ThereByTrain.com's guide to the greatest railway journeys in Europe, telling you how to travel on the most scenic routes by train.
On therebytrain.com we believe that arguably the biggest reason for getting there by train and a not a plane is what you can see from the window and that the journeys, not solely the destinations, can be a holiday highlight.
Below you'll find our guide to some of the most scenic railway routes in Europe:
- *= This route passes through a scenic area so try and see it by daylight
- **= The views are so memorable that if you’re visiting a destination on this route, we recommend this journey for a day or an afternoon trip by train
- ***= Views that are so good they’re likely to be a highlight of a holiday by train so try and include them in your trip.
Sitting on the right/left of the train – when we suggest this it’s because an amazing view of a lake, river, shore etc. is visible from only one side of the train, while from the other side of the train, you’ll be seeing nothing special and wondering why we suggested the route in the first instance.
By ‘sit on the left’ or ‘sit on the right’ our meaning is that as the train pulls out of the station face the direction in which the train is travelling and sit on the left or right of the train according to our suggestion, we don’t mean left/right hand.
When we haven’t made a recommendation for travelling between two countries, such as Germany/Poland, it’s because quirks of geography haves resulted in none of the rail journeys between the two countries being particularly memorable.
We've only included main line journeys on the list below, but arguably THE most specctular railway journeys in all of Europe can be experienced on the mountain railways of Switzerland, and you'll find our guide to them HERE
Surprisingly the majority of rail journeys between the two countries aren’t particularly memorable, the trains from France tend to enter Switzerland by the back door, but there is one notable exception.
LYON/CHAMBERY – GENEVA via Culoz*:
Between Culoz and Bellegarde the railway train travels beside the River Rhone providing views that look down on the river for 20-30 mins of the journey.
Sit on the right on departure from Lyon/Culoz and the left on departure from Bellegarde/Geneva.
Some of the trains between Lyon and Geneva are
TGV trains with compulsory reservations, so avoid these if you’re making ‘local’ journeys between the two cities.
The ‘Lyria’ TGV trains between Paris and Geneva no longer take this route between Culoz and Bellegarde.
ST GERVAIS – CHAMONIX – VALLORCINE – LE CHATELARD – MARTIGNY**
By far the most spectacular journey by train between France and Switzerland is the route of ‘The Mont Blanc Express’ through the French/Swiss Alps.
The French portion of the route is a narrow gauge railway operated by SNCF while the Swiss part of the route is managed by a private rail company, TMR Transport de Martigny et Régions;
If you’re making the journey from Martigny continuing beyond Vallorcine to Chamonix is recommended as arguably the French part of the route is the more spectacular.
Martigny is on the rail line between Brig and Montreux/Lausanne, it is served by IR trains that operate at least hourly in either direction throughout the day (but the EC trains between Switzerland and Milan do not call there).
When travelling from France TO Switzerland, take care when planning connections to St Gervais, particularly if you’re setting out on a day tip by train from Annecy (or beyond).
Check connections for your return journey on arrival at St Gervais and Chamonix (it may not be possible to travel the full length of the route to Martigny and return in time for a train that will return you to Annecy).
If your pan-Europe rail pass itinerary includes travelling between the Brig/Montreux areas and the Lyon area, this is a more spectacular route than travelling via Geneva.
The multiple changes of train usually involve nothing more strenuous that crossing a platform between trains.
Eurail passes are valid on the entire route, InterRail pass holders need to pay 50% of the ticket price on the TMR trains.
CHAMBERY – TURIN/TORINO**
For the majority of the part the journey between the high speed line (that leads out of Paris) and Turin, the train passes through a spectacular alpine landscape for approximately two hours.
Many travellers between Paris and Italy opt for the overnight train, so miss out on this scenery, but connections are available in Milan to/from all the destinations in Italy served by the overnight trains.
The TGVFI trains are the only passenger trains on this route so reservations are compulsory, but try and get a window seat. The views are a must see experience from either side of the train.
The supplements charged Eurail and InterRail pass users on the TGVFI trains are the most expensive in Europe, but see our guides below on how to avoid having to pay these by taking alternative rail routes between France and Italy.
Follow our suggestions for using your rail passes to see the amazing scenery on the Swiss Tourist Railways and you definitely won't have any regrets about avoiding the TGVFI trains!
The trains that cross the border from France to the Italian border town of Ventimiglia hug the cliffs that run down to the Mediterranean Sea, so provide spectacular views down on to the Cote D’Azure
Sit on the right when travelling to Italy and the left from Ventimiglia.
The railway line used to run from Ventimiglia into Italy along the shore of the Italian Riviera , and it still does in some locations, but it has now been placed in an inland tunnel for some of the route around San Remo, to make the journey faster, so it is not quite as spectacular as it once was, but it's still fairlyb incredible.
