The adage “it’s the journey not the destination” certainly rings true when it comes to epic train trips. We’re not talking the daily commute here. These particular railway excursions are more about the experience and the views than the A to B transportation. From long distance expeditions to high speed thrill rides, come aboard and check out 8 great journeys with the most spectacular views imaginable from around the world.
1. Orient Express, Europe
Thank Agatha Christie’s murder mystery for putting this iconic train journey on the literary and legendary map. Officially called the Venice Simplon Orient Express, the glamorous railway ride evokes the golden age of travel. Polished panelling, wood burning stoves, plush fabrics and Art Deco details in the private cabins transport you back to the Roaring Twenties. Attentive stewards cater to your every whim while the dining car prepares sumptuous meals.
Various routes take you through London, Paris, Vienna, Venice, Prague, Budapest and Istanbul, but the train itself is the main attraction. Not surprisingly, this kind of opulence comes at a first class price point.
2. El Nariz del Diablo, Ecuador
On the other end of the budget spectrum is this adventurous train ride and impressive engineering feat. High in the Andes of central Ecuador heading south from Riobama is a switchback track known as the Devil’s Nose, ascending 1600m up and down from Alausi to Sibambe. This zigzagging journey passes through Andean villages and offers awesome mountain vistas. Just pray to the Inca gods that the breaks don’t fail. Up until recently daredevils with a death wish could ride on the roof of the train for an added thrill.
3. Trans Siberian, China to Russia
This legendary long distance odyssey is the ultimate feather in the cap for train travel enthusiasts. It covers 6000 miles ((9700 km) over two continents and 8 different time zones – roughly one third of the planet. The straight journey from Beijing to St. Petersburg takes about 10 days, but you can create your own itinerary on their network of tracks if you want to disembark and explore, say, the Silk Road, the Russian Arctic, Kazakhstan or Moscow along the way. First, second and third class tickets cater to a range of budgets and comforts. Tip: bring vodka and make some friends to help pass the time.
4. The Ghan, Australia
The modern Ghan is the Great Southern Rail company’s recent reincarnation of a classic Aussie passenger train that began back in 1877. It was named for the Afghan workers who laid the original tracks, with a little help from imported desert-friendly camels that now roam wild throughout the Northern Territories. The route makes a B-line from southerly Adelaide through the Red Center of Alice Springs and up north to tropical Darwin. The full run covers 1800 miles (3000km) and takes about 54 hours, but you’d best break it up and explore the outback along the way, mate.
5. Rocky Mountaineer, Canada and the US
This upscale scenic train offers tours through the rugged Rockies between Alberta, British Columbia and Washington State. It follows historic Canadian Pacific Rail routes that were opened back in the 1800s. Various packages take you through Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Vancouver, Whistler and Seattle. Splurge to get access to the 360 degree glass domed carriage to see pristine panoramic views of the magnificent mountains, crystalline lakes, ancient glaciers and alpine forests. Keep you eyes peeled for black bears, grizzlies, elk, big horn ship and other Rocky Mountain wildlife out there.
6. Shinkansen, Japan
It seems high speed trains are popping up all over the place today, but Japan’s world renowned Bullet Train was the original pioneer. Developed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, these rapid rails have efficiently transported some seven billion passengers throughout the years. The 300kmph (187mph) speed dramatically cuts the transportation time between Japan’s major cities. For example, the express Shinkansen can whoosh from Tokyo to Kyoto in less than two and a half hours, where the regular train takes nine.
7. Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico (Copper Canyon Railway), Mexico
Mexico’s Copper Canyon is four times larger than the Grand Canyon, and one of the best ways to take in all in is by train. Construction on this railway line began in 1898, a pretty ambitious project considering the rugged terrain and limited technology of the day. The Copper Canyon Railway chugs along the 400 miles (655km) between Los Mochis and Chihuahua, passing over 36 bridges and through 87 tunnels. The sheer cliff walls, cascading waterfalls, desert plains and cactus-strewn mountain scenery will make you say ay, Chihuahua!
8. Maharajas’ Express, India
The ultra-luxurious Maharajas’ Express treats you like royalty as you journey through North-central India and into the bygone era of the Raj. With a comfortable carriage as home base, you can explore World Heritage Sites in Agra, palaces in Jaipur, holy sites in Varanasi, the Taj Mahal and tiger habitats of Ranthambore National Park, among other fabled Indian hot spots. The World Tourism Awards named this luxury locomotive as “Worlds Leading Luxury Train” for two years running.