Great Rail Journeys From Around the World – Where you won’t Forget the View!
Most people know already – it takes zero encouragement to get me on a train!
Perhaps it's the romantic feeling of nostalgia that fills us when we enter a bustling train station: the feeling that a great journey is about to begin.
Perhaps it’s the feeling of slowing down, chatting with your fellow travellers, and leaning out of an open window to watch the curves of a train hug the rails as it twists through different types of terrain. Or perhaps it’s the feeling of falling asleep to the rhythm of the rails and waking up in a new country, state or landscape. Perhaps it’s knowing that taking the train is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of long-distance transport there is.
Sustainable Travel is an increasingly important topic too. According to Euromonitor, two-thirds (66.4%) of us globally now want to have a positive impact on the environment through our daily actions and choosing a sustainable holiday by rail is a great way to incorporate eco-friendly activities into your leisure plans. With trains generating less than 1/20 of the CO2 emissions of air travel, it's no surprise rail travel is growing in popularity.
Whatever it is that draws us to train travel, I know I’m not the only one! And just to prove it, I’ve called on some fab travel bloggers to share their favourite great rail journeys with a view to get you running to your nearest train station. Enjoy!
1. Ella to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka – by the Nomadic Boys.
One of our favourite ever train journeys was from Nuwara Eliya to Ella in Sri Lanka. We loved it because it was incredibly scenic as the train powers up through Sri Lanka’s southern hill country, into the clouds and then weaves in and out of the many mountain tunnels as it descends to reach Ella. Along the way, we saw the tea plantations, and eucalyptus forests and passed through the many local villages where locals wave you on. The railway network in Sri Lanka was initially introduced by the British Colonial government in 1864, mainly to transport tea (and coffee) from the hill country in places like Nuwara Eliya to the capital, Colombo.
Since the advent of road travel, the train network in Sri Lanka declined heavily after the 1970s. Recently, the Sri Lankan government launched a 10-year Railway Development Strategy investment programme to upgrade and reignite this industry: a blessing for what we found to be one of the most scenic train journeys we’ve ever taken.
2. Oruro to Uyuni, Bolivia – by World Trip Diaries.
I love train travel. It’s easier, and the views are almost always worth it! The trip I loved most was the one from Oruro to Uyuni in Bolivia.
We took a bus from La Paz to Oruro and in Oruro, we took the train that would take us to Uyuni. It’s an 8-hour trip and if you take the day-time train, you’ll get the most incredible views all over (and some pretty annoying music videos and movies)!
It is slower than going by bus, but it’s more comfortable and safer to go by train, so we chose it. The views are simply incredible. We crossed so many distinct landscapes it was hard to believe they were all in the same country. We only saw the immensity of those mountains when a car or bus passed by. It was breathtaking all the way through until the night came, and darkness covered everything.
It was, without doubt, one of the prettiest train trips we’ve ever taken, and we’d highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Bolivia!
3. Grindelwald to Wengen, Switzerland – by Short Holidays and Getaways.
One of the most scenic train journeys we have done was on a cog-wheel train from the delightful village of Grindelwald to another amazing village – Wengen, Switzerland. Wengen is part of the Jungfrau region of Switzerland along with Grindelwald, Murren, and Lauterbrunnen. The cogwheel train winds its way through the massive mountains of Eiger, Jungfrau, and Munch, and (if you are careful), you can hang your head out of the window to admire this incredible scenery. The train climbs to Kleine Scheidegg where many skiers, boarders, and walkers get off, and others get off to catch the connecting cogwheel train to the famous Jungfraujoch: the top of Europe. Others stay on to go through to Wengen, which is what we did. Wengen is a picture postcard Swiss village. From there we took the Wengen–Männlichen Aerial Cableway to the party zone of Männlichen, before taking the cogwheel train back to Grindelwald. Seriously one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
4. Dorud to Andimeshk, Iran – by Lost with Purpose.
A slow, rickety train rides the rails between the towns of Dorud and Andimeshk in western Iran. Getting on is a bit of a spectacle, as tickets sell out quickly, but once you’re aboard and settled in, prepare to be dazzled! The train chugs away through some spectacular desert scenery, from sheep herders wandering along towering cliff faces, to villages so tiny you wonder whether they even count as villages.
