Train travel doesn’t have to only be about getting from one place to the next. It can be something to sit back and enjoy while experiencing amazing scenery and landscapes on your Goway tour.
My first exciting train travel experience was when I was 13 years of age and travelled on a school trip from the UK to Switzerland. Yes, it was a case of getting from point A to B at the time, but it got me hooked on a form of travel which I now always relish. When did you last get a kick out of a routine air flight? So, here are some outstanding, and, in some cases, amazing rail journeys from around the world.
European Train Travel
I believe it was Agatha Christie who used this journey across Europe as a vehicle for the novel, Murder on the Orient Express. The Venice-Simplon-Orient Express is not known, however, for any murders on board during European tours. This private luxury train travels between London and Venice, and I quote the rail company who operates this train, “The service is intended not as an ordinary rail service but as a leisure event with five-star dining included.” That pretty well sums up what to expect. The train has restored carriages of a vintage dating mostly from the 1920s and 1930s. Passengers are conveyed across the English Channel by bus and on through the Channel Tunnel. The journey actually consists of two trains, a historic British Pullman train from London to Folkestone and a Continental train of classic 1920s sleeping-cars from Calais to Venice. The route in Europe travels via Paris, Zurich, the Arlberg Pass, the Brenner Pass, Milan, and Verona before reaching Venice. As well as this route, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express runs occasional departures to Krakow, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, and sometimes even Istanbul.
2-Day Venice Simplon Orient Express: London to Venice
Oslo to Bergen Rail Journey, Norway
If you want to experience train travel on a Norway vacation, which literally makes you feel like you are on top of the world, take this regular train service between Oslo and Bergen. It is considered one of the world’s most scenic train rides, which I can vouch for. There are four daily departures and the journey time is 7 hours, covering some 500 kilometres/310 miles. It stops 21 times so don’t be in a hurry. The scenery is both spectacular and varied. En route, you will experience picturesque mountain scenery and, at times, head right through the heart of the mountains themselves. Additionally, to add to your enjoyment, you will travel through ski resorts, via lakes, fjords and waterfalls, and a large part of the journey is above the tree line. If you want to break your journey at Flam, which is located on a tributary of the mighty Sognefjord, you can then join the Flam Railway and take the one-hour journey up into the mountains to Myrdal. The Flam Railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railway lines in the world. The train runs through spectacular scenery, alongside lush mountainsides, rushing waterfalls, through 20 tunnels, and offers many fantastic viewpoints.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway, Wales
This railway journey takes place in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales and finishes up at the summit of Wales’ highest peak. En route, on your UK vacation, you will experience stunning scenery with great views. You depart from Llanberis for a one hour journey on an 1896 locomotive which chugs its way at a steady pace to the top of Mount Snowdon. A 30-minute stopover gives you time to appreciate the view of mountains and lakes which stretch out before you. En route, you will cross two viaducts and see gushing waterfalls plunging into gorges. Departures leave Llanberis three times a day between May and September, and pre-booking is advised to avoid disappointment.
West Highland Line, Scotland
This 135 kilometre/84 mile round trip on a steam train on Scotland vacations takes you on a one and a half hour journey through panoramic views of lochs (lakes) dominated by towering mountains and deep valleys. You will experience the thrill of travelling 30 metres/100 feet above ground along the breath-taking curve of the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Starting at Fort William, near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, the train visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig, after which it passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, visiting next the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis, eventually arriving on the west coast of Scotland at Mallaig. The train trip runs from April to October. On a clear day, you can see the Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna, and the southern tip of the Isle of Skye. This particular train journey was featured in several Harry Potter movies.
Alpine Rail Journeys, Switzerland
The Bernina Express is a train which can be boarded at Davos, St. Moritz, or Chur on Switzerland vacations, and travels to Tirano in the Italian Alps. You can do the trip in reverse or both ways. The 4-hour leisurely rail journey travels along a route which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in itself. This private train has enlarged windows to allow you to view the spectacular Alpine scenery and also supplies an audio guide to enhance your experience. The distance is 122 kilometres/76 miles and goes through 55 tunnels and crosses 196 bridges and viaducts. There are 25 stops along the route.
The Glacier Express is an alternative to the above. You can again join the train in Davos, St. Moritz, or Chur and travel across the southern part of Switzerland to Zermatt. The journey can be done in reverse. It is a leisurely 7 1/2-hour summer-only trip which crosses steep mountains while going through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges. You will experience amazing panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, alpine pastures, and charming Swiss villages.
