All travellers like trains. European travellers love them. An InterRail trip is a rite of passage that stays in the memory. The Eurostar is to millennials what boat trains were for Gen X: a portal to an entire continent. European railway stations – usually prominent, often palatial – suggest history and romance. They feature in classic films, novels and music. In a climate-conscious world, railways remain the greenest alternative. They are safer and cause less stress than driving. For anyone keen to see the world, is there any better place than beside a train window?

So, with this in mind, we’ve taken the rail networks of Europe’s 15 largest (open) countries to task, rating each one on the factors that matter most. Read on to find out which ailing national networks are best avoided (and those with a highlight that’s nevertheless worth the hassle), and which are the finest options for a successful rail-based escape – whether it be your next spring city break, or a glorious weeks-long odyssey that snakes from coast to countryside. 

15. Greece

Bringing up the rear in our ranking is this snaking country of jagged coasts, islands, mountains and peninsulas, which has never quite made the railways work for its people. There are trains every few hours linking Athens and Thessaloniki (under five hours), but much of the timetable is spattered with dreaded rail replacement buses. Floods in 2023 have led to a near collapse of the network. Toy trains operate in some touristy areas, such as the Odontotos rack railway – though that was recently stopped by landslides. Athens used to luxuriate in services to Berlin and was once a branch of the Orient Express. There were trains to Turkey via Pythio and North Macedonia via Idomeni. The pandemic shut down what was already a dwindling service and international lines to Sofia, Skopje and Bucharest remain closed. Athens has the most underwhelming main station of any country in Europe – which sort of sums things up.

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