The 10 Greatest Train Rides in the World

Guest Contributor September 06, 2017

There is something romantic about travelling by train. Journeying along those steel rails across high bridges, around snow capped mountain peaks, and through deep tunnels can be a timeless experience. This is how adventurers travelled long before the automobile or airplane were even thought of.

For those looking to enjoy the very best train rides in the world, our team has compiled a list of the most beautiful, dramatic, and luxurious trips available – with one of the most breathtaking train experiences being right here in Canada.

 The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – England, France and Italy.

While the original Orient Express ran across Europe connecting Paris and Istanbul, today’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, inspired by that fabled rail-line of the 1920’s and 1930’s, links three of Europe’s most captivating cities: London, Paris and Venice. The train is designed in 1920’s style art deco, with all meals served with silverware and crystal glass.

The historic, luxury train departs from London, travels through France, across the Alps, and on to Venice from March through November.

The Jacobite – Scotland.

One of Britain’s best-loved scenic railways, the Jacobite runs from Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland. The 67-kilometre journey runs from Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis to Europe’s deepest seawater loch, Loch Nevis.

Along the way the steam engine travels across the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct. The Jacobite runs from April to October.

The Royal Scotsman – Scotland.

While in Scotland, you might want to check out the Belmond Royal Scotsman, considered to be one of the most luxurious train rides in the world. (So, this particular ride comes at a premium price.) The train features rich wood interiors reflecting an Edwardian feel, with elegant lounges and comfortable suites. The bar is stocked with more than 50 kinds of whisky.

While there are several journeys available, the classic trip is the four-night voyage from Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands. The adventure includes visits to renowned distilleries and sightseeing outings to historic castles.

The Royal Scotsman carries only 36 passengers at a time, and yes, you can rent a kilt or have one custom-made for you to wear during your journey.

The Ghan – Australia.

Billing itself as “the perfect balance of comfort and adventure”, the Ghan travels almost 3,000 kilometres across Australia from Adelaide to Darwin – offering epic views of the dramatic Outback landscapes in between. You’ll pass both camels and kangaroos, tropical flora and red desert vistas on the four-day journey.

The Ghan’s symbol is a camel and its rider in recognition of the pioneering Afghan cameleers – known locally as ‘Ghans’ – who blazed a permanent trail into the Red Centre of Australia more than 150 years ago. The Ghan’s railway tracks were laid down in 1929.

A variety of off train excursions are available for travellers looking to add extra adventure to their travel.

Rovos Rail – South Africa.

The luxurious Rovos Rail service offers a variety of routes around South Africa, such as along the Garden Route, and through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. While there is a marathon 14-day trip on the schedule, the most popular ride on the Rovos line is the three-day, two-night journey from Pretoria to Cape Town.

This route travels through the grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld, the haunting barrenness of the Great Karoo’s semi-desert, and chugs along the spectacular mountain ranges and scenic wine lands of the Cape. Highlights of the journey include a visit to the historic village of Matjiesfontein, a perfectly preserved Victorian Village founded in 1890.

The train provides 24-hour service on authentically restored 1920’s luxury carriages.

The Hiram Bingham Orient Express – Peru.  

Named after the explorer who first rediscovered the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu in 1911, the Hiram Bingham is a luxury train that carries passengers from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu.

The trip, which winds its way through the Andes, takes one day. Brunch is served on the way to Machu Picchu, where guests are treated to a guided tour of the ancient city. A four-course dinner is served in two dining cars on the return journey to Cusco.

The Glacier Express – Switzerland.  

The Glacier Express is an express train connecting two major mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. This train ride doesn’t require sleeping cars, it can be taken roughly seven hours. But what a memorable seven hours those will be.

The Glacier Express carries you over snow-capped mountains, into lush valleys, through over 90 tunnels, and across nearly 300 bridges. The view from 2,250 metres over the Albula pass to St Moritz, one of Europe’s highest rail crossings, is staggering.

The Bergen Railway – Norway.

Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful scenic train rides in the world, the Oslo to Bergen line reaches the highest altitudes of any train route in Europe. The seven-hour trip takes you through Norway’s most striking landscapes from gorgeous mountain views to quiet countryside, alongside magnificent glaciers, quaint villages, and of course, the majestic fjords.

If you ride the Oslo to Bergen train in late June/early July you’ll have the opportunity to experience the northern midnight sun.

The Train to the Clouds – Argentina.

The Tren a las Nubes – the Train to the Clouds – is one of the highest elevated railways in the world, climbing 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) to an altitude of 4,200 metres above sea level. Medical staff ride along in case passengers experience altitude sickness.

The train departs from the city of Salta and travels roughly seven hours to La Polvorilla viaduct through dramatic mountain scenery, crossing 29 bridges and going through 21 tunnels along the way.

The Train to the Clouds runs Saturdays from April through mid-December.

The Rocky Mountaineer – Canada.

One of the world’s most breathtaking train rides is right here in Canada. The Rocky Mountaineer is a world-renowned rail journey through the Canadian Rockies from Banff to Vancouver. Passengers are treated to views of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, as the Mountaineer chugs along icy rivers, rocky cliffs, green forest, and past an abundance of mountain wildlife.

If you book a “Gold Leaf” ticket you can ride and dine in multi-level glass dome cars with cooked-to-order breakfast and lunch as well as unlimited cocktails and snacks.

CAA Members enjoy exclusive deals on Rocky Mountaineer adventures. Book your trip online, or call us at 1-855-660-2293 to speak with a CAA Travel Consultant.