Asian Train Travel
Trans Siberian Railway
If you really enjoy rail travel and have the time, consider this one week more or less journey across the vastness of Russia. In actual fact, there are three different routes you can take. Let’s assume you start in Moscow on a Russia vacation, you can head to Vladivostok in Eastern Russia or to Beijing via Ulan Bator in Mongolia or Harbin, Manchuria in China. This is the longest railway in the world and has been operating for over 100 years. The lengths of the journeys are between Moscow and Vladivostok, 9260 kilometres/6150 miles, between Moscow and Beijing via Ulan Bator, 7620 kilometres/4735 miles (the most popular route and arguably, the most interesting) and between Moscow and Beijing via Harbin, 8985 kilometres/5625 miles. You will pass through a total of 8 time zones. It is best to travel between May and September when the days are longer. The journey can be broken into sections, if necessary, with overnight stays in hotels, although sleeping accommodation and meals on the train are available. What are you going to see? In Kazan, you have the only surviving Tatar fortress; in Yekaterinburg, the church where the last of the Russian royal family was murdered; Irkutsk, known as the “Paris of Siberia” with its classical and wooden buildings; the Ural Mountains; Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world; the magical Gobi Desert with its wild horses and local tribes, and part of the Great Wall of China (not all these are included on the same route).
China to Tibet Rail Journey
There are several trains travelling from China to Lhasa in Tibet. This journey is the world’s highest railway trip so it is very unique in that sense. The most interesting part of the journey is from Qinghai to Lhasa, where it begins its climb. The distance is approximately 1110 kilometres/740 miles and takes around 21 hours to complete. You can join a train in Beijing or other Chinese cities and link up with this one. This portion of the route has been described as “a man-made wonder,” due to the difficulties in originally building the track. On a China vacation, you are going to see breathtaking scenery along the way as well as a large expanse of blue sky and snow-covered mountains. At its highest point along the route, you reach a height of 5060 metres/16,475 feet. That’s pretty high. However, Lhasa is even higher. This rail journey is a good way to become used to the altitude.
Journey the Highest Railway in the World on the Tibet Express
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, India
I have happy memories of travelling on this “toy” train which operates in northeast India. The word toy may give you the impression of a ride for kids but this is actually a passenger steam train which runs from New Jalpaiguri to the tea capital of the world, Darjeeling. The line is 88 kilometres/55 miles long and at one point, reaches an altitude of 2200 metres/7218 feet after starting out at 100 metres/330 feet, so you can experience how it climbs up into the mountainous terrain, while on your India tour. The journey time is 7-1/2 hours. The last stretch is downhill into Darjeeling. This is one of the most scenic parts of the journey, as you not only have an amazing view of Darjeeling below but also of Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain peak in the world. To warn people and car drivers about its approach, the train is equipped with very loud horns that even drown out the noisy horns of Indian trucks and buses.
Bullet Trains, Japan
Although I agree that bullet trains in Japan are pretty commonplace, it is still a thrill for me to ride on one. I remember the first time I took one on my trip to Japan. I was told that I needed to be in a specific carriage. So, in order to find my reserved seat, I was to stand at a certain marked spot on the platform and the train would stop with the doors opening within a millimetre of the mark… and it did. The bullet train is aptly named, as it seems to travel at the speed of a missile. The maximum speed of the train runs from 240 to 320 kilometres/150 to 200 miles per hour. Make sure you catch the Shinkansen bullet train as these are the fastest. There is a large network of bullet trains and it would be surprising not to find one between any two major cities in Japan. My favourite is the one between Tokyo and Hakone, as you get a bird’s-eye view en route of snow-capped Mount Fuji in all its glory.
Japan Rail Passes
African Train Travel
The Blue Train, South Africa
This particular train has worthy competition but it can boast that it has won the award of being Africa’s leading luxury train many times in a row. So, why would this be? It runs between Cape Town and South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. The train provides, and I quote, “Irish linen, quality silver in the dining car, marble floors, plush white towels and fluffy eiderdown duvets.” Sold? Well, add to this, all meals are a la carte and include drinks (this also includes French champagne!). This train travel experience, on South Africa travel, takes 27 hours and you sleep on the train. The distance covered is 1600 kilometres/1000 miles.
2-Day Blue Train: Pretoria to Cape Town
The Umgeni Steam Railway, South Africa
This steam train runs from Inchanga to Kloof (both roughly half way between Durban and Pietermaritzburg), and traverses some of the steepest railway gradients in South Africa. It is also known as the Inchanga Choo Choo. Its journey takes you through the KwaZulu National Park and the 1000 Hills region. It operates only on the last Sunday of the month unless the schedule states otherwise. It is run by a non-profit organization with volunteer staff, dedicated to preserving the heritage of railways in South Africa. This is a way to get a good idea of the beauty of the South African countryside.
