Last Updated on January 10, 2022 by

A collection of great rail journeys around the world: from the legendary Trans-Siberian railway to the Australia’s Ghan.

There’s something romantic about train travel. Perhaps it’s the hypnotic chugging of the wheels. Or maybe it’s the notion of seeing the world fly by outside your window that makes it so nostalgic and charming in an old-school way.

The truth is, train travel is not just charming, but it’s one of the most stress-free, cost-effective and eco-friendly way to travel. Rail travel offers a view to some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery, up close and personal. And since many train tracks traverse paths where other modes of transportation simply don’t — or can’t — go, you’ll be getting a front-row view to parts of the world that are exclusive to you. 

So sit back, watch the world go by and enjoy the views with this list of 10 great rail journeys around the world.

great rail journeys

Great Rail Journeys Around the World

1. Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Easily the most epic train journey in the world, the Trans-Siberian Railway is on many people’s bucket list for the exotic landscapes it offers and the sheer length of the journey. With a length of 9,289 kilometres (5,772 miles), it is the longest railway line in the world.

It was built between 1891 and 1916 to connect Moscow with the Far-East city of Vladivostok. There are connecting branch lines into Mongolia, China and North Korea

The public train, Rossiya No 2, takes six days and is definitely a great way to meet the locals. Those preferring to go Tsar-style can take the Golden Eagle luxury train, which is complete with sumptuous suites, fine dining and even an on-board doctor.

How to Book the Trip:

You can purchase the tickets from a travel agent or through the official online booking system of Russian Railways. Booking it yourself online is obviously cheaper because there will be no processing fee, but you will need a credit card issued by a Russian bank to make a reservation.  Popular trains can be sold out well in advance, particularly in peak season.

  • Route: Moscow to Vladivostok
  • Distance: 5,772 miles
  • Travel time: 1 week
great rail journeys - trans-siberianWikimedia photo by Sorovas

2. The Coast Starlight, USA

America’s most popular long-distance route is widely regarded as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. The 1,377-mile (2,216-kilometer) trip traverses the west coast of United States, skirting Pacific beaches, the Cascade Mountains, Mount Shasta and many beautiful national parks. You’ll also weave through many major cities that are worth stopping for a visit, including San Francisco, Sacramento, and Portland.

To see long stretches of Pacific shoreline — views you won’t get from the highway — book a seat on the west side of the train. The Coast Starlight will whisk you past waterfalls, lush forests, snowy Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound. If you upgrade from coach to a small private room with beds, you’ll have access to the Pacific Parlour Car with dome windows and evening wine and cheese parties.

How to Book the Trip:

GoTicket is a new platform to search for bus and train tickets in USA; you can easily search for this route on their website and find the cheapest website to book the train journey from. A one-way ticket on this route costs around US$155 per person.

  • Route: Los Angeles to Seattle
  • Distance: 1,377 miles
  • Travel time: 36 hours
great rail journeys - coast starlightWikimedia photo by Drew Jacksich

3. Venice Simplon Orient Express, UK – Italy

No other rail journey has inspired as many tales of romance and espionage as the Venice Simplon Orient Express. In its heyday, the train provided Agatha Christie with the perfect setting for her most famous Poirot crime story.

Today, the train still boasts vintage sleeping cars restored from the 1920s and 50s, featuring Art Deco style and many original furniture. Each restored car has its own story, so you might want to take the time to learn each carriage’s history before setting out.

It takes 24 hours to travel from London to Venice — Istanbul is visited once a year, following the 1883 pioneer route as closely as possible. Passengers enjoy gourmet meals and private sleeping cars that make the journey as memorable as the destination. You will find no Wi-Fi, showers or private bathrooms on board. But who cares when you are traveling on the original – and best.

How to Book the Trip:

This great rail journey comes with a hefty price tag, with a one-way ticket costing around $7800 per person. If you rather not use up your life savings, it is possible to travel the same route by regional trains. Catch the Eurostar from London to Paris, then to Milan on the high-speed TGV before taking the Italian regional train to Venice. More details here.

