When you’re traveling on a vintage steam liner through rain forests in the Himalayas or in a first-class coach car with panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies, getting there is all the fun. Train travel evokes visions of old-fashioned 20th-century grandeur — elegant coach cars, the conductor in his crisp uniform, the steam engine faithfully carrying its passengers to exotic destinations. It’s nostalgic, romantic and civilized — but it’s definitely not boring. Many trains offer spectacular views as they chug up death-defying inclines and precipitous mountain trails. Railway feats of engineering make it possible for travelers to see jaw-dropping scenery that they couldn’t see any other way. Read on to learn about some of the world’s most exciting and scenic rail trips.
Flam Railway, Norway
Climb aboard a train on the Flam Line and watch dramatic views of Norway’s countryside roll by as you travel up emerald green mountains. Keep an eye out for a rare 15th-century wooden church, the large Rjoandefossen waterfall and mountain farms with herds of wild goats. As you continue to ascend one of the world’s steepest railways, you’ll see incredible Norwegian vistas — blue fjords and silver rivers thousands of feet below — as a guide explains the history of the region over a loudspeaker (this service is available in several languages). The Flam Railway is a major Norwegian tourist attraction that hosts more than 500,000 passengers annually, and many who have taken the ride claim that it travels through the most beautiful scenery in the country.
Trans-Siberian Railway, Asia
The legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, which passes through 10 time zones across Russia, China and Mongolia, is the longest rail system on earth. A trip on one of the line’s many routes takes travelers past sparkling Russian Orthodox churches, remote virgin forests, Mongolian deserts, ancient villages, the Great Wall of China and countless other extraordinary sites. Planning a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway can be daunting, but a good bet is to book your getaway with a travel agent, who can help you select the right itinerary as well as obtain a tourist visa, which you will need to visit Russia.
White Pass & Yukon Route, Alaska
Travelers with a thirst for adventure will delight in Alaska’s White Pass & Yukon Route railway, a narrow gauge railroad that climbs 3,000 feet in 20 miles and takes passengers around vertigo-inducing cliff-top 16-degree curves. Peer out the window of the vintage steam locomotive and you’ll see iconic Alaskan landscapes: glaciers, waterfalls, flowering meadows, snow-capped mountains. Taking a trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route is a great option for Alaska cruisers (virtually all cruise lines calling in Skagway offer the train ride), and the railway is the most popular land excursion in Alaska.
Devil’s Nose Line, Ecuador
This tourist railway, which is one of the most popular attractions in Ecuador, is certainly not for the faint of heart. It takes passengers straight up a mountain to astonishing heights and then embarks on a 45-degree descent along the Nariz del Diablo, or the “Devil’s Nose.” The train departs from the city of Riobamba and zigzags down the shockingly steep Devil’s Nose — backwards, mind you — to the beautiful highland town of Alausi. The entire trip takes about five hours, and travelers can get bird’s-eye views of various Ecuadorian landscapes, from tropical cloud forests to rolling highlands. Several travel providers offer Ecuador packages that include trips to the Devil’s Nose, including Goway and Yampu.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, India
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is one of three Indian railways designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The railway runs from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, and provides awe-inspiring views of lush, mountainous countryside as it spirals up narrow mountain passes. The route includes a stop in Ghum, the highest rail station in India at about 7,400 feet, and travels past misty jungles, tea plantations and babbling streams. Passengers can also catch breathtaking views of Mt. Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, while onboard. Although the entire railway only stretches about 53 miles, the journey takes a leisurely six to seven hours.
Rhine Valley Line, Germany
The Rhine Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where dozens of medieval castles and fortresses can be seen along the steep banks of the Rhine River. While a river cruise down the Rhine is a popular way to explore the enchanting region, a train trip along the banks of the river is equally enjoyable. There are two railways that stretch along the banks of Germany’s Rhine River: the East Rhine Railway and the West Rhine Railway. There’s one on each side of the river, and for the best views of the region’s famous fairy-tale castles, it’s worth booking a ticket on both (travel up one, and return on the other).
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
The Rocky Mountaineer takes train travel to new heights. Onboard, passengers can enjoy luxurious amenities like gourmet meals and climate-controlled two-story coaches with domed windows that provide panoramic views of snow-capped mountain ranges, alpine forests and clear rivers. Journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer whisk travelers through the Canadian Rockies, one of the largest protected natural areas on earth. Passengers travel through a number of Canadian national parks, including Banff and Jasper, and wildlife sightseeing tours are available. The train operates only during daylight hours, so passengers won’t miss a moment while traveling through the wild Canadian countryside.