There’s nothing quite like travelling by rail: the picturesque vistas, the bags of history and the fact that you can pretty much always buy a cup of tea from the buffet car – it’s no doubt train rides have become a quintessentially British way to travel.
Whether you’re seeking a luxurious ride, an authentic local experience or simply want to gaze at stunning remote scenery, here are five once-in-a-lifetime routes to add to your bucket list…
1. Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Coasting through the Rocky Mountains past pine trees as far as the eye can see, and peaks that appear to touch the clouds, is nothing short of humbling. In the spring, the flowers cover the landscape like a blanket. Luckily, this train chugs along at a comfortable 60mph and slows down to 30mph just at the right points, so passengers can appreciate it all. It travels 280 miles per day and stops at various towns overnight – passengers should book hotels along the way.
What to see: There are four routes to choose from; the Vancouver to Jasper ride is particularly atmospheric. The train stops at the pretty foresting town of Quesnel on the bank of the Fraser River (a hot spot for fishing trips) and then the skiing Mecca of Whistler. Other routes go to Banff National Park, where passengers can kayak across a melting glacier.
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2. Trans-Siberian, Russia
Distance-wise, this epic adventure takes the gong. It’s a seven-day journey from Moscow to Vladivostok, some 5,772 miles across seven time zones. If you’re looking for glamour, you’ve come to the wrong place. It’s grubby, full of commuters, and there’ll probably be a vodka drinking session going on in the carriage next door – but all this adds to its Soviet appeal. Expect basic sleeping arrangements and dire food (unless you’re a fan of instant potatoes). Despite the obvious quirks, the scenes across Genghis Khan territory are sure to get your pacemaker fluttering.
What to see: The magnificent Kazan Kremlin is well worth a look. Built by Ivan the Terrible, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only remaining Tatar fortress in Russia. Meanwhile, further along the line, Yekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth-largest city and where the last Emperor of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II, was executed with his family. Visitors can learn more at the Church on the Blood, built on the execution site. Lake Baikal is another must-see en route. This massive body of water contains 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water.
3. West Highland line, Scotland
This route running between Glasgow and Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands consistently ranks number high in travel polls, and rightly so. It is without a doubt one of the most breathtaking train routes in the UK. The 164-mile line offers hours of moody views of hearty hills and snow-sprinkled peaks. Points of interest along the way include rolling fields dotted with deer, the beautiful Silver Sands of Morar beach and the famous 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, as seen in the Harry Potter flicks.
What to see: The 41-mile route between Fort William andMallaig is a corker – with views of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. It takes just an hour and a half to reach the fishing town at the end of the line, where chips and locally caught haddock awaits.
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4. The Indian Maharaja, India
Harking back to colonial eras, this route from Bombay to Delhi is the place to prance around in white linen, partake in high tea and gaze out of the windows at captivating India without getting your hands dirty.
On board passengers will find the fancy Rang Mahal restaurant, where turban-clad waiters serve gourmet continental grub on gold-rimmed crockery. It’s like a decadent scene from a Bond film; you half expect a fight scene to take place on the roof while the train snakes over rivers and through tropical forests.
What to see: There are different tours possible. Stop in Udaipur (for the Fateh Prakash Palace) and the Pink City of Jaipur (for Amber Fort and a spot of elephant polo, naturally) then Delhi (for the Taj Mahal).
5. The Bernina Express, Switzerland and Italy
Dwarfed by the looming Alps, this colourful little red train, on its corkscrew-shaped track, could be a toy set for giants. Passengers on the four-hour voyage between Chur and Tirano whiz through a total of 55 tunnels, along 196 bridges and past icy glaciers, lakes and deep valleys. An impressive 2,253 metres above sea level, this is the highest mountain railway in the Alps.
What to see: The trip between St Moritz and Tirano is jam-packed with stuff to gape at, but the belly-flipping descent into the Poschiavo Valley is particularly stunning.
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