TABLE 766: Kristinehamn – Mora – Östersund – Gällivare

(Part 4)

Gällivare is the northernmost stop on the Inlandsbanan line, one of the few towns of any significant size in the central part of Lapland, making it a natural place to break the journey before heading back down south or extending your travels further north or into Norway. The Laponiaentrén Gällivare is located on the second floor of the railway station building and contains an exhibition about the Laponia World Heritage Site. It contains about a fifth of the full exhibition which is housed in the Naturum Visitor Centre Laponia, a bus ride away. The lakes and forests in this area are beautiful and there are plenty of options for trips into the surrounding countryside or for a nice stroll along the marked Cultural Trail in the city where you can enjoy the great views. A popular activity in summer is to hike up Mount Dundret to one of Sweden’s most spectacular viewpoints, particularly for those wishing to experience the midnight sun.

From Gällivare there are several options to extend your travels. It’s possible to catch the sleeper train on the main east coast line to Stockholm (Table 767) or there are InterCity services on the Malmbanan (“Iron Ore Railway”, in Norway known as Ofotbanen) to Boden and Luleå on the coast or over the Norwegian border to Narvik (Table 765). Narvik is the northernmost point on the planet that can be reached by train on electrified standard gauge railways from the rest of Europe. From here there are bus connections further into Norway with more spectacular scenery to enjoy, such as the journey to the beautiful Lofoten Islands. Inlandsbanan also offer a combined ticket for the spectacular Hurtigruten ferry (Table 2240), one of the most beautiful sea voyages in the world through the Norwegian fjords down to Trondheim.

(Part 3)

We begin this week in Östersund which marks the end of the southern section of this route and where an overnight stay is necessary. Östersund is a pleasant and compact city with a proud food heritage. There are many upmarket restaurants and cafes together with a heritage museum within easy walking distance from the centre. The city sits next to Lake Storsjon, Sweden’s fifth largest lake where plenty of outdoor activities are on offer all year round. Every year the city becomes a winter sports village, with one of northern Europe’s best ski resorts offering daily prepared routes for ice skating and skiing.

We now begin travelling north through the forests of southern Lapland. The train makes regular stops at several small towns for meals or sight-seeing, where you can re-join after the short break or set off on your own explorations. Many of the towns hold markets and events throughout the summer or you could set off into the wilderness of Europe’s largest nature reserve, Vindelfjällen, either by bus or hiking the well-marked trails. In Sorsele you could visit the Inlandsbanan museum, located in the old goods shed in the station building, or you could take a trip on the tour boat Älvkungen, moored at its jetty in the centre throughout the summer.

Just before reaching Jokkmokk, we cross the Arctic Circle, where the train makes a stop for photographs. Jokkmokk is known for its traditional food culture, wilderness and beauty, where you can try reindeer meat and local produce from one of the world’s oldest markets as well as learning about Sámi culture. There are several exciting activities on offer here, such as horse riding in the midnight sun, helicopter rides or husky walks. However, if you decide not to spend time here, the train continues to the terminus of the line at Gällivare.

(Part 2)

The southern section of this route begins in Kristinehamn which is located on the shores of Lake Vänern in Värmland county. The railway station is located centrally and has regular connections to Stockholm, Göteborg and Oslo. Dotted with thousands of small islands, Lake Vänern is Europe’s largest freshwater archipelago, all of which can be explored by waterbus or chartered boat tours. There are plenty of attractions for tourists including pleasant shopping and cafes along the waterfront, historical walking trails and its most famous landmark, the Picasso sculpture. Situated on a peninsula seven kilometres from the town centre, the 15-metre tall sculpture is one of Picasso’s largest works of art.

We now travel north through the province of Dalarna, through wild and unspoilt landscapes stopping at some small Swedish towns and cities. The surrounding countryside has extensive forests, mountains, valleys and more than 360 lakes, with plenty of resorts offering outdoor activities throughout the summer season and ski facilities during the winter months. The GrängesBergsBanornas Järnvägsmuseum (railway museum) is also located nearby.

Around 3½ hours from Kristinehamn we reach Mora, located between the northern shore of lake Siljan and the southern shore of lake Orsasjön. Mora is the southern terminus of the Inlandsbanan and, as there are regular trains to the major Swedish cities all year round, you could choose to begin your journey here. Mora is most famous for hosting a cross-country ski race called the Vasaloppet, but it also has plenty of museums and beautiful gardens to explore. For the next section of the route, there is only one service available from Mora to Östersund which takes around 5½ hours including a meal break. Along this section of line the train runs through areas of untouched wilderness and bear forests. If you have time, it is worth stopping off at some of the towns along the line; Orsa is a good choice with its beautiful lakes, beaches, restaurants and interesting wildlife park.

To see more of the scenery take a look at this video of Inlandsbanan made by railcc
(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a challenging but very rewarding route through central Sweden. This 1363 kilometre route is one of Scandinavia’s great rail journeys, taking you through some very interesting towns and varied landscapes all the way to the Arctic Circle, but it does require some careful planning.

The Inlandsbanan is a privately run inland railway for tourist travel set up by the local communities to save it from closure and has now been in operation for 80 years. They offer a range of rail packages that include meals, photography stops and commentary by knowledgeable hosts. The full route from Kristinehamn (halfway between Stockholm and Gothenburg) to Gällivare (60 miles north of the Arctic Circle) can only be enjoyed during an eight to ten week summer season (usually from mid-June to mid-August). However, on the southern part from Mora to Östersund there are additional services aimed at the local population that run throughout the year. In the winter months, there are also night trains running from Malmö via Stockholm to Östersund and Röjan. The terminus stations Mora, Östersund and Gällivare can be reached by regular trains from Göteborg, Stockholm and other Swedish cities all year round (see Tables 758, 761 & 767).

The pace of the journey is slow and relaxed and is split into a northern and southern section with an overnight stop in the lakeside town of Östersund, but with a wealth of wildlife such as Reindeer and Moose and spectacular scenery to enjoy, this trip is certainly worth the effort. Regular tickets for part or all of the journey can be purchased from Inlandsbanan or if you plan to make several stops along the route the Inlandsbanan Card is the best choice as it is valid for 14 days unlimited travel between Mora, Östersund and Gällivare. Eurail and Interrail passes are also valid on this route with reservations not required.

TABLE 951: Salzberg – Innsbruck – Lindau

(Part 4/4)

For the final section of this very scenic route, we leave behind the Arlberg Railway and reach Feldkirch, a pleasant medieval city on the border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is nestled in a picturesque place where three valleys meet and includes a well preserved old town and the dominating edifice of the ancient Schattenburg Castle. It is also the best jumping-off point for exploring Liechtenstein which can be easily reached by bus. The buses are reasonably priced and transport you up into the hills for wonderful views to the sounds of cowbells, and onwards into Switzerland if you wish.

Next is Bregenz, the capital of the Vorarlberg region, which lies on the eastern shores of Lake Constance, the third-largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. From April to October, Vorarlberg Lines offer a number of sightseeing lake cruises, which can be especially beautiful at sunset. Just off shore is the city’s floating Lake Stage, home of the famous Bregenz Festival held each July and August. The festival is one of Europe’s most popular, featuring prominent operatic figures and major musicians and orchestras. The city itself lies at the base of the Pfänder Mountain. A six minute ride on a panoramic gondola takes you to the summit from where you enjoy fantastic views of the Swiss Alps, Lake Constance, and surrounding mountains. On a clear day, some 240 mountain peaks can be visible.

