The best European train journeys | a mountain view of a train track
Courtesy of Belmond

The best European train journeys to take this year

Last updated: June 27, 2024

Whether chugging along the Italian coastline or flitting past fjords and soaring peaks in Scandinavia, these European train journeys highlight the joy of slow travel

In recent years, trains have found new fans, as travellers seek more affordable, sustainable and flexible modes of transport, and reconsider their need for privacy, space and comfort. A fresh enthusiasm for rail has led to much-needed investment in infrastructure and innovation, with ambitious plans afoot for 2024.

In 2022, Interrail experienced a record year of sales with double the number of tickets sold compared to 2019, while night trains have come out of hibernation. With climate change an ever-growing concern, travellers are drifting back to the rails in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions and embrace the joy of slow travel – all set against some of the most beguiling backdrops in the world.

From Scandinavian sleeper trains to a romantic ride through Istanbul, these are seven of the best European train trips to book this year.

The best European train journeys | Scenic mountain views of Scandinavia
Photography by Jian Liu

Stockholm, Sweden to Narvik, Norway

How long: 18 hours overnight
Price: From 980 SEK (77 GBP) for a one way seat or 1324 SEK (104 GBP) for a berth in a six-person couchette

Departing daily from Stockholm Central station, the night train to Narvik sets off just after 6pm, taking 18 hours to travel up the backbone of Sweden and more than 100 miles into the Arctic Circle. Popular year-round, the train is best experienced in winter, when passengers mill about in base layers and boots, unwrapping slabs of smoked salmon and making friends in the dining car. Over steaming bowls of mash, chickpea stew and reindeer salami, passengers will see black forests flit by the window, the golden lights of ski resorts and snow shovelled into peaks. While seats are wide and reclining, it’s better to reserve a comfortable couchette or a private cabin with an en-suite shower if your budget allows. In the morning, passengers disembark at the town of Kiruna in Swedish Lapland for cross-country skiing and to chase the Northern Lights, while those remaining are privy to the grand finale of Norway’s fjords twisting around the cliffs below.

The best European train journeys | The VY sleeper train from Oslo to Bødo
The VY sleeper train from Oslo to Bødo

Oslo to Bødo, Norway

How long: Oslo-Trondheim 7 hours 30 mins, Trondheim to Bødo 10 hours
Price: A twin sleeper compartment from Oslo-Trondheim costs from 121 GBP for two. Trondheim-Bødo costs from 101 GBP for two

With Bødo set to be one of the three European capitals of culture in 2024, it’s the ideal time to take the long-distance train from Oslo, via Trondheim, to the northern coastal town – which lies just inside the Arctic Circle. Departing Oslo a little before 11pm, the plush sleeper train offers passengers a smooth ride in warm, comfortable berths, with trackside views of the Dovrefjell National Park’s mountains and rivers that thrash at every bend. The train arrives into the colourful cobbled city of Trondheim at 6.30am where it’s worth spending a couple of days in what is a gastronomic haven – home to three Michelin-starred restaurants – before transferring onto the Nordland line which meanders north around fjords and meadows dotted with families of deer. Ride the train in winter and you’ll be privy to ice-fringed farmhouses, frozen lakes and possibly a spritz of the neon Northern Lights, but between May and July passengers can embrace the natural phenomenon of the midnight sun when the landscapes are bright from 3am.

The best European train journeys | The Nightjet sleeper train from Amsterdam to Prague
The Prague skyline

Amsterdam to Prague, Czech Republic

How long: 12 hours 30 mins
Price: Seats start at 69 EUR one way, a couchette from 99 EUR, and a private compartment from €149

In May 2023 a Belgian-Dutch collective named European Sleeper launched the inaugural “Good Night Train”, which takes passengers from Brussels to Berlin via Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Sourcing old rolling stock – coaches built in the mid 1950s – the team behind the train have attracted everyone from families with young children, and tourists from Tokyo, to French couples who have given up flying. Their low prices – seats start from €49 one way – have been a welcome relief to passengers wanting to travel by rail but unable to afford the often eye-watering prices, and it’s made travel from the UK to Berlin a relatively easy journey when paired with a Eurostar from London. Starting on 25 March 2024 passengers will be able to take the newest route, from Amsterdam to Prague, a service that will run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Currently with no dining car on board, the train does have an attendant who takes both hot and cold drinks orders and serves sandwiches, crisps and instant noodles, with an ample breakfast box in the morning, so passengers need to dine beforehand or pack a few goodies for the ride.

