Best train holiday routes in Europe for eco-friendly travel

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Train holidays are the eco-friendly way to travel, see the world and enjoy new experiences. Here’s three of the most scenic train routes in Europe, so you can ditch the plane.

There’s something romantic about long, scenic train journeys. It’s a notion optimised to its rosiest in films such as 1995’s Before Sunrise and its most glamorous in Murder On The Orient Express (who wouldn’t risk murder for a glimpse of those velvet cocktail chairs?).

The idea of sitting down for a blissfully peaceful afternoon of travel, with nothing to do but watch landscapes unfold beyond the glass and read the latest bestseller, sounds pretty heavenly and a lot better than bumbling through airport security.

But as well as being more beautiful and less hassle than flying, train holidays are also much better for the environment.

As our earth enters a climate crisis, we’re seeing the devastating effects of what this really means. From the floods in Venice late last year that threaten to one day destroy one of the most iconic cities in the world, to the Australian bushfires that have so far led to the destruction of six million hectares of land (as well as the loss of 500 million animals and 24 people) – these climate-related disasters are waking us all up. 

Currently the aviation industry makes up 2-3% of the world’s carbon emissions, a number which is set to rise as the amount of air travel doubles over the next 20 years. It’s a figure that has caused a wave of people to commit to give up flying in 2020, with the hashtag #flightfree2020 already racking up hundreds of posts in just the first month of the year.

So, if you’re ready to plan your next holiday via train, it’s time to explore some of the gorgeous routes you can take, of which Europe has many.

What makes Europe so special, of course, is the diverse mix of cultures that you can find all on one continent. This makes it a gorgeous place to travel by train, whether you’re going directly from one location to another, or doing a tour of a few cities. 

We’ve picked out trips in the UK and more far-flung places, where you can see Italian lakes, Swiss glaciers and Scottish lochs out of the window, as well as much more. 

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  • Grand Alpine Express 11-day tour from Budapest to Venice

    The Golden Eagle Bar Lounge Car.
    The beautiful view from the Golden Eagle Bar Lounge Car.

    This is less of a simple transportation swap, and more of choice to indulge in a completely different (and extraordinary) type of holiday. Golden Eagle Luxury Trains specialise in (very fancy) train tours around the world, with some brilliant routes through Europe. Some are themed – such as the Castles of Transylvania, for example – but we particularly like the sound of the Grand Alpine Express.

    Over the course of 11 days, guests will visit 14 locations, including Budapest, Vienna, Semmering Pass, Lake Achen, Innsbruck, Zurich, St Gotthard Pass, Lake Como, Milan, Verona, Trieste, Lake Bled, Ljubljana and Venice.

    Views from the train windows include the dramatic Swiss Alps, contrasted with the beautiful Italian Lake District, and much in-between. Each day has been meticulously planned to include experiences like a private concert featuring the Vienna Supreme Orchestra and a visit to Hungary’s historic Great Market Hall.

    Although there are a few hotel stays throughout the trip (when the itinerary stops in one location for more than a day), the train’s facilities themselves are pretty special. Think shiny dark wood, ornate lighting and even flowers on your bedside table.

    There is one tour a year, with 2020’s dates being in May and as you can imagine the price is high. From 8-18 May for a double room the cost is £11,495 per two people. 

  • Caledonian Sleepover overnight train from London to Fort William

    Caledonian Sleeper
    The Caledonian Sleeper making its way through the Scottish hills.

    If you’re looking for a staycation option to try train travel, then the Scottish Highlands are arguably one of the most picturesque spots in the UK.

    Although London and Fort William may both be in the UK, they are still some 12 hours apart on the train, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy the views of the mountains, lochs and sprawling landscape.

    Climb aboard at London Euston from 9.30pm (times can vary) and you’ll be greeted by a delightful host of train staff, dressed in tartan suits no less. You can either get settled in your small but self-contained cabin (which comes with sleeping aids like pillow spray and eye masks) or head to the Club Car for a night cap or a nibble on some Scottish produce.

    In the morning you can opt for a wake-up call between 7-8am, which comes with Scottish porridge or a hearty bacon sandwich, and watch the Highlands come to life through the window.

    The Caledonian Sleeper arrives in Fort William at 9.57am, so you’ll have a few hours drinking tea in the Club Car to watch the world go by before you get to your destination.

    This train service runs six days a week and prices start at £170 for a single room. 

  • Glacier Express day time trip from Zermatt to St Moritz

    The Glacier Express
    The Glacier Express journeying through the snow.

    You don’t have to stay overnight to appreciate the joys that travelling by train can offer. If you’re interested in exploring Switzerland, you can take the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St Moritz in just one day and be treated to 360-degree views of the region’s most beautiful lakes and mountains.

    The climb to the Albula Tunnel is said to be one of Europe’s most impressive railway engineering feats, famed for its spiral tunnels and viaducts. But inside the train isn’t exactly shabby, either.

    Those riding the train throughout the day will enjoy a five-course menu of dishes authentic to Switzerland, and be able to head to the Glacier Bar for a cocktail. And, if you’re feeling really fancy, you can book into the excellence car, where window seats are guaranteed and the interiors are even plusher.

    The daily journey sets off from Zermatt at 8.52am and makes its way to St Moritz by 4.38pm, with prices starting at €152 (£128).

Images: Getty Images / courtesy of brands

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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