The majority of the trains in either direction from Ventimiglia are local services and therefore don’t require reservations, though they can be crowded in the summer.
NARBONNE – PORT BOU*
Despite its seeming proximity to the Mediterranean coast, this is the only section of the railway journey between Montpellier and Barcelona which has spectacular sea views.
Between Narbonne and Perpignan the railway line snakes a path across a spectacular lake, the Etang De Barges et de Sigean, and great views are possible from either side of the train.
Thoughh they are more spectacular to the right when ttavelling south and on the left when heading north.
This route is taken by both TGV and local trains.
South of Perpignan, between there and the Spanish border, The TGV trains between France and Spain travel on a new high speed line, so the miss the spectacular route which hugs the coast - between Perpignan and the Spanish border at Port Bou. Sit on the left on the local trains when travelling south from Perpignan.
If you want to avoid the higher fares/supplements charged on the TGV trains when travelling between France and Barcelona, the more spectacular scenery is a compensation for having to change trains (often multiple times - the daily T2000 train is the only direct service) when travelling via Port Bou.
Toulouse – La Tour De Carol - Barcelona**
The only rail route through the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains; a day trip by train from either Toulouse or Barcelona to the border town at La Tour De Carol is highly recommended.
This is by far the most scenic rail journey that’s possible between France and Spain so it’s worth travelling this way if your rail itinerary involves central or western France (Bordeaux) and Barcelona.
Check connections in advance as connections between French and Spanish trains at La Tour De Carol generally aren’t convenient, but details are available on the 'From France' section of therebytrain.com here.
Supplements aren’t charged on any of the trains on the route, so it can also be a comparatively cheap means of travelling between France and Spain, particularly for holders of rail passes.
Reservations aren’t possible, but seats (any window seat provides great views) should be available on all trains.
Thun – Brig – Stressa (The Lotschberg/Simplon Route)*
This route taken by the EC* trains between Basel and Milan/Milano was previously much more spectacular, but these trains now travel through ‘The Lotschberg Base Tunnel’, the world’s longest rail tunnel on land, and therefore omit what was the most eye-catching section of the line - that between Spiez and Brig.
Trains between Brig and Milan, including the EC* trains to/from Geneva, still travel through The Simplon Tunnel in order to cross the border between Switzerland and Italy.
The section of line to the south of the tunnel in Italy, lives up to the postcard image of trains travelling through the mountains.
South of Domodosolla the line also travels along the shore of beautiful, Lake Maggiore.
In Switzerland the route also provides a great view of the ‘Thunsee’, between Thun and Spiez. To see both of these lakes you need to be sat on the left of the train on departure from Basel/Bern and on the right on departure of Milan.
(Zurich) - Arth-Goldau – Chiasso (The ‘Gotthard Route)***
This route taken by the EC* trains between Zurich/Lucerne and Milan/Milano is more spectacular than The Lotschberg/Simplon route, for despite the lengthy Gotthard Tunnel, more of the railway line is in the open.
Great views can be seen from either side of the trains, you'll see spectacular lake views on the right when heading south, but the best of the views of the spectacuar mountain on either side of The Gotthaard Tunnel can be seen from the legt heading south and to the right when heading north.
The railway line also crosses Lake Lugano, providing must-see views of the mountains around the lake shore.
(Zurich) - Chur - Samedan - Pontresina - Tirano - (Milan)*****
If you have a day to dedicate to travelling by train between Switzerland and Italy, you can have a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This is ThereByTrain's choice as Europe's No.1 Most Spectacular Railway Journey
From the right of the train, shortly after departure from Zurcich there are incredible views of two lakes, but this is only a prelude of what is to come.
At Chur straightforward connections are possible with trains operated by Rhb which head over the 'Albula Line', one of three railways worlwide that are so spectacular that they have been declared a U.N.E.S.C.O World Heritage Site.
At Chur hop on a train that has St Moritz as a final destination, but the best connections are possibble if you leave this train and Samedan and take another RhB train that's heading to Pontresina.
From Pontresina take a third RhB train over the most incredible part of the route, 'the Bernina Line' to Tiarno.
'Bernina Expres' trains operate direct over the journey from Chur to Tirano, but the regular trains are a cheaper option and the changes of train that are required are straight-forward and the connections are guaranteed.
For InterRail and Eurail pass holders this journey is a must, as the passes are valid on RhB trains!
At Tirano the RhB station is next door to the station from which the two hourly trains between Milan/Milano depart from/arrive at.
When travelling on to Milano from Tirano sit on the right, as you'll be travelling for more than 45 minutes along the incredible shoreline of Lake Como.
