Whether it’s a vintage steam locomotive, an opulent luxury train, or uses cutting-edge technology, a sleeper train or a short yet memorable route, rail journeys are memorable experiences in their own right, and can provide an unique insight into the destination, enjoying splendid scenery, or travelling with locals. Here’s some of the most iconic rail journeys which we think are simply unmissable
Paris to Istanbul: Venice-Simplon Orient Express
Turn back time and travel in the lavish style of the golden age of travel, following a similar route to the original rail journeys in 1883 onboard the iconic Orient Express. Perhaps the world’s most famous train, the Orient Express has seen many changes to its routes, railing stock and even its name, but it has always retained its elegance, consistently showcasing luxury and comfort. Although the Orient Express ceased to operate in 2009, considered to be a victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines, it has bounced back, and you can travel in style in the original Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits carriages from the 1920s and 30s onboard the legendary Venice-Simplon Orient Express, travelling from London to Paris and Venice, and a variety of destinations in Europe, including the original Paris to Istanbul route. Its Art Deco glamour and prestige has a strong pop cultural heritage, and the train has featured in the plots of books and films as renowned as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Bond book and film From Russia with Love, and one of Agatha Christie’s best-known novels, Murder on the Orient Express, one of Hercule Poirot’s most famous cases.
Tokyo to Kyoto: Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)
Known locally as Shinkansen – or ‘new trunk line’ - sleek, and futuristic looking, Japan’s so-called Bullet Trains are perhaps the most famous contemporary trains in the world, and are well-known for their exceptional punctuality, running on time to the second. They’re a veritable icon of Japan, perfectly complimenting its reputation for cutting-edge technology, and a journey on a bullet point is a must-do experience when visiting Japan. They’re allowed to travel at speeds at around 200mph, but are capable of going much faster, achieving world record speeds of 361mph during tests. However, the trains are also surprisingly quiet and comfortable, with forward-facing seats that can be turned around so that they can always face the direction of travel. Although the rail system connects major cities on Japan’s two largest islands, Honsu and Kyushu, with Tokyo, going as far north as Aomori and as far south as Kagoshima – and there are plans to extend the network – the most famous rail journey is the three-hour stretch between Tokyo and Kyoto, and the most popular with travellers, hoping for a fantastic view of Mount Fuji (if the cloud allows).
Vancouver round trip: Rocky Mountaineer
The Rockies are an icon of Canada, and Rocky Mountaineer is one of the best ways to experience the Rockies, enjoying expansive panoramic views of the stunning scenery of dramatic mountains, cut-glass smooth lakes, and local wildlife, making stops at some of the best-loved destinations, including Banff, Lake Louise, Kamloops, Whistler and more. To make the most of viewing the spectacular scenery, the trains run during the day, with overnight stays at hotels. Some of the most popular routes are circular routes from Vancouver, although there are other routes available, including a coastal passage from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies.
Singapore to Bangkok: Eastern and Oriental Express
The Eastern and Oriental Express travels across Southeast Asia in style, with guests enjoying cocktails, fine dining and spectacular views onboard, visiting vibrant cities, passing rural villages, travelling through jungle, and crossing the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai. Featuring a colonial-style teakwood Observation Car at the rear, a relaxing saloon car and a convivial hub in the Bar Car, the Eastern and Oriental Express offers a sophisticated and comfortable travelling experience from Singapore to Bangkok, on either two- or three-night itineraries, or an unforgettable 6 night adventure which visits Kuala Lumpur, and travels up into the Cameron Highlands – the highest point on the Malaysian peninsula – and to the islands of Penang and Koh Chaan, home to thousands of bird colonies nestled in its stunning cliffs, before reaching Bangkok.
Darwin and Adelaide: The Ghan
A real Australian epic, the Ghan (the abbreviated name derived from the affectionate nickname, The Afghan Express) takes fifty-four hours to travel the 1,851 miles between Adelaide and Darwin (with a four-hour stopover in Alice Springs), and is often described as the ultimate journey through the Australian Outback, accessing remote parts of Australia which simply would not be accessible on holiday otherwise. The original Ghan line followed the route taken by explorer John MacDouall Stuart, the first train was enthusiastically waved off by an excited crowd gathered at the Adelaide Railway Station on Sunday 4 August 1929, and today, although the original line no longer operates, The Ghan still evokes a sense of excitement and adventure as you journey across the heart of the Outback.
Retracing much of the ancient Silk Road, this epic rail journey which stretches between two mighty cities, crosses four countries’ borders, and journeys along the famous Trans-Siberian Railway (at 5,772 miles, the longest railway in the world), as well as the Trans-Manchurian or the Trans-Mongolian railways (depending on your itinerary). To travel this route at its most luxurious, hop onboard the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, enjoying well-appointed en suite cabins and personal cabin attendant service, and the Shangri-La Express – built originally for Chairman Mao and unquestionably China’s best private train – once you’re over the border into China. From the imposing city of Moscow, this journey spans across the vastness of Kazakhstan’s Kara Kum desert, visits the ancient Silk Road trading post of Khiva, as well as Ashgabat, the modern capital of Turkmenistan, nicknamed the ‘Las Vegas of the Kara Kum’, and such Uzbek treasures as Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent. It’s an astounding once-in-a-life jewel of a journey, with an incredibly diverse route, enjoying magnificent backdrops such as Turpan’s Flaming Mountains and the undulating sand dunes of the Gobi Desert.
Dar Es Salaam to Cape Town: Rovos Rail
An epic rail route across Africa, from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, traversing Selous Game reserve, the continent’s largest and evoking a vision of timeless Africa, and negotiating the tunnels, switchbacks and viaducts of the Grift Rift Valley, crossing the mighty Zambezi River, and journeying across Zimbabwe (with an overnight stop at the magnificent Victoria Falls) and Zambia, into South Africa, this iconic rail journey is made all the more perfect aboard Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, widely considered to be the world’s most luxurious train.
Kalka to Shimla: The Toy Train
For dramatic views of the hills and villages of North-West India, travel along the Kalka-Shimla Railway, a 2ft 6inch narrow gauge railway. Construction began in 1898, opening in 1903, inaugurated by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, and the railway was declared a heritage property by the government of Himachal Pradesh in 2007. A number of passenger trains use this route, including the Shivalik Deluxe Express, the Himalayan Queen, and the luxurious Shivalik Queen, a luxury coach which can be booked couples or groups of up to eight and attached to regular trains. The Shivalik Queen boasts four elegantly furnished coupés with two toilets, wall-to-wall carpets and large windows.
St Moritz and ZERMATT: THE GLACIER EXPRESS
Connecting the popular Swiss mountain resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt, and passing along and through the scenic World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes, the famous Glacier Express is something of a misnomer, as the train is not a high-speed train but, in fact, has the reputation of being the slowest express train in the world… However, with such gorgeous scenery to admire along the way, it surely does not matter that it’s not high-speed! First running in 1930, the Glacier Express crossed 291 bridges, goes through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 6,670 ft in altitude during a seven and a half hour journey.
Esquel to El Maitén: La Trochita (Old Patagonian Express)
Described by Paul Thoreaux in his 1978 book The Old Patagonian Express as the railway almost at the end of the world, La Trochita is a 2ft 5 ½in narrow gauge railway running through Argentinian Patagonia, an area of astounding natural beauty at the southernmost tip of South America. Running just under 250miles through the Andean foothills between Esquel and El Maitén, the railway is affectionately nicknamed La Trochita, literally ‘The Little Narrow Gauge’. Dating back to the early twentieth century, the railway’s original character has remained largely unchanged, and today it operates at a heritage railway, using original 1922 steam locomotives (although the dining car and some of the first class carriages date back to 1955).
If you're interested in an iconic rail adventure, why not contact one of our dedicated travel specialists today?
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