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Jacobite steam train, Scotland
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The 12 most scenic train journeys in Europe

Hop on board and enjoy the best that the Continent has to offer, from west to east and north to south

Written by
John Bills
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Enjoy travelling by train? Then get your buns to Europe, because the world’s second-smallest Continent also happens to be home to some magical railway routes. Not all of Europe is train-friendly, but even those parts that remain committed to buses (we’re looking at you, Balkans) have some beautiful journeys on offer – stunning stretches of rail that weave in and out of valleys with turquoise-blue rivers for guides. 

Unsurprisingly, many of the best train journeys in Europe are incredible feats of engineering. These routes see trains old and new scale mountains and beyond, taking passengers from base to summit without a bead of sweat lost. Sure, they don’t do much for your hiking cred, but there is something magical about staring wide-eyed out of a window as Europe’s stunning nature unfolds outside. Train travel is as romantic as it gets. 

RECOMMENDED: The 11 greatest train journeys in the world

Best train journeys in Europe

Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland
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1. Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland

If you’ve got high expectations from an experience named ‘The Glacier Express’, get ready for them to be exceeded and then some. This mountain marvel connects the major resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz, and the panoramic views make this one of the best ways to embrace all that this dramatic landscape has to offer. Tickets clock in at around €135 for the seven-and-a-half-hour journey, traversing 291 bridges, 91 tunnels and a whole lot of beauty. 

The Brocken, Germany
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2. The Brocken, Germany

Another gorgeous journey from base to summit, The Brocken Railway picks wide-eyed passengers up from the settlement on the edge of Harz National Park called Drei Annen-Hohne. When the ride is over, those same passengers find themselves on top of the world, or at least on top of the Brocken, the highest peak in Northern Germany. The journey is all tight turns, dramatic valleys, snowy vistas and lose-yourself imagery at a maximum speed of 40km/h. Round-trip tickets for adults cost €49.

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Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland
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3. Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland

A constant on lists of the world’s most beautiful train journeys, Scotland’s Jacobite Steam Train is an 84-mile stunner traversing the magic of Scotland from Fort William to Mallaig. Booking ahead is an absolute must but totally worth it, as the journey transports visitors across a landscape that takes the term ‘rugged’ and redefines it in that inimitable Scottish way. Some call it the Hogwarts Express after its turn in the Harry Potter films, and you can insert your own magical comment right here.

4. Mostar to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn’t have many trains, but it remains an absolute must for lovers of rail travel. Why? Well, the stretch of track between Mostar and Jablanica quickly answers that question. It offers a jaw-dropping array of twists and turns that hug the cerulean blue of the ice-cold Neretva river, as jagged cliffs hem everything in from all sides. Sure, you need to get up early to catch the train, but it is worth that sunrise alarm. The route continues onward to Sarajevo, passing through charming Konjic and several satellite towns along the way.

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Myrdal to Flåm, Norway
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5. Myrdal to Flåm, Norway

Another frequent face on lists of the world’s best train journeys, the line between Myrdal and Flåm in Norway bridges the divide between impossibly cute and absolutely monolithic. That’s Norway in a nutshell, right? The small things are all quaint and idyllic, while the big ones bluster in through stunning cliffs, jagged mountains and awe-inspiring scenery. The Flåm Railway climbs a whopping 867 metres into the sky and back, with a short shop at the Kjosfossen waterfall as the cherry on top. Best of all, a trip on one of Europe’s great feats of engineering costs just €60.

Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain
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6. Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain

There are plenty of ways to travel from Barcelona to the base of Montserrat mountain, but we’re putting our eggs firmly in the basket marked ‘train’. Actually, that would be ‘tren’ in Catalan, but you get the idea. There is a wide range of tickets available for the journey, and though you can’t really go wrong with any of them, we recommend the ToT Montserrat (€52.90) as the way to go. This ticket covers your train from Barcelona and then either the cable car or rack railway up the mountain itself, as well as entry into the Montserrat Museum. Also, it happens to be flippin’ gorgeous. 

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Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, Wales
Photograph: Lara Ra / Shutterstock.com

7. Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, Wales

The small mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog has fallen on tough times with the demise of the slate mining industry, but the little steam railway that connects it with Porthmadog harbour is a gorgeous route that shows Wales at its most magnificent. Most of the journey snakes through Snowdonia National Park, with plenty of stop-off options for travellers with time on their hands. The Ffestiniog Railway Company is also the oldest independent railway company on the planet, another layer of awesome to this gorgeous experience. 

Belgrade to Bar, Serbia and Montenegro
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8. Belgrade to Bar, Serbia and Montenegro

Often referred to as ‘the Balkan Express’, the 11-hour (on a good day) jaunt from Belgrade to Bar is a celebration of civil engineering and natural majesty. A whopping 435 bridges are traversed as the train trundles from the Serbian capital to Montenegro’s largest port, working as something of a time machine through the twentieth century in these parts. That means socialist architecture in Užice, modern ski resorts in Kolašin and the rapidly developing tourism of Montenegro’s southern coast. The last stretch is particularly stunning.

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La Rhune, France
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9. La Rhune, France

What an absolute stunner of a ride. From the foot of the Pyrenees to the top via an early 1900s cog railway, the quaintest of quaint trains scaling a mighty height. It can be a little jarring, but the cobwebs are soon blown away by the stunning vistas and the majesty that awaits at the summit. The train only runs from April to September, round-trip tickets cost €20 (an absolute bargain), and it begins its journey in the town of Sare, some 10km or so from Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

10. Prague to Bratislava, Czech Republic and Slovakia

Okay, the scenery outside the window between Prague and Bratislava is nothing to write home about. Is it pretty? Sure, we’d expect nothing less from this part of the world, but the real fun of this route is found inside. A train journey spent in a Central European restaurant car is one of those most eccentric of travel experiences, so make an immediate beeline for that part of the train when boarding. Line up some excellent Czech pivo and enjoy the conveyor belt of characters who will invariably make their way through the car. 

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 Málaga to El Chorro, Spain
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11.  Málaga to El Chorro, Spain

While you can’t exactly get a train across the thriling and terrifying Caminito del Rey walkway, you can still experience a great journey on the way. The train from Malaga to El Chorro is a stunner, a fast route that takes less than 45 minutes and will set you back no more than €4.85. That gives you just under 45 minutes to enjoy the stunning scenery and dredge up the courage to traverse the famous walkway. 

Chur to Poschiavo, Switzerland
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12. Chur to Poschiavo, Switzerland

Switzerland is every bit as spectacular as its reputation suggests it might be. Actually, the press undersells this place and the rail route between Chur and Poschiavo is further proof, a jaw-dropping run that takes lucky passengers through the heart of the Swiss Alps. The famous mountains unravel on either side of the train, scenery that tends to see passengers put their cameras down and stare at the wonders at hand. The Bernina Express continues toward Tirano in Italy, for those who need even more scenery. 

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