 Pullman cars. Some amenities include suites with double beds, dining cars, and bar cars. 

[10] The Danube Express

The Danube Express is a railway tour service that provides routes covering dozens of Europe’s most sought-after destinations, as well as some hidden gems. One such route includes the Hungarian Balkan Odyssey route, which passes through multiple cities in Hungary:

  • Budapest
  • Lajosmizse
  • Kecskemet
  • Sighișoara
  • Brasov
  • Veliko Tarnovo
  • Plovdiv
  • Sofia
  • Belgrade
  • Mostar
  • Sarajevo
  • Ljubljana
  • Venice

Other routes explore Turkey, Italy, Czech, and Austria, as well as destinations like Vienna and the Castles of Transylvania. On top of the wealth of options at the rider's disposal, they will be treated to comprehensive off-train tours, fine dining, and stays at Europe’s most opulent hotels.

What do I need to travel through Europe?

As it stands, non-EU citizens from about 60 countries, including US citizens, do not need a visa to travel to Europe. There are no plans to require visas from these citizens; however, as early as 2025, they will need to register for ETIAS, an electronic visa-waiver program.

How is ETIAS different than a Schengen Visa?

The Schengen Visa requires a labour-intensive process that includes many personal documents and an in-person interview. On the other hand, ETIAS is a system that allows certain citizens to skip that whole process. 

Those who are approved for ETIAS do not have to apply for a Schengen Visa and will have the authorisation to enter Europe for up to three years after that. 

Those who currently need a Schengen Visa will continue to need a Schengen Visa. ETIAS does not apply to them. On the other hand, those who never needed a Schengen Visa will need ETIAS. The Schengen Visa will continue to not apply to them.

How will ETIAS increase safety in Europe?

Millions of European travellers cross through European borders each week without prior documentation or notice. ETIAS solves this by requiring non-EU travellers to register electronically before entering Europe. 

When travellers register for ETIAS, they enter an online database accessible to EU border agents. This database gives border agents prior knowledge of who they will encounter each day, allowing them to verify each traveller’s identity quickly. This creates not just a safer system but also a more efficient one.

Which countries does ETIAS apply to? 

ETIAS applies to the Schengen Area, which comprises 27 European countries with open borders and a standard visa policy for international travel. While most EU countries are in the Schengen Area, some exceptions exist. These exceptions include the following:

Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania are new additions to the EU and will soon be joining the Schengen Area as part of their EU membership requirements. On the other hand, Ireland has long enforced their own travel requirements and will continue to do so. 

Except for Ireland, anyone planning to travel to any EU member state should plan to register for ETIAS.

ETIAS makes travel easy

Trains are a fixture in Europe, providing affordable and convenient travel between cities, countries, and the entire continent. That said, trains are far more than just a mode of transportation. Europe offers plenty of railways that, like cruises, are an experience in and of themselves. 

Those who want to experience the beauty of Europe from the comfort of a boxcar are sure to love each of the entries on this list. They should also look into ETIAS and how it applies to them. As soon as 2025, ETIAS will change the way many people travel to Europe.