That is if you get a chance to spend much time looking out the window! Iranians are famous for their hospitality, and you’re sure to be treated to a healthy dose during your day on the train. My partner and I were given a seat right up front with the train conductors, treated to many cups of tea (too many, perhaps, for a toilet-less train), asked all kinds of questions and told stories as we munched snacks given to us by our train compartment companions throughout the seven-hour ride.
5. The Hershey Electric Railway, Cuba – by Travels of a Bookpacker.
This line was originally built for the Hershey company to transport sugar from the plantations to the port in Havana. Nowadays it runs as means of local transport between smaller towns and for the few tourists that want to see a bit of something different on their trip to Cuba. It’s a great alternative if you’re travelling Cuba on a budget or don’t want to take a bus between Havana and Matanzas although it will take you slightly longer.
The train timetable is very flexible so head to the station the day before to check times. The journey is supposed to take around four hours but any house along the route can be a stop and the electrical lines that the train runs on often disconnect. So don’t expect to get anywhere soon. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the amazing views.
Slowly cruising past lush forests, local farms and tobacco plantations you’ll get a peaceful and beautiful look at Cuban life outside the cities. We took the afternoon train and caught an amazing sunset before we rolled into Havana. Note, you need to take the ferry over to the Casablanca train station in Havana where the train arrives and departs.
6. The Bamboo Railway, Battambang, Cambodia – by Czech Souls.
Lifting the bamboo “train” on and off the tracks in Cambodia! Image c. Czech Souls.
Cambodian Battambang’s bamboo railway isn’t one of the long train journeys where you pass several valleys and mountains and enjoy amazing views, but it’s certainly one of the most unique experiences you can have while on the railway. The journey is approximately 7 km long and it takes about 20 mins in each direction, depending on how often you’ll have to get off.
The “train”, called norry in Khmer, is basically a simple wooden frame covered with bamboo slats. How does that move on the rail? This construction lies on two barbell-like bogies and is connected to a gasoline engine. Up to 15 locals or three tonnes of rice can sit on top of it. Why didn’t they make anything more durable? The answer is simple – It’s a single-track railway and when two trains in opposite directions meet, one is dismantled, so that the other one can pass, that’s why it needs to be light.
We didn’t mind getting on and off the train as you can enjoy the views over the countryside, rice fields and palms. At the end of the bumpy ride, you’ll have to refuse children trying to sell you bracelets just like at other tourist attractions. Sound good to you? Then hurry up, because they are already talking about ending the service or moving the railway because of the construction of the new and modern one.
7. The TranzAlpine in New Zealand – by Dream Travel Girl
The most beautiful train journey I’ve done so far was the TranzAlpine in New Zealand. It goes from Christchurch to Greymouth, in the South Island, crossing the mountain range of the Southern Alps.
When the train left the station, at 8:00am, it was all foggy. For a moment I feared that everything I would see would be a white window. Fortunately, half an hour later the fog dissipated. Yes! I enjoyed the views from my seat until one hour later, when the viewing deck opened. It was cold – it was autumn – but I didn’t want to miss the experience. The landscapes were stunning. We crossed mountains, bridges and tunnels, saw green fields and blue rivers. The colours were so intense that looked unreal.
When we reached Arthur’s Pass, the highest station in the South Island, we were allowed to leave the train for 5 minutes. After that we entered a several kilometres long tunnel and started descending towards the west coast of the island. It felt very short, but it was a 4-hour long journey!
