There’s something magical about a journey by train.

Sometimes the magic is inside – on a train you have room to move and meet people, dine in a restaurant car with white tablecloths, and sleep in a private compartment between crisp, clean sheets with the sound of steel wheels swishing on the rails beneath you. Sometimes the magic is outside, in the landscape the train traverses – an adventure, an experience, an insight into the heart of a nation.

Below are some of the most beautiful train rides in Europe – some well known, some less so, some luxurious and expensive, others true bargains. From countryside views and mountain villages to alpine passes and landmark bridges (with a little wildlife spotting thrown in for good measure), the continent offers up some of the most scenic train rides in the world.

The best European train trips include the fabulous Bernina Express, the most enchanting Swiss Alpine ride of all, and the spectacular railway from Belgrade to Bar through the mountains of Montenegro. The latter is one of the most scenic train rides you’ve probably never heard of, with a bargain fare of just €21. So here they are, the 10 best train journeys in Europe, extracted from Lonely Planet's Amazing Train Journeys.

Train crossing the Ribblehead viaduct in Yorkshire Dales, England.
The Settle to Carlisle line crosses the Ribblehead Viaduct © nicolamargaret / Getty Images

1. Settle to Carlisle, England

Route: Settle to Carlisle
Best bit? Marveling at the Ribblehead Viaduct, one of the great views of northern England, preferably as a steam train thunders over.
Distance: 113km (73 miles)
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

England’s Settle-to-Carlisle line has long been synonymous with the fight to preserve beautiful and historic stretches of railway. But this is no heritage line. Proudly part of the British rail network and served by regular mainline trains, the railway enjoys a double life as a frequent host of steam specials and, even rarer, steam-hauled mainline services.

Whether you have the whiff of steam in your nostrils or the hard-working growl of diesel-hauled regular trains in your ears, the views from the carriages are pretty much unmatched on the English railway network.

Passengers can feast their eyes on mile after mile of magnificent Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines scenery, interrupted only by stations so sweet you would expect to find them pictured on a box of biscuits.

The Little Yellow Train (Le Petit Train Jaune) passing through Villefranche-de-Conflent, France
No prizes for guessing where Le Petit Train Jaune (Little Yellow Train) gets its name © momo11353 / Getty Images

2. Le Petit Train Jaune, France

Route: Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol
Best bit? Holding your breath as you cross the gravity-defying Pont Gisclard.
Distance: 63km (39 miles)
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes

Since 1910, the dinky, sunflower-yellow carriages of the Ligne de Cerdagne have been rattling and clattering their way through the rolling forests and saw-toothed mountains of the Pyrenees, and they have secured a special place in the hearts of many French travelers.

Affectionately known as the Canary, or Le Petit Train Jaune (Little Yellow Train), this mountain railway is frequently cited as the most scenic in France, but it’s definitely not a luxury service – it’s a rollercoaster ride on which you will feel the wind in your hair and the chill of the mountain breeze as you ratchet your way up to the highest train station in France. On y va!

A woman is traveling on a train, leaning out of a window and looking out at the scenery
The Belgrade-to-Bar Railway chugs through the Serbian mountains © Pekic / Getty Images

3. Belgrade-to-Bar Railway, Serbia and Montenegro

Route: Belgrade to Bar
Best bit? Levitating atop the 499m-long (1637ft), 198m-tall (650ft) Mala Rijeka Viaduct, one of the planet’s highest railway bridges, before the train glides over the Balkans’ largest lake, Skadar.
Distance: 476km (296 miles)
Duration: 12 hours

Dramatic is the operative word for this route, which rumbles over an unsullied, mountainous landscape from Serbia's capital, Belgrade, to Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast. During the 12-hour journey, the train disappears into the Dinaric Alps, charges through canyons, teeters on stilted bridges spanning river gorges and skims atop an ancient, tectonic lake.

Like the region it serves, the railway, which chugs across the heart of the Western Balkans, eludes most tourists’ maps. The reward for treasure-hunting travelers, who are informed (or lucky) enough to know where to dig: an embarrassment of authentic culture and pristine geographic riches at every bend.

Bernina Express train passing through a snow-covered mountain range.
The Bernina Express route is a stunner, especially in winter © michelangeloop/Getty Images

4. The Bernina Express, Switzerland

Route: Chur to Tirano
Best bit? Marveling at the astonishingly turquoise Lago Bianco from the route’s highest station, Ospizio Bernina (2253m/7392ft).
Distance: 156km (96 miles)
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes

We can wax lyrical about the glacier-capped mountains, waterfall-draped ravines, jewel-colored lakes and endless spruce forests glimpsed through panoramic windows on Switzerland’s Bernina Express – but, trust us, seeing is believing.

Rolling from Chur in Graubünden to Tirano in northern Italy in around four hours, this narrow-gauge train often tops polls of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys. It's certainly one of the most scenic train journeys in Switzerland.

Beyond the phenomenal Alpine landscape, the railway itself is a masterpiece of early 20th-century engineering, taking 55 tunnels and 196 bridges in its stride. The line is on the UNESCO World Heritage List – and with good reason.

Scenic landscape with sheep grazing in front of Castell Carreg Cennen (Carreg Cennen Castle), Trapp, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales,
Stop at Llandeilo to explore Carreg Cennen Castle and the surrounding hills © Chris Griffiths / Getty Images

5. The Heart of Wales Line, Wales and England

Route: Swansea to Shrewsbury
Best bit? Disembarking at lonely Sugar Loaf Station for a walk or picnic around the iconic nearby knoll of the same name.
Distance: 194km (121 miles)
Duration: 4 hours

This is Swansea to Shrewsbury the slow and, frankly, surreal way. This one-carriage train traverses track through Wales and England that might easily have been consigned to a museum or an out-of-print book, but that has somehow defied time and logic to survive as a passenger route.

Expect a spectrum of scenery, alternating from the sand-edged estuaries of South Wales, via bucolic farming towns and tracts of forest and hill country you probably never knew existed, through to one of England’s prettiest medieval cities. This four-hour, 34-station zigzag passes almost no major sights or countryside villages, but a very high concentration of spectacularly zany ones.

A regional train on the Brenner Railway cuts through in the Austrian Alps
The Brenner Railway cuts through in the Austrian Alps © Leonid Andronov / Getty Images

6. Munich to Venice on the Brenner Railway, Germany, Austria and Italy

Route: Munich to Venice
Best bit? Stretching your legs at 1371m (4498ft) Brenner Pass, the highest point on the trip.
Distance: 563km (350 miles)
Duration: 6 hours 30 minutes

The Brenner Railway is attractive for two key reasons: mountains and wine. There may be more technically astonishing high-altitude trains, but this was the first to cross the Alps, in the 1860s.

On a surprisingly speedy day trip, you pass through three countries – Germany, Austria and Italy – and descend from the snow line to sea level. You’re rarely far from highways, but the vineyard views are still stunning. Bonus: great European cities with historic architecture – Munich and Venice – are at either end.

A Scotrail Class 158 diesel passenger train crosses the glacial delta estuary of the River Attadale as it winds along the Kyle Line railway on the coast of Loch Carron, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in the West Highlands of Scotland.
The Kyle Of Lochalsh Line gives you a scenic view of the Scottish Highlands © JoeDunckley / Getty Images

7. The Kyle of Lochalsh Line, Scotland

Route: Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh
Best bit? Passing under the gentle grassy slopes of Fionn Bheinn – a munro rising high over Achnasheen.
Distance: 135km (84 miles)
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

Scotland has an abundance of windswept railways – the West Highland Line and the Far North Line to Thurso among them. Though comparatively unsung, perhaps the loneliest of all is the Kyle of Lochalsh Line – with trains rumbling doggedly from Inverness through desolate glens and past snowy munros, connecting the cold shores of the North Sea to the furious whitewater of the Atlantic.

It is a railway line full of poetry and beloved by aficionados – but it’s also a useful way for independent travelers to access remote nooks of the Highlands, and make a journey to the Isle of Skye.

Colorful rowing boats line up on the shore of Lake Bled, with the surrounding trees in beautiful fall colors and Bled Island and Church of Mary the Queen in the background.
This sublime section of the Slovenian railway takes passengers to Lake Bled © Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

8. Nova Gorica to Jesenice, Slovenia

Route: Nova Gorica to Jesenice
Best bit? Catching a glimpse of picture-perfect Lake Bled’s church, castle and bright-blue water.
Distance: 89km (55 miles)
Duration: 2 hours

Here is a near-perfect railway adventure that most people have never heard of. Then again, you could be forgiven for missing it. The Bohinj Railway, after all, connects two places whose significance can be lost to modern travelers. Europe’s shifting borders and politics may have rather marooned the Nova Gorica–Jesenice line, but that only adds to the appeal.

An unassuming regional train rattling out of a faded-grandeur halt on the Italy–Slovenia border doesn’t even hint at what’s to come. The journey is a spectacular tour of Slovenia’s upland highlights, climbing through mountain towns and villages along the Soča River, passing through superb Alpine scenery close to Lake Bohinj, and past world-famous Lake Bled, offering photo opportunities galore.

The view from Intragna on the River Melezza, as the the Centovalli Express cuts through the Hundred Valleys in Switzerland.
The Centovalli Express cuts through the Hundred Valleys in Switzerland © Shutterstock/Mor65_Mauro Piccardi

9. The Centovalli Express, Switzerland and Italy

Route: Domodossola to Locarno
Best bit? Taking in the Isorno viaduct, the site of Switzerland’s first bungee jump.
Distance: 52km (32 miles)
Duration: 2 hours

Often eclipsed by Switzerland’s more famous rail rides, this two-hour trundle from Locarno on the palm-rimmed shores of Lake Maggiore to Domodossola over the Italian border in Piedmont is something of an unsung beauty.

Brush up your Italiano to swoon in sync with fellow passengers as the dinky train clatters across 83 bridges and burrows its way through 34 tunnels. The views make for spirit-lifting stuff: waterfalls shooting past cliffside views, hillside vineyards, gracefully arched viaducts, slate-roofed hamlets, glacier-carved ravines and mile after mile of chestnut and beech forests, all set against the puckered backdrop of mountains that are snow-capped in winter.

A train passes snow-capped mountains and a river from Oslo to Bergen in Norway
Bergensbanen is Norway's most scenic train journey © stockstudioX / Getty Images

10. Bergensbanen, Norway

Route: Oslo to Bergen
Best bit? Gazing over the soul-stirring landscape of Hardangervidda between Geilo and Finse.
Distance: 496km (308 miles)
Duration: 6 hours 30 minutes

This astonishing train is one of the wonders of 19th-century railway building, and yet outside Norway hardly anyone knows about it. In just over six hours and some 490km (300 miles), it covers the spectrum of Norway’s natural splendor: climbing canyons, crossing rivers, burrowing through mountainsides, swooping past fjords and traversing barren icescapes. All aboard for the Oslo to Bergen trainline, Bergensbanen: a mainline into Norwegian nature.

This article was first published Aug 20, 2019 and updated Jan 16, 2024.

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