The world’s best rail journeys take you on an unforgettable adventure, help you to create memories that will last a lifetime. Step aboard an iconic train, and you’ll get the chance to journey through magnificent landscapes, seeing slices of countries from a whole new perspective.
Rail travel is an experience like no other. From the best rail journeys in Europe to great rail journeys in Japan, the world’s best rail journeys can take you to destinations that may otherwise be inaccessible. From the legendary Glacier Express with its breathtaking alpine scenery to a journey of a lifetime aboard the world-famous Shimla ‘toy’ train, the world’s best rail journeys can deliver exotic adventures, romantic trips and awe-inspiring experiences – all rolled into one.
What are the world’s best rail journeys?
When choosing your next holiday, perhaps you’d like to embark on one of the world’s most iconic rail journeys. We’ve collected together some of the world’s best rail journeys to get you on the right track for your own railway adventure.
The Glacier Express, Switzerland
Route: Zermatt to St Moritz
Duration: four hours
A ride on the legendary Glacier Express is a must-do experience while on holiday in Switzerland. One of the most spectacular and best rail journeys Europe has to offer, the iconic train traverses across amazing alpine landscapes from Zermatt to St Moritz, passing through mountain tunnels and over towering viaducts. At the highest point, the Oberalp Pass is 2,042 metres above sea water – snow can still be seen in June. The Upper Rhine Gorge, often called the Swiss Grand Canyon, is a sight to behold, as is watching the numerous changes of locomotive, necessary to cope with the ever-increasing mountain gradients.
The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Route: Banff to Vancouver
Duration: two days
If you’re considering a holiday in Canada, don’t miss the chance to travel across the heart of the Canadian Rockies on the marvellous Rocky Mountaineer. The luxurious train – a staggering 58 pieces of rolling stock – weaves its way between mountains, creeks and canyons, and is widely viewed one of the world’s best rail journeys. It’s also the ultimate way to see the beautifully rugged terrain of Alberta and British Columbia, and perhaps a bear, elk, moose and beaver. Upgrade to the excellent GoldLeaf Service to enjoy panoramic views from first-class carriages with fully-domed windows.
Shinkansen Bullet Train, Japan
Route: Tokyo to Nagoya
Duration: 100 minutes
Riding a Shinkansen is a train journey like no other, and a highlight of some magnificent Japan tours. Shinkansen means ‘new trunk line’ and is used to describe the country’s high-tech bullet trains, which can reach remarkable speeds of up to 320km an hour – fortunately for passengers, the carriages are pressurised as well as comfortably spacious. The nine Shinkansen lines go in different directions around Japan, but highly recommended is the Tokyo to Nagoya route as it passes one of the country’s most recognisable landmarks, Mount Fuji. For the best views, ask for a D or E seat when making a reservation.
TranzAlpine, New Zealand
Route: Christchurch to Greymouth
Duration: five hours
While on holiday to New Zealand, do your upmost to embark on another of the world’s best rail journeys. In the South Island, the TranzAlpine train runs between Christchurch and Greymouth and is a wonderful way to enjoy the country’s striking natural landscape. En route, passengers are treated to epic vistas as the train navigates the Southern Alps, passing the gorges and valley of the ice-fed Waimakariri River – have your camera ready when you reach Arthur’s Pass. Another highlight is crossing the 72-metre high Staircase Viaduct, one of four viaducts on this exciting rail adventure.
Flåm Railway, Norway
Route: Flåm to Myrdal
Duration: one hour
Jump aboard the Flåm Railway while enjoying a tour of Norway and you’ll experience one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys on one of the world’s steepest gauge railway lines – which took 20 years to build. Setting off from Flåm, a pretty village surrounded by fjords, the train climbs upwards for over three quarters of the route, meandering through some 20 tunnels alongside majestic mountains and waterfalls. You can’t help but be impressed by this incredible feat of engineering – the train operates without cogs or cables. Once you reach the Myrdal station at the top of the mountain, you’re 867 metres above sea level.
Shimla Toy Train, India
Route: Kalka to Shimla
Duration: around five hours
The Shimla Toy Train is a rare rail gem that only a few holidays to India offer. It’s a unique experience and is rightly hailed as one of the world’s best rail journeys. Step aboard the world-famous Shimla ‘toy’ train in Kalka for a memorable train journey on that travels along the foothills of the Himalayas to Shimla, the beautiful capital of India’s northern province Himachal Pradesh. Its single-track route, on a narrow gauge just 80cm wide, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and trains encounter a staggering 800 bridges and 102 tunnels as they trundle through the lush green mountainside. Morning mist can make the journey even more atmospheric, but dramatic views are always guaranteed. As the name ‘toy’ train suggests, carriages are on the small side, some with just six rows of three seats.
Rovos Rail, South Africa
Route: Cape Town to Pretoria
Duration: three days
Not only is it one of the world’s best rail journeys, there’s no better way to experience the delights of South Africa than aboard the elegant carriages of Rovos Rail. Guests truly step back in time to a bygone golden age of rail travel, when afternoon tea and fine dining in stylish, luxurious surroundings was de rigueur. Tours of South Africa often include Cape Town, the Winelands, Johannesburg and Kimberley’s diamond mines on the itinerary, however on this epic journey, the transport really is sparkling first-class – perfect for that once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Achensee Steam Cog Railway, Austria
Route: Jenbach to Lake Achensee
Duration: 50 minutes
If planning a holiday to Austria, allow yourself time to head to the country’s scenic and historic Tyrol region for a nostalgic ride in the oldest cogwheel steam locomotives in Europe. Coal-fired trains have been puffing and whistling along the Achensee Railway since 1889, and today passengers can still smell carbon fuel being shovelled into the engine’s furnace. From a station in Jenbach in the Inntal valley, the iconic rail journey rattles at a leisurely pace up flower-covered mountainside to Achensee Lake, the largest in the area. A steamboat awaits all those keen to explore more.
Bernina Express, Switzerland
Route: Chur to Tirano
Duration: four hours
The Bernina Express is the most awe-inspiring way to cross the Alps, and should not be missed off the itinerary of anyone planning a holiday to Switzerland. A unique and unforgettable experience, the Bernina Express makes tracks along the Rhaetian Railway, across 196 bridges and through 55 tunnels. And as part of the route has UNESCO World Heritage status, it’s understandably one of the world’s best rail journeys. At Brusio Circular Viaduct, the 360-degree curve allows passengers to marvel at a masterpiece of civil engineering. The six-arched Landwasser Viaduct is equally as impressive – sit on the right side for the better views.
We hope this has inspired you to take an iconic rail journey of your own. We have a full collection of rail journeys for you to browse at your leisure. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.