There’s a reason you’ve never heard of The Great European Road Trip: When it comes to highways and sprawl, nobody tops the good ol' USA. But for the lazy traveler who wants to sit back and watch beautiful scenery unfold while someone else does the work, trains are mighty appealing, and no one has mastered the art of train travel better than Europe. As the industrial revolution took hold of Great Britain, railway lines spread across the continent connecting Europe’s most majestic cities, slicing through rock faces and some of the most dramatic landscapes on Earth. Here are the most visually spectacular voyages you can take.
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Fort William to Mallaig Distance: 42 miles Cost per ticket: $45 The steamy Jacobite train is movie-star famous -- you may recognize it as the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter. This is the same route featured in the HP series and passes through unspoiled Scottish wilderness along the West Highland Railway Line. The scenery does not disappoint; from Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis, to the serene Loch Nevis, the train travels alongside 14th century castles, farm houses, and villages until it reaches the sea at Port Mallaig.
Oslo to Bergen Distance: 230 miles Cost per ticket: $100 Switzerland has the Alps, but Norway’s panoramic splendors are nothing to sneeze at. Not only is the Bergen Line among the most scenic mainlines in the world, at over 4,000ft above sea level it’s also the highest in Northern Europe. From Oslo, the train passes above the Hardangervidda plateau, over islands, fjords, and desolate snow-laden passes. The second leg of the seven-hour journey becomes a smorgasbord of lakes, forests, and little red Scandinavian huts probably featured on a postcard somewhere. No matter what time of year, the sunset will be at maximum awesomeness.
Berlin, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest Distance: 427 miles Cost per ticket: $39 Berlin’s central station of Hauptbahnhof is a traveler’s dreamworld where trains leave hourly to nearly all major hubs in mainland Europe. The most spectacular is an 11-hour journey leaving at 9am daily that moves through the baroque city center of Dresden before hitting Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest. The route traverses the beautiful Elbe Valley with views of the Danube River, 13th century palaces, and immense sandstone mountains along the way.
St. Moritz to Zermatt Distance: 180 miles Cost per ticket: $150 One of the most stunning high-altitude routes in the world is also the slowest. Starting off in the shadow of the Matterhorn, the Glacier Express crawls its way through the Alpine expanse to the glamorous resort of St. Moritz, passing through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges, plus the 213ft-high Landwasser Viaduct (a UNESCO World Heritage site). The train hits its highest point at a mountainous 6,670ft before descending back down to the Domleschg Valley, where you’ll spot age-old castles and ruins.
Porto to Pocinho Distance: 100 miles Cost per ticket: $15 Nothing quite compares to the theatrical splendor of Portugal’s wine region. As it rambles through the Douro River Valley (another World Heritage site), this 19th century train line hugs rugged cliff faces along massively uneven terrain, gifting views of the vineyards and olive groves. From Porto to Pocinho you’ll pass villages of whitewashed quintas and century-old train stations.
Sarajevo to Mostar Distance: 70 miles Cost per ticket: $5 This is easily the most gorgeous train through Eastern Europe, cruising the emerald-blue Neretva River as it transports passengers across the lush Balkan countryside.You’ll pass glacial lakes, farming villages, immense jagged rock outcrops, and 5 miles-worth of viaducts and bridges. The best is saved for last when you reach the insanely cool Lord of the Rings-esque town of Mostar, with ancient neoclassical architecture and a centuries-old, World Heritage-listed bridge. Plus, it’s only $5 to ride.
Åndalsnes to Dombås Distance: 70 miles Cost per ticket: $30 The Rauma has one of the most dramatic descents of any rail line: It hits 2,000ft above sea level and works its way down to just 13ft on 100-plus km of track. On the ride you’ll take in an obscene amount of mountain porn, with views of the turquoise-colored Rauma River, the Reinheimen National Park, and the famous Trollveggen (Troll Wall) -- Europe’s highest vertical mountain wall. It also crosses 32 bridges, including the Kylling Bridge that sits 200ft above the charging river beneath. There’ve been talks of replacing the Rauma with a high-speed railway, so get on it before it’s gone for good.
Central Rhine Railway, Germany
Mainz to Koblenz Distance: 40 miles Cost per ticket: $20 This is the most German of all German trains; a breathtaking dive through the Rhine Valley’s dramatic slate mountain passes and terraced hillsides dotted with 14th century castles. The line from Mainz to Koblenz hugs the meandering Rhine and the most picturesque wine country in Europe, stopping off at each and every little junction along the way so you can see the castles of Marksburg, Stolzenfels, and Burg Pfalzgrafenstein. The latter is a former 14th century toll station protruding from the middle of the Rhine.
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