Despite easy access to high-speed rails or “bullet trains,” Europe is still famous for its beloved scenic train routes. Travelers in particular will be captivated by panoramic views of the Alps, and may want to slow down to take it all in on the most scenic train routes in Europe:
The Eurocity 87’s Brenner Pass Route
The Brenner Pass Route is one of Europe’s most impressive scenic journeys that you can take by train. Linking Munich to Venice, it takes the rider through the Alps by way of the Brenner Pass, as well as Innsbruck and Verona.
In Munich, where the Brenner Pass Route begins, the Eurocity 87 train leaves Bavaria in the morning to cross into Austria. When the train arrives at Kufstein, you can see the 14th-century Kufstein Fortress, a major landmark in Tyrol, Austria. West of Kufstein, you’ll pass through a tunnel that leads you to Innsbruck, the capital of this region of Austria.
The most important part of this journey is the stretch leading from Innsbruck to Brenner, which will take you more than 3000 feet higher as the train ascends the summit. The best views are from the rear window, so don’t miss a chance to make your way to the back of the train, past the cycle storage area.
Before the train makes its way to Venice, it will pass through Brennero in Italy, as well as Bolzano and Verona. You’ll begin this stretch of the journey of Südtirol in Alto Adige, a bilingual but majority German-speaking region of Italy. Because this region used to belong to Austria, you may encounter signs and other travel information in the German language even though you’re in Italy at this point.
When you stop seeing the German language, you’ve probably left Alto Adige, which means that your approaching Bolzano and Verona. The terrain becomes flatter the closer you get to Venice, where the beautiful Grand Canal will greet you at the very end of your journey.
Venice via the Glacier Express
Switzerland’s Glacier Express is one of the most famous scenic trains in all of Europe. The full journey runs from Zermatt to St. Moritz, but there are many choices available to travelers who want to experience the breathtaking views from this iconic train route. One of these is a six day ride from London to Switzerland with an overnight stay in Chur, where you’ll board the Glacier Express for your journey through the Swiss Alps.
You’ll start the journey on the Eurostar, traveling below the English Channel to Paris before transferring to the TGV, France’s high-speed rail service that travels between cities. This is the train that will take you to Switzerland, where you’ll board a domestic train to your hotel in Chur.
Chur is also the site where you’ll first see the Glacier Express, which will take you through the Swiss Alps for one of the most memorable parts of your journey. Once you board, you’ll be taken through breathtaking mountain landscapes for miles until you reach your next destination.
When you step off the Glacier Express, you’ll take a direct route to Venice and then, finally, back to London.
Matterhorn and the Glacier Express
Another great holiday you can take with the Glacier Express is the Matterhorn. This famous mountain between Switzerland and Italy is one of the tallest in Europe — as well as one of the most dangerous to climb, so if you just want to take in the beauty of Matterhorn, you have a great option. Scenic train routes, including the Glacier Express, can take you from London to Cologne, passing by the bottom of Matterhorn for a three-night stay.
On your way to the resort town of Zermatt in Switzerland, you’ll take the Eurostar to Paris, transferring to the Gare de l’Est before traveling to Strasbourg. Once in Strasbourg, you’ll stay the night and, if you’d like, explore this historic French city before your main journey resumes.
The following morning, you’ll cross into Switzerland and travel to Visp, the site of your next transfer. The local train in Visp will take you to the highlight of your journey: the mountain resort town of Zermatt, a mile above sea level at the bottom of Matterhorn. Here, you’ll have the chance to spend two whole days taking in the beautiful sights of the Swiss Alps and, if you wish, nearby Lake Geneva and Chamonix.
Before leaving Zermatt for St. Moritz, you’ll also get to experience the Gornergratbahn, the highest open-air cog railway in Europe. At over 10,000 feet above sea level, you’ll get an even better view of the beautiful Swiss Alps.
After three nights at the base of Matterhorn, the Glacier Express will take you from Zermatt to St. Moritz, one of the oldest ski resorts in Switzerland, for two days of sightseeing and exploring. Two other resorts, Davos and Arosa, are accessible by rail pass if you’d like to visit them, too. And don’t forget that the Bernina Express, another of Europe’s most famous scenic train routes, has a station in St. Moritz.
The last leg of your journey will take you through Switzerland’s Graubünden region, then Chur, before your arrival in Cologne. You’ll get to spend a night in this city, perhaps at the Mondial am Dom or another location in the city center, near the two-spired Cologne Cathedral.
The Bernina Express: Grand Tour of Switzerland
The Glacier Express isn’t the only iconic train with a scenic route. For an unforgettable view of the Swiss Alps and surrounding areas, you can take the Bernina Express from Chur or Davos to Italy, where the route ends in Tirano.
At 76 miles (122 km), the Bernina Express route is much shorter than the Glacier Express, but no less beautiful. You’ll cross 196 bridges and 55 tunnels in four hours, the time it takes for the Bernina Express to travel from one end of the route to the other. For most of the trip, you’ll be traveling along the Rhaetian Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Like the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express is a part of many itineraries, and many will let you experience both. For a grand tour of Switzerland, you can take the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz, and then take the Bernina Express from St. Moritz to Lugano.
Trains are the best way to truly experience the grandeur of Europe’s mountainous landscapes, most of all the Swiss Alps and the surrounding areas. If your itinerary allows for it, slow down and take the scenic route for a richer and more memorable travel experience.