In this article, we will discover some of the most scenic train rides in the world. From old favourites like the Trans-Siberian Railway to lesser-known but no less stunning routes around the world, there is something to inspire everyone for that next epic rail journey!
Here at The Trip Goes On we are passionate about slow travel and overlanding. What better way to see the world than at a comfortable pace as new landscapes unfold before your very eyes? From the Highlands of Scotland to the “high lands” of the Himalayas; all aboard for this roundup of the world’s best train journeys! Which ones are on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!
If you plan on undertaking any of these mammoth journeys, you should check out my overland travel packing list!
Table of Contents
- The Jacobite (Scotland)
- Oslo to Bergen (Norway)
- The Dacia Express (Austria, Hungary, Romania)
- Tito Express (Serbia, