Tunnel through the Alps: Semmering Railroad
Europe's first standard gauge mountain railway line, Semmering – which connects Vienna with southwestern Austria – became the first transport route to be designated a UNESCO heritage site. Completed in 1854, the line runs through 16 overpasses and through 15 tunnels and offers a breathtaking view of the Austrian Alps as it clings to the icy mountain slope and sweeps the snowy valley thousands of feet below. It's a world-class experience that costs around £ 38 for a return ticket from Vienna to Semmering, and can be enjoyed even more with a two-course meal of wine and coffee for an extra £ 20.
Steam in 2020: North Yorkshire Moors Rail
Steamhead: The Tornado engine ready to roll. Photo: Mike Kipling / Alamy
One of Britain's best preserved railways, the North Yorkshire Moors line runs from Pickering to Grosmont over the North Yorkshire valleys to join the Network Rail line to Whitby. This season, the railroad operates New Year specials on December 29 and January 1. Starting at Pickering, also known as Gateway to the Moors, the steam train goes through snow-capped hills and valleys before leaving you in Whitby for two hours to enjoy the beach. Visit Whitby Abbey and Graveyard, which appear in the novel Dracula (Bram Stoker was a visitor). Then, as the darkness of winter approaches, you return to the cozy Pickering.
• Return tickets from £ 31, nymr.co.uk
Caledonia on Ice: West Highland Line
Break to the frontier: the Caledonian sleeper travels by Rannoch Moor. Photo: Phil Wills / Alamy
Britain's most beautiful railway line, from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, is not just a summer delight. In winter, the line crosses a gloriously austere white landscape and runs through snow-covered Rannoch Moor. The rolling stock of the line is old, elegant and offers little more than chips and tea in terms of catering. On the other hand, the Caledonian sleeper introduced double beds and showers. Though plagued by introductory problems, sleepers are now operating smoothly. Enter Euston, have a whiskey and wake up 12 hours later for breakfast as you travel through the Highlands.
• Sleepers from £ 140, sleeper.scot
Three in one: Picturesque Switzerland
Ahead of the curve: the famous tourist train that crosses a viaduct in Switzerland. Photo: Alamy
Combine Switzerland's three largest train travels into a golden journey through the Alps from London St Pancras. The weeklong journey begins with the spectacular Jungfrau railway, which takes you to its highest mountain station in Europe at 11,333 feet. From here, join the Glacier Express, which climbs the Rhone Valley in a narrow gauge line – past frozen lakes and frozen peaks – towards Chur. The last leg of your Swiss Big Three journey is completed at Bernina Express, which takes you to the village of Poschiavo and then back to Chur through some of the most spectacular winter mountain views you can experience by train.
• Tickets from £ 1,675, planetrail.co.uk
Suspend Until Spring: Moscow to Nice Sleeper
Sun race: board in Moscow and wake up in Nice. Photo: It's About Light / Getty Images
Track the change from winter to spring in less than 48 hours as you follow from Russia's freeze to Côte d 'Azur. The service was used by aristocrats to enjoy the Mediterranean until it was interrupted by the Russian Revolution – but then restored in 2010. You can choose from a VIP suite, a double bedroom or a four-bed tourist room. After a night on board, you arrive at the border with the Czech Republic before heading to Vienna and then to Milan. After your second night, you will arrive in Nice – just in time for breakfast on the Promenade des Anglais.
• One-way luxury double sofa beds are around £ 350 per person. Trains run once a week, pass.rzd.ru
The Polar Express: Nordland Railroad
Going north: the Nordland railway goes towards the Arctic Circle. Photo: OWords Haug / NSB
The Nordland line runs the west coast of Norway from Trondheim for 450 miles to Bodø, just inside the Arctic Circle. The early morning train, with reclining seats and huge observation windows, passes fjords, paper mills, frozen waterfalls, and painted wooden houses in cities called Grong, Dunderland, and – best of all – hell. In the late afternoon, you pass an ugly-looking dome: the Polarsirkelsenteret (Arctic Circle Center), which means you have reached Midnight Sun Land. The line then plunges west on Bodø. If you're lucky, you might even get the northern lights.
• Tickets from £ 49.50, vy.no
Shopping at a Pullman: Canterbury and Carols
Sit in comfort: cut glass and white linen on the way to Canterbury
The swish way to do your Christmas shopping. Enjoy brunch on the round trip from London on white linen table tops on antique Pullman buses. In Canterbury, you are escorted to the cathedral for a Christmas music concert with time later for festive shopping. The return trip features a champagne reception and a four-course dinner. Seating available for December 17th from £ 457 (belmond.com)
Narrow gauge, thick snow: Harz line, Germany
White snow and blue sky: A historic steam train that runs at full speed to Brocken mountain in the Harz region. Photography: Getty Images
Winter is the perfect time to travel on the Harz line as it climbs the Brocken mountain and joins one of the world's most spectacular networks of narrow gauge steam lines. The route is thick with snow and you spend three days crossing the area and exploring the medieval towns of Goslarm, Quedlinburg and others.
• Seven-day trips from London starting at £ 1,395, greatrail.com
A Luxurious New Year: Danube Express
First class service: A dining car at the Golden Eagle Danube Express in Budapest, Hungary. Photo: Alamy
Celebrate the New Year in style at the Golden Eagle Danube Express on a round trip from Budapest through the Austrian Alps and Central Europe. Spend five nights on board (and three in hotels) as you pass through a series of stunning cities as you travel through Austria with snow: first Graz and Vienna before heading to Prague, Kosice and finally back to Budapest. The highlight is a New Year's Eve gala dinner at the Vienna City Hall with a performance by the Wiener Hofball Orchestra.
• Departure on December 28th, £ 7,895pp for a deluxe compartment, goldeneagleluxurytrains.com. Reservations open now for 2021
Escape the snow: head to sunny Syracuse
Southern comfort: Snow and ice escape with a long train journey across Europe, ending in Syracuse, Sicily. Photography: Getty Images
If winter is very disappointing, Eurostar 8.31 from London will take you to Paris in time for TGV to Milan. After a night there, take the high-speed train to Rome and then the sleeper to Sicily. You have breakfast on the train as you head south past Etna on one side and views of the Mediterranean on the other. From Syracuse, visit the Greek temples in Agrigento, enjoy the glory of Alcântara National Park – or relax in the winter sun as northern Europe shudders.
Looking for a vacation with a difference? Squeaky toy Guardian Holidays to see a variety of fantastic trips
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