  • Route: London to Venice
  • Distance: 932 miles
  • Travel time: 24 hours
great rail journeys - orient expressWikimedia photo by murdockcrc

4. Arctic Circle Train, Sweden – Norway

Europe’s most northerly rail journey is a truly amazing winter experience and it’s a must-do for all the winter buffs out there. It starts in Stockholm and brings you across the Arctic Circle all the way up north to Lapland, one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe.

This region is where the midnight sun shines endlessly in summer and the stunning Aurora Borealis dances in the sky during the long, polar winter nights. Read about my experience on the Arctic Circle Train.

Don’t expect any luxury on this train service operated by Swedish National Railways. It’s simple but comfortable enough, and brings you through mountains, past fjords and clusters of pretty Nordic towns. Wrap up and warm up with reindeer stews if you’re going on the Arctic Circle Train in winter — as temperatures in this region can dip well below 4 deg F (-20 deg Celsius).

How to Book the Trip:

The Swedish National Railways offer the Arctic Circle Pass, which is a flexible three-day ticket that allows you to hop on and off as much as you like (364 SEK or US$44). There are in total 12 stops on the route across Sweden and Norway, and you can, for example, alight at Abisko, the world’s best place to see the northern lights

  • Route: Stockholm to Narvik
  • Distance: 877 miles
  • Travel time: 18.5 hours

great rail journeys - arctic circle train

5. Glacier Express, Switzerland

Another great rail journey in Europe is a personal favorite: the Glacier Express transports you through some of the most spectacular parts of Switzerland, from the eastern corner to the western half of the Swiss Alps, through mountainscapes of epic proportions. Through the open-roof windows of the panoramic trains on the Glacier Express, you can really feast on the views of the Swiss backcountry without any obstruction.

The train is also referred to as the ‘slowest express train in the world’. The entire journey takes eight hours, but the changing backdrop and diverse landscapes make it feel as though you’ve crossed countries and continents. The journey will bring you through 291 bridges and 91 tunnels, countless viaducts and passes. This train trip is a must on any Switzerland itinerary!

How to Book the Trip:

You can easily book the trip on the Glacier Express official website where you’ll find prices and timetable. A one-way ticket on the train is not cheap, at around 130 euros for the whole journey. Even with a Eurail pass, you’ll need to pay local taxes which amount to quite a lot.

  • Route: Zermatt to St Moritz
  • Distance: 180 miles
  • Travel time: 8 hours

10 Great Rail Journeys Around the World

6. Reunification Express, Vietnam

This rail journey gave me some of my best travel memories is the Reunification Express that traverses the spine of Vietnam from north to south. The French colonialists may have built the line but its spirit derives from the reunification of the two nations severed by the Vietnam War. A vital lifeline in war and peace, this 1000-mile long North-South Railway gives an opportunity to plunge deep into the heart of Vietnam.

Even though it takes only two days for the whole journey, we took two weeks, making several stops along the way. The train rumbles through rice paddies, fishing villages, dense jungles and even right through crowded neighborhoods. Peek out at the panorama of Viet life and share a meal or two with your Vietnamese seat mates (who are usually so welcoming and friendly!).

How to Book the Trip:

These days, it’s easy to book your tickets in advance on the Vietnam Railway website. A one-way ticket from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City costs from $64 to $90, depending on what type of seat you book. The train also connects with the Sapa Train, which is another journey well worth embarking on. Sapa is a stunning highlands region close to the Chinese border that offers great hiking and tribal culture.

  • Route: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
  • Distance: 1000 miles
  • Travel time: 2 days

great rail journeys - vietnam

7. Blue Train, South Africa

After the Orient Express, the Blue Train is the world’s second best known luxury service, gliding opulently since 1923 between Cape Town and Pretoria. The 994-mile journey gives travelers a chance to explore South Africa in the style of kings and presidents. It’s been awarded “The World’s Leading Luxury Train” in 2003 and 2009. It was also the setting for Agatha Christie’s Poirot thriller, “Mystery of the Blue Train,”

Crossing South Africa from south to north, the rail journey takes you through some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery in the country. Hop onto an old tram for a ride down to the Open Mine Museum in Kimberley, go wine tasting in  Stellenbosch, or hop on a short hike in the Drakensberg Mountains — there’s plenty to do on this fantastic rail journey.

