7 Unforgettable Train Views in Europe
The best thing about Europe’s trains is not the comfort, nor the convenience. It’s also not about the people, or the experience of riding on some truly magnificent feats of engineering. The best thing about a European rail journey is how just sitting in the carriage and looking out the window is often better than arriving. Sometimes it’s better to put the camera down and absorb the train views through your own eyes. But here are seven scenes that remind me it’s also a good idea to snap a few shots through the windows when the moment is right.
Amazing train views
1. Glacier Express, Zermatt to St Moritz
The day had been long and strangely tiring. Maybe there’s only so much scenic beauty that your brain can absorb. The last 6 hours felt like I’d been watching a big screen documentary about the beauty of the Swiss Alps. As enthralling as it was, my eyelids were starting to droop in the late afternoon sunlight. But then we rounded a corner and encountered a scene so perfect it couldn’t have been scripted any better. Beautiful green floodplains dotted with cows absorbed the glow of the sun; a shimmering blue river ran metres from the tracks; and in the distance rose the vast Alps, proud and statuesque as ever.
Route: Zermatt to St. Moritz on the Glacier Express.
Essential info: Your Eurail Pass with an advanced seat reservation covers you for the entire route.
2. Berlin-Warszawa Express
I made the decision to head from Berlin to Warsaw at the last minute, and boarded the train with a degree of trepidation. Poland was never in my plans, but when I discovered that the capital was just over 5 hours away by train, it seemed like a natural decision. Although 3 hours into the journey the train ground to a halt, with smoke pouring from one of the carriages, I eventually made it through the stunning Polish countryside to arrive in Warsaw – just in time for a traditional Milk Bar meal.
Route: Berlin to Warsaw on the Berlin-Warszawa Express.
Essential info: There are up to five daily departures from each city with the journey taking 5.5 hours. You’ll need to make an advanced reservation.
3. GoldenPass Panoramic, Lucerne to Interlaken
I thought that because there was no reservation fee or supplement, the scenic train between Lucerne and Interlaken would be less impressive than the other famous Swiss routes. But I was instantly proven wrong. I flashed my Eurail Pass shortly after departing Lucerne, and spent the next two hours glued to the window for the train views. We whipped through tiny villages, along beautifully canalized rivers, and past ski resorts, cows, and happy hikers. And then, as if it couldn’t get any better, the train reduced its speed and began chugging uphill into the wispy bank of clouds.
Route: Lucerne to Interlaken on the GoldenPass Panoramic train.
Essential info: There are regular trains each day between Lucerne and Interlaken, some of which have large panoramic windows. You don’t have to make a reservation, but you should do so during peak times to ensure you get a seat.
4. GoldenPass Classic, Interlaken to Montreux
The interior of the train commanded all of my attention. Unlike the clinical panoramic version that had ferried me between Lucerne and Interlaken, the Classic Train for the final leg of the journey had true character. Like sitting in your wealthy aunt’s classy living room, the attention to detail was astounding. I was scared to put a foot out of place for fear of scuffing the emerald green seats. Then I remembered to look outside so I could take in the train views, and I realized how nature almost always walks away victorious.
Route: Zweisimmen to Montreux on the GoldenPass line
Essential info: The GoldenPass train runs between Lucerne and Montreux, with regular stops along the way. Connect to the Classic train in Zweisimmen for a unique experience. Advance reservation aren’t necessary unless you’re traveling in peak seasons.
5. Obidos, Portugal
When the train pulled in to Obidos station, I was pretty sure I’d made a mistake. The platform was all but deserted, the doors to the station building locked, and the windows shuttered. Weeds poked through the concrete floor and there was not another sign of civilization anywhere nearby. I whipped out my phone, double-checked I hadn’t got the destination wrong, and then hopped out at the last minute. The small Portuguese regional train chugged on by and disappeared around the corner, leaving nothing but isolation and blissful silence in its wake.
Route: Regional train from Lisbon to Obidos.
Essential info: The small walled town of Obidos is easy to reach by rail with no additional reservation fee. The main historic center is a steep walk away from the station, so consider organizing transport with your accommodation if you aren’t up for the walk.
6. Bernina Express, St. Moritz to Tirano
On most Swiss rail journeys you’ll reach a point when you find it hard to believe that the views can get any better. When you’ve passed your third quaint alpine town, or coasted on a thin bridge over another turquoise lake, or careened across a dramatic viaduct high above a raging river, you may believe the best has come and gone. Most of the time you’ll be wrong, especially if you’re aboard the Bernina Express. Sometime around the halfway point the train ground to a halt, and from the spotless panoramic window I spotted a scene so idyllic I was unsure if what I was seeing was in actual fact real.
Route: St. Moritz to Tirano on the Bernina Express.
Essential info: There are regular trains between the two cities, some of which require advance reservations. If traveling from Switzerland to Tirano, there’s an option to connect to the Bernina Express bus that continues on to Lugano.
7. Montenegro Express, Bar to Belgrade
The train had been chugging up the steep cliff side for what felt like hours. The view shifted from deep blue Adriatic sea, to stark mountains, then inaccessible valleys and meandering rivers. And then, without warning, the foliage burst into an array of autumn colours that had me instinctively reaching for my camera, and then putting it back down again to make sure I gave this stunning sight the attention it deserved.
Route: Bar to Belgrade, Montenegro Express.
Essential info: The train runs once daily and once nightly between the two cities. Take the day train to get the best scenery. The journey time is more than 11 hours and lacks the comforts and facilities of trains in Western Europe, but is no less impressive. You don’t need to reserve a seat in advance, but it’s recommended.
If you’ve been on a European rail trip, no matter how long, you’ll know that the journey is often better than arriving. Spellbinding scenery unfolds before you on even the most unexpected trips. Sometimes the experience is best left to your memories. But every now and then, it pays to lift the camera up to the window and snap some pictures of the train views. You’ll look back on these images for years to come.