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One of the best ways to see a country is undoubtedly by train. Traveling through a scenic landscape from the comfort of a railway car certainly beats sitting in traffic, while the amenities offered on trains are typically better than those offered on planes. Whether you prefer luxury travel in a first-class cabin or the simple, inexpensive comforts of economy, the following train rides make traveling as fun as the destination itself.
The Blue Train (South Africa)
Traversing through South Africa, the Blue Train offers stunning vistas for the 990 miles between Cape Town and Pretoria. Traveling at a speed of 56 miles per hour, the journey takes 31 hours and is a luxurious ride often compared to a five-star hotel on wheels.
With its carpeted and soundproof compartments, en-suite butler service, and observation car for lounging, passengers can fully unwind en-route while sipping on their favorite beverages. And since the carriages have gold-tinted windows, the train provides enough privacy for high-profile passengers. Along the way, riders can disembark at Kimberly Station to visit the Open Mine Museum, a 19th-century diamond mine.
Denali Star (Alaska)
Traveling a picturesque route from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Denali Star is a 356-mile journey through the heart of Alaska. The 12-hour trek includes eight stops in towns such as Girdwood, Wasilla, and Talkeetna. Each stop offers plenty to do, from helicopter rides around the Punch Bowl Glacier to spotting grizzly bears and moose in Denali National Park.
The luxury train's double-decker design allows passengers to take in incredible panoramic views of wild Alaska. The Denali Star operates seasonally between May and September, while its sister train, Aurora Winter, runs on weekends from mid-September to mid-May.
Belmond Royal Scotsman (United Kingdom)
Operating since 1985, the Belmond Royal Scotsman runs several routes across the United Kingdom. With packages that venture across Wales, England, and the Scottish Highlands, train rides vary in length, ranging from three days to a week, making the Belmond Royal Scotsman one of the best ways to explore the region.
A total of 675 feet in length, the train contains luxury amenities, including a spa car that offers leg and foot massages and an observation car that offers the best views of the countryside. The train’s full dinner service celebrates Scottish fare and drink, including the Scotch Malt Whiskey Tour, which pairs Scotch whisky with every meal and includes private tours and tastings of local distilleries at each stop.
The Ghan (Australia)
A sought-after Australian adventure since 1929, the Ghan takes travelers on a four-day journey across the continent. Rolling from Adelaide to Darwin, the scenic train treats passengers to magnificent views Australia’s vast wilderness, allowing them to see the vast, arid land of the Outback and the lush, green overgrowth of the rainforest in a single trip.
At 1,851 miles in length, the Ghan has three stops for adventurous travelers to disembark. In the remote town of Katherine, passengers can go on a river cruise through the First Gorge, while in Alice Springs, they are treated to an Outback dinner in true Australian fashion. Prior to booking accommodations, passengers may choose between two service levels — Gold Service and Platinum — with the latter featuring private bathrooms and more spacious suites.
Eastern and Oriental Express (Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand)
Traveling through Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, the Eastern and Oriental Express is considered one of the best trains in Southeast Asia. Constructed in 1972, the express train has various routes between major cities, including Bangkok and Singapore. On this particular route, the train journey lasts three days and two nights, with expeditions including a cruise along the River Kwai and a tour of the city of Kuala Kangsar.
Also operated by luxury train company Belmond, the Eastern and Oriental Express offers presidential suites, dining cars, a piano bar, a saloon, and a library. Each compartment has an en-suite bathroom with a shower and air conditioning to provide maximum comfort.
Glacier Express (Switzerland)
The Glacier Express railway connects the Swiss towns of St. Moritz and Zermatt, providing breathtaking views of the Alps the entire way. The exciting eight-hour journey takes passengers through mountain tunnels and over the Rhine Gorge, a stunning geological phenomenon that has been nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland.”
With stops in towns such as Brig, Andermatt, Chur, and Disentis, passengers may disembark at their leisure, choosing to explore the charming Swiss villages along the way. With a maintenance break scheduled annually between late October and mid-December, the train operates nearly year-round, with different schedules in the winter/spring and summer/fall.