The final stop on this route is Lindau. This historic town is actually an island on the eastern side of Lake Constance and connected to the mainland by a road-traffic bridge and a railway dam leading to Lindau Hauptbahnhof. Full of medieval and half-timbered buildings it’s a popular tourist attraction, especially during summer. Boat tours are available from the pretty harbour, home to a famous lighthouse which is well worth a visit, or you can just sit and admire the view of Austria and Switzerland and the Alps across the lake. Lindau also provides you with a connection to another scenic railway, the Bavarian Allgäu railway (Table 935) which runs through southern Germany to Munich.

(Part 3)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top ten of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Tyrolean Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

Following on from Jenbach the route now heads to the stunning city of Innsbruck and the start of the Arlberg Railway. Innsbruck Hbf is one of the busiest stations in Austria with around 450 trains passing through the station daily. As soon as you step onto the platform you are met with views of the mountains on one side and the Bergisel Olympic ski jump on the other. The delightful old town (Altstadt) offers access to the main tourist attractions, including the famous Golden Roof, a balcony which gets its name from the 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles that adorn its roof. Nearby is the elaborate Gothic Imperial Palace and Imperial Gardens with its giant chess boards and diverse plants and trees. Reaching the mountains is easy, with a ride on the spectacular modernist Hungerburgbahn funicular from the city centre followed by a series of cable cars to whisk you to the summit of the Nordkette range for one of Europe’s most impressive vistas.

The 157 kilometres from Innsbruck to Feldkirch are the most spectacular of the entire route. The line climbs to over 1,200 metres above sea level (one of the highest lines in Europe) following the course of the Inn River to the busy hub of Landeck where we then enter the mountain section of the Arlberg Railway. In this section trains pass through 14 tunnels and 20 galleries that serve as protection from falling rocks and avalanches. One of the most iconic moments is crossing the iron arch of the Trisanna Bridge, just outside Landeck. Raised 87 metres over the river valley, the bridge is overlooked by Schloss Wiesberg, a 13th-century castle set on a woodland cliff. Between the major ski resorts of St. Anton and Langen a popular playground for Europe’s Royal families, is the 10,249 metre long Arlberg tunnel, where we leave the Tyrol and enter Vorarlberg. If skiing is not your thing, or you are visiting in the Summer, this area offers plenty of spectacular walking routes, boating, bathing lakes and other sporting options.

(Part 2)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top ten of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Tyrolean Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

Leaving Salzburg, we travel 120 kilometres through pretty Bavarian countryside directly to the border town of Kufstein. As there are no stops within Germany there is no requirement for border controls. Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrol”, the medieval town of Kufstein is situated between the Brandenburg Alps and the Kaiser Mountains. Its greatest landmark is the Kufstein Fortress situated high above the city and is reached via the Festungsbahn funicular railway. The fortress now houses a museum and is worth a visit for the stunning view over the town and nearby mountains.

The next stop is Wörgl Hbf, an important railway junction where the line from Salzburg via Zell am See meets the main Munich to Innsbruck route. More than 12,000 travellers pass through this station daily, nearly as many people as live in Wörgl itself! The area is a popular alpine ski region and also home to a huge water park and spa. There is also a vast network of hiking trails where you can explore the spectacular Tyrol mountains

Next is Jenbach, the starting point for two narrow gauge railways. This makes an unusual station as there are tracks with three different gauges: the standard gauge railway line of the ÖBB, the 1,000 mm gauge Achenseebahn (Europe’s oldest steam cog railway) which transports tourists along seven kilometres to Lake Achensee (Table 956) and the 760 mm narrow gauge Zillertalbahn (Table 955). At Lake Achensee timetables are co-ordinated so that passengers can transfer to the steam boat ferry to continue their scenic exploration of the area.

(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top 10 of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Bavarian Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

There are two rail routes between Salzburg and Innsbruck, the other route, shown in Table 960, remains entirely in Austrian territory but is slower and trains are less frequent. With both routes offering some wonderful scenery travellers are spoilt for choice and could perhaps chose the alternative route for a return journey.

Salzburg Hbf our starting point is a 20 minute walk from the city centre. This major rail hub has a wealth of domestic and international connections including to Wien (Table 950) and Munchen (Table 890). Because it lies on the border with Germany, the station is administered jointly by Austrian Railways (ÖBB) and German Rail (DB). Seat reservations are optional on most trains but cheaper tickets can be purchased by pre-booking.

Salzburg is a tourist favourite, famous as the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music the number of tourists can outnumber locals by a large margin in peak times. The city is also internationally renowned for its baroque architecture with the historic centre being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The must see Hohensalzburg Fortress towers over the town and is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Reach it via the Festungsbahn, Austria’s oldest funicular railway. At the top visitors get fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountains.

TABLES 330 and 333: Paris – Nîmes

(Part 5/5)

For the final week of our look at Tables 330 and 333 from Paris to Nîmes, we are looking at the options for day trips from Nîmes by train.

Travelling south-west, the stylish metropolis of Montpellier can be reached in around 25 minutes (Table 355). The city boasts many elegant buildings, artistically decorated tramways, grand mansions (hôtels particuliers) and gorgeous white sandy beaches so there is plenty to occupy the day-tripper. Further along the line is the large fishing port of Sète. Known as the Venice of Languedoc, it is criss-crossed by canals and bridges. Boat trips along the coast are available from the harbour and there are some wonderful seafood restaurants to indulge in. The larger towns of Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan are also possibilities along the same line with frequent services available from Nîmes, starting from as early as 5.06am for early risers!

Travelling east from Nîmes you could visit the ancient walled city of Avignon. Home to some great museums and beautiful architecture and its most famous landmark, the huge Palais des Papes (Papal Palace). It is also a short hop to Marseille (Tables 351 and 355), France’s busiest port, known for its harbour, sunny climate and beautiful coastline. The city often gets some bad press, but its historic old town and port area are full of treasures if you are prepared to overlook its more unattractive industrial features. The famous Notre Dame de la Garde, which overlooks the city from the top of the hill, is not to be missed.

For a less touristy destination, the walled medieval city of Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue region can be reached in under an hour using frequent regional TER trains (see SNCF for timings).  Fortified into a Mediterranean port in the 12th century, Aigues-Mortes’ massive walls have been wonderfully preserved. With a ticket to the ramparts you can walk around the entire town in around 45 minutes and get some great views of the surrounding red salt marsh lagoons and the mountains of salt produced here.

(Part 4)

Nîmes is one of the most attractive cities in France and is just the right size for exploring on foot. Established by the Romans, and often referred to as the ‘French Rome’ it retains some of the finest Roman remains in the Mediterranean, including its famous amphitheatre, one of the best-preserved in the world. Other Roman sites include the Maison Carrée (Square House), a small, wonderfully preserved Roman temple and the nearby Pont du Gard (approximately 20 kilometres north-east of the city), a very picturesque aqueduct built during the first century AD to supply water to the city.

Apart from its Roman remains, the city has an attractive old town to explore with quaint markets, a wealth of museums and beautiful gardens such as the Jardins de la Fontaine, one of the oldest city parks in France which contains further Roman remains.

Nîmes is also an ideal base for exploring further afield using regional rail connections, such as the Cevennes national park to the north or the renowned wetlands of the Camargue to the south. Its main railway station offers easy connections to the nearby cities of Montpellier, Avignon and Marseille from where you can connect to other scenic rail lines along the coast to the Cote d’Azur or north into Provence.

(Part 3)

We now travel through the beautiful Auvergne region and the most scenic part of the route, through the Gorges de l’Allier.

Firstly the train pootles through the Romanesque towns of Issoire, Brioude and St Georges d’Aurac before we reach Langeac. Here you can choose to leave the modern SNCF train and board the older and slower Cévennes tourist train which runs on selected days throughout the summer months between the towns of Langogne and Langeac. The train follows the famous “Cevenol” railway track, that was originally built to directly link Paris to Marseille. Following the meanders of the river, hugging the rock face, the train offers some unbeatable views of the gorges carved out from the rock as it passes through the many tunnels and crosses several amazing bridges. The tourist train includes a running commentary and takes just over 2 hours 20 mins, compared to the SNCF train which covers the same distance in about 1 hour 40 minutes, so there is plenty of time to appreciate the scenery and take ample photographs. For tickets and timings see their website

Travelling south, the line crosses some of the most impressive viaducts on French railways, such as the edifice at Chapeauroux, the near-semicircle of Chamborigaud Viaduct and Villefort, the highest stone viaduct in France. Along this spectacular stretch long sections of track are built on a masonry ledges high above the River Allier with glorious views along the valley. The highest point of the journey is at La Bastide, where the line crosses the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, from here the line drops down, passing mostly through tunnels towards our final stop, Nîmes.

(Part 2)

The next stop on this route is the town of Vichy in the Auvergne region, most famous for its historic spa facilities. The pedestrianised town centre offers no shortage of heritage and architectural attractions to attract passing tourists, plus a choice of pretty parks and gardens, covered walkways and attractive shopping streets. Architectural sights of interest include the art-nouveau Opera house, the casino and the Hall des Sources where you can sample the naturally fizzy healing waters.

After a brief stop at Riom – Châtel-Guyon, we continue to Clermont Ferrand where a change of train is necessary. The capital of the Auvergne region has exceptional surroundings, between the Puys Mountain Range and its chain of volcanoes, it is the starting point for several scenic rail journeys. The city is overlooked by the imposing, dormant Puy de Dôme. Visitors can ascend the mountain via a rack railway, at the top there is a restaurant, paragliding, hiking and lovely views along the Parc des Volcans.

The city was originally two towns, Clermont and Montferrand, and still retains two distinct historic centres: Clermont contains the key historic sights and Montferrand is one of the best historically preserved towns in France. Take in the religious architecture and buildings built from elegant grey lava stone, such as the city’s most imposing landmark, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption with its black spires visible from almost every part of the town. The global tyre company Michelin established their corporate headquarters here more than 100 years ago in the city. The history of the company is displayed in the modern Aventure Michelin museum, one of several interesting museums in the city.

From here we follow “La Ligne des Cévennes” to Nimes but there are other scenic long distance options across the Massif Central. “La Ligne des Causses” which is frequently plagued by rumours of closure, follows a 394 kilometer route across the top of the mountain plateaux through Neussargues to Béziers (Table 332) and there is more beautiful scenery on the Arvant – Aurillac – Figeac line (Tables 331/317)

(Part 1)

It’s a new month and a new area of the timetable to focus on. This time we are looking at one of our editorial favourites from the list of many scenic rail routes that we list in the timetable (see page 42 of the timetable). We have chosen a route in Central France, starting at the capital city Paris, travelling to the beautiful Clermont Ferrand (Table 330) then onwards through one of Europe’s finest stretches of railway, to the vibrant city of Nimes (Table 333)

The journey begins in the heart of Paris at the unattractive Gare de Paris-Bercy, a relief station for the nearby Gare de Lyon. Unusually, the station features an area for loading cars and scooters onto trains used for overnight long distance services for passengers wishing to travel with their vehicle to destinations such as Avignon, Marseille, Nice, St Raphaël and Toulon. It is possible to complete the 723 km journey to Nimes on this route in around 9 hours, but with an abundance of fine scenery including mountains, gorges and rivers we recommend breaking your journey at some of the interesting towns along the way.

The two hour journey to the first stop, Nevers follows one of the more interesting routes radiating out of Paris and one that has only been electrified since the mid-1990s. The line weaves its way through forests, hugging the river and affording some lovely views over the famous vineyards of the Loire Valley. The picturesque town of Nevers on a hill on the bank of the river Loire has a varied and interesting history and is renowned for its high quality porcelain which can be purchased in many shops around the town. There are several interesting buildings to explore in the town centre, of which the 15th-century Ducal Palace (now occupied by the courts of justice and an important ceramic museum) and the Cathedral of Saint-Cyr and Sainte-Julitte are the most important. Nevers is also internationally renowned as the burial place of Saint Bernadette and thousands of pilgrims come each year to meditate before her body which is displayed at the Chapel of her name. The train then continues on through the pretty Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region stopping at the smaller towns of Moulins sur Allier and Saint-Germain-des-Fossés.

TABLE 18: London/Paris – Amsterdam

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After Antwerp the line travels through the southern Netherlands, stopping at Breda, a popular destination due to its rich history. In the city centre you’ll find lots of interesting architecture and cultural delights but Breda is also a fun-loving town with many cafés, terraces and excellent restaurants as well as a range of specialty shops and boutiques.

The next stop is the modern Centraal station with its striking slanted roof, in the maritime city of Rotterdam. The Netherlands second biggest city is famed for its futuristic architecture and has a wealth of top-class museums and galleries. Split by the vast Nieuwe Maas shipping channel, Rotterdam is crossed by a series of tunnels and bridges, notably the dramatic Erasmusbrug – the swooping white cable-stayed bridge dubbed de Zwaan (the Swan). Many day trips are possible from Rotterdam either using the frequent trains and buses or by following one of the well-marked cycle routes. Historic and scenic Delft is nearby, home of the world famous ceramics, its an unspoilt traditional town with pretty canals. Bicycles can be hired from the railway station and are the ideal way to explore.

Onwards through the largely urban landscape the next stop is the administrative capital Den Haag (The Hague) home of the Dutch parliament and the royal family. The Hague offers a unique mix of small lively beach resorts and a historical city centre. Many of the attractions such as the royal palaces and eye catching buildings around ‘The Plein’ are within walking distance of the station. Rather than having canals like other Dutch cities, The Hague has wide streets and avenues and plenty of areas of green space, giving the city a more continental feel.

After a stop at Schiphol airport the final destination on this route is reached, the vibrant capital city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam Centraal Station is the primary station, providing quick access to the city centre. This terminus not only offers train services in all directions but is also directly connected to local bus, tram, metro and ferry services. The city centre is very easy to navigate and compact enough to be walkable or canal cruises are a popular way to get a different perspective. If you’re planning to head out into the Amsterdam Area during your trip to Amsterdam, it makes sense to use the Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket – a special public transport pass valid on bus, tram, metro and train in Amsterdam and the entire region. The ticket is valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and comes with a useful public transport guide for the Amsterdam area filled with sightseeing tips.

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Following on from Brussels the next station is Mechelen which lies approximately 25 kilometres between Brussels and Antwerp. This picturesque city is one of Flanders’ prominent cities of historical art and has some wonderful museums and hundreds of listed monuments, churches and renaissance buildings. The imposing Catholic church in the centre of the town is visible from nearly everywhere so is a great compass point from which to explore. Its unusually shaped Rumbold’s Tower is a wonder to behold and a spectacular view can be reached by climbing its 514 steps. Also not to miss is the newly renovated majestic renaissance palace that houses the Museum Hof van Busleyden with its impressive collection of artworks.

Onwards now to Antwerpen Centraal, widely regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. There are three levels of tracks and a shopping centre which includes a diamond gallery with more than thirty diamond shops. The station is conveniently located within walking distance to the historic city centre where there is plenty to see for lovers of art, architecture or fashion. Belgium’s second biggest city has two museums showcasing the best of avant-garde fashion as well as plenty of shopping in the surrounding fashion district. The city also displays plenty of references to its most famous resident, the 17th century painter Rubens. The artist’s palatial home Wapper Rubenshuis is a must see, together with the Royal Museum of Fine Art, displaying works from masters such as Magritte and Van Dyck. To experience renaissance works in a spectacular environment visit the iconic cathedral which towers over the skyline. The city has plenty of options for eating and drinking with trendy restaurants and bars where you may sample the local speciality Antwerpse Handjes, little biscuits or chocolates in the shape of a hand.

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We are going to begin in Brussels, easily and quickly reached from either capital city. Brussels has enough art, culture and cuisine to keep even the most ambitious explorer busy for days. Combining French, Dutch and Flemish traditions the city has a mixture of old world grand and art nouveau buildings alongside modern skyscrapers.

The Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) is the hub to which all visitors to Brussels inevitably flock. The busy World Heritage listed square is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world, with architecture from all eras. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but there are many interesting buildings and elaborate statues. A short walk away you will find Brussels most famous statue, the Manneken Pis (Peeing boy!) embraced by the people of Brussels the statue often has a different outfit for every occasion.  Another statue worth a visit is the space-age Atomium. Towering over north Brussels’ suburbia the 9 glittering spheres are topped with a panorama-level restaurant with some great views of the surrounding area and ‘mini Europe’ below where you can see models of famous sites such as Big Ben and the Berlin Wall.

Apart from its famous chocolates and beers, there are almost 90 museums, extravagant shopping arcades, stunning churches, beautiful parks, and wonderful cafes and restaurants to explore. Most of the museums are within the city centre or easily reached by public transport. Apart from the usual arts and scientific museums, there are quirky ones like theToy Museum, Belgium Chocolate Village and also Train World, a modern attraction displaying an impressive collection of old and new locomotives. Due to its excellent rail links there are many day trips possible if using Brussels as your base. Liège or Bruges (Table 400) can both be reached in under an hour and a little further afield you can reach Lille on the French/Belgium border.

(Part 1)

We have a new Table for July, this time we will be taking a look in detail at Table 18 from our International section. This table covers the popular route from London/Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels.

There is a now a choice of three train connections between Brussels and Amsterdam – The fast Thalys and new Eurostar connections or the slower (and cheaper) InterCity service that runs every hour during the day time. Thalys operate high speed trains running every one or two hours and make intermediate stops only at Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam and Antwerpen, making the journey in under 2 hours. The slower IC service goes via Den Haag and other local stops and does not allow seat reservation, which means greater flexibility (tickets are valid all day so you can hop on and off at will) but trains can be full during peak periods. Tickets for Eurostar and Thalys must be pre-booked and offer different classes of travel. Thalys offer Standard, Comfort or Premium class, with Premium tickets including food and drink as well as access to Thalys lounges. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass, you won’t need to buy a ticket but you will pay a seat reservation fee.

The slower IC route takes us through the cities of Antwerp, Den Haag and Rotterdam as well as serving both Schiphol Airport and Brussels National Airport. An extra stop at Breda was added in April 2018. Using the slower service, the entire journey can be taken in just 3 and half hours meaning it can make an interesting day trip particularly if you stop off along the way.

The Brussels Capital-Region has three main train stations, Noord/Nord is best for connections to Liège or Luxembourg, Centraal/Central for the city centre and the busiest station where the majority of international trains and Eurostar services arrive is Midi/Zuid (Brussels South Station) where there are numerous connections to Gent and Brugge as well as Lille, Paris and London. Due to Brussels-Capital being bilingual, both the French and Dutch names of the station are official, hence the Midi/Zuid shorthand used in the ERT.

TABLE 1200: Budapest – Zagreb

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We now reach the final leg of the journey. Departing from Keszthely we first pass through the border town of Nagykanizsa. For centuries the town has been an important trade and transport link between Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and the Adriatic and Italian harbours. There is a pretty town square in the recently renovated city centre and a thermal baths with indoor and outdoor pools to relax in.

Next, we cross over the border towards the capital of Croatia, you can expect to have your travel documents checked which can take a while if the train is busy. The train arrives in the glorious Glavni Kolodvor station of Zagreb, a beautiful neoclassical building which was once used as a stop for the Orient Express service. The station offers plenty of international trains for extending your holiday, with daily departures for Belgrade, Frankfurt, Ljubljana, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Zürich as well direct services to Croatia’s beautiful coastal cities.

The city’s oldest and most beautiful quarter is the upper town which can be reached via the very short and steep funicular railway. At just 66 metres it’s the shortest in the world and affords some lovely views of the lower town. If you can, time your arrival for midday when the cannon from Lotrscak Tower is fired. The busy Ban Jelacic Square is the central square of the city and from where most of Zagreb’s key sights such as the cathedral can easily be reached on foot or you can hop on the blue trams which will transport you to the more distant parts of the city. The city has around 30 museums to choose from, including the quirky ‘museum of broken relationships’ and some delightful parks, or you could just relax in one of the many cafes and restaurants to sample the local specialities of štrukli (a rolled dough with various fillings) and sip on one of the many varieties of Rakija.

(Part 4)

This month we have been looking at Table 1200 Budapest – Zagreb. Continuing along the southern shore of Lake Balaton from Balatonfenyves, the next stop along our route is the town of Fonyód, famous for its bottled mineral water. The town’s railway station is one of the most beautiful and best preserved along the lake. Fonyód commemorates Hungarian history with a medieval drama festival in early August.

The next stop is Balatonfenyves which has one of the last remaining narrow gauge railways in Hungary, transporting tourists to and from Somogyszentpál over a distance of 13 km. It is a pretty trip through a nature reserve along marshy land which was originally part of the lake.

The next stop is Keszthely which is the most westerly and oldest of the towns along the lake. Central Keszthely is the site of the stunning Festetics Palace, built by the wealthy Festetics family in 1745 who also built the first agricultural college in Europe here in 1797. The white 101 roomed mansion is now a museum and conference centre with exhibits on the formation and history of Lake Balaton as well as rare paintings from the area. Its pride and joy is its library with over 100,000 volumes including some very rare books. During summer concerts are held weekly in the pretty grounds of the castle. The town itself is compact and easily explored on foot or via the small tourist train which circulates the town. Another popular attraction is the model railway museum, housed in a former military building, it has a 40 metre layout including reproductions of the railway stations around Lake Balaton.

(Part 3)

Continuing our exploration along Table 1200 Budapest – Zagreb, we now arrive in the first of several towns along the southern shores of Lake Balaton. For the best views of the lake make sure to sit on the right side of the train.

The lake itself is 48 miles long and around 8 miles wide and is a major holiday resort in landlocked Hungary. The water is warm in summer and becomes Europe’s biggest ice rink in winter. The lake is surrounded by rolling hills with rich soil which produce some great wines.

Balaton’s southern shore is almost entirely built up with a continuous chain of resort towns, the lake is shallower on the southern side which makes these shores popular with families. The largest and most popular destination is Siófok, which is the first stop on our route. The Water Tower, which stands in the centre of the town, is the most well-known symbol of Siófok and the café at the top offers some nice views of the area. Boats leave from the harbour frequently so you can easily hop on a boat for a day trip to the lovely towns on the northern shore.

The next few stations are all resort towns along the lake. First is Zamardi, which has been the site of Balaton Sound, an electronic music festival since 2007. Next is Balatonföldvár, one of the prettier towns. It’s popular because of its natural beauty, impressive promenade and flowery parks. The views of the north shore from here are breath-taking, you can see the flat, table-like mountain of Badacsony, a famous wine producing area and the hills covered with the purple haze of flowering lavender fields during the summer season.

The next 3 stops have almost merged together into one resort. The towns of Balatonszemes, Balatonelle and Balatonboglár all provide the usual mix of tourist accommodation and entertainments. The towns are trying to undergo some renovations with many of the ugly dull buildings being repainted, but a lot of work is left to be done.

(Part 2)

Budapest is the amalgamation of two historic cities lying opposite each other on the river Danube (Buda on the western bank and Pest on the eastern). With its interesting mix of heritage and architecture it is one of Europe’s most delightful and enjoyable capitals to visit. The central area of the city is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has many notable monuments, including the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gresham Palace, Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Liberty Statue. The urban area is well covered by metro lines which are an excellent way to get around, the Millennium Underground Railway is actually one of the oldest electrified underground railways system in the world, opening just a few years after the London Underground. For the best views of the city take the Budavari Siklo (Buda Castle Funicular) to the top of castle hill, this historic cable car has been in service since 1870 and runs every 10 minutes, saving the legs of many passengers. Rail enthusiasts may also enjoy the Hungarian Railway History Park which has a fleet of steam and electric engines as well as other interesting exhibits

The early morning train to Zagreb is called the Agram, leaving Budapest Deli it passes through Kelenfold on the outskirts of the city then onto the former royal seat of Székesfehérvár. Today the city is an important rail and road junction between Lake Balaton and Lake Velence but this historic city has had a turbulent past, at one time it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary and several Kings were crowned and buried here. There are good walking tours of the city where you can see the remains of the coronation basilica and medieval castle walls or the baroque architecture of the city centre. A site worth exploring is Bory Castle, built as a piece of art by a sculptor and architect following his own imagination and plans. It has seven towers, thirty rooms in different sizes including three studios, and there are statues, paintings, antiquities and works of art all over the quirky castle.

(Part 1)

For June we will be focusing on Table 1220 from our timetable which covers an interesting and very scenic route between two capital cities in central Europe.

The route starts at Budapest in Hungary and travels 352km to Zagreb in Croatia. The entire journey could be completed in around 6 and a half hours on one of the two daily direct trains which leave from Budapest Deli (Southern railway station) and Budapest Keleti (Eastern railway station).  However, there are lots of interesting places to stop and explore along this route so we recommend breaking up the journey with a few stops.

It’s relatively easy to travel from Hungary to Croatia, especially if you’re travelling to or from Budapest which is a great starting point for many rail journeys with connections all over central and eastern Europe. One of the most popular options is the overnight train from Budapest to Split via Zagreb (Table 89) but this train only runs between June and August.

Apart from the very interesting cities and towns along this route there is some wonderful scenery. Of particular interest is Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in central Europe and one of the region’s foremost tourist destinations. This route passes through several pretty lakeside towns and resorts including Siofok and Fonyod on the southern shore and Keszthely on the western shore with its grand town houses and shallow beaches. Then onto the Roman city of Nagykanizsa, a connecting point for several routes due to its location between the western corner of the Lake Balaton and the Croatian and Slovenian border.

TABLE 672: Barcelona – Valencia

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On this final section of our route we leave Valencia passing through its other station Joaquin Sorolla, named after the Spanish landscape painter. Our first stop is the handsome town of Xativa where you are immediately met with views of the magnificent medieval castle. The station is just 10 minutes from the historic centre which has a wealth of gothic buildings and churches, museums and several ancient fountains dotted around. There are two 20-minute tourist train tours a day through the old quarter that include an ascent to the castle which has impressive views over the city.

Next is the popular holiday city of Alicante. This lively, easy-going city attracts lots of tourists eager to walk its pretty marble tiled waterfront promenade. The city has plenty of attractions for visitors including its hilltop castle, interesting old quarter, and Mercado Central, the main market hall which is a feast for the senses. There is also the usual mix of sandy beaches, good restaurants and interesting shopping streets and plazas to explore. There are also daily boat trips to the nearby island of Tabarca which gives great views of the coastline

The railway line now veers slightly inland to Murcia where passengers can either continue west onto Lorca or head back towards the coast to the historical naval port of Cartagena. Catagena’s layers of Roman and Carthaginian history mixed with modernist architecture make it a fascinating city. Most places of interest are contained in an area enclosed by the city walls – long stretches of which are still intact. There have been several new attractions opened in the city in recent years, bringing in tourists to view its varied historical treats, such as the recently restored Roman theatre and Museum of Underwater Archaeology. There is also an elevator to the castle, the highest point in the city.

(Part 3)

Travelling south from Tarragona the first stop is the huge theme park and resort of Port Aventura. If rollercoasters are not your thing then it’s a short hop to the next station, Salou.  A popular resort with families and young Brits, Salou also has some fine, tree lined streets, lovely beaches and parks. The line continues through the popular seaside destination of Vinaròs which has a beautiful promenade, a working port and some much quieter beaches. The town is particularly well regarded for its prawns, so there are a great number of fine seafood restaurants here, they even hold a festival dedicated to their seafood in August.

The next stop is Benicassim, a lovely seaside town with some spectacular mountain scenery. The town is most famous as the venue for Spain’s top music festival which takes place annually in July when the population of the town can swell by up to 50,000. Along the town’s historical La Ruta de las Villas are 51 wonderful 19th century villas built for wealthy families by important architects of the time. Nearly all are now privately owned but they can be admired from the outside and tours can be arranged which explain their history.

Continuing, we arrive in the fine modernist masterpiece that is Valencia Nord station, the first of two main railway stations in the city. Valencia combines an amazing old quarter, with its spectacular medieval castles and towers, with the stunning modern part of the city with a string of striking futuristic buildings, combine this with great shopping, great food (it is the home of Paella) and clean beaches, and you have a destination where you could easily spend a few days exploring. One of the city’s more controversial claims to fame is that it has what is claimed to be the Holy Grail in its cathedral. It is also worth a climb to the top of the Miguelete bell tower to admire great views of the city.

(Part 2)

Barcelona has direct railway links with a number of important cities, including Paris and Madrid as well as southern and eastern Spain. The city has excellent rail, bus and metro links ensuring that visitors can get around all of the main tourist sites and further afield without any difficulty. Our route begins at Barcelona Sants, the city’s main transport hub with most high-speed services and airport trains terminating here. Sants has eclipsed the much older França Station in terms of visitor numbers, however, França is worth a visit in its own right as it is agreed to be the city’s most attractive station. Its buildings are a mix of classical and modern design with marble floors and Art Deco decoration.

As Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and with its irresistible combination of history, excellent food, nightlife and Mediterranean beaches there is something to suit all tastes. As you would expect it is packed with outdoor markets, restaurants, shops, museums, and churches and it is a fantastic city to walk around. The city will be extremely busy this weekend (11th – 13th May) as it plays host to a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Last year over 47,000 people used the regional train service over the three day period. The most famous landmark and must-see attraction in Barcelona is La Sagrada Familia, the incomplete church and world heritage site designed by Antoni Gaudi but there are plenty more amazing buildings and streets to discover away from the queues of tourists!

The next major stop south along this line is the port city of Tarragona. The biggest lure in this medieval city is its wealth of Roman ruins which include a mosaic-packed museum, Colosseum and a seaside amphitheatre. All of Tarragona’s sites are within walking distance of the railway station; a stroll through the old town near the cathedral is definitely worthwhile or take a panoramic tour through the streets in the city’s tourist train.

(Part 1)

For May we are going to be looking at Table 672 in Spain which connects the vibrant cities of Barcelona and Valencia along the Mediterranean coast and onwards to the popular holiday resort of Alicante.

