There’s something magical about travelling by train, sitting back and watching the world rush by in a vibrant procession of ever-changing scenery and culture, occasionally stretching your legs by walking to the bar/café cart. Flying is usually a quicker way of getting from A to B, but to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Life is a journey, not a destination”. Some of the world’s great journeys are train journeys, including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Trans-Siberian Railway. Aside from the romance, travelling by train is also more environmentally friendly and sustainable than air travel.
To help inspire you, we’ve picked five of the best railway journeys in Europe. We’ve gone for short journeys that can easily be made in a day, which means the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express misses out this time.
West Highland Line, Scotland
Scotland’s West Highland Line runs from Glasgow through the stunning Scottish Highlands, to the ports of Oban and Mallaig on the country’s west coast. The line opened in 1895 and takes passengers through some of Europe’s most majestic scenery and remote landscapes, including Loch Lomond, the Trossachs National Park and Horseshoe Curve, a dramatic bend that skirts around three picturesque mountains.
Parts of the line are still operated by traditional Jacobite steam locomotives. One of the undoubted highlights of the West Highland Line is crossing the breathtaking Glenfinnan Viaduct, a sweeping 21-arched viaduct that symbolises the golden age of Britain’s railways. Experience it for yourself, along with a ride on the famous Strathspey Steam Railway, on our Scottish Highland Railways tour.
The Yellow Train, France
Carving its way through the dramatic valleys of the French Pyrenees is the Ligne de Cerdagne, a historic narrow-gauge line used by Le Train Jaune (The Yellow Train). The train itself is coloured bright yellow (you guessed it!) with red trim, representing the Catalonian flag. The line, which opened in 1909, runs for 39 miles through 22 stations, from the UNESCO-protected fortified village of Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol, near the Spanish border.
Today, seven of the original ten train units are still in operation, and each train travels with two open-air carriages. The Yellow Train passes through some spectacular scenery on its short journey, including one of France’s highest railway stations at Bolquére Eyne, which stands at 5,226ft above sea level. Our Little Trains of the Pyrenees tour includes a ride on the Yellow Train, as it heads up into the mountains, crossing dizzying gorges and fast-flowing streams, together with journeys on the Roses Express and the Red Train.
Bernina Express, Switzerland
Encompassing the highest rail crossing in the Alps at the Bernina Pass, together with one of the steepest railway descents in Europe, where the train drops 5,000ft in just 25 miles, a ride on the Bernina Express is a truly extraordinary experience. Running from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano, just across the Italian border, the Bernina Express passes an extraordinary variety of scenery, from Alpine glaciers and snow-capped mountains, to vineyards and palm trees.
Special panoramic and open-air (summer only) carriages enable passengers to take in the stupendous views that open up with every twist and turn of this sinuous line. Our Lake Como, St Moritz & the Bernina Express tour includes a journey on the Bernina Express, from Tirano, up into the Alps and across the famous spiral-shaped Brusio Viaduct, to the elegant Swiss ski resort, St Moritz.
Orange Blossom Train, Spain
Majorca’s vintage Orange Blossom Train runs from Palma, the island’s coastal capital, into the pine-covered interior and to the historic hill town of Sóller. Work began on the line during the early 20th century, which was financed by the island’s booming orange and lemon trade, hence the train’s name (and colour).
Heading north from Palma on its short 17-mile journey, the Orange Blossom Train takes passengers alongside picturesque citrus and almond groves, over a viaduct and across the Sierra de Alfàbia and Serra de Tramuntana mountain ranges, passing through a total of 13 tunnels. The train’s vintage wooden carriages are original and have made the rumbling journey through rural Majorca many times during the line’s 108-year existence. Sit back, relax and enjoy this picturesque ride on our Discover Mallorca & the Orange Blossom Train tour.
Little Green Train, Italy
On Sardinia, Il Trenino Verde (The Little Green Train) weaves away from the popular, glitzy resorts of the Costa Smeralda and through the rugged Sardinian countryside, revealing a different, more traditional side to the island. Famously ridden by DH Lawrence in 1925, the Little Green Train meanders into the heart of a charming jumble of pretty meadows and rugged mountains, past traditional farming villages that remain largely unchanged since Lawrence’s day. With public transport limited on most of the island, the Little Green Train is the best way to explore the more remote parts of Sardinia. The train operates on several different lines, one of which leads past one of Sardinia’s great secrets, the Giara di Gesturi, a basalt plateau in the south of the country, where wild horses roam free amongst ancient nuraghe. Spend a glorious week on Sardinia, with a ride on the Little Green Train, as part of our Undiscovered Southern Sardinia & the Little Green Train tour.