The World’s Best Rail Journeys and the Most Fantastic Landscapes

Traveling by train is far from old fashioned. In a relaxation showdown amongst trains, planes, and automobiles, trains win as the most laidback style of travel, allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Luckily, some of the world’s most beautiful destinations are also home to the most scenic train rides. Besides this, for so many people, there is something undeniably romantic about the idea of train travel. Journeys ranging from a few hours to more than a week, costing as little as two movie tickets or as much as a luxury cruise, and traversing terrain as dramatic as snow-capped peaks or orange-hued deserts.

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Image courtesy of Gagan Moorthy at Flickr.com

The Blue Train: South Africa

South Africa’s famous Blue Train is just what it sounds like, a beautiful blue train. It bills itself as “a window to the soul of South Africa,” and it does give you a literal window onto the ever-changing 1,000 miles of countryside that stretch between the coastal city of Cape Town and the inland capital, Pretoria. A five-star hotel on wheels, the Blue Train is outfitted with elegant bed linen, marble floors and gold fittings in the bathrooms, and cocktails, high tea and fine cigars can all be had on board. Dine on fresh meals prepared by top chefs as the train winds its way through the country’s diverse and gorgeous landscapes.

Glacier Express from Zermatt to ST. Moritz

Switzerland may be renowned for the quality and punctuality of its trains, but it’s the majestic Alps—craggy and awe-inspiring against the brilliant blue sky—and sweeping chalet-and-cow-dotted green valleys that make the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz such a visual feast. The train chugs through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges on its seven-hour journey. The Glacier Express, which covers 180 miles in 7 ½ hours, is probably both the slowest and the most scenic train ride in Europe, a good combination. Switzerland’s Alpine landscape here is magically untouched, and you will have trouble tearing yourself away from the windows as you wind your way among mountain forests, valleys, wide open meadows and clear streams

Trans-Siberian Railroad: Russia

The Trans-Siberian Railway is, arguably, the world’s most famous train experience. There are three routes to choose from: the Trans-Manchurian or Trans-Mongolian, both of which take you from Moscow to Beijing, or the epic Moscow to Vladivostok, which crosses seven time zones and deposits you on the coast near Russia’s border with China and North Korea. The legendary trip covers more than 6,000 miles and takes a full week to complete. Whichever route you choose, you are assured of an unforgettable journey, through soaring mountains and the Siberian tundra, past rivers, lakes, rolling hills, forests and picturesque villages. It is truly the trip of a lifetime.

The Rocky Mountaineer: Canada

The journey through the Canadian Rockies is truly one of the most spectacular train trips in the world. Whether you have a week’s worth of vacation, or just two days to get away, you can hop on a Rocky Mountaineer train any Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, and customize your trip from there. Spend your days on the train, gazing out at stunning, jagged, snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes, winding rivers, and miles of pine trees, and your nights in a hotel. You wouldn’t want to sleep through any of the scenery.

Rhaetian Railway Isla Bella_train

Image courtesy of Kecko at Flickr.com

Grand Canyon Railway

There’s no sight more breathtaking within continental United States than the deep gorges of the Grand Canyon, and there’s no better way to reach the Grand Canyon than a ride aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. This is as much a ride through Arizona’s wilderness as it is a ride through history. The train engine runs on steam, the coach car is vintage 1923 Pullmans, and the first class cars date back to the 1950s.

TranzAlpine Railway: New Zealand

Ask any seasoned traveler what the most beautiful country in the world is, and you’ll get a unanimous response: New Zealand. The popular Tranzalpine line runs through the prettiest parts of New Zealand’s South Island, covering a total of 139 miles in just over four hours. You’ll cross the verdant Canterbury Plains, cross the Waimakariri River, and pass through the beautiful Southern Alps as you make your way to Greymouth.

Palace on Wheels: India

Trains are generally the best way to travel through India, but the Palace on Wheels is a class apart. It is what it sounds like, an elegant, enchanting means of travel. Decorated in ornate, colorful regional textiles, inside, the cars look almost like they belong to a different age. The journey, which starts and ends in Delhi, takes you on a loop through the towns, cities and expansive, gorgeous desert of the northern region of Rajasthan. Then, there are the added elements of the trip, which is stretched over eight days, like the elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari, and the requisite tour of the Taj Mahal.