7 Best European Train Tours
If you care more about the journey than the destination, take the scenic route on a luxe European train tour.
Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland
Launched in September 2016, the Belmond Grand Hibernian is the newest—and most luxurious—European train tour. The week-long route visits Dublin, Cork, Galway and Belfast, stopping at some of Ireland’s most famous landmarks, including the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle. Passengers can also sign up for exclusive expeditions such as afternoon tea at the Curraghmore estate and a private after-hours tour of the Titanic museum in Belfast. But we don’t blame you if you never want to leave the gorgeous carriage, which feels more like an elegant Georgian hotel on wheels, with Celtic knot and tartan-patterned furnishings, marble en-suite bathrooms, and staff sporting Donegal tweed uniforms.
Bernina Express, Switzerland and Italy
Starting in Chur, Switzerland and weaving through the southern Alps to Tirano, Italy, the Bernina Express is the best European train tour for sightseers. The track crosses close to 200 bridges, climbs over craggy mountains, and passes through 55 tunnels—with jaw-dropping views at every turn. The line is so impressive, in fact, that it even earned UNESCO World Heritage status.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, U.K., France, Italy
Just because you’re traveling by train, doesn’t mean it isn’t a five-star affair. Take the two-day Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, where you can stay in Art Deco digs—from the etched glass and intricate marquetry down to the original 1920s carriages—as it makes its way from London to Paris and ending in Venice. Make sure to save time for a meal; the chefs select fresh produce at each stop, including lobsters from Brittany and salt marsh lamb from Mont Saint-Michel.
Renfe El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, Spain
To see a secret side of Spain, take the Renfe El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo from San Sebastián to Santiago de Compostela, in the country’s northern region. The eight-day trip goes by the Bay of Biscay, Cantabrian mountain range, and major cultural centers like Bilbao; highlights include: the Guggenheim Museum, a prehistoric cave in Altamira, the Picos de Europa National Park and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. When you’re not out exploring, you can chill out in your spacious deluxe suite, take an on-board cooking class, or listen to live music performances. Plus, foodies will love the area’s delicious cuisine, such as fabada asturiana and cocido montañés (Spanish bean stews), frixuelos (local crepes), tarta de mondoñedo (fig tart), and Galician seafood.
Glacier Express, Switzerland
There’s a reason the Glacier Express was crowned the slowest express train in the world. The eight-hour jaunt only goes a whopping 180 miles, but it’s got enough scenery to last a lifetime. Slowly chugging around the Swiss Alps, from St. Moritz to Zermatt, it crosses nearly 300 bridges, with prime alpine views of vertigo-inducing gorges and snow-capped mountains, including the 15,000-foot Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in Europe. And you’ll get a front-row spot for the perfect 'gram, thanks to the glass roofs and massive windows on each car.
Belmond Royal Scotsman, Scotland
The Belmond Royal Scotsman may be the world’s most expensive train ride, but trust us when we say it’s worth the splurge. The four-day round-trip itinerary cruises from Edinburgh along the coast to Aberdeen and through the Scottish Highlands, where you’ll visit crumbling castles, glistening lochs and picturesque villages. The best part? The single malt tastings on a whisky tour of local distilleries. If that’s not enough to raise your spirits, the bar onboard is also stocked with more than 50 kinds of whisky and scotch.
Golden Eagle Danube Express, Eastern Europe
For the grand tour of Europe, book a room on the Golden Eagle Danube Express. The two-week excursion is a highlight reel of the continent’s famous cities (Venice, Prague, Berlin, Krakow, Vienna and Budapest) as well as its hidden small-town gems, including Zittau in Germany; Sopot, Gdańsk, Malbork, and Zakopane in Poland; plus Keszthely and Lake Balaton in Hungary. Bonus: this year, Golden Eagle debuts a group of Superior Deluxe Cabins so you can travel in style, with a personal butler to cater to your every whim.
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