Do you Know about?

Thrilling Train Trips Around the World.

Text by Amy Swanson, Bing Travel; photo editing by Connie Ricca.

Suggested by

If you want to sit back and enjoy the landscape rolling past you, or enjoy romance, adventure and history, nothing beats a great train journey. Here are our favorite train lines around the world.

Take in the splendor of the towering Canadian Rockies with the Rocky Mountaineer train, which operates four routes between Vancouver in British Columbia and Calgary or Jasper in Alberta. The Rocky Mountaineer’s trips are generally two-day treks and run only during daytime, so you don’t have to miss a moment’s worth of scenery to nighttime darkness. Along the way, you’ll see canyons, waterfalls, temperate rain forests and ice fields, all part of routes that are more than a century old.

With a name like The Glacier Express, you know icy alpine beauty is in store. This 170-mile train line takes you on a 7½-hour trip between Zermatt, just a few miles from the Matterhorn, and the posh resort area of St. Moritz, through Switzerland’s Oberland region. Panoramic windows allow you a spectacular view of the glacial peaks, as well as the valleys, forests and mountain streams at lower elevations. Along the way you’ll encounter 291 bridges, 91 tunnels, and arching viaducts that deposit you right into the face of a mountain.

Chugging between Glasgow and Mallaig, the West Highland Line shows off the heart of the Scottish Highlands, passing lochs, heather-strewn moors and craggy coastline. The line is probably best known for the 100-foot-high Glenfinnan viaduct, which was depicted in the “Harry Potter” movies as part of the route followed by the Hogwarts Express. ScotRail operates frequent trips along this line, while the private West Coast Railways runs steam-powered trains from May to October.

The trains on this Amtrak route are somewhat utilitarian, but the scenery is gorgeous. The Coast Starlight runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, showing off such sights as the Cascade range, verdant forests, the desert areas of Northern California, and volcanoes such as Mount Shasta and Mount Rainier. Just south of Sacramento, the route jogs over to the coast, and from Oakland southward — especially south of San Luis Obispo — are magnificent stretches of Pacific coastline.

The original Orient Express train — the famed stuff of Hollywood lore — is no more, but you can still ride two of that historic train’s cars on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express. The modern train is composed of historic carriages from the 1920s and '30s, now restored and luxuriously appointed. The train stops at a number of European cities, including London, Prague, Rome, Venice and Vienna, and passes through pristine countryside in countries such as Switzerland and Germany. And once a year, it re-creates the classic Orient Express journey between Paris and Istanbul.

The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico — better known as El Chepe — rolls though more than 400 miles of northwest Mexico, between the inland city of Chihuahua and Topolobampo on the Gulf of California. In between, it crosses the Sierra Madre and the incredibly scenic Copper Canyon, which is actually a set of canyons formed by six rivers. Along the way, El Chepe rumbles across 37 bridges, and ascends to an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet at the Continental Divide.

The plush Eastern & Oriental Express train prides itself on its luxury — including inlaid paneled walls of cherry wood in the cabins — but the lush scenery it passes is even more striking. The train follows a number of routes linking Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Singapore, running through tropical rain forests and mountains, and passing temples, rubber plantations and rice paddies. The cabins boast huge picture windows perfect for getting acquainted with the gorgeous lands the train travels through.

Which train takes you from glaciers to palm trees in just four hours? The gorgeous Bernina Express, which marks its 100th anniversary in 2010. This train takes you across the highest crossing of the Alps (the 7,391-foot Bernina summit), from Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, just across the border in Italy. Between those two climatic extremes, the train speeds its passengers through delicate meadows, forests and valleys, traversing 195 bridges and 55 tunnels. The train tackles grades of up to 7 percent, and negotiates the steep alpine terrain via numerous switchbacks, loops and viaducts.

India’s Palace on Wheels train strives to be pretty much that: a rail experience that lets its customers feel like maharajas. The train is equipped with luxury items and rich décor, and places an emphasis on the culture of the state of Rajasthan, through which it travels. The train’s weeklong itinerary takes passengers to some of the great sites of India’s heritage, including the Taj Mahal, the "Pink City" of Jaipur and the marble palaces of Udaipur.

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Australian Outback, you’ll want to experience this train. Traversing 1,852 miles over two days, the Ghan runs on a north-south trajectory between tropical Darwin on Australia’s north coast — sometimes referred to as the "Top End" — and Adelaide in the south. Along the way it traverses a number of mountain ranges and the "Red Centre" of the Outback, the vast bowl that is red-soiled, starkly beautiful central Australia.

If you’d like to travel the Scottish Highlands in high style, the Royal Scotsman is your conveyance. This luxury train whisks a maximum of 36 passengers through the countryside, past castles, glens, peaks, moors, forests and lochs. The Royal Scotsman follows a number of routes throughout the Highlands, from Edinburgh north as far as Tain, on trips of two to seven days. At the back of the train is an observation car, which has an open-air section on the end where you can feel the Scottish air rush past.

