Five Breathtaking European Train Journeys
One of the best ways to explore Europe's historic and scenic sights is by train. Not only is rail travel a comfortable and relaxing way to vacation, it allows you to get off of the beaten path, traveling through villages, country sides and other regions that highways tend to miss. Sit back and relax on a striking European train journey.
The mother of all European train journeys, the infamous Orient Express – now operating as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – runs from Paris to Istanbul. Founded in 1883, this luxury railway has carried passengers from King Boris of Bulgaria to Isadora Duncan and Mata Hari. The train still runs through major cities such as London, Rome and Vienna, as well as to destinations formerly behind the Iron Curtain, including Prague, Budapest and Krakow and new destinations, such as Amsterdam. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express still features vintage cabins, haute cuisine in three dining cars, a swanky cocktail lounge in the Bar Car, and luxurious accommodations maintained by a meticulous army of stewards.
Spain’s Transcantábrico runs for 400 miles on a narrow-gauge track across the nation’s northern region, from Bilbao to Ferrol, before veering inland to the city of Leon. On the way, it passes through villages such as Santiago de Compostela, Vivero, Santillana del Mar and Santander on its way along the Cantabrian coast. From the rocky coasts and inlets of Galicia to Cantabria’s rolling, green hills to the Asturias Mountains, the Transcantabrico offers scenic views at every turn. Passengers stay in luxurious suites with double beds, private bathrooms and telephones and the train offers gourmet cuisine in its dining car.
Although it’s only about an hour long, Norway’s Flam Railway offers unparalleled views of some of northern Europe’s most spectacular scenery. This tiny train climbs more than 2,800 feet in less than 12 miles as it makes its way to the top of Myrdal Mountain. Along the way, marvel at the 459-foot drop of the Rjoandefossen waterfall and rushing rivers and rugged mountains of Norway’s fjords.
Switzerland’s Chocolate Train runs between Montreux to Broc. As its name suggests, this train journey offers more than simply stunning views, although those are provided, as well. Passengers enjoy a stop in the tiny town of Gruyères to sample cheese of the same name on their way to Broc, home to the Cailler-Nestlé chocolate factory. After tasting samples of the towns tasty wares, the train returns to Montreux, passing by scenic mountains, vineyards and Lake Geneva on your way back to the Swiss Riviera.
Travel in luxury on the Danube Express. Known as the “hotel on wheels,” this Central European train runs between London and Budapest. Its deluxe sleeping cars feature private bathrooms and two beds. During dinner, an attendant readies your room for bedtime before bringing you a glass of wine to end the day. The dining car prepares gourmet European fare, while the lounge car offers a cozy spot to relax and watch the scenery go by.
Luton Airport offers quick accesss to many European destinations where you can begin one of the train journeys above.