Whether you’re mad about locomotives, a lover of luxury trains, or you simply appreciate the slow beauty of gliding along the tracks at your leisure, train travel is having a major moment right now. A laidback, eco-conscious alternative to driving or flying, we’ve rounded up some of our 12 favourite train journeys on the planet…
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
London – Venice
Full to the brim with romance and glamour, this Art Deco style train harks back to a time when travel was more elegant. Passengers are bathed in sophistication; relaxing in sumptuous panelled wagons, surrounded by the sound of piano and the tinkling of crystal glasses. Look outside and you’ll be treated to views of leafy vineyards, the dramatic Swiss Alps and the sparkling Venice Lagoon.
The Rovos Rail
Pretoria – Cape Town (South Africa)
The Rovos Rail is one of the most luxurious means of discovering South Africa. This sumptuous railway service combines a beautiful, retro ambience with the rugged outdoors and the incredible animal life that resides just a glass pane away. Vintage armchairs, deep Victorian baths and fine dining with some of South Africa’s best wines can all be expected; the classic route from Pretoria to Cape Town advances gently through buzzing meadows, sculpted vineyards and towering mountains.
Amtrak Coast Starlight
Seattle – Los Angeles (USA)
Cruising through three magnificent states in just 35 hours, the Coast Starlight journey is a highlight reel of the largest cities of the west American coast. It passes through the snow-capped peaks of the Cascade Mountains, along the Pacific Ocean, through the Big Sur and into the heart of a number of cities. If you can tear your eyes away from the windows of this double-decker train, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the form of on-board entertainment, from elegant dinners and wine and cheese tasting, to family movie nights in the train’s very own theatre.
The Trans-Siberian Railway
Moscow – Vladivostok (Russia)
For many, the epic Trans-Siberian Express is the king of all railway adventures. It crosses seven time zones and its route spans almost 6,000 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok, making it one of the longest train journeys in the world. Through breathtaking landscapes, across the depths of Siberia and passing the iconic Lake Baikal, this seven-day journey is interrupted with stops in some of Russia’s most fascinating and inspiring cities.
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Eastern & Oriental Express
Bangkok – Singapore
On the Eastern & Oriental Express, you’re just as likely to be found sipping signature cocktails at the bar as you are staring agog at the lush, emerald views of Southeast Asia rolling by from the observation car. Dripping in sumptuous green and gold and swimming in Cherrywood panelling, there’s a colonial, bygone mood on board, a fitting setting for the haute cuisine and stellar service that’s provided at every turn. The three-night trip from Bangkok to Singapore takes in an array of delightful sights, including rice fields in every shade of green, plantations and the famous bridge on the River Kwai.
The West Highland Line
Glasgow – Fort William and Mallaig (Scotland)
Sweeping across the mountainous west coast of Scotland, this awesome journey takes its travellers into the heart of wind-blown moors, along steep hills, placid lochs and the towering heights of Ben Nevis. It’s a route that’s considered one of the most breathtaking in the world. Although the whole line is a feast for the eyes, the view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which towers over the serene depths of Loch Shiel, famous for its appearance in four Harry Potter movies, is undoubtedly the climax of the ride.
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The Rocky Mountaineer
Vancouver – Banff (Canada)
Luxurious yet laidback, the Rocky Mountaineer rolls past the stunning Canadian Rockies in all its wild, unabashed glory on this two-day jaunt. Canyons, snowy peaks, streams and green valleys are all on the menu, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you may even see some of the region’s wonderful wildlife, including bald eagles, grizzly bears and moose. To enjoy the best views, a foray into the train’s Gold Leaf cars, complete with domed glass ceilings and panoramic vistas is a must.
The Tren a las Nubes (The Train of the Clouds)
The name of this journey offers some clue to the dizzying heights reached during its three-hour circular route of Salta. Continuously climbing the Quebrada del Toro gorges, it’s one of the highest railways in the world and crosses fascinating landscapes of marbled rock, layered mountains and dusty high-altitude desert. The train negotiates 29 soaring bridges, 12 viaducts and countless spirals, but the star of the show is the imposing Polvorilla Viaduct, the highest point, which overlooks magnificent views of the Andes.
The Bergen Railway
Oslo – Bergen (Norway)
Driving the 300-odd miles between the Norwegian capital and Bergen by car is not a simple task, with sharp drops, snow squalls and chunks of poor road on the hard plateau of Hardangervidda to navigate. The train, on the other hand, is a blissfully-carefree affair which consists of seven hours of non-stop beauty – fjords, waterfalls, rivers and snow-blanketed hills are just some of the highlights. The descent towards Flam is said to be one of the steepest journeys by rail in the world and is the most thrilling moment of the trip.
Adelaide – Darwin (Australia)
The Ghan's journey is as legendary as it is long. Measuring 1,851 miles from north to south, coast to coast, through the astonishing Australian outback, this three-day trip delves into the fiery red centre of the country, enjoying the best sights of the bush. Think rugged wilderness miles from civilisation, giant mountains that punctuate the skyline and vivid shades of crimson and ochre as far as the eye can see, all under a piercing blue sky.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
New Jalpaiguri – Darjeeling (India)
With the affectionate nickname of Toy Train, this charming blue steam train chugs along a narrow valley at the foothills of the Himalayas. During the seven hours of riding between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, you’ll pass by frozen landscapes of tea plantations and lush, pristine forests. With an average speed of 16kmh, there’s all the time in the world to admire the extreme beauty that abounds here.
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Tokyo – Hiroshima (Japan)
Japan’s futuristic bullet train is one of the fastest in the world and it’s pretty elegant to boot. Despite its 185mph speed, this aerodynamic wonder offers a curiously fluid ride. Along its busiest section, between Tokaido and Sanyo, the 560-mile stretch that separates Tokyo from Hiroshima can be covered in just four hours. It’s a smooth journey that streaks past beautiful landscapes, punctuated by stops on a timetable that’s always respected.
Cover picture : Dudarev Mikhail - Fotolia.com