Train travel is a marvelous way to experience Europe. Not only does train travel cut down on your carbon footprint, but it also allows you to see some epic scenery while making your way between destinations. As a bonus, if you’re traveling with a dog, most are allowed on board trains! I teamed up with some fellow travel bloggers to compile this list of the most epic train rides in Europe. While some vary only slightly from each other, each can offer something special to your travel experience.
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Belgrade to Bar
Contribution: Kami, My Wanderlust
The Belgrade to Bar train ride is among the most scenic railway journeys in Europe. Still, not so many tourists know about it. The line connecting the Serbian capital with the Adriatic seaside town Bar in Montenegro stretches for 476 km. The journey between these two places takes 11 hours (or more as delays are common).
During the trip, the train passes 254 tunnels and 435 bridges. This includes the Mala Rijeka viaduct which, until recently, was the highest railway bridge in the world with a height of 200 meters. Along the way, you can admire the beautiful scenery of Serbia, Montenegro, and even briefly Bosnia and Herzegovina (the train goes via its territory but doesn’t stop there). The most breathtaking views are in Montenegro when you go through the Dinaric Alps range or cut the Skadar Lake.
There are two daily trains in each direction, one during the day and one night train. If you are going from Belgrade it’s better to take the night train and from Bar the day train. This way, you will see the most stunning landscapes on your trip.
The train is never full but it’s better to buy the ticket in advance, especially in the summertime. Unfortunately, you can get the tickets only at the train station.
Among the most epic train rides in Europe (and the world) is the Bernina Express. This train line runs from Chur/St. Moritz in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy through the Bernina Pass, linking areas of different cultures and different languages. The train climbs up the icy, polished glaciers of Switzerland before winding back down to temperate, sunny Italy.
The train passes through 55 tunnels, over almost 200 bridges and climbs to a peak of 2,250 meters above sea level. At its highest point is the Ospizio Bernina. This is where visitors can bask in the bountiful natural surroundings and admire the Alps at their most impressive.
Part of the train line (Thusis – Valposchiavo – Tirano) has actually reached UNESCO World Heritage Status. The contemporary train cars offer sweeping panoramas to appreciate unrestricted views of the Alpine scenery.
Budapest to Sibiu
The train ride from Budapest, Hungary to Sibiu, Romania is quite the experience. While not traditionally scenic when compared with train routes through Scandinavia or Switzerland, for example, the route provides some beautiful views of the Hungarian and Romanian countryside.
There are two different routes you can take when traveling between Budapest and Sibiu – one departs at 9 in the morning, one at 7 in the evening. Depending on your preferences and requirements, you can take an overnight train or a day-long train. Both trains take just under 11 hours total travel time.
The route passes from the Hungarian Great Plains into Romania’s hilly terrain. If you take the day train, you can catch a glimpse of some amazing Romanian fortresses and castle ruins.
An important thing to remember when departing on an international train in Hungary is that you CANNOT print tickets online! International train tickets must be claimed at a designated station in Hungary or purchased in-person at Keleti.
Also worth noting is that Romania is not a Schengen state, so there will be a border check. This is something to factor in when deciding whether to take the overnight train or the day train.
Chur to Arosa
If you want to experience all that the great Swiss Rail Trips offer, such as stunning scenery and amazing engineering wizardry, but have limited time, then look no further than the Arosabahn. This is a one-hour train trip from the city of Chur, through the mountains to the picturesque spa town of Arosa.
It begins from the Chur railway station and winds its way like a tram through the city itself, following the local stream which borders the edge of town, winding through a few tunnels on the way. Next thing you know it is climbing and twisting, and twisting and climbing through mountains and tall snow-laden pine trees.
It travels over numerous bridges including the impressive Langweiser Viaduct and through small rural villages. In total, in that one hour trip, it crosses 41 bridges,19 tunnels, and 12 avalanche-protection galleries.
There’s an excellent café/bar called Guterschuppen at Arosa railway station. Here, you can get a snack and drink before your next stop.
Norway’s spectacular Flam Railway runs between the end of Aurlandsfjord, one of Norway’s fjords, and the mountain town of Myrdal. This short train journey is ranked as one of the most scenic on the planet, and should be part of any Scandinavia itinerary!
Over just one hour, the train gains a little over 2,800 feet in altitude, making it one of the steepest standard gauge railways in the world. It took over 20 years to build! Along the ride, you are treated to some of the most stunning scenery Norway has to offer.
Admire mountains and hillsides, forests and waterfalls, and tiny little houses on the route. Go through over 20 tunnels. The train even makes a stop along the route to allow you to get down and snap photos of a thundering waterfall right by the tracks.
You can ride the train one way or in both directions, and some people ride it more than once, to take in the awesome vistas again and again. At Myrdal, trains connect to Bergen and Oslo.
Found in the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, the resort town of Zermatt marks the start of one of the most epic train rides in Europe.
