From cutting through the countryside to connecting a country’s great cities, the world’s best railway journeys offer entirely new perspectives on a destination.

Train travel always delivers plenty of magic. Sometimes it’s in the cars, as you meet fellow travelers, or as you eat and sleep with the sound of wheels rolling on the steel rails beneath you. Sometimes it’s outside, in the landscape the train traverses – offering an adventure, an experience, an insight into the heart of a nation.

Our upcoming book, Amazing Train Journeys, rounds up the world’s greatest railway rides. Pulled from its pages, these 24 train journeys are truly first-class.

A train travels through a lush environment with trees alongside the coastline.
The Reunification Express travels across much of Vietnam © Scenic Vietnam / Shutterstock

1. The Reunification Express, Vietnam

Start: Ho Chi Minh City
End: Hanoi
Departs: Daily
Distance: 1072 miles (1726km)
Duration: Two days

This is one of Southeast Asia’s best-loved railways – and one of the most epic overnight train journeys in the world. There is no more atmospheric way to haul into Vietnam’s twin metropolises as this train rattles through historic cities and swooshes beside spectacular coastlines.

2. The California Zephyr, USA

Start: Chicago
End: San Francisco
Departs: Daily
Distance: 2438 miles (3924km)
Duration: 52hrs 40mins

For soaking up the scenic grandeur of the North American continent, nothing compares with Amtrak’s California Zephyr, one of the US’ best train journeys. This classic three-day ride travels across prairies, deserts, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada on its way from the Midwest to the West Coast.

A blue-and-yellow train weaves around a corner in a grassy landscape in Peru.
The train to Lake Titicaca in Peru travels through the beautiful high-altitude countryside © SteveAllenPhoto / Getty Images

3. The Lake Titicaca Train, Peru

Start: Puno
End: Cuzco
Departs: Three times a week
Distance: 241 miles (388km)
Duration: 10 hours

Traversing the Altiplano, from the shores of Lake Titicaca to the bustling heart of the ancient Incan empire, the railway from Puno to Cuzco cuts a ponderous but picturesque path through the snow-dusted peaks and voluptuous valleys of the Andes, across the epic Peruvian plains, passing hardy bowler-hatted llama farmers and traveling through remote towns and villages.

4. The Beijing-to-Lhasa Express, China

Start: Beijing
End: Lhasa
Departs: Daily
Distance: 2330 miles (3750km)
Duration: 40 hours

From the futuristic architecture and imperial wonders of Beijing, the Z21 train transports its passengers from the neon lights of urban China across the Tibetan plateau, where it glides past grazing yaks, fluttering prayer flags, snow-capped mountains and boundless blue skies. At your destination, magenta-robed monks await. 

A Kiwirail TranzAlpine train arriving in Arthur’s Pass station, Arthur’s Pass National Park, South Island, New Zealand
The TranzAlpine traverses New Zealand’s stunning Southern Alps © Sammy L / Shutterstock

5. The TranzAlpine, New Zealand

Start: Christchurch
End: Greymouth
Departs: Daily
Distance: 139 miles (223km)
Duration: 4hrs 30mins

Under five hours, this journey is surely one the world’s finest and most scenic one-day train rides. Commence the TranzAlpine experience in Christchurch, before speeding along the Canterbury Plains and climbing quickly through the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, then descend through a thrilling tunnel to emerge among the lakes, streams and rainforests of the South Island’s West Coast. 

6. The Bergensbanen, Norway

Start: Oslo
End: Bergen
Departs: Four times a day
Distance: 308 miles (496km)
Duration: 6hrs 30mins

This astonishing train is one of Europe’s best railway rides – and one of the least well known outside of Norway. It covers the spectrum of the Nordic country’s natural splendor: climbing canyons, crossing rivers, burrowing through mountainsides and traversing barren icescapes.

A train travels on a high track over a valley in a lush forest.
The Tazara climbs the Great Rift Valley escarpment in Zambia © Alex Saurel / Getty Images

7. Tazara Railway, Tanzania and Zambia

Start: Dar es Salaam
End: Kapiri Mposhi
Departs: Twice a week
Distance: 1160 miles (1860km)
Duration: 46 hours

Few trains in the world offer the chance – and we should point out that it’s a chance rather than a guarantee – of spotting big game from your seat. The Tazara (Tanzania and Zambia Railway Authority) does just that. The highlight, though, is the chance to spend two days watching everyday life out of the window, and enjoying the clamor and chaos when the train pulls to a halt – scheduled or unscheduled.

8. The Sunset Limited, USA 

Start: New Orleans
End: Los Angeles
Departs: Three times per week 
Distance: 1995 miles (3211km) 
Duration: Two days

The ultimate American railroad ride: east to west, coast to coast, clean through from the bars of New Orleans to the breakers of the Pacific Ocean. If you’ve always dreamed of crossing the States, but don’t much relish the prospect of two weeks spent cooped up in an automobile, then a ride on the Sunset Limited is the answer. Sit back and let America’s landscapes buzz by: from Louisiana’s bayous, past the high-rises of Houston, across the deserts of Texas and Arizona, over the Californian hills all the way to LA’s golden beaches. Saddle up, partner: it’s gonna be quite a ride.

The Caledonian Sleeper train crosses Rannoch Viaduct on the scenic West Highland Line railway in the Scottish Highlands.
Board the Caledonian Sleeper in London, and wake up in the Scottish Highlands © Joe Dunckley / Shutterstock

9. The Caledonian Sleeper, UK

Start: London (Euston)
End: Fort William
Departs: Daily
Distance: 509 miles (819km)
Duration: 13hrs 30mins

Segueing from the sooty suburbs and crowded concrete-lined cul-de-sacs of central London to the crisp air and soaring vistas of the Scottish Highlands via one overnight train journey epitomizes the romance of rail travel. Enjoy the buffet-car banter, be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the rails, then wake up to bedside views of towering granite peaks. 

10. Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya

Start: Mombasa
Ends: Nairobi
Departs: Daily
Distance: 360 miles (579km)
Duration: 5hrs 10mins

The Nairobi–Mombasa railway route is among Africa’s most legendary: it even helped foster the modern concept of safari. The rickety old railway has undergone a rebuild in recent years with smart new stations and a new track laid across the Kenyan savannah. What hasn’t changed is the spellbinding journey, with trains departing from Mombasa and passing in the shadow of Kilimanjaro to the cusp of the Great Rift Valley.

11. Tangier to Marrakesh, Morocco

Start: Tangier
End: Marrakesh
Departs: Daily
Distance: 360 miles (580km)
Duration: 5hrs 15mins

Nothing can fully prepare you for the magnificence Morocco’s most evocative city – from the clamor and spectacle of the central square, Djemaa El Fna, to the primary colors of the Jardin Majorelle; and from the peaceful madrassa of Medersa Ben Youssef to the mad profusion of alleyways. There’s no doubting that a railway journey down the spine of this North African nation is a profoundly uplifting experience.

People sit in the observation desk of a train looking out at the Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountaineer boasts an incredible observation car © Getty Images

12. The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Start: Vancouver
End: Banff
Departs: Twice a week
Distance: 594 miles (957km)
Duration: 37 hours

Clattering across the wild Rocky Mountains along a pioneering 19th-century railroad, this train journey is all at once a geological field trip, sightseeing adventure and wildlife safari. It promises cinematic views of Canada’s quintessential mountain landscapes, plus a bevy of engineering marvels, from dizzying bridges to logic-defying tunnels. And with luck, you might even spy a bald eagle, moose or grizzly bear. 

13. Alexandria to Aswan, Egypt

Start: Alexandria
End: Aswan
Departs: Daily
Distance: 670 miles (1100km)
Duration: 16 hours

A ride from Alexandria to Aswan means you will travel the length of Egypt's rail network – and also undertake an odyssey in the company of the great Nile River, with chances to disembark and explore the relics of empires along its banks. Do keep in mind that, for all their plus points, Egyptian trains are not always known for punctuality. 

14. The Serra Verde Express, Brazil

Start: Curitiba
End: Morretes, Paraná
Departs: Daily
Distance: 42 miles (68km)
Duration: 3hrs 30mins

One of Brazil’s most spectacular train journeys, the Serra Verde Express starts in the architecturally bold city of Curitiba and winds its way through dramatic mountain passes covered with tropical rainforest before it drops you in Morretes in the lush state of Paraná. The half-day trip takes in canyons, jagged mountain peaks and verdant lowlands, and the slow-going locomotive allows plenty of opportunities to photograph the cinematic backdrop while traversing some 30 bridges and chugging through 14 tunnels. Aside from the captivating scenery, the journey provides a fascinating glimpse into the past as it trundles through tiny stations dating back to the late 1800s.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway passes by produce venders in the town of Ghum, West Bengal, India
You’ll get a (very) close look at small-town life in West Bengal from aboard the Darjeeling Toy Train © panoglobe / Shutterstock

15. The Darjeeling Toy Train, India

Start: New Jalpaiguri
End: Darjeeling
Departs: Daily
Distance: 55 miles (88.5km)
Duration: 7–8 hours

India’s narrow-gauge steam railways are the stuff of legend, and the bottle-blue Darjeeling Toy Train is the nation’s lead engine. The ride from the Bengal plains to Darjeeling travels past emerald-green tea plantations and precariously balanced, tin-roofed townships, while clouds tumble down the looming massif of Mt Khangchendzonga. Steam engines are now only used for a small section of the route, yet this iconic mountain journey still serves up a sizable slice of history.

16. The Hokkaidō Shinkansen, Japan

Start: Tokyo
End: Hakodate
Departs: Daily
Distance: 512 miles (824km)
Duration: 4 hours

The Hokkaidō Shinkansen, one of Japan’s iconic bullet trains, takes you from Tokyo to Hakodate, the southern port of Hokkaidō. Along the way, it zooms past picturesque scenes of rural Japan, through mountains and under the sea. The route is only part of it, though: riding the shinkansen – with its food trolleys and staff who bow upon entering and exiting the train car – is a classic Japanese experience.

A smiling woman looks out from a train window as it travel on a picturesque railroad in Sri Lanka
Admiring the lush tea plantations on the train from Colombo to Badulla, Sri Lanka © Solovyova / Getty Images

17. Colombo to Badulla, Sri Lanka

Start: Colombo
End: Badulla
Departs: Daily
Distance: 181 miles (292km)
Duration: 9–10 hours

One of many unforgettable things about Sri Lanka is the variety and intensity of the color green throughout the year. And for train aficionados, there is no better way to appreciate the country’s full, verdant spectrum than an all-day rail journey from Colombo’s urban gardens at sea level to tea plantations in the Hill Country, via brain-spinning sensory doses of jungle and forest, paddy field and palm tree, mountain and valley, national parks…and human habitation, too. Expect to move slowly – and enjoy one of the most scenic train trips in the world.

18. Bangkok to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore

Start: Bangkok
End: Singapore
Departs: Weekly
Distance: 1200 miles (1900km)
Duration: Three days

A railway journey from Bangkok to Singapore spans three countries, three capital cities, and – without disembarking once – can be completed in under three days. But to go so fast would be to miss the point of this artery along the Malay Peninsula – a line suited to capricious roaming. You always have the option to hop off – to see tropical islands, to scale the cool heights of tea plantations, and to linger in a trio of metropolises that are each entirely different.

A train enters a tunnel in a snowy landscape in Switzerland.
Switzerland’s Glacier Express trundles through a wintry scene © VogelSP / Getty Images

19. The Glacier Express, Switzerland

Start: St Moritz
End: Zermatt
Departs: Daily (in season)
Distance: 180 miles (290km)
Duration: 8 hours

Switzerland is a nation of rail fanatics. And if the Swiss could pick one definitive ride, the honor would surely go to the Glacier Express. This eight-hour journey from ritzy St Moritz to Matterhorn-topped Zermatt unzips the lovely Alpine terrain in the country’s south, corkscrewing up to wind-battered mountain passes, teetering across 291 bridges and rumbling through 91 tunnels. It intentionally moves at a snail’s pace so you take in those out-of-this-world views of meadows, forest, falls and mountains – all through panoramic windows. 

20. The Bernina Express, Switzerland & Italy

Start: Chur
End: Tirano
Departs: Daily
Distance: 96 miles (156km)
Duration: 4hrs 30mins

We can wax lyrical about the glacier-capped mountains, waterfall-draped ravines, jewel-colored lakes and endless spruce forests glimpsed through panoramic windows on Switzerland’s Bernina Express – but seeing is believing. Rolling from Chur in Graubünden to Tirano in northern Italy, this narrow-gauge train often tops polls of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys. The line has even made UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites – and with good reason.

A wagon conductor transports passengers' luggage for hotel transfer on the Orient Express.
The service is of the old school variety on the world-famous Orient Express © kmn-network / Getty Images

21. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, England, France, Switzerland and Italy

Start: London
End: Venice
Departs: One to six times per month
Distance: 1300 miles (2090km)
Duration: Two days

The promise of traveling from London to Venice cocooned in luxury while sitting in twinkly dining cars with fine china and silver cutlery is surely one that endures in the hearts of all rail enthusiasts. While the Orient Express’ various other 20th-century routes are sadly long gone, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express offers a tantalizing sample of the original on a trip that is surely the best journey back in time ever. But this route gained a new rival in 2023 with the Orient Express La Dolce Vita service – and, in 2025, a new service on the original route is scheduled to hit the rails.

22. Nova Gorica to Jesenice, Slovenia

Start: Nova Gorica
End: Jesenice
Departs: Daily
Distance: 55 miles (89km)
Duration: Two hours

Here is a near-perfect railway adventure that most people have never heard of. The Bohinj Railway connects two places whose significance can be lost to modern travelers. An unassuming regional train rattling out of a faded-grandeur halt on the Italy–Slovenia border doesn’t even hint at what’s to come. The journey is a spectacular tour of Slovenia’s upland highlights from Nova Gorica, climbing through mountain towns and villages along the Soča River, passing through superb Alpine scenery close to Lake Bohinj, and on past world-famous Lake Bled to Jesenice.

A train winds through an outback landscape in Australia.
The Ghan railway train speeds across Australia, from Adelaide to Darwin © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

23. The Ghan, Australia

Start: Adelaide
End: Darwin
Departs: Twice a week
Distance: 1851 miles (2979km)
Duration: 54 hours

Cutting vertically across the Outback heart of Australia, straight through the desolate deserts of the Red Centre, the Ghan is one of the southern hemisphere’s most unforgettable train journeys. This cross-country train service has provided a vital link between Australia’s north and south coasts, traveling north across the country from well-to-do, orderly Adelaide to the tropical, croc-filled creeks of Darwin. Luxurious and legendary, it’s Australia’s elegant version of the Orient Express.

24. Cannes to Menton, France

Start: Cannes
End: Menton
Departs: Daily
Distance: 34 miles (55km)
Duration: 1hr 20mins

It’s the stuff that travel dreams are made of: a slow train skirting the French Mediterranean coast, through towns whose very names resonate with glamour – Cannes, Antibes, Monaco. On one side of the tracks lies that sparkling sea; on the other, dramatic cliffs interspersed with the gorgeous coastal towns of the French Riviera. You can make a long day of this short trip, hopping on and off to explore a street market, linger at an outdoor terrace, take a breath of history and get a taste of luxury.

This article was first published August 2019 and updated January 2024

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