Train vacations on scenic railway journeys are a great way to explore the world. Train travel is comfortable, safe and allows you to travel slowly and relish the natural beauty right outside your window.
Do you love great train trips? I know I do. Rail travel around the world has gotten to the point that you almost have to opt for it versus flying, if you have the time. The best trains in the world compete for today’s traveler with glass ceilings for better viewing, tasty meals in dining carts and other amenities. The great railway journeys can be found in the USA, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, South Africa, and many more locations.
Here is a collection of the best rail travel around the world that you will want to make a part of your next great scenic railway trip.
Train Vacations: The Best Train Trips in the World
If you’re visiting Melbourne in Australia, then don’t miss the chance to ride on one of the world’s best-preserved steam railways.
For over 100 years passengers have enjoyed riding Puffing Billy through the Dandenong Ranges – a National Park of outstanding beauty. Hang your legs out of the carriages and feel the refreshing rainforest air rush by as you travel through towering forests and lush fern glades.
Puffing Billy runs on its original 24km track between Belgrave and Gembrook and is a wonderful way to take a step back in time and experience the region.
Bryony blogs at Coasting Australia
Rovos Rail Train
A trip on the world’s most luxurious train, the Rovos Rail, is an incredible experience that has to be at the very top of every Travel Bucket List. Rovos Rail routes zigzag their way across southern Africa from Cape Town to Pretoria and down to Durban as well as the incredible Victoria Falls and even on to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on one of the world’s best train vacations.
During the day watch the world whizz by from the open deck at the rear of the train while enjoying an ice-cold cocktail or a traditional gin & tonic. Step off the train to explore interesting historical towns (such as Kimberley and Matjiesfontein in the Karoo of South Africa), enjoy a safari game drive in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands or get drenched by the spray of the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls. Then retire to your luxurious carriage for an afternoon nap, gently rocked to sleep by the movement of the train. In the evening expect linen napkins, crystal glass wear, and dressing for dinner.
A trip on this train not only takes you through some of the most majestic African scenery, but it also transports you back in time to an era where the pace of travel was slow and the experience of the journey was savored. This is truly one of the world’s great scenic railway journeys.
Kathryn blogs at Becoming You
New Zealand’s TranzAlpine rail
The TranzAlpine rail is New Zealand’s most famous and scenic train ride, and largely considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the entire world. Although it runs from Christchurch to Greymouth on New Zealand’s South Island, many people like it so much that they make a day of it and take a round trip! If you’re making your way across the country, it’s the perfect excuse to take a scenic bypass from the east coast to the west on your way to Franz Josef.
The train ride itself takes about 4.5 hours with a scenic stop at Arthur’s Pass along the way. Beyond the beautiful views you’ll see out your seat window, there are plenty of snacks and food available for purchase and, best of all, an open viewing car for a full panoramic view of the stunning scenery! If you’re hoping to get the best shots possible, it’s recommended to stake out an early space in the viewing car as it gets filled up quite quickly along the route!
It’s hard to resist the opportunity to experience one of the world’s most scenic railway journeys in one of the most scenic countries in the world, and the TranzAlpine rail offers all of it!
Tim blogs at Annual Adventure
Indian Pacific train
After the GHAN train which is the most popular Australian train journey, the Indian Pacific train is also a must if you love train travel. The train rides a couple of days a week from the East to the West Coast, traversing the country from Sydney to Perth and vice-versa. After experiencing the Ghan a couple of times, in 2014 I went on the Indian Pacific train from Adelaide to Perth. These 2-day-train-journey takes you across the Nullarbor Desert, a huge flat and arid region, where the train stops at Cook, 830 km west of Port Augusta, a truly isolated village with a population of 4. Kalgoorlie, the largest mining town in Australia is the next stop, where you can tour the Kalgoorlie’s Super-Pit, a unique experience which will leave you gaping!