This Table covers a total of 679km starting in Catalonia from Barcelona Franca through to terminus stations in either the major naval town of Cartagena or Lorca in the region of Mercia in south-eastern Spain with some wonderful coastal vistas to enjoy en-route. The stops along this route offer travellers a wealth of history to explore, with many fine examples of Roman architecture, ancient walled towns and stunning cathedrals. There are also opportunities to extend your journey with possible connections to some of Spain’s AVE high speed lines which can transfer you onto Madrid and Seville, or options for ferry crossings to the nearby Balearic islands from Barcelona and Valencia (shown in Table 2510).

Journey times and ticket prices can vary enormously on this route as there are several options for train types and carriers as can be seen from the size of table 672. Tickets can also be purchased in different classes, Turista which is second class, Turista Plus, a premium second class option which has a more spacious carriage layout or Preferente which gives access to the Sala Club lounges at the major stations and also offer reclining leather seats and a hot meal. All of the services are reliable and comfortable and frequent throughout the day (between 8-12 a day) but travellers will need to bear in mind that whether you choose the high speed operators or the regional trains, most will require advance seat reservations as carriages can sell out during peak times.

TABLE 218: Glasgow – Fort William

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Our final leg of this journey begins in Fort William where, between April and October, you can hop aboard the famous Jacobite steam engine to carry you on the remaining 41-miles to the end of the line at Mallaig which many regard as the most beautiful part of the entire route.

After leaving Fort William we pass Loch Eli where there are some wonderful views back towards Ben Nevis. Next, at Banavie, the train passes over the Caledonian Canal. Look out for Neptune’s Staircase, an amazingly engineered staircase of 8 locks built by Thomas Telford. Just before the train reaches Glenfinnan station, it crosses the now world famous Glenfinnan viaduct which has been featured in the Harry Potter films. The best views of the train passing over its 21 arches are from the left-hand side as the track curves around. You can also catch sight of the Glenfinnan Monument, a statue of an anonymous highlander erected in commemoration of Bonnie Prince Charlie raising his standard here in 1745. At the station itself, there is a wonderful museum located in the station building as well as a dining car and railway shop.

The next stop is Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, in the tiny village of Arisaig. Here there are views of the small Isles of Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Canna. Then it’s on to the final destination, the busy fishing port of Mallaig. The population of this village swells considerably with the arrival of tourists on the railway but there are plenty of options for visitors requiring refreshments or accommodation as well as a heritage museum and visitor centre on the pier.  Mallaig is also a ferry terminal where you can extend your journey into the Isle of Skye or other nearby small islands.

(Part 3)

This time we travel on the northbound branch out of Crianlarich station towards Fort William. After passing through Upper Tyndrum the track enters a section known as the ‘Horseshoe Curve’ which was constructed when the railway builders didn’t have enough money to build a viaduct across the valley. The line enters, circles and leaves the glen around the base of Beinn Dorain.

The next stop is Bridge of Orchy, a tiny village which sits directly on the West Highland Way with some wonderful (but very steep) paths starting beside the railway station itself. Then the landscape empties into the broad wilds of Rannoch Moor, one of Europe’s largest expanses of wilderness. The moor is predominantly a peat bog so when the West Highland Line was built the tracks had to be floated on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth to prevent the heavy steel tracks sinking! Relish looking out of the train window on this part of the journey where you will see nothing but mountains and moorland for miles around. Rannoch station is very pretty and has a tearoom and visitor centre and is at least accessible by road, unlike the next stop, Corrour, which is both the most remote and highest mainline station on the UK network. The nearest road is a 10 mile walk away so unsurprisingly the station is unstaffed, but there is a cafe next door and the former signal box has been converted into a three bedroom holiday let!

Finally, we reach the official end of the West Highland Line at Fort William which sits at the bottom of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. The town has a lovely West Highland museum and being the ‘Outdoor capital of Scotland’ it offers a wide range of outdoor activities and experiences

(Part 2)

Having reached Crianlarich where the line splits, we travel westwards on the remaining section of the former Callander and Oban Railway. The first stop is Tyndrum Lower, this tiny village is the smallest settlement in the UK with more than one railway station, (it’s other being Upper Tyndrum on the Fort William line). Next, we travel through Glen Lochy and onwards past the edge of Loch Awe where you can see the ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the north-eastern end of the Loch. With its stunning mountain backdrop, this is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. The castle is open to the public in the summer months with pedestrian access under the railway viaduct if the water isn’t too high!

The next station is Falls of Cruachan which is a request stop at the foot of Ben Cruachan mainly used by hikers in the warmer months as well as visitors to the nearby hydro-electric power station. Trains then continue through the Pass of Brander to reach Taynuilt on the shores of Loch Etive. If your timing is right you may be able to witness the frothing rapids at the Falls of Lora which form for a few days around the spring tides.

The final part of the journey takes us to the ‘Gateway to the Isles’ Oban with its busy ferry terminal offering links to several Hebridean islands such as Mull and Barra. The modern station is a great starting point for exploring the town which in recent years has also become known as the ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’ for its remarkable number of award-winning restaurants. The town’s most outstanding feature is McCaig’s Tower, a Colosseum-like building built by a local banker which stands on Battery Hill overlooking the town. It contains pleasant gardens and provides spectacular views over Oban and the neighbouring islands.

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Just three ScotRail trains a day link Glasgow Queen Street with Fort William and Mallaig, fewer on Sundays, in addition to the London-Fort William sleeper train. It’s not a fast journey but there is plenty of scenery to enjoy, it takes just under 4hrs for the 197km from Glasgow to Fort William or approx. 5hrs 30mins for the 264km from Glasgow to Mallaig.

The journey begins at Glasgow Queen Street station, the smaller of the city’s two main line railway termini. Beyond Queen Street Tunnel, the line diverges from the main line to Edinburgh and follows a north-westerly course along the Clyde through the suburbs to Helensburgh, an attractive small seaside town set in beautiful scenery. The town was once a popular Victorian holiday area and is worth exploring; particularly worth a visit is its most famous landmark Hill House, an interior design masterpiece by famous Scots architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The route then continues north via Garelochead, this section is where the West Highland Line is generally accepted to begin. Here you can see high-level views of Gare Loch and Loch Long before emerging alongside the north-westerly shores of Loch Lomond. Try to sit on the left-hand side of the carriage for the best views northbound.  Next, the railway climbs to Crianlarich station where the line to Oban branches off. On Mondays to Saturdays there are six services to Oban, three to Mallaig and one service to Fort William northbound. Crianlarich is the point at which the train typically splits into two parts, with two carriages continuing north on the West Highland Line, and two carriages heading west towards Oban. It is interesting to get off the train and watch it being decoupled (or recoupled), but don’t stay off too long – it’s a while till the next train!  Or you may decide to stop off for an afternoon tea and explore the hills and nearby footpaths of Strath Fillan and Glen Falloch, a haven for keen walkers.


Throughout April we are going to be focusing on Britain’s finest rail route. This route has previously been voted as the World’s Best Rail Journey by Wanderlust Magazine ahead of the Trans-Siberian Express and other more well-known scenic routes. It is the wonderful West Highland Line from Glasgow to Fort William & Mallaig in Scotland. Timings are shown in Table 218 of the ERT. This also ties in nicely with the Route of the Month written by Hidden Europe writers Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries in the April edition of the ERT, which features another wonderful Scottish journey – Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh.

This rail journey carries you north along wild and remote areas of the west coast of Scotland, passing steep-sided lochs, heather moors and some of the smallest, remotest stations on the network. The track passes through the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Parks then the line splits at Crianlarich, carrying you either past the north edge of Loch Awe, in the shadow of Ben Cruachan to Oban where you can catch a ferry to other Scottish islands, or high up to Rannoch Moor and on to Fort William and Mallaig where you might catch a glimpse of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. Beyond Fort William the train crosses the now world famous Glenfinnan Viaduct that was used in the Harry Potter films, then on the final stretch into Mallaig there are glimpses of the Isle of Skye, which is just a short ferry trip from the port.