Connections to/from Milan in either direction at Tirano often aren’t particularly convenient (though in good weather it's a charming town in which to while away the time between trains), and can vary on different days of the week and at different times of the year, so confirm in advance that all the trains are operating – the journey tends to be easier when setting off from Zurich.
If you’re staying in Milan, a return journey to Tirano is a great day trip and you can also spend some time between trains at one of the towns on Lake Como.
Domodossola - Locarno***
A highly recommended route for travel between Italy and Switzerland, if you have time available is to take a F.A.R.T. train (no jokes please) in either direction between Locarno and Domodossola.
Locarno is served by direct trains from Basel, Lucerne and Zurich (with connections also available at Bellinzona if you're travelling from Lugano).
The trains are operated by Ferrovie Autolinée Regionali Ticinesi (hence F.A.R.T.) and Eurail, InterRail and Swiss Passes are all valid.
The trains travel through the spectacular mountain passes and gorges to/rom the Italian border town of Domodossola, however there can be gaps of more than two hours between trains in either direction, so check connections.
The trains can become crowded in the summer and no reservations are possible.
At Domodossola regional (REG) trains operate to/from Milan, but many of the trains between Domodossola and Milan arrive at/depart from Porta Garibaldi
station in Milan and not the primary station, Centrale.
Porta Garibaldi and Centrale are linked by Metro.
The EC trains between Geneva or Basle and Milan/Milano also call at Domodossola.Infrequent local trains operate between Domodossola and the Swiss town, Brig (Brigue). Swiss Passes are valid on these local trains, but check connections in advance to avoid long waits at Domodossola.
For this reason it's also much easier to travel in either direction between Switzerland and Italy on this route using the northern part of 'The Gotthard Line' between Basel/Lucerne/Zurich and Locarno and the southern part of the 'The Simplon Route' between Domodossola and Milan, than it is to use the northern part of the Simplon Route between Geneva/Basel/Bern and Domodossola and the southern part of The Gotthard Route between Bellinzona and Zurich.
Zurich - Buchs - Innsbruck - (Worgl)**
This is the most spectacular part of the route taken by the Railjet trains that operate between Zurich and Vienna/Wien.
Sit on the left when leaving Zurich for incrdible views of the Zurichzee and the Wallensee.
The train then reverses direction at Buchs, so you;ll be seated on the right for the best of the views through the spectacular Alberg pass.
Rosenheim – Innsbruck – Verona***
If you want to include a fix of spectacular alpine views when following a rail trip itinerary that includes Italy, but don’t have the time or funds available to explore Switzerland, take the train between Munich/Munchen and Verona.
The most spectacular part of the route taken by these trains is the railway line through the Brenner Pass between Innsbruck and Brennero - sit on the right when heading south from Innsbruck.
If you're hoildaying in Innbruck takin one of the hourly S_bahn commuter trains to Bremmer and back is a must!
After Brennero for more than three hours you’ll be passing through a jaw dropping landscape as you travel through the mountains on the banks of The Elsack River.
Between Bolzano and Brenner, the line cross the river, so great views can be had from either side of the train.
Great views can also be seen when travelling between Innsbruck and the German border at Rosenheim.
Overnight trains between Munich and Italy take this route, but travelling by daylight is highly recommended.
However, there is an alternative!
There are frequent local trains between Innsbruck and the Italian border at Brennero.
Italian local trains also link Brennero with various destinations including Bolzano, Trento and Verona.
Reservations aren’t possible on these local trains, but when heading south you can virtually guarantee a window seat.
If you want to head to Verona, by local trains from Innsbruck, on arrival at Brennero take the first departure to the south, it’s usually quicker to change trains again in Bolzano and/or Trento than to wait in Brenerro for one of the less frequent trains that are direct between Brennero and Verona (unless of course the next departure is a direct train to Verona).
Rosenheim – Salzburg*
When travelling on the Railjet trains between Munich/Munchen and Vienna/Wien, distant views of mountains are available for most of the route through Austria, but between the German border at, Rosenheim and Salzburg, the mountains are closer making the for a more scenic journey.
From the left of the train when departing from Munich, and the right from Salzburg, you also have a view of one of the Austrian lakes, Chiensee.
For approximately 45 minutes, as trains cross the Austria/Germany border, you’ll be travelling through a picture postcard Alpine landscape.
Munich – Kempten – Lindau - Zurich**
Three of the four daily EC trains in either direction between Munich/Munchen and Zurich travel through Memmingen, but the 07:13 train from Munich/Munchen hbf and the 18:16 train from Zurich travel via Kempten.
The railway route through Kempten operates through a much more spectacular landscape than the route via Memmingen, though due to the evening departure time, it can only be appreciated when travelling from Zurich at the height of summer when days are at their longest.
Rosenheim – Salzburg – Villach – Ljubljana - Zagreb**
It’s a long journey by EC train between Germany and Croatia, but the views from either side of the train make the journey worthwhile.
