Flying is generally seen as the easiest way to get around, especially when traveling long distances. For many travelers, though, journeying by train carries an extra sense of romance that makes going by rail more attractive than taking to the air. Compared to planes on a basic level, trains have some advantages: it is easier to take in the sights and move around while in transit. Though some high-speed trains move at almost-airplane-like velocity, the more-leisurely pace of most locomotives allows passengers to enjoy the act of travel. When you ride in a railway car, getting from Point A to Point B becomes a memorable part of the trip, not just something that you have to endure until you get to your destination. Three of Western Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, Spain, France, and Italy, are great places to experience this romance with the rails firsthand. These countries have wide-ranging rail networks and track-side scenery that allows tourists to sightsee and get a taste of the European countryside.
Sound appealing? Here are the best rail routes in Europe’s most popular countries.
When it comes to the classic train experience, few trains can compare to the Ellipsos “Train Hotel.” This train features sleeper cars with a choice of private sleeper with bathroom and shower. Some cars on every train have the regular four-bed sleeper cabins that are found on many overnight trains. The Ellipsos travels between Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid, making it a convenient, albeit cost ineffective, choice for traveling between France and Spain.
Traveling between Paris and the Cote d’Azur city of Nice by rail exposes riders to some of France’s best scenery. Many of the trains that make this high-traffic run are double deck trains that offer great views of the surrounding countryside as they speed along. The TGV trains that serve this part of France are some of the world’s fastest, so travelers can spend their time wisely from a logistical standpoint as well as a sightseeing one.
Trains starting in Zurich, Switzerland and traveling to Milan and other Northern and Central Italian cities offer one of the best rides in all of Europe from a sightseeing perspective. These trains skim through the alps and pass through the famed Gotthard Tunnel on the way to Europe’s fashion capital. If you are at all fascinated by the mountains of this portion of Europe, this trip is a must.
France has high-speed lines that have helped bring rail travel into the 21st Century. But its historic and scenic rail routes are still worthwhile for people seeking to travel through a certain region and catch some countryside sights along the way. Brittany is one of the most scenic, but oft-overlooked, sections of France. The state-owned SNCF runs several trains through this region.
The track from Rome to Sicily is well-traveled, though not everyone is aware that the trip can be made entirely via train. The most unique part of the journey is when the rail cars are taken aboard a ferry for the water crossing. You can literally float to Sicily without having to leave the car at all. This is one of the last places in Europe where trains are still ferried in this manner. Of course, the scenic ride from Rome to the coast is also a good reason to undertake this rail journey.
Spain’s Transcantabrico is an interesting choice for luxury-minded travelers. A classic, narrow-gauge train, it runs through Northern Spain, allowing visitors to take in the famous natural beauty of the region for the upscale comfort of a high-end rail car. La Robla is a cheaper train that offers service in the same region. It start in Bilbao and takes tourists on a round trip journey that is ideal for sightseers who don’t want to take to the roads. Both these trains are mainly for sightseeing purposes rather than A to B undertakings.
Europe’s overnight trains are still a convenient way to travel, though light sleepers may find themselves unable to get some shut-eye and unable to see any sights because of the darkness outside. Nonetheless, overnight train travel is a classic way to move around the continent. Even on faster trains, it is possible to imagine what it was like to take to the rails in the era when train travel was the fastest and most comfortable option available.
Spain has one of the longest networks of high-speed trains in the world. Experiencing the future of train travel on an ultra-fast locomotive can be an exciting prospect for rail aficionados, tech-heads, and anyone who wants to try something new. However, there are sections where the landscapes aren’t blurring by and you can take in a classic Spanish panorama as you speed along.
Train journeys can be a convenient way to get from Point A to Point B in Europe’s most popular countries. However, this classic means of transportation can become a bigger part of your vacation in Italy, France, or Spain. Rail travel can become an event in and of itself, rather than merely a way to get to your destination.