13 scenic train rides in Europe, India, and beyond

3 pictures of scenic train rides

Last Updated on 13th May 2020 by Sarah and Justin

Trains are awesome. Some of our favorite travel memories are of scenic train rides we’ve taken. Honestly right now we’d give anything to be chugging along on a train, eating a cobbled together picnic and staring out the window as new scenery passes by.

There are a lot of train journeys in the world, and though we’ve taken many, we’ve barely scratched the surface. So we asked some fellow train travel lovers and travel writers to share their favorite beautiful train rides with us and with you.

All aboard!

Milan to Zurich train

By us! (that’s Sarah and Justin)
A small village and mountains out the window of the Milan to Zurich train, one of the most scenic train rides we've taken

Recently we took a particularly stunning train ride from Milan – one of our favorite stops on a Northern Italy itinerary – to Zurich, Switzerland. We took this train trip in November and got to see a few lightly snow-capped mountains plus some lovely fading fall colors.  

Departing Milano Centrale, you’re on the train for about 40 minutes before the beautiful scenery begins. Once you approach Como, you’re in for a treat. So take the beginning time of your journey to get situated.

Como is on the lake of the same name, surrounded by mountains. You’ll see all of this from the train, and maybe wish you could get out off to enjoy some of it yourself.

You cross into Switzerland shortly after leaving Como. That’s where the really epic stuff begins. You glide past rivers and through mountains (the Swiss Alps!) and see little towns dotted along the side. The scenery is so breathtaking – literally jawdropping (and we don’t use those adjectives lightly) – and it just seems to go on and on and on. We had smiles on our faces the whole time.

There’s no best side of the train for this trip, you’ll be surrounded by this gorgeous scenery on both sides, so just take it all in.

You can buy tickets online on Trenitalia or SBB. We recommend buying in advance as these tickets go up in price the closer to the travel date.

Bangalore to Goa train

By Madhurima from Orange Wayfarer
Bangalore to Goa train on an arched bridge with a waterfall beneath it

The night train from Bangalore to Madgaon Goa is one of the most scenic train rides in India. It is also known as the Vasco Da Gama Express, owing to the legacy of the first European Explorer who reached Indian peninsula a few centuries ago and started a new chapter in the history of mankind!

It passes through the mighty Western Ghats mountain range, a UNESCO world heritage site, and brings forth the best views of rolling hills and verdant valleys. Alternatively, you can take the train from Goa to Bengaluru and get a chance to witness this surreal natural exhibition.

Like every other train journey in India, you have to book your seat as early as possible. The booking window opens four months before the date of journey. Since there is a nominal cancellation price involved, it does not hurt to book early even if your plan changes at the last minute.

One of the highlights of the Vasco Da Gama train journey is a full view of the Dudhsagar Falls,  one of the tallest plunge waterfalls in India. The train bends into a curve and features a full view of the beautiful Dudhsagar falls, not once but twice. You cannot get down from the train but it slows down, giving you ample opportunity to capture the moment in camera. Dudhsagar falls appear in the morning in the journey. Ask the vendors to be sure of the timing.

Apart from the Dudhsagar, the train journey also entails misty mountains, lush green foliage, the smell of the wild penetrating through the steel body of the train, countless tunnels built during the colonial era and an immersive experience in nature. While the pristine beaches and offbeat experiences of Goa await you eagerly, the night train to Goa makes for the perfect prelude.

UlaanBaatar to Irkutsk train

By Sinead from Map Made Memories
Lake Bakaal as seen from the UlaanBaatar to Irkutsk train

The journey from the capital of Mongolia, UlaanBaatar, to Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia, Russia is an epic 24 hour, overnight trip. The train leaves sprawling, contrasting UlaanBaatar with its city skyscrapers towering over nomadic gers and heads north towards the border with Russia. The train sedately winds its way across the seemingly endless grassy plains of the Mongolian Steppe at a speed conducive to sleep.

There are very few buildings along the route; only the occasional group of gers with families tending to their livestock. Shortly after Sukbaatar, the train enters Russia where border and immigration officials inspect both your passport and your cabin.

After a good night’s sleep, you wake up to find that the flat plains of Mongolia have transformed into the dense Larch and Birch forests of Siberia. The train travels around the lower shoreline of the biggest lake in the world, Lake Baikal before looping north to cosmopolitan Irkutsk.