If you’re traveling from Cuzco to Machu Picchu in Peru, you can hike in on foot, like the Incas did — or you can ride in by train with PeruRail. The company offers three-hour railway options to fit all budgets, including the no-frills Backpacker train, the panoramic-windowed Vistadome and the posh Hiram Bingham. The trains all follow the scenic Urubamba River, winding through lush, green forest. Due to flooding at Machu Picchu, the distance between there and Ollantaytambo is currently served by buses, but rail service is scheduled to resume in June.

This historic route owes its existence to the Klondike Gold Rush, when the then-new railroad was one of the preferred ways for prospectors to reach the inland gold fields. As they did in bygone years, passengers today typically arrive by ship at Skagway (on an inlet in the Alaska panhandle), then take the train across a sliver of British Columbia before it terminates in Canada’s Yukon. Even today, the 67.5-mile railway is isolated in this sparsely populated area, but the landscapes are rugged and dramatic, with numerous wooden viaducts scaling the craggy slopes.

What the 12.4-mile Flåm Railway lacks in distance, it makes up in breathtaking landscape. In the space of an hour, the train climbs more than 2,800 feet from Flåm, near the base of Norway’s Aurlandfjord, up the steep sides of the fjord on a grade of more than 5 percent. When the train isn’t twisting and turning through spiraling mountain tunnels, check out the tumbling waterfalls along the route, plus the historical farmsteads clinging to the fjord’s slopes.

Though this railroad primarily serves tourists these days, it has a proud history: It has been in continuous operation since 1882, when it got its start transporting passengers and freight, especially gold and silver, from the San Juan Mountains. Vintage steam-powered engines still power the train between Durango and Silverton in southwest Colorado, a 45-mile trip each way that winds through high-altitude canyons along the Animas River. The “narrow gauge” refers to the distance between the rails: They’re only 3 feet apart, rather than the more common 56.5 inches.

Wending its way through craggy red rocks, sagebrush-dotted desert and narrow canyons, the Southwest Chief tours much of what we think of as the Old West. The daily Amtrak train operates between Los Angeles and Chicago, rumbling through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri en route. Along the way it passes mountains, ranches and old missions, and crosses the Rio Grande, the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. The Southwest Chief connects with the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona, offering the perfect chance to see the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on a side trip.

Whether you’re there in summer for the midnight sun or in winter for the northern lights, Swedish Railways’ Norrland train is a treat at the roof of the world. The train’s signature route operates between Luleå, on the Gulf of Bothnia in Sweden, and Narvik, on Norway’s spectacular coast. The bulk of the 325-mile journey crosses the heart of Swedish Lapland, taking visitors some 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle; the rugged landscape features glacial lakes, rivers and mountains where the native Sami people have herded their reindeer for centuries.

The Ecuador railway known as the Devil’s Nose gets its name from a sharp cliff face of the same name, which the railway zig-zags its way up and down. But that’s only a small part of this truly thrilling route, which starts in the town of Riobamba in the high Andes and rambles through Ecuador’s Central Valley before descending toward jungle and the coast. Sit on the right-hand side for the best views; on a clear day you may see the nation’s highest volcano, Chimborazo. The railway has been closed for repairs since March, but it’s scheduled to reopen July 4.

The Winnipeg-Churchill railway, operated by Canada’s state-run VIA Rail Canada, is a study in geographic and climatic diversity. Over the course of two days, the train covers 1,000 miles of Manitoba terrain, from Winnipeg, 60 miles north of the U.S. border and home to prairies and vast lakes, north through taiga, tundra and boreal forest to Churchill, on the subarctic shores of Hudson Bay. Churchill is known for its polar bear population, but the best reason to visit may be the bay itself, offering abundant fishing and boating opportunities in summer.

You’ll find no train line longer than the Trans-Siberian railway, running from Moscow all the way to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, and linking Europe with the Far East. This line has been shuttling passengers and freight across the vastness of Siberia since the 19th century, past Lake Baikal, the Ural Mountains, several rivers and the endless Russian steppe. You’ll be traveling across 6,000 miles and seven time zones, so make sure you’ve budgeted a week or more for your journey.

The Blue Train is an institution in South Africa: Its roots go back to the 1920s, when it shuttled passengers between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Refurbished in 1997, the elegant train — it bills itself as “a magnificent moving five-star hotel” — now runs between Pretoria and Cape Town, providing a 1,000-mile tour through the heart of South Africa. The beautiful landscape it passes includes such features as the dry Karoo region, the Highveld plateau, and grasslands and thickets.

No comments: