16 Impressive Train Routes in the World That Belong on Your Bucket List

16 Impressive Train Routes in the World for 2020 and Beyond

Slow, laid-back travel with brilliant sights to boot. What's not to love?

Ever since Greta Thunberg brought to light the Swedish concept of “flygskam” or “flight shame,” travellers have been reminded to think deeply about their travels and lessen their carbon footprint. And if we take into consideration the ongoing global pandemic, the idea of flying on a plane has only grown more uncertain over time.

As travelling by plane has slowly become the less preferred mode of transportation for eco-conscious travellers, trains are taking a spot in the limelight as the better travel option. And with impressive sights that could only be seen from the ground, it’s no surprise that trains are becoming a more popular choice. Here are some of the most astonishing scenic train routes you can consider for your next trips, categorised into continents!

Train Routes in Oceania

1. New Zealand’s The TranzAlpine

Image credit: TranzAlpine

Considered the best scenic train ride in New Zealand, and regarded as one of the best in the world, the ride takes you from Christchurch to Greymouth on the South Island’s west coast before it goes through the glorious misty mountain scenery of the Southern Alps.

Image credit: TranzAlpine

Travel across the brilliant Canterbury Plains with the backdrop of the Southern Alps. The train also ascends through gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River, a sight that is unmissable! TranzAlpine trains are comfortable and perfect for enjoying scenery thanks to the huge panoramic windows. The train also runs daily throughout the year!

Duration: 4.5 – 5 hours

Distance: 223 km

2. Australia’s The Ghan

Image credit: Journey Beyond Rail

Always wanted to explore Australia but the huge charismatic wilderness intimidates you? The Ghan is reportedly one of the most comfortable ways to experience it! 

Image credit: Journey Beyond Rail 

Running through the heart of the country between the South Coast at Adelaide and the North Coast at Darwin, The Ghan offers incredible views throughout the ride. Running since 1929, onboard there are dining features, private cabins and space for travellers to mingle!

Duration: 54 hours or 2 nights 3 days

Distance: 2,979 km

Train Routes in Asia

3. Japan’s Train Suite Shiki-shima

Image credit: JR East

With its futuristic features, this luxury train service will surely blow your mind! Train Suite Shiki-shima offers an exciting range of journeys where you are able to deeply enjoy Japan’s rich nature and culture with immense comfort. 

Image credit: JR East

Imagine a boutique hotel on wheels, with the end of the train serving as an observation deck that offers unobstructed views of Japan’s forests, fields, and coastlines. This spectacular train is so cosmically luxurious that even the dining menu is devised by the only Michelin-starred chef in the world, Katsuhiro Nakamura!

Also read: For the Train Lovers: 10 Incredible Rail Journeys to Take in Asia

Train Routes in Europe

4. Glacier Express

Image credit: Glacier Express

Offering incredible views of the Swiss Alps, the Glacier Express route takes you through Valais, Uri, and Graubunden where natural spectacles are in abundance. Stopping by the alpine village of Zermatt, you will find yourself in awe of the Matterhorn

Image credit: Glacier Express

You will also be able to take in the majestic beauty that is Rhine Gorge, otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of Switzerland. Known as the slowest express train in the world, the train squeezes itself through the Alps, narrow valleys, 91 tunnels, and across an incredible 291 bridges!

Image credit: Glacier Express

The Glacier Express also boasts huge panoramic windows, which offer uninterrupted views. Both the first and second class coaches have the panoramic sealed windows that go all the way to the roof, so that you can always take in the endless skies above the Swiss Alps!

Duration: 8 hours

Distance: 300 km

5. Russia’s Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian

Image credit: Golden Eagle

Undoubtedly the world’s greatest railway journey, the Trans-Siberian Railway runs across mysterious Russia, connecting the east and west, going from Moscow over the Urals to Vladivostok. One of the biggest features is going across Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world that holds 20% of the world’s freshwater. Not only that, but there are also off-bound experiences included like visiting a nomadic family in a Mongolian ger on the way to the final destination.

Image credit: Golden Eagle

At the end of the journey, you would have passed through 8 time zones and a third of the world’s total. Isn’t that an incredible feat on its own? 

