Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
A luxury train journey in Europe often recalls the elegance of the Golden Age, a time when rail travel was one of the primary modes of transport. Think plush furnishings and beautifully appointed cars providing plenty of comforts while enjoying the passing scenery. Of course, a luxurious journey by train doesn’t have to mean over-the-top opulence. Some say nature is the new luxury, meaning creature comforts enjoyed while immersed in the beauty of the outdoors. These epic trips by rail in Europe include a fabulous mix of both.
Belmond Royal Scotsman - Scotland
The Belmond Royal Scotsman travels through the Scottish countryside, revealing some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery from car windows and open-air verandas. The interior has a graceful Edwardian country-house appeal, while cabins are en-suite, featuring steamy showers. There’s even a spa carriage for a bit of pampering. While there are multiple trip options, from two-day excursions to week-long rides, the four-day trip through the Scottish Highlands is a favorite, with stops at distilleries and castles. It reveals some of the most stunning landscapes, including the Isle of Skye. Just imagine sipping a whisky neat or a glass of wine while gazing out at the scenery through the huge glass windows.
Venice Simplon Orient Express - Italy
The Venice Simplon Orient Express is renowned as one of the world’s most breathtaking train journeys. Inaugurated in 1883, it exemplifies the romance, intrigue, and mystery of long-distance, international train travel. The original train ceased operations in 2009, but thanks to the hotel chain Belmond, it was revived to provide comfort in the style of a bygone era, with glamorous carriages, mouthwatering cuisine, and exceptional service. One of the most famous journeys is the trip between London and Venice, a 16-hour adventure with stops in Paris, Innsbruck, and Verona. Dining is enjoyed in one of three lavish cars, complete with white linens, china, and silver.
The Bernina Express - Switzerland
One of the best things to do in Switzerland, The Bernina Express travels the highest railway across the Alps, showcasing stunning snow-capped mountains, dramatic gorges, glistening glaciers, and lakes. It traverses more than 200 bridges and rolls through over 50 tunnels, departing from Chur, the oldest city in Switzerland. It concludes in picturesque Tirano, Italy, which hugs the mountains straddling the border between the two countries. Passengers ride in a narrow-gauge train reaching as high as nearly 7,400 feet above sea level at the Ospizio Bernina station. The stretch between Thusis, Switzerland and the finish in Tirano is UNESCO-listed, and large glass windows ensure you’ll have a perfect spot for the show.
Golden Eagle Danube Express - Budapest
The Golden Eagle Danube Express is often referred to as a luxury hotel on rails as one of the most luxurious sleeper trains in the world, winding through tunnels, over mountain passes, and across viaducts with journeys of varying lengths from five to 12 days covering destinations like Budapest, Zurich, Prague, Vienna, Innsbruck, Venice, Istanbul, and Sofia. One of the most popular is the Grand Alpine Express which runs between Budapest and Venice for an unforgettable tour that includes Gothic- and Renaissance-style palaces and many natural wonders. You’ll venture into the heart of the Austrian Tyrol, through valleys in the Swiss Alps, the magnificent Italian Lakes district, and even into Slovenia to see Lake Bled, its crown jewel. Accommodation is in deluxe cabins with private bathrooms, while lunch and dinner are served in the elegant dining cars.
The Flåm Line - Norway
The Flåm Line is one of the most luxurious and scenic train journeys, rolling through Norway’s western region through deep fjords and dramatic mountains between the Flam and the Myrdal station. It starts at sea level at the end of Aurlandsfjord, making it one of the steepest rail journeys, steeper than any other traditional gauge railroad in the world. It passes many waterfalls that plunge down the sides of snow-capped peaks and twists through dozens of tunnels while traveling slowly, allowing passengers to take it all in. Stops are made in some of the most scenic and best places to visit in Norway, like the over 300-foot-tall Kjosfossen waterfall, to take advantage of the photo ops. The local legend says to keep an eye out for the beautiful mythological creatures called Huldra, who have long hair and wear red dresses.