It is only when you have been travelling around this small portion of Lake Baikal for several hours that you realize how enormous the entire lake must be! Sit on the right hand side of the train in the direction of travel for the best views of Lake Baikal.

This scenic Trans Mongolian journey is part of one of the Trans Siberian routes and is very popular. Tickets should be booked in advance from a choice of either four berth second class cabins or two berth first class cabins. All toilets and wash facilities are communal. 

Glacier Express

By Ivan from Mind the Travel
A snowy mountain seen as seen out the windows of the Glacier Express, one of the most scenic train rides in Europe

Gliding through a backdrop of glaciers, snowcapped peaks, green valleys, blue rivers, dramatic limestone arches, and gorges, the famous Glacier Express winds its way through Switzerland, from Zermatt in the southwest to St. Moritz in the southeast.

A ride inside the red and white coaches is a breathtaking cruise through some of the most beautiful countrysides in Europe. Though it dubs itself the world’s “slowest express train”, the journey takes you across rocky landscapes and through the picturesque valleys, so it’s easy to forget about the time.

The 180-mile (290-kilometer) eight-hour excursion begins in the world-famous spa town of St. Moritz. Because of its high Alpine location, this premier alpine resort has 300 days of sunshine each year. From here it travels to Zermatt, another high-end ski destination, surrounded by mountains including the famous Matterhorn. The narrow-gauge track goes across three high-mountain passes, passing through 91 tunnels, cruising over 291 bridges, and making several stops.

Considered to be one of Switzerland’s most scenic train rides, the Glacier Express route passes along the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes, which is a UNESCO Site. This is pristine nature, as logging and hunting are not allowed. The ride is lined with churches, hilltop farmhouses, rocky mountain valleys with rushing streams, and the most awesome mountain close-ups you’ll ever see.

You can purchase first or second class tickets. The former is roomier than the latter, but all have adequate space so that travelers can rest their feet. You can order lunch to your seat, though it is not included with the ticket price.  You need to book the trip and meals in advance through Glacier Express.

Ticket prices depend on the season and length of the trip with prices being higher in high season. Plenty of discounts are offered on the site, should you have a Swiss Rail Pass or a Eurail Pass.

Bergen to Oslo train

By Megan from MeganStarr.com
View of colorful houses in front of green in Bergen, Norway

One of the most talked about and beautiful train rides in the world is the route from Bergen to Oslo in Norway. This train trip frequently is cited for its beauty in many publications but no one knows its true splendor until actually taking it! I have had the pleasure of taking this train ride dozen of times as I lived in between the two cities for four years. The most interesting thing about the train ride from Bergen to Oslo is that it varies drastically depending on the time of year you book it.  

If you take the Bergen-Oslo train during summer, you will get to see almost 24 hours of daylight (it will be ‘dusk’ at midnight). You can admire the scenery which actually does offer waterfalls and views of fjords. You will also have the chance to see snow atop Hardangervidda during the middle of summer, especially around Finse.  

During the winter, the train becomes a winter wonderland. You will not have a lot of daylight on the journey. In fact, it will likely be really dark. However, once you get to Finse, you will be blown away by how deep the snow is. Finse is a stop in the middle of the journey that was actually the area where Star Wars was filmed because the plateau easily looked like an ice planet. Some other worthy stops are at Voss and Dale. Voss is the adventure sports capital of Norway.  

If you have extra time in Oslo and want to enjoy all the wonderful things to do in Bergen, I highly recommend taking this train journey there and enjoying the ride just as much as the cities themselves.

Kandy to Ella train

By Ellis from Backpack Adventures
A misty scene of green trees and mountains in Sri Lanka

The train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful train rides in this world. While most people come to visit Sri Lanka for its palm fringed coastline, the central region inland has just as much to offer. The Kandy to Ella train brings you straight to the heart of Sri Lanka’s hilly tea country.

The journey starts in the colonial city of Kandy. With its thriving bazaar and number of temples it is often considered the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. From Kandy it takes six to seven hours to reach the hill station of Ella and there are several trains leaving throughout the day.

The train passes through beautiful hills dotted with tea plantations. You can go straight from Kandy to Ella or stop in places along the way. You can break the journey in Hatton to climb Adams Peaks or in the hill station of Nuwara Eliya to see the tea plantations.

Because the train is quite popular it is best to book your tickets in advance as soon as possible, especially if you want a ticket for the observation saloon. Otherwise go for second class tickets. First class might sound better, but because of the air conditioning you cannot open the windows and if they are dirty you won’t be able to take good pictures.

