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Last Updated on 17/01/2021
Discover No-Fly Holidays, a series of features aiming to inspire you to travel well without ever needing to book a flight. In celebration of slow travel, here are 10 of the most epic train journeys in the world:
There’s something absolutely delicious about train travel. It hearkens back to the olden days before flights when travel was slow and a voyage across the world conjured romance and adventure.
Train travel allows you to sink into a culture, the rich tapestry of passengers onboard and witness first-hand how the landscape melts and transforms, ever-changing in front of your eyes.
True, it’s not ideal for time-poor travellers, but it’s not the nature of train travel to be a means to a destination. For most, the destination is the train itself and the world flashing by its windows.
Discover the magic of train travel by delving into these ten amazing train journeys.
Duration: About 7 days.
Why: Once named ‘the fairest jewel in the crown of the Tsars’, the Trans-Siberian Railway is truly the most epic of all train journeys. The web of tracks spans 9289km from Russia’s capital Moscow to remote Vladivostok in the far east with branches going off into China, Mongolia and North Korea. It crosses seven timezones and joins the east with the west, making it the longest train line in the world.
This iconic journey is arguably the best way to observe Russia’s diverse landscapes but it’s not for travellers in a hurry but that’s part of the fun of it. Take your time watching the world go by as cities melt into the wilderness of the Ural Mountains, the forests of Krasnoyarsk and the icy calm of Lake Baikal. Interact with your fellow passengers, gathering cultural exchanges and conversations along the way. With improved comfort, online ticketing and Western-style hotels en route, the Trans-Siberian Railway is top of the bucket list when it comes to train journeys.
How to book: Visit Real Russia online here for the easiest, most reliable and inexpensive way to buy your tickets.
Why: At just under five hours, New Zealand’s TranzAlpine Railway bisects the country’s South Island to give passengers a chance to observe its striking natural landscape. Start your journey in Christchurch and traverse the vast Canterbury Plains, one of New Zealand’s primary agricultural regions, before arriving at Springfield and the base of the Southern Alps. Head up high into the mountains to join the Waimakariri River gorge and watch it snake below you as the train climbs higher up the cliffs to the plains of Craigieburn.
Witness incredible feats of engineering as you go by with the 72-metre high Staircase Viaduct before reaching Arthur’s Pass where you will get to see panoramic alpine views and possibly spot a parrot or two. Descend through the thrilling Otira Tunnel and watch the landscape’s remarkable transformation from rocky mountains to lush vegetation, winding rivers and forest-clad hills. Hailed as one of the greatest railway journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine may be one of the shortest on the list but it’s a guaranteed morning of jaw-dropping scenery.
How to book: Visit Great Journeys of New Zealand here to book your ticket.
Start: The route depends on the package you choose. Packages include Heritage Of India, Indian Panorama, Indian Splendour, Treasures of India. To find out more about packages and routes, visit the official website here.
Duration: 4 – 8 days.
Why: The Maharajas’ Express is one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world. Winning the ‘World’s Leading Luxury Train’ award at the World Travel Awards for seven consecutive years, the Maharajas’ Express spares no expense making this experience a memorable one for its passengers. It’s more like a five-star hotel than a train with passengers being treated to their own private butler to attend to their every need. The train has four cabin classes to choose from: the Deluxe Cabin, Junior Suite, Suite and Presidental Suite. Whichever one you go for, each cabin is comfortable, spacious and beautifully decorated with some of them including multiple rooms.
Travelling the Maharajas’ Express is really about experiencing the train itself but all packages offer one to three excursions a day included in the ticket price which provides incredible opportunities to experience Indian culture.
How to book: Visit Maharajas’ Express online here to choose your package.
End: Adelaide Parklands Terminal
Why: The Ghan Railway is an epic train journey down the heart of Australia. Travelling a whopping 2979km from Darwin to Adelaide, cutting through the country’s remote outback, The Ghan offers onboard luxury and unparalleled views of Australia’s other-worldly landscape for a once in a lifetime experience. Passengers can sit back and enjoy the ride as the train takes them past the tropical coast of the Northern Territory before dipping down to the red rocks of the MacDonnell Ranges and onto the vast plains of Southern Australia.
Onboard, passengers can find cosy cabins, sumptuous dining and impeccable service. The Ghan also features off-train excursions and activities including a trip to Alice Springs and a boat tour of Nitmiluk Gorge.
How to book: Visit Journey Beyond here to buy your ticket.
Start: Ho Chi Minh City
Why: While flights may be cheaper and a whole lot more convenient, there’s no better way to explore Vietnam than by the Reunification Express. It’s a slower form of travel that joins the country’s two great metropolises and everything in-between. Perhaps not as luxurious as other railways on the list, the Reunification Express is still one of the world’s most epic train journeys in its own right. The train winds its way through the landscape of Vietnam, cutting through rice paddies, dense jungles, fishing villages and busy towns.
There are five different sleeping or seating arrangements to choose from. First is the Hard Seat, which as its name suggests, is a hard bench. Next is the Soft Seat, a slightly more comfortable arrangement but for those wanting to sleep, there is the Hard Berth, Soft Berth and a VIP Cabin. The Reunification Express, also known as the North-South Railway, is one of South-East Asia’s best-loved railways.
How to book: Visit Vietnam Railways System to book your tickets here.
Why: Travel in the lap of luxury on one of South America’s most famous train journeys, the Perurail Lake Titicaca Railway which crosses the Peruvian Andes. Considered by many as one of the most beautiful trains in the world, Perurail Titicaca has unrivalled views of the world’s highest navigable lake and follows a picturesque path through the snow-capped peaks and valleys of the Andes.
Spend a leisurely ten and a half hours sipping drinks at the bar, enjoying the fine dining service and wandering out into the open-air Observation Car to catch the views on camera. Each carriage is decorated in the style of the Pullman cars of the 1920s and a band of local musicians will serenade you as you board the train at the station to set you up for an already memorable experience.
How to book: Get your tickets at Perurail here.
End: Fort William
Duration: 13.30 hours
Why: You don’t have to go far to experience one of the world’s most iconic railways. The Caledonian Sleeper captures the romance of slow travel as it pulls out of London and carries you through the night to the peaks of the Scottish Highlands. Sit back, relax and watch the world go by with a single malt whisky in your hand. Enjoy an exquisite selection of food and drink in the train’s Club Car and drift off to sleep in one of the Caledonian Sleeper’s many forms of accommodation ranging from Comfort Seats to Classic Doubles.
Although it’s a train designed for nodding off on the go, the Caledonian Sleeper is a space to relax, be leisurely and enjoy your surroundings while it takes you to where you need to go. Oh, and you don’t have the hassle of baggage fees like you do on a flight.
Once you get to Fort William, you have another train to catch: the famous Jacobite Steam Train that takes you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Find out how to plan your Scottish Highlands itinerary here.
How to book: Visit Caledonian Sleeper online here to book your ticket.
Why: The West Rhine Railway is German castles galore. It follows a scenic route along the west bank of the Rhine Valley, past boats, barges and cruises through Germany’s wine country. Spot the outlines of hilltop castles, traverse the Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and view the famous Lorelei Rock from your window. Sit in comfort as the train meanders through picturesque towns and showcases the very best of the West German countryside. At less than two hours for the entire journey, it makes for an ideal rail trip if you just want a quick taster.
Start: Dar es Salaam
End: Kapiri Mposhi
Duration: 46 hours
Why: The TAZARA Railway links the port of Dar es Salaam in east Tanzania to the town of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. Largely considered to be the greatest engineering effort of its kind since the Second World War, the train leaves the coastal port and plunges into the mostly uninhabited areas of the Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest faunal reserves in the world. Although it’s not guaranteed, passengers can often see wildlife such as giraffe, elephant, zebra, antelope and warthog from their windows.
The railway then runs over rugged mountains, through valleys and over perilous swampland. A spectacular bridge to look out for is the crossing over the Mpanga River which stands on fifty-metre tall pillars. A trip on this epic train journey allows you to gaze out of the window at the flora and fauna and watch the clamour of the crowds as the train pulls in at each stop.
How to book: It’s advisable to book your tickets in advance but you can’t book them online. Visit TAZARA, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority for the best ways to get your tickets.
Start: Zermatt Railway Station
End: Chur Railway Station
Duration: 4.20 hours
Why: The Glacier Express is an express train that takes you through the picturesque landscape of the Swiss Alps, connecting you to the two main mountain resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz. Travelling over two-hundred bridges and through ninety-one tunnels, the Glacier Express is one of the most beautiful train rides in Europe with its breathtaking views of the Matterhorn and the Swiss Rhine Gorge, dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon of Switzerland’. You could never tire of its route with its many spiral tunnels the iconic six-arched limestone Landwasser Viaduct that spans the Landwasser between Schmitten and Filisur.
It’s one of those train journeys that can be enjoyed all year round but if you want to witness the fairytale magic and drama of the landscape at its best then go in the winter when this little red train snakes through a white blanket of snow.
How to book: Visit the Glacier Express website here.