It’s a brave new world, and travelling has never been faster or more convenient. You can go halfway across the planet in the flash of a day, the change of landscape quickly dissolving in favour of in-flight entertainment and sheer anticipation.
Travelling easily becomes all about destinations – working your way down the bucket list, ‘gramming them as you go. By all means, exploring the nooks and crannies of the world is an adventure in its own right, but so is the actual journey. And what better way to remember this than by setting off on a good old-fashioned rail adventure? Check out our picks for the greatest train journeys in the world.
The Ghan, Australia
The Australian outback offers some of the world’s most fascinating and inspiring nature adventures. Go on a rail journey with the Ghan, and you’ll get to appreciate the country’s impressive landscape in the comfort of a well-furnished carriage. A true legend, the Ghan rides all the way across the country from Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory. A 3000-kilometre ride, it crosses through the burning red landscape of Australia’s desert and stops for off-train excursions underway. Highlights include the magnificent Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park and a visit to the famous outback town of Alice Springs. Enjoy having your own private cabin and all meals served, while steadily rumbling through the heart of Australia.
Glacier Express, Switzerland
Squeezing its way through the Swiss Alps, the Glacier Express rides through deep valleys, tight curves, and no less than 91 tunnels and across 291 bridges – which perhaps explains why it’s one of the slowest express trains in the world. No need to hurry, though. This roughly seven-hour train ride from Zermatt to St. Moritz is the ultimate window to the Swiss Alps. While regular trains also operate this stretch, the Glacier Express is the only direct route, and it boasts panoramic windows all the way to the roof for undisturbed views. Setting off at an altitude of 1605m, it soon reaches the grand Matterhorn mountain just outside of Zermatt. The peak of the journey, however, is the Oberalp Pass at 2044m, which is also where the Rhine rises. Another unforgettable vista is the Rhine Gorge between Ilanz and Reichenau, an area also known as the Swiss Grand Canyon.
The Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia
The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the world’s most famous rail journeys, riding from Moscow and all the way across Russia to the eastern port town Vladivostok. The route covers an astonishing 9,289km and spans no less than seven time zones.
Underway, you’ll cross the Ob River by the city of Novosibirsk, and pass through some of Siberia’s remote and beautiful landscapes including Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake in terms of volume.
Keeping an average speed of just 60 km/h, this rail journey epitomises slow travel but is still done in just seven days. The Trans-Siberian is one of the world’s most iconic journeys, and was once hailed “the fairest jewel in the crown of the Tsars.”
Prepare for this ride with our in-depth guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The Flåm Railway, Norway
One of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world, the Flåm Railway is only 20km long, but it takes you through some of Western Norway’s most stunning mountainous scenery. It runs from the village of Flåm, located at the end of Aurlandsfjord – one of the most picturesque fjords in the world – and to Myrdal mountain station. With an increase of 863m in just 50 minutes, it’s one of Europe’s steepest railroads. You’ll pass the picturesque Rallar Road, Norway’s most popular cycling route, and ride through lush mountain terrain with foaming waterfalls, wild rivers and deep gorges. Some 20 tunnels later you’ll arrive at Myrdal station, where you can expand your adventure with a ride on the Bergen Railway (also known as the Bergen Line) to either Bergen, on Norway’s southwestern coast, or Hønefoss outside of Oslo.
TranzAlpine, New Zealand
A ride on the TranzAlpine will get you front row tickets to some of New Zealand’s most dramatic scenery. In under five hours, the TranzAlpine rides across South Island – from the vibrant capital of Christchurch to the former coal and gold mining city of Greymouth. Ride along and you’ll pass through tussock grasslands, misty mountain scenery and a subtropical rainforest. You’ll follow the Waimakariri River to the Southern Alps, and see the renowned Arthur’s Pass underway. You’ll also drive through the Otira railway tunnel. The TranzAlpine, no doubt, covers one of the world’s prettiest rail stretches.
The Jacobite, Scotland, UK
If the name doesn’t ring any bells, you might still recognise the Jacobite – in fact, you’re probably better acquainted with it than you might think. Why is that? This beautiful Scottish steam train has prominently featured as the Hogwarts Express in the famous Harry Potter movies. Setting off from Fort William, the Jacobite spans across 66km of spectacular Scottish nature. It passes several scenic freshwater lakes, pauses in the hamlet of Glenfinnan, and continues to its final destination in the port of Mallaig. Underway you’ll enjoy stunning views of the grandiose Scottish mountains, glittering lakes, and the iconic Glenfinnan monument.
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Carve through the majestic Canadian Rockies with a two-day Rocky Mountaineer train ride, following its first route from the cosmopolitan seaport of Vancouver to the mountain town of Banff. For more insights, check out our hiker’s guide to the breathtaking Banff National Park. The Rocky Mountaineer operates four different routes, whereof the historical one follows the “First Passage to the West” that connects Canada from east to west. Ride along, and you’ll have first-class views of the towering, snow-capped mountains from your luxurious carriage. The windows stretch all the way to the ceiling, so you’ll have an undisturbed outlook to the dramatic landscape of the Rockies.
The Grand Canyon Railway, US
Enjoy a first-class rail journey aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, terminating at the magnificent Grand Canyon. Board the 1950s streamliner in Williams, Arizona – located in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, and prepare for 2.5 hours of relaxation and splendid service. The uniformed coach attendants underscore the old-school atmosphere, and you’ll be well taken care of while viewing some of the world’s most extraordinary nature. You’ll roam through dense pine forests and high-desert plains, and get to see the Grand Canyon’s dramatic crags and rocky ledges from the comfort of a soft vintage seat.
The Royal Scotsman, Scotland, UK
To rediscover the romance of travel, consider taking an exclusive rail ride with the Royal Scotsman, another Scottish highlight. It’s not exactly cheap, but then again it is one of the world’s most luxurious train rides. The Royal Scotsman covers several routes, all running from Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, and into the Scottish Highlands. Depending on your route, the ticket includes several off-train excursions to some of Scotland’s iconic sights, and of course to a selection of the country’s whisky distilleries. Once you’ve perused the Highlands like a proper lady or gentleman, you can return to your mahogany-clad carriage, or recharge your batteries in the train’s own Bamford Haybarn Spa.
The Bergen Railway, Norway
Riding across 371km of beautiful Norwegian landscape, the Bergen Railway (also known as the Bergen Line) is another Norwegian train ride not to miss – and luckily it conveniently connects with the above-mentioned Flåm Railway. It runs from Bergen to Hønefoss, passing Finse underway, which at 1,222m is Norway’s highest railway station. The Bergen Line takes you through the Hallingdal Valley, across Hardangervidda National Park, and in wintertime, it carries a snowplough at the front to make its way through the snow-covered terrain. In just seven hours it passes through more than 200 tunnels and crosses more than 300 bridges, and you’ll have the opportunity of stopping at several Norwegian villages underway.