Rail travel has forever held a captivating and thrilling charm. Furthermore, it embodies a relaxed and unhurried mode of transportation, granting you the opportunity to unwind, take pleasure in the surroundings, and revel in the journey. Certain train voyages are truly awe-inspiring, as they navigate through the planet’s most picturesque locations, such as majestic snowy summits or breathtaking orange-tinted deserts. These remarkable train rides are destinations in themselves, encapsulating an extraordinary experience.
Here, I present my compilation of the ten most extraordinary train journeys worldwide.
The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express in Russia, Mongolia, and China offers a remarkable journey along the world’s longest continuous rail line, connecting Moscow to Beijing in a span of 15 days. This extraordinary adventure covers a distance of 5,000 miles (9,000 km), spanning six time zones and encompassing over one-third of the globe. The route connects bustling cities with remote towns, taking travelers through the grandeur of European Russia and the enigmatic Far East, crossing the Ural Mountains and traversing the vast forested expanses of Siberia. Along the way, passengers have the opportunity to disembark and explore notable stops such as Yekaterinburg, the final residence of the Romanovs, embark on a hike to Lake Baikal, experience traditional Mongolian hospitality by camping in a Ger, and discover the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaan Baatar.
The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express provides a luxurious take on the Trans-Siberian experience, offering amenities such as en-suite bathrooms, air conditioning during summer, full heating in winter, laundry services, televisions, a resident pianist, and an English-speaking doctor.
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express, a masterpiece of design and an iconic representation of the Art Deco era, is renowned for providing one of the most enchanting and romantic journeys globally, transporting passengers from Paris or London to Venice or Istanbul. This remarkable train voyage traverses Europe, meandering through breathtaking landscapes and visiting some of the continent’s most captivating cities. Managed by Belmond, the same company that oversees the Hiram Bingham train in Peru (mentioned earlier), the Venice Simplon-Orient Express ensures an unforgettable expedition. The train’s charming vintage cabins, exquisite gourmet cuisine, and lively onboard entertainment contribute to creating one of the most extraordinary travel experiences in the world.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway in China is a remarkable feat, spanning a distance of 1,215 miles (1,956 kilometers) and holding the distinction of being the world’s highest railway. It connects Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, with Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. More than half of the journey takes place at an elevation of 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, crossing a delicate ecosystem characterized by permafrost and low oxygen levels. The railway route includes the Tanggula Pass, reaching an astonishing altitude of 16,640 feet (5,072 meters), making it the highest pass in the world.
To ensure the comfort and safety of passengers, every train on this route is equipped with oxygen supplies for each passenger and has a doctor onboard. The breathtaking vistas along the journey offer awe-inspiring views of mountainous landscapes, snow-covered peaks, verdant foothills, and glimpses into the vibrant tapestry of Tibetan folklore. Traveling on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway guarantees a once-in-a-lifetime experience that combines natural beauty with cultural richness.
The Rocky Mountaineer in Canada offers a captivating two-day rail journey that begins in the picturesque mountain resort town of Banff in Alberta and travels through the awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies, culminating in the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Vancouver. Throughout the voyage, passengers are treated to a breathtaking display of untouched wilderness, including dramatic black lava cliffs, majestic canyons, serene glacial lakes, rushing rivers, and the possibility of spotting wildlife such as bighorn sheep, black bears, or grizzly bears.
Onboard the Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf Service, travelers are treated to a sensory delight. Executive chefs prepare gourmet meals, tantalizing the taste buds with exquisite flavors. The bi-level glass dome coaches with panoramic windows offer expansive views of the stunning Canadian Rockies, allowing passengers to immerse themselves in the beauty of the passing scenery. The attentive staff goes above and beyond to enhance the experience, sharing stories about landmarks, ensuring glasses are filled with wine, and eagerly pointing out wildlife sightings along the way. Rest assured, every detail is taken care of, allowing passengers to fully relax and appreciate the journey of a lifetime.
Experience an extraordinary adventure with The Ghan, an iconic rail journey that takes you on an unforgettable expedition deep into the heart of Australia. Operated by The Great Southern Rail, The Ghan embarks on a two-night and three-day voyage, spanning from Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory’s Top End. Covering a distance of 1,851 miles (2,978 km), this remarkable journey traverses the center of Australia, immersing you in the vastness and splendor of the Outback.
The sheer magnitude of the distance traveled is awe-inspiring, while the ever-changing colors and desert landscapes leave a profound impact. The train makes stops of four hours each in both Alice Springs and Katherine, allowing passengers to stretch their legs and indulge in sightseeing. Onboard, you’ll discover a world of luxury and comfort, with sumptuous dining options, elegant private cabins, and attentive service. The camaraderie among fellow travelers adds to the sense of shared adventure and creates lasting memories. Prepare yourself for an extraordinary holiday where you’ll experience the grandeur of Australia like never before.
