5 Unique Train Travels in Western Europe

5 Unique Train Travels in Western Europe

Train travel has experienced a resurgence in Europe in recent years. Travellers are increasingly rejecting air travel in favour of more sustainable options, and trains are near the top of the list. To get you in the mood for a trip on the rails, we’ll look at some of the most unique trains and rail routes currently available across Western Europe. 

1. The Santa Claus Express

Finland was one of our top picks for eco-friendly destinations in 2023. It’s a beautiful, vast country, and a train is probably the best way to explore it.

One of the most unique and popular train routes in the country is Helsinki to Rovaniemi, colloquially known as the Santa Claus Express. This train journey in Europe will take you to a northern wonder. As the name suggests, this route takes passengers into Lapland, the home of Saint Nick himself. The journey takes approximately 10 hours and is operated by VR, the national rail provider. 

2. Costa Verde Express

There are scores of scenic train routes crisscrossing the Iberian Peninsula, whether you’re capital hopping with the train from Lisbon to Madrid or exploring coastal towns. But the Costa Verde Express is the pick of the bunch. Previously known as the El Transcantábrico Clásico until 2022, this luxury tourist train operates several long-distance, multi-stop routes. Their routes include 5-night trips that start in Bilbao and make stops at cities such as Santander, Gijón, and Oviedo.

The train features ensuite rooms, bars, and restaurants. You eat and sleep on the train and then do a spot of daily sightseeing when you arrive at your numerous destinations.

As with all luxury  tourist trains, you’re paying for the experience on the train itself, as opposed to the destination. But if you’re looking for a comfortable way to see more of Spain, one that is considerably more eco-friendly than flying, it’s ideal. 

3. Bernina Express

The Bernina Express goes from Landquart in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy. It runs throughout the tourist season and the journey spans about 5 hours, taking you through some beautiful Alpine scenery as you cross from one stunning country to another. The train journey in Europe includes passage through the Bernina Pass, a mountain pass that separates Switzerland and Italy.

We have a guide to sustainable travel in Switzerland if you need a few pointers.

4. Whitby to Pickering

Starting from the town of Whitby, famous for its abbey, which featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to the market town of Pickering, this route may not seem like much at first glance. But it’s perfect for rail lovers seeking a historic experience. It uses a steam train to cut through the North Yorkshire Moors, a chocolate box route that seems to have been plucked from the pages of a 19th-century novel.

It lacks the amenities found on many modern trains, as you’d expect, but the journey takes less than 2 hours and you’ll likely spend that time staring out of the window and snapping pictures.

5. The Semmering Railway

Located in Austria, the Semmering Railway is a UNESCO World Heritage rail line that was built about 170 years ago. It crosses over towering viaducts and passes through 15 tunnels, providing some epic views of the Alps on the way. It’s a short route, with the total journey running for just 40 minutes, but in that time you’ll witness some incredible views that will ensure the journey stays lodged in your memory forever. 

The line starts at Gloggnitz, which you can reach in an hour by train from Vienna. It ends just over 40 kilometres away in Mürzzuschlag.

If you don’t have a head for heights, prepare yourself!

Unique Train  Travel Routes in Europe

Not convinced by the above? There are more:

  • Glasgow to Mallaig: A Scottish adventure on the rails that includes some stunning views of the British countryside.
  • Clermont-Ferrand to Nîmes: A French route that takes about 6.5 hours.
  • Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine: A great way to see the Irish coast.
  • Belgrade to Bar: See some Serbian scenery on a 10-hour trip that includes hundreds of tunnels and bridges.
  • Oslo to Bergen: A great way to travel between these two major Norwegian cities. It includes the breath-taking Hardangervidda plateau.
  • Drei Annen Hohne to Brocken: A short route (about 50 minutes) that uses steam trains to climb lush meadows, providing great views of the German countryside as it chugs along.

These are just a few of the many standout train journey routes in Europe, and as governments invest more money in rail networks and consumers become more eco-conscious, we’ll likely see more routes, more memorable journeys, and much greater uptake in the years to come. So, if you want to see more of Europe without stepping foot in an airport, consider taking the train.

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