You can book your tickets at any station as soon as you arrive or you can book it through an online travel agency. They might charge you an extra commission, but it is worth it to be guaranteed a seat on one of the most beautiful train trips in this world. 

Mont Blanc Express

By Josh and Sarah from Veggie Vagabonds
Snow capped mountains - the French Alps

It’s safe to say, we’re pretty huge fans of train travel. In 2017 we stopped flying and since then have experienced so many unforgettable train journeys. However, the Mont Blanc Express in the French Alps really takes the biscuit. 

This slow rail service travels with small, traditional carriages from St. Gervais at the beginning of the Chamonix Valley, past Mont Blanc, Chamonix, Argentiere and all the way to Martigny in Switzerland. The scenery will quite literally have your jaw dropping as you travel past dense woodlands, gushing waterfalls and iconic snowcapped mountains. 

If you like the outdoors, this is the train journey for you. The whole region is world-class for skiing and snow sports, as well as climbing and mountaineering. During the summer months, when the snow has slightly subsided, you’ll find incredible mountain biking opportunities and one of the best hiking networks in the world. 

We use this train service for our snowshoeing trips in Chamonix, and the journey itself leaves you feeling truly inspired for your day outdoors. 

What makes this journey especially awesome is that you can get a free train pass if you’re staying in many of the local accommodation options.

Porto to Douro Valley train

By Ann from The Road Is Life
Elevated train tracks in the Douro Valley in Portugal

The Linha do Douro railway line begins in Porto, Portugal and travels through the scenic countryside of the Douro Valley. This train journey has been recognized as one of the most picturesque train journeys in all of Europe. It follows the winding Douro River all the way to the small village of Pocinho high up in the hills of the UNESCO World Heritage Douro wine region. 

The train departs daily from Porto’s beautiful São Bento train station and the full journey to Pocinho takes about three and a half hours. The train stops at many colourful little towns and villages along the way so it’s not necessary to go all the way to the end. The Douro Valley’s breathtaking landscapes of rolling hills and vineyards clinging to the steep slopes can be seen from the train journey itself, just remember to sit on the right side of the train. 

If you’re looking for an awesome day trip from Porto, this spectacular train journey is the perfect choice. A great option would be to get off the train in the lovely village of Pinhão (two hours from Porto) and from there you can easily access many of the region’s beautiful vineyards. Taking a vineyard tour is one of the highlights of visiting the Douro Valley. 

<< Read next: Porto in winter >>

Darjeeling toy train

By Amrita and Agni from Tale of 2 Backpackers
Blue train on a very small track on the side of a paved road: the Darjeeling toy train

One of the most beautiful train journeys in India is a ride on the Darjeeling Toy Train, also known as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. The railway has been operating on narrow tracks since 1880 providing an important link between Darjeeling and the lower plains.

It is quite an engineering marvel achieved in that era covering a distance of 88 km from an altitude of 400 feet at Siliguri to 6812 feet at Darjeeling. It is one of three Mountain Railways of India accorded World Heritage status. While at present, quicker methods to reach Darjeeling by road exist, Darjeeling Himalayan Railways still operates one train every day to keep the heritage alive.

The narrow gauge toy train chugs along the city roads and then takes the mountain tracks. It crosses through several mountain villages and tea gardens to reach Darjeeling. It is a great sight to see steam engines pulling mini coaches up the steep mountains through breathtaking mountain landscapes, maneuvering the curves and gradients on the hilly terrain.

Near Darjeeling, you could see the majestic Kanchenjunga ranges looming in the distance. Nowadays, more powerful diesel engines are used for running the toy train instead of steam engines. The entire journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling takes about seven hours.

Innsbruck to Bologna train

By Viktoria from Chronic Wanderlust
Small buildings and moutains seen in out the window from the Innsbruck to Bologna train

The train ride from Innsbruck, Austria to Bologna, Italy has to be one of my favourites. I’ve taken this particular journey a couple of times in the past years, and the passing scenery has kept me occupied. You’ll be seeing valleys, vineyards, castles, mountains, and so much more.

The entire journey lasts less than five hours on the direct trains that go several times a day (last time I checked it was three times daily). Make sure to reserve a seat since it’s very popular otherwise you’re likely to be standing during most of the ride. Also, opt for a window seat on the left side in the direction of travel for the best views.