The best European train journeys | the train from Cannes, France to Ventimiglia, Italy

Cannes, France to Ventimiglia, Italy

How long: 1 hour 36 minutes
Price: From 14.80 EUR one way

Known for its glitz, glamour and curving beaches, the French Riviera is also home to one of the world’s most glorious train rides. Nothing more than a regular commuter service, this double-decker beast departs multiple times a day, taking just over an hour and a half to run from Cannes to the resort town of Ventimiglia on the Italian border. Sit upstairs on the right for a view of the ocean fizzing its way up the shore, bronze men playing volleyball, and yachts bobbing about in the harbour. On board you’ll find students reading Kindles and grandmas with baguettes in baskets, tiny dogs curled at their feet. There’s graffiti on the windows and gum under the seats, but it’s in keeping with the spirit of the ride. On the approach to Cagnes-sur-Mer look left towards pink villas lined with cypress trees, and purple flowers pouring down balconies, before a lovely long stretch of the Ligurian sea sparkles towards Nice. Consider hopping on and off this train to explore the towns in between before ending with a sundowner and a stroll around Ventimiglia’s markets.

The best European train journeys | The GoldenPass Express from Montreux to Interlaken, Switzerland
Photography at Rougemont by Tobias Ryser

The GoldenPass Express from Montreux to Interlaken, Switzerland

How long: 3 hours and 15 minutes
Price: A single ticket from Montreux to Interlaken starts from 76 CHF in second class (with seat reservation)

One of Europe’s newest tourist trains, the GoldenPass Express made its inaugural journey towards in 2022 even though the idea for the train was conceived more than 100 years ago. Previously passengers had to travel by metric gauge between Montreux and Zweisimmen in Switzerland, then change trains to complete the journey up to Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland. Now, just one elegant locomotive pulls passengers around mirror-like lakes and flower-filled meadows owing to revolutionary technology that permits the train to change the gauge of its wheels and the height of its coaches mid journey. Setting off from the shores of Lake Geneva, this service is an ideal way to spend an afternoon, nursing a glass of wine or two as the train takes three hours to circle valleys, vineyards and green-tinged glaciers before drawing into Interlaken.

The best European train journeys | The Bernina Express from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy
The Bernina Experss

Bernina Express from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy

How long: Between 4 and 4.5 hours
Price: A one-way second-class ticket costs from 100 CHF / 92 GBP

A Unesco heritage site, the Bernina Express makes a mockery of its name as it glides at an average speed of 20mph, giving lovers of slow travel a thoroughly indulgent ride from the oldest city in Switzerland down to the lovely little town of Tirano, in northern Italy. Painted a fire-engine red, the cheery train snakes along narrow-gauge track that includes 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, most of which are anchored into limestone rock faces high above the churn and slosh of rapids and emerald-green rivers bringing minerals down from the mountains. With panoramic windows and wide comfortable seats, it’s largely a tourist service that allows passengers to sit back and take in the villages wedged into hillsides, meadows dotted with bell-ringing cows, and many a spectacular twist and turn. On a sunny winter’s day, expect crisp snow twinkling in the light, powder falling from feathery pine branches, and snow so clean it’s almost blue. In summer, the ride is just as beautiful, with lush meadows, rivers gurgling through woods and the track lined with purple aster.

The best European trains | a window view over Finnish waters

The Santa Claus Express from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Finland

How long: 12 hours overnight
Price: Cabin prices from Helsinki to Rovaniemi start from 49 EUR one way. A private cabin costs 62 EUR one way, and children under the age of 4 travel for free.

As its name suggests, this is the ultimate family-friendly train taking passengers from Helsinki to the capital of Finnish Lapland where they get to meet the big man at Santa Claus village. Although two daytime services cover the 500-mile journey to the edge of the Arctic Circle, the sleeper train is by far the preferred option at Christmas, the platform rammed to the edges with snow-suited and booted children glancing eagerly towards headlamps coming into the station. A fabulous double-decker, the train has ample en-suite compartments, and children under the age of four travel for free as long as they share a berth. Once on board it’s wise to dump bags then bolt to the dining car for the signature dish of meatballs, mash and lingonberry jam as the car gets crowded quickly. Departing at 7:29pm, the train begins the 12-hour journey north passing conifers sagging with snow and lakes that gleam like ink. Fat snowflakes twirl under the orange glow of streetlights and little faces watch for the aurora borealis – the northern lights – which have been known to show themselves on occasion. A slow and steady journey, it’s easy to fall into restful sleep until the train pulls into Rovaniemi just in time for breakfast.

The return of European sleeper trains | The OBB Night Jet

Vienna, Austria to La Spezia, Italy

How long: 13 hours 4 minutes overnight
Price: Seats start at 28.80 EUR one way, private compartments start from 172.50 EUR

Launched in December 2022, the Nightjet service from Vienna to La Spezia is yet another of Austria’s sleeper trains to make connections around Europe cheaper and more accessible. Since 2016, ÖBB’s Nightjet trains have helped passengers save money on hotels and reduce their carbon footprint while bringing back the joy of slow travel. This latest addition departs the Austrian capital at around 7:20pm, allowing passengers enough time to order a simple dinner to their compartments before winding down as the train veers west at dusk. Arriving into La Spezia the following morning just after 11am, passengers have a couple of hours to sit cross-legged at the foot of the berth sipping coffee and watching the Ligurian Sea crash against the cliffs. Terracotta roofs flash past the window, apartment blocks balance on rocky edges and mopeds wind alongside as the train breathes its last into the port city where many switch trains to enjoy the charms of nearby Cinque Terre, a string of seaside villages on the Italian Riviera.

The best European trains | interior view of a Belmond train with vintage velvet furnishingsThe best European trains | interior view of a Belmond train with vintage decor

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from London to Venice

How long: 24 hours overnight
Price: From 3,530 GBP for a one-night journey in a historic cabin, including transfers, a three-course lunch, four-course dinner and breakfast served to the cabin, dedicated steward service throughout. Suites start from 7,260 GBP and include bespoke amenities and a complimentary kimono and slippers.

It’s perfectly possible to travel by rail from London to Venice, but one train journey is a class above the rest. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express caters to nostalgics who long for the chance to wear elbow gloves at dinner while a pianist plays Moon River in the bar. Contrary to popular belief, the Orient Express wasn’t a single train but a regular commuter service with numerous sets of rolling stock. Gone are the days of luxury trains for commuters, but Belmond has strung together vintage carriages, polished them up and created a one-night glamorous ride that allows passengers to wake under damask covers as Venice’s lagoons twinkle past the window. For summer 2023, passengers will also be able to travel for the first time in original 1920s grand suites complete with marble bathrooms, double beds and a living room with private dining service. Each suite has been responsibly designed to reflect the journey’s mountains, forests, vineyards and lakes.

New for 2024, the the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will travel from Paris to Portofino, connecting the train with Splendido, A Belmond Hotel, Portofino. It will make its inaugural journey in June.

The best European train journeys | A view of the Serbian countryside from the train
A view of the Serbian countryside from the train

Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro

How long: 10 hours
Price: a single one-way ticket costs from 24 EUR

Completed in 1986, this 300-mile line connecting Belgrade to Bar is one of the most overlooked and beautiful train rides in Europe. A pet project of Yugoslavia’s President Tito, the railway sweeps through 254 tunnels and clacks over 435 bridges, offering passengers ten hours to meditate on the slideshow of distant hills, valleys and teal rivers playing outside the window. Once across the border and into Montenegro, the train runs through the Durmitor and Bjelasica mountain ranges, where passengers can peer down onto plunging canyons, luminous green waters worming their way along, and clouds casting shadows on the slopes. On the approach to Bar the train skims the edge of the blue-green Adriatic, the warm smell of the sea drifting in through the windows. Opt for a summer ride on the daytime Tara train, otherwise much of the latter scenery passes by in darkness, or take the Lovcen sleeper train to wake up and sip tea as the best bits unwind.
Tickets can’t be bought online, but can be bought from Belgrade station or through Andy Brabin of who delivers them to your hotel in Belgrade.

The best European trains | a train from Istanbul to Ankara, Türkiye with spring flowers in bloom

Istanbul to Ankara, Türkiye

How long: from 4 hours 30 mins
Price: A high-speed train starts from 240 Turkish lire (10 GBP), a sleeper berth starts from 794 Turkish lire (34 GBP)

By day or by night, the journey from Istanbul to Ankara is an absolute treat. For romantics, the Ankara Ekspresi departs Istanbul’s Söğütlüçeşme station at around 11pm with passengers making up their berths then gathering in the warmth and charm of the dining car where fairy lights trim the windows and Turkish classics play on a loop. Squeezing through Istanbul’s nooks and crannies, the train runs along the backs of houses and apartments, blinds half down, the blue light of TVs glowing through the darkness. Over a bowl of hot çorba (lentil soup), passengers gaze into the guts of the city until the train swings out and along the edge of Marmara sea when most turn in for the night. By day, the fabulous high-speed trains make short work of the 275-mile distance, whisking passengers along in under five hours. or contact, which will make all reservations for a small fee


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