Belmond Hiram Bingham (Peru)
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is a luxury train that operates between the district of Poroy near the city of Cusco and Machu Picchu, the famed “Lost City of the Incas.” Covering a distance of 57 miles, the journey takes three and a half hours, one way. As a full-service experience, the train begins with a welcome cocktail and brunch on the way up to Machu Picchu. On the way back to Poroy, passengers are treated to a four-course meal alongside views of the Peruvian countryside.
Upon arrival to Machu Picchu, passengers on the Belmond Hiram Bingham will receive a private tour of the Lost City by a professional tour guide. If you want to extend your stay in the Andes, accommodations can easily be booked at Sanctuary Lodge, a luxury Belmond Hotel situated near the ancient Incan city.
Rocky Mountaineer (Canada)
Combining full-service luxury with the beauty of the Rockies, the Rocky Mountaineer is one of the best ways to see western Canada. Among its various dispatches, First Passage to the West is the train line’s most popular route. Connecting Vancouver to the beautiful resort town of Banff, the railway crosses the Continental Divide with an overnight stop in Kamloops, British Columbia.
The two-day trip does not require sleeping onboard since accommodations and transfers are provided by the Rocky Mountaineer, which has a glass-dome ceiling that offers unparalleled views. Along the way, train staff members announce key sites as they pass, so passengers won’t miss important landmarks, such as the Kicking Horse River or Hell’s Gate in Fraser Valley. The Rocky Mountaineer also arranges excursions for passengers, including a trip up the Banff Gondola and park passes to see Yoho National Park and Lake Louise, as well as other famous landmarks, in Banff National Park.
Qinghai-Tibet Railway (China)
Billed as the highest train in the world, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway travels at an altitude above 16,000 feet. Extending 1,215 miles across the Tibetan plateau, the railway starts in the capital of Qinghai Province, Xining, and ends in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. The incredible journey takes less than a day, with the ride lasting 20 hours and 55 minutes.
Riders are allowed to get off throughout the journey, with a variety of train depots and scenic points to explore along the way. From the comfort of the train, passengers will be treated to views of Qiangtang Prairie, the Gobi Desert, Kekexili Nature Reserve (where you can see wild yaks and Tibetan antelope), Namtso Lake, and the staggering peaks in the Tangola Shanmai range. As the train gains elevation, increased levels of oxygen are pumped into the cars to help travelers adjust to the high altitude.
Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express (Russia and Mongolia)
The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express connects the distant Russian cities of Moscow and Vladivostok, an outpost on the Sea of Japan. Spanning two countries and two continents, the 15-day trip also crosses seven time zones, with nine stops along the way. When departing from Moscow, passengers are treated to an overnight stay at the Moscow Four Seasons, in addition to champagne, on the train.
Notable excursions off the train include a lakeside barbecue on Lake Baikal, a visit to the Opera House in Novosibirsk, and a guided tour of Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. The ticket also includes dining vouchers for restaurants on and off the train, luxurious cabin amenities, and service from a 24-hour cabin attendant.
TranzAlpine (New Zealand)
There’s no better way to travel the 139 miles between Greymouth and Christchurch than riding the TranzAlpine. Although the journey through New Zealand takes a mere five hours, it offers some of the most scenic views of the South Island. With tracks that travel along the Waimakariri River before crossing the Southern Alps, TranzAlpine also offers sweeping views of the pastoral Canterbury Plains.
For an optimal viewing experience, book a Scenic Carriage, with its reclined seats and panoramic glass windows. To extend the trip, disembark at the many stops along the way, such as the small town of Moana. Here, you can spend a day exploring Lake Brunner, a popular spot for anglers and paddlers alike.
Flåm Railway (Norway)
At a mere 12 miles in length, Norway’s Flåm Railway is one of the shorter train rides on this list — but also one of the most scenic. As a branch of the Bergen Line, the train makes the journey from Aurlandsfjord to Myrdal mountain station, located 2,844 feet above sea level. The trip takes roughly one hour, during which passengers are treated to idyllic Norwegian landscapes beneath the soaring mountains.
Traveling at a 55/100 gradient for most of the way, the ride is very steep, which also makes it a thrilling journey. Traveling through tunnels and past waterfalls, the train stops at the magnificent Kjosfossen waterfall for the perfect photo opportunity before reaching the top of the mountain.
