Relive the golden days of travel on these 10 classic train tours.
Rain was smacking the window, the train swaying as most trains do, seeming to describe an elaborate detour around the back of the world. I was going the old way…
— Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
Railway vacations bring to mind the romance and sense of adventure of a bygone era, whether you travel on a luxury line or opt for a less expensive route. If you’re considering a tour via rail, here are 10 classic train journeys to take in some of the world’s most historic and beautiful scenery.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Europe
Often considered the epitome of luxurious travel, the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train is famous for its ornate cabins, elegant cuisine and gracious personal service. Lucky passengers visit some of the world’s most alluring cities, including journeys from London to Venice to Rome, or, if you’d prefer, Paris to Budapest to Bucharest to Istanbul. Travellers can chose from six signature journeys as well as other shorter departures and destinations across Europe.
Trans-Siberian Railroad: Russia
The fabled Trans-Siberian Railway, once hailed as the “fairest jewel in the crown of the Tsars”, is one of the world’s most famous train journeys. You can select from various routes, including the Trans-Manchurian or Trans-Mongolian, both of which take you from Moscow to Beijing. Or you can travel from Moscow to the stunning Pacific port of Vladivostok, an epic journey that crosses seven time zones and spans about a third of the globe. All routes take you through some of Russia’s most spectacular scenery including soaring mountains, picturesque villages and, of course, the Siberian tundra.
Listed as one of the top “Journeys of a Lifetime” by National Geographic, Rocky Mountaineer Vacations offers spectacular train trips through British Columbia, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies. Best known for the world-acclaimed Rocky Mountaineer train — a two-day, all daylight rail journey through the snow-capped Canadian Rockies — the company also offers trips onboard the Whistler Mountaineer train, including a three-hour journey between North Vancouver and Whistler, BC. The popular eight-day journey aboard the Western Explorer includes all of the must-see attractions of the Canadian Rockies.
The Old Patagonian Express, in southern Argentina, gives travellers the sense of being at the end of the world. Better known as “La Trochita”, the historic rambler travels at only 45 km/hr from the majestic city of Esquel to Ingeniero, passing through towns and villages so small they are not even a dot on the map. Peer through the small wooden windows of your cabin (circa 1920) to take in the valleys and plateaus of mystic Patagonia and the Chilean Andes.
The Blue Train: South Africa
This train is literally what it claims to be: a beautiful, blue train. This five-star hotel on wheels — which has seen the likes of kings and presidents — transports guests over 1,000 miles of diverse and breathtaking countryside between the coastal city of Cape Town and the inland capital, Pretoria. The Blue Train is famous for its luxuriously appointed cabins (including marble tiles and gold fittings in the bathroom) and exquisite meals prepared by top chefs.
A quarter of a mile in length, the Eastern & Oriental Express recaptures the glory days of rail travel through beautiful and exotic South East Asia. This is definitely not fly-over country. While travelling in complete luxury, you’ll take in a tropical expanse of rainforest, rice paddies, lush green mountains, and the charm of the region’s colourful cultures.
True to its name, the Palace on Wheels in an enchanting way to cruise through the northern region of Rajasthan. Decorated in the ornate style of bygone Maharajas, the train takes you on a sweeping eight-day tour starting and ending in Delhi. A few highlights: the elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari and a tour of the Taj Mahal.
Tour the famous Swiss mountain railways from St. Moritz to Zermatt or from Piz Bernina to the Matterhorn on this scenic 7 1/2 hour railway journey through the Alps. You’ll cross 291 bridges, pass through 91 tunnels and cross the towering Oberalp Pass. The route will take you through the unspoiled natural beauty of ancient mountain forests, peaceful Alpine meadows and valleys rich in tradition and centuries-old culture.
If you’re up for adventure, take in the exotic African countryside on this overnight safari journey from the seaside city of Mombasa to the inland capital of Nairobi. The Jumbo Kenya Deluxe offers breakfast and dinner as well as a glimpse of local wildlife including impala, giraffe and ostrich.
The Ghan: Australia
For more than eighty years, the Ghan has offered railway tours into the vast heart of the continent. You’ll marvel at the spectacular Australian landscapes from the fertile countryside surrounding Adelaide to the rusty hues of the remote Red Centre and then on to the tropical splendour of the Top End.
Additional Sources: Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences ; ABC News.