10 tips for winter rail travel
Here are our top 10 tips to help you get the most out of your Interrail adventure this winter. Imagine swooshing alongside snow-laden slopes and fairytale-like villages while sipping hot chocolate in the warmth of your train cabin. Winter rail travel can be a magical experience, especially if you pick the right time and destinations to explore.
1. See the Northern Lights in the Swedish Lapland
Each winter, the skies above northern Europe light up with psychedelic colours that shimmer and dance. Abisko, Sweden, is one of the best spots in the world to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). Located 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this wilderness area lies close to the Aurora Oval and it rarely sees cloudy skies thanks to the 60 peaks that surround it.
2. Try reindeer sledding and snowmobiling in Finland
Embrace the frosty winter in Rovaniemi, where you’ll find a multitude of fun and affordable winter activities that caters to everyone in the family. This is also heralded as the home of Santa Claus. Children can experience riding a reindeer sleigh with traditional Sami reindeer herders while adults can get a kick from racing on snowmobiles through the powdery snow. Lapland Safaris organises all these experiences as well as ice-fishing, snowshoeing, and other winter-related activities. Worth saving up for! You'll never forget it.
3. Hop on the scenic Flåm Railway in Norway
Heralded as an attraction on its own, the Flåm Railway is a must for all rail lovers. As one of the world’s steepest railway lines, it takes you by spectacular waterfalls, in and out of snow-capped mountains, and ending the journey in the fjords of Norway. Aboard an old-style vintage train, you will snake through deep ravines, clinging tightly to the steep mountain sides. Constructed by pioneers of the rail industry, this railway line is still considered a masterpiece of Norwegian engineering.
4. Stay in an igloo for the night
Addicted to snow? Spend the night in an igloo at Iglu-Dorf and experience how it is to live in sub-zero conditions. Iglu-Dorf offers warm and cold accommodation in domes made up of – you guessed it – snow, set in the natural backdrop of snow mountains. Each winter, the igloos are built from scratch, featuring different artistic designs, and then removed when winter ends. Iglu-Dorf has locations in Zermatt, Davos, Gstaad and Engelberg in Switzerland.
5. See the best of Switzerland on the Glacier Express
Lauded as one of the most famous railway in the world, the Glacier Express is a luxurious rail experience that packs all of Switzerland’s best sights into one journey. The route runs from Zermatt to Davos or St Moritz, bringing you through the winding rivers, ice-covered lakes, plunging ski slopes, and countless alpine towns of the Swiss Alps. Besides the view, the journey itself is one epic adventure: zipping through 291 bridges and 91 tunnels, countless viaducts and passes, and climbing up to a lofty altitude of 2,033 meters (6,670 feet).
6. Visit Germany’s Christmas markets
Each Christmas, Germany explodes with a vibrant and contagious festive mood as locals and tourists alike pour into the Christmas markets in search for some mulled wine, gingerbread cookies, and fairy lights. Some of the most well-known Christmas markets can be found in Cologne, right under the UNESCO World Heritage Cologne Cathedral, and in the gothic town hall of Marienplatz in Munich. Our favourite is Dresden’s Christmas Market, known as Striezelmarkt, also the oldest in Germany.
7. Go skiing/snowboarding on a budget in Bulgaria
These days with the amount of budget ski packages available online, you don’t have to be a luxury traveller to enjoy winter sports in Europe. One of the best budget-friendly ski resorts in Europe is Bansko, Bulgaria, a charming alpine town that’s home to low restaurant prices and affordable ski lift passes. Best of all, the train journey there from Plovdiv is an experience on its own. The narrow gauge train winds its way up steep mountain valleys, through tunnels, alongside rivers and charismatic villages.
8. Catch some winter sun in Turkey
And if the chilly temperatures are getting you down, why not head somewhere further south with your Interrail pass to catch some sun? Turkey is an excellent option: it never gets that cold on the Aegean coast (around 14-20°C) and the sun will still be on full blast in winter. Avoid touristy spots like Bodrum and instead pick from the unique boutique hotels in beautiful Fethiye or escape to the calm and quiet shores of Kas where you can go scuba diving or wander through its ancient ruins.
9. Experience the Bernina Express
Yet another train journey not to be missed, the Bernina Express is the highest mountain railway in the Alps, framed by mind-blowing views of the glaciers and mountains of the area. Part of the journey – the section between Thusis and Tirano – has even been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The route connects Chur in Switzerland with Tirano in Italy, taking just 4 hours to cross 196 bridges and 55 tunnels.
10. Celebrate New Year’s Eve in London
There is no better place to ring in the new year than at one of the largest European capitals, London. Each year, more than 250,000 people line up along the banks of the Thames River to count down at Big Ben and watch the sky light up with fireworks and lightshow. On New Year’s Day itself, revellers can also join in a massive parade in central London where floats, bands and processions continue the celebrations. Definitely something to keep in mind for next year!