Your booked air flight is impacting the planet.
Next time you’re planning your European holiday, switch out the airplane for the train to travel to your holiday destination. Long-distance European train travel is on the rise in the European Union, making it easier and more affordable to travel by train. Better for the planet, better for your pocket book.
In this article, learn about ten long-distance European train trips that are beautiful, convenient, and affordable to inspire your next holiday destination.
What is the co2 impact of flight travel?
If you’re a planet-conscious entrepreneur or citizen like me, it might pull at your inner moral compass every time you board an airplane. For every hour you fly on a standard sized passenger airplane, your travel plans emit 90 kg of co2.
Let’s put this into perspective. For reference, 1,000 kg is 1 ton of co2. Globally, the average personal carbon footprint is 4 tons annually. For developed countries like the United States, the individual emits closer to 16 tons of carbon annually. To align our personal goals with avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, citizens should aim to reduce their impact to 2 tons of co2 annually.
That might seem impossible. But the first step is to analyze your personal carbon footprint, and then, to review where your largest carbon emitting activities actually are. For me, making both short-haul and long-haul flights had the biggest impact on my annual carbon budget i.e. 2 tons annually.
To curb the worst impact of climate change, everyone needs to play a part. Becoming aware of your personal carbon footprint and where you can make an impact, is the first step.
But … and there is always a but… I can’t ethically put the entire pressure to make these reductions on our individual shoulders. Corporations like fossil fuel companies emit millions of tons of carbon every year (compared to our average of 16 tons).
It’s important to be active in the climate movement, but the biggest change will be phasing out fossil fuels altogether.
Why train travel is better for the planet
Train travel is better for the planet because it has a lower carbon footprint per kilometer than other forms of travel. When you’re planning your holidays, build the itinerary around train travel. In places like the European Union, long-distance train travel is becoming easier and more convenient for you to meet this goal.
Side note: If you’re in the United States, long-distance bus travel is becoming more popular. Coach bus travel is the next best sustainable travel option after train travel.
Train travel is a great way to lower your personal travel emissions each year. However, that doesn’t mean that trains don’t have a carbon footprint.
To better understand the total environmental impact of a train, we need to look at something called Scope 3. Scope 3 emissions are in-direct co2 emissions which exist up and down a company’s supply chain. They can account for as much as 70% of the company’s total carbon emissions. And these emissions are totally within a company’s influence to control and reduce.
When looking at Scope 3 emissions, manufacturing and transporting the trains can have emissions, for example. The transportation of the train components use fossil fuels that cause fuel pipe emissions. Also, the environmental impact of the vehicle components like the brakes, wheels, and tires all lead into a company’s Scope 3 emissions.
It’s difficult to analyze and track, but it has the largest impact and influence in meeting our climate goals.
Putting Scope 3 emissions aside, train travel for the individual, is still a better and more eco-friendly method of public transportation for both short- and long-haul travel. By taking the train on your next holiday, you’re one step closer to reducing your personal carbon impact.
Why I love train travel
Now that I’ve exhausted the scientific reasons to travel by train, I have to say that the number one reason you should travel by train is simply because it’s cool.
Train travel offers new experiences that I never had when traveling by airplane.
- It’s less stressful. I can’t name a single positive experience traveling through an airport. Air travel is simply more stress, hassle, and inconvenient. When traveling by train, you can arrive 20-minutes or less before your departure, board the train, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
- Scenic views. Train routes traverse through some of the more beautiful landscapes, offering you stunning views that can’t be seen by air. Look out your window to see towering mountains, green farmland, ocean beaches, and cascading rock cliffs. The journey is visually a rewarding experience, especially on scenic routes.
- Eco-friendly. When you travel by train, you are doing better by the planet. Train travel has less emissions by distance than air travel. Trains produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reducing your overall travel carbon footprint.
In this YouTube video, I share my love and obsession with European train travel. Learn more about transportation emissions, and their impact on the environment, and why you should choose the train to transport you to your next holiday destination.
10 long-distance European train trips
All aboard! These are ten trips that I’ve either enjoyed myself or am looking forward to taking in the near future.
I’ve listed actual train routes that aren’t just for a scenic tourism day. I want to encourage you to travel to your next holiday destination with the train, the bonus is the beauty of these scenic routes.
- Munich to Verona — Board the Austrian National Railway, ÖBB, in Innsbruck or Munich, and begin your cross-country scenic route to Verona through the Austrian Alps. The train route will take you through valleys with Alpine cows, waterfalls, and churches. I particularly like this route because the landscape changes as you descend from the green Alps and into the more arid landscape of Northern Italy.
- Berlin to Amsterdam — Board Deutsche Bahn in the German capital of Berlin and find yourself in Amsterdam in around 7 hours. On this route, you will travel through rolling farm fields and green meadows.
- Amsterdam to London — Take the Eurostar to London from Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam. With your connecting train from number 2, you can travel all the way from Berlin to London in about 10 to 12 hours. The underground tunnel connecting Great Britain to France is the most existing part of the trip. I have this trip scheduled for December 2023.
- Zurich to Zermatt — Taking you through the heart of the Alps and to the mighty Matterhorn, this route has been one of my all time favorites. During this trip, I took the Glacier Express from Andermatt to Zurich and upgraded to enjoy a glass of wine and the extra window. However, I took this route back from Zermatt on the Switzerland National Railway, SBB, and it was just as lovely and more affordable.
- Berlin and Frankfurt to Paris — The European railways SNCF and Deutsche Bahn have now made it easier to travel by high-speed rail between Berlin and Paris. Basically, they’ve now connected this line to Berlin, where it was already possible to travel between Frankfurt and Paris easily. Or you can travel overnight from Berlin to Paris arriving the next day.
- Amsterdam to Barcelona – This route is getting easier with a new sleeper train, European Sleeper, available in the coming years.
- Berlin to Copehagen, Malo, Stockholm — Go to sleep in Berlin and wake up in Scandinavia! The Swedish rail company, Snälltåget, offers a comfortable night train, taking you from Berlin or Hamburg to Stockholm or Malmö. I’m excited to take this route in October 2023 and will report back on the experience.
- The Rhine Valley — Catch glimpses of castles as you travel by train through the Rhine Valley. I’ve done this trip in different versions over the years. One time, I took the ÖBB Night Jet from Vienna to Amsterdam. Also, I’ve traveled with Deutsche Bahn from Frankfurt to Cologne. Every time was a beautiful and memorable experience.
- West Highland Line, Scotland – Considered one of the most beautiful scenic rail lines in Europe, this one is still on my bucket list. Leave from Glasgow to Mallaig to travel the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the famous and historic bridge used in the Harry Potter films. But don’t stop here! Continue on your journey to Mallaig, about 5 hours north of Glasgow. On this route, you will view valleys, lakes, and deep forests.
Let these train routes inspire your next holiday. By planning your holidays around accessible train routes, you can both enjoy a more scenic holiday but also do better by the planet.