How to Book the Trip:

You can book the journey directly on the Blue Train website. Prices for a one-way trip start from US$2,370 per person. A cheaper option is the comfortable public train, the Shosholoza Meyl, which follows the same route but from Johannesburg. Fine wines and cigars are not included in the price as with the Blue Train, but it is a safe journey at a fraction of the cost.

  • Route: Pretoria to Cape Town
  • Distance: 994 miles
  • Travel time: 27 hours

great rail journeys - south africa

8. Maharaja’s Express, India

Yet another luxurious train, the Maharaja Express is a project by the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation, that takes passengers on luxury tours to top destinations in India. Instead of just covering one route, the Maharaja Express actually serves seven different journeys across the country.

Its maiden voyage in 2012, “Gems of India”, was a four-day journey traversing the Golden Triangle covering Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Its most famous route is the “Heritage of India” journey, an 8-day trip starting in Mumbai, visiting ancient forts, palaces and various UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and even wildlife viewing in national parks, before ending in Delhi.

How to Book the Trip:

Trips are booked directly on the Maharaja Express website. Prices start from US$3,850 per person. With the large train network in India, it’s easy to travel the same routes as Maharaja Express on public train. Check the schedule and fare here, but book directly at the train station. Try to book a first or second class ticket as anything from third class onwards can be challenging, even for hardened travelers.

  • Route: Mumbai to Delhi
  • Distance: 876 miles
  • Travel time: 8 days

great rail journeys - maharajas express

9. Qinghai-Tibet Railway, China

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the highest train journey in the world, traversing at an elevation of more than 4,000 m (13,123 ft) above sea level and almost half of the tracks built on permafrost. Because of the high altitude that it’s traveling on, the train is pressurized, and supplied with oxygen altimeters. Altitude sickness is quite common among travelers on this train, so be sure to get some medication for it.

The rail journey officially begins in Xining, Qinghai. But the rail system across China makes it easy to hop on a train from any major provincial city (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu etc) to Tibet. The landscapes really only begin to impress from Xining, as the train whisks you past high-altitude lakes, vast plains and mountain passes. I took the train from Beijing to Lhasa and absolutely enjoyed the rail journey. Read about how to travel Tibet.

How to Book the Trip:

Book your train tickets directly on China Tibet Train website and your print ticket will be delivered to your hotel when you arrive in China. Unfortunately they can’t mail it abroad. Train tickets are around US$280 for a soft sleeper and $200 for a hard sleeper (prices can change depending on season) each way.

  • Route: Xining to Lhasa
  • Distance: 1225 miles
  • Travel time: 21 hours

great rail journeys - tibet

10. The Ghan, Australia

Regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, the Ghan delivers so much more than an extended train ride. It promises access to parts of Australia no other trip can come close to – from the sweltering tropics of Darwin through the blistering red desert of Alice Springs to Adelaide on the Southern Ocean.

Coast to coast, through the fiery red centre, this is Australia at its dramatic best. We drove from Darwin in the extreme north of Australia to Adelaide in the southern coast — and this journey was our absolute favorite in Australia. We just wished we had done it on a train! Don’t forget to look out for camels as well as kangaroos – descendants of the animals of the Afghan drovers who built the line in 1929.

How to Book the Trip:

The Ghan is now run by the Great Southern Rail and the trip can be booked on their website. The train service only operates between April to October 2018. A single cabin costs upwards of $1959 for the entire journey (you can also take it from Darwin to Alice Springs).

  • Route: Darwin to Adelaide
  • Distance:  1851 miles
  • Travel time: 4 days

great rail journeys - the ghan

Have you been on any of these great rail journeys? Which ones are on your bucket list? Let us know if we missed any other great train trips!

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