Great Rail Journeys From Around the World.
Most people know already – it takes zero encouragement to get me on a train.
Perhaps its the romantic feeling of nostalgia that fills us when we enter a bustling train station: the feeling that a great journey is about to begin.
Perhaps it’s the feeling of slowing down, chatting with your fellow travellers. Perhaps it’s leaning out of an open window to watch the curves of a train hug the rails as it twists through different types of terrain. Or perhaps it’s the feeling of falling asleep to the rhythm of the rails and waking up in a new country, state or landscape. Perhaps it’s knowing that taking the train is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of long-distance transport there is.
Whatever it is that draws us to train travel, I know I’m not the only one! And just to prove it, I’ve called on some awesome travel bloggers to share their favourite great rail journeys with a view to get you running to your nearest train station. Enjoy!
Ready for more? Read Part Two of Great Rail Journeys with a View here!
1. Ella to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka – by the Nomadic Boys.
One of our favourite ever train journeys was from Nuwara Eliya to Ella in Sri Lanka. We loved it because it was incredibly scenic as the train powers up through Sri Lanka’s southern hill country, into the clouds and then weaves in and out of the many mountain tunnels as it descends to reach Ella.
Along the way we saw the tea plantations, eucalyptus forests and passed through the many local villages where locals wave you on.
The railway network in Sri Lanka was initially introduced by the British Colonial government in 1864, mainly to transport the tea (and coffee) from the hill country in places like Nuwara Eliya to the capital, Colombo.
Since the advent of road travel, the train network in Sri Lanka declined heavily after the the 1970s. Recently, the Sri Lankan government launched a 10 years Railway Development Strategy investment programme to upgrade and reignite this industry: a blessing for what we found to be one of the most scenic train journeys we’ve ever taken.
Read more from The Nomadic Boys Here.
Want more on train travel in Sri Lanka? Check out my post on Train Travel in Sri Lanka: Beaches, Jungle and Tea country here.
2. Oruro to Uyuni, Bolivia – by World Trip Diaries.
I love train travel. It’s easier, and the views are almost always worth it! The trip I loved most was the one from Oruro to Uyuni in Bolivia.
We took a bus from La Paz to Oruro and in Oruro, we took the train that would take us to Uyuni. It’s an 8-hour trip and if you take the day-time train, you’ll get the most incredible views all over (and some pretty annoying music videos and movies)!
It is slower than going by bus, but it’s more comfortable and safer to go by train, so we chose it. The views are simply incredible. We crossed so many distinct landscapes it was hard to believe they were all of the same country. We only saw the immensity of those mountains when a car or bus passed by. It was breathtaking all the way through until the night came and darkness covered everything.
It was, without doubt, one of the prettiest train trips we’ve ever taken, and we’d highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Bolivia!
Read more from the World Trip Diaries here.
3. Grindelwald to Wengen, Switzerland – by Short Holidays and Getaways.
One of the most scenic train journeys we have done was on a cog wheel train from the delightful village of Grindelwald to another amazing village – Wengen, Switzerland.
Wengen is part of the Jungfrau region of Switzerland along with Grindelwald, Murren, and Lauterbrunnen. The cog wheel train winds its way through the massive mountains of Eiger, Jungfrau, and Munch, and (if you are careful), you can hang your head out of the window to admire this incredible scenery.
The train climbs to Kleine Scheidegg where many skiers, boarders, and walkers get off, and others get off to catch the connecting cog wheel train to the famous Jungfraujoch: the top of Europe. Others stay on to go through to Wengen, which is what we did. Wengen is a picture postcard Swiss village. From there we took the Wengen–Männlichen Aerial Cableway to the party zone of Männlichen, before taking the cog wheel train back to Grindelwald. Seriously one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
Read more from Short Holidays and Getaways here.
4.Dorud to Andimeshk, Iran – by Lost with Purpose.
A slow, rickety train rides the rails between the towns of Dorud and Andimeshk in western Iran. Getting on is a bit of a spectacle, as tickets sell out quickly, but once you’re aboard and settled in, prepare to be dazzled! The train chugs away through some spectacular desert scenery, from sheep herders wandering along towering cliff faces, to villages so tiny you wonder whether or not they even count as villages.
That is, if you get a chance to spend much time looking out the window! Iranians are famous for their hospitality, and you’re sure to be treated to a healthy dose during your day on the train. My partner and I were given a seat right up front with the train conductors, treated to many cups of tea (too many, perhaps, for a toilet-less train), asked all kinds of questions and told stories as we munched snacks given to us by our train compartment companions throughout the seven-hour ride.
Read more from Lost with Purpose here.
5. The Hershey Electric Railway, Cuba – by Travels of a Bookpacker.
This line was originally built for the Hershey company to transport sugar from the plantations to the port in Havana. Nowadays it runs as means of local transport between smaller towns and for the few tourists that want to see a bit of something different on their trip to Cuba. It’s a great alternative if you’re travelling Cuba on a budget or don’t want to take a bus between Havana and Matanzas although it will take you slightly longer.
The train timetable is very flexible so head to the station the day before to check times. The journey is supposed to take around four hours but any house along the route can be a stop and the electrical lines that the train runs on often disconnect. So don’t expect to get anywhere soon. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the amazing views.
Slowly cruising past lush forests, local farms and tobacco plantations you’ll get a peaceful and beautiful look at Cuban life outside the cities. We took the afternoon train and caught an amazing sunset before we rolled into Havana. Note, you need to take the ferry over to the Casablanca train station in Havana where the train arrives and departs.
Read more from Travels of a Bookpacker here.
6. The Bamboo Railway, Battambang, Cambodia – by Czech Souls.
Cambodian Battambang’s bamboo railway isn’t one of the long train journeys where you pass several valleys and mountains and enjoy amazing views, but it’s certainly one of the most unique experiences you can have while on the railway. The journey is approximately 7 km long and it takes about 20 mins in each direction, depending on how often you’ll have to get off. The “train”, called norry in Khmer, is basically a simple wooden frame covered with bamboo slats. How does that move on the rail? This construction lies on two barbell-like bogies and is connected to a gasoline engine. Up to 15 locals or three tonnes of rice can sit on top of it. Why didn’t they make anything more durable? The answer is simple – It’s a single-track railway and when two trains in opposite directions meet, one is dismantled, so that the other one can pass, that’s why it needs to be light.
We didn’t mind getting on and off the train as you can enjoy the views over countryside, rice fields and palms. At the end of the bumpy ride you’ll have to refuse children trying to sell you bracelets just like around other tourist attractions.
Sound good to you? Then hurry up, because they are already talking about ending the service or moving the railway because of the construction of the new and modern one.
Read more from Czech Souls here.
7. The TranzAlpine in New Zealand – by Dream Travel Girl.
The most beautiful train journey I’ve done so far was the TranzAlpine in New Zealand. It goes from Christchurch to Greymouth, in the South Island, crossing the mountain range of the Southern Alps.
When the train left the station, at 8:00am, it was all foggy. For a moment I feared that everything I would see would be a white window. Fortunately, half an hour later the fog dissipated. Yes!
I enjoyed the views from my seat until one hour later, when the viewing deck opened. It was cold – it was autumn – but I didn’t want to miss the experience. The landscapes were stunning. We crossed mountains, bridges and tunnels, saw green fields and blue rivers. The colors were so intense that looked unreal.
When we reached Arthur’s Pass, the highest station in the South Island, we were allowed to leave the train for 5 minutes. After that we entered a several kilometers long tunnel and started descending towards the west coast of the island. It felt very short but it was actually a 4 hours long journey!
Read more from Dream Travel Girl here.
8. Iskar Gorge, Bulgaria – by 203 Travel Challenges.
Around 100 years ago when this route was officially opened, the most famous Bulgarian writers all described it in their novels and short stories to invite people from all over the country to come and experience the curly railroad themselves.
The tracks follow the snake-like gorge of Iskar River with amazing cliffs hanging over the train. In spring and fall, when the colors of the trees play games with light, you can see the gorge in its best dress. You can also take off at any of the numerous stations along the gorge, climb the hills and get a view of the railroad and the toy-like trains passing along their way.
Read more from 203 Travel Challenges here.
9. Cusco to Machu Picchu, Peru – by Probe Around the Globe.
Travelling to Machu Picchu, the Inca site high in the Andes of Peru is exciting on its own. You can hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca trail or you can take the train from Ollantaytambo to the small town of Aguas Caliente, or Machu Picchu village. Only a train ride away, it brings you deep into the Andes, to the long lost city of the Incas.
There are several train companies providing this train journey, but all have vista windows for maximum visibility of the route towards Machu Picchu. Nothing but greenery, you follow the river, until the space next to the tracks becomes smaller and smaller.
The mountains close in on you and it feels like you get sucked into a nature movie. The train moves at a steady but slow pace, chugging you into the mountains. Final stop is the tiny village of Aguas Caliente, were its buzzing with tourists that all want to see this new wonder of the world. If you can’t walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, there is an equally exhilarating route by train! Don’t miss it when you travel to Machu Picchu. Read more about the train journey to Machu Picchu.
Read more from Probe Around the Globe here.
10. Paris to Venice – by Barts Go Adventuring.
Venice had always been high on my list of places to visit and when I saw pictures of it in the winter I knew I had to visit then. On my various investigations on the best way to get there I heard that if you go by train the arrival is spectacular and as you step out of the station to see the canals of Venice ahead of you.
Our wedding anniversary happens to be in the winter so we eventually booked a weekend away and travelled by train from our home in England. The Paris to Venice section was particularly beautiful to travel – we just started to see the edges of the French and Italian Alps with their snow topped peaks. We changed in Turin giving us time to stretch our legs and explore a bit.
One problem with my plan to get the train to Venice was that we arrived in the evening, and since it was winter it was dark! So this meant that we couldn’t see outside as we approached, but did get a rather wonderful view out of the station with the street lit canals so not all was lost.
Read more by Barts Go Adventuring here.
Want more train travel in Europe? Check out my Night Train to Lisbon post for Amsterdam to Lisbon by Train here!
11. The West Highland Line, Scotland (aka “The Hogwarts Express”) – by Rachel’s Ruminations.
The train used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies really exists, and you can ride it!
It is actually the Jacobite Steam Train, travelling a scenic route across the Scottish Highlands. Its 84-mile round trip route starts in Fort William and ends in the lovely fishing village of Mallaig. Besides seeing the viaduct used in four of the Harry Potter films (21 arches and 416 yards long), you’ll enjoy some beautiful scenery along the way: the Scottish Highlands with its rolling hills and beautiful lochs (lakes).
In Mallaig you can wander the picturesque village for an hour and half at midday. Then either take the train back, or you can catch a ferry from Mallaig to Skye or the Small Isles.
Pro tip: book well (weeks) in advance as this train is extremely popular!!
Read more from Rachel’s Ruminations here.
Want more on train travel in Scotland? Read my post about taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William here!
Ready for more? Read Part Two of Great Rail Journeys with a View here!
What train journeys would you add to this list? Where has your favourite train ride been? Let me know in the comments below!
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A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.