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Ideas & Inspiration The Bigger Picture: Alternative Travel Planning Tips from a Railway Devotee
Travel planning tips for journeys by train

The Bigger Picture: Alternative Travel Planning Tips from a Railway Devotee

Finding inspiration for a rail adventure on travel search engines, rail maps, YouTube, the silver screen and more!

| Last Updated: 3 months ago

I created ShowMeTheJouney for three main reasons.
First, I wanted to share my lifelong passion for rail travel. I also want to show people how to take the train journeys that bring me joy. The third driver is to suggest to readers where they can go by train in Europe – and eventually beyond.
That’s why the site has an ‘Ideas & Inspiration’ section.

The intention is to showcase the more fabulous aspects of European rail travel, the scenic journeys, the hidden gems and the locations which lend themselves to easy exploration by train.
Naturally, that means also backing the suggestions up with practical info, such as how to obtain the optimum tickets, or whether using rail passes will be the way to go.
This article is intended to shine a light on alternative means of choosing, then previewing and then – if you’re so inclined – sharing your adventures with the internet.

Choose a destination

See the best of Wales by train

Since you’re here, you’ve probably exhausted other, more typical options like travel guides, blogs and other resources aimed at tourists. If you’re a seasoned traveller, or you plan to be, it’s likely that your priority is to travel without breaking the bank.
Tourists that travel by train often get railcards for the country they’re travelling in, cutting their fare costs.
Europe is the obvious one, with its interrail passes.
But some less obvious locations offer magical combinations of railways and landscapes where rail passes and rovers are available to make the going easier, too.
Wales echoes Switzerland with its multiple stations where rail travellers can make connections with smaller trains which ascend into the mountains.
Spirit of Scotland Passes provide cost effective access to hundreds of miles of dramatic landscapes.
Smaller regions famed for their natural beauty such as Cornwall and The Black Forest which are home to a plethora of scenic rail routes.

Take inspiration from travel-booking sites

Search tools are known as a means of saving money, too, but you may consider following some savvy travellers’ tips, which is to visit them to help decide where they’re going to go.
The homepage of Opodo, one such site, hosts a “Ready for your next adventure” section, where users can get a snapshot of destinations and choose from typical getaways like Malaga but also historic cities like Edinburgh - pictured at the top of the page.
Navigating via their links, you can pick somewhere new, read about the best travel solutions to get there, see whether there are packages to suit your budget, and even get an idea of whether each location fits your style of travel.

Go old school and pick from a map

France and Germany are just two of the countries featured on the Rail Map of Europe France and Germany are just two of the countries featured on the Rail Map of Europe

Other tech solutions inevitably play a role in selecting locations and planning journeys. It can be fun to locate a railway on Google Earth and follow it to see where it can take you, but there is also more traditional method of route-finding that those in the know have been using to plan rail travel for more than 150 years – the railway map.

The ‘Rail of Map of Europe’ marks scenic railways in green and, for those with a need for speed, the high speed lines in red. But with Europe spread out before you on a wall or a table, it takes only minutes to discover where you can go by train and the distance between locations. You can see at a glance where the railways follow the coast and how they snake through the mountains, marked as shady areas. Or you can plan a route which follows the ‘green lines’ despite those journeys being slower, because you are willing to swap speed for experiences which you can treasure for a lifetime.

Follow the coast by train

On the train from Rome and Naples to Sicily On the train from Rome and Naples to Sicily

On childhood holidays the first rush of excitement would usually be when the sea would come into view from the train window. From some European trains, you get more than just snatched glimpses of the coast. Google Earth and/or a map can help you find these longer coastal journeys. What won’t be surprising - as it’s an island - is that many of them are in Britain: the Cambrian Coast, the line to St Ives , along the east coast from north of Newcastle to Aberdeen, and more.

Europe’s longest coastal rail journey is the semi-circular adventure along the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, all the way from Tarragona in Span to the north coast of Sicily!
And the route passes through a plethora of wonderful locations in which to explore or wind down between journeys: Barcelona, Nîmes, Marseille, Antibes, Nice, Monte-Carlo, San Remo, Genoa, The Cinque Terre, Pisa, Rome and Naples.

In Europe, Italy is second to none for coastal rail journeys. These train driver videos give a taste of the experience:

Another route follows the shore of The Adriatic Sea, all the way from Rimini to north of Foggia. And a contender for Italy’s most spectacular rail ride is the route along the eastern coast of Sicily from Messina to Siracusa.

Be inspired by the ‘Golden Age of Rail Travel’

The wonderful views to the north of Taormina The wonderful views to the north of Taormina

If season two of the TV series The White Lotus inspired you to see its stunning setting of Taormina for yourself, taking the train is definitely the way to go! But more often, contemporary producers of film and TV dramas use scenes featuring trains and stations tend to suggest something ominous rather than showcasing the best of rail travel – even dramas set in the ‘Golden Age of Rail Travel’.

The likes Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock often exploited the fact that trains were locations where crime suspects could be naturally gathered together. Many viewers have no doubt wondered to themselves, ‘being part of a crime scene would be less than ideal, but doesn’t that bed look wonderful and wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a meal on a train like that?’ For those with deep pockets that notion can become a reality.
And everybody else can of course ride the route of the Orient Express on less glamorous trains.

Preview the journey before you go

On the train journey between Oslo and Bergen On the train journey between Oslo and Bergen

Mountains are usually obstacles to railways, yet many of the most beautiful areas of Europe can be explored by train. Switzerland’s mountain railways are justifiably iconic which is why ShowMeTheJourney has created multiple resources to make exploring them as easy as riding a metro or subway.
But if you’re still looking for a way to preview potential journeys, a number of train drivers are – perhaps surprisingly – very active on social media.
Understandably keen to show off the beauty they encounter as part of their daily work, they capture the rides they take and load them up to YouTube.

From Switzerland to Austria, if the stunning scenery viewed from express trains is your thing, then there’s plenty to get you hyped about a journey through central/Alpine Europe.

Heading north, beyond the suburbs of Oslo have been left behind, pretty much any rail journey in Norway is a delight. In fact, Oslo to Bergen is ShowMeTheJourney’s No.1 long-distance rail journey, and these videos from a Norwegian train driver capture why that’s the case.

Make train your main means of transport

Use beautiful Gent as a base for exploring Belgium by train Use beautiful Gent as a base for exploring Belgium by train

Those videos mentioned above give a sense of the beauty awaiting discovery, but they don’t showcase what the passenger will see once they get there. Rail is one of the best ways of accessing the top tourist destinations. In Europe, where clusters of scenic rail journeys can be experienced on a holiday, trains are how travellers pack in sightseeing trips.
After you have followed the inspiration tips above, remember to reuse some of them to plan your holiday activities because the particularly useful thing about these maps is that they show where the railways meet and cross each other.
And remember that can lead to better-value, off-the-beaten-track trips, too: a healthy attitude for making the most of a holiday by train is that where you can go in a day from your accommodation is more important than where you stay.
Following this logic may lead you to choose to spend a holiday in the likes of:
• Erfurt – for Dresden, The Harz Mountains and Bamberg
• Frankfurt – for the Rhine Gorge, Heidelberg and Marburg
• Gent - for Bruges, Antwerp and The Belgian Coast
• Glasgow – for the West Highland railway, the isles of Arran and Bute, and Loch Lomond
• Manchester – for The Lake District, Liverpool and The Peak District national park
• Olten – for Luzern, Interlaken and multiple Swiss mountain railways
• Reading – for Oxford, Windsor and London
• Rotterdam – for Antwerp, Amsterdam and windmills

Stations Can Be Memorable Locations

Take a ride on the line which was used in The Railway Children Take a ride on the line which was used in The Railway Children

Though you don’t have to have seen a rail journey on screen, or even have any desire to take a journey by train at all, for a railway setting on film to inspire a choice of a holiday location.

The most awe inspiring railway stations can be huge spaces in which spectacular action scenes can be staged. The epic battle in Avengers: Infinity War, filmed in Edinburgh Waverley station, has undoubtedly promoted many holidays to the Scottish capital.
The Railway Children itself - though a slower-paced film – is what fired up my childhood imagination and led to many of the railway journeys I have taken, more than one holiday, and indeed the website which has published this article.
A station where children go to escape everyday life, a model train, beautiful countryside and a steam railway; how could you not think train travel was a wonderful idea after experiencing its two hours of joy!


Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.


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