Europe prides itself on having the most beautiful train routes in the world. Some of them cross through the snow-capped Alps, others go through impressive fjords, while others run smoothly through vast plains and seemingly endless fields.
Many of these routes were engineered back in the 1800s when the development of the rail boomed all across the continent. Still to this day they stand strong, connecting people from one point to the other. But it's not just about connecting; many of these rail lines fill their passengers with wonder thanks to their surrounding landscapes, the great history behind them and the sense of adventure they offer.
These are five of the greatest train rides in Europe, which you should try to ride at least once in your life.
Distance & time: 18km, about 40 minutes
Best time to visit: Spring to autumn
I'm starting with a short, yet colorful ride along the coast of Cinque Terre. This train ride goes through five rustic villages set on the base of the mountains along the Italian Riviera rugged coastline. Cinque Terre, which actually means five lands, is full of postcard worthy views of cliff hanging homes, fishing boats, vineyards and olive groves, among many other picturesque sights.
You can hop off at each village as you make your way from Levanto to La Spezia with a special day pass. Also, you can combine your train ride by hiking between certain villages to have a more personal experience with the beautiful scenery.
Countries: Switzerland and Italy
Distance & time: 123km, about four hours
Best time to visit: April-July
The Bernina Express offers some of the most breathtaking views in the Alps as you connect between Northern and Southern Europe. And what is best is that the train cars are designed specifically to make the most of these views; the trains have panoramic windows for uninterrupted views of the Swiss glaciers and the Italian valleys.
The train climbs up to the Bernina pass (2253 meters high) without the help of a rack-and-pinion mechanism. The route also follows two World Heritage lines; the Albula and the Bernina. In addition, this train ride is mostly touristy, so you can listen to a narration during the trip to help you understand the history of the line and the landscape views.
Distance & time: 41km, about 45 minutes
Best time to visit: All year
This railway line is very special since in 1998 it became the world's first railway to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its outstanding technological solution to a major physical problem in the construction of early railways.
The railway goes between Gloggnitz and Mrzzuschlag, crossing the Semmering Pass with its 15 tunnels, 16 viaducts and arched bridges towering over the forested mountains.This trip shows a true engineering feat, paralleled only by the majestic natural beauty that surrounds it.
Distance & time: 114km, about 1 hours
Best time to visit: Mid-summer
This line enjoys the views of high peaks and jagged rock faces as they gradually morph into smooth mountain slopes that transition to the plateaus next to the Rauma River. But if this dynamic landscape is not enough, the railway passes next to Europe's highest perpendicular rock face, which towers 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) above the track. This rock is located in Trollveggen, and bears the same name. In addition, the train passes through the beautifully arched Kylling Bridge near Verma.
Distance & time: 20km, about 40 minutes
Best time to visit: Mid-summer or winter
This is for sure one of the most beautiful scenic train rides in Europe. It starts at the mountain station at Myrdal in Norway, from where it heads down to Flam, via the longest and deepest fjord in Europe - the Sognefjorden.
As you go through the steep and narrow Flam valley, you'll witness impressive waterfalls and towering mountain peaks. While it is a short ride, the train travels slowly and stops at the most scenic spots so you can take time to admire the natural beauty as well as to take pictures, especially the stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall. For thrill seekers, this is also one of the steepest railway lines in Europe!
Before you hop on the train, you also have the opportunity to see the Flam Railway Documentation Centre, where you can learn more about this remarkable feat of engineering
Which of these train rides do you want to try first?
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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