The famous Jacobite Steam engine runs between Fort William and Mallaig at certain times of the year, with the first service of 2018 starting this Easter (Friday 30th March to Friday 6th April 2018) standard and 1st Class tickets can be booked on their website.

TABLE 620: Bologna – Roma

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In March we have been looking at Table 620 for Bologna – Roma. Having travelled through some beautiful Italian landscapes we now make our final journey into the capital city via the pretty Cliffside medieval town of Orvieto.

Dominated by its Gothic cathedral, Orvieto has many cobbled lanes, medieval piazzas and churches to explore but it also hides a labyrinth of caves and tunnels beneath the city. The secret underground city of more than 1200 tunnels was used by wealthy families as a means of escape from the elevated city during times of siege and is now open to view through guided tours. The wonderful Duomo of Orvieto is the main ‘must-see’ sight in this town. Constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries, the black and white striped building in mixed Romanesque and Gothic styles, is one of the world’s greatest cathedrals.

After Orvieto the railway follows the River Tiber downstream to the capital, stopping first at Tiburtina station before the much larger Roma Termini. Rome’s transportation mecca boasts countless amenities and connections for Italy’s rail passengers. There are 32 platforms and daily service to cities all over Italy as well as elsewhere in Europe making this station one of the busiest in Europe. The rather limited Roman metro system goes around rather than through the city, it’s two lines A (red) and B (blue), cross at Termini Station with services approximately every 7-10 minutes. With above-ground transport being highly congested, the metro is often the best option for exploring the sites. As one of the world’s most romantic and inspiring cities, Rome has plenty of well-known tourist attractions but with the Colosseum being among the world’s most visited tourist destinations it can also be overwhelming. Make sure to reserve a whole day to explore the sights of Vatican City, the world’s smallest fully independent nation-state.  If there isn’t enough to occupy you there are also several day trips that can be taken away, such as to the ruined city of Pompeii and mainland Europe’s only active volcano – Vesuvius.

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This month we are switching our attention to Italy. Table 620 in our timetable shows timings for Bologna – Roma a journey of 413 kilometres through the beautiful Tuscan countryside of central Italy.

Having passed through the bustling Italian cities of Bologna and Florence we depart Firenze Santa Maria Novella into the Tuscan countryside to see some smaller but none the less beautiful cities. Try to get a seat on the left of the train for the next section up the Arno Valley to Arezzo to see some spectacular views across the river. It is worth a stop to explore Arezzo’s medieval old town set on a hilltop, it boasts some fine Renaissance architecture and museums as well as a Roman Amphitheatre and a cathedral. The main railway station is at the base of the city and though the walk is about 1 km all up hill, if you take it easy you can enjoy the entire city. From Arezzo the railway crosses into Umbria, stopping at 3 stations around the shores of Lake Trasimeno. Ferries operate to the islands and across the lake, particularly in the tourist season and there are plenty of activities for those that enjoy walking, water sports or cycling.

The next major stop is another hill-top city, Perugia, the capital of Umbria, famous for chocolate production. The train station is in the valley, a few kilometres from the centro storico (historic center) of the city. Most major attractions are at the top of the hill which is a very steep walk so most visitors will use either the Mini Metro railway, a local bus or a taxi from the station. Or for something a bit different take the escalators from the lower town which lead up through the remains of Rocca Paolina which was a 16th-century fortress. Little now remains of the fortress itself but when you come out into the daylight at Piazza Italia you will go through some of the medieval streets on which the fortress was built. One of the best things to do in Perugia is to wander through the narrow streets and along the walls at the edge of town for fine views of the valley.

It’s a short 4km  ride onto the next interesting stop of Assisi, famous as the birthplace of St Francis which remains a major pilgrimage centre as well as a World Heritage site. The town is dominated by two medieval castles as well as the monastery but there are also plenty of medieval churches and magnificent fresco’s for sightseers to enjoy.

(Part 2)

This month we are switching our attention to Italy. Table 620 in our timetable shows timings for Bologna – Roma a journey of 413 kilometres through the beautiful Tuscan countryside of central Italy.

Continuing our look at this slower route through central Italy, we depart Bologna Central on an Intercity train along the Porrettana line through the Apennines and our first stop is Prato, Tuscany’s second largest city. Prato is home to many museums and other cultural monuments with a lovely historic centre founded on textile production; the city is also where biscoti were invented.

After Prato it is a short hop to the beautiful city and World Heritage Site of Florence (Firenze) which attracts millions of tourists each year. Firenze Santa Maria Novella is main railway station and one of the busiest in Italy, Situated in the city centre, it is conveniently close to all the major tourist attractions. From here you can also catch connections onto another major tourist hub – Pisa. You could spend several days exploring Florence and still not fit everything in, with museums, churches, piazzas and bridges, artisans workshops, boutique shops and local markets to explore there is plenty to see and do. Florence is best explored on foot so if time is limited it may be worth joining a guided walking tour to allow you to pack in as many of the main sites as possible!

(Part 1)

This month we are switching our attention to Italy. Table 620 in our timetable shows timings for Bologna – Roma a journey of 413km through the beautiful Tuscan countryside of central Italy.

There is a high-speed service from Bologna Centrale which would take you to Roma in just under two hours, but as it runs mostly through tunnels and would turn the scenery into a blur, we are instead focusing on the local trains shown in Table 620 with an average journey time of just over 4 hours. These trains trace a quintessential Italian route, with stations set at the foot of medieval castle towns and enchanting lakeside resorts so there are many options for sight-seeing stops along the way with at cities such as Orvieto, Arezzo and Florence.

Bologna Central is Italy’s fifth-busiest station with regard to passenger traffic and has connections to neighbouring countries, with service to and from Austria, Germany and France. There is plenty to see and do in Bologna’s large historic centre which boasts a number of attractive Piazza, historic buildings, streets and statues. Among them, you should visit the Town Hall in the Palazzo d’Accursio, the beautiful Palazzo del Podesta and the gothic Basilica of San Petronio. Nearby is the Piazza del Nettuno where you’ll find the famous Fountain of Neptune and don’t forget to sample the city’s most famous gastronomic export – Bolognese sauce!

TABLE 9290: Chicago – San Francisco

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Continuing to look at the route of the California Zephyr we reach the final leg of the journey where the train skirts the shore of San Pablo Bay and then San Francisco Bay. Passing through Berkeley, the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge can be seen to the right across the bay. The terminus of the California Zephyr line is Emeryville station, which also gives onwards access to the “Coast Starlight” line, another scenic route which runs along the east coast between Seattle and Los Angeles (Table 9305).

From Emeryville the free “Emery Go Round” shuttle bus connects passengers to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system for local trains serving 46 stations around the San Francisco area. The bus crosses the Oakland Bay Bridge and affords spectacular views of San Francisco and its famous landmarks Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.

One of the nicest things about visiting San Francisco is that, although the city is “big” in terms of attractions and amenities, it is geographically small – only 49 square miles and most of the tourist attractions are in a much smaller area than that. Consequently, it is very easy to see and do a great many things in a short period of time and there are multiple transportation options too with cable cars, taxies, ferries, buses and the historic trolleys to choose from.

