Listopedia: the best train journeys around the world
Speed or scenery, history or luxury – whatever kind of railway adventure you’re looking for, you are bound to find a train that suits you. Here’s our Listopedia of the top train journeys around the world that should be on your bucket list.
Food and drink: Napa Valley Wine Train
Route: Napa to St Helena to Napa, California
Travelling between cellar doors in one of America’s most celebrated wine regions doesn’t have to mean getting behind the wheel, thanks to the beautifully restored vintage railcars of the Napa Valley Wine Train. Chugging along a 58km circular route with sun-kissed vines as a backdrop, the journey sees guests enjoy a three-course lunch or dinner as well as a tutored zinfandel tasting session, in addition to stops for winery visits where a host of delicious varietals await.
Speed: Shinkansen Nozomi
Route: Tokyo to Osaka, Japan
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in October 2014, the ‘bullet train’ between Tokyo and Osaka continues to get faster and faster thanks to the introduction of the super high-speed Nozomi service, which shaved 1.5 hours off the journey time (it now takes just 2.5 hours). Grab a bento box from the vendors at Tokyo Station and settle into your plush surrounds – you’ll have more legroom than on most first-class plane seats – as the train reaches dizzying speeds of 270km/h.
Local experience: Manakara Express
Manakara to Fianarantsoa: Madagascar
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And nowhere is this more true than on the French colonial-era railway that trundles from Manakara on the southeast coast of Madagascar to the highland city of Fianarantsoa. In fact, the 140km journey takes 16 hours on a good day. Make like the locals and pack plenty of provisions and settle in for a fascinating glimpse into life in the tropical island while passing steep mountain gorges and lush rainforest.
Scenery: Glacier Express
Route: Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland
Cameras at the ready for this stunning train ride through the Swiss Alps – a route that looks just as stunning when blanketed in thick white snow as it does in summer when the meadows and valleys are dotted with roaming diary cows and colourful wildflowers. Over the course of the seven-hour journey, the Glacier Express passes through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges, with a feast for the eyes around every corner.
Sightseeing: The Transylvanian on the Danube Express
Route: Budapest, Hungary to Istanbul, Turkey – or vice versa
Spend your days taking in the culture, history and architecture of Eastern Europe and your nights sleeping in a compartment on the ‘hotel on wheels’, as it whisks you to your next destination. The eight-day Danube Express journey traverses the Transylvanian countryside with stops at the fortified medieval town of Sighisoara (believed to be the birthplace of Dracula) and Bran Castle (yes, ‘Dracula’s Castle’). Star attractions also include the Bulgaria’s ancient capital of Veliko Tarnovo and the towering Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque) in Turkey.
History: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Route: Durango to Silverton, Colorado
In addition to chugging between the Colorado towns of Durango and Silverton, this coal-fired, steam-operated train transports passengers back to the 1880s. Fueled by six tons of coal and 10,000 gallons of water, top speeds don’t exceed 29km/h, it provides plenty of time to take in the steep mountain passes and sleepy way of life in this part of the world. The railway is a National Historic Landmark, and the journey also offers up a slice of Hollywood history – it was featured in the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
….or closer to home:
Route: Christchurch to Greymouth, New Zealand
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a European rail adventure, New Zealand is home to a similarly mountainous rail route. Winding its way from Christchurch to the rugged wilds of Greymouth (where the Franz Josef Glacier gives passengers the opportunity to experience the country’s icy surrounds up close) the TranzAlpine crosses the country’s South Island in 4.5 hours. Enjoy views of the Canterbury Plains and Waimakariri River, followed by dramatic alpine viaducts leading to the breathtaking Arthur’s Pass.
Luxury: Eastern & Oriental Express
Route: Singapore (via Malaysia) to Bangkok, Thailand
Whether you want a once in a lifetime luxury experience or you’re the ultimate train enthusiast, take in the sights of Southeast Asia from a presidential suite or stateroom on the Eastern & Oriental Express. Departing Singapore, and making stops in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur and former colonial outpost of George Town, the train arrives in Bangkok four days later. Expect five-star service all the way – we’re talking cocktails on the outdoor observation area, award-winning food and afternoon tea served by your personal butler.
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