Europe’s 10 Must-See Natural Wonders
Europe is about more than just big cities. Natural wonders in Europe abound, and the extensive train network means you can also visit many of the continent’s more remote areas. Mountains, beaches, waterfalls, canyons, you name it ― many of them can be reached by train. Check out these 10 must-see natural wonders of Europe you might want to include on your rail itinerary.
1. Dolomites, Italy
The Dolomites are a mountain range in northern Italy with 18 peaks that reach nearly 11,000 feet (over 3,000 meters). The wide range of activities in the Dolomites includes hiking, biking, and paragliding. Or try my favourite: The Via Ferratas, which are climbing routes with a steel cable. Due to the high altitude, the Dolomites also serve as training grounds for athletes. I ran into two Olympic teams when I was there. Reaching the Dolomites is easy. Take the regional train to Trento, approximately one hour from Verona (Verona Porta Nuova station), or from Bolzano in 47 minutes.
2. Salou, Spain
A 75-minute regional train ride south from Barcelona (Barcelona Sants station) takes you to the beaches of Salou, a popular holiday spot. It is hard to beat Salou’s Mediterranean climate, its string of beaches (Llevant Beach is the main attraction), its rocky coves, and its promenade, tailor-made for romantic strolls. You will also want to check out the Font lluminosa, a fountain located at the end of the seaside walkway. Lighting and music shows are held here in the evenings.
3. Fjords of Norway
Norway’s fjords make up some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Europe. From Oslo, take the Oslo-Bergen train to the mountain station in Myrdal, then switch to the Flåm Railway and head off on the spectacular train journey to Flåm station in the innermost corner of the Aurlandsfjord. Lonely Planet has named this train journey as one of the Top Scenic Train Journeys of Europe. You can then take a boat cruise through the serene fjords from Flåm to Gudvangen. The Flåm Railway attraction is discounted for Pass holders.
4. Bled, Slovenia
Bled Gorge is located just 2.5 miles (4 km) from Bled, a city which is easily accessible by train from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. Rappelling down the 50-to 100-meter walls is the best way to really see the crooks and crannies of the canyon. As adventurous as it sounds, rappelling is a very safe and popular activity. When it is time to relax, check out Lake Bled and observe tiny Bled Island, the only natural island in the entire country. Find out about adventure activities in Bled and how to get there.
5. The Northern Lights, Sweden
Abisko, Sweden, is one of the best places in the world to see the extraordinary Northern Lights (aurora borealis). Head there between November and March to watch as nature sets the skies aglow with its spectacular light show. From Stockholm, take a night train to Boden and then to Abisko via Kiruna (17 hours in total). There are two stations in the area: Abisko Ostra and Abisko Turist station.
6. Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany
Some of the finest mountain scenery in all of Germany can be found here. Characterized by high mountain peaks and steep rock faces, it is one of my favourite places to hike in all of Germany. Of special interest is the Schellenberger Ice Cave, which is available by guided tour only. You can hike there in a little more than three hours, or take a cable car. To reach Berchtesgaden, take a Rail Jet high-speed train from Munich (München Hbf station) to Salzburg in Austria. From there, it is a 49-minute bus ride to the national park. Watch the peaks get higher as you get closer.
7. Chamonix, France
Europe’s highest cable car starts here, ascending to 12,605 feet (3,842 meters) to reach Aiguille du Midi. From here, you can enjoy a cappuccino from the terrace or grab some lunch while taking in views of Mont Blanc ― the highest peak in Western Europe ― and the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Once you are at the top, take a gondola ride over the Glacier du Géant to the Pointe Helbronner in Italy. Chamonix (Chamonix Mont-Blanc station) can be reached in just over four hours from Lyon (Lyon Part-Dieu station) on regional trains. You need to connect in St-Gervais-les-Bains. Make sure you get a window seat so you can enjoy the glorious views.
8. Krimml, Austria
Home to Austria’s highest waterfall ― an impressive 1,247 feet (380 meters). The roar of the water is almost deafening. The waterfall is an easy 45-minute hike, but there are numerous options for extending the hike. Located in Hohe Tauern National Park, you could spend days hiking here ― there are some seriously high peaks and glaciers! Reach Krimml’s snow-capped peaks and glaciers by regional train from Salzburg with a connection in Zell am See. No reservations are required and the whole journey takes just over three hours.
9. Thermal Springs in Saturnia, Tuscany, Italy
Shhhh, locals would like to keep these natural hot springs a secret. But you will not tell anyone, right? The hot springs have likely been used for thousands of years ― the nearby Roman gate dates back to the 2nd century B.C. In addition to the springs, there are two nearby waterfalls. The thermal springs are free and open all year long. The closest train station is Grosseto. From there, it is a 45-minute bus ride to Manciano, followed by a 30-minute bus ride to Saturnia ― it is well worth the effort!
10. Beaches of Dubrovnik, Croatia
There is a beach for everyone in Dubrovnik. Sandy, pebbly or rocky, Dubrovnik has it all. The most popular beaches are the Banje, Uvala Lapad and Copacabana. These beaches are also famous for their nightlife. You can take a short boat ride out to the Elaphiti Islands, and explore even more beaches there. Scuba diving lessons are a great option in this area. Croatia’s train line does not run as far south as Dubrovnik, but you can take the train to Split and then connect to a boat or bus.
Fancy a train vacation to Europe’s natural wonders? Find out about traveling with a Global Pass.