“The whole train is on the ferry.”

“The whole train is on the ferry.”

Although Switzerland’s Bernina Express and Norway’s Bergenspann are legendary, there are more train journeys to be had in Europe. Train journeys in Europe may be less popular, but they are just as beautiful.

Travel journalist Sander Gruen specializes in… Slow travel He wrote the next book Between the Rails: The 35 Most Beautiful Train Trips in Europe.

At the request of subway Gruen recommends five epic rail adventures. We’ve already done it ourselves with three train trips across Europe, as an alternative to flying.

Sander Green
Sander Green. Photo: Ernest Cobbegans

The 5 most beautiful train trips in Europe

1. Italy – Train at sea

Every evening at 7:50pm, a special night train departs from Milan’s wonderful train station (you can read more about night trains here): Intercity Notte to Palermo. At 1,500 kilometers long, it is one of the longest train journeys in Europe, running from the far north of Lombardy via Genoa, Pisa, Livorno and Lamezia Terme to Villa San Giovanni on the tip of the Italian boot. This is not the end point yet, because this is where the entire train enters the ferry to cross the Strait of Messina to Sicily.

Travel by train Europe night train Milan Palermo
Intercity Notte takes the entire ferry. Photo: Sander Gruen

Now that the rail ferries between Germany, Denmark and Sweden have stopped, this is the last rail ferry in Europe since 2020. It could be called an evening train, but a large part of the journey along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, from approximately Salerno, is during the day. At the end of the afternoon, the train arrives in Palermo after about 24 hours. This is by far the most epic train journey in Italy.

2. Montenegro – Right through the Black Mountains

The length of the railway line built by dictator Tito from the coastal resort of Bar in Montenegro to the Serbian capital Belgrade is 476 kilometers. There is also a night train, but it is better to travel during the day, because this amazing railway line passes directly through the Black Mountains which owe its name to Montenegro: from the Adriatic Sea over Lake Shkodër, through the capital Podgorica, right across the Moraca Gorge and across the highest railway bridge. In Europe, to the mountain town of Kolasin.

Train travel montenegro europe bar belgrade
Enjoy Montenegro. Photo: Sander Gruen

The train runs there in the morning and returns in the evening, providing a great opportunity to have lunch with local soup and visit one of the most beautiful national parks in the country: Biogradska Gora is one of the last three primeval forests in Europe, where trees are five centuries old and where wolves and bears live. You can also continue to the destination Belgrade; Then the train journey takes half a day.

More train travel pearls in Europe

3. France – The secret of the blue train

When the daughter of a spoiled English millionaire is murdered on a train to the southern coast of France and a world-famous ruby ​​is stolen from her, detective Hercule Poirot must unravel the mystery. The train that inspired Agatha Christie to write her tenth crime novel was the Mediterranean Train, also known as Le Train Bleu. This luxury train was as popular at the time as the Orient Express, and ran from Paris to the Riviera for almost a century.

Train travel in Europe Night train Paris-Nice France
I knew her from Agatha Christie. Photo: Sander Gruen

In 2003, the railway company SNCF ended it, but in 2021 the legendary train line was restored, this time as the Intercités de nuit from Paris to Nice. Start the journey at Gare de Lyon with dinner at the station’s restaurant, Le Train Bleu, lavishly decorated with gold leaf and garlands. The next morning you will arrive to rest on the Côte d’Azur, where life is still as luxurious as it was in the heyday of the Blue Train.

4. Great Britain – Blasting across the Highlands

Sparkling lochs, dark forests, moors, teeming rivers, wild plateau wilderness, medieval castles and endless views: the West Highland Line is Scotland’s most beautiful railway, and has been voted the most beautiful railway in the world more than once.

Desolate wilderness on the plateau. Photo: Sander Gruen

The single-track line runs from Glasgow through the most remote corner of the country, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, via a thousand and one bends to the Atlantic Fjord coast, stopping in remote villages that are often only accessible by train. The end point is the picturesque little fishing village of Mallaig, from where ferries depart to the islands of Skye, Muck, Egg and Rum. The line is 264 kilometers long and the journey takes more than five hours. But you can also go down the road, for example for a nature walk, visit the station museum in Glenfinnan or take a selfie with the Harry Potter Bridge.

5. Poland – Sleeper train to Hill

While night trains have been phased out one by one in Western Europe in recent decades, they continue to operate in Poland. You can sleep with it all over the country, from west to east and from south to north. One of those night trains was the setting for the 1959 film Pociag (“The Train”), a black-and-white Hitchcockian classic. More than sixty years later, the same sleeper train is still running.

Train travel in Europe Night train Krakow Hill Poland
On the train to… Hell. Photo: Sander Gruen

We board the ship in Krakow, stop in Łódź, the film capital of Poland, and arrive in Hele in the morning, seven hundred kilometers away. Despite its name, the peninsula feels like paradise in summer, with a 25-kilometre-long white sand beach, good hotels, fish restaurants in wooden fishermen’s houses, forests and sand dunes, plus sunshine every day. This is where Poles like to spend their holidays – hence the direct sleeper train from the south. Welcome to hell.

Bern, Thun, Lucerne and more: a summer Interrail trip through Switzerland

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