Europe’s most beautiful scenic railway routes revealed

·3-min read
Wales’ steam locomotive goes more than 13 miles from the harbour of Porthmadog to the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog via Snowdonia (Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways)
Wales’ steam locomotive goes more than 13 miles from the harbour of Porthmadog to the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog via Snowdonia (Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways)

A railway route in the UK tops the list of 1,400 train travellers’ favourite journeys in Europe.

In a survey conducted by Which?, the respondents were asked to rate their favourite rail journeys across seven categories: scenery, comfort, facilities, cleanliness, food and drink, service and value.

The one that went full steam ahead of the rest is a coastal route in North Wales, operated by Ffestiniog Railway.

As well as topping the rankings, Wales dominated the top 10 with three routes on the list. Switzerland also had three listings, including one that came in joint-second place and one in third.

Norway’s Bergen Railway and Switzerland’s Bernina Express were awarded the joint-second place. Also in Switzerland, the Glacier Express that serves the ski resorts Zermatt and St Moritz came in third place.

Here we have a closer look at the top three:

1. Ffestiniog Railway, Wales – 91%

The steam locomotive, which includes two first-class carriages, goes more than 13 miles from the harbour of Porthmadog to the slate-quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog via Snowdonia.

The views offer a feast for the eyes as the train traverses the mountains, pastures, forests, and past lakes and waterfalls on the oldest narrow-gauge railway in the world.

The journey also passes through the mountains, up the sides, and even round right bends that include a “complete spiral,” the railway’s website says.

Which? says: “With the option to travel in first-class Pullman carriages, you can push down windows, breathe in the sweet air and whizz through the Welsh countryside in just three hours – pulled by a whistling steam engine.”

2= Bergen Railway, Norway 90%

The Bergen Railway between Bergen and Voss (Pictures by iStock)
The Bergen Railway between Bergen and Voss (Pictures by iStock)

This rail journey takes passengers on a seven-hour journey from Bergen to Oslo – Norway’s two biggest cities – across the Norwegian highlands. Reviewers gave it a 90 per cent score.

National rail service Vyrgruppen describes it as “one of the most spectacular scenic experiences in Europe”.

One of its stops is Finse – a mountainside village that has been dubbed “a miniature Antarctica” as it’s popular with adventurers and hikers. People also go fishing for trout in its lakes and streams.

Polar explorers Nansen, Amundsen and Shackleton used the location as training grounds due to the extreme weather conditions. The Bergen Railway also through several popular ski resorts, such as Gol, Geilo and Voss.

2= Bernina Express, Switzerland 90%

The Bernina Express links Switzerland to northern Italy (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Bernina Express links Switzerland to northern Italy (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Bernina Express was the only railway in the survey to score perfect points for scenery.

It’s one of Europe’s highest altitude railways at 2,253m above sea level at its highest point, and it goes through the Alps – from Chur in Switzerland via the ski resort of St Moritz to northern Italy.

Its website says: “Thanks to the modern panoramic cars, you will enjoy unrestricted views of the unspoilt Alpine panorama.”

The railway line from Thusis - Valposchiavo - Tirano has Unesco World Heritage status.

3. Glacier Express, Switzerland 89%

The Glacier Express goes to two famous ski resorts, St Moritz and Zermatt (Glacier Express)
The Glacier Express goes to two famous ski resorts, St Moritz and Zermatt (Glacier Express)

The Glacier Express is another Swiss railway that offers jaw-dropping views through huge carriage windows.

Along its journey, it stops at the country’s two most famous ski resorts, St Moritz and Zermatt – the latter of which lies at the feet of the iconic Matterhorn mountain.

The trains also use 91 tunnels and 291 bridges, including the Rhine gorge and the Landwasser Viaduct – a spectacular single-track six-arch bridge leading into a mountain-side tunnel.

The top 10

1. Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

2. (joint second) Bergen Railway, Norway

3. (joint second) Bernina Express, Switzerland and Italy

4. Glacier Express, Switzerland

5. Brocken Railway, Germany

6. Talyllyn, Wales

7. Welsh Highland Railway, Wales

8. West Highland Line, Scotland

9. Flam Railway, Norway

10. Golden Pass, Switzerland