European rail trips deliver economy and luxury bundled into a picturesque trip without fail. It’s the ideal way to tour Europe. Trains have traversed the continent since the Industrial Revolution. However, these days the railways expand beyond industrial needs to include scenic, heritage, and funicular railways. Maybe it is time to forego cramped buses and public transportation. Even renting a car may be a struggle with reading road signs in other languages or driving on the opposite side of the road. Spend your European vacation relaxing in style while the train navigates. From lush Poland forests to Nordic fjords, take a look at three of the best train vacations in Europe. Climb aboard.
Pros and Cons of Train Vacations in Europe.
Pros of Train Vacations in Europe
The pros of train vacations in Europe far outweigh the cons. Let’s get into it.
- Sustainable travel.: Aside from traveling by foot or bike, train travel is your greenest option. According to Eurail, trains emit up to 75 percent less carbon than cars and planes.
- Efficiency: Train travel isn’t nearly as stressful as air travel. There is no TSA, no need to show up hours in advance, and fewer restrictions regarding luggage and personal items. Hop on and go.
- Comfort: Legroom! Need we say more? Spacious seating with plenty of storage for your luggage makes train travel attractive for those of us who like to stretch. You might even have access to power outlets, WiFi, food, and restrooms.
- Freedom: Sit back and enjoy the scenery, read a book, or walk around the train. It’s your choice! Since you don’t need to worry about navigation, as you would in a car, or safety regulations, like in a plane, you have the freedom to do what you’d like.
- Many Route Option: Europe’s extensive network of rails make traveling by train ideal for almost any location. Even small towns.
- Budget, mid-range, or spare-no-expense: European train travel can be cheap, but if you want a luxurious tour, you can spend thousands of dollars. There’s also a nice middle ground. So, rail travel accommodates everyone.
- Build your own adventure: You can save money and build your own experience by purchasing train tickets along the routes and stops you want. For example, instead of purchasing the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express ticket, you can buy tickets from London to Paris, Paris to Verona, and Verona to Venice. This also allows you to make stops in cities along the way.
Cons of Train Vacations in Europe
Regarding cons, a couple of things might deter you from choosing train vacations in Europe.
- Cost: If you don’t book in advance or know how to find cheap tickets, Europe by train can get expensive. Sometimes flying is less expensive.
- Confusing for beginners: Train travel across so many borders can get confusing. Even if you aren’t crossing borders, it takes practice to understand train schedules. Plus, larger cities have multiple train stations. Read your tickets carefully! It’s also important to know that you can’t just hop on and off unless you purchase individual tickets for each destination.
Save Money on a Train Vacation in Europe
Under the right conditions, European rail passes can be a great option. If you want the flexibility to choose your route as you go, you’re under 28, and you don’t plan to travel every day, then a rail pass is a good budget option.
- Rail Passes: EU residents need an InterRail pass, while non-EU residents will need a Eurail pass. You can also select a Global pass, which opens up travel to all of Europe, or individual country passes. Rail passes can get expensive if you have to make a reservation or want to travel on high-speed or sleeper trains. Want to explore a single country? Some local rail passes offer amazing discounts, like the Swiss Pass.
- Book In Advance: Another way of saving money on train travel is to choose your route and book in advance. Tickets are normally available to purchase 90 days in advance.
- Pack Food: Many trains allow you to pack your own food and drink! Take advantage of that. Food service on trains is pricey.
Three Best Train Vacations in Europe
The three routes we’ve chosen are:
- Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Gotthard Route
- Bergen Railway
You cannot hop off these railways. But, to make stops, you’ll need to buy individual tickets to each destination you’d like to explore.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Gotthard Route
Up for a posh train vacation in Europe? The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, where “The Great Gatsby” and “Harry Potter” collide, travels a historic route. London to Europe by train has never seen more elegant transportation. Two heritage trains, the British Pullman from London to Folkestone and the VSEO from Calais to Venice, take you on an iconic European voyage. The original Orient Express ran from 1983 to 2009. Featured in Agatha Christie’s “Murder On the Orient Express” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” literary nerds won’t want to miss this experience. Oh, and there’s a dress code. Essentially, you can’t be overdressed.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Overview
- Best for: Western Europe travel, 5-star luxury, fans of Agatha Christie and Bram Stoker
- Countries: UK, France, Switzerland, Italy
- Your route: London to Folkestone—Calais to Venice (1,636km, 24 hours)
- Price: Varies according to how many stops you intend to make. If you take the actual express, prices are about £2000 per person, depending on the season and your accommodation type.
