This website is an archive from 2016

This site was actively maintained from 2006 to 2016. Since then I have kept it online for historical interest, but have made no further updates. Much of the information in these pages is now incorrect or obsolete.

Europe by Rail (guidebook review)

12 May 2017

I have recently been reading the 14th edition of “Europe by Rail”, a guidebook written by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, the editors of the excellent Hidden Europe magazine. The core of the book is a selection of 50 rail journeys covering most countries in continental Europe. Each trip is described in detail, with the focus on the journey itself rather than the arrival and departure cities. The selection reflects the full variety of European rail travel, ranging from a high-speed dash across Spain to a meander through Germany’s Harz Mountains on narrow-gauge lines and an overnight train from Stockholm to northern Norway. There is plenty of useful practical information, such as advice on whether each route rewards advance booking or is suited to those who prefer to just turn up and buy a ticket for the next departure. But the book is a potential source of ideas and inspiration even for experienced travellers who are already comfortable dealing with the mundane details. The authors’ love of travel and appreciation of Europe’s complex web of history and culture is evident throughout, especially when they describe slower lines off the beaten path. They are especially good at linking their journeys with the experiences of previous generations of travellers. I would recommend this book for anyone with a general interest in exploring Europe by train.

But what of rail travel in the Balkans in particular? The authors must have faced some challenges here: the railway system in most of the Balkans was never as dense as in other parts of Europe to begin with, and recent years have seen further declines in the route network, especially on international lines. Given these restrictions the authors have done well to include five routes that are fully or partly in Southeast Europe: