While a plane might get you to your destination faster, nothing quite beats the romance — and window-side sightseeing opportunities — of a train ride. Here are the world’s most amazing train rides.
Covering the beautiful scenery of southern British Columbia between Vancouver and Banff, the Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West is one of the most scenic train rides in Canada, if not the world. Leaving the cosmopolitan coastal city of Vancouver behind, passengers are treated to breathtaking sights — such as the wild waters of Fraser Canyon’s Hell’s Gate and steep tracks running alongside the Thompson River — from the comfort of luxurious carriages. There’s an overnight stay in the lakeside city of Kamloops before they rise over the stunning, snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies and arrive at beautiful Banff.
Connecting two of Switzerland’s most scenic mountain resorts, Zermatt and St Moritz, the Glacier Express is the most relaxing way to enjoy the stunning scenery of the Swiss Alps. Traveling eastward from Zermatt, the day-long trip covers a staggering 91 tunnels and 291 bridges as it rolls past southern Switzerland’s alpine meadows, pristine mountain lakes and picture-perfect hamlets. Highlights of the journey include Oberalp Pass, the highest point on the ride at 6706 feet. Another is the famous Landwasser Viaduct — a magnificent six-arch structure standing 200 feet and plunging into a tunnel cut straight into the mountainside.
All aboard the TranzAlpine for a stage-side seat to one of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes — the South Island’s Southern Alps. Starting out in Christchurch, the TranzAlpine travels northwest through the fertile fields of the Canterbury Plains alongside the Waimakariri River. Then it goes up into the mountains, where it crosses the mighty Staircase Viaduct. Passing through the magnificent, snow-capped mountains of Arthur’s Pass National Park, the TranzAlpine chugs onward through the west coast’s subtropical rainforests. Finally, it reaches its destination: the historic former gold mining town of Greymouth.
Taking passengers through some of Scotland’s most diverse scenery, the West Highland Line is an excellent way to experience the country’s wild, western coast. Once the train leaves Glasgow — Scotland’s biggest city — the urban landscape quickly succumbs to verdant glens and tranquil lochs. Heading northward, the West Highland Line passes through the remote wilderness of Rannoch Moor before skirting the towering Ben Nevis and touching down in Fort William. Switching direction and moving westward, the train traverses the Glenfinnan Viaduct (featured in the Harry Potter film series) before arriving at the bustling port of Mallaig.
Australia’s Outback is home to some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring scenery, and The Ghan offers travelers the opportunity to experience the vast landscape in pure luxury. Cutting a path directly through Australia’s fiery red center, The Ghan travels from Darwin in the north to Adelaide — a total distance of almost 2000 miles. It takes passengers from the lush, tropical coast of the Northern Territory via the red-hued rocks of the MacDonnell Ranges and onto the fertile plains of South Australia. A trip on The Ghan also features off-train excursions, including a leisurely boat tour of Nitmiluk Gorge and a trip to the quirky desert town of Alice Springs.
At a staggering 5772 miles, the Trans-Siberian Railway is among the world’s longest rail routes. Starting at its westward terminus in Moscow, the Trans-Siberian crosses over the Ural Mountains and through dense Siberian forest. It spans the entire width of Russia and connects the capital with Vladivostok in the east. The eight-day journey takes passengers by landmarks including the magnificent 3227-foot-long bridge that crosses the River Ob at Novosibirsk (Russia’s third-largest city) and the breathtaking blue waters of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume.
Just an hour long, the Flåm Railway may not be an epic journey, but it’s among the most scenic. In fact, it’s one of Norway’s top attractions and is frequently hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful train rides. One of Europe’s steepest rail routes, the railway rises 2831 feet from its starting point in the tiny village of Flåm in the Sognefjord. It passes by deep ravines, cascading waterfalls and towering peaks to the mountaintop station of Myrdal. Gorgeous in the summertime, the Flåm Railway is even more magical in colder months when a blanket of snow turns the journey into a winter wonderland.
A luxury train trek spanning some 2000 miles, Rovos Rail’s Namibia Safari passes some of the most stunning scenery the Southern African region has to offer. Departing from Pretoria in South Africa, the journey takes passengers into Kimberley — a former diamond-rush town and home to Big Hole, one of the world’s largest hand-dug mines. It then traverses the starkly beautiful landscape of the Northern Cape and Fish River Canyon. As it moves onward into the Kalahari Desert, the train visits Namibia’s lively capital, Windhoek, before crossing the Namib Desert and moving into its final destination at Swakopmund. This final stop is a perfectly preserved German Hansa town nestled along Namibia’s coast.
Traveling through some of Peru’s most romantic scenery and ending at the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu, the Belmond Hiram Bingham is a once-in-a-lifetime luxury train journey. Starting from the ancient capital city of Cusco, the Belmond Hiram Bingham traverses the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a stunning vale formed by the winding Urubamba River. It also passes through the tiny village of Ollantaytambo. It’s the journey’s end point, though, that is the real gem: Machu Picchu. This landmark is an ancient Inca citadel and UNESCO World Heritage Site set high in the Andes Mountains.
An epic, 14-day journey, the Golden Eagle Danube Express’s Central Europe and Transylvania route traverses a 2000-mile passage between Istanbul, Turkey, to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Crossing an incredible eight countries, the Golden Eagle Danube Express is the best way to see Europe in style and includes stops in some of the continent’s most beautiful cities. From Istanbul, the train travels north via the Carpathian Mountains and into Transylvania, past Bran Castle — also known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’. It then travels through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Poland before arriving in beautiful Prague.
A train ride perfect for history buffs, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in continuous operation since its completion in 1882. It was originally constructed as means of hauling silver and gold from Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Now, the railroad allows passengers to enjoy the same breathtaking journey — via a coal-fired steam locomotive, no less — taken by Old West miners and settlers more than a century ago. The 45.4 mile route moves alongside the Animas River, winding through the remote wilderness and beautiful canyons of Colorado’s San Juan National Forest. Additionally, it often offers a glimpse of local wildlife, including black bears, deer and mountain lions.