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (Colorado)
Dating back to 1881, the Durango and Silverton Railroad is a National Historic Landmark and a fully operational narrow gauge railroad. Providing transportation between the historic mining towns of Durango and Silverton from May until October, the nine-hour round-trip journey includes two hours to spend exploring Silverton. Once there, visitors can take a tour of the Old Hundred Gold Mine to learn how to pan for gold.
Starting at the Durango Depot, the scenic route cuts through the San Juan National Forest, offering views of the Animas River Gorge and Horseshoe Curve. Interestingly, the railroad was promoted as a scenic railway when it was first built, although its original function was to haul gold and silver from the San Juan Mountains.
Kuranda Scenic Railway (Australia)
Australia’s Kuranda Scenic Railway travels through a tropical rainforest in Queensland, journeying from the laid-back city of Cairns to the picturesque village of Kuranda. Over the course of two hours and 23 miles, the train reaches heights over 1,000 feet in elevation while cutting through Barron Gorge National Park, a World Heritage-protected rainforest referred to as the “Wet Tropics.”
Passengers are treated to the beauty of the rainforest along the way, a region home to 1,200 species of flowering plants, such as orchids, as well as 800 species of palms and other trees. The train ride includes a 10-minute stop at the magnificent Barron Falls for photo opportunities, while visitors can also spend time exploring Kuranda Village, which is home to koala gardens, before making the return trip.
Kandy to Ella Train (Sri Lanka)
The seven-hour train ride from Kandy to Ella is one of the best ways to see Sri Lanka. Although the old-fashioned train now carries passengers, its original purpose was to transport tea from rural plantations to the capital of Colombo. As a result, the tracks cut through some of the largest and most beautiful tea plantations in the country, including Lipton’s tea plantation.
With open windows and doors, the train cars are filled with sweet-smelling fresh air the entire way. To optimize your trip, book the morning train and take advantage of the stops along the way. The town of Nuwara Eliya is home to botanical gardens and Galway’s National Land Park, while Haputale is home to Lipton’s Seat, which offers some of the best views in the region.
Tren a las Nubes (Argentina)
With a name meaning “Train of the Clouds” in Spanish, Tren a las Nubes is one of the highest altitude trains in the world. Beginning at 12,385 feet above sea level in the village of San Antonio de las Cobres, the train climbs over a thousand feet to the Polvorilla Viaduct, a sky-high viaduct with phenomenal views of the region. Oxygen tanks are provided to help passengers adjust to the altitude, as it is common for them to feel a bit woozy as the train ascends.
Originally built in 1921 to haul minerals, the train makes several stops for visitors to snap photos of the scenery, which includes views of the historic mine, colorful mountains, and Indigenous villages. The journey is an all-day affair, with many passengers taking a bus from the city of Salta to the train depot at 7:00 a.m. and returning 16 hours later.
Mount Washington Cog Railway (New Hampshire)
As the first cog train to ever climb a mountain, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is a thrilling ride to the highest peak in the Northeast. With a grade of 25%, it’s currently the second-steepest cog train in the world, operating on century-old, coal-fired engines.
The idea behind the historic train was first petitioned in 1858 by engineer Sylvester Marsh, and his dream had turned into reality by 1869. Since then, the three-mile track has hauled passengers to Mount Washington’s summit, located at an elevation of 6,288 feet. The journey takes roughly three hours in total, including an hour at the summit to take in the views from the observation deck and peruse the visitor center.
Tren de Sóller (Majorca)
With its mahogany panels, brass accents, and bench seats, the Tren de Sóller is a charming vintage train that dates back to 1912. Connecting Palma and Sóller, the one-hour ride includes journeying through a 1.8-mile tunnel that cuts through the Alfabia Mountains before traversing through sunny lemon groves in the Mallorcan countryside.
Although there is a stop in the town of Bunyola, the real reason to take the train is to see Sóller, a lovely Spanish town situated along the coast. Once there, you can explore the town’s cobblestone streets and small shops before hopping on another train (this one is only 10 minutes long) to Port de Sóller, home to a small Mediterranean beach and plenty of outdoor cafés.