Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. Whenever we get a train-related query, we call on our in-house rail guru, Tom Hall.

Question: I had planned to take a Trans-Siberian train journey late in 2023, but I don’t anticipate that can happen now. Could you recommend some other epic European routes?

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Tom Hall: Though Europe does have some very long trains, nothing compares to the cross-continental odyssey of traveling east from Moscow for a week or more. As you note, that’s not an option right now. However, there are plenty of other amazing routes to consider to keep you rolling for a long time.

SJ night train at border village, Riksgransen, Sweden
Given its size, Sweden offers several long-distance train routes, including to northern Norway © Tommy Alven / Shutterstock

Several thin fingers of railways connect up distant corners of the European continent. The longest by distance is the Snälltåget train from Malmö, Sweden to Innsbruck, Austria, which exists primarily to ferry Swedish skiers to the Alps then back again a week later. It covers the 1075-mile (1720km) route each week in about 22 hours, with stops at several key Austrian towns offering connections to ski resorts.

Given Sweden’s size and location, you’ll find two more long-distance heavyweights departing, in different directions, from Stockholm. The mighty daily service between Stockholm and Narvik in Norway – 137 miles inside the Arctic Circle – covers 916 miles (1467km) in 18 hours. At least one one and sometimes two sleeper services connect Stockholm with Berlin, taking between 15 and 17-and-a-half hours to cross southern Sweden, Denmark and northern Germany

The longest train in the UK is the outwardly unassuming Cross Country service connecting Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall. The 13-hour trip covers a huge swathe of Britain, traversing almost 800 miles (1280km). It also needn’t be the end of the journey. From Penzance, the Scillonian ferry plies the waters over to the idyllic Isles of Scilly.

Great Western Railway train under a stone overpass at Teignmouth, Devon, England, UK
The Cross Country service takes 13 hours to cross much of Britain, from Aberdeen to Penzance © Max_555 / Shutterstock

The spirit of the Trans-Siberian – and perhaps the experience you’re looking for – is a rolling adventure where you might share a very unusual journey (and train picnic!) with your fellow passengers as the landscape becomes ever-more unfamiliar. For that, consider heading to Turkey.

Starting in Istanbul – perhaps reached by a rail odyssey of your own from elsewhere in Europe (Sofia, anyone?) – Anatolia awaits. Istanbul’s Marmaray train speeds under the Bosphorus and on to Söğütlüçeşme station on the city’s Asian side, from where a high-speed train heads east to Ankara. Once in the Turkish capital, the Dogu Express (Doğu Ekspresi) takes 26 hours to wend its way 818 miles (1310km) to Kars in the north-east of the country, via superb Anatolian mountain and river scenery. There’s a version of this train aimed at tourists that makes several stops over a 30-hour journey – but the regular train is the classic experience.

Incidentally, the longest train I could find in Europe by duration is the irregularly scheduled and privately run train from Villach in Austria to Edirne in Turkey. Clocking in at 34 hours – perhaps more allowing for border controls – it is a car-carrying service aimed at Turkish expats traveling with their vehicles. This is one of the last remnants of what was once a much more extensive auto-train network in Europe, a fact you’d have plenty of time to appreciate as you and your car trundle across the continent’s southeastern corner.

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