The Best Rail Trips to Book this Year

Theres nothing quite like the gentle pleasure of seeing the world whizz past your window as you embark on your travels
There's nothing quite like the gentle pleasure of seeing the world whizz past your window as you embark on your travels | PixHound / Adobe Stock
Gethin Morgan

Content Editor

Sick of airport security queues? Concerned about your carbon footprint? Want to travel far and wide without having to hop on a plane? That’s where our Rail Trips fill the void.

Train travel is back in a big way. People are more aware of how their actions impact the planet than ever, and with the unsustainable volume of carbon emissions and energy consumption piloted by the airline industry, travellers are looking for genuine alternatives.

But we shouldn’t have to completely sacrifice the culturally enriching experience of travelling the world. Fortunately, one of our oldest methods of mass transport offers a far more responsible way of exploring vast areas of countries, or even continents.

The glory of train travel goes far further than lowering individual carbon footprints, too. It’s the perfect blend of leisure and exploration, comfort and immersion. It turns the journey into an activity in itself, as you whir from bustling city to tiny little outpost, crossing mountains and tracing coastlines. There is no clearer picture one can paint of a place than that from which you can see from a train’s window seat.

It’s slow travel at its best. You get to really see a destination, experience it, and you can stop off as many times as you like along the way. It might feel relaxing, as you sit back and appreciate the journey, but in the meantime you can cover vast swathes of land in a relatively short amount of time.

As a result, travellers are falling head over heels for train travel all over again, whether it’s a revelatory new discovery or a nostalgic childhood reinvention. The industry is responding, too, with new routes and better quality trains constantly being introduced around the globe.

Here at Culture Trip we’ve embraced this positive change head on, crafting our totally unique Rail Trips in the whimsical, romantic image of our minds’ eye. They’re built on the same principles as all of our trips – genuinely immersive experiences that bring you closer to the destination and its people, treating both with care in the process.

In fact, train travel aligns perfectly with what we’re all about here at Culture Trip. It allows you to see the world more responsibly, but also with more clarity. It offers the chance to connect with the local communities and cultures that you pass through, witnessing the authentic rhythms of life in each place, getting glimpses of local customs and traditions that enrich your understanding of the world.

2023 is the year that train travel really gets out of the station once again, and we can’t wait to see where the journey will take us. For now, let’s take a look at this year’s most thrilling Rail Trips that you can book today.

Japan by Train: The Grand Tour

Let’s start with the country that boasts one of the most revered rail networks in the world. High tech, well-connected and very speedy – Japan’s tramlines have an impressive CV, but what this really means is that you can see an awful lot of The Land of the Rising Sun in a short amount of time, 12 days in our case.

There is so much to see. Going all the way to the eastern edges of the world map and never leaving Tokyo seems such a shame, so we wanted to put on the ultimate Japanese experience. We start in Japan’s second city and foodie capital, Osaka, before taking the shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima. You’ll visit the ancient Torii Gate at Miyajima Island and more before heading to Kyoto, where we meet geishas and visit Arashiyama bamboo forest.

Then it’s back on the tracks to the Japanese Alps, where we’ll go sake tasting and stay in a traditional ryokan inn, fully equipped with onsens (natural hot springs). We’ll cruise on Lake Ashi, with views of Mount Fuji, before hopping back on the train to our final destination, Tokyo. Here we’ll watch sumo wrestlers train, go sushi-making, try taiko drumming and much more, before ending our trip with a customary night of neon-lit karaoke.

We have three departures left in 2023 – one in September, October and November. Browse dates and book now.

No trip to Japan is complete without riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) and seeing Mount Fuji up close

Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands by Train

The bullet train might have the most famous name but there’s not a more iconic railroad sight in the world than Scotland’s Jacobite steam train, made a pop culture symbol as the real-life embodiment of the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

You will, of course, get to ride on this gorgeous old steam locomotive on our week-long Scottish Rail Trip, following the famous route over Glenfinnan Viaduct. But the romantic image of the Jacobite speaks perfectly to why Scotland should be traversed by train. Primarily because of the sheer beauty of its countryside – a worthy companion on any journey – but there’s also something grand, almost classical, about the rugged hills of the Highlands, transporting you to another time and place completely.

Our trip actually starts off in London, where we get the Caledonian Sleeper train to Fort William – another iconic experience in its own right. We’ll waste no time in warming the spirits with a whisky tasting at a riverside distillery, before taking the Jacobite to the spectacular Isle of Skye. Here we’ll spot dolphins and visit a castle before heading onwards to Inverness, and later the Cairngorms. This striking national park might just be the most scenic place in the UK, and we’ll explore it with a locally guided walk. Finally, we end up with two nights in Edinburgh, where we’ll show you the hidden gems tucked away down narrow alleyways and unassuming cobblestone streets.

We have three departures left for Scotland in 2023 – June, July and September – but we also have a slew of dates throughout 2024, running from April until September. Browse all dates and book with us today!

Is there a more iconic train route on the planet? The Jacobite steam train, or Hogwarts Express, is also one of the most picturesque

Magical Madrid to Marrakech by Train

Travelling by train doesn’t even restrict you to just one continent, as this unique 12-day border-crossing adventure proves. A journey that charts the historical, cultural and even geographical evolution that simultaneously binds and separates Spain and Morocco.

