Five Continents, Eight Epic Railway Journeys

All aboard for the trip of a lifetime.
Renata Faeth

Take a Ride

If wanderlust has your imagination running overtime and you want to plan something extraordinary, consider one of these timeless rail journeys, where the on-board experience might be as memorable as the panorama of natural beauty unfolding around you.

Rail Tracks in Peru near Machu Picchu
PHOTO: Belmond Images

The Belmond Hiram Bingham

From Proy Station (Cuzco) to the base of Machu Picchu, Peru

To reach Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins located high in the Peruvian Andes, the truly adventurous can make the trek along an ancient trail, as American explorer Hiram Bingham and his team of local indigenous farmers did in 1911. Or, they can travel in a 1920s-style Pullmancarriage, where they’ll savor a view of the lush Urabamba River Valley bathed in early morning light, sip Pisco Sour cocktails while dancing to the rhythms of local musicians, and dine on Peruvian delicacies as the train winds its way up the soaring mountains. The train is named after Bingham, who—along with his expedition team—is credited with rediscovering the lost city. The 3.5-hour journey begins just outside colorful Cuzco and ends in Aquas Calientes (3.7miles from Machu Picchu), where motorcoaches are standing by for the final stretch. Visitors can stay overnight or make the return trip in one day.

Rail Train in Norway
PHOTO: Øivind Haug

Norway in a Nutshell Tour

Between Oslo and Bergen, Norway

This nine-hour, five-stage journey showcases breathtaking fjordland scenery by rail, ferry and motorcoach, timed in succession as one neat, tourist-friendly package. Departing on the Bergen Line out of Oslo, Norway’s cultured and contemporary capital, the train takes you across Europe’s highest mountain plateau, Hardangervidda, to the town of Myrdal. There is a shared sense of anticipation as passengers disembark the train and hop aboard vintage railcars on the famous Flåm Railway—a spectacular 20-kilometer ride through a narrow valley with views of cascading waterfalls tumbling over deep ravines and picturesque farmhouses perched against steep mountain slopes. Next, it’s off the train and onto an open-deck ferry for a two-hour voyage through towering fjords to the village of Gudvangen, where a bus is waiting, because yes, there’s more! Enjoy the thrill of 13 hairpin turns on the Stalheimskleiva mountain road en route to Voss, for the final rail connection to Bergen, on Norway’s west coast.

Cape Town South Africa
Mathias Sunke - Adobe Stock

The Blue Train

Between Pretoria and Capetown, South Africa

Late 19th century colonialists envisioned a rail line running from Cairo, Egypt, to Capetown on Africa’s southern coast, traversing the continent’s rugged interior. It was never completed, but one idea prevailed in the early 1920s—a luxury train, painted in regal shades of sapphire blue and cream, to transport well-heeled passengers between Capetown and South Africa’s gold rush capital, Johannesburg (later Pretoria). A century later, the 31-hour trip replicates the golden age of locomotive travel, where passengers take high tea and play cards in a polished wood-paneled lounge car, dine while being serenaded by a string quartet, and retire to luxurious butler-attended suites. Often described as a “window into the soul of Africa,” the Blue Train glides past tiny towns, rugged mountain ranges and broad savannahs glimmering in the subtropical sun. Motorcoach extensions are available from Capetown to explore private wildlife game reserves, scenic coastal roads and bucolic farmland to the south.

Interior of Sleeper Cabin on an Orient Express Rail Car
PHOTO: Belmond Images

The Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express

Between London, England, and Venice, Italy

It is perhaps the most iconic rail journey in the world, with a storied history dating to1883 as the original Orient Express, a trans-continental rail and ferry service between Paris and Constantinople (now Istanbul). After the Simplon Tunnel was completed in 1906 to connect Switzerland and Italy through the Alps, the service expanded to other cities as luxury transportation for celebrities, the elite and (according to popular culture) intriguing characters like spies and private detectives from the 1920s through the post-WWII Cold War era. After decades of route and ownership changes, the legendary experience exists today as the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, operated by Belmond, Ltd., a private luxury hospitality company. Harkening back to an era of lavish comforts, the classic route between London and Venice is part of a network connecting cities across the heart of Europe in vintage carriages from the original 20th-century fleets.

