In an age where getting to and from a destination is often overlooked, it’s wonderful to slow down and enjoy the view as you travel. Whether you’re chugging along in a steam-powered locomotive through gold-mining country or gliding through mountains and farmland on a highly engineered bullet train, travelling by train is a unique and exciting way to experience a destination.
Here are our top seven rail journeys around the world.
Dramatic and stunning, not only is the 61-mile Bernina Express one of the most scenic journeys in the world – floating high between the peaks, across deep ravines and alongside lush pastures and freshwater glaciers – it’s also an exceptional feat of engineering. With 42 tunnels and 144 viaducts and bridges, UNESCO calls it ‘an outstanding technical, architectural and environmental ensemble’, which ‘embodies architectural and civil engineering achievements, in harmony with the landscapes through which they pass.’ Well, you can’t get a better endorsement than that.
Naturally the iconic red train is designed around the views, with each carriage filled with vista windows so you can marvel at the incredible mountain scenery.
This is one of the most epic train journeys in Canada, travelling along the old routes across the Canadian Rockies. On a thrilling two-day trip, you’ll pass Mount Robson - the highest peak in the range, as well as glacial lakes, lush alpine forest and beautiful Hell’s Gate. Look out for the mighty animals who live here, such as elk, moose, wolves and bald eagles. And in the case of lineside grizzlies, your driver will try to slow down to give you the chance for pictures.
A breathtaking journey through the cool mountains of Sri Lanka, the rail route from Kandy to misty Nuwara Eliya gently ascends from subtropical banana and spice trees to thick eucalyptus and evergreen forests. Dramatic waterfalls intersperse with lush tea plantations – keep an eye out for colourful tropical birds, butterflies, orchids, sambar deer and giant squirrels along the way. This is a real bucket-list experience for anyone going to Sri Lanka.
Jump on board on a Grand Tour of Sri Lanka.
Fancy harking back to the golden days of steam train travel? Hope aboard the coal-fired locomotive that courses along the same line that the early settlers of the Old West used during the first Gold Rush. On this narrow-gauge railway, you’ll weave in and out of canyons and past open wildernesses that offer panoramic views through the San Juan National Forest, Rio de las Animas Canyon and into the silver-mining town of Durango.
Experience the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway on a tour of the Historic Trains of the Old West.
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If you want to get a panoramic view of the wildest, most dramatic and most astonishing scenery in Norway, Flåm railway should be at the top of your list. It’s been recognised by National Geographic, Lonely Planet Traveller and the Society of International Railway as one of the world’s most beautiful train rides, which is why travellers flock here to experience it every year. It’s also one of the world’s steepest, coursing from the low-lying farmland of Aurlandsfjord up to the high mountains of Myrdal, passing impressive waterfalls, mountain slopes, birch forests and snow-capped peaks along the way. These are some of the most magnificent vistas you’ll experience in the whole of Europe.
Catching Japan’s bullet train is rather like going into space. Once you’ve taken your seat inside the sleek, needle-nosed shuttle, the cabins pressurise momentarily for high-speed travel and then shoot off silently, to reach speeds of up to 320kmph. This is the pinnacle of domestic engineering: the most advanced form of transport a normal person can hope to experience. Gliding from Tokyo to Kyoto, you’ll get fantastic views of iconic Mount Fuji – and advanced warning on the approach as everyone rushes to the window with their camera phones.
Journey through Japan on the bullet train.
The vast desert between Adelaide and Perth is as close to ‘magnificent desolation’ as you can get on this planet. Parched red earth stretches from horizon to horizon, dotted with gnarly gum trees, the odd flock of sheep, and kangaroos and emus aplenty. Haunting, yes; boring, no - especially on board the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney.
With food and wine sourced from Australia’s finest food and wine regions (eg Hunter Valley, Barossa, Margaret River), the trip is frequently lauded as one of Australia’s greatest culinary experiences. Stay in a Gold Service sleeper cabin and you can stretch out in comfort as you travel through the night-time desert wilderness. The journey includes a stop at Rawlinson for dinner under the stars - an unforgettable experience.
Travel Across Australia by Train and experience the beauty of the Nullarbor for yourself.