Europe’s Most Stunning Train Trips, From Switzerland to Scotland

There’s no better way to travel across Europe than by train. These rides are almost more captivating than their destination.

Aerial view of train passing through famous mountain in Filisur, Switzerland

Switzerland is renowned for its scenic train routes—but don’t sleep on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Scotland too.

Photo by Guitar photographer/Shutterstock

Train travel in Europe is getting better and better. Expanded timetables, updated trains, extended routes, and new connections mean that there’s really no reason to get a polluting short-haul flight across the continent in 2024.

If you like your travel by night, a sleeper links Paris and Berlin again, while a brand-spanking-new service between Austria and Germany offers swanky new sleeping facilities and even capsule hotel–like pods for solo travelers. Poland has lucked out: 2024 brings double the connections between Kraków and Berlin, and Wrocław is now hooked up with Vienna. A new route from Liège to Maastricht via Aachen, meanwhile, unfurls Northern Europe to curious travelers who want to see something outside the capitals.

Hanging around in airports also means you miss out on some of the most beautiful countryside Europe has to offer. These 10 train trips carve through some of the most scenic landscapes in Europe. You won’t want to get off.

An aerial view of the historical Semmering railway bridge in Austria

Its 25 miles of track through Alpine scenery made the Semmering Railway an architectural wonder in the mid-1800s.

Photo by Photofex_AUT/Shutterstock

1. Semmering Railway, Austria

The Semmering Railway is one of the oldest railway lines in Europe and was the first to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Work on the railway started in 1848, and the line got the UNESCO nod exactly 150 years later. UNESCO tends to not get this kind of thing wrong: The railway was a marvel of engineering back then, and the line’s 16 viaducts and 15 tunnels have stood the test of time. Jump on at Vienna to get to Semmering. The route slices through 41 kilometers of fir-laden mountain passes in eastern Austria, treating passengers to jaw-dropping views of lush Alpine valleys.

The railway station of Calvi on Corsica, an island of France

The medieval town of Calvi is the end of the line for this scenic Corsica train route.

Photo by Littleaom/Shutterstock

2. U Trinichellu, Corsica, France

This little old-fashioned train shuttles you along the northwest coast of Corsica from L’Île-Rousse to Calvi, stopping in beach towns along the way. It’s a pick-and-choose train line: Most of the stops are on request. But don’t worry if you don’t like your choice—the tickets are hop on, hop off, so you can take a day to test all of the beaches on the Balagne coast, traveling with the sparkling Mediterranean on one side and craggy pine forests on the other.

A train at Manarola railway station, Cinque Terre, Italy

The village of Manarola has a population of just a few hundred and sits at 70 meters above sea level in the Liguria region.

Photo by Mikadun/Shutterstock

3. Cinque Terre Express Train, Italy

The Cinque Terre have to be seen to be believed: five villages comprising a mishmash of ochre, yellow, and pink houses pressed into cliffs on the Ligurian coast. Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are the five “terre” that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can explore all of them in one day—the train takes you from one end to the other in just 20 minutes.

A train on the Rhune mountain in French Basque Country

A 35-minute ride on the train up the Rhune mountain affords spectacular views in every direction.

Photo by ID-VIDEO/Shutterstock

4. Train de la Rhune, Basque Country, France and Spain

Can’t decide whether to holiday in France or Spain? Basque Country, a region with beautiful landscapes, straddles the two countries, and Train de la Rhune allows you to have the best of both worlds. The Rhune, a 900-meter-high mountain, rises out of the Pyrenees mountain range that fringes the border between France and Spain. The vintage “little Rhune train,” as it’s called, climbs this iconic summit over the course of 35 minutes past wild grazing ponies and small copses. At the end you’re rewarded with a breathtaking view of a patchwork quilt of green fields joining all seven Basque provinces on either side of the border.

Trains on the Belgrade - Bar railway line

If you have 11+ hours to spare, the Belgrade-to-Bar line offers endless views for just a few euros.