The Glacier Express is dubbed “the slowest fast train in the world,” due to it being a high-speed train tackling treacherous terrain. The journey between Zermatt and St Moritz takes a total of near 8 hours.
It is a long journey, but it is in no way a boring one, with some of the most majestic mountain scenery you will find along the way. This includes the Rhine Gorge marking the start of Europe’s River Rhine, and crossing the Landwasser Viaduct, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and likely the postcard picture of the whole journey.
It is an express train journey meaning there are next-to-no stops bar a quick one halfway at the town of Chur, so meals and drinks can be ordered to seats on board. There is a restaurant and bar bogey if you need to stretch your legs.
Switzerland alone is an expensive destination, yes. But, this route is included on local passes including the Interrail/Eurail Passes!
Have you ever wanted to ride the Hogwarts Express? Well, you can…(sort off!). The Jacobite Railway service run by WestCoast Railways in Scotland offers you the chance to experience what a ride on the Hogwarts Express would be like. They actually provided the train for the actual Hogwarts Express used in the movies!
Starting next to the highest mountain in Britain (Ben Nevis), you’ll be taken on a trip to the most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig, to the deepest seawater loch in all of Europe, Loch Nevis. You’ll also cross over the famous and iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct. The viaduct is well known for its features in the Harry Potter movies. (Remember when the car is flying over the train in Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets?).
When riding the Jacobite steam train you can even book a Harry Potter-style cabin! Opt for an afternoon tea so you can truly enjoy the beautiful views offered in style.
Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, this train ride is still regarded as one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. It holds quite a high reputation! The train ride is an 84-mile journey and lasts around 1 hour and 30 minutes each way.
Oslo to Bergen
The train ride Bergensbanen from Oslo to Bergen in Norway is considered one of the most epic train rides in Europe. And with good reason! The train goes from Oslo at sea level up through the mountains, making the views spectacular.
Both Oslo and Bergen are popular destinations in Norway. So why not combine the two? And instead of flying you can take the famous Bergensbanen. The train ride takes almost 7 hours, but every minute is worth it.
The train track was opened in 1909 and passes Hardangervidda National Park. It is also the highest trainline in Europe, going to 1222 meters above sea level.
Along the way are breathtaking views of mountains, lakes and valleys. If you travel in the winter season most of it will be covered in fairytale-like snow, especially around Finse. The best views are seen from the left side of the train (if you travel from Oslo to Bergen).
Not done with train rides yet? If you exit the train at Myrdal station, you can also take the famous train to Flåm. That train ride has been called the best in the world by Lonely Planet, so might be worth the detour!
Rhodope Narrow Gauge
The Rhodope Narrow Gauge is a scenic train ride in Bulgaria and one of the most epic train rides in Europe. The train runs from the town of Septemvri to the resort town of Dobrinishte at the foot of Pirin Mountain. Its track gauge is only 760mm.
The route has a total length of 124,7 km. On its way, the Rhodpe Narrow Gauge passes through the gorge of Chepisnka River, Avromovo Saddle that divides the mountains of Rila and the Rhodopes, then continues following the Mesta River until it reaches the Razlog Valley at the foot of Pirin Mountain.
Autumn is the best time to ride the train. Rhodopes Mountain is amazing during the Fall and one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria in general. You can get off at Avramovo train station – the highest one on the Balkan Peninsula at an elevation of 1,267 above sea level. From there, you can hike to the beautiful village of Ortsevo and continue the train travel on the next day.
The entire train journey from Septemvri to Dobrinishte takes about 5 and a half hours and a one-way ticket costs only 3,30 EUR! You simply can not go on a better train journey for that cheap.
Rome to Palermo
Photo & Contribution: Emily, WanderLush
Once the train reaches the coast, it’s transferred onto a special ship. For 25 minutes, you sit on the train inside the boat as it’s ferried over the Straits of Messina. The train doors fly open, and passengers have half an hour to visit the ship’s deck for sea views and grab an espresso at the onboard cafe.
Two trains depart Rome on this route daily, passing first through the city of Naples then continuing direct to Sicily. There are also nightly sleeper services available, but it’s best to travel during daylight hours so that you can enjoy the scenery.
Highlights include panoramas of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, and of course the views of the island as you approach Sicily. Choose a seat on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. In total, it takes 12 hours to reach Palermo from Rome, making this one epic European train ride.
Rome to Vienna
The overnight sleeper train from Rome, Italy to Vienna, Austria is an amazing experience! Falling asleep to views of Northern Italy and waking up to Austrian alps is truly a dream-come-true.
With a single-sleeper compartment costing only 179 euro, you can cover the cost of both accommodation and your transport between cities in an unforgettable experience.
The train departs from Roma Termini in the evening and arrives the next morning at Wien HBF. The train attendants will set you up with prosecco, a towel, travel-sized toiletries, water, and a couple of snacks upon departure.
Come morning, you can enjoy a complimentary breakfast in your room while watching the mountains go by from your window. When you arrive in Vienna, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to start the day.