- Scenery: English and French countryside slides into the snow-capped Alps, glassy lakes, idyllic meadows, and beautiful villages.
- Pro tip: The London to Venice option is more popular and arguably the great option because travelers get to cross over the Channel Tunnel on the first leg of the journey. Some people may try the Venice to London option because it has more availability. Discounts are available for children under age 12 sharing a compartment with an adult, and children under 2 sharing a berth with an adult travel for free.
The Bergen Railway travels between Bergen and Oslo. It’s also ideal for those with a Eurail pass since you can purchase an option in which it’s included.
Bergen Railway Route
You can break the Bergen Railway into five sections.
- Once you leave the station in Oslo, you’ll head west through the suburbs until you reach the countryside. Your first section: Hallingdal Valley. We recommend spending at least a weekend here. About two hours in, you can hop off to experience the family-friendly area, which includes a bear park, a skiing area, and a holiday park. Bjørneparken bear park has a range of wild animals to see, like bears, leopards, moose, and lynxes. The train then arrives at Gol, where you can catch a bus to Hemsedal, a premier destination for winter sports and summer hiking. Hallingdal also happens to be a paradise for mountain bikers and cyclists in general. Take the family to Hallingdal Feriepark, which is fully equipped for adventure. From a climbing park and ziplines to an indoor playground and a campsite, any kid will obsess over Feriepark.
- The second section is the halfway point between Oslo and Bergen, a mountain village called Geilo. And it’s also ideal for outdoor activities, including skiing, mountain biking, ziplining, rafting, and hiking. In summer, avid hikers climb the Prestholtstien stair trail to the top of Hallingskarvet mountain. Stop here for an afternoon or a day of adventure.
- Third is Hardangervidda, the mountain plateau, which offers the most stunning scenery on the route. It ends in Finse, a small mountain village only accessible by train. Also a perfect location for outdoor adventure. If you’re an outdoor adventurer pressed for time, we recommend choosing between Geilo and Finse.
- And fourth, we have the fjords and the world-renowned railway line mentioned in our pro tip. Make sure to explore the Flåm Railway Museum for a taste of history. This is an afternoon stop.
- Lastly is Voss, the last major stop before reaching Bergen. Calling all adrenaline junkies! Especially those who’ve always wanted to try skydiving. Voss deserves a weekend of fun.
Bergen Railway Overview
- Best for: Peaceful Scandinavian views and outdoor adventure
- Countries: Norway
- Your route: Oslo to Bergen via Flåm (550km, seven hours)
- Price: Varies according to how many stops you intend to make. Direct trips average about $110 for a one-way ticket.
- Scenery: You’ll gape at fjords, mountains, plains, and the desolate beauty of Norway’s Hardangervidda plateau.
- Pro tip: Stop at Myrdal and catch the breathtaking line to Flåm, which takes about an hour. The windy route travels through mountain tunnels, and its steep incline won’t disappoint. It’s the world’s steepest rail.
Okay, so this is a bit of a time commitment. Traversing eight countries, this epic journey may not appeal to everyone. However, for an adventurous adult, it may be just right. But the best part of this route is that you can make it as long or short as you’d like. Nice to Moscow is the long-haul option. But if you’d like to avoid Russia, we recommend you stop in either Warsaw or Minsk.
From the sapphire seas and the pastel-colored ports of the French Riviera, all the way to the domed buildings of Russia’s capital, this route’s beginning, and end are beautiful. But the heart of the journey lies in the middle. In magical forests of Poland and Belarus. On the narrow tracks of local Eastern European villages.
Vienna, Warsaw, and Minsk are the top three cities to visit along the route.
- Musicians must stop in Vienna, a Mecca for the arts. Be sure to visit the Museums Quartier and Schönbrunn Palace. And don’t forget to indulge in a Viennese breakfast.
- Warsaw’s tumultuous history didn’t stop it from rising out of its ashes. If there’s only time for one thing in this city, you have to stroll down the Royal Way, a bustling street filled with shops, restaurants, and historical stops.
- Check out the Soviet-era architecture, the lively arts scene, and the endless museums (including the Cat Museum) in Minsk.
- Best for: Adults wanting to experience Eastern Europe
- Countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Russia
- Your route: Nice to Moscow (3,315km, two days)
- Price: Varies according to how many stops you intend to make. For those going directly from Nice to Moscow, we’ve found tickets for under $200, though average prices tend to range from $400 to upwards of $1,200.
- Scenery: Mediterranean beaches, Alpine villages, forests, vast plains, and more.
- Pro tip: Take advantage of Minsk’s lack of tourism. The Belarus capital seems frozen in time.