We start with an exploration of the Spanish capital, before hopping onboard a southward train to Andalusia, stopping first at arguably Spain’s most fascinating city, Córdoba. The city’s spectacular mosque-turned cathedral, Mezquita, is a perfect distillation of the region’s melting pot history, and of Spain’s Muslim, Jewish and Christian influences.

Next call is Seville, which blends the old with the new through its unique architecture, culture and cuisine. Here we’ll experience the delights of all three, including an authentic flamenco show in the heart of the region that invented it.

Then it’s time to enter Morocco via Tangier, the gateway to Africa. From there we’ll visit the iconic city of Casablanca and its epic coastal mosque, before continuing onto Fes, Morocco’s spiritual heartland. The words ‘old town’ have never been so authentic, and walking among these streets is one of the most evocative urban experiences imaginable. The vibrancy of colour, smell and sound continues at our final destination, the magical city of Marrakech.

Our remaining 2023 departures for this trip are in September, October and November. Read the full itinerary and book your spot onboard!

Will you embark on a journey from Iberian Europe to North Africa?

Classic Northern Italy by Train

The hardest part of planning any trip to Italy is choosing where to go. There’s Rome, of course, and also Florence, without forgetting the rolling hills of Tuscany. But then there’s also the serene majesty of Lake Como, and the high-end pizazz of Milan. Seasoned foodie’s won’t want to miss an opportunity to visit beautiful old Bologna either. Well, thanks to the country’s high-speed Italo trains, our Italian Rail Trip takes you to them all in just nine days.

We’ll start off in the capital with an extensive tour of Rome’s famous sites, before shooting off to Florence for a taste of Renaissance. We’ll take a little detour out into the Tuscan countryside to visit an olive oil farm, as well as Siena and San Gimignano. Then you might want to avoid snacking on the train to Bologna, where we’ll have a gourmet food tour of Italy’s culinary capital.

We’ll continue the foodie theme with another detour in Emilia-Romagna. This time to a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy, followed by a ham-filled encounter with Parma, followed by some wine-tasting and a trip to Modena to learn about balsamic vinegar production.

Our final few days combine the fashionable streets of Milan with the picture-perfect grandeur of Lake Como – the perfect way to cap off a true Italian experience.

This trip has departures in July, September and October 2023, as well as 2024 dates from April through to December. Book your spot today and start dreaming of Italy!

Our Italian Rail Trip ends in the iconic city of Milan

Incredible Thailand and Laos by Train

One part of the world travellers don’t associate with train travel is Southeast Asia, but our two-week Rail Trip is here to change things. So many people want to combine their trips to Thailand or Vietnam with a visit to Laos, but many find it a logistical nightmare. Not anymore.

This one is a loop trip, so we’ll start and end things in Bangkok. Our introduction to the capital will be brief, as we’ll be straight on the tracks and heading towards the ancient ruins of Sukhothai. Next up is the dazzling city of Chiang Mai, where we’ll take a Thai cooking lesson, before heading to an ethical elephant sanctuary in the hills of Lampang.

On the Thai-Laos border we’ll actually swap the train for its floating cousin, the riverboat. We’ll cruise down the Mekong, meeting locals along the way, eating authentic dishes and meeting makers of rice whisky. We’ll visit the spectacularly beautiful Luang Si Falls before returning to Luang Prabang and taking the high-speed train to the mountainous city of Vang Vieng. We’ll explore Nam Song River by kayak before returning to Bangkok via a high-speed sleeper train. You’ll have plenty of time to get a taste for Thailand’s most vibrant city before our trip comes to an end.

Planning your Southeast Asian travels for 2023? Choose trains and join us any month from August to December. Pick your ideal dates and join us for a locomotive adventure.

Seeing the flowing falls of Kuang Si alone makes Laos worth visiting

Berlin to Budapest by Train

Last, but definitely not least, is quite possibly the quintessential railing experience. Countless intrepid young travellers have city-hopped through Central Europe, but our Rail Trip takes the concept and gives it an immersive spin, led by our knowledgeable Local Insider. No more dingy hostels, enough getting hopelessly lost, this is the proper Euro-rail experience.

We’ll start in Berlin, arguably the most historically significant and culturally vibrant city in all of Europe. We’ll become token Berliner’s as we zip around the city’s impressive U-bahn system, before getting the remarkably scenic train to Czechia and its capital, Prague. This charming fairytale city is hard not to fall in love with – especially after our beer tasting experience – but onwards to Austria we go.

No Euro adventure is complete without getting off at Vienna. This majestic city is as sophisticated as its delicious sachertorte cake. You’ll have plenty of time to try it, along with some schnitzel and perhaps even a spot of classical music. We’ll also take a little detour down the Danube, where we’ll cycle along the glorious Wachau Valley.

Our penultimate stop is the criminally underrated Bratislava. We suspect the Slovakian capital will leave a lasting impression as we depart for our final call, Budapest, for a few days of thermal baths, ruin bars and traditional Hungarian delicacies.

Always dreamt of seeing Europe from the comfort of a train? Join us in August, September and October 2023.

The beautiful city of Budapest is the final call on our Central European tour

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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