On this scenic train ride, you not only see two countries, but also five states or regions. You’ll start in Tyrol and cross into South Tyrol on the Brenner Pass and pass through Bolzano. After that, you’ll continue through Trentino and Veneto until you reach Emilia-Romagna. You could either take this trip at once or make stops along the way. Just keep your eyes open for the insanely beautiful landscape to pass by.

Belgrade to Bar train

By Kami from Kami & the Rest of the World
Elevated train tracks in the mountains of Serbia

One of the most beautiful yet not so popular train rides in Europe goes from the capital of Serbia – Belgrade all the way to the seaside to Bar in Montenegro. The journey takes around 11 hours (but delays are common so you can expect longer) and passes through 254 tunnels and 435 bridges. This includes one of the highest railways bridges in the world – Mala Rijeka viaduct.

There are two daily connections on Belgrade to Bar route but I recommend taking the daytime? one and starting your journey from Montenegro towards Serbia. That’s when you can be sure to see some of the most spectacular views of Montenegrin mountains and experience those breathtaking bridges in the daylight.

Tickets for the ride can be only bought at the train station but it’s unlikely it will sell out so you don’t need to worry too much. A one-way ticket currently costs €21 in the second class. The carriages are comfortable and air-conditioned but you will spend most of the time on the corridor, admiring the views anyway.

This is really one of the most spectacular train journeys you haven’t heard about!

<< Read next: Belgrade food guide >>

Train from Seward to Anchorage

By Jamie from The Daily Adventures of Me
Glass-domed train from Seward to Anchorage

Alaska is one of the most beautiful US states, so it won’t come as a surprise that a train ride through it is one of the most stunning train rides. The Alaskan railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage and Denali to Fairbanks.

It is a double-decker glass-domed train. The four-hour trip from Seward to Anchorage is the prettiest portion of the ride. It travels along moose-filled swampland, past calving glaciers, by the Turnagain Arm which has Beluga whales in season, and through green mountains.

You may want to consider paying extra to sit in the GoldStar car which has dinner service and the domed-glass, as well as a viewing platform. The staff also enhances the trip with commentary while serving drinks to your seat.

This a train trip you don’t want to miss. For more on travel in Alaska read The Daily Adventures of Me’s Alaska Travel Guide.  

Rhine River Valley train

It’s us again! (Sarah and Justin)
Old round castle turret tower as seen from a Rhine River cruise

We found this great Rhine River train trip by accident. Due to late booking and budgetary constraints, we had to buy tickets for the slow train from Cologne to Frankfurt instead of the faster train we usually take. We were rewarded for our error because the slow train takes a different route. And that route hugs the Rhine River.

On this train journey you’ll be treated to rolling green hills, a beautiful river, small German towns with picturesque houses, and best of all, castles. So many castles!

The most scenic part of the train trip is between Koblenz and Mainz. This is where you’ll see the most adorable towns and all the castles.

Depending on what route you’re taking and where you’re going, you could end up on different sides of the river. When we took the train from Cologne to Frankfurt, we were on one side. But when we went from Koblenz to Wiesbaden, we were on the other side. You want to try to get a seat on the side of the train that’s closest to the river, so consider this information, plus your direction of travel when selecting a seat.

Deutsche Bahn is a fantastic train service, with (mostly) prompt service, delay alerts, and comfortable cars. You must pay for seat reservations, but they’re only 4.50 EUR per seat. If you can figure out your direction of travel (sometimes it’s tricky on the DB website), then you might want to book a seat to secure the proper side of the train and picturesque viewing options.

If you’re planning a trip to this part of Germany, read some of our resources about the region:

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12 thoughts on “13 scenic train rides in Europe, India, and beyond

  1. madhu sharma says:

    Wow those are some of the wonderful train journeys, I would love to experience at least few of them. thanks for sharing this comprehensive list

  2. Hazel says:

    As a fan of Michael Portillo’s Railway series on TV, this is like the blog post version! So thanks for sharing. I’ve done the Belgrade to Bar route and, like Kami above, I would recommend starting in Bar.

  3. Robert says:

    Some outstanding train journeys around the world to choose from! Love taking a train vacation, in fact we recently took the VIA Rail Passenger Train across Canada. Amazing trip and finally able to see more of our own country! Great post & photos. Spotted your post on Twitter! 🙂

    • Sarah and Justin says:

      Ah cool! Glad you found the post and enjoyed it. Would love to explore more of North America by train ourselves. And Canada in general!

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