Train Travel in Europe by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Why Train Travel Is the Best Way to See Europe

Trains are great. And in Europe, they’re really often the best way to travel. Why would you want to stand in line for security at yet another airport when you could be gliding through the Alps or along the Mediterranean, all while eating lunch in the dining car before strolling around and then taking a nap in your seat with plenty of legroom?

When you take a train, you get a real-time experience of the changes in the landscape around you, allowing you to better appreciate the differences between your origin and your destination. Sure, seeing the Earth from above in a plane can be cool (as long as it’s not cloudy); but, leaving one place and arriving in a totally different one without the context of where that place is in relation to the other? Well, it can be disorienting. In the train, you can experience the changes in scenery as they happen around you.

Dealing with airports is pretty much always a stressful and trying experience. No one really likes arriving at an airport two hours before their flight, undergoing the ordeal of airport security with so much unpacking, repacking, undressing, redressing, and the sheer humiliation of it all…do they? Unless that’s your thing, of course.

Marseille by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

With train travel, there’s none of that: just arrive at the train station and get on the train. And if you’re travelling within the Schengen Area, there won’t be any border checks or passport control to clear beforehand, so it’s really no hassle at all. Plus, main train stations are very often in the centre of European cities, while airports are usually far away and expensive to reach.

Of course, some parts of Europe are better suited for train travel than others. Here are some ideas for the best parts of the continent you should see by train.

Germany, France, Spain & Italy

These four countries all have relatively extensive high-speed rail networks, and many cities that are within perfect distance for travelling between by train. For example, Milan to Rome is just over three hours, Paris to Marseille is similar, Madrid to Barcelona is less than three hours, and Berlin to Munich will shortly be less than four hours.

Paris by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Austria, Norway & Scotland

These three countries might not seem to have much in common at first, but they actually have some of the most scenic train routes in all of Europe. Popular routes are from Innsbruck to Bregenz on the main railroad through the Alps in Austria, Oslo to Bergen in Norway, and of course the so-called Harry Potter train from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland.

Austria by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Paris, Frankfurt & Amsterdam

 If you draw a triangle on the map between these cities, you’ll be looking at one of the most densely populated parts of Europe. Within this triangle, you can travel between many popular cities in five countries by train in four hours or (sometimes much) less. Cities such as Cologne, Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Lille, and even Luxembourg are all within easy reach of one another.

Amsterdam by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Have you ever traveled through Europe by train? If so, do you have any suggestions or tips for people? If not, what do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Sam Wood

Sam is originally from London, living nomadically since 2010 teaching English as a foreign language, and is now based in Berlin. He's a wannabe minimalist and language geek, working and often traveling with his husband, Zab. On his blog, Indefinite Adventure, he chronicles their journey as two city boys looking for the best vegan food, street art, and most interesting things to do in any given destination.
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