Since Switzerland hosted the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest in 1956, the annual spectacle has fired our imagination, sparking global debate on the worthiness (or otherwise) of winners. The 2018 winner, Israel’s Netta and her chicken clucking Toy, proved you don’t actually need to be a European country to win Eurovision.
Celebrating cultural diversity, Eurovision is viewed by a worldwide television audience of approx. 182 million fans as Eurovision-obsessed travellers descend on the continent for a who’s who rail adventure of some of Eurovision’s finest participants.
Affordable, efficient and comfortable, train travel has become de rigueur, bringing travellers together much as Eurovision has been doing for 60-odd years.
Eurovision train contest
To celebrate the Eurovision Song Contest RailPlus held a voting contest to see which European country has the best trains. The results have just been announced, after the Eurovision weekend! Check it out!
No shrinking violet when it comes to feisty Northern Lights and dramatic landscapes that make Switzerland look like an under-achiever, one of Norway’s lesser claims to fame is one of the world’s most northernmost railway stations, Narvik Station inside the Arctic Circle.
Eurovision insight: With the dubious distinction of taking home the wooden spoon eleven times. Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale laid them in the aisles in the 2009 contest with the biggest landslide victory in the competition’s history.
The poster child for high-speed trains that reach an eye-watering 200km/h (the SJ300 holds the Swedish record at 303km/h), Sweden’s high-speed energy-efficient rail network makes a significant contribution to maintaining that pure clean air the Nordic country is famous for.
Eurovision insight: Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll probably already know that Sweden is a perennial Eurovision A-lister with 24 top five results in 57 appearances. They’ve won it six times, most notably in 1974 with ABBA’s Waterloo launching the foursome into the pop song stratosphere.
Passionate Spaniards with their potpourri of blended cultures, colourful history and delicious cuisine could be forgiven for shunning the gazillions of foreigners who invade their shores each summer. But that’s not their style, as you’ll discover when travelling across their 15,000km rail network.
Eurovision insight: After a successful run in 1968 and 1969, Spain has struggled to repeat early success and probably haven’t helped their cause by regularly changing the selection format.
7. United Kingdom
The UK is a train lover’s dream destination with a network of tracks reaching far and wide through England, Wales and Scotland. Some, like the Cantebury to Whistable line is steeped in history as the world’s first regular passenger train service while Scotland’s West Highland line is famous for a star-studded appearance in the Harry Potter film series.
Eurovision insight: The poster child for Eurovision, perennial achiever the United Kingdom has clutched the coveted prize five times and been runner-up on 15 occasions. UK pop charts are peppered with Eurovision hits like Save Your Kisses for Me and Making Your Mind Up.
After more than 40% of Austria’s rail network was destroyed in WWII, today’s rail travellers enjoy an electrified network of efficient routes from Vienna to Salzburg or into Austria’s ridiculously pretty countryside where hikers on the mystical Green Ring are accompanied by myths and legends aplenty.
Eurovision insight: Making 46 finals out of 50 appearances, Austria holds the dubious record for the longest gap between victories. After first claiming victory in 1966 it was another 48 years before bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst sung her way into the hearts of fans with pop gospel song Rise Like a Pheonix.
Australia’s long-distance train routes are pretty simple: The Indian Pacific runs East-West, The Ghan runs North-South and The Overland connects Melbourne and Adelaide. All offer striking journeys into Australia’s outback and coastal heartland.
Eurovision Insight: A late bloomer on the Eurovision stage, who could forget Dami Im’s agonisingly close second place in 2016? Jessica Mauboy’s We Got Love is spreading the Aussie love in Lisbon in 2018.
For a country similar in size to New Zealand, Italy packs a whole lot of love within her borders with fast and affordable trains dissecting mountains and lakes in the north, brushing against beguiling beaches in the south.
Eurovision insight: Italy won twice up until 1997 when they took their trophy and weren’t seen again for 14 years. Gigliola Cinquetti’s song Si, which had the misfortune to be pitted against ABBA in 1974, was censored for Italian television as it was thought to promote a yes vote to repeal divorce law.
Picture postcard pretty Germany with its enviable 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites dotted across a landscape little bigger than Victoria, boasts an extensive rail network connecting 50 cities. Highlights aplenty include the thousand-year-old town of Weimar, 2.5 hours south of Berlin.
Eurovision insight: An official participant every year since 1956, the only time Germany didn’t make the broadcast finals was in 1996 when Leon’s Planet of Blue was controversially ousted at pre-selection.
A serial A-lister when it comes to red carpet appearances on Australia’s favourite European cities, Paris forms the hub of a many-spoked European wheel. Connected to the United Kingdom, Benelux countries, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, once you’ve tired of exploring France’s endlessly charming rail network, greater Europe beckons.
Eurovision insight: France has claimed the podium five times in 60 appearances, though it’s been a long time between drinks with France’s last victory more than forty years ago
Romantic Switzerland with her drama queen mountains screaming ‘look at me’ is home to the world’s slowest express train. The Glacier Express is seven breathtakingly beautiful hours of rail travel heaven sandwiched between St Moritz and Zermatt.
Eurovision insight: Switzerland has participated 58 times after making their debut, hosting and winning the inaugural contest in 1956. Canadian born Celion Dione famously won in 1988 representing Switzerland.
Want to try out the winners yourself?
You can experience them all (sorry Australia, you can’t charm your way into this one…) with a Eurail Global Pass, currently up to 37% off!
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