The Glacier Express, Switzerland
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.
Copper Canyon Railway, Mexico
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).
Rovos Rail, South Africa
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.
Tren a las Nubes, Argentina
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.
Trans-Siberian Express, Russia
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.
West Highland Line, Scotland
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.
Bergen Railway between Oslo and Bergen, Norway
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.
Mumbai commuter train, India
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.
The Canadian, Vancouver to Toronto
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.
Qingzang railway, China to Tibet
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.
CRH380 G, China
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.
Bernina Express, Switzerland
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.
Coast Starlight, USA
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.
Eastern & Oriental Express, Chiang Mai to Singapore
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.