Try One of These 8 Ultimate Rail Journeys!

One of the best things about living in Germany is looking at a map and realizing all the tantalizing travel possibilities. Should I take a weekend trip over to Poland? Possibly! Or what about a train ride up to Denmark on a super high-tech train that even boards a ferry?

We all have our favourite modes of transit. Mine is by train. There’s something deliciously romantic about winding your way slowly through mountains, across quiet farmlands, and into remote destinations that you might not see otherwise.

These are all ultimate rail journeys worth considering on your next big trip.

Trans-Canada by Rail

I completed one leg of this trip a few years ago, but it’s expensive. Starting out in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it’s possible to traverse the entire length of Canada by train (minus Newfoundland and Labrador), and it’s definitely one of the most rewarding Canadian travel experiences you’ll have.

Thanks to Canada’s vast and endless landscape, you’ll find this rail journey different from many others because so much of Canada is untouched. Often the railway winds through spectacular hidden destinations, carving a route through mountains, lakes, prairie land, and deep forest. Plus during the spring and summer months, the rail carriages have a glass dome where you can sit and watch the world fly by. Sometimes you’ll meet fun characters strumming guitars and singing.

The route from Winnipeg to Northern Manitoba (Churchill) is worth considering. It’s a long slow trip, often interrupted by weather conditions, but then you’re in polar bear country (and beluga whales too – who doesn’t love beluga whales?). The Rocky Mountaineer is another of Canada’s famous rail routes, which takes tourists through the Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia.

Riding the Bergen Line in Norway

This one is definitely on my immediate bucket list, and my friends who have completed the journey have all raved about the experience. Here you take the train from Oslo to Bergen in Norway, on a journey that’s so swift that the train has five different brake systems. But don’t worry about missing the scenery – you’ll have ample opportunity to take in fjords, glaciers, and mountains as you go.

The best part of the ride is Hardangervidda, Europe’s highest point. The journey takes about seven hours, and I recommend sitting on the left side of the train for all the best views (at least that’s what my friend told me). If you’re a skier, you can even take this journey in the winter months to hit up all the ski resorts.

China to Tibet

Welcome to the world’s highest track!  To take this route from Qinghai, China to Lhasa, Tibet, you’ll have to present a signature on a health registration card before you’re allowed to travel. Also, you’ll be supplied with emergency oxygen. The train climbs to heights of 5,000 metres after all, and the temperature can drop so low that the water in the toilets is heated to prevent freezing. Seriously.

This journey is 2,703 miles long…and weather conditions can drastically alter your travel time. Make sure you’re wide awake as you approach the Tangula Pass crossing into the Tibetan Plateau. If you’re afraid of heights, might we suggest an alternative train trip?

India’s Maharajas Express

If you want a REALLY luxurious, REALLY indulgent rail journey…India’s Maharajas Express is the way to go. CNN compares it to a “royal palace on wheels,” and it’s not hard to understand why when you glimpse the images of its decor. You’ll head out deep into India’s interior, but you’ll also get to see some of India’s best tourist attractions, like the Taj Mahal.

Overall, it’s a great way to escape India’s chaos should you need to do so. There’s even onboard WiFi. But even a standard trip will cost you over $6000 USD, so it’s certainly not much of an option for the budget backpacker. For THAT kind of experience, you’ll have to hop on one of India’s regular commuter trains – which is decidedly less posh (i.e. open toilets emptying onto the railway).

Trans-Siberia Railway

If you’ve ever been intrigued by the world’s largest, most isolated and most insanely diverse landscape in the world…navigating Siberia by rail is one of the best adventures you could possibly embark on. Siberia encompasses an area of 13.1 million square kilometres – 77% of Russia’s land mass but is home to only 40 million people. That’s about 3 people per every kilometre. It stretches from the Ural Mountains between the Pacific and Arctic drainage basins to the Arctic Ocean, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China.

In other words, it’s huge. If you’re looking for some mad street cred, this is the journey for you.

The Trans-Siberian Railway connects Europe all the way to the Chinese rail network. While the main link is considered between Moscow to Vladivostok, you can also use it to travel between London, Paris, China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Moscow to Beijing is considered the most interesting route and takes six nights to complete. You’ll also ride through Mongolia and the Gobi desert before entering China.

It’s not just the landscape that’s worth the journey either – you’ll likely happen across some friendly Russians also making the journey. It’s safe, and even solo female travellers take the route often. You may find yourself sitting around a carriage one evening with your fellow Russian passengers, swigging vodka and singing along to traditional songs.

The Swiss Alps via the Bernina Express

This one’s easily one of the most beautiful train journeys you’ll find in Europe. The Bernina Express from Switzerland to Italy is also known as the Rhaetian Railway and is now labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yup, sit back and let your mind be blown by the insane views found in these mountains.

Thie route goes through Chur, Davos, and St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps all the way to Tirano, Italy. From here people usually carry on to Lake Como, Italy, or Lugano, Switzerland  (both are excellent options, by the way). You’ll ride through 55 tunnels and across 196 bridges, all while passing by snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and tiny Swiss villages. Keep an eye out for the 213-foot Landwasser Viaduct. You’ll want to make sure your camera batteries are charged and ready to go!

Australia’s Indian Pacific

This is Australia’s biggest train trip, stretching all the way across Australia from Sydney or Adelaide to Perth. Why should you do this trip? You’ll get the best possible understanding of Australia’s insane vastness, traversing about 2,698 miles in total. As a traveller, you’ll get your own comfy room and access to a restaurant and lounge. While admittedly the long stretches of nothingness can get tedious, you’ll also find a certain peacefulness in Australia’s empty spaces.

But don’t worry; it’s not all barren territory! You’ll see the gorgeous Blue Mountains, abandoned gold mines and ghost towns, and green fields laden with colourful wildflowers. You’ll see just how diverse the Australian landscape can be, and you’ll likely meet some awesome folks in the process.

Or you could try The Ghan, between Adelaide and Darwin. The journey stretches on for 1,852 miles, with stops in the Outback and opportunities to hop on excursions (like helicopter rides and gorge cruises). It can be pretty pricey, though.

Africa’s Blue Train

Ah, the legendary blue train – the model train for luxury. The Blue Train (aptly named for its blue-gold carriages) runs from Pretoria to Cape Town in South Africa and is a designated tourist train with off-train excursions. It’s meant to highlight the Colonial diamond rush, thus providing you with a little historical knowledge in the process.

Its interior is nothing but opulence. Marble bathrooms, a club car, a string quartet, crystal glasses, butlers, etc. You name it, it’s yours. You’ll ride through incredible African countryside until you come upon stunning Table Mountain – the highlight of the trip. But, yep, it’s quite an expense. Nearly $2000 USD for just one night.

So many to choo-choose from – which one are  you up for?

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  • JustaWanderer

    Oh, I think I’d like to take the blue train please! The trans-siberian is a close 2nd.

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