As legendary as it is lengthy, the path of The Ghan cuts through Australia’s harsh interior, spanning the 1,500km gap between Alice and Darwin. Crossing the Outback’s vast expanse, the views on this epic three day trip epitomise the Australian bush as an endless sweep of terracotta-stained, parched earth stretches beneath a slice of piercingly blue sky.
Steeped in romance and drenched in glamour, this stylish Art Deco train harks back to a more elegant age of travel. Bathed in sophistication, passengers recline in sumptuous wood-panelled cars to the sounds of piano playing and clinking crystal glasses. Gliding past the window are glimpses of vineyards, Swiss Alps sprinkled with chalets and the glittering Venetian Lagoon.
Luxurious and leisurely, The Rocky Mountaineer slips through the magnificent scenery of the Canadian Rockies. For two days, travellers can gaze upon an unfolding landscape of deep canyons, dramatic snow-covered peaks, rushing rivers and verdant valleys. For full indulgence and the best views, the Gold Leaf carriages provide plush surroundings, domed glass ceilings and huge windows.
Dubbed “the most difficult railway in the world”, when building Ecuador’s first railway, it required a feat of engineering to overcome El Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). This sheer rock face was finally mastered by a pathway of tight zigzags carved into the mountain. Traversing this nail-biting descent these numerous switchbacks provide stunning views of the rough terrain.
Affectionately known as The Toy Train, this charming blue steam train teeters along a narrow-gauge railway that winds through the Himalayas’ rugged foothills. During the seven-hour climb from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, via India’s highest railway station, the plodding 16km/h pace allows plenty of time to admire the beautiful surrounding landscape of sculpted tea plantations and lush rainforests.
Termed the slowest express in the world, the Glacier Express saunters the 180-mile stretch across the Alps from pretty lakeside St Moritz to Zermatt. Panoramic carriages reveal the spectacular scenery as the train rumbles across 291 bridges, dips into 91 tunnels and meanders past forested valleys, winding streams and Alpine villages before approaching the looming shadow of the Matterhorn.
Sleek and slick, Japan’s futuristic “bullet train” is one of the world’s fastest trains, yet despite hitting speeds of 300km/h, a ride upon this aerodynamic wonder is curiously smooth. On the busy Tokaido–Sanyo route, the 900km strip between Tokyo and Hiroshima can be mastered in a seemingly effortless four hours of racing scenery and ever-punctual stops.
Rocketing from the Pacific Coast through North Mexico’s craggy interior, this exhilarating route juggles the countless bridges and tunnels that punctuate this harshly beautiful terrain of gaping chasms, dramatic gorges and jagged rocky peaks. The main event, a pit-stop at Divisadero, allows travellers to clamber down the path to peer into the dizzying depths of Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon).
One of the most luxurious ways to see South Africa, this opulent service combines rail safaris with the sophistication of a bygone era. Formally attired guests sink into wingback chairs in wood-panelled lounges or get windswept watching wildlife from open balconies. The popular route from Pretoria to Cape Town trundles past humming grasslands, sculpted vineyards and imposing mountains.
Steadily climbing the Quebrada del Toro gorge, the “Train to the Clouds”, traverses marbled rock, dense forest and high altitude desert. The exhilarating ride negotiates 29 bridges, twelve viaducts and countless dizzying spirals. The real draw however is the breathtaking La Polvorilla Viaduct, a 64m-high feat of engineering that spans a vast, empty canyon.
For many the pinnacle of train adventures, the epic Trans-Siberian Express spans nearly 10,000km from Moscow to Vladivostok, crosses seven time zones and is one of the world’s longest train journeys. Chugging through challenging yet awe-inspiring scenery of unfolding, immense open space and spellbinding taiga, the sense of endless journey is only broken by stops that include Kazan, Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk.
Sweeping through the rugged beauty of the Scottish highlands, the line takes you through desolate, windswept moors past craggy hills, placid lochs and the towering heights of Ben Nevis. Even when spoilt with such spectacular scenery, arguably the most stunning views are from Glenfinnan’s majestic viaduct, where you can gaze down upon the serene depths of Loch Shiel. Glenfinnan and the viaduct also featured in our reader survey of the most beautiful places in Scotland .
Tackling the 310-mile stretch between Norway’s capital and coastal Bergen is no easy feat. However, the train triumphantly pushes through a seemingly inhospitable world of sharp precipices, snow flurries and the desolate stretch of the beautiful, frozen Hardangervidda Plateau that stands at 4,060ft. Most impressive is the thrilling descent to Flåm, famed as the world’s steepest railway line.
Crowded, chaotic and claustrophobic, the “Super-Dense Cush Load”, or rush hour, on Mumbai’s commuter trains is not for the faint hearted. The world’s busiest rail network crams in seven million people each day. Go at quieter times for a more enjoyable experience, nibbling on namkeen (fried snack) and mixing with the locals, as temples and slums slip past the windows.
Uniting laid-back Vancouver and glistening Toronto, the Canadian rumbles across Canada’s great expanse. A reminder of the nation’s vastness, in five days the train rolls through four time zones, five provinces and a constantly changing landscape. Dense boreal forests give way to sharp, snow-flecked rock faces and deep canyons, just as fertile prairies evolve into the majestic Canadian Rockies.
Bleak, barren yet beautiful, Tibet’s high-altitude northern plateau stuns with its open stretches, frozen peaks, sparkling lakes and pockets of delicate wildflowers. Hurtling across the wild, remote Tanggula Pass, at 5,072m, the train braces the highest railway in the world. On board, protected from the biting -35°C winds, oxygen supply is on standby for any passengers suffering from altitude sickness.
The first to smash the 300mph barrier, China’s CRH high-speed train service is the fastest in the world. Somewhat ill at ease with its rather cumbersome name, the CRH380 G train’s sleek-nose and space-age design propel it through the landscape, eclipsing the 1,318km distance between Shanghai and Beijing in an exhilarating 4 hours and 48 minutes.
Pitched against the Glacier Express as Switzerland’s most scenic rail journey, the stunning vistas from the Bernina Express are to be expected. With slow-paced confidence, the train meanders across World Heritage-listed lines, past bowls of mountains, turquoise lakes and pretty villages. Get the best views from the glass-roofed panorama car or bag a seat in an open carriage in the spring.
Traversing three states in 35 hours, the Coast Starlight graces the west coast’s greatest cities, while passing the snow-peaked Cascade Range, slices of the Pacific Ocean and the Big Sur. Tear your eyes away from the window and the double-decker offers plenty of on-board entertainment with elegant dining, local wine and artesian cheese tasting sessions and even its own theatre.
Recline in a rattan chair and quaff a gin and tonic. A throwback to opulent colonial travel, the two day voyage promises cherry-wood panelled cabins, slick butlers and haute cuisine. Top it off with superb views from the observation car as you cross rich plantations, emerald paddy fields and the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai.