Picture the scene – stunning landscapes rushing past your window as you tuck into some fine food, the sound of a train horn blasts out and echoes in the vast distance. Since the times of the classic Orient Express, train journeys have been synonymous with opulent travel. Luckily, nowadays train journeys are much more affordable, and also ideal for solos. You can meet others in the dining cart and there are also rail holidays for solos too.
Whether you decide to opt for a rail holiday or travel independently, here are some great rail journeys to inspire you:
The Orient Express has got to be one of the great rail journeys. Created in 1883, it originally ran between Paris and Istanbul. Nowadays you can enjoy this iconic method of travel from Venice to London, or London to Verona. London to Venice takes two days but you can spend from one day to several days onboard.
This is truly the only way to see Russia. The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway line in the world and runs from Moscow to Beijing. It also connects St Petersburg and Vladivostok. If this route isn’t enough then you can add on extra train holidays in Europe and travel all the way to London. Reaching Singapore is also possible by connecting train routes.
You can travel eastbound or westbound, but if you want to meet more Westerners, head east. A second class cabin consists of 4 ‘beds’ or opt for first-class which is 2-berth. It operates all year round
The Trans Mongolian
Not as well known as the Trans Siberian, the Trans Mongolian begins in Russia and runs to Beijing in China. It’s easy to jump aboard in Beijing and travel down to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. The train passes by the Ural Mountains, the Mongolian Steppes and the Gobi Desert so expect to be waking up to stunning scenery.
The journey from Beijing to Mongolia takes two days or you can add on other rail connections to extend your journey. Seat 61 is a great resource to check ongoing journeys.
Choose first class if you don’t want to be in a sleeper cabin with smokers. Some rail holidays allow you the opportunity to stay in a local village and experience local life.
Is there anywhere more spectacular than the Rocky Mountains in Canada? As a luxury travel experience, it takes you on various routes from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper, passing through Whistler, Quesnel and Kamloops (depending on your route).
Vancouver to Banff is the original Rocky Mountaineer route which stops at Lake Louise and takes a total of two days. The Rocky Mountaineer isn’t cheap but it saves you driving alone for days through the stunning landscape of the Canadian Rockies. Journeys take from 2 days to 5 days.
Australia is so vast that the only way to really see this magnificent landscape is by rail. The Ghan runs from Adelaide to Darwin and gives you access to areas of Oz that you may not have seen otherwise. It is named after the early pioneers who came from Afghanistan with their camels.
The journey takes you through the spinifex plains and salt pans, past the MacDonnell Ranges. You really feel as though you are going through the Outback and get to witness dramatic colours as you journey through the Red Centre. The train takes two days and you can choose your own sleeper cabin or a twin cabin.
The Oxygen Train
If you’ve ever wanted to travel along the highest railway in the world then take the ‘The Oxygen Train.’ Named so because of the high altitude, it crosses the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau from China to Tibet at more than 4,000 metres.
Each carriage is pressurised to help passengers with the thin air. There are oxygen masks and supply tubes throughout the train, in case you need any more. But one thing is for sure, you won’t suffer as much from altitude sickness.
The journey takes two days (approximately 40 hours), and runs from Beijing to Lhasa. Male sure that you check the latest advice on visas as the restrictions to enter Tibet can often change.
We can’t forget Switzerland either. Switzerland has some amazing scenery and some of the best train holidays in Europe. You could easily spend a week here jumping aboard all of the train journeys. The most famous train ride is the Glacier Express which runs between St. Moritz and Zermatt, passing through Chur, Andermatt and Brig. It offers panoramic views of the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s highest peak.
The journey takes a whole day departing in the morning and arriving early evening for either route. You’ll get to see the alpine village of Zermatt, and the Rhine Gorge which is known as “Switzerland’s Grand Canyon,” as you travel over viaducts and through spiral tunnels. Other scenic Swiss rail holidays are Jungfraujoch, the GoldenPass Line, and Bernina Express.
The Blue Train
You may not have heard of this route which operates from Johannesburg to Cape Town but according to The Irish Times it is listed among 18 of the world’s best rail journeys. The Blue Train starts from Pretoria and offers great views of the Karoo desert, as well as the wine region and even Table Mountain.
There are two different types of trains, the Premier Classe which includes all meals, or the Shosholoza Meal train which is the cheapest. The train takes two days and departs early morning arriving at noon the following day.
Train journeys are a great way of seeing the world. Your accommodation is included, sometimes food too (depending on your package), and there is also the possibility of taking excursions along the way. You could find yourself exploring an old mining town in the Australia Outback, spending the day at one of Canada’s most stunning lakes, or stopping in an old Soviet town, drinking vodka with the locals.
Gone are the days of long romantic train journeys where you are on a train for weeks at a time. Instead, train journeys are much more convenient for your travels and you can spend just one night on board if you want to try the experience.
You can incorporate a rail journey into your itinerary, starting in Moscow and travelling to Beijing by train before flying out of China. Or travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town before staying a few days longer to experience the Big 5 on an African safari, before flying home. They are a great way of seeing more of a country without having to think about where you need to stay and how to get around. Everything is there for you on the train.
One thing’s for sure, you have to experience a great rail journey once in your lifetime.