In all my years of traveling, one of my fondest memories is of a time when I embarked on an overnight train journey from Florence to Paris with my then significant other.
It was an unforgettable experience as we traversed through the Alps and came across picturesque villages and lakes. Sadly, my hopes of someday reliving the journey have all but faded since the Florence – Paris train route is no longer in operation.
In any case, while a plane will undoubtedly get you to your destination faster, those of us who cherished the journey as much as the destination will always find train travel a lot more favorable than anything air travel can possibly hope to offer.
From the luxurious to the ultra-modern, here are some of the world’s most notable train journeys.
The Shiki Shima, Japan
Starting on a high (tech) note, the Shiki Shima line is Japan’s latest luxury sleeper train providing passengers with a 4 day / 3 night journey starting from Ueno station in Tokyo all the way to Sapporo and back.
Far from solely relying on the scenery, the train features 17 luxurious sunlit suites with en-suite bathroom and panoramic windows to maximize the overland sightseeing experience. Shiki Shima’s fine-dining experience is defined by the finest local and seasonal ingredients complemented by Japan’s very own premium brand of wine.
Finally, the train’s slow-paced cruising (68 mph/110 kph) in tandem with its observatory cars fitted with glass walls, ceilings and plush carpets, all but guarantee a memorable sightseeing experience through the Japanese countryside.
Blue Train, South Africa
With over 70 years of servicing guests consisting of dignitaries, celebrities and just about everyone else looking for a ‘five-star hotel on rails’ experience, the Blue Train is without a doubt South Africa’s most iconic train journey.
The 2-day journey starts in Cape Town and ends in Pretoria (or vice versa) covering a distance of some 1,600 kilometers. A 30-hour indulgence is perhaps a fair description of the whole journey, as guests are treated to luxurious and spacious cabins, exceptional fine wining and dining experience as well as a professional butler service.
Top that off with the gorgeous views courtesy of the Mother Continent, guests are in for numerous pinch-me moments as they make their way through the heart of South Africa.
Maharajas’ Express, India
Voted “The World’s Leading Luxury Train” seven times in a row (2012 – 2018), the train simply oozes luxury and refinement across the board. All of the train’s suites bear vintage design featuring temperature control, en-suite bathroom as well as generous windows.
The Maharajas Express services a number of routes, with its 6 nights/7 days “Heritage of India” tour being the most prevalent. The tour introduces passengers to some of India’s most celebrated places and landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and a number of palaces and museums.
Relaxing Rail Lines
The Royal Scotsman, Scotland
Hop on this luxurious line and savor the beauty of the Scottish countryside. As the train chugs through the picturesque land on a two or seven-day journey, expect to encounter shimmering lochs (that’s “lake” for you folks without a dictionary), enchanting glens and sleepy villages, synonymous with the Scottish highland.
Visit the observation lounge and bar to mingle with like-minded travelers and treat yourself to a variety of the local malt while you’re at it. To ensure a personalized service and comfort, the Royal Scotsman only accommodates a mere 36 passengers at any given time; the hospitable crew also loves to enlighten guests on the mystifying local folklore and myths!
Bernina Express, Switzerland
The Bernina Express takes its passengers across the Alps, starting from Switzerland’s oldest city of Chur and ending in the Italian town of Tirano. The highlight of the Albula Railway is undoubtedly going over the 65-meter tall Landwasser Viaduct amidst the swaying trees and towering mountains.
The trail continues to ascend to an elevation of about 792 meters above sea level, where the Bernina mountain pass awaits to greet passengers along with its numerous glaciers and three charming lakes, namely the Lago Bianco, Lej Nair and Lej Pitschen.
Just before reaching the town of Tirano, the Bernina Express circles around the unique Brusio loop circular viaduct, boasting 360° unobstructed views of the immediate surroundings.
The Grand Canyon Railway, USA
Ever wanted to experience the Old West? Well, now you can … well sorta. The Grand Canyon Railway takes passengers on a 2 hour and 15 minute journey starting from the Williams depot heading southbound to Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim.
The train features dome cars and open-air platforms enabling passengers to marvel over the route’s diverse terrains, initially departing from William’s pine forest to the Sonoran desert and arriving at Pinion pines in the Grand Canyon.
Upon arrival, passengers are allotted a couple of hours to explore the South Rim or partake in a number of exciting activities offered by the railway.
Trans Siberian Express, Russia
Reigning as the world’s longest railway line, the Trans Siberian Express spans nearly 10,000 kilometers from Moscow to Vladivostok and is legendary for the fact that it is the longest single train trip anyone can partake in.
The entirety of the trip lasts for seven days across a remarkable 10 time zones, two republics and 87 towns.
While tourists and train enthusiasts are likely to find this grand journey romantic and exhilarating, the Trans SIberian Express is in reality regarded as a commuter train taken by countless Russians to reach their remote homes, travel to military bases or simply visit their families.
There are no luxurious cabins or fine dining carriages or a 24/7 butler service here, just you, the train and of course the beautiful Mother Russia.
It’s all of course a matter of perspective, I for one would not hesitate to partake in this amazing journey given the opportunity.
The Ghan, Australia
The Ghan travels from Australia’s north coast of Darwin to the south coast of Adelaide (and vice versa) covering a distance of 2,979 kilometers. Its namesake is derived from that of the Afghans who played a role in clearing out a path and building infrastructures in the Australian outback using camels imported from India.
The transcontinental journey takes roughly 47 hours to complete as passengers are presented with the opportunity of peering into the red-earthed antipodean landscape of the Australian outback. The Ghan also makes various stops including one in Alice Springs where passengers are able to partake in numerous activities, such as hiking, admiring the world’s largest monolith and even camel-riding.
The Canadian, Canada
Embarking on a train ride from Toronto all the way to Vancouver means preparing yourself for a 4,446 kilometer journey through the striking Canadian wilderness.
Passengers will be treated to the magnificent view of the famous Rocky Mountains range and the Canadian Shield forest. Wifi connection is not provided for the duration of the trip, but Canadian does provide gourmet meals, deluxe sleepers with en-suite bathroom and a flat screen TV to keep you entertained through your ride.