Jambo Kenya Deluxe Train
This is a comparatively new service which travels overnight between Nairobi and Mombasa, along the Indian Ocean, and includes dinner and breakfast in First Class, as well as sleeping accommodation. So, if you are, for example combining a safari with a coastal stopover on your Kenya vacation, do consider this train journey. It is air-conditioned and features table seating in the buffet car for First Class passengers who can view animal life through large windows as they pass through the Kapiti Plains and Tsavo National Park. You can also see typical African villages with people going about their daily lives, as well as miles of untouched landscapes. There is an air of a bygone era on this train, including the British formal dining experience with china, crystal, and silverware.
South American Train Travel
The Hiram Bingham Deluxe Train, Peru
This luxury private train runs between Cusco and Machu Picchu in Peru and is named after the explorer, Hiram Bingham, who first discovered the mythical city of Machu Picchu. The journey time is 3-1/2 hours. It is not just a comfortable means of getting to Machu Picchu but a train travel experience in itself, while on a Peru vacation. You get to see spectacular sights such as the snow-capped Vilcabamba Mountains, the agricultural terraces of the Incan city of Jaquijahuana, and the cloud-laden Urubamba Gorge in the Sacred Valley. On boarding the train, passengers are greeted with sparkling wine and orange juice, small canapés and a performance of traditional Andean dance and music.
The Devil’s Nose Train, Ecuador
Don’t be put off by the name of this train, which was given because of the many deaths of workers who constructed the track, completed in 1908. The train starts at Alausi, one hour from Riobamba, and takes around 2-1/2 hours for the return trip to Silambe. As you’ll experience, on your Ecuador vacation, the train travels through the Andes Mountains alongside rocky ravines, canyons, and cascading streams. The ride takes 45 minutes to get to Silambe, where a light lunch is served after which, it then heads back. The train is driven by a steam engine.
This can be part of a longer rail journey starting in Quito to Guayaquil, or vice versa. Tren Cruceros is a 4-day train journey which also includes scenery of Cotopaxi National Park, home to animals such as deer, wolves, bears, and the Andean condor, the world’s largest flying bird. In Pistichi, you can enjoy some traditional dancing in the town. Later on in the journey, if weather permits, you can view the impressive and active Tungurahua volcano.
Copper Canyon Train Journey, Mexico
The Copper Canyon in northern Mexico is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. There are nine major canyons of which most are over 1.6 kilometres/1 mile deep. This train travels between Los Mochis on the Pacific Coast and Chihuahua in the north of Mexico through the Sierra Madre mountain range which contains the country’s tallest waterfalls, alpine forest, and verdant landscapes. It starts at sea level and reaches a height of 2400 metres/8000 feet, taking approximately 15 hours during the daytime. It has been described as “The most dramatic train ride in the Western Hemisphere,” and is ready for you on a Mexico vacation.
Australian Train Travel
Indian Pacific Train
The Indian Pacific is a once or twice-weekly service, depending on the time of the year, which travels right across Australia, between Sydney on the east coast and Perth on the west coast. The overall distance is 4350 kilometres/2700 miles and the journey takes 3 nights. Almost 480 kilometres/300 miles of it is across the longest straight track in the world, the Nullabor Plain. All meals and sleeping accommodation are included in the price of a ticket. The journey, starting from Sydney, travels through the Blue Mountains, the historic mining town of Broken Hill, the cultural city of Adelaide, and the desert terrain of the Nullabor Plain, eventually arriving in Perth. You can take the portions between Sydney and Adelaide or Adelaide and Perth, if the overall journey is too long for your Australia vacation.
The Ghan Train
We now travel north to south, or vice versa, on the Ghan train. For train buffs on Australia vacations, this journey could be combined with the India Pacific train, as it travels between Adelaide and Darwin once a week, with a stop in Alice Springs in the heart of the Outback. And again, the trip can be terminated or broken en route at Alice Springs. The name of the train comes from the Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia in the late 19th century who helped build the railway. The journey between Adelaide and Darwin takes just over 4 days, including a 4-hour stopover in Alice Springs. Sleeping accommodation and meals are once again included over the distance of 2980 kilometres/1850 miles.
Spirit of the Outback Train
This train travel is a journey through, mainly, the interior of Queensland, between Brisbane in the south and Longreach in the north. This twice-weekly service starts its 1325 kilometre/820 mile journey from Brisbane and travels along the Pacific coast to Rockhampton, where it then heads inland to Longreach. It traverses mountain ranges, sunburnt plains, and historic towns including attractions on arrival at Longreach, such as the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Qantas Founders Outback Museum. This 24-hour train journey includes meals and sleeping accommodation.
There are many more exciting and different train travel ideas which exist in our world. The above is a random, albeit, special selection to whet your appetite. All aboard!
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