Train travel is more than just a mode of transportation; it’s an experience. The rhythmic chug of the engine, the vast landscapes unfolding outside your window, and the unique camaraderie among passengers make it a journey like no other. Unlike flights that whisk you above the landscapes or cars that speed past them, trains allow you to immerse yourself in the very heart of the regions they traverse. This blog takes you on a journey through some of the world’s most scenic train routes, each promising memories that will last a lifetime.
1. The Glacier Express, Switzerland
Route: Zermatt to St. Moritz
The Glacier Express is not just a train; it’s a moving observatory. Over its eight-hour journey, passengers are treated to a visual symphony of deep gorges, pristine mountain lakes, and quaint Swiss villages. The train, equipped with panoramic windows, ensures an unobstructed view of the Swiss Alps. One of the highlights is the Oberalp Pass, the highest point on the route at 2,033 meters. As you sip on Swiss wine and dine on local delicacies served onboard, the Glacier Express promises an experience that’s as much about the journey as the destinations it connects.
2. The Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia
Route: Moscow to Vladivostok
A journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway is a lesson in geography, history, and culture. Over its seven-day journey, the train covers eight time zones, making it a true cross-continental adventure. Beyond the vast taigas and the shimmering Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake, passengers get a glimpse into Russia’s soul. The train stops at various cities, each with its own story, from the historic churches of Yaroslavl to the Mongolian influences in Ulan Ude. For those seeking a deeper connection, there are local markets, folk performances, and traditional Russian saunas or “banyas” to explore during stopovers.
3. The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Route: Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise or Jasper
The Rocky Mountaineer is not just a train ride; it’s a celebration of Canada’s wild beauty. As the train meanders through the Canadian Rockies, onboard hosts share tales of the region’s history and ecology. The two-day journey includes an overnight stay in a hotel, ensuring passengers don’t miss any scenic views. From the lush rainforests of British Columbia to the arid landscapes of the Fraser Canyon and the majestic peaks of the Rockies, the journey offers a diverse tapestry of Canada’s landscapes. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a bald eagle soaring above or a bear ambling along the tracks!
4. The Blue Train, South Africa
Route: Pretoria to Cape Town
The Blue Train is often described as a “five-star hotel on wheels.” Beyond its opulent interiors, the train offers a journey through South Africa’s diverse landscapes. As you traverse the vast plains of the Free State, the train’s large windows frame ever-changing vistas. The onboard dining experience, inspired by South African flavors, is complemented by a selection of the country’s finest wines. Personal butlers ensure every need is catered to, from serving high tea in your suite to arranging a pillow to prop up your book as you read.
5. The Ghan, Australia
Route: Adelaide to Darwin
The Ghan’s journey is a tribute to Australia’s pioneers, the Afghan camel drivers who once traversed this challenging terrain. Over its three-day journey, the train offers a panoramic view of Australia’s heartland, from the fertile vineyards of South Australia to the rusty hues of the Red Centre and the tropical greens of the Top End. Off-train excursions provide a deeper dive into the region’s culture and history, be it a boat cruise through the Nitmiluk Gorge or a walk around the base of Uluru, a sacred Aboriginal site.
6. The Nariz del Diablo, Ecuador
Route: Alausí to Nariz del Diablo
The Nariz del Diablo, or “Devil’s Nose”, train ride is a testament to engineering genius. Carved into the near-vertical sides of a mountain, the track includes a series of switchbacks, allowing the train to climb up the steep incline. As you ascend, the Andean landscapes unfold in a patchwork of cultivated fields, cloud forests, and indigenous villages. The journey also offers insights into the challenges faced during the railway’s construction, where the mountain was often referred to as “the most difficult railway in the world.”
7. The Jacobite Steam Train, Scotland
Route: Fort William to Mallaig
The Jacobite Steam Train, with its plumes of white steam and vintage carriages, feels like a journey back in time. The route, often dubbed the “greatest railway journey in the world,” offers a visual feast of Scotland’s rugged beauty. From the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, to the silver sands of Morar, the journey is a photographer’s dream. The train’s gentle pace allows for moments of reflection, often accompanied by the distant melodies of bagpipes or the tales of onboard guides.
Tips for Enjoying Scenic Train Journeys
To truly savor these epic train journeys, consider the following:
- Book in advance: Secure the best views by reserving window seats or cabins with panoramic views.
- Pack essentials: Comfort is key. Bring along noise-canceling headphones, cozy blankets, and perhaps a journal to document your journey.
- Engage with locals and fellow travelers: Shared experiences often lead to lasting friendships.
- Explore stopovers: Dive into local culture, sample regional dishes, and take guided tours to enrich your travel experience.
Train journeys offer a window into the soul of a region. They remind us of the beauty of slow travel, where every moment is savored, every view cherished. As the world speeds up, trains invite us to slow down, to reflect, and to truly discover the world around us.