Picture a train speeding down a track, snaking through Europe’s most beautiful scenery. Passengers are glued to their windows, spellbound by mountainous forests that are soon replaced with winding rivers or snowy valleys. With the occasional castle flashing by, there’s something undoubtedly alluring about train travel.
Here are five of the most scenic train rides in Europe. All aboard!
West Highland Line
For anyone who has ever dreamed of zipping through Scotland on the Hogwarts Express, here’s your chance. The stretch of the West Highland Line from Fort William to Mallaig includes plenty of gorgeous scenery, but Harry Potter fans will be happiest as the train curves around the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Don’t forget to stay on the lookout for heather moors, mountains, lochs, and coastlines — the most attentive passengers may even catch a glimpse of red deer.
At one and a half hours, the one-way trip should give you just enough time to snap a few pictures, relax, and daydream. If you’d like to take a longer train journey, consider departing from Glasgow, so you can enjoy five and a half hours of breathtaking views of the Scottish Highlands.
For the best scenery, take the West Highland Line during the summer months. You can purchase your tickets here — a one-way ticket costs about seven pounds, but for an additional six pounds, you can depart on a Mallaig-bound train at any time of the day.
Norway’s fjords are a sight to behold, and riding the Flåm Railway is the perfect opportunity to view them up close. This railway covers the short distance from Flåm to Myrdal, but the elevation change is the real spectacle. In just 12.5 miles (20 kilometers), the train ascends 2,830 feet (863 meters).
You’ll notice rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and farmland during the hour-long ride, but don’t forget to appreciate the man-made marvels too. Most of the tunnels are hand carved, the longest of which spans over half a mile.
More and more passengers make this train journey every year, and you might want to plan an additional hiking or biking tour of the fjord. That way, you’re guaranteed enough time to really soak in the landscape and take as many photos as you can.
The line runs throughout the year, but there are more frequent departures during the summer months. A one-way ticket costs 390 Norwegian Krone (roughly $48) for an adult, and Eurail Pass holders receive a 30 percent discount on their fare.
Rhine Valley Line
The Germans love their fairy tales, and we’ve found the perfect train ride for anyone else who enjoys stories about princes and princesses. On this line, passengers coast along a track that runs parallel to Germany’s Rhine River, and there’s plenty to admire through the window.
The stretch between Bingen and Koblenz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its 40 or so castles and fortresses built on the towering hillsides. The train also runs past the Lorelei bluff, where legend has it that a siren named Lorelei enchanted passing sailors so that they drowned in the river.
The Rhine Valley is gorgeous all year long, but it’s at its best during spring and fall.
The scenic ride from Bingen to Koblenz takes 50 minutes and costs 12 euro. But for those who want a longer trip along the Rhine, try departing from Mainz and getting off in Cologne (one and a half to three hours, 30 euro). Good news: if your Eurail Pass includes Germany, you can use it on this line.
Hop aboard the world’s slowest express train for a direct route from Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland. The train covers 185 miles (300 kilometers) in about eight hours, but the trip is so comfortable and the views so dramatic that you won’t even notice the time.
From Zermatt, you begin in the shadow of the looming Matterhorn. Throughout the day, the Glacier Express thunders through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges, so there will be plenty of photo ops. The most scenic stretch comes as the train moves through the Oberalp Pass, 6,700 feet (2,044 meters) above sea level.
Out of all the trips on our list, the Glacier Express is the best for sightseeing. Its huge windows are specifically designed to show off a panoramic view, and travelers can buy snacks and souvenirs on board. You’ll even have meals served at your seat.
You can purchase tickets online, but choose your travel dates carefully! The train doesn’t run from late October to mid-December because of weather. And, if your Eurail Pass includes Switzerland, it’s valid on the Glacier Express (but you’ll have to pay a reservation fee).
If you prefer a warmer climate, we’ve got quite the recommendation for you. Take the Centovalli Railway from Locarno, Switzerland, to Domodossola, Italy, for dramatic views and vibrant colors. Aptly named, “Centovalli” translates to “hundred valleys,” referencing the many hills and valleys that cut across the region.
The Centovalli train, called the Vigezzina on the Italian side of the border, crosses 83 bridges and goes through 31 tunnels. You’ll spot waterfalls and chestnut groves, and you’ll catch glimpses of vineyards and old villages. You’ll also pass Lake Maggiore, which — if you have time — is a must-visit.
A scenic option for anyone traveling from Switzerland to Italy (or vice versa), the train ride takes about two hours. While the ride is lovely throughout the entire year, summer is the best time to climb aboard. Rest easy — this train accepts Eurail Passes.
Cover photo by Dominique Lags