Agatha Christie once said: ‘Trains are wonderful… to travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches, and rivers, in fact, to see life.’
She was right. Here we round up some of the world’s most spectacular rides.
GOING, GOING, GHAN
The shiny, stainless-steel carriages of The Ghan – pictured – sweep across the immense dusty red-soil plains of Australia
The 54-hour, 1,851-mile journey between Darwin and Adelaide — or vice versa — on The Ghan, is superb. Shiny, stainless-steel carriages sweep across immense dusty red-soil plains, stopping in Alice Springs, which is a springboard to see the famous sandstone monolith of Uluru. The Ghan is a shortening of The Afghan Express, the name given to Afghan camel herdsmen who crossed the Outback in the 1800s.
Book it: 12-night trips with two nights all-inclusive on The Ghan and an Australian tour from £4,249 pp in November 2022, flights included (trailfinders.com, 020 7368 1200).
India’s Shimla service from Kalka is nicknamed the ‘toy train’, with a twisty 60-mile route through 107 tunnels
There are more than 68,000 miles of rail tracks in India, making it a wonderful country to explore by train.
Some of the finest rides are along narrow-gauge lines into the former hill stations of British colonial rule at Darjeeling and Shimla, both in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The Shimla service from Kalka is nicknamed the ‘toy train’, with a twisty 60-mile route through 107 tunnels.
Book it: 17-day tours covering Shimla, Darjeeling, Agra, Varanasi and Kolkata from £2,874 pp B&B, with flights, hotels, train tickets and some meals (transindus.co.uk).
Preparing to dine in luxury on the Trans-Siberian Express. Travelling on the railway gives you an idea of the sheer enormity of Russia
Crossing from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway, you get an idea of the sheer enormity of Russia — the ride covers 5,752 miles. The service also runs from Moscow to Beijing, either through Mongolia (4,735 miles) or Manchuria (5,623 miles). In Siberia, vast pine forests spread out, interrupted by cities with great smokestacks and villages with simple abodes.
Book it: 14-day rides from Moscow to Beijing, via Mongolia, from £1,975 pp, with stop-offs and hotels, not flights (regent-holidays.co.uk).
ON A SWISS ROLL
Carriages on the Glacier Express (pictured) have panoramic windows so you can see all the peaks
Join the Glacier Express in winter to see the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps rising all around. The route covers 181 miles from Zermatt to St Moritz. Carriages have panoramic windows so you can see all the peaks.
Book it: Five-day ‘Glacier Express Winter Magic’ tours from £1,195 pp B&B, with Eurostar trains, hotels and train tickets (arenarailholidays.co.uk).
SPEED IN JAPAN
Zip along coastlines and between mountains on Japan’s Shinkansen trains. Above, the bullet train passes Mount Fuji
Japan’s Shinkansen (bullet) trains reach 186mph and are famous for their punctuality. Zip along coastlines and between mountains. Many tours begin in Sapporo in the north and finish in Hakata in the south.
Book it: 16-day ‘Journey Through Ancient History and Timeless Traditions’ Sapporo-Hakata trips from £5,795 pp B&B, with train tickets, hotels, some meals and flights (greatrail.com).
Climb aboard the Little Red Train (pictured above) for a 38-mile journey between Rivesaltes and Axat
Slide along the narrow-gauge tracks of the French Pyrenees aboard the Little Yellow Train, rising from an altitude of 427 metres in Villefranche de Conflent to Bolquere-Eyne, France’s highest railway station at 1,592 metres. The 39-mile route passes through 22 stations. In good weather, passengers can sit in open-sided carriages.
Then join the Little Red Train for a 38-mile journey between Rivesaltes and Axat, drinking in views of vineyards and chateaux.
Book it: Eight-day trips from £949 pp half-board including the Eurostar from London, hotels and train tickets (raildiscoveries.com).
Sip champagne on the Northern Belle as it passes through the Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, with the impress Ribblehead Viaduct, pictured, one of the highlights
Enjoy a ride on the Northern Belle train along the 73-mile Settle-Carlisle line. The route takes you through the Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, with highlights including the impressive Ribblehead Viaduct. Expect a Pullman dining car, champagne and fine-dining.
Book it: Day trip returns from £395 pp, including brunch and a five-course dinner with wine (northernbelle.co.uk).
Ten-day ‘Peru by Rail’ trips with the Belmond Andean Explorer and Hiram Bingham trains cost from £6,529 pp B&B
Inside the five-star Belmond Andean Explorer, which is a grand sleeper train
Travel between the ancient Inca capital of Cusco and Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, before continuing to the whitewashed city of Arequipa, on the five-star Belmond Andean Explorer, a sleeper train.
This three-day journey takes in magnificent mountain scenery, including the El Misti volcano rising near Arequipa. From Cusco, a day trip on the Hiram Bingham train takes you to the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu.
Book it: Ten-day ‘Peru by Rail’ trips from £6,529 pp B&B with the Belmond Andean Explorer and Hiram Bingham trains, hotels, some meals and flights (journeylatinamerica.co.uk).
Enjoy an odyssey across Africa’s great plains on the ‘Coast to Coast – African Kingdoms’ tour, pictured, with the possibility to stop for safaris
Passengers ride in comfortable 1950s vintage carriages on the ‘Rovos Rail — Pride of Africa’ luxury train
How about a coast-to-coast ride across Africa? Join a ‘Rovos Rail — Pride of Africa’ luxury train on the Katanga-Benguela route across Angola into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The route links up with tracks into Zambia and Tanzania on a 2,650-mile odyssey across great plains, through remote valleys and along mighty rivers, with the possibility to stop for safaris. You’ll ride in comfortable 1950s vintage carriages, plus there’s a swanky restaurant car.
Book it: 22-day ‘Coast to Coast – African Kingdoms’ guided train tours from £13,595pp, including train tickets, most meals, accommodation on board and flights (vjv.com).
Take to the tracks between Denver in Colorado and Moab in Utah on a new, two-day Rocky Mountaineer service. Following the swirling waters of the Colorado River, the train snakes into canyons and crosses desert-like landscape. Some carriages have panoramic glass roofs. It goes slowly so you’ll be sure to get lots of super snaps.
Book it: Six-night ‘Rocky Mountaineer Rockies to the Red Rocks Explorer’ trips from £3,299 pp with train tickets, hotels, some meals and flights (americansky.co.uk).
TOP TRAIN TRAVEL TIPS
- Read up about where you will be passing by — it adds to the enjoyment.
- Always investigate the dining carriage — you might bump into interesting people.
- Watch the scenery (not a smartphone screen).
- Enjoy a sundowner if you are travelling by sleeper train.
- Take a pack of cards (and/or Scrabble or your favourite game) for evenings.
- Dress up for dinner on luxury trains — it all adds to the Agatha Christie-ish atmosphere (minus any murders, hopefully).