The Most Beautiful Train Journeys in Europe
Sometimes, the journey really is more important than the destination
Unless you’re the sort who thinks sitting on a railway platform wearing an anorak is a great way to spend an afternoon (and more power to you if you are) you probably view trains as nothing more than a way to get from point A to point B. At best, you probably feel neutral about them; if you associate them with the slog of a crowded commute, you might even loathe them. Plum Guide is here to change all that. We’re determined to help you rediscover the magic of rail travel with the most beautiful and unique train journeys in Europe – we think you’ll agree they’re just the ticket.
The Flying Scotsman train pulling into Waverley Station
Back in the days of yore (1862, to be precise) when train travel was still an exciting luxury, some bright young thing had the grand idea to link the capitals of London and Edinburgh by train. It quickly became one of the most famous train journeys in Europe, and by 1924 the engine that took this route had been officially christened the Flying Scotsman and exhibited in London as a wonder of the British Isles. Today, the old steam locomotive may be a little creaky, but it still makes an appearance on the tracks every once in a while – check the National Railway Museum for details of the train’s grand tour. There are, of course, other ways to get from London to Edinburgh, and though modern trains might not be quite as exciting as a steam engine you’re still guaranteed a good view from the window. And even if you aren’t escorted by the Scotsman himself, you can still be certain of a proper old-fashioned welcome in our luxurious Plum homes once you arrive in bonny Edinburgh.
On this train journey, you can literally see the climate shift through the window; one moment you’re in the snowy Swiss Alps, and the next you’re crossing into sunny Italy. The enormous windows give the carriages an almost panoramic feel – great for photos of the spectacular mountain peaks, not so great for those afraid of heights. Sorry about that. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that this transalpine train route has been awarded the status of a World Heritage Site (and perhaps a trip to the bar). By the time the train pulls up in the final stop of Tirano, you’ll have forgotten your initial trepidation and might even wish this four-hour journey was longer. But there's no need to despair – from here it’s just a short hop to bustling, bright Milan, where you can browse high fashion boutiques, admire fine Italian art, and kick back and relax in a gorgeous Plum home.
Lisbon to Porto
Lisbon’s cheery yellow trams aren’t the only rail travel you should try out when visiting the city. If you’re travelling through Portugal or simply fancy a day trip from the capital, it takes less than three hours to get the train up to Porto and the journey is an activity in its own right. The route takes you through medieval Coimbra, Portugal’s former capital where ancient buildings like a baroque library, 15th century university, and 18th century bell tower are stacked high along the river banks. Rarely diverting far from the Atlantic, this might not be one of the longest or the oldest train journeys in Europe, but it’s certainly amongst the most beautiful.
The French Riviera
No need to draw straws to see who’ll forgo their lunchtime glass of wine to be the designated driver on this trip to the French Riviera. The train is the perfect way to really take in the beauty of this coastline; after all, you won’t be able to appreciate the sandy coves and turquoise waters if you’re concentrating on driving on the right side of the road. Frequent services zip between all the major tourist spots and little towns to make sure you’re never running behind for a dinner reservation or glamorous party invitation again – unless, of course, you choose to be fashionably late. (It is the French Riviera, after all). But even if you’ve got nowhere to be other than the beach, the French Riviera’s railways earn a spot on our list of best train journeys in Europe for the sheer joy of bagging a window seat next to that view.
Zagreb to Split
We love Zagreb for a charming summer break, but we have to admit that after a few sweltering days in the city we’re longing for the salty breeze and cool waters of Croatia’s islands. And the easiest way to get to the southern part coastline is -- yup, you’ve guessed it. The train from Zagreb to Split takes about six hours on the day route but you’ll still be able to save your book to read on the beach, because we doubt you’ll be able to tear your eyes away from this view. This route takes you through lavender fields, tiny towns dotted with red-roofed churches, and eventually the coastline as you draw closer to your destination. This is nothing like your morning commute. We might have to switch to the bus after this, because we think we’ve ruined train travel for ourselves. Worth it? You be the judge.
Split Cathedral, Croatia