There are some journeys worth making for their own sake. And others which merely bridge an essential gap from A to B. Many rail journeys to Berlin from nearby European capitals are often seen by seasoned travelers as more in the latter category. There is little by way of dramatic scenery in the region. Travelers slide into communion with their smartphones and ignore what slips by beyond the window.
Linking two capitals: from €29 one way
But take another look. We judge the Prague to Berlin journey as one of the finest middle-distance hops anywhere in Europe. It is less than five hours by train between the two capitals. Reliable EuroCity services run every two hours along the route. Book when tickets first go on sale (three months prior to travel), and you can pick up bargain tickets for just €29 one-way. Leave buying a ticket till the day of travel, and that fare hikes up to a hefty €66.
This is not one of those high-speed journeys on modern infrastructure. It is, rather, rail travel as it used to be. The route catches the warp and weft of the landscape, tracking north from Prague through soft Bohemian countryside and then following the Elbe Valley downstream into German Saxony.
Picture windows for sightseeing
No slick bullet-nosed trains on this route. And that’s no loss, for the Czech, Austrian and Hungarian rolling stock used on the EuroCity services from Prague to Berlin all have a nicely retro feel. The seats are ample and comfortable and most carriages have large picture windows — perfect for sightseeing.
Grab a window seat on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. Heading north from the Czech capital you sense the spirit of the countryside that so inspired the Czech composer Smetana — his Má vlast is the perfect soundtrack for the journey.
Highlights of the journey
Just over an hour out of Prague, the valley sides begin to tilt ever sharper, and the finest stretch of the journey is the spectacular gorge of the River Elbe just beyond the station stop at Decín. Once over the border into Germany, there are fine views of sandstone turrets and perched castles — all good Romantic stuff.
Later in the journey, the train sweeps through Dresden before heading north through seemingly-endless forests to Berlin. Catch those forest landscapes on a fine summer evening and they unfold to reveal glades of rare beauty. This is truly a ride worth making.