The reach of Europe’s railways systems is impressive, and the variety of trains allows everything from panoramic meanders to efficient, high-speed hops between cities and jaunts on steam trains. Luxury services such as the Orient Express through central Europe or new Grand Hibernian in Ireland are increasingly popular. Some luxury trains now take you through the Balkans and beyond into the Middle East, or deep into Russia.
Some of the shortest train journeys, however, provide the most spectacular rides: Snowdon Mountain Railway in Wales, for example, takes you 7.6 kilometres from Llanberis to the 1065-metre summit of Snowdon, while the Diakofto-Kalavryta Railway in Greece runs 22 kilometres through the rugged Vouraikos Gorge.
Even better, though, is that you don’t have to take special trains to enjoy some of Europe’s most splendid landscapes. Even on regular scheduled services, you can journey through the vineyards above Lake Geneva, along
France’s scenic Rhone Valley or through mountain-draped landscapes between Munich and Innsbruck.
Europe is knitted together by railway lines: you could have an entire holiday on the rails, from high-speed intercity trains to allstops services serving small towns and rack railways up mountaintops.
Without having to concentrate on the road, you can enjoy the scenery. Many stations are architectural marvels, and newer stations attached to airports (such as Zurich, Munich, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Vienna) allow seamless connections.
Trains are eco-friendly, reliable, safe, punctual and have improved enormously in comfort and value as national railways seek to compete with budget airlines.
The only real downside is that the endless combinations of tickets and passes are enough to induce a headache. Multi-destination or multi-day rail passes might attract additional payments, such as for mandatory seat reservations or for using high-speed trains.
Individual trips can sometimes be expensive. Rail travel is cheaper the more you go by train. Still, if you do your research, some passes allow you to travel as much as you want for about $20 a day, an impressive bargain.