Steam Railways were once ubiquitous throughout Europe and the arrival of the railway was an integral moment in the Industrial Revolution. All at once, freight and passengers could travel the country with relative ease, where once journeys may have taken days by foot or horse. Now, in the 21st century, steam experiences are held in a nostalgic regard as a charming method of experiencing a bygone age. Here are ten of the best steam railway experiences Europe has to offer.
Traversing 21km over the beautiful expanse of Snowdonia National Park, the popular Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Line is a highlight of any visit to Wales. The railway runs from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog and passes through the valleys of the Welsh Highlands, coursing through undulating heathland and sparse wooded copses.
Running between Jenbach and Seespitz in the beautiful Tyrol region of Austria, is the popular Achenseebahn Railway. Traversing the edge of the emerald waters of Lake Achensee, the 4.2 mile track is the oldest cog railway still in operation in Europe. The little train has been carrying passengers through the Tyrolean foothills for nearly 120 years and very little on this quaint line has changed during that time.
One of the most famous steam lines in the world, the West Highland Line crosses the wonderful backdrops of rural Scotland between Glasgow and the port towns of Oban and Mallaig. The iconic Jacobite Steam Train runs along this route, crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was made famous by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.
A steam rack railway that climbs from the shoreline of Lake Brienz up to the summit of the Brienzer Rothorn Mountain, 7,362ft at its highest point. This Alpine railway first came into use in 1892, and is now most popular with those looking to explore the hiking routes running through the area, most notably in the verdant Brünig Pass.
An altogether endearing railway experience. Budapest's Children's Railway, as the name suggests, is operated by children from local schools (with adult supervision) as part of extracurricular educational system developed to teach local teenagers about the capital's rail network. The Budapest Railway is the longest of its kind in the world at 7 miles. The train passes through the suburbs of Budapest and out into the Hungarian countryside, coursing through rural farmland and traditional villages.
Adopting a steam engine for the journey around the deepest freshwater lake on Earth, this leg of the legendary Trans-Siberian Express is a truly awe-inspiring experience. So unique is the ecology of Russia's Lake Baikal, it even has its own freshwater seal population, only one of three in the world. Perhaps you will spot them basking in the sun as the train skirts the shoreline. Lake Baikal itself and the surrounding mountains are a wondrous sight, the emerald waters draped in a thin veil of rolling mist.
The Brocken Railway courses through the snow-capped peaks of Germany's Harz Mountain range. This Alpine National Park is best explored in the winter months, when a covering of snow and a refreshing breeze make for a truly magical experience. The Brocken joins the Harz Railway at 1778ft, and then skirts the Bode River before making the steady summit up the eponymous mountain, the highest in the region. Read more about the great train journeys of Germany.
Heralded as one of the prettiest lines in rural England, the volunteer-operated Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway runs from Cheltenham to Laverton Halt, with plans to extend the line further. The Line passes across the border between the neighbouring counties, winding its way through the picturesque, quaint villages such as Gretton Halt on route.
The sole survivor of the narrow gauge railways that once operated along the trenches of the World War I battlefields, the Froissy Dompierre, built in 1915, runs along the Somme Canal, scene of one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The small engines would cart troops and supplies back and forth from the frontlines on a daily basis from Péronne to Froissy. Now preserved as a museum and working memorial of those tragic days, the Froissy Light Railway is a poignant and touching journey through the rural French countryside, and part of the heritage railways of France.
Linking the island capital of Douglas with Port Erin is the narrow gauge Isle of Man Steam Railway. A 24.6km line through idyllic countryside and along the spectacular southern coastlines travelling in vintage carriages restored to their former glories so you can experience them as they would have been in the 19th and 20th centuries. The line is the perfect way to explore the compact and bustling Isle of Man.