For virtually the entire route through Austria between the German border at Rosenhiem and the Austrian border at Villach, the train is passing through the Austrian Alps with spectacular mountain views.
Between Ljubljana and Zagreb trains travel through a spectacular mountain gorge.
Dresden - Bad Schandau – Decin - Prague**
The journey by train between Berlin and Dresden is contender for Europe’s dullest rail journey, but try to stay awake as a complete contrast is provided by the railway line between Dresden and Prague/Praha.
For approximately two hours trains travel on the west bank of The River Elbe through the spectacular valley, there is often nothing between the railway line and the river to get in the way of the views.
To make the most of the journey you need to be sat on the side of the train facing the river, from the other side of the train you’ll nothing but the tree-dotted side of the valley wall.
Sit on the left of the train when leaving Dresden and on the right of the train on departure from Prague.
However, reserving seats when travelling 2nd class on the EC trains is highly recommended, particularly in the summer months, when seats may not be available at all.
If you follow this advice and make reservation in Berlin you can try asking for seats on the left of the train, so that you can see the views, but in Prague you’ll have to take a gamble between sitting away from the river and the possibility of no seat at all.
Lubeck – Rodby -Ringsted *
>Firstly there are the coastal views in both Germany and Denmark as the train travels across spectacular bridges between islands on route to the ferry terminals.
Secondly there are the views from the ferry itself because the trains are loaded on to the boat.
Once the trrain is loaded on board, passengers have to leave the train and make their way up to the passenger deck on the boat.
The train doors are then locked, so that luggage etc is protected.
This is arguably Europe's most bizarrely wonderful train journey and is a must for all public transport fans!
Copenhagen/Kobenhavn - Malmo *
The Oresund Bridge and Tunnel enables trains to travel between Denmark and Sweden.
>On the Danish shore trains operate to/from the Central station in Copenhagen, the station at Kastrup (Denmark's main airport) and certain trains operate direct from Helsingor.
On the Swedish shore frequent trains operate from Malmo and there are also trains at a minimum of hourly intervals from the likes of Gothenburg/Goteborg and Lund.
This is also the route taken by the direct X2000/S trains between Copenhagen and Stockholm.
The railway line is suspended beneath the road deck on the bridge, which is nearly 8km long.
However, you cannot see a great view of either the Danish or Swedish coasts, the structure that holds the road deck in place restricts the views somewhat and tunnels convey the railway line out to sea, away from the shore.
However, it is an amazing sensation to look out of a train window and see nothing but water for miles around.
For engineering fans the bridge is a wonder of the world!
If you're spending a couple of days in Copenhagen or southern Sweden, we reckon that taking the train across the bridge is a must do activity, even if trains are something that you usually avoid!
AUSTRIA - Main Lines/Express routes
The fastest trains between Salzburg and Innsbruck now travel via Germany (Rosenheim), but a daily OIC train between Vienna/Wien (Westbahnhof) and Innsbruck still travels over this route via Zell am Zee and Kitzbuhel.
It departs from Vienna/Wien (Westbahnhof) at 06:44 and arrives in Innsbruck at 14:13.
If you find yourself on this OIC train the spectacular scenery, which is much more impressive than that which can be seen on the Rosenheim route, more than compensates for the longer journey time.
If you have time to spare when travelling between Innsbruck and Salzburg, it is worth making the effort to travel via Kitzbuhel.
The journey time is approximately an hour and 30 mins slower than the by the direct express trains and connections have to be made in Worgl.
Trains operate every two hours during the day between Worgl and Salzburg via Kitzbuhel and Zell am See.
Sit on the right on departure from Salzburg for the view of Zeller Zee (lake) and on the left when leaving Kitzbuhel or Worgl.
On many tourist brochures for Austria you’ll see photographs of sleek express trains on viaducts travelling across a stunning mountain landscape and it’s highly likely that those photographs will have been taken of trains travelling this route.
Memorable views can be seen from either side of the train, but between Klagenfurt and Villach, trains travel along the north shore of the Worthersee (lake) so the icing on the cake is available if you sit on the left of the train when departing Villach and on the right when leaving Salzburg.
Trains between Innsbruck and the German border at Bregenz, as well as trains between Austria and Switzerland, travel through a series of mountain passes between Innsbruck and Bludenz.
For much of the route, the railway line is beside the River Inn, for river views travel on the right of the train when travelling from Innsbruck and on the left when travelling towards Innsbruck.
The part of this route between Gloggnitz and Murrzushlag through Semmering is so spectacular that it has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
Trains between Vienna/Wien and both Graz and Villach travel along this line.
When travelling from Vienna/Wien, it’s possible to look down the valley from a train at the summit of the mountain and see a train far below on the valley floor.
