(CNN) — This is where the ‘flight shame’ movement was born and it’s no wonder: Europe is home to a superb rail network, including some truly spectacular journeys that are holidays in themselves. Here are 10 of the most beautiful rides.
Derry-Coleraine Railway, Northern Ireland
Nestled on the Causeway Coast is seven miles of golden sand, unbroken by rocks. On a clear day, when the sea is so calm it looks like stone, you can see the Scottish island of Islay. This is the perfect beach for quiet reflection.
From here the train turns inland again, this time following the River Bann, to Coleraine. You will follow important footsteps – the first human settlement on the whole island of Ireland is Mountsandel Fort, high up on the high bank of the Bann. It was inhabited from 7600 to 7900 BCE.
Florence to Naples, Italy
Tuff cliffs under Orvieto, Umbria, Italy.
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Only in Italy can one of the country’s main roads be so beautiful. Italy’s main north-south line runs from Milan to Naples and while the upper part is take it or leave it, through the flat plains of the Po Valley and then through mountain tunnels from Bologna to Florence , continuing south, you’ll ride through some of Italy’s most classic landscapes.
Coming out of Florence Santa Maria Novella station, you will see the famous Duomo, then cross the Arno, before crossing into Tuscany, the hills on either side, then Umbria and Lazio.
Sit to the left to admire the jagged mountains of the Apennines; choose the right and you will see Orvieto, one of the most beautiful ancient towns in central Italy, first carved into a tuff cliff by the Etruscan civilization. As you enter Rome, you will pass the ancient city walls. Do you have more time? After Rome, stay in Naples for spectacular views of Mount Vesuvius as you enter the city.
Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain
The Cremallera rack railway takes visitors up the mountainside.
Barcelona’s grand Plaça d’Espanya is the starting point for the fearsomely beautiful journey to Montserrat, the jagged mountain range looming in the distance behind the seaside town and home to a Benedictine abbey since the 11th century (well that the current building is from the 1800s). The 23-mile railway line runs through the Catalan countryside to the foothills of the mountains, where the Cremallera cog railway has been carrying visitors up the mountainside since 1892 (with a break from 1957 to 2003).
It’s a truly amazing ride, climbing 1,800 feet in the first 2.5 miles, aided by cogwheel traction. Once at the monastery, you can take another funicular, the Sant Joan, higher up in the peaks. From there you can hike in the mountains.
Semmering Railway, Austria
The Semmering line was built to connect Vienna and Trieste.
Almost 200 years after it opened in 1854, the Semmering Railway is still one of the most beautiful railways in the world – and it even enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status. Best of all, you can take it if you’re traveling between Vienna and Venice, making it a stunning way to travel between two of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Running 25 miles through the Austrian Alps between Gloggnitz and Semmering, the Semmering weaves its way through the mountains, traversing 16 tunnels, 15 viaducts and over 100 bridges, plus a journey through a mountain pass at nearly 3,000 feet and many exciting turns.
Built as Europe’s first mountain railway, designed to link Vienna with Trieste (which was the port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time), it is still one of the biggest. If you do it as part of a longer trip, you’ll recognize the Semmering part not only by its great views, but also by the 57 cabins built for railway staff spread along the line.
Bohinj Railway, Slovenia
The Bohinj Line crosses Slovenia and takes you over the largest stone railway bridge in the world.
Slovenia is a fascinating place to take a train trip, thanks to its location – its 800 miles of rail lines are part of wider lines linking Italy to Hungary and Austria to Croatia and Italy. This one is no less epic – it’s part of a line connecting Prague to Trieste, or, in other words, landlocked Central Europe to the Adriatic Sea.
One of Slovenia’s most historic lines, the Bohinj features 28 tunnels (including one just under 17,500 feet long) and 65 bridges, including the Solkan Bridge, the world’s largest stone railway bridge, spanning the Soča River.
Bergen Railway, Norway
Finse, on the Oslo-Bergen road, is a small village accessible only by train.
Built in 1909, the Bergen Railway connects the Norwegian capital to its second city. This is no ordinary commuter train, however – it’s a spectacular seven-hour journey through Norway’s mountain plateaus, lakes, passable mountains and a village only accessible by train: Finse, at the highest point in the railway.
At Myrdal you can connect to the cute Flåm Railway, whose hour-long journey takes you past high cliffs, lush vegetation and a spectacular waterfall – a classic Norwegian beauty checklist .
Nice to Ventimiglia, France, Monaco, Italy
The Nice-Ventimiglia line takes you to the foot of some of the most beautiful villages in the Mediterranean.
Francois Roux/Adobe Stock
You’re here for the views, of course – sweeping vistas of the sparkling Mediterranean, between some of its most charming towns. But this 50-minute itinerary is also one for your inner travel enthusiast, as it travels through no less than three countries in less than an hour, starting in France, plunging into Monaco, returning to France and ending just the other side of the Italian border.
For most of the trip, departing from Nice Riquier station, you’ll have lovely views, passing Art Deco villas, and alternating between chunks of the Mediterranean between the trees, and rattling along entire bays, with cities stacked on the cliffs. You’ll pass through some of the most legendary towns on the French Riviera, like Èze (above) and lemon-filled Menton, as well as sweeping views of Monte Carlo. You’ll know you’ve reached Italy when the scent of blooming bougainvillea blows through the air.
Sarajevo to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Sarajevo-Mostar route takes you through canyons carved by the emerald Neretva River.
West Highland Railway, Scotland
The West Highland Railway’s 1,250ft viaduct was used in the ‘Harry Potter’ films.
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You’ll probably recognize the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which spans 1,250ft across the Scottish Highlands, the trains crossing the River Finnan at a height of 100ft – from “Harry Potter”, if nothing else.
No wonder it’s one of the most spectacular train rides in the world – the epic views over Scotland’s most famous railway line take you straight into the Highlands without even leaving the carriage. Leaving Glasgow it points straight northwest and ends at Mallaig, where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye.
En route you’ll pass through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (yes, you’ll skirt the loch), pass Ben Nevis and cross Rannoch Moor, where the line ‘floats’ over bogs – with red deer and deer often your closest neighbors for miles.
Lidköping in Mariestad, Sweden
The most beautiful line in Sweden takes you to the Kinnekulle plateau.
Andreas Hoff/Adobe Stock
Home of the “Flight Shame” movement, Sweden has no shortage of beautiful railways – the Stockholm-Narvik line (in Norway’s Arctic Circle) is a true icon. However, it is a long one that requires planning.
For something shorter, there’s the Lidköping to Mariestad line, which was voted Sweden’s most beautiful train journey by rail users in 2018. The single-track railway runs along the country’s largest lake , Vänern, climbs to the Kinnekulle plateau for spectacular views of the lake. heads northeast. Tired of the lake view? Keep an eye out for deer and moose around the line in the winter, or head out in the spring when wild garlic carpets the plateau.