Epic Train Rides You Need to Take Around the World

Switzerland has some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe – and equally impressive train journeys, too
Switzerland has some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe – and equally impressive train journeys, too | © Mauro Piccardi / Alamy Stock Photo

Travel Expert

If you prefer taking the scenic route over getting from A to B as quickly as possible, then these incredible train rides around the world are for you. Rail travel is more environmentally friendly than flying – and you get to sit back and enjoy the scenery on the way. Check out this article for more spectacular train journeys across the globe.

Cape Town to Pretoria, South Africa

The famous Blue Train has been taking passengers on this seven-hour, 1,600km (994mi) journey from Cape Town to Pretoria since the 1920s. Travel through some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery in South Africa, with a stop in Matjiesfontein (on the Cape Town to Pretoria route) and Kimberley (Pretoria to Cape Town).

Take the luxurious Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria for a bucket-list experience in South Africa

These are the stops not to miss on a Western Cape road trip.

Tokyo to Kyoto, Japan

Despite covering a huge distance, this journey is one of the shortest on this list, made possible thanks to human engineering. The Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto travels at speeds of 320kph (199mph), reducing a journey of over 700km (435mi) to a mere two hours and 15 minutes. Start the day in the shadow of Tokyo’s skyscrapers and end it in the shade of Kyoto’s Buddhist temples.

The Shinkansen bullet train takes passengers from Tokyo to Kyoto in just over two hours

Care to spend some more time in Kyoto? Browse through our guide to the best things to do and see in Kyoto.

Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia

Connecting Western Russia to the Pacific Ocean via thousands of kilometres of railroad, the Trans-Siberian is the most famous rail journey in the world. There are three main routes you can take, the longest being Moscow to Vladivostok – a journey of 9,258km (5,753mi), which lasts seven days. Both the Trans-Mongolian and the Trans-Manchurian travel from Moscow to Beijing, taking in different but equally impressive sights.

Check out the top things to do when you arrive in Vladivostok.

Vancouver to Jasper, Canada

Spend two days travelling through Western Canada and the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer. The panoramic windows and glass ceilings offer incredible views of the British Columbia coastline and impossibly enormous snow-capped mountains, while carving through otherwise inaccessible terrain in luxury.

The best way to experience the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies is on board the Rocky Mountaineer train

Want to see the Rockies in all their glory? These beautiful places guarantee great views to the legendary peaks.

Zermatt to Gornergrat, Switzerland

It’s difficult to say whether this gorgeous rail journey is better in winter or summer. Either way, you won’t be able to tear your gaze away from the window on this 30-minute ride from Zermatt to a small cluster of hotels in Gornergrat, while overlooking the imposing and otherworldly Matterhorn mountain.

The Gornergrat Railway in Switzerland offers epic views of the Matterhorn

If you’re staying in Zermatt, here’s how to have an action-packed adventure on your trip.

Paris to Istanbul

There are several journeys you can make on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, but the most tempting has to be Paris to Istanbul. The journey between these two stunning and equally culturally influential cities lasts 11 days, including overnight stops in Budapest and Bucharest, while enjoying the most luxurious train on the planet.

Staying in Istanbul for a few days? These are the best hotels to consider for your trip.

Nikko to Hokkaido, Japan

The amazing Shiki-Shima train has earned Japan a second spot on this list. This 10-carriage luxury sleeper train, which began taking passengers along the east coast of Japan in 2017, is unlike anything you’ve seen. As well as two observatory carriages and six luxury suites, Shiki-Shima has a lounge and dining car with floor-to-ceiling windows, affording guests perfect views of the Japanese countryside.

Gaze out at the Japanese scenery when you travel on the luxurious Shiki-Shima sleeper train

Meanwhile, check out these beautiful places in Japan you probably didn’t know existed.

Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s newly opened Madaraka Express connects the capital, Nairobi, to Mombasa on the coast. Each station along this 472km (293mi) track has been designed to reflect the local environment, from Athi River station which mirrors the nearby hills, to Miasenyi station, striped like the zebras which graze on the plains. The line will eventually connect land-locked South Sudan, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean.

The Madaraka Express offers connections between Nairobi and Mombasa

Discover Mombasa through our list of the top things to do and see in the city.

Auckland to Wellington, New Zealand

The Northern Explorer is one of the world’s most scenic routes, connecting New Zealand’s northernmost city Auckland with the capital Wellington. It ascends the Raurimu Spiral with views of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu, before descending through river gorges and arriving on the rocky coastline of the lower North Island.

If you feel like exploring Wellington further, hop on this scenic Wellington Coastal Tour.

Ban Laem to Maeklong, Thailand

Six times a day, this passenger train passes through a crowded market in Samut Songkhram city, around 60km (37mi) southwest of Bangkok. As the train approaches, the vendors pull back their awnings and move their vegetables just far enough away so they’re not crushed. You can ride the Maeklong Railway from Ban Laem Station before getting off at Maeklong Railway Market to experience the daily market ritual from a different, more dangerous, perspective.

Vendors near the train tracks at Maeklong Railway Market move their goods away from the tracks when a train approaches

Read our guide and learn how to best navigate the Maeklong Railway Market.

Alausi to Palmira, Ecuador

This 80km (50mi) stretch of railway – a section of the line connecting Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian coast to the capital, Quito – was only possible because of the bravery of the engineers who scaled the 3,048m-high (10,000ft) mountainside to build it. The impressive zigzags carved out of the almost perpendicular cliffs of La Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) form part of a one-hour hair-raising ascent.

Looking for affordable places to stay in Ecuador? Here’s our pick of the cheapest hotels to book in the country.

Damascus to Amman

A special mention goes to the historic Hejaz Railway, which connected the Syrian capital, Damascus, to the Jordanian capital, Amman. The route has been suspended since 2006, while war has ravaged Syria. Those lucky enough to have ridden the traditional locomotives through the Middle East have described the experience as stepping into a time capsule. There are other, far quicker, ways to make the journey – but here’s hoping it will reopen one day.

Feel like taking a short trip from Amman? Try one of these multi-day experiences.

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