(Part 3)

After leaving Chicago Union Station the train stops at a few small farming towns in Illinois including Galesburg a historic railroad town which has a permanent display of a Burlington 4-6-4 Hudson steam engine that can be seen as you enter the station as well as a Rail Museum. The train then crosses the great Mississippi River which marks the border with Iowa. There are several short stops across this state where passengers can get out and stretch their legs before the train crosses another state line at the Missouri River. Overnight, and into the early morning, the train traverses Nebraska and north-eastern Colorado, before making a morning arrival into Denver the “Mile-High City”. Denver’s renovated Union station is now a modern mixed use hub of retail and transport with an open air train hall which is architecturally beautiful.

From Denver the scenery changes dramatically as the train climbs into the Rocky Mountains. After the 6.2 mile-long Moffat Tunnel the train follows the Colorado River (popular with rafters, who traditionally ‘moon’ the train as it passes). Many call the trip along the river the most scenic stretch of track in America that can be seen from a scheduled passenger train. The train cuts through spectacular gorges and mountains, passing ski resorts and valleys popular with hikers which can all be viewed from the comfort of the panorama car.

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The starting point for this journey is the magisterial Chicago Union Station, one of Chicago’s most iconic structures. Union Station is the only example in the United States of a “double-stub” station, where the 24 tracks approach from two directions and do not continue under or through the station. Amtrak use it as the hub of its Midwestern routes, with options from virtually every major city it makes Chicago one of the most convenient U.S. cities to visit by train.

Union Station’s “headhouse” occupies an entire city block. At its centre is the Great Hall, considered to be one of the greatest indoor spaces in the United States with its 219-foot-long barrel-vaulted skylight that soars 115 feet over the room. Arranged around the Great Hall through the Corinthian columns are numerous smaller spaces containing restaurants and services and a wide passageway leading to the concourse. The rich history and beauty of the Great Hall has made it a popular location for feature films. The southernmost entrance was used in a memorable scene from “The Untouchables” and still draws tourists from around the world to take their own pictures of the grand staircase, which has been recently restored.

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This month we are going to look at one of our Beyond Europe Tables – 9290 which covers a huge route across North America.

At 3,936 kilometres long, this route across North America is Amtrak’s second longest but also one of its most scenic. Travelling the entire route between Chicago and San Francisco on The California Zephyr (or “Silver Lady”) would take around two and a half days but there are enough exciting destinations to stop off on the way to make it into an entire vacation.

The current California Zephyr uses Superliner equipment. A typical train consists of two P42 locomotives, a baggage car, a transition sleeper, two sleeping cars, a dining car, a sightseer lounge car, and two or three coaches. Due to the long distances the journey is best enjoyed in a roomette or bedroom, but for budget-conscious travellers, a reclining seat can be just as comfortable. The modern double-decker cars give nearly everybody on the train a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular scenery on the route, including the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevadas.  For an onboard view of what the train carriages and scenery are like, our friend ‘the Man in Seat 61’ has recorded a video of his travels on this route – watch here:

The Zephyr runs a daily service year-round from Chicago Union station departing at 14.00hrs local time. The route courses through the plains of Nebraska to Denver, across the Rockies to Salt Lake City, and then through Reno and Sacramento into Emeryville/San Francisco (connections into San Francisco station are via bus services at Emeryville)

TABLE 935: München, Augsburg and Ulm – Oberstdorf and Lindau

(Part 4)

Lindau near the borders of Austria and Switzerland is the final destination and terminus on the Bavarian Allgäu railway. This historic town is actually an island on the eastern side of Lake Constance and connected to the mainland by a road-traffic bridge and a railway dam leading to Lindau Hauptbahnhof.  Arriving in Lindau you are greeted with an impressive panorama of the Swiss and Austrian Alps and Lake Constance which stretches out behind the world-famous harbour entrance with its Bavarian lion and white lighthouse. If you are feeling fit you can climb the 139 steps to the top of the 136m lighthouse for stunning views out over Lindau and the Bodensee. The old town still boasts the romantic alleys and dreamy courtyards of its medieval past, full of colourful boutiques, cafés and restaurants. In summer tourists flock to the lakeside promenade, widely regarded to be the prettiest in Lake Constance.

Lindau makes a great base to explore the region. There are several boat trips along the lake to nearby towns such as Friedrichshafen, home of the Zeppelin museum or Mainau, known as the Flower Island. For those who are not a fan of boats, they can also be reached by the excellent regional train and bus services. See table 933 for connections to Friedrichshafen. For Mainau the nearest station is Konstanz (Tables 916 & 939) where there is a connecting bus to the island. From Lindau, there is also the option to take the spectacular rail journey over the Arlberg Pass to the Alpine resort of St Anton am Arlberg (table 951)

(Part 3)

The Bavarian Allgäu railway running from Munich to Lindau weaves its way through some historic towns such as Ulm (famous for being the birthplace of Albert Einstein and having the tallest church steeple in the world), Kempten (the largest town of the Allgäu) and Oberstdorf.

Oberstdorf is a busy winter resort, principally a skiing and hiking town and is the highest market town in Germany. The terminus station is reached in just over 2 hours from Munich and is the most southern railway station of Germany. Oberstdorf is served by around 40 daily intercity and regional-express services operated by Deutsche Bahn and Regentalbahn so it is also a good base from which to explore the region. There are a large number of valleys in the area around Oberstdorf, many of which are not only scenic, but are often starting points for walks in the mountains. The beautiful Oberstdorf Nebelhorn is known for its impressive views of 400 mountain summits. However, you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the scenery as many of the summits can be reached by cable car. The new mountain restaurant at the top of the Nebelhorn offers a 270-degree panorama so you can enjoy a meal with a spectacular view.

(Part 2)

Journeys through the rail routes of the Allgäu region are primarily dominated by the Alps Mountains. However, the region is also comprised of numerous lakes, forests and small romantic towns that contribute to the regions natural beauty. Hiking trails, cycling routes, and ski runs crisscross the land, and the entire region is dotted with health resorts.

There are many notable attractions to visit in this region such as the famous fairy-tale Bavarian castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, easily reached from Füssen station near the Austrian border. Direct trains from Munich run every two hours and are operated with modern, air-conditioned double-deck trains. The best views are from seats on the left-hand side on the upper deck, from here you can enjoy great views of Neuschwanstein castle. Tourist-busy Füssen provides the main access point to the castles either by shuttle bus or by foot but also boasts a medieval fortress the Hohen Schloss,  a former Benedictine monastery of St Mang and a very attractive old town so is worth an explore in its own right.

(Part 1)

Continuing our new feature we are focusing in on some of the more interesting tables in our timetables, exploring the routes that it details and the cities, history and scenery along its lines.  Throughout January we will be looking in detail at Table 935 and its routes through Southern Germany.

Readers wishing to explore the scenic Allgäu region of southern Germany will need to consult the unwieldy, but intriguing, Table 935 to plan their journeys.  The table covers a series of lines which link the cities of München, Augsburg and Ulm with the mountain resort of Oberstdorf and lakeside town of Lindau. The table itself is quite complex as various services interconnect with each other at several railway hubs, most notably Buchloe, Memmingen, Kempten and Immenstadt.  To complicate matters further, many trains run with two portions, splitting or joining en-route.  We have considered simplifying this table by showing each route separately, but this would markedly fail to demonstrate the wonderful way the various services interconnect with each other to provide regular journey opportunities between the towns and cities of the area.

Most services are operated by regional trains so it is easy to explore the region using one of the excellent regional tickets, such as the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket or Bayern-Ticket.  Closer inspection of the table will also reveal four daily EuroCity trains in each direction running to and from Zürich (on which regional tickets are not valid). However, there is currently electrification works on the route via Memmingen to enable faster services, this will result in variations to timings during certain periods as the work progresses.