“It’s not getting from A to B. It’s not the beginning or the destination that counts. It’s the ride in between…This train is alive with things that should be seen and heard. It’s a living, breathing something ― you just have to want to learn its rhythm.”
― David Baldacci
It’s tragic how we’ve turned traveling into simply getting from place A to B. Today, more often than not, there seems to be a greater emphasis on the destination―what to see and what to eat once you get there. The journey itself is seen more like a hassle, a mere footnote in the grander scheme of things that your destination holds.
Stop and smell the roses if you will, the next time you’re out on a holiday. The best way to do so is to pick a place so picturesque, that the only way to do justice to its beauty is to explore it by rail. We’ve got a few ideas to get you started.
AMAZING TRAIN JOURNEYS IN THE WORLD
CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
Cinque Terre refers to a bunch of 5 idyllic fishing villages―Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso, and Vernazza―that lie between Pisa and Genoa. A gorgeous stretch of the Italian Riviera, this region is a national park and a vehicle-free zone. Thus, the best way to get around is to take the train which chugs along the tall cliffs, offering a magnificent view of the azure Ligurian waters extending as far as the eye can see. The Cinque Terre National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. Though the region has fallen prey to tourism of late, its really refreshing to see the considerable lack of corporate consumerism in these villages. The restaurants here are more or less homegrown, and the people display the best of Italian hospitality and charm. The gorgeous views round up to make this an oft-visited destination for anyone who comes here even once.
BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADIAN ROCKIES
The Rocky Mountains in west Canada have some breathtaking landscapes on offer. The Rocky Mountaineer railroad snakes through glacier lakes, dense forests, and abundant wildlife. The train takes you on a two-day journey from the resort town of Banff in Alberta through the beautiful Canadian Rockies, culminating in the city of Vancouver. You have the option of picking the Gold Leaf Service which includes cooked-to-order meals and unlimited cocktails while onboard, making this an ultra-luxurious and idyllic getaway.
TRANZALPINE, NEW ZEALAND
The KiwiRail Scenic Journeys-run TranzAlpine passenger train promises to take you on the most beautiful train ride ever. Considering New Zealand’s abundant natural wealth, it’s wise not to dispute their claim, when you’d rather just jump aboard. This is a relatively short trip―under 5 hours―beginning in Christchurch, going through Arthur’s Pass over to Greymouth on the South Island’s west coast through the amazing misty mountain scenery of the Southern Alps.
PIKES PEAK COLORADO, UNITED STATES
The Pikes Peak Cog Railway takes you to the summit of the mountain, and offers stellar views of the mountainous Colorado Springs. The just-over-three-hours trip takes you through a dense green cover of Englemann spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and Ponderosa pine trees, crossing the Minnehaha Falls along the way. In fact, some estimates tell us that some bristlecone pines in this region are over 2000 years old. You get to spend some time at the summit, following which you return to Manitou Springs. This railway is considered to be the highest in North America, developed almost exclusively to foster tourism in the region.
DARJEELING HIMALAYAN RAILWAYS, INDIA
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ranks among the finest legacies of the colonial era. Popularly known as the Toy Train, this railroad takes you from New Jalpaiguri to an elevation of 2200 meters to the hilltop town of Darjeeling. The DHR was declared a World Heritage Site, only the second rail network to be bestowed with this honor. Pictured here is the Batasia Loop section of the railroad, which offers panoramic views of Darjeeling town with the Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan mountains in the background.
MACHU PICCHU, PERU
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is a luxury train which takes you up the Sacred Valley to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Named after the American explorer who discovered the famed ruins, this train is the last word in luxury travel. A journey on the Belmond Hiram Bingham commences in Poroy, close to the city of Cusco. The train runs through Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, heading up to the ruins, believed to have been built in the mid-15th century and are the finest examples of Inca architecture.
THE GHAN, AUSTRALIA
The Ghan Express follows a 1851-mile route from Darwin to Adelaide, crossing the length of this huge country. The trip takes three nights and four days to complete, with a stopover in Alice Springs. In true colonial style, the erstwhile Afghan Express was an offensive reference to the Afghan camel herders who were brought here to “help” explore the harsh expanse of the Australian desert. The modern journey is an experience in itself, offering several off-train excursions, including a helicopter ride over the Uluru.
GLACIER EXPRESS, SWITZERLAND
The Glacier Express is perhaps the most famous railroad in the world. The train travels from Zermatt to St. Moritz, winding through virgin mountain landscapes, glamorous resorts, gorges, and ravines via 91 tunnels and across 291 beautiful bridges. This is one journey where every moment is a photo op, seeing as you’re traveling through the majestic Swiss Alps rising tall against the deep blue sky.
WEST HIGHLAND LINE, SCOTLAND
This one’s exclusively for all the Potterheads out there. And even if you don’t happen to be one, this magical train journey across the Scottish highlands is a treat to the senses in every manner. This historic steam train is called The Jacobite, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig along the west coast of Scotland. The main highlight of the journey, of course, is crossing the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan viaduct, memorably captured in the Harry Potter films which overlooks the Loch Shiel.
QINGHAI-TIBET RAILWAY, CHINA
Dubbed as “rocket to the roof of the world”, the Qinghai-Tibet railroad is a landmark achievement in terms of human ambition and tenacity. The railroad extends 1215 miles from Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. The train runs through the Tanggula Pass, located 5072 meters above sea level, making it the world’s highest railway. Along the way, travelers can witness unrivaled views of the Tibetan landscape including the Kunlun and Tanggula mountain ranges, Qinghai Lake, and the Tuotuo River. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe this experience.
THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Yes, yes, we most certainly realize that the Orient Express in its original avatar ceased its operations years ago. The original service ran from Paris to Istanbul, traveling through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, and Budapest, thus connecting the world’s finest cities. Little surprise then, that this journey was one of the most famous back in its time, featuring in several books and films of the era. The Venice-Simplon Orient Express, as it is now known as, offers a solitary trip from Paris to Istanbul every year. It is known to be quite exclusive, and thereby rather expensive as well, but if you are fortunate enough to have the means, this is one train trip that is highly recommended. Because when you embark upon a trip that begins in Paris and culminates in Istanbul, its surely got to create some fantastic memories.
Some train journeys really bring the element of romance and intrigue back into traveling. Don’t believe us? Take any of these train trips to know for sure!