11 of the most scenic train journeys on Earth
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information, and it’s possible to enjoy stunning views when traveling by air, especially during takeoff and landing. But often there isn’t much to see when sailing at 39,000 feet, which is one of the reasons train travel has been one of the most popular ways to see the world. It’s generally a more relaxing way to get from place to place – no plastic bags filled with small toiletries or endless crowds at airport security – and trains can slip through scenic mountain valleys and connect to charming remote villages. They provide constant panoramic views of the scenic landscapes that are sometimes difficult to reach in any other way. be a trip in itself. We’ve scoured the globe, checked out new routes and talked to expert travelers about the world’s most beautiful railroads: you know, the kind that makes you want to get poetic like Paul Theroux. From the Amtrak that leaves New York City each morning a super-luxury locomotive that once carried people back to the golden age of travel (and more literally, between two South African cities), these are 11 of the most scenic train journeys on Earth. IMAGEST This popular luxury train operator, best known for its tours of western Canada, just launched its first US route in 2021. Travelers can travel from Denver, Colorado, to Moab, Utah, on this two-day “Rockies to the Red Rocks” trip Itinerary, featuring a night in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Since the train only operates during the day, travelers won’t miss a minute of the landscape from glass-domed train carriages with outdoor viewing platforms as towering boulders. Mountains give way to almost Utah’s Martian desert landscape. After all, Moab is the gateway to Arks National Park, named for its sandstone arches and rock formations, and this year rates start at $1,375 per person, which includes a one-night hotel stay. Between Kandy and Ella in Sri Lanka. JOHN CRUX / GETY IMAGES “The journey between Kandy and Ella takes you through colorful villages, green hills, tea plantations and more,” said TPG writer Laurie Zino. “It’s a complete cultural experience – the locals in my car were singing and clapping the whole time. To get that adrenaline rush, you can go out the window (at your own risk) and watch the world go by.” The seven-hour trip is very inexpensive and is a great way to explore the Sri Lankan countryside. Just be sure to pick up a second class fare so you can look out the window and enjoy the view. Book through an agency, like Zaino, to get your ticket in advance (from about $15). Although tickets purchased at the station may only be a few dollars, don’t underestimate the importance of booking a seat before you arrive in Sri Lanka. Perhaps you will enjoy uninterrupted views of the Alps, charming alpine villages and glass-like lakes. But for something a bit more adventurous, head to Alpnachstad to ride Lucerne’s Pilatus, the world’s largest cog railway – ascending to just a shy of 45 degrees, although the ride takes only about 30 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views from the top of Mount Pilatus and – if you like – opportunities to descend, hike, climb or hike in the surrounding mountains and valleys. Round-trip fares usually start at CHF72, or about $74. Related: 12 Things That Surprised Me On my first luxury train ride, The Northern Explorer in New Zealand The Northern Explorer traverses the scenic New Zealand landscape three days a week. TONI GREAVS/GETTY IMAGES: Travel to Auckland and take the Northern Explorer, the country’s longest passenger train, which passes through Hamilton, Otorohanga, National Park, Palmerston North and Paraparaumu on its way to the capital, Wellington. When exploring New Zealand by rail, you’ll see everything from volcanic peaks to a rugged coastline while stopping for a hike at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or navigating the glowworm-lit rooms of the Waitomo Caves. “Every time I took the Northern Explorer train, travel writer and TPG contributor Elaine Turner said I needed to go between the two places, but I wasn’t in a hurry. After all, the 12-hour ride isn’t exactly the quickest way for getting around New Zealand So be sure to expect a fun ride Fares start at $219 NZD (about $125) for adults Rocky Mountaineer in Western Canada Rocky MOUNTAINEER / FACEBOOK “Traveling through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer Train from Banff to Vancouver is One of those “you only live once” experiences, journalist Michelle Spongel told TPG, describing the original and most famous train tracks. “It takes you through the most remote areas – the ones you couldn’t reach any other way. Imagine a postcard-perfect landscape in every direction… (and) get ready for a forced digital detox since you won’t get a cellular signal or have Wi-Fi.” On board frequently throughout your trip.The “First Passage to the West” tour is a four-day trip from Vancouver to Banff that crosses the Continental Divide and passes through the so-called