Cruising through unbridled wilderness, sleeping in opulent cabins and dining on the finest cuisine, rail travel still stirs memories of a golden age when women dressed in tailored fashion and men wore hats for a journey along the tracks. Rail travel has inspired many a story too – from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express to The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux and Mugby Junction by Charles Dickens. The allure of escaping to a new world without taking off on a plane has always been there, but perhaps today more than ever. Here are 12 of the best rail journeys from around the globe.
From where the mountains meet the sea along the coast of British Columbia to the ice fields and breathtaking Lake Louise in Alberta, a journey through the Rockies could last forever and there would still be more to explore. The Rocky Mountaineer journeys take you through glacial valleys and scale the sides of mountains while you indulge in the most luxurious journey with attentive service, delicious gourmet meals and unrivalled comfort. Travelling through the days, you then stay in luxurious hotel accommodation in each new destination, so you get the best of both worlds – life on the tracks and time to explore on foot at the end of the day.
One of Europe’s most popular train routes, the Eurostar journey between London’s St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord isn’t long, but it delivers plenty of the railway charm we love. Old school conductors, decent snacks, lush interiors, and of course all of the anticipation of pulling into one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Connecting Tirano in Italy with Chur in Switzerland, the Bernina Express travels through incredibly diverse landscape, from the mild Mediterranean Poschiavo Valley to high alpine passes in the mountains in just four hours. The tracks are open year round, so in Winter you can expect a blanket of snow and eerie foggy mountain peaks, and in Summer, fields of wild flowers.
Nicknamed the ‘slowest express train in the world’, the Glacier Express takes eight hours to squeeze through narrow valleys, through no less than 91 tunnels and across 291 bridges as it makes its way from St Mortiz to Zermatt. First and Second class coaches have panoramic windows, and snacks are served onboard. The train doesn’t operate for four weeks during late Autumn, but October sees beautiful colours, Winter powdery snow, Spring a combination of snow and green and summer beautiful bright valleys.
Japan Rail – Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto
The railway from Tokyo to Osaka and Kyoto is the most heavily travelled high-speed rail route in the world. It’s incredibly fast, efficient and organised, comfortable, and the easiest way to explore three of Japan’s most popular destinations. The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about one hour 40 minutes, and the journey to Osaka closer to two and a half hours.
Named the world’s most beautiful train journey by Lonely Planet, you’d expect the Flam Railway to be pretty spectacular – and it is. Covering just over 20 kilometres, the railway winds from Aurlandsfjord through some of Western Norway’s most picturesque landscapes to Myrdal, high up in the mountains. In fact the railway climbs from sea level to 867 metres, making it one of the steepest standard-gauge railway lines in the world. If you’re up for more of a challenge than the two-hour train journey, you can in fact walk or ride alongside the railway through the verdant Flam Valley.
With New Zealand’s spectacular South Island landscape, of course it has to have its own unforgettable railway. Covering ground between Christchurch and Greymouth, the TranzAlpine passes through the alps offering myriad breathtaking views. Take the ascent to the high plains of Craigieburn for example, with its 15 short tunnels and four dramatic viaducts, and sweeping views across the landscape. Taking just a morning to complete, the journey passes through including Arthur’s Pass National Park, the quaint town of Springfield and Moana, where you can cruise Lake Brunner.
The Ghan is Australia’s very own luxury rail that leads to vast and varied landscapes. Travelling from Adelaide to Darwin, the journey allows you to experience how dramatically the landscape changes from the wetlands of the Top End through the red centre and through the salt bush plains of the south. Stopping for unforgettable activities along the way, you get to experience the magic of Uluru and the Olgas, see wildlife in the national parks of the Top End and so much more. Onboard the journey is luxurious and refined, with cuisine following the route of the journey, and staff sharing intimate stories along the way, making this an incredible Australiana journey.
Covering 4,466 kilometres from Toronto travelling west across the central plains and over the Rockies to Vancouver, this rail journey really does offer a window to the vast landscapes of Canada. You’ll see beautiful lakes, prairie fields, snowy peaks and quaint villages while travelling in comfort, with a range of classes available. Chef-prepared meals are available onboard, elegant lounge areas, spacious seating and cabins designed to take in the ever-changing views.
Venice-Simplon Orient Express
The most storied railway in the world, the Venice Simplon-Orient Express is a real journey back in time to the golden age of travel. With journeys from London and Paris to Venice and Verona, this journey crosses through the heart of Europe with unrivalled opulence. Cabins boast fine furnishings and elegant details with iconic art deco timber panelling, while lounge the lounge cars epitomise the social allure of elegant train travel.
The California Zephyr
Running across much of the United States, from Chicago to San Francisco, the Zephyr is a breathtakingly beautiful rail journey. Stretching across the plains of Nebraska to Denver, it then crosses the mighty Rocky Mountains to Salt Lake City, before charging through Reno and into the San Francisco Bay area.
Eastern and Oriental Express
Travelling through the mystical landscapes of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, this is definitely one of the most luxurious rail journeys in the world. Choose from four categories of private cabins, all air-conditioned with en-suite shower and toilet, and the largest of which measures 125 square feet! Expect ornate interiors, attentive service and fine dining, as well as the popular observation car, offering unobstructed views of the surrounding scenery.