Top European train trips

Top European train trips

Enough with the iPad! It's time to look out the window and realize that sometimes the best part of a journey is the journey

There’s something magical about boarding from a rail platform in London and disembarking in Paris, or breaking out a bottle of wine on an overnight train for a romantic weekend in St. Petersburg.

Glacier trains, lake views and mountain passes … Europe’s best train journeys second as destinations unto themselves.

Tell us about your favorite European train trips in the comments section.

London to Avignon

London’s Eurostar connection has made hopping on the train to the continent a far more enjoyable alternative than venturing out to the city’s crowded, retail-obsessed airports.

This gorgeous, long-distance route to southern France’s former papal seat can be done direct in the summer in less than six hours, with service every Saturday.

Non-direct journeys involve a swift change in Lille, adding just half an hour to the journey time.

A stretch through the Kent countryside gives you a brief glimpse of one of England’s prettiest counties before the train rolls on at 300 kph through eastern France, with beautiful views of vineyards and ancient towns.

Take the early train and you’ll be there in time for a leisurely glass of Chateauneuf.

From £264 (US$399) round-trip;

Geneva to Milan

For the majority of this four-hour trip you’ll be looking out at spectacular views of Lake Geneva before racing across alpine meadows bordered by colossal snow-topped mountains.

The train passes through the towns of Lausanne and Brig, where you can jump off and take the stunning Glacier Express, which takes seven and a half hours to chug along endless switchbacks to the ski resort of St. Moritz.

No worries about tight schedules: Swiss railways are among the most punctual in the world.

From CHF181 (US$195) round-trip;

Le Train Jaune, Pyrenees

You can lean from the open windows to feel the breeze.

Resembling the sort of toy train you’d find in a model village, 
Le Train Jaune, the "yellow train," is a century-old institution that offers spectacular views of the Pyrenees.

It's also an ideal way for skiers in this corner of France to reach the area’s excellent resorts.

Running between the mountain villages of Villefranche de Conflent and Latour de Carol, the train creeps up to a height of 1,600 meters above sea level during its three-hour ascent, crossing original suspension bridges and forts that helped defend this border region long ago. 

From €34 (US$42) round-trip;

Berlin to Moscow

A classic route between two of eastern Europe’s most powerful and beguiling cities.  
This day-long trip strikes east to the nearby Polish border, through the Polish cities of Poznan and Warsaw before traversing Belarus via Minsk and entering Russia.

Vast, snowy winter landscapes are what really make this a must-do in the frigid months of the year. Second-class private berths are snug, with two bunks and a fold-down chair, while swankier first-class berths come with a TV and wine.

Note: You’ll need a transit visa for getting through Belarus.

From €244 (US$329) one way; 

Zurich Airport to Arosa

Rightly billed as the world’s most beautiful airport transfer, this route, via a quick change to a smaller regional service in the town of Chur, is the perfect introduction to Switzerland.

The journey from Chur passes through the town’s postcard outskirts before heaving itself up impossibly steep hairpins.

The views are top notch, with mountain passes and snowy forests in every direction.

The real highlight comes when the train glides across the Langwieser Viadukt, 60 meters above the thundering River Plessure. The world’s first reinforced concrete viaduct, it’s a marvel of Swiss engineering. 

There’s simply no better way to ease into a week on the slopes.

From CHF23 (US$25) round-trip;

Sofia to Belgrade

You won't want to sleep through one of the continent's most fascinating train rides.

You can grab a bunk and take a sleeper on this jaunt through the Balkans, but you’d be missing out on one of the continent’s most fascinating views.

Starting in Bulgaria’s increasingly popular capital, the eight-hour day train offers a fascinating glimpse into how this recently troubled part of Europe still has one foot in the past.

The rolling stock is Communist-era vintage and some of the guards still wear Yugoslavian uniforms, while the views range from idiosyncratic Orthodox churches to the kind of Old World agricultural landscapes you probably thought had died out in Europe some time in the mid-20th century.

From 26 BGN Lev (US$18) one-way with Interrail pass;

Helsinki to St. Petersburg

This seriously swift route cuts through evergreen forests with views across arctic lakes in the summer.

This snappy route used to take five and a half hours on creaking Soviet-era carriages before new Allegro high-speed trains slashed journey times by two hours in 2010.

There’s a proper restaurant car for indulging that "high roller traveling through eastern Europe" vibe, while the service is as good as you’ll find on any train on the continent.

Currently there are four trains a day, with plans to get the overall ride down to just three hours total in the next few years.

From €144 (US$194) round-trip; 

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