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5 of the Greatest Train Journeys Worldwide

Published 23 August 2016

Alexandra Gregg

There’s something thoroughly romantic about travelling by train. Before you say it, we’re not talking about the Piccadilly Line from Leicester Square to Covent Garden at the height of the sweltering, humid British summer. We’re talking about those iconic, cross-country rail journeys that everyone can’t help but add to their bucket list. We love them. The way they rumble and clatter across the tracks, powering through landscapes that few other modes of transport have even touched, battling extremes of weather and wilderness.

Riding the rails is one of the most beloved ways to get around – especially for lovers of overlanding – so it’s only fitting we share our favourites with you. Without further ado, here are five of the greatest train journeys worldwide…

Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the most legendary train rides in North America, nay, the world. It can thank its renowned Gold Leaf Service for that – a two-tier luxury carriage, best known for its five-star wining and dining below and incredible views above, through a high, glass-domed roof.

A flight may get you from Vancouver to Calgary in less than an hour, but the two-day Rocky rides to Jasper (Journey Through the Clouds) and Banff (First Passage to the West) via Kamloops are undoubtedly the best ways to take in all that breathtaking scenery. An aerial perspective will mostly afford cloud-covered views, interspersed with the jagged peaks of the Rockies (if you’re fortunate and the weather’s good) and some ant-sized wildlife. Compare that to this double-decker locomotive where, from the comfort of your seat, you can watch on as the blue and gold behemoth carves a path across desert landscapes, right through the middle of mountains and past big-horn sheep, bald eagles and, if you’re lucky, a grizzly or two. I know which view I’d prefer.

Ride the rails now on our Rocky Mountaineer Journey. 

The Ghan Australia

The Ghan, Australia

The legendary Ghan runs deep into the heart of Australia, through the wilderness of the Red Centre, for a jaw-dropping 1,861 miles from Adelaide to Darwin. Now THAT’S a train ride. Complete the entire epic desert crossing and you’ll spend two days and three nights on board, wowed by the burnt orange dust of the vast desert landscapes and crimson-hued canyons by day, and lulled to sleep by the gentle chugging of the train at night.

Stop off at Alice Springs (or ‘Alice’ as the locals call it) for a real taste of the outback. This isolated town has only 27,000 inhabitants… and little else surrounding it but red sand. In fact, the closest city is nearly 1,000 miles away – this is as remote as it gets. If you didn’t realise quite how big Australia is before you booked, you will after this landmark journey.

Ride the rails now on our Northern Territory in-Depth Journey. 

Shinkansen, Japan

Shinkansen, Japan

Okay, so Shinkansen (or as it’s better-known, the bullet train) rides aren’t strictly journeys, but that doesn’t make them any less unmissable. For starters, they’re the epitome of Japanese living: sleek, futuristic, clinically clean and punctual – the British rail network could learn a thing or two. As the name suggests, they’re also super quick, whizzing passengers across a 1,500-mile network of six lines at speeds of nearly 200mph. Don’t expect to be knocked over by the g-force, but you can expect to arrive at your destination promptly, having zipped across the Land of the Rising Sun in mere minutes. Even the two-hour journey from Tokyo-Kyoto takes just 20 minutes by bullet.

And when you buy a season pass (from £160 for a week’s unlimited use) you’ll actually see huge cost benefits – another thing we’ve yet to adopt in Old Blighty.

Ride the rails now on our Geishas and Gyozas tour. 

Toy Train, India

The affectionately-monikered Toy Train (aka the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) is the tortoise to the Shinkansen’s super-speedy hare. Travelling at a meagre 7.5mph through the soaring elevations between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, you’d be right in thinking you won’t get anywhere fast… but that’s sort of the point. You’ll have plenty of time to take in emerald tea plantations, snow-capped peaks and thick forests that way, not to mention the narrow gauge train feels much safer as it trundles along at slower speeds.

On the popular Shimla-bound route from Kalka, you’ll pass through a staggering 103 tunnels and over more than 900 bridges as you climb to altitudes in excess of 2,200 metres. It’s like no other train journey on earth.

Ride the rails now on our Foothills of the Himalayas Journey. 

Blue Train, South Africa

Not many locos can boast hosting presidents and worldwide royalty, so the Blue Train is rare in that respect. It’s easy to see the allure though. This decadent hotel on wheels feels as though it’s trapped in time, decorated with luxurious 19th century era fixtures and furnishings that, combined with magnificent views from Cape Town to Pretoria, provide a memorable experience for all its passengers.

Renowned for its opulence, guests benefit from gourmet dining, a butler service, an observation car, soundproofed en-suite compartments and gold-tinted windows. Think The Savoy… but an ever-so slightly bumpier version.

Ride the rails now on our The Luxury South African Experience Journey. 

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