It has been just over ten years since I began trekking around Europe by train – usually a week or two at a time, and concentrating on Central and Eastern Europe. Although rail travel can be slow at times, especially in eastern Europe, it’s generally more pleasant than spending a few hours in a sterile airport environment, and often more comfortable than traveling by bus.
Recently I decided to create a Google Map of all my journeys, so from overnight trains to short trips between neighbouring towns, here is my rail map of Europe! Hopefully it will encourage me to visit areas I’ve not been to yet, as well as revisit some smaller places that I’ve skipped.
The best Rail journeys in Europe?
There are many scenic rail journeys within Europe, and there are many still on my list. In the meantime, here are my top three as of 2016:
Bergen – Oslo
This seven hour journey is often regarded as the most scenic rail journey in Europe; and having done this back in August 2009, I’m inclined to agree. The route is an impressive engineering feat given the number of tunnels and bridges that transect the harsh mountainous environment, and acts as an artery to provide the many isolated communities with essential provisions. The dramatic scenery is constantly changing, thus it’s definitely worth doing this trip during the summer months when the days are long. From Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, on the west coast, the train climbed past forests and rivers, and it wasn’t long until snow-capped peaks appeared. The train had a brief stop at Myrdal, the connecting point for the Flåmsbana; a spectacular tourist route, although it doesn’t have the variety of landscapes that the main Bergen to Oslo route has. Onward to Finse, where we reached the divide between eastern and western Norway, and also the highest point on the rail line: 1,222 metres above sea level. This small mountain village, the Finsevatnet lake, and the Hardangerjøkulen glacier are better known as the fictional ice planet Hoth in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. As the train began it’s long descent towards the Norwegian capital, we stopped at the popular winter ski resorts of Geilo and Gol, before passing forests and alpine meadows as the train edged ever closer to Oslo. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone, especially as the advanced fares from NSB start at a very respectable 249 NOK!
Sarajevo – Mostar
(unfortunately this route is closed for maintenance from October 2015 for around one year)
The worst aspect of this journey was the 7 am departure from Sarajevo, although provided you stay awake during the journey, it’s definitely worth it. Whilst the initial section of this trip offers little in the way of scenery, we passed numerous buildings on the edge of Sarajevo that still bore the physical scars of the recent conflict. However, mountainous terrain soon follows, and for the second half of this journey the train follows the Neretva River valley. The train we took comprised of old rolling stock donated by Sweden after the Balkan conflict in the mid 90’s, and despite the age, it was comfortable enough for this two and half hour journey. It is probably best to avoid the compartments on these trains due to the liberal smoking attitude, although the big advantage of the older carriages was that the windows opened properly, allowing unobstructed photography. During the summer months newer trains with air conditioning operate this route, although given this is a very popular time for travelling, make sure you arrive at the station before the train so as to get yourself a seat. There are two trains per day between Sarajevo and Mostar; one in the morning and one in the evening. Current departure times can be found on the ZFBH website; it’s not the easiest site to interpret, so it’s probably best to confirm at the railway station a day or two before you travel. Tickets are 10 BAM each way; or 16 return.
Ústí nad Labem to Dresden
I’ve travelled between Prague and Berlin numerous times, and whilst the majority of the route is quite uneventful, the section between Ústí nad Labem and Dresden is extremely impressive. The rail line follows the course of the Elbe (Labe) River through areas known as Czech Switzerland and the Saxon Switzerland national park, which are both known for their sandstone rock formations. The Labe – Elbe regional ticket from České dráhy is 250 czk, whereas typical prices between Prague and Berlin start from around 25 €.