The Black Forest Railway - Germany
The Black Forest Railway was named for its canopy that’s so dense there is little light that gets through, making it look black. The deep-green woodland is blanketed across granite and sandstone mountains in Baden-Württemberg and is believed to have inspired many of the Brothers Grim fairytales. It stretches west to the Rhine River and south into the Alpine foothills in Switzerland, revealing some of the most spectacular landscapes in Germany. It truly is the stuff that fairytales are made of, and one of the best ways to experience it is with a ride on the Deutsche Bahn’s Black Forest Line. It departs from Offenburg, traveling to Konstanz and Freiburg to Seebrugg, with highlights that include the Lakes of Titisee and Schluchsee, charming half-timbered fairytale villages, and traditional farms. The most impressive stretch is between Hornberg and St. Georgen.
Al Andalus - Spain
The Al Andalus train starts in Seville and features the sights in Spain’s beautiful Andalusia region on a seven-day, six-night tour. Located in the southern portion of the country, the Moors, who ruled Spain for seven centuries, left the biggest mark here with the winding streets of the old cities resembling those in Morocco. Think whitewashed buildings to reflect heat and narrow lanes to maximize shade. The three Moorish capitals, Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, are the best destinations for seeing the remnants of the area, and the Al Andalus Express takes in all three plus Jerez while meandering through hills covered with citrus and olive trees.
The Inlandsbanan - Sweden
The Inlandsbanan, or Inland Line, will bring you through the Arctic Circle on a more than 800-mile-long journey starting from the city of Kristinehamm and traveling north to Gallivare. One of the best things to do in Scandinavia, it’s only available in the summer, with departures between mid-June and late August, bringing views of some of the most magnificent, wild terrain in Scandinavia. Along the way, watch for moose, bears, and elk. Once you reach northern Sweden, you might spot reindeer too. After the train crosses the Arctic Circle, it continues through the Laponian area, characterized by its many lakes and mountains. The trains have reclining, airline-style seats with tea, coffee, soft drinks, and snacks available, while meals are enjoyed at station cafes and restaurants.
Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Train - Spain
Transcantábrico Gran Lujo Train travels through northern Spain, providing a luxury journey for just 28 passengers who enjoy 5-star service and upscale accommodations. The vintage train chugs slowly along the Atlantic coast with the seven-night trek running between the foodie town of San Sebastian and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Santiago de Compostela, passing the Cantabrian Mountains, the Bay of Biscay and cultural hubs like Bilbao. A stop is included at the Guggenheim Museum, one of the top things to do in Spain. Four of the carriages are original 1923 Pullmans, designed to bring passengers back in time while providing all the modern comforts.
The Belgrade–Bar Railway - Montenegro
Starting in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, The Belgrade-Bar Railway is a 10-hour rail journey that explores the heart of former Yugoslavia, traveling to the ancient and must-experience Montenegro town of Bar on the sun-soaked coast. There are multiple stops that can be enjoyed along the way, with the opportunity to hop off at the most enticing to shop, sightsee, or even stay the night and board a later train before continuing. Once in the port town of Bar, you can enjoy an intriguing mix of old and new. Bar’s Old Town, known as Stari Bar, is the largest and the most important medieval archaeological site in the Balkans. Visit the Haj Nehaj Fortress, the castle of King Nikola, and see the ancient olive tree that’s believed to be more than 2,000 years old.
The Presidential Train - Portugal
Time is running out to ride The Presidential Train, a luxury train that offers a nine-hour gourmet day excursion from Porto, Portugal, as well as three-day options with an extension that includes overnights at a luxury hotel, fine dining, and a private driver. It will make its last journey on October 29, 2023, with a half-dozen of the best Portuguese chefs onboard to celebrate it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The opulent vintage train was established in 1890 and is still the same, albeit with a newer engine. It’s hosted popes, presidents, kings, and queens, with the ride traveling 125 miles along the Douro River from the Sao Bento Station, revealing fabulous views of the vine-covered hills along the way.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen - Germany
Some of the most breathtaking mountain landscapes can be enjoyed by riding the Garmisch-Partenkirchen between Munich and Innsbruck, Austria. You’ll not only take in Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, but many other dramatic peaks, sparkling lakes, and even castles. Once in Innsbruck, one of the top places to visit in Austria, the town’s high perch in the Alps brings more jaw-dropping views and opportunities for epic hikes, along with tours of the Imperial Palace and a visit to the Renaissance-style Ambras Castle that overlooks the city.