Santa Claus Express
Santa Claus Express is the sleeping train between the Finnish capital, Helsinki, and Rovaniemi, Lapland. The name also refers to that important detail, that Santa Claus also resides in Rovaniemi, so after the train ride, you can meet with him personally.
The train ride itself takes about 13 hours overnight and costs about 80€. You can sleep in one of the two or four-berth cabins, and the train can also transport cars, although visitors from abroad rarely use that opportunity.
If you take the train during the summer – as you can meet with Santa at that time too – you can admire the lakes and forests even during the night as you go more and more north. You can spot reindeer and other wildlife too. In wintertime, the nights are dark and long. You will only see the snowy trees quickly disappearing on the other side of the windows.
Santa Claus Express is one of the most comfortable ways to reach Lapland from Helsinki, not to mention one of the most epic train rides in Europe.
St. Petersburg to Moscow
Photo & Contribution: De Wet & Jin, Museum of Wander
The Red Arrow, or the Krasnaya Strela as it’s known in Russian, is the best overnight train running between St. Petersburg and Moscow. The Red Arrow has been running every night in each direction between the two cities since the 1930’s. Services were only interrupted during WWWII.
While there are several overnight trains, or even fast trains, to choose from between St Petersburg and Moscow, the Red Arrow remains the most popular option due its historic significance and comfort.
A Red Arrow leaves from Leningradsky station in Moscow and Moscovsky station in St Petersburg every night at 23:55, and the journey takes 8 hours. The train travels non-stop until it reaches either Moscow or St Petersburg, so passengers are sure to get a decent night’s sleep.
In the past, the Red Arrow was used to shuttle communist leaders between Leningrad and Moscow, and only the best would do for these party members. Today the Red Arrow remains the most luxurious night train, with only VIP, first and second class carriages. There is also a very good dining car.
Compartments in second class consist of 4 comfortable sleeping berths; two upper berths and two lower. The ticket price includes bedding and a breakfast of either blinis (Russian pancakes) or porridge before arrival.
St. Petersburg to Murmansk
Photo & Contribution: Ellis, Backpack Adventures
Russia is Europe’s largest country and these vast distances are best done by train. Therefore it is no surprise that Russia is home to some of the most epic train rides in Europe. One of them is the Arktika express from St Petersburg to Murmansk, the largest city in the world above the arctic circle.
This 24 hour train journey is packed with spectacular scenery throughout the year. In winter it is a magical winter wonderland with frozen lakes and lots of snow covered landscapes. In summer, you will enjoy the forests of Karelia and the wild nature of the remote Kola peninsula. 24 hours might sound a lot, but with views like this, time simply flies by.
The journey starts in St Petersburg. The former capital of Russia that is famous for its rich cultural heritage that the tsars left behind. You could keep yourself busy for days while exploring the city’s palaces and museums. It makes for a great start before heading north.
Murmansk is the end point of the Arktika express. Being the largest city above the arctic circle there are also plenty of things to do here. One of the highlights is the chance to see the northern lights in winter. Other winter activities include ice fishing or snowmobiling. In summer you can simply enjoy the beautiful nature in this remote area of Europe.
Stockholm to Kiruna
Contribution: Raluca, Travel With a Spin
The train ride from Stockholm to Kiruna, one of the most epic train rides in Europe, takes roughly 16 hours. It may seem long, but the train stops every 30 minutes or so to allow passengers to get off and stretch their legs. Time flies as you sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.
The train departs from Stockholm, one of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities, deep into the heart of Swedish Lapland. The route is beautiful at any time of year, but particularly from November to April.
As you leave the bright lights of Stockholm and head north, the Aurora Borealis may decide to make an appearance. What better view to fall asleep to?
In the morning, wake up to a sky of the most spectacular pale blue hue. Frozen lakes, wild rivers that refuse to give up and freeze, endless expanses of forests and isolated red houses come into view. Maybe you’ll get lucky and catch a glimpse of a moose or reindeer at the edge of the forest.
Nearing Kiruna, you’ll notice more and more snow as you head into the territory of snowmobiles, traditional spas, skiing, and ice fishing.
Zermatt to Gornergrat
Photo & Contribution: Allison, Eternal Arrival
Want to take one of the most epic European train rides? Head to the picturesque Swiss town of Zermatt to ride the Gornergrat railway. This brings you up to a high-altitude mountain area perfect for seeing views of the Matterhorn!
Seeing the Matterhorn in person is a must on any Switzerland itinerary – imagine the views you experience riding the Gornergrat train up to the station at 3,089 meters of altitude! It’s the highest outdoor train station in all of Europe and it’s also home to the highest-altitude hotel in Europe.
The ride will take you past several stations, at which you can disembark at will. Wander around different scenic landscapes, such as the waterfall outside of town, or one of the five beautiful alpine lakes you’ll find on the way. One of the most beautiful lakes, Riffelsee, even reflects the Matterhorn beautifully on a sunny day.