South of Bruck an der Mur, trains between Vienna and Klagenfurt/Villach also travel through a wooded valley beside the River Mur and they also travel along the north shore of the Worthersee (lake), which can be the icing on the cake of a truly spectacular journey.
To see the lake sit on the right of the train when departing Vienna and on the left when leaving Villach.
Direct trains between Austria and Italy, no longer travel over this route during the daytime, bus connections are available between Villach and Venice/Venezia.
If you opt to take the bus you won’t miss out on the scenic highlights that could previously be seen from the direct trains.
The journey by train between Villach and Vienna is much more spectacular than the railway line between Villach and Venice.
If you take the night trains between Vienna and Venice, you’ll have an easier trip, but will miss out on an amazing journey.
The most spectacular railway route in the north of France follows the north bank of the River Loire for more than a hundred kilometres.
The IC (non TGV) trains between Paris and Tours take the northern part of the route, sit on the left of the train on departure from Paris (Austerlitz) Orleans and St Pierre Des Corps.
Trains between Tours and Nantes don’t operate particularly frequently and departure times vary widely according to the day of the week, so check connections locally.
The TGV trains between Paris (Montparnassee) and Nantes travel along the most western part of the route between Angers and Nantes, so if the seat that you have had to reserve happens to be on the left of the train on departure from Paris, you’ll be able to enjoy pleasant views of the river for the final part of the journey.
Justifiably the most famous rail route in France, the line threads the towns on the Cote D’Azure, often from a slightly elevated position looking down on the
The most spectacular part of the route is that between St Raphael and the Italian border at Menton and frequent local trains make this journey every 30 mins.
So if you’re staying on the Riviera take the train – sit on the right when travelling east towards the border.
Great views of the coast can also be seen from the train between Marseilles and Toulon, so if you’re travelling on this line try to sit on the right of the train on departure from Marseilles and on the left when leaving the Riviera.
In order to be certain of maximising the views you should try and avoid the TGV or Teoz trains, you have to reserve seats on these trains prior to boarding, so will only have a 50% chance on being on the side of the train that faces the sea.
However, the alternative ‘local’ trains between Marseilles and St Raphael operate infrequently, so plan your journey before heading to the station if you want to travel on a ‘local’ train between these destinations.
Also note that trains that call at Marseilles station on route to Nice reverse direction at St Charles station, if possible you need to be sitting on the right of the train when it departs from Marseilles.
The network of rail routes centred on Aix Les- Bains and Chambery offer some spectacular views of the Savoie Alps.
The main line through Aix Les Bains takes a route down the eastern shore of Lac du Bourget, so if possible sit on the right of the train when travelling south through Culoz and to the left when travelling north from Chambery towards Geneva or Lyon.
All direct trains between Paris and the Savoie Alps are TGVs on which seats have to be reserved, so you may not get a view of the lake, the mountains are still an impressive sight no matter which side of the train you are seated on.
Try not to fall asleep when travelling south from Paris on the scenically uninteresting high speed line.
More than 99% of rail travellers between Paris and Nimes take TGV trains on the high speed line from Gare De Lyon, but if you don’t mind taking a slower route and the change of trains at Clemont-Ferrand, your efforts will be rewarded by one of the most epic long distance railway journeys in France.
For much of its length the railway line between Clemont-Ferrand and Nimes runs in a spectacular gorge through the mountains of the Massif Central.
However, you need to plan a journey with care, the route is still shown as a main line on many railway maps of France, but since the coming of the TGVs, the trains remaining on old route are very sparse and only 2 or 3 trains per day travel the length of the line.
These lines are off the beaten track of French railways and services on all three routes are sporadic so confirm travel times locally:
- (Marseilles) – Aix-en-Provence – Gap – Briancon
- Gap – Grenoble
- Valence (Ville) – Valence (TGV) – Gap – Briancon
The effort is rewarded by travelling for several hours on trains through the stunning landscapes.
If you don’t mind slow trains and having to make connections at Gap, this is a great route between the Savoie Alps and The Cote D’Azur.
La Tour De Carol is in the heart of the Pyrenees, near the border with Spain.
Connections, which aren’t particularly well timed ,are available at La Tour De Carol for travelling by train between Toulouse and Barcelona.
However for those remaining on the French side of the border a day trip by train between
Toulouse and La Tour De Carol is highly recommended.
However, before setting off, check that you will be able to make the return trip, the train service is infrequent.
If your holiday involves Perpignan, a rail journey through the incredible mountain gorge to La Tour De Carol is highly recommended. You need to change trains
at Villefranche on to a narrow gauge line that takes you on the most spectacular part of the journey to La Tour De Carol.
In July/August some trains on this line are branded ‘Petit Train Jaune’ and comprise open top coaches to maximise the views.