8. Iskar Gorge, Bulgaria – by 203 Travel Challenges
Around 100 years ago when this route was officially opened, the most famous Bulgarian writers all described it in their novels and short stories to invite people from all over the country to come and experience the curly railroad themselves.
The tracks follow the snake-like gorge of Iskar River with amazing cliffs hanging over the train. In spring and fall, when the colours of the trees play games with light, you can see the gorge in its best dress. You can also take off at any of the numerous stations along the gorge, climb the hills and get a view of the railroad and the toy-like trains passing along their way.
9. Cusco to Machu Picchu, Peru – by Probe Around the Globe.
Travelling to Machu Picchu, the Inca site high in the Andes of Peru is exciting on its own. You can hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca trail, or you can take the train from Ollantaytambo to the small town of Aguas Caliente, or Machu Picchu village. Only a train ride away, it brings you deep into the Andes, to the long-lost city of the Incas.
There are several train companies providing this train journey, but all have vista windows for maximum visibility of the route towards Machu Picchu. Nothing but greenery, you follow the river, until the space next to the tracks becomes smaller and smaller.
The mountains close in on you and it feels like you get sucked into a nature movie. The train moves at a steady but slow pace, chugging you into the mountains. Final stop is the tiny village of Aguas Caliente, where it's buzzing with tourists that all want to see this new wonder of the world.
10. Paris to Venice – by Barts Go Adventuring.
Venice had always been high on my list of places to visit and when I saw pictures of it in the winter I knew I had to visit then. On my various investigations on the best way to get there I heard that if you go by train the arrival is spectacular and as you step out of the station to see the canals of Venice ahead of you.
Our wedding anniversary happens to be in the winter, so we eventually booked a weekend away and travelled by train from our home in England. The Paris to Venice section was particularly beautiful to travel – we just started to see the edges of the French and Italian Alps with their snow-topped peaks. We changed in Turin giving us time to stretch our legs and explore a bit.
One problem with my plan to get the train to Venice was that we arrived in the evening, and since it was winter it was dark! So, this meant that we couldn’t see outside as we approached but did get a rather wonderful view out of the station with the street lit. canals so not all was lost.
11. The West Highland Line, Scotland (aka “The Hogwarts Express”) – by Rachel’s Ruminations.
The train used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies really exists, and you can ride it! It is actually the Jacobite Steam Train, travelling a scenic route across the Scottish Highlands. Its 84-mile round-trip route starts in Fort William and ends in the lovely fishing village of Mallaig. Besides seeing the viaduct used in four of the Harry Potter films (21 arches and 416 yards long), you’ll enjoy some beautiful scenery along the way: the Scottish Highlands with its rolling hills and beautiful lochs (lakes).
In Mallaig you can wander the picturesque village for an hour and half at midday. Then either take the train back, or you can catch a ferry from Mallaig to Skye or the Small Isles. Pro tip: book well (weeks) in advance as this train is extremely popular!!
12. The Flam Railway – Untold Morsels.
It’s not the longest train journey in the world, but it is truly spectacular. The train from Flåm on Norway’s Aurlandsfjord fjord travels 850 metres above sea level to the mountain station of Myrdal on its 20-kilometre journey. Along the way you pass gaping gorges, cascading waterfalls and small farms and villages that the railway was built to connect. There is only one short stop along the way where you can alight and experience the splash of the Kjosfossen waterfall on your face.
Most visitors to this part of Norway take the journey on the Flåmsbana railway and with good reason. It’s one of the best ways to experience the fjords and spectacular natural environment.
13. Settle to Carlisle Railway, England – by A Packed Life.
If a train route could be designed for countryside lovers, this is it. Sweeping from chocolate box pretty Settle station in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to brooding Carlisle on the Scottish borders, this train can drop you off at isolated fells and moors for a ramble in some of England’s greenest lands. Alternatively, you can sit back and feast on scenery of such splendour that chatterbox passengers were silenced by its beauty.
