5 Can’t-Miss European Train Journeys for Every Budget

Thanks to its extensive rail network, Europe is one of the easiest continents to explore by train. From the most luxurious to the short and sweet, Europe offers train adventures for every budget. Here are five of the best.

Glacier Express, Switzerland

One of the most famous railways in the world, the Glacier Express crosses 291 bridges and travels through 91 tunnels on its route between the glamorous resort towns of Zermatt and St. Moritz in Switzerland. The seven-hour Alpine journey travels through the Valais and Engadine regions of the country and passes through Switzerland’s lowest point, Gotthard Pass, which is home to the source of two of Europe’s most famous rivers: the Rhone and the Rhine. The Glacier Express reaches its highest point at Oberalp Pass, over 1.2 miles above sea level, and travelers have the opportunity to see several different mountain peaks throughout the trip, including the famous Matterhorn, the Dom, and the Piz Bernina.

Image courtesy user Kabelleger on Flickr.

The Glacier Express updated its rolling stock between 2006 and 2009. The first class offers 36 seats in 12 compartments, each with three seats. The second class has 48 seats with four seats per compartment. All train cars in the Glacier Express offer panoramic viewing windows, and passengers can purchase a three-course meal or the “plate of the day” to enjoy in their seats.

The journey can be broken up in several different ways, with routes starting or culminating in the towns of Brig, Chur, Andermatt, and Davos Platz, in addition to Zermatt and St. Moritz. Depending on the route, second-class, one-way tickets begin at €72.

Talyllyn Railway, Wales

A narrow-gauge steam railway, the Talyllyn Railway runs for just 7.25 miles between the Welsh towns of Tywyn and Nant Gwernol. The short journey lasts an hour and passengers have the opportunity to see the beautiful Dolgoch Falls.

Opened in 1865, the Talyllyn Railway is built on a two-foot, three-inch gauge and runs with an average speed of 9 miles per hour through the lush Fathew Valley. Though the railway still operates with its original carriages and locomotives, the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society has made many improvements to the line since 1951, adding additional carriages, a signaling system, and new tracks.

The current rolling stock of the Talyllyn Railway includes a variety of wagons, as well as 23 passenger carriages and brake vans. The passenger carriages of the Talyllyn are normally steam-hauled, while diesel locomotives are used for the Talyllyn’s work trains. Adult day tickets, which allow passengers to disembark at any of the five stations between Tywyn Wharf and Nant Gwernol, start at £15.30.

The Royal Scotsman, Great Britain

An intimate train accommodating just 36 passengers, the Royal Scotsman offers a variety of luxurious journeys all over Great Britain. Itineraries lasting two to seven nights take passengers to destinations like London, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, and Loch Lomond. The Royal Scotsman’s luxury sleeping cars offer two double, four single, and 14 twin State Cabins. The train is stable at night to ensure passenger comfort.

Image courtesy Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill on Flickr

The Royal Scotsman’s five-day, four-night “classic” journey includes a visit to several castles, a tour of the Glenlivet Distillery, and an opportunity for clay pigeon shooting or fishing at the Rothiemurchus Estate in Cairngorms National Park. A price tag starting at $7,113 USD per passenger makes this train journey one of the most expensive — but luxurious — in Europe.

The Rhine Valley Line, Germany

This scenic train route lasts one and a half hours, covering the short distance between the towns of Koblenz and Mainz, home of the inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg. The train winds through German wine country, hugging the west banks of the River Rhine. Though short, this journey offers a plethora of highlights, including five castles — one of which, Pfalz Castle, sits on an island in the river. Passengers will also see the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Koblenz and pass through several quaint riverside towns.

Eurail offers a selection of passes for access to the European rail system. The most extensive of these is the Global Pass, which gives the passenger access to 28 countries for around €500 or more, depending on the time period when the pass will be used. The Rhine Valley Line is included on the Global Pass. Individual, one-way tickets for the Rhine Valley Line are about €20.

The Danube Express, Hungary to Italy

A 12-day journey through eight countries, the “Balkan Odyssey” on the Golden Eagle Danube Express is one of the most luxurious train trips in Europe. The Deluxe sleeper carriage has five cabins, each accommodating two people with a private bathroom en-suite. Each Heritage sleeper carriage has nine cabins, each accommodating two people, with shared showers and bathrooms at either end of the carriage. Each morning, an attendant converts the rooms from a bedroom to a living room with daytime seating. All passengers have access to a Bar Lounge Car, where guides deliver lectures on local history and culture, instructors provide language lessons, and a pianist entertains travelers.

The “Balkan Odyssey” begins in the iconic city of Budapest, Hungary, and ends in Venice, Italy, with a few days on either end of the trip for travelers to explore these cities. Tickets for this opulent adventure start at $9,995 USD and include all accommodations, meals, tips, and 24-hour service.