Martyn Jandula/Shutterstock

5. Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro

This is a bucket-list type of journey—and only costs about €24. The train going from Belgrade in Serbia to Bar in Montenegro (or the reverse journey) crosses 435 bridges over deep gorges, winds its way through imposing mountain passes and small towns that look like frontier outposts, and hugs bright, teal-blue lakes and rivers. The ride takes a solid 11 hours, though—and more if the train breaks down, which unfortunately has been known to happen.

A red diesel locomotive with a passenger train in Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s last narrow-gauge railway features a cute red diesel locomotive.

Photo by ZagAlex/Shutterstock

6. Rhodope Railway, Bulgaria

Step back in time on Bulgaria’s last operational narrow-gauge railway, running between the small towns of Septemvri and Dobrinishte in western Bulgaria. The railway connects remote mountain villages, so it’s a humdrum commuter train for locals, but the peaceful views of farmland, gorges, and woods are a draw for tourists. Fun fact: The highest train station in the Balkans is Avramovo, at 1,267 meters above sea level, and this train delivers you there, where you can alight for a quick photo op before jumping back on to continue the journey.

A train in Flåm valley in Norway

Norway’s Flåm railway takes in world-class views as it ascends almost 900 meters.

Photo by Mikhail Varentsov/Shutterstock

7. Flåmsbana, Norway

Do you know any other trains that make a special stop so passengers can get close to a huge, roaring waterfall? Kjosfossen waterfall is just one of the highlights of the Flåm railway line, which takes you from one of Norway’s most picturesque fjords, two meters above sea level, all the way up to the mountain station of Myrdal, at 876 meters above sea level. It’s regularly voted one of the most beautiful train trips in the world, and is certainly one of its most vertiginous, with 80 percent of the journey running on a gradient of 5.5 percent.

Swiss countryside seen through the wide panoramic windows of a train

Swiss trains boast large windows framing ever-changing scenic views.


8. Bernina Express, Switzerland

You can take this trip any time of year. If you go in summer, you’ll be threading your way through sunny green Swiss meadows, but on a winter trip you’ll see the landscape transform into a snowy winter wonderland. The Bernina Express is equipped with massive windows so you can see the scenery, but here’s a top tip: If you don’t mind swapping the fancy decor of the Bernina Express for something a bit less swish, you can also take one of the regional trains along the same route and even hop on and hop off with the same ticket. The route starts at Tirano in Italy, snakes round the iconic Brusio spiral viaduct, and climbs toward the mountains. After hitting the summit more than 2,000 meters above sea level, you slither down through the desolate Bernina Pass and dramatic Alpine valleys before arriving in Chur, Switzerland.

Stari Most bridge in the old town of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

You must see Mostar’s Stari Most bridge when you arrive in the city.

Photo by Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

9. Sarajevo to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

This train ride may be one of the best kept secrets in Europe. Sweeping, Jurassic Park–style views greet you as the train winds its way around rolling hills, taking you past deep gorges and emerald lakes. And although the journey alone makes the trip worth it, it also connects two of the most fascinating cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Explore Sarajevo’s layers of history, from the Latin Bridge, where Franz Ferdinand’s assassination ignited the First World War, to the Tunnel of Hope, a tunnel used to transport supplies during the siege on the city in the Bosnian War. The city’s also known, of course, for its great food, excellent coffee culture, and mix of architectural styles. When you’ve had your fill, head to Mostar to visit Stari Most bridge—which you have to see once in your lifetime.

Steam train crosses the Glenfinnan viaduct in the Scottish highlands.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to run through a wall to board the Jacobite “Hogwarts” Express.

Christopher Chambers/Shutterstock

10. Jacobite Express, Scotland

You probably know this train by its other name: the Hogwarts Express. Yes, this is the steam train that puffs its way over the majestic Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Harry Potter movies. It runs from Fort William to Mallaig, and in between, travelers are whisked past the best of Scotland’s epic Highlands scenery, from Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, to its deepest freshwater loch, Loch Morar. On arrival in Mallaig, you can continue the journey by getting a ferry to the Isle of Skye, which has miles of hiking trails through fairy-tale landscapes.

Catherine Bennett is a French-British journalist and translator based between France and Italy. She writes about travel, cities, culture and the environment. She has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, Wired and Atlas Obscura.
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