The Glacier Express in Switzerland is a true showcase of the country’s renowned train system, renowned for its quality and punctuality. Often referred to as the “slowest express train in the world,” this remarkable journey takes travelers from Zermatt to Davos or St. Moritz, lasting approximately 8 hours. However, the leisurely pace is purposeful, allowing passengers to immerse themselves in the untouched beauty of the mountain landscapes and the charm of glamorous ski resorts.
As the train winds its way through narrow valleys, navigates tight curves, passes through 91 tunnels, and crosses 291 bridges, it offers a captivating experience through breathtaking scenery. The Glacier Express has introduced a new standard of luxury with its Excellence Class, which matches the lofty peaks along the legendary route. In this class, guests are pampered and attended to by a dedicated concierge, who ensures their culinary desires are met, addresses any personal concerns, and provides information about the nature, culture, and people encountered along the journey.
The Glacier Express promises an unforgettable voyage where passengers can truly appreciate the splendor of Switzerland’s mountainous landscapes while enjoying exceptional service and hospitality.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham in Peru offers a remarkable and elegant train journey that completes the spectacular route between the city of Cusco and the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu, nestled high in the breathtaking Andes Mountains. Taking less than four hours, this train is named after Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911. The train’s striking blue and gold livery beautifully contrasts with Peru’s lush landscapes.
With a capacity to accommodate up to 84 guests, the Hiram Bingham features two dining cars, a bar car, and an open-view scenery car, allowing passengers to fully immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring views. The interior of each train car is adorned in the style of 1920s Pullman carriages, exuding a timeless charm with polished wood, brass accents, and large comfortable armchairs. Managed by Belmond, one of the world’s most renowned luxury hotel brands, the Belmond Hiram Bingham promises a journey of utmost indulgence and sophistication.
Rovos Rail in South Africa proudly holds the distinction of being the world’s most luxurious train, seamlessly blending the opulence of a luxury hotel with the enchanting allure of leisure train travel. Embarking on a journey through South Africa’s breathtaking landscapes, Rovos Rail offers an unforgettable experience. The route spans 1600 km (994 miles) from Cape Town to Pretoria, encompassing three days and two nights of captivating exploration. Along the way, there are two stops that add to the charm of the journey: the fashionable old town of Matjiesfontein in the Karoo and the historic diamond-mining town of Kimberley on the return leg.
The hallmark of Rovos Rail is its discreet and friendly service, ensuring that every guest feels pampered and attended to. Indulge in five-star cuisine prepared with meticulous attention to detail, complemented by a selection of South Africa’s finest wines. Rovos Rail harks back to a bygone era, evoking the elegance and grace of African exploration, creating a sense of timeless romance. Immerse yourself in the splendor of South Africa’s landscapes while reveling in the luxurious comforts and impeccable service of Rovos Rail.
The TranzAlpine train in New Zealand offers a daily journey that spans from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass and Greymouth, connecting the east coast to the west coast of the country’s South Island. Departing from Christchurch the train ventures through the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury plains, providing passengers with scenic views of the picturesque landscapes. As the journey progresses, passengers are treated to exhilarating vistas of deep gorges while traveling alongside the magnificent Waimakariri River, fed by icy glaciers.
The highlight of the TranzAlpine experience lies in traversing the majestic Southern Alps, where the awe-inspiring beauty of the rugged alpine terrain unveils itself at every turn. The chiseled landscapes of the Southern Alps offer breathtaking panoramic views that will leave you spellbound. After a full day of traversing this stunning route, the train reaches Greymouth on the West Coast, serving as a fantastic base for exploring nearby attractions such as Punakaiki and the popular glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.
The TranzAlpine train promises a remarkable journey through some of New Zealand’s most captivating scenery, offering an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
The Denali Star, the flagship train of the Alaska Railroad, offers a scenic journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks, with stops at Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali Park. As the train makes its way along this route, passengers are treated to breathtaking views of sparkling salmon streams and forests adorned with birch and spruce trees. The landscape comes alive with vibrant hues, as carpets of purple fireweed add a dramatic touch to the surroundings.
True to its name, the star attraction of the Denali Star Route is Denali National Park, one of the most spectacular national parks in the United States. As you embark on this train journey, keep an eye out for opportunities to spot wildlife such as bears, moose, and caribou, which roam freely in the area. Additionally, don’t miss the chance to catch a glimpse of “The Great One” – Mt. McKinley, standing tall at an impressive height of 20,156 feet (6,144 meters). It is the highest mountain peak in North America and a sight to behold.
The Denali Star offers an incredible opportunity to experience the natural beauty and wildlife of Alaska, providing a memorable journey through the stunning landscapes and iconic landmarks of the region.