What countries have the best great scenic railway journeys in Asia and Europe? Switzerland competes for that title but so does India, France, Italy and other countries. Judge for yourself.
GREAT SCENIC RAILWAY JOURNEYS IN ASIA
Traveling with the Trans-Siberian Railway has to be the world’s biggest and most famous train journey and a unique experience for every traveler. In summer 2016, I started my journey in St. Petersburg and traveled all the way into Mongolia. While many tourists chose the classic route from Moscow to Irkutsk (for a visit at Lake Baikal) and further towards Beijing, I decided to break up the journey a little bit and stopped at several other places such as Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ulan Ude. I even included a detour to northern Kazakhstan into my Trans-Siberian itinerary. While most people believe that the Trans-Siberian Railway is one single train, it’s more a huge network of trains spanning all across Russia and the neighboring countries, so that you’re flexible to adapt the schedule to your own interests and your time. My six weeks journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway was certainly a very unique and unforgettable experience!
Patrick blogs at German Backpacker
As of this writing the Shanghai Maglev – short for magnetic levitation – is the fastest train in the world with a maximum operational speed of 430km/hr., and an average speed of 251km/hr. The train runs between Shanghai and Beijing. These Chinese high-speed trains that travel between the bigger cities are sleek, efficient, comfortable and can get you to your destination in half the time it would have taken just a short time ago.
I took one of these high-speed trains from Chongqing, the highest concentration of humanity in the world with a population of over 30 million, to the beautiful city of Chengdu with their leafy parks and remarkable cuisine. We sped by at 297km/hr. It really did feel like we were floating by at hyper speed. That’s the fastest I’ve ever traveled on land. This may not be one of the great scenic railway journeys, but it was one of the most thrilling.
Talek Nantes blogs at Travels with Talek
My most memorable, and longest train journey was from St. Petersburg, Russia to Beijing China via the Trans-Mongolian Railway. The trip follows the Trans-Siberian route about 2/3 of the way across Russia and then heads southeast through Mongolia and China. There are plenty of places to stop along the way, but the biggest highlight of the trip was going to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. The unique things about the journey are the Soviet-style train stations and the fact that the train has to stop at both the Russia/Mongolia and Mongolia/China borders to change out the wheels because the gauge size varies from country to country. It takes about 6 full days on the train to complete this journey.
Lisa blogs at TheHotFlashPacker
The Golden Eagle is one of the most luxurious and extraordinary train journeys that exists. The train covers several itineraries but the most famous ones are the Trans-Mongolian and the Trans-Siberian which go from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar and Vladivostok respectively.
While the journey is fascinating in itself, it is the many small surprises and delightful experiences that the Golden Eagle team organizes that make it memorable and fabulous. You enjoy caviar at tea time, listen to live opera in Irkutz, visit the Kremlin before the doors open to the general public and enjoy a ride onboard one of the oldest locomotives on the journey along the Lake Baikal, the same way early explorers used to cross Siberia.
Mar blogs at Once in a Lifetime Journey
Palace on Wheels, a luxury train trip in Rajasthan, India
No doubt Palace on Wheels is one of the best train journeys in the world. It’s a 7-day trip on board a luxurious vintage train crossing some of the most beautiful cities in Rajasthan. It was the perfect itinerary for our first time in India. We visited Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Agra and Taj Mahal. The train is an all-inclusive experience. You only need to bring your clothes and the desire to explore India. The accommodation, the food on board and at the tourist attractions, the guides, the tours, everything is organized by Palace on Wheels amazing team. On top of that, you also have a dedicated butler taking care of your cabin and pampering you from the start to the end of the trip. From your window, you can see India’s countryside and some hidden gems. It is an intense experience, packed with activities and tours. If you are curious about this incredible train journey read our Palace on Wheels review here and start planning your next train adventure.