The whole train journey offers an onboard gourmet experience by savoring the most fabulous food of Austraila. If you travel in Gold and Platinum cabins you also get special treats in the lounge bar, by sitting down, relaxing and sipping a glass of wine or beer and marveling at the magnificent Outback landscape. This truly unique experience is one of the best scenic railway journeys and one that you must try when visiting Australia. It certainty qualifies as one of the best train vacations in the world.
Michela blogs at Rocky Travel
Premier Classe deluxe train of Shosholoza Meyl
Imagine the wide and pale landscape in the middle of nowhere in Africa. Once in a while, you might see a little house at the very far end of the one-way-street that is making its way through the rough and dusty no-man’s-land. Hey there, South Africa, you look awesome here in between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
On our last trip to the most southern tip of the African continent, we opted for an unforgettable train-ride and do not regret it. The famous “Premier Classe deluxe train of Shosholoza Meyl” took us from Johannesburg 1600 km down south to Cape Town – within 26 hours. What started with a glass of champagne in the bar, went to a three-course-meal right to a perfect breakfast with a view – only topped with our first sights of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. It’s definitely worth a ride, which gives you an understanding of South Africa’s wideness, its surprising landscape and it makes for a fabulous train vacation.
Clemens Sehi blogs at Travellers Archive
There aren’t many train trips that take you across an entire continent – The Ghan in Australia is one of them.
The journey takes you 3000 kilometres between Darwin, in the north of the country, and Adelaide, in the south. The track roughly follows the path that European pioneers took about 150 years ago as they explored inland Australia.
Although some people use The Ghan merely as a mode of transportation, the cheap seats no longer exist so a trip will cost between AU$1500 – $5000. For this price, though, you do get a luxury experience and some incredible sights along the way.
The Ghan is designed to show people the Outback of Australia along the way. The train does a lot of the travel overnight and there are stops during the day for excursions to see places like Nitmiluk Gorge, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
Back on board, meals are served in dining rooms and there are lounges that offer complimentary drinks. Out the window, the steamy tropics of the north of Australia slowly turn into the red desert of the centre of the country, before being replaced by the green fields in the south.
Michael blogs at Time Travel Turtle
Huancayo to Huancavelica, Peru
Despite it leaving at six o’clock in the morning, I was pleased to leave the bustle of Huancayo on a train towards smaller Huancavelica. The journey was exceptionally slow. We trundled around corners as the ever-changing landscapes spread out beyond the windows; chugging noisily through the valley, startled llamas and sheep in our wake.
Huancavelica was described in my second-hand guidebook as the ‘poorest town in Peru’. I don’t know how this was calculated, but it certainly didn’t come across that way. Filled with ornate churches and picturesque plazas, the streets were clean and people spoke to us with interest. It is unusual for tourists to make it this far into Peru’s Central Highlands, but the mountains and their people made us welcome.
Katie Featherstone blogs at Feathery Travels
Cuban Hershey Train
The Cuban ‘Hershey Train’ is really one of a kind! The old train connecting the industrial city of Matanzas with Havana runs completely on electricity. The line, about 90 kilometers long, was built by chocolate giant Hershey in 1916 in order to transport sugar from the plantations to the capital. Nowadays, it is a unique way of crossing the country, bumpy but very nostalgic! Not only does the train feel like a rolling museum, the staff is also extremely friendly and might just decide to let you maneuver the train for a while. Another great thing about the train is that it spits you out right at one of Havana’s most stunning sites, the Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro.
The train usually runs three times a day, that is, if it actually runs. It is so old that it is sometimes broken. Bring some patience!
Marco blogs at Life is a Trip
The Rocky Mountaineer between Banff and Vancouver
The Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West route runs between Banff and Vancouver in western Canada. The two-day train journey pauses in the city of Kamloops, where guests disembark for a night in a hotel.
The route is noteworthy for the scenery that can be viewed underway. Perhaps most dramatically, the luxury train runs through the Canadian Rockies where spiral tunnels facilitate a gradual drop of altitude. The line runs alongside the Fraser River, in which prospectors once panned for gold, and through arid desert scenery west of Kamloops.
Grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and bald eagles count among the creatures that might be spotted from the train’s panoramic dome windows on the upper-floor of bi-level GoldLeaf Service cars. A selection of delicious cuisine, made with regional produce, is served at mealtimes in the dining car on the lower level.
A combination of attentive service, quality food, comfortable seating and impressive scenery make the Rocky Mountaineer’s passage between Alberta and British Columbia a truly memorable train ride, one of the world’s great scenic railway journeys and a great train vacation.
Stuart blogs at Go Eat Do
Read about another great Rocky Mountaineer train vacation.
The California Zephyr
When I finished the John Muir Trail, I hopped on Amtrak’s California Zephyr line in Reno. I was heading up to Chicago to visit some friends. Little did I know how much I would see on the train!
As it turns out, the California Zephyr is considered the most scenic train ride in the United States. We passed through a multitude of landscapes, from dusty deserts riddled with sagebrush to the red iron-rich mountains along the Colorado River. At times I looked out at those rock formations, at all the lines of color from various ores, and thought how they looked like a layer cake. You get a great look at the Rocky Mountains. And if you were to continue past Reno toward San Francisco, you also get to traverse the Sierra Nevada. On this trip I had the pleasure of seeing large jackrabbits grazing and even witnessed a wild horse nursing her foal!
This was such an amazing train ride and passes through so many major U.S. cities. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see the diversity of this landscape and go on one of the best train vacations.
Karen Looney-Patterson blogs at Evergreenawakening
The Canadian Rockies
A winter train ride through the Canadian Rockies was a very special adventure for my mother and me on our Mother-Daughter holiday. Starting our journey in Vancouver British Columbia we hopped on our train. This was an overnight excursion so the first thing we did was check out our accommodations for the night, our sleeper car. How do they manage to put two bunks, a sink and toilet area in such a small space? Needless to say, we had a good laugh.
The meals were taken in the dining car where we enjoyed meeting and talking with other travelers from all over the world. However, the best part was the observation car with the clear glass ceilings and windows. The views were spectacular! The mountains and tall pines covered with undisturbed snow were so beautiful it was breathtaking. It was a true winter wonderland. Helping fulfill my mother’s bucket list item was a pure pleasure!
Sherrie blogs at Travel by a Sherrie Affair
El Chepe, Copper Canyon, Mexico
Did you know the Copper Canyon in the Mexican state of Chihuahua is three times bigger than the Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona? Well, it is! And it’s spectacular. You can see one of the great scenic railway journeys in all its glory from a train called El Chepe. El Chepe climbs up to 2400 meters above sea level. It crosses 37 bridges and goes through 86 tunnels.
El Chepe travels from Los Mochis to Chihuahua and takes 16 hours to complete the full journey at a cost of about US$130. However, passengers can stop along the way to explore the area, engage in adventure activities or sleep over and continue the journey the next day. The train offers first and second-class options, a snack bar and comfortable seats.
The engineering required to construct the trail was so difficult that it was canceled several times before finally completed in 1961. But the effort was certainly worth it as the scenery is unparalleled.
Train at the End of the World, Patagonia
At the southernmost tip of South America in the Argentinian Patagonia lies Tierra del Fuego National Park, the southernmost national park on earth. This large park is home to many species of flora and fauna. To see it all, visitors can take the “Train at the End of the World” for the $42 adult fare. The train is a picturesque steam engine that travels around the park’s valleys, waterfalls, rolling hills and two large bays.
There are three daily departures depending on the season. The seats are comfortable and the cabins are heated. Audio guides provide an interesting narrative in several languages. But the big draw, of course, is the spectacular scenery drifting by outside your window.
Talek Nantes blogs at Travels with Talek
What countries have the best great railway journeys in Asia and Europe? Switzerland competes for that title but so does India, France, Italy and other countries. Judge for yourself which offers the best train vacations.
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
BEST TRAIN TRIPS 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 and will make for one of the best train vacations.
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, two great train vacations.
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
Use these guides on railway journeys and train vacations to narrow down your choice.
BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:
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