It’s time to start taking the scenic route. Forget about taking to the skies and start exploring what’s on the ground. InterRail recently announced that British 18 years olds can receive a free pass (worth up to £450) to explore Europe, in a bid to open up the culturally rich and beautifully diverse terrain and bid farewell to Brexit. Even if you fail to fall into the required age bracket (alas, we do not) crossing Europe by train provides you with ever-changing landscapes, flexibility to hop on and off as you please and ample Instagram ammunition. Breathtaking, beautiful and extremely budget-friendly, here are the best train journeys in Europe.
1. The Bernina Express
Route: Chur to Tirano (Switzerland & Italy)
Duration: 4hours 14mins
Price: €127/Interrail passes valid
Reaching heights of 2,253 metres above sea level this train journey is not for the faint hearted. One of the most famous scenic routes in the world, the Bernina Express follows two World Heritage–listed lines, the Albula and the Bernina, and sweeps among glaciers in Switzerland and palms in Italy. Immerse yourself in the fresh mountain air in one of the trains open air carriages from June to September. The free InfoTrainment (a digital travel companion) is available for all first and second-class passengers to keep you up to date with a steady chatter detailing the railway’s rich history, whilst the modern panoramic cars ensure unrestricted views of an unspoilt alpine panorama.
2. Vienna Railjet
Route: Vienna to Venice (Austria and Italy)
Duration: 8 hours
Price: €29/ Interrail passes valid
Modern, luxurious and efficient. The Railjet knows how to do train journeys and as Austria’s premier train service they are a welcome respite for a weary traveller. At 140mph and free Wi-Fi on board, this route is best suited to digital nomads. All the key amenities are at your fingers tips, with power sockets, air conditioning and most importantly, a bar. The scenic route meanders through alpine peaks, 150-year-old viaducts and mountain pastures. Whilst those needing a good night sleep can choose the comfy Nightjet and wake up at the Grand Canal in Venice rested and ready to tackle platefuls of spaghetti.
3. Flam Railway
Route: Flam to Mrydal (Norway)
Price: £35/Interrail passengers receive 30% discount
If you want to see everything Norway has to offer, then step on board this awe-inspiring train journey. Roll through the craggy mountain landscape and cast your eyes across dramatic glaciers and rolling, emerald green valleys. In under an hour you will take in rivers slicing their way through deep gorges, waterfalls cascading off steep mountainsides and mountain farms clinging to steep slopes. Take a deep breath of fresh mountain air and pair your trip with a walk or cycle tour along the Rallar Road. The railway is open all year-round and the final destination neatly sits on the Bergen railway line, so any budding travellers can continue their adventure without delay. Voted one of National Geographic Magazine’s top ten train journey’s in Europe, this is not one to miss.
4. Bavarian Bullet: Innercity-Express
Route: Munich to Nuremberg (Germany)
Duration: 1 hour
Price: €29.90/Interrail passes valid
For those looking for a winter break with a difference this train journey fits the bill. Zoom between two historic Bavarian cities at 199 miles an hour. Each new destination provides a plethora of seasonal delight with Christmas markets selling tasty treats, gifts and steaming-hot mulled wine.
5. The Little Yellow Train
Route: Villefranche de Conflent to Latour de Carol (France)
Duration: 4 hours
Price: Interrail passes valid
Fancy spending a couple of hours on an open top carriage exploring the beauty of the Pyrenees? The Little Yellow Train takes you on a magical trip into medieval towns and climbs to where eagles fly and wildflowers bloom. Most of the carriages that entered the service in 1909 are still trundling along the narrow gauge line that runs for almost 40 miles. The train has a choice of four closed and two open-air carriages all painted in canary yellow. This journey is definitely one to tick off your bucket list. The route runs all year, but the summer months and warmer weather lend themselves to this open-air trip.
6. Balkan Flexipass
Route: Belgrade to Montenegro (Serbia)
Duration: 10 hours
Price: €103 for a 15-day travel pass
Also known as ‘Roughing it by Rail’, this train journey is for the out and out traveller. No fancy carriages and mod-cons on this ride, as rail travel goes back to basics. The Flexipass offers unlimited travel for up to 15 days through Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, even as far as Turkey. Enjoy the freedom attached to the flexi pass, as you can hop on and off at various points, then board a later train when you fancy moving on. So, if you’re in need of some sun-soaked days in Greece before plunging into the history of Macedonia, then this pass caters for all. Adding a touch of luxury on this rough and ready voyage is the onboard nightclub – meet you at the bar?
7. Cinque Terre
Route: La Spezia to Levanto (Italy)
Duration: Day trip
Translated into the five lands, this Cinque Terre short train journey is jam packed with picture-perfect villages of the Italian coastline. Hop off and follow the walking trails between five seaside villages of the Cinque Terre. Now a tourist hotspot, be sure to get an early train to miss the crowds. It runs once an hour and certainly won’t break the bank with the Cinque Terre card, which includes unlimited travel, access to the hiking paths and some museum entrances. Just don’t forget to validate your ticket in the small yellow machines before you set off!
8. The Douro Line
Route: Porto to Pocinho (Portugal)
Duration: 3 hours 30mins
Price: €13.30 /Interrail passes valid
The main advantage of the Douro Line is that you can see more of this stunning region by train than by boat. The Douro river between Pinhao and Pocinho is the most scenic section and the train’s flexible timings allows passengers to explore the different towns along the route. There are multiple options for a day trip along the Douro line but the last train leaves at 17.22, so set your alarms and make a day of it. Now the real prize of this jaunt is at the end. The final village is in the heart of the vineyard region – bottoms up!
9. Rhodope Narrow Gauge
Route: Septemvri to Dobrinishte (Bulgaria)
Duration: 5 hours
Price: €3/Interrail passes valid
Looking for something slightly off the beaten track? Transport yourself back in time and roam through the beautiful Balkan countryside. Travel through mountains, forests and villages on the last operational narrow gauge line in Bulgaria. This little gem covers 125km and allows passengers to experience a mountainous and inaccessible region. Described as a fairground ghost train, this train is an experience in itself. Getting to Septemvri is remarkably straightforward. It is roughly midway between the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and Pldoviv, the country’s second city, with trains running regularly from each. The train has four daily trips and has plenty of leisurely stops to ensure you get that perfect-panoramic shot.
About the author:
Normally found travelling places where food is a top priority, Sophie Watkiss is most content living out of a backpack and waking up in new places. She is always looking to escape London and find somewhere off the beaten track. Follow her adventures on Instagram.