Natalie Deduck blogs at Love and Road
Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw in Myanmar
The train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw in Myanmar’s Shan State is memorable for more reasons than one. The journey takes the better part of a day on one of the rockiest trains I’ve ever traveled on (backpackers are advised to tie their gear onto the overhead luggage racks to avoid injury). Just after lunchtime, the train rattles over Myanmar’s highest bridge—the incredible Goteik Viaduct. When it was completed by the Pennsylvania and Maryland Bridge Construction Company in 1899, the viaduct was the biggest railway trestle in the world. The viaduct comes into view just after the train passes through the town of Goteik. You should find a seat on the left side of the train for the best views of the viaduct and the steamy valley below.
The train line runs all the way from Mandalay to Lashio—but it’s painfully slow and uncomfortable, so most people opt to just ride the Goteik segment and travel the rest of the way by bus. On the day we traveled, a few carriages derailed just before Goteik and we sat in a cornfield for almost three hours while repairs were made!
Emily Lush blogs at Wander-Lush
Train Journey through Kerala
One of the best ways to explore the beauty of India is by train. There are so many scenic routes – the famous Konkan railway line crossing three states, the toy train in Himalaya, the journey through the rice-fields in North-East. One of the most memorable train experiences for me was in Kerala.
Known as “Gods own country” the state is just a big palm forest surrounded by water. The train tracks sometimes run near the sea, sometimes near the backwaters, sometimes in-between the sea and backwaters.
Beyond the scenic aspect of the journey, you will meet some of the nicest people there. In Kerala, people are genuinely interested to know their visitors and welcome you. Probably within the first half an hour of your journey, you will know all your neighbors in the train coach and some of them might even share food with you. People are hospitable and nice.
Natalia Shipkova blogs at My Trip Hack
Luxury trains in India are remarkable for so many reasons, but perhaps the most significant lies in the word luxury itself. In a country that is known, often comically, for having overloaded trains, where people are piled high on the rooftops, it seems incongruous to imagine there could be any alternative.
The Golden Chariot, the bright purple luxury train of the south is a surprise package. As the only luxury train in the South of India, it takes visitors to a world largely unseen by those who visit this country. Swayed by the thrill of seeing the famous Taj Mahal in the north, the southern areas of Goa, Bengaluru and Mysore are largely unseen.
The south is full of incredible history, palaces and UNESCO sites. The Golden Chariot takes you to all these areas, turning a train ride into so much more.
The train itself is luxurious by Indian standards, with excellent accommodation, dining and service. Each day is packed full of exciting and interesting destinations, including a safari and overnight stay in a jungle lodge.
Kerri blogs at Beer and Croissants
GREAT SCENIC RAILWAY JOURNEYS IN EUROPE
Have you ever thought about reaching the tip of the Alps while enjoying one of the most extraordinary train rides on earth?
Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, the famous Bernina Express – or Trenino Rosso as we call it in Italy – is a must do experience for all train lovers. Passing through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges on its way, the Bernina Express connects the northern Italian city of Tirano all the way to Saint Moritz, in Switzerland. Get ready to pass by glaciers and fill your eyes with some of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see. You will feel like touching the mountains with the tips of your fingers.
The railway was built between 1906 and 1910 for touristic purposes, and it was immediately recognized as one of the most extraordinary railways on the planet. The whole journey from Tirano to St. Moritz lasts about two hours, but you can also take your time and make a stop on the way; the train stops at 15 stations before reaching its final destination.
Traveling aboard the Bernina Express is also great all year long; from spring to winter time, a marvelous experience is assured! This is certainly one of the world’s great scenic railway journeys!
Cristina blogs at The Lazy Trotter
Le Petit Train Juane – The Little Yellow Train: Southern France
The Little Yellow Train takes you through the Pyrenees in Southern France from Villefranche de Confluent to Latour de Carol and it takes three hours each way plus a one hour trip from Perpignan Station to Villefranche de Confluent. I am not normally into trains but after seeing the Little Yellow Train on television and researching further, I wanted to experience traveling through the Pyrenees, and this seemed just perfect. We were traveling through southern France, and we decided to make Perpignan our base for this train trip.
The Little Yellow Train travels through 22 small picturesque stations. It is spectacular with its beauty and diversity from the peaks of mountains, valleys with abundant farms, villages dotted throughout, winding roads, dozens of tunnels and crossing many bridges with different construction styles. On the return journey, we notice much more detail and feel as though this is a whole new experience. How wonderful!
The Glacier Express is, without a doubt, one of the most scenic train rides in Switzerland, if not on the whole world. The spectacular route stretches from Zermatt, the home of the famous Matterhorn, to St.Moritz. During the whole trip you can witness some of the most beautiful views of the country. The highlights of the route are the many beautiful viaducts, especially the remarkable Landwasser viaduct; the Rhine Gorge, which is also called the « Grand Canyon of Switzerland »; and the Oberalp Pass, where the train climbs to over 2,000 meters. What even lifts the experience to a higher level are the panoramic windows that are used for the Glacier Express. No matter where you sit – you will enjoy a fantastic view. I personally did the trip during winter, which was very interesting. However, the Glacier Express runs the whole year and is always worth a journey!
Michael blogs at MSC Gerber
The Montenvers Train – Chamonix Mont Blanc
The Montenvers is a famous high altitude rack and pinion mountain train in the heart of the French Alps, Chamonix Mont Blanc. This crimson toy-like train, Chamonix’s oldest tourist attraction, has been shunting sightseers to arguably the most stunning mountain scenery in Europe since 1908. A short 20-minute ride takes you from the valley floor to an altitude of 1913m with a bird’s eye view of the imposing Mer de Glace glacier. A feat of engineering, this railway track clings to the steep mountainside, climbing 871m, winding under avalanche barriers, through forests of fir and into dark tunnels before arriving at France’s longest and most famous glacier. Visit in winter to witness the magical ascent through the snow-clad forest amid stunning mountain vistas.
Tip: Sit on the left-hand side to glimpse the jaw-dropping views on one of the great scenic railway journeys. At the top, visit the ice caves down in the glacier, enjoy a refreshing beer or warming chocolat chaud at the panoramic restaurant. Or for an unforgettable stay, book into the renovated Terminal Neige, Refuge du Montenvers.
Adult: €31.50 Child: €26.80 Family pass: €97.70 (2 adults + up to 5 children)
Mags Nixon blogs at The Family Freestylers
“It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” Ralph Waldo Emerson must have been talking about The Flåm Railway (or Flåmsbana in Norwegian). National Geographic Traveler Magazine named it one of the top 10 train journeys in Europe. Lonely Planet called it one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. No matter what you call it, this truly breathtaking train journey is one you will never forget.
Your ride begins at the Aurlandsfjord in Flåm and ends an hour later in mountains of Myrdral. (Or you can do it in reverse – or even round-trip!). It’ll be difficult to peel your eyes away from the gorgeous scenery as you pass emerald green mountains, flowing waterfalls, crystal blue lakes and quaint little villages filled with colorful houses. Halfway through, the train journey makes a quick stop at Kjosfossen, a magnificent waterfall, where passengers are treated to a song and dance by a mythical forest creature, Huldra.
Before your train ride begins, head over to the adorable yellow Flåm Bakeri, grab a coffee and a cinnamon bun for the ride and explore the Flåm Railway Museum. It’ll make your train journey all that much more impressive – and delicious!
Lynne Sarao blogs at Well Caffeinated Traveller
Brienzer Rothorn Railway
Switzerland has some incredible mountain railways, and one of the best we visited during our week in the Bernese Oberland was the Brienzer Rothorn.
A steam engine pushes two carriages from the lakeside station at Brienz, gradually climbing through lush green Alpine meadows and forests to the summit of Brienzer Rothorn mountain. You then have half an hour at the summit to savour the views and enjoy a coffee before the return journey.
We had a very cloudy day with the upper slopes of the mountain cloaked in grey, the occasional sound of a cowbell coming out of the mist. Then we had one magical moment when the clouds parted for a second to reveal the stunning azure Brienzersee lake below.
David Angel blogs at Delve into Europe
If you only had one choice, which of these great scenic railway journeys would you like to go on?
Be sure to check out Part 1 of Great Scenic Railway Journeys if you missed it.