spiral tunnels carved into the Rocky Mountains. In 2023, prices start at $1,800 per person and include four meals, three nights in hotels, a tour, a pass to the national park, as well as transfers from the station and baggage handling. Short rides aboard the Rocky Mountaineer start around $1,300 per person. Titicaca and the gleaming white stone town of Arequipa, no on-board amenities are overlooked, the train even has oxygen tanks and masks for passengers who find the high altitude inconvenient. Entry level cabins are usually available from around $2,000 per person (based on double occupancy) with meals and tours included. Johannesburg) and Cape Town in luxury cars with panoramic windows – best for enjoying the passing vineyards and major attractions like Table Mountain. “I took the blue train back in 2012 with a friend from South Africa,” recalls Nadine Julie Courtney, a luxury travel consultant with Elite Travel International. “I can’t imagine a more wonderful way to see the countryside in South Africa… It felt like I had been transported back in time to a soaring, bygone era of travel, with its white tablecloths, private en suite bathrooms (complete with tubs!), and an icon dress for dining Dinner and amazing scenic views… The night sky was especially memorable. I don’t know I’ve seen so many stars before, and it felt as if the entire Milky Way was visible.” Prices in 2023 generally start between 43,440 and 53,605 ZAR, or $2,500 to $3,000 per person. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Rail in Colorado The Durango and Silverton Narrow Rail travel along the Animas River from Durango to Silverton with some stunning views of the Colorado Valley in the San Juan Mountains. ROZANNE HAKALA / GETTY IMAGES “I will never forget Colorado’s unique vistas and cliffs and be surprised by what was around the next turn,” recalls Swanette Smith, aka Grandma Point. Ride a vintage coal-fired steam locomotive. Enjoy the stunning views as you cruise the Animas River, navigate the San Juan National Forest and hug the edge of the mountains. The 3 1/2 hour trip is really about the views, not the destination. Ticket prices start at $105, Japan’s Shinkansen Express. EYE UBIQUITOUS / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP / GETTY IMAGES In addition to reliable service and super-clean cars, a Japan bullet train ride is a great way to see the country’s landscape while traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto. “On my way…I enjoyed the beautiful scenery (mountains) and Japanese cities, and if you’re lucky, you can spot the famous Mt. Fuji,” said Senior Marketing Manager Adrianna Qi. (If you’re coming from Tokyo, watch for the mountain to emerge about 40 minutes into the journey—and be sure to get a seat on the right side of the train.) He said you want to make sure you pick up a bento box at the train station beforehand. Tickets for Japan’s seven-day steam train start at $214. On their way to Hogwarts,” Canadian writer and photographer Joanna Reed told TPG. “Beginning at the base of Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, the train passes through the swamps and lakes of Scotland and then slows to take pictures as it crosses the 21 arcs of the curved Glenfinnan Viaduct that also appears in the films. . The end of the line is the pretty seaside town of Mallege, rather than Hogsmeade.” Reed recommends budget travelers consider the “less magical” Scott Rail train, which follows an identical route. “You can (even) take a picture of the Jacobite drive as it departs,” Reed said. From Malaig before back on your train.” To ride on the Jacobite Steam Train, expect to spend £52 for a tour ticket (about $58). Denali Star in Alaska, Denali National Park. Discover the wilderness of Alaska by rail with a Denali Ride Star, which takes travelers from Anchorage to the gates of Denali National Park for views of the route of the same name, the highest peak in North America.The Denali Star is a 12-hour, 356-mile (from $187 per person one way) trip that crosses the River Knick, sails in Healy Canyon, passes hundreds of feet above Hurricane Gulch and boasts mountain views throughout the journey.The Alaska Railroad also has a popular coastline itinerary in the summer, and for those seeking views of the northern lights, the Aurora Winter Train travels via Back country from mid-September to mid-May. Shoulder season rates start at $218 per person, one-way, from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Book a ride on one of the popular Amtrak routes in the US, such as the Adirondack or Pacific Surfliner, earning and using points is still a big option on the table either through Amtrak Rewards or the fixed-value points program. The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card and Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card will earn you 2 points and miles per dollar on your rail travels, while the Ink Business Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card will earn you 3 points per mile when you travel. Still relevant when booking an adventure by train.