Rocky Mountaineer Rail Train in Canada
PHOTO: Rocky Mountaineer

First Passage to the West with Rocky Mountaineer

Between Banff, Alberta, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

No doubt about it, Rocky Mountaineer provides an exceptional private rail experience. Gourmet dining? Check. Luxurious seating with awesome views? Check. Friendly hosts who know the region and tell great stories? Double check. And a bonus: Guests see every second of the splendid Canadian Rockies scenery by daylight. There are no sleeping cars—passengers disembark for hotel stays and re-board just before breakfast and a full day of photo-ops. The most popular route is the connection between Vancouver on thePacific Coast, and Banff, Alberta’s bustling mountain town and the gateway to the famous Icefield Parkway pointing north to Jasper National Park. The basic package includes two full days on the train with a night in Banff, a night mid-way in Kamloops, British Columbia, and a night in Vancouver. Most travelers book add-ons, like extra time in Banff and nearby Lake Louise, and excursions to Butchart Gardens near Victoria, on Vancouver Island.

Interior of an Amtrak Train Car
PHOTO: Courtesy Amtrak Media Center

The California Zephyr with Amtrak

Between Chicago, Illinois, and Emeryville, California, USA

This land of ours boasts some pretty special scenery and Amtrak traces the best of it, bookending its itineraries with popular cities that double as tourist destinations. After embarking from Chicago’s Union Station, passengers settle in for the long haul, eventually waving goodbye to Nebraska’s golden wheatfields, and hello to the majestic Rocky Mountains as they tunnel beneath the Continental Divide. Skirting the south shore of Utah’s Great SaltLake and the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Superliner rolls across expansive desert and river valleys before it reaches the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada range and beyond it, California’sCentral Valley. The journey ends in Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland, where transfers are available to San Francisco, located just across the bay. The wide-open landscape of this 52-hour trip is best viewed from the train’s observation deck, where meeting transcontinental travelers from around the world is all part of the fun. Seats recline, and sleeping accommodations are available, too.

The Trans Alpine Train

Between Christchurch and Greymouth, New Zealand

Adventure-lovers often place New Zealand at the top of their bucket lists for over-the-top scenery, fascinating topography, and an introduction to indigenous Maori culture. This five-hour, 139-mile rail trip through the Southern Alps is a fixture on “best of New Zealand” itineraries, and a gateway to the famous glaciers and fjords further to the south. It heads west from Christchurch, a friendly, walkable city on the coastal Canterbury plains, stopping in Springfield, just before the patchwork agricultural landscape and mountains converge. The train ascends through narrow tunnels and the famous “Staircase” viaduct, 73 meters above the icy waters of the Waimakariri River Gorge. A final river crossing at the high plains of Craigieburnprovides wide-eyed visitors with a panoramic view of mist-shrouded mountains at the edge of Arthur's Pass National Park. Beyond the pass, the train continues through the 5.2-mile Otiratunnel and a series of lush river valleys before arriving at Greymouth, on the west coast.

Glacier Express Rail Train on Snowy Mountainside
PHOTO: Stefan Schlumpf

The Glacier Express

Between St. Moritz and Zermatt, Switzerland

To travel by train through Switzerland is to fully surrender to its grandeur. Whynavigatetunnels and traffic when you can relax comfortably in a reclining seat, gazing out at picture-perfect alpine scenery? Quaint villages with geranium-adorned chalets nestled in the valleys of snow-capped mountains and dairy cows grazing in pea-green meadows sprinkled with wildflowers? Yes, please! The Glacier Express provides a front row seat to it all. Rolling at just24 miles per hour between the elegant resort town of St. Moritz and Zermatt, the tourist-friendly home of the famous Matterhorn, it’s a glorious trip in any season. Some might argue that the route is best during winter, with fewer crowds and a shimmering twinkle of snow blanketing the landscape.

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