The spectacular railway line between Nice and Digne is not part of SNCF, it is operated by La Chemins de Fer de Provence
and has its own station in Nice.
During the summer steam engines MAY operate some trains between Puget-Théniers and Annot.
Switzerland has multitude of narrow gauge railway lines that have spectacular Alpine views, this is the best railway of its type in France.
Connections are available from many trains at Vallorcine to trains that continue over the border to Switzerland.
Plan connections carefully when travelling by train to/from St Gervais, as all other routes to the town operate infrequently.
This route hugs the west bank of the River Rhine as it makes its way through a series of high sided valleys, many of which are topped by fairy tale castles.
For much of the route there is nothing but a road between the railway line and the river creating unimpeded memorable vistas from across the river.
Many would argue that this the most spectacular route taken by long distance trains in Europe.
The majority of the ICE trains between Cologne/Koln and destinations in southern Germany now use the new high speed line via Limburg, but other long distance trains still take the river valley route.
look of trains that call at Bonn, Koblenz or Bingen.
On departure from Cologne/Koln sit on the left of the train or the river views, (trains initially travel north for a short distance before changing direction to head south).
When travelling north from Koblenz or Bingen sit on the right of the train in the direction of travel.
Holders of Eurail and InterRail passes can travel for free on pleasure boats up and down the river operate by KD Rhine River Cruises, which can be boarded at Bingen, Koblenz or Mainz.
It’s possible to travel by train on the east bank of the Rhine Valley in either direction from Koblenz.
Hourly local trains cross the river from Koblenz to travel north towards Cologne/Koln or south to/from Wiesbaden.
If you want to travel the full length of the east bank through the entire valley between Wiesbaden and Cologne/Koln, you have to change trains in Koblenz, but the connections are fairly straightforward.
When travelling between Koblenz and Cologne look for trains on the RE8 and RB27 routes that call at Troisdorf.
In contrast to the main line on the west bank, the line on the east bank of the River Rhine hugs the river until reaching the Cologne/Koln suburbs, so the views can be appreciated for a greater proportion of the distance between Cologne and Koblenz.
If you’re staying in Koblenz and only have time for one return journey, then travelling by train on the east bank to/from Wiesbaden is the route to take. You’ll be able to find window seats on the trains, sit on the right on departure from Koblenz and on the left when departing from Wiesbaden.
If you’re travelling long distance to/from Cologne/Koln don’t concern yourself with making the connections at Koblenz so that you can travel on the east bank, the views from the main line on the west bank are more than good enough.
For approximately half of the distance between Koblenz and Trier the railway line follows the north bank of the river as it flows through the spectacular Mosel Valley.
Sit on the left of the train on departure from Koblenz and on the right when leaving Trier.
If you’re staying in the Koblenz area and have time available for more than one trip by train (your first journey should be to/from Wiesbaden), take a trip to/from Giesen.
The railway line between Koblenz and Giessen travels alongside the River Lahn.
It runs along the south bank of the river for the majority of the journey, so sit on the left of the train on departure from Koblenz.
Trains between both Augsburg and Munich/Munchen and destinations in southern Bavaria including Fussen, Oberstdorf and Lindau, travel through a spectacular mountain landscape.
When travelling south from Augsburg or Munich the scenic highlights from both sides of the train kick in once the train passes through Buchloe.
When travelling north from Fussen, Oberstdorf or Lindau, the amazing landscape is visible, as soon as you commence the journey.
Arguably the most spectacular ‘local’ journey by train from Munich/Munchen
is this route up into the Bavarian Alps and on to the Austrian border.
It offers the classic picture postcard views of snow-capped mountains and breath taking valleys.
If heading out into the landscape of the Bavarian landscape is at the top of your wish list when staying in Munich then take one of the hourly trains to/from Mittenwald.
Every other train between Munich and Mittenwald has an extended journey to/from Innsbruck, so if you want/need to travel between Munich and Innsbruck try to take this route rather than the EC
trains that travel via Rosenheim.
The much more spectacular landscape that can be seen when travelling through Garmisch and Mittenwald more than compensates for the longer journey time.
For much of the northern part of the route trains travel beside the lake named Starnbergersee, therefore to appreciate the view across the lake travel on the left of the train on departure from Munich/Munchen hbf and on the right when travelling towards Munich.
Freilassing is on the main rail route between Munich/Munchen and Salzburg and travellers by train to/from the spectacular mountain top resort at Berchtesgaden can change there for trains to/from their final destination.
Inevitably the railway line to/from Berchtesgaden provides travellers with amazing views from the train.
For the time being, pending the completion of a new high speed lines, all trains on the route – (including ICE trains between Munich/Nuremberg and Leipzig) travel through the river valley on either side of Sallafield.
It is the twists and turns in the track as the trains follows the river, which provides the views, that makes up the fact that trains (for the time being) have to slow down.
South of Dresden the railway line hugs the west bank of the River Elbe through a river valley that becomes ever more spectacular as the trains approach the tourist centre at Bad Schandau.
To make the most of the views you need to be sat on the left of the train in the direction of travel when departing Dresden.
Travelling by the local trains is recommended, the EC trains that operate on this route to/from The Czech Republic can be very crowded on arrival and departure at Dresden, hence the suggestion to reserve seats on these trains.
Reservations on the local trains, which operated every two hours in both directions aren’t required, in fact they are not even available.
Much of the railway route between Stuttgart and Augsburg is pleasing to the eye, but the highlight of the journey is at Geislingen.
Trains travel around the town on a line that is above the roof tops, so passengers can look down on the entire town below them.
Sit on the left on departure from Augsburg, Munich or Ulm and on the right in the direction of travel when leaving Stuttgart.
Trains on this route take a twisted path through multiple valleys, so delightful panoramas are available from either side of the train
When travelling between Cologne/Koln and Frankfurt (Main/Flughafen) by train, ThereByTrain.com recommends that your first choice of route should be the unforgettable Rhine Valley rail route via Koblenz and Mainz.
However, the ICE trains that travel between Cologne and destinations to the south in Germany, which use the high speed line via Limburg, offer a different sort of thrill for those travelling by train.
The frequent changes of gradient, the proximity of the autobahn as well as the bridges and tunnels that flash by the train, result in a journey that shows off high speed train travel at its best and therefore gives this route something of a ‘wow’ factor.
By far the most spectacular view of mountains possible from an express train in Italy is provided by the route between Verona and Brennero in the Brenner Pass on the border between Italy and Austria.
For more than two hours you’ll be passing through a jaw dropping landscape as you travel through the Dolomite Mountains on the banks of The Elsack River.
When travelling north from Verona you can see the river from the left of the train, but the views from either side of the train are frequently unforgettable.
This railway hugs the shore of the spectacular Mediterranean coast so you need to be facing the sea to appreciate the views – travel on the right on departure from Genoa and on the left when departing from Pisa or La Spezia.
This section of the Italian coast is studded with beautiful coves; numerous tunnels through the rocks allow the trains to pass between them, you often feel as though you’re travelling on the water.
The section of the line through the ‘Cinque Terre’ towns between Genoa/Genova and La Spezia is the most spectacular.
Much like the railway line between Genoa and Pisa, much of the route between Genoa and the French border at Ventimiglia follows the Mediterranean coast.
However, the most spectacular sections of the route used to slow the trains down, so much of the line has been moved into tunnels or away from the shore.
It’s still worth sitting on the side of the train that faces the sea.
Between Arona and Stresa this railway line between Milan/Milano
and the Swiss border runs along the western shore of one of the great Italian lakes, Lake Maggiore.
Famous the world over, the lake is surrounded by mountains that can be seen from the train, so try to sit on the right of trains on departure from Milan.
On the mainland, much of the route offers great views of the Mediterranean, particularly south of Sapri and to the north of Villa San Giovani.
The best is yet to come because the mainline between Messina and Palermo hugs the north coast of Sicily for virtually its entire route, providing for more than three hours of spectacular views.
(1) the only direct train daytime train between Rome/Naples and Palermo is an IC train on which seats don't have to be reserved, but trust us bothering to reserve is a must!
When travelling south you need to be on the right of the train.
(2) Also the through day train(s0 travels through Sicily in the evening, so much of the route cannot be seen.
An option is to break the journey in Messina and travel on to Palermo the next day in a ‘local' train on which seats don’t have to be reserved, so making the most of the views can be guaranteed – sit on the right of the train on departure from Messina.
If you’re able to travel in the opposite direction you can see the best of the views for the entire journey on the IC train, but when reserving seats you’ll need to hope that you’ll be sat on the left on departure from Palermo.
The Sicilian mainline between Messina and Catania follows the island’s coast offering great views from the left of the train when departing Messina.
If you’re in the Catania area, a trip on the ‘Circumetnea’ narrow gauge railway around the base of Mount Etna is highly recommended.
Spectacular views of the Tuscan landscape are available for virtually the entire length of this line, which is one of the most romantic in Europe.
If you want to travel the entire route you need to change trains twice in both Porretta and Pistoia.
Also none of the trains have air-conditioning, so it can be an uncomfortable journey in the height of summer.
Naples has a narrow gauge railway system called the Circumvesuviana, which is particularly useful for tourists as it provides quick and very scenic access to both Pompeii and Sorrento.
For Sorrento take line 1 from Naples and sit on the right hand side of the train for the best of the amazing views.
The Circumvesuviana has its own station located underneath Centrale station in Naples, so can be easily accessed from main line rail services.
However, if you’re journeying to/from the city centre in Naples/Napoli, you can use the quieter terminal station of Porta Nolana.
The trains between Florence/Firenze and Assisi take this route through the Apennines which has as its highlight the passing of Lake Tranismero.
The railway line passes along the north shore so site on the left on departure from Florence/Arezzo and on the right on departure from Assisi/Perugia.
Click HERE for ThereByTrain's unique guide to the spectacular tourist railways of Switzerland.
This route is often referred to The Gotthard route due to the name of the famous tunnel (one of the longest in Switzerland) that it passes through.
Great views can be seen from either side of the trains as they follow the famous spirals up to the Gotthard tunnel, you can look down the valley and see where the train has come from.
If you’re travelling to/from Lugano, look out for the when the trains cross the lake, providing must-see views of the mountains around the lake shore.
On the northern part of the route between both Zurich and Lucerne to Arth-Goldau views of lakes can be seen from the left of the train when travelling south and to the right when travelling north.
For the majority of the journey trains travel along the south shore of Lake Zurich and the Walensee, providing spectacular views over the water.
Sit on the left of the train on departure from Zurich hb station and on the right when leaving Chur or Landquart.
The trains between Basel and Geneva/Lausanne travel on the northern shore of Lake Biel and Lake Neuchatel.
Sit on the left of the train on departure from Zurich and on the right when leaving Lausanne and Geneva.
On leaving Basel the trains also travel through a spectacular alpine landscape between Basel and Moutiers.
Trains between Bern and Interlaken travel along the south shore of the Lake Thun (Thunersee) which is surrounded by spectacular mountains.
It is worth making the effort to sit on the left of the train on departure from Bern, and on the right from Interlaken, as trains travel by the lake for more than 30 mins.
Trains on The Lotschberg/Simplon route give a 10minute view of Lake Thun, if you sit on the left on departure from Berm/Basel and on the right when leaving Brig and Milan.
Arguably the most spectacular route that express trains used to take in Switzerland was that through this amazing mountain gorge, the justifiably famous Lotschberg Pass.
Since the opening of the epic Lotschberg Base Tunnel, which conveys the EC* trains between Bern and Milan and IC trains between both Basel/Zurich and Brig, the only trains that travel through the pass are the hourly local trains that shuttle between Brig and Spiez.
Look for trains that are calling at Kandersteg, spectacular views are available for the majority of the 1hr 20min journey.
If you’re travelling south from Basel, Bern or Zurich and Brig is your final destination, making a connection in Spiez on to a train via Kandersteg is highly recommended.
The local trains over the pass via Kandersteg to Brig/Brigue operate hourly throughout the day, connections from trains that originate in Basel are particularly convenient.
Rail pass holders travelling south from Basel or Bern to Italy/Milan/Milano on the 12:28 EC* train from Basel (13:27 from Bern), can transfer to the local train to Brig/Brigue via Kandersteg at Spiez and then continue the journey to Milan by the 15:44 EC* train from Brig.
You will arrive in Milan only an hour later than if you had remained on the direct EC* train Basel or Brig.
You will have to pay a supplement on the EC train between Brig and Milan, but you won’t have had to pay a supplement on the EC train to Spiez, so the overall cost of making the trip is the same as it would have been if you remained on the direct train.
When travelling north from Brig, take a train to Spiez via Kandersteg (many trains operate direct to Bern on Sundays) and make connections there for onward travel to Basel and Zurich.
Rail pass holders will find it relatively straight forward to make connections via Kandersteg at Brig from the EC trains that depart from Milan/Milano (Centrale) at 07:28; 08:28; 11;28 or 12:28.
Our list of Europe's least interesting rail journeys
In contrast to the above, here's our pick of the European railway routes on which you'll be glad to have something to do other than staring out of the window!:
- Paris - Bordeaux*
- Paris - Lille by TGV
- Paris - Lyon by TGV
- Paris - the Lyon area when travelling to/from destinations to the east and south of Lyon by TGV.
- Paris - Brussels by Thalys
- Wuppertal/Dortmund - Hannover - Berlin
- Hamburg - Aarhus
- Berlin - Warsaw
- Berlin - Dresden**
- Berlin - Leipzig
- Vienna - Budapest
*= Be wary of long distance TGV journeys to the north of Lyon such as Bordeaux - Lille; Lyon - Lille; Bordeaux - Lyon, they are partuicularly boring, the thrill of travelling on a high speed train TGV train soon wears off and there's nothing to see for hour after hour.
**= If you're travelling from Berlin - Prague, try to stay awake on the journey as far as Dresden. This is a journey of contrasts, the route from Dresden - Prague is one of Europe's most spectacular rail journeys.