There’s something about a train ride that’s relaxing, exciting and mysterious. The distant sound of the horn, the scenery flying by and the promise of a far-off destination stirs the soul in ways that other forms of transportation can’t. If you’re looking for trips where you can really see the world one snow-capped mountain or shimmering lake at a time, here are 10 of the best the world has to offer.
The Jacobite Steam Train (Scotland)
The Jacobite steam train is considered one of the greatest railway journeys in the world for a reason — it has it all. From the Glenfinnan Viaduct overlooking Loch Shiel to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain, this ride is one for the ages. The 84-mile trip begins in the mountains of Fort William, the largest town in the Highlands, and ends in the seaport town of Mallaig, decorated with shops, bars and restaurants. You’ve probably seen the majestic scenery for yourself. The Jacobite is the real life Hogwarts Express seen in the Harry Potter films.
The Glacier Express (Switzerland)
The Glacier Express has been called the “slowest express train in the world” — it takes about eight hours to finish the 181-mile journey from St. Moritz, a mountainside village that’s considered one of the best resorts in Switzerland, to Zermatt, a ski resort town with German roots. In Zermatt, you’ll get enchanting views of the Matterhorn peak — the jewel of the Swiss Alps and the most famous mountain in Europe. Once aboard, you’ll travel through the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps with 91 tunnels, 291 bridges and endless nooks, crooks and narrow spaces, including Rhine Gorge in the Upper Rhine Valley — the Grand Canyon of Switzerland.
The TranzAlpine Train (New Zealand)
The TranzAlpine Train is a one-way, 139-mile, five-hour journey that takes travelers through the stunning mountains and glaciers of the South Island. Starting in Christchurch, you’ll be able to take in the majesty of the astonishing Canterbury Plains, the Torlesse Mountains and Southern Alps in Springfield and the kea — or Alpine Parrot — in Arthur’s Pass as the train heads northwest through Lake Brunner and into the wild west coastal town of Greymouth. Greymouth is known for its glaciers, lakes, gold mines and jade hunting. Once in Greymouth, take the Point Elizabeth Walkway to get a view of the forests, birdlife and coastal scenic views.
The Ghan (Australia)
Originally called The Afghan Express after the camels and their handlers that came to Australia aboard the train, as the years went by, this train became riddled with controversy and was shorted to The Ghan. The Ghan is Australia’s most popular north-south railroad, running from Adelaide on the coast of South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory and back — an 1,851-mile journey that takes 54 hours to complete. The excursion begins in coastal Adelaide, showing the rural beauty of wine country, the pastoral plains and the Painted Desert. After a day in the Outback, travelers will land in the Northern Territory where they may glimpse a rogue crocodile.
The Rocky Mountaineer (Canada)
Maybe your ideal train ride is taking in the Canadian wilderness in an open air vestibule. If that’s the case, you’re in luck. The Rocky Mountaineer runs through the Canadian Rocky Mountains and passes through Seattle, Vancouver and Banff. In addition to the exquisite Rocky Mountains, there will be lots of opportunities to see the ocean and forests, too. Combine two or more routes for a Circle Journey and watch out for bears.
Kandy to Ella (Sri Lanka)
Breathtaking mountain mist, rolling plains, farms, villages and tea plantations, the Kandy to Ella offers some of the best scenery in the world. Keep your eye out for Nine Arch Bridge and Ella Rock, some of the most beautiful places on Earth. The journey takes anywhere from five to seven hours and, according to several accounts, costs about $1.50. Buy tickets as far in advance as you can as it’s inexpensive and overcrowded. You can even hang off the side of the train, but watch out for tunnels and other obstacles.
Denali Star (Alaska)
The Denali Star takes you through the Alaskan wilderness on a 12-hour, 356-mile journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks via Wasilla, Talkeetna and Denali. Passengers cross the Knik River in the shadow of the Chugach Mountains and Broad Pass, offering an incredible view of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. If you’re planning to travel between December and April, keep an eye out for Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights.
Bergen Railway (Norway)
The Bergen Railway is the highest mainline railroad in Northern Europe and travels through Hardangervidda, one of Europe’s highest mountain plateaus. Expect to see lots of snow, even whiteouts, and lots of reindeer and other wildlife. The Bergen to Oslo route runs 310 miles and takes about seven hours. If visibility is good, take a look at the fjords.
Bernina Express (Switzerland)
Bridging northern and southern Europe, the Bernina Express, the highest railway across the Alps, offers a pristine view of the Alpine panorama. Riders are treated to the glistening glaciers of Switzerland and the welcoming pastoral greenery and palm trees of Tirano, Italy. This route contains 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, offering some of the best lake and mountain views imaginable. Book up to 90 days in advance — it fills up fast.
Trans-Siberian Railway (Russia)
As the world’s longest railway line, the Trans-Siberian Railway spans a whopping eight time zones, 5,772 miles, and the journey takes eight days to complete. Connecting Moscow to Vladivostok, riders are treated to the Russian countryside, lakes, mountains and tundra. Since this trip is such a monster, it can be split into eight days straight or two four-day trips and even offers service to Beijing. It’s not uncommon to see elk and other wildlife along the way.