The Most Epic Rail Trips Around the World
Skip the cramped quarters and crappy food that plague plane travel, and see the world by train. You can tour the likes of India, Vancouver, and all while fine-dining in panoramic cars, enjoying a cocktail in plush seating, and rubbing elbows with colorful, excitable travelers without actually rubbing elbows.
Because half the beauty of a trip is getting there, believe it or not. All those looming mountains, bucolic fields, and translucent lakes you’d normally miss on a plane reveal themselves as you look on from a thundering locomotive. Here are nine of the best rail trips and tours you can take around the globe.
1. Artic Explorer by Private Train (St. Petersburg to Moscow)
Some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes unfold during a train journey aboard the Golden Eagle (which has a dining car and sleeping cars) from St. Petersburg to Moscow on the Artic Explorer by Private Train itinerary. The Golden Eagle travels to the northern tip of the country, and if you’re lucky, you will spot the Northern Lights in Russia’s port city of Murmansk. There are also stops in Russia’s UNESCO sites of Vladimir and Suzdal, which have some of the oldest and most ornate churches in Russia.
2. Best of New Zealand (Aukland to Christchurch)
While traveling from Aukland to Christchurch with the Best of New Zealand tour, you pause at several cities including Rotorua, Wellington, and Dundedin. Adventurous activities include a guided tour of the Waitomo Glow Worm Grotto and a 4WD minibus excursion through Skippers Canyon in Queenstown. Don’t miss the geological wonder, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks-where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes at hide tide.
3. First Passage to the West (Vancouver to Banff)
The Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Calgary passes through the Rocky Mountains, stops in the Kamloops, and ends at Banff. The panoramic bi-level domed coach whisks through semi-arid deserts, as well as mystical formations (like the witchcraft legendary Hoodo rocks); turquoise waters (like Kinbasket Lake) and the Black Canyon. Keep a watch out for black bears, moose, and deer as the landscapes saunters past from the Rocky Mountaineer’s open air cars.
4. Grand Tour of Switzerland
With the 4-day Swiss Travel Pass, you can choose from three Grand Tour of Switzerland itineraries. For example, the popular “Lucerne to Lucerne” hits Montreux, which has the country’s most famous 12th century medieval structure, the Chillon Castle. You can hike a nearby trail and look down on the castle from above. There is also a stop in Zermatt, which has a 10,000 foot viewing platform at Gornergrat (where you can see the snow-capped Matterhorn Mountain). The pass also highlights suggestions for places to visit in St Moritz and Lugano.
5. Caspian Odyssey (Yerevan, Armenia to Almaty, Kazakhstan)
The Caspian Odyssey tour travels through central Asia-six countries on the shores of the Caspian Sea—Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan-aboard the Golden Eagle train. The trip will stop in the 2,500 year old city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Tashkent, which houses the world’s oldest Koran, and Baku, with its imposing golden domes.
6. UK by Rail (Edinburgh to London)
An itinerary that includes three major British cities does not disappoint: Edinburgh, York, and London are the three stops on the UK by Rail tour. Aboard Rail Europe, you explore a labyrinth of hidden streets from the Middle Ages, buried deep beneath the Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Also if you’re keen on the sport of golf, you’ll be able to get a firsthand look at where golf was created at St. Andrews in Scotland. Other intriguing stops include Castle Howard, one of England's most grandiose estates, and the impressive York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.
7. Former Yugoslavia Rail Adventure (Ljubljana to Pristina)
History and war buffs can tour seven countries by train on the Yugoslavia Rail Adventure, which include Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia- while riding through the Balkans. The trip includes the Bay of Kotor, a walking tour of Zagreb, sightseeing in the mountainous areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing a meal with locals in Kosovo.
8. India by Rail Photography Expedition (Delhi to Delhi)
On National Geographic’s India by Rail Photography Expedition, stops include cities like Jaipur, Chittaurgarh, Jodhpur, and Agra. Guests aboard the Palace on Wheels train have the opportunity to visit rural villages, the iconic Taj Mahal, snap exotic birds at a wildlife sanctuary, and try your hand at identifying astronomical tools at the 18th-century royal observatory- the Jantar Mantar. The 5th stop on the rail tour includes a morning game drive inside the Ranthambhore National Park. Some of the animals to spot there include tigers, hyenas, wild boar, spotted deer, and sambar.
9. America Coast to Coast
A train tour from New York City to Los Angeles includes travel aboard Amtrak’s different branded trains, like the Acela, Southwest Chief, and Grand Canyon Railway. America Coast to Coast stops include Washington DC; Chicago; the Grand Canyon, and Los Angeles. Be sure to do the touristy things at each stop, like a visit to the Museum of Congress in D.C., take a double decker bus tour in Chicago, a trip to Universal Studios in Los Angeles.