You’ll have time to appreciate the journey, including the transit across Ribblehead Viaduct’s 24 arches, as the gradient makes for a slow climb of 16 miles up Blea Moor. If you’re collecting experiences, you’ll be passing the highest mainline station in England at Dent, and the highest point reached by mainline rail at Ais Gill summit. On the day we took the train, we got to see the fells in their gloomiest glory under brooding black skies, all adding to the atmospheric trip.
14. The Blue Train: Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa – by Travellers Archive.
The legend of the “Blue Train”, had been running between Johannesburg and Cape Town as early as 1923, taking passengers from Johannesburg to the ships departing from Cape Town to England. After a break in service in World War II, the route was taken up again and an extraordinary travel experience was created with various tours of the Blue Train going from Johannesburg and Pretoria to Cape Town and vice versa.
Nowadays, one experiences a lot of luxury and style while the beautiful countryside of South Africa passes by your train window from the comfort of the lounge car or club car. And of course, every journey starts with a warm-hearted South African welcome that is defined by personal attention. And when choosing the right route, you might end up staring at the Table Mountain himself, when the train slowly approaches the main station of Cape Town.
15. The Kuranda Scenic Railway, Cairns, Australia – by Flights to Fancy.
Most iconic rail journeys come with hefty price tags that put them out of reach of mere mortals, but there is one historic train trip that I’ve found to be as affordable as it is spectacular. Australia’s Kuranda Scenic Railway rises to 328m above sea level, traverses through 15 hand-carved tunnels, crosses 37 bridges and meanders through some of the lushest terrains in Queensland’s World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics rainforest. The leisurely pace and historic carriages give passengers a unique glimpse of days gone by as they are immersed in the breathtaking views.
For just a little more guests can upgrade to the KSR gold class experience like we did and be spoilt with attentive service, beer, bubbles and delicious snacks. Stony Creek falls is one of the highlights of the trip and KSR gets you so close that you could almost touch them through the sash windows. At the end of the journey spend some time exploring the quaint village of Kuranda before making your way back to Cairns via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for a completely different view of the Daintree Rainforest. This unforgettable journey is a must-do when you are in Cairns.
16. The Gokteik Viaduct, Myanmar – by Surfing the Planet.
When travelling in Myanmar, you will visit many places to remind you that Myanmar (Burma) was once a British colony. Amongst these reminders, you will find the railway network, and one of the greatest experiences in Myanmar is a train ride from Hsipaw to Mandalay. This railway goes through the lush mountainous Shan region, and undoubtedly the main highlight of this trip is crossing the Gokteik Viaduct.
The Gokteik Viaduct is an amazing engineering beauty built by the British and the scenery you can see 100 meters below is simply breathtaking. The train goes very slowly during the whole trip (the quality of the tracks is awful), but when you get to cross the viaduct, it slows down even more. This gives you more time to you to enjoy the view and the faint-hearted will probably close their eyes while listening to the squeaking metal sound of the bridge as you pass through. It’s an incredible experience that can’t be left out of your trip around Myanmar.
17. Zermatt to Gornergrat, Switzerland – by Im Voyager.
Hearing the word “Switzerland” is enough by itself to evoke images of lush meadows, snow-capped mountains, picturesque villages and finally lovely trains that take you across this terrain which is a paradise on earth. The train journeys across Switzerland must indeed rank as the most scenic in the world. We feel blessed to have been able to undertake many such scenic train journeys in Switzerland, but the one that remains etched in memory is the journey from Zermatt to Gornergrat!
The train journey from Zermatt to Gornergrat takes about 35 minutes and takes you through stunning landscapes with the majestic Matterhorn in your line of view. When you reach Gornergrat, you behold an awe-inspiring panorama stretching out in front of you with the Matterhorn dominating the scene. The train itself is a technical wonder having made its first trip in the year 1898. The fully electric cog railway is a chugging testimony to the genius of the engineering minds of the 19th century who gave shape to it.
As the historic train chugs along climbing the height of 3,089 metres, the exhilarating scenery outside, white snow creating an intriguing mosaic with the brown of rocks, makes for a stunning sight. One of the most fascinating sights as the train curves around a bend, is the view of the engine meandering towards its destination.
18. Pretoria to Cape Town, South Africa – by In Africa and Beyond
Also known as The Pride of Africa, the Rovos Rail is one of the most luxurious trains in the world. The leisurely 48-hour journey from Pretoria to Cape Town will take you past meandering rivers and vast open plains, through dark mountain tunnels and arid deserts. The memorable sight of thousands of pink flamingos upon Kamfer Dam, will indicate your arrival into Kimberley, home to one of the biggest man-made holes in the world, dug in pursuit of diamonds. The dam is one of only six breeding sites for lesser flamingos in the world.
Fields of red and green vineyards will become prominent as you journey through the Cape, until you spot Table Mountain, one of the world’s seven wonders of nature, in all its glory. This signals the end of your amazing journey. All this from your king-size bed or the balcony at the end of the train which offers an unparalleled open-air viewing deck, while you sip on constantly topped-up drinks.
19. Mount Washington, New England, USA – by The Foodie Miles.
When you think about a train ride, chances are you expect a train to take you from city to city or from country to country. But the most scenic train ride I have experienced was up the highest peak of New England – Mount Washington.
While you can hike or drive up the mountain in your own car, taking a train, to my mind, is way more fun. Especially, when it’s the world’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway train. Round trip to the top of the mountain and back takes approximately 3 hours. You can choose between a historic steam train or an eco-friendly biodiesel locomotive.
The tickets are rather costly at $69 per person, but the views are magnificent. You will have one hour on the Summit of Mount Washington to look around and take pictures. Make sure to bring some warm clothes like sweaters and scarves. Even during summer months, the weather on top is unpredictable.
20. Phitsanulok to Chiang Mai, Thailand – by Squared Aired.
I have been dreaming of taking the train across Thailand for years now, and it’s only recently (last week, to be exact!) that I had the chance to experience this journey.
The trip started from the south to the north where I made stops along popular destinations. Each segment was beautiful, but it was the segment from Phitsanulok to Chiang Mai the left me in awe. The landscapes we went through were nothing short of breathtaking. To see sugar cane and rice fields with clouds reflecting from the ponds was beautiful. Every so often, I’d catch a glimpse of a local on a motorbike carrying on their daily routine.
As the train took us further up north, the scenery changes to show us glimpses of a jungle. We could tell when the areas became steep because the train would slow down, allowing us to savour more of nature. Of course, I did not catch the moments that took my breath away. That means if you are curious about this journey, you need to go and see it for yourself!
21. Colombo to Galle, Sri Lanka. – By Ellie Cleary of Soul Travel
Just the rails, glinting in the afternoon sun, a jagged slither of sand, and the crashing sea. For miles and miles along the coast. That’s one of my lasting memories of Sri Lanka.
In Colombo itself, the railway line south runs between the city and the Indian Ocean from just beyond the famous Galle Face Hotel to the southern city limits and beyond. The trains to Galle are Sri Lanka’s equivalent of the commuter line. Trains are full to overflowing, but the crowding was easy to forget, if only because there was so much else to look at.
Far less popular with instagramming travellers than the more famous “tea train”, the line from Colombo to Galle is a ride you won’t forget in a hurry. For pretty much the entire route, the train hugs the seashore, with views out to the pacific ocean. As the train runs endlessly past the sea, the boulders and rocks of Colombo’s shoreline turn into slivers of sandy beach next to beach shacks and huts. Standing in the open doorway, the salt breeze provided welcome ventilation for the packed carriages. This is a ride you won’t want to miss!
Where’s your favourite train journey been? Got any tips for finding the best train journeys?
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