Duration: 14-15 days

Distance: 11,000 km

6. Balkan’s Belgrade to Bar Train

The Belgrade-Bar Railway Line is an incredible route that promises authentic culture and geographic wonders as it transverses unsullied, rich natural landscapes. As the train ventures from the Serbian capital of Belgrade to Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast, magnificent views of the Dinaric Alps, canyons, and bridges over river gorges will surely take your breath away.

Image credit: MyWanderlust

The biggest highlight of this train route is Mala Rijeka viaduct, just before Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. Standing at 200m high and 500m long, it was the highest railway bridge in the world, until 2001. 

Duration: 11 hours

Distance: 476 km

7. Norway’s Bergens Line

Image credit: Visit Bergen

The Bergen Railway Line runs between Oslo and Bergen where all can travel comfortably as they indulge in incredible beautiful landscapes in Norway. It is also Northern Europe’s highest railway. While you can do the trip overnight for practicality, most people do it in the daytime so as to not miss the impressive views. 

Image credit: Visit Bergen 

With 180 tunnels and 22 stops, there’s enough time for passengers to stay on board as well as get down to see all the sights they stop by. The views range from low lands when the train leaves Oslo, before moving on through forests and lakes. Later, the train moves upward to the mountains and to the highest point of Finse Station, which is located about 1222 meters above sea level.

Duration: 7 hours

Distance: 371 km

Train Routes in Africa

8. South Africa’s Shongololo Express

Image credit: Luxury Train Club

With an option to choose from three journeys, The Shongololo Express travels across South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe with a variety of off-train excursions. Operating since 1995, The Shongololo Express offers one of the most interesting and value-packed ways to explore South Africa, as you stay aboard a serviced hotel train. Marketed as a “three-star” train compared to Rovos’ usual five-star products, it is less formal at dinner, thereby making it a more affordable train.

Image credit: Victoria Falls 

The train travels during the night to the next stop on schedule; each morning, guests wake up to a new and refreshing vista on the African soil. Thanks to the train’s practical schedule, guests are able to productively divide their time during the holidays. There are also spaces for travellers to mingle and socialise!

9. South Africa’s Blue Train

Image credit: Simon Pielow

One of the world’s premier luxury trains, this luxury rail cruise gives the guests an opportunity to view South Africa’s spectacular landscapes and visit interesting tourist attractions along the way. Entering the train, you will be introduced to a world of timeless grace and elegance due to the decoration style of the train cabins. There are two routes that can be picked from: one between Cape Town and Pretoria, and another between Pretoria and Hoedspruit

Image credit: Luxury Train Club 

The route from Pretoria and Hoedspruit is one of the most popular ones due to the availability of impressive tours that include many wildlife reserves and private safari lodges in the Greater Kruger and Sabi Sands area. The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s top three destinations and is one of Africa’s largest game reserves.

Duration: 3 days 2 night

Distance: 1,600 km

Train Routes in North America

10. California’s Napa Valley Wine Train

Image credit: Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the best ways to experience Napa Valley’s exciting scenery, and it has been in service for over 30 years. This antique train is powered by two modified 1950s-era engines and has a reputation for being eco-friendly, as it runs on a combination of natural gas and diesel fuel. The cabins cars are vintage and have been refurbished in order to charm the guests with their glorious details, such as mahogany panelling and etched glass partitions.

The train makes stops at many famous wineries on the way, so you will definitely not miss out on anything! During winter, the train also engages a route that goes all the way to the North Pole, as the train transforms into the Santa Train which welcomes kids of all ages. Throughout the year, there are also themed experiences like the “Murder Mystery Dining Tour,” where you can don your best 1920s attire and enjoy an evening of mystery and mayhem. For the wine enthusiasts who are looking for an experience of a lifetime, the Napa Valley Wine Train is your pick!

Duration: 3 hours 

Distance:  58 km

11. Canada’s The Rocky Mountaineer

Image credit: Rocky Mountaineer

This Canadian luxury train offers a unique take on the rail routes connecting Vancouver, Canada and the Canadian Rockies, a beautiful untouched landscape of natural wonders. The Rocky Mountaineer travels by daylight through the wilderness of Canada’s West, offering incredible journeys in spacious, glass-dome train coaches. 

One of the many perks of riding the train is the full glass dome, which allows an unobstructed view of the sights. Additionally, the Rocky Mountaineer offers three different routes to explore the charming wilderness of Canada and the Canadian Rockies. 

Image credit: Rocky Mountaineer

There are also off-bound tours and activities in which guests can curate custom vacation packages. The Rocky Mountaineer works with local tour operators and travel experts to make the most productive schedule for your holidays!

Duration: 2-3 days, depending on itineraries 

12. Arizona’s Grand Canyon Railway

Image credit: The Train

In service since 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel has been taking passengers on a journey to one of the seven wonders of the world. As the train moves onwards, the terrain changes from high desert to prairie and from prairie to pine.

The Grand Canyon Railway provides a fun way to learn the history of the area with the help of authentic Western characters, who breathes life into the storytelling. As opposed to taking a car, riding this train is a much better way to enjoy the pristine natural beauty of the Grand Canyon.

13. Colorado’s Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Image credit: Durango Train

Founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879, the line was initially constructed to haul silver and gold ore from Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Soon enough, the passengers realised that the view was too brilliant for the route to just be transporting ore. Now, this family-friendly ride is open for everyone to enjoy, as it transverses across Colorado’s mountain splendours, which is inaccessible by highway.

This historic train has been in operation since 1882, carrying passengers on vintage steam locomotives, rolling along the incredible lines. There are also themed excursions on the train according to the seasons: summer, winter, and spring!

Train Routes in South America

14. Argentina’s Train to the Clouds

Image credit: Nicolas Mendoza

Leaving from Salta in Argentina, this Train to the Clouds or Tren a las Nubes rides all the way you into the Andes Mountains to an altitude of over 4000 meters. Originally built for economic and social reasons, it is now primarily utilised for tourists as part of a heritage railway.

One of the biggest features of the region includes the incredible rock formations that the train passes by. The line has 29 bridges, 21 tunnels, 31 viaducts, 2 spirals, and 2 zigzags. Meanwhile, the zigzag allows for the train to climb up, driving back and forth, parallel to the slope of the mountain. This railroad is a major Argentinian attraction, as it reached almost 14,000 feet above sea level! 

Duration: 8 hours

Distance: 217 km

15. Ecuador’s Nariz del Diablo

Image credit: TrenEcuador

As you ride the Nariz del Diablo, you can marvel over the impressive engineering feats of the zigzag railroads. Due to the mountain that climbs almost perpendicular walls, the railroad was built to ascend more than 500 meters in less than 12.5km with steep ascents and descents. As you wind down the mind-blowing descent, enjoy the view of the narrow gorge of Chanchán River. One of the favourite off-board experiences of many passengers includes visiting the Inca Ruins.

16. Peru’s Sacred Valley Train

Image credit: Peru Rail

From Urubamba to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley Train offers majestic Andean landscapes. The train itself is quite exclusive as it only accommodates 33 passengers! The ride also takes in the lesser-known tracks between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, before joining the main line down to Machu Picchu.

Image credit: Landed Travel

The Sacred Valley Train exudes the elegance of the 1920s, which is reflected in the sumptuous Dining Car and Observation Bar Car. The train also makes a brief stop at the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, where guests could board and disembark. 

Duration: 3 hours

Also read: Portugal to Vietnam by Train: An Easy Guide to the World’s Longest Land Journey

With so many charming rail options, it’s no wonder that trains are beginning to gain a bigger number of travellers utilising their services! Not only are there opportunities to stop by impressive sights along the way, but you can also get down at amazing cities and villages that bring variety to the journey. Plus, it’s a better travel choice for the planet! What better way to kickstart your travels than with a train ride?

About Author

Natasha Shadeanna
Natasha Shadeanna

Natasha is always on a quest to find a place where it is always spring. Until then, she spends her days reading travel journals, watching travelogues and searching for cheap flights to anywhere around the world. If a bar is playing good music, she’s probably there with a drink in hand.

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