10 train journeys to dream about

Posted on 13 August 2015

There’s nothing quite like travelling by train, listening to the rhythmic rumble as the wheels clack over the tracks and the world flashes past the window of your compartment. Here’s my pick of the world’s best train trips: from day outings to long, luxury sojourns, these should all be on your bucket list.


Bernina Express, Switzerland, train

Heading out from Zurich to St Moritz, the Swiss Railway Network (SBB) takes you through more than 80 tunnels and twice as many bridges. Photo by Tyson Jopson.

1. Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express

Photo by Sarah Duff

Photo by Sarah Duff.

One of the most renowned train services, The Orient Express is a masterpiece, with an abundance of elegance and opulence. Each Pullman car is unique, so before you book, read the interesting history of each car and select the one you’d like to sit in. The Perseus formed part of Winston Churchill’s funeral train in 1965, and the Phoenix was the favourite of Queen Elizabeth.

The Paris to Istanbul route is the best-known route on the Orient Express, taking you through seven countries and some of Europe’s most alluring cities: Paris, Budapest, Bucharest and Istanbul.

Take note: this route is only taken by the Orient Express once every year. Also, as The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has original 1920’s Pullman cars, true to travel in this era, there are no showers aboard the train, but every other night is spent at a five star hotel.


2. The Rovos Rail through Southern Africa

rovos rail, hex valley

Rovos Rail goes through the Hex River Valley. Photo by Cameron Ewart-Smith.

Also read: see life from the tracks of the Rovos Rail

The Dar es Salaam route on the Rovos Rail takes you through five southern African countries.

The train departs from Cape Town and stays overnight in the quaint village of Matjiesfontein in the Karoo, as well as stopping to admire flamingos at Kamfer’s Dam, just outside of Kimberley. You’re then taken across the border to Botswana where you can expect lots of animal sightings through the large windows. Onwards and upwards as ‘The Pride of Africa’ makes its way through Zambia, Victoria Falls and some of Tanzania’s smaller towns, finally ending the journey at the vibrant coastal city of Dar es Salaam.


3. Hiram Bingham Orient-Express from Cusco to Machu Picchu

machu picchu

Machu Picchu, Photo by Katie Wilter.

If you’ve always wanted to visit the fascinating Incan citadel, you could take the Hiram Bingham Orient-Express from Cusco to get there. Not only will you get to see Machu Picchu, you’ll also be able to do some spectacular Peruvian sight-seeing along the way.

The train departs from the city of Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which boasts a truly eclectic mix of Incan and colonial architecture. En route is the town of Ollantaytambo, which is dominated by two massive Inca ruins and is the best surviving example of Inca city-planning, with cobbled streets and burbling irrigation channels. The train continues on to The Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. The famous temple is thought to have been built around the mid-15th century and was only discovered by outsiders in 1911, by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, after whom the train is named.


4. Edinburgh and the Highlands on The Royal Scotsman

This five-day, four-night journey allows passengers to discover ancient castles, beautiful lochs and glens, and babbling brooks amongst bonnie Scotland’s lush green landscapes.

Departing from Edinburgh, the The Royal Scotsman stops in several picturesque villages and rolls through the verdant vistas of the Scottish Highlands. The journey includes a visit to the beautiful Ballindalloch Castle on Speyside – the area in Scotland with the highest concentration of single malt whisky distilleries. Here you can embark on a tour of the castle, play nine holes of golf on the castle’s golf course or explore Scotland’s first single estate distillery – Ballindalloch. From there on to Rothiemurchus Estate, where visitors can enjoy fishing, clay pigeon shooting or a tour of the estate, and then Glamis Castle, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth.


5. The Maharajas’ Express from Delhi to Mumbai

Taj Mahal - India

The Taj Mahal, India.

The Maharajas’ Express ‘Indian Splendour’ train journey offers an unforgettable trip on India’s most luxurious train. The journey starts in the capital, Delhi, and ends in Mumbai and takes seven nights and eight days to complete.

The train departs from Delhi heading to Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. The following day begins with a game drive in the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan followed by a visit to The Pink City, Jaipur, known for its historical centre built out of rosy-pink stone. Next stop is the desert kingdom of Bikaner, with its remarkable fort, the result of intense building under the reign of four rulers. From there, on to Jodhpur, known as ‘The Blue City’ for the aquamarine hues of the buildings in the old quarter. The scenery on the way to Udaipur is legendary, and the lakes around the city are known as some of the most beautiful in the country.


6. Singapore to Bangkok on The Eastern & Oriental Express

Marina Bay, Singapore

Marina Bay, Singapore.

On The Eastern & Oriental Express, you depart from Singapore and enjoy the scenery of southern Malaysia, arriving the next day at Kuala Kangsar. Here, passengers can view the sights of this historic city, including the Ubudiah Mosque, the Royal Museum of Perak and the Sultan Shah Gallery. On the third and last day, there is a river cruise along the picturesque River Kwai before the train arrives in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.


7. The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide

The Ghan takes you coast to coast, north to south across the Land Down Under. The trip starts in Darwin, before arriving at Nitmiluk Gorge where passengers can cruise down the Katherine River under towering sandstone cliffs, or meet the Jawoyn people, the traditional owners of Nitmiluk. The next day affords a visit to the fascinating town of Coober Pedy, ‘the opal capital of the world,’ where more than half of the residents live underground to escape the scorching heat. Their underground world boasts restaurants, churches and hotels. After this, the train travels through Breakaways, an arid area of rocky desert and flat-topped mesas. Finally, the parched outback morphs into the lush green landscapes of South Australia as you make your way into Adelaide, Australia’s City of Churches.


8. The Rocky Mountaineer from Banff to Vancouver

The Rocky Mountaineer is a two-day journey that will take you through the spectacular landscapes of Canada – from monolithic mountains to dramatic canyons. En route from Banff, one can witness the Continental Divide – the most prominent hydrological divide in the Americas – that follows the ranges of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes. You’ll also see the spiral tunnels, a true feat of engineering that doubles the length of this stretch of railroad and reduces it to a much safer gradient. Before reaching the coastal city of Vancouver, you can enjoy the scenery along the Thompson River and the scenic Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon.


9. The Glacier Express from St. Maritz to Zermatt, Switzerland

Switzerland, train

Switzerland is, without a doubt, best explore by rail. Photo by Tyson Jopson.

Also read: what it’s like to travel by train in Switzerland

Through mountains, deep ravines and unspoiled countryside, The Glacier Express heads from Zermatt to the holiday village of St Moritz. The entire journey takes about seven hours and travels one of the most scenic routes in the world. This is a journey of the senses, heightened by the fact that The Glacier Express is the slowest express train in the world. You’ll have ample time to soak in your beautiful surroundings.


10. The Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon
The winding Grand Canyon Railway takes you through Arizona, on a two hour round-trip from Williams to the south rim of The Grand Canyon. Not only does this train offer amazing views of the Arizona landscape and of the world’s largest and most famous ravine, but the train itself gives unique insight into American train travel history – the coach class cars date back to the 1920s, while the first class cars and the café car are from the 1950s.


Got suggestions for train trips you’d like to do before you die? Add them in the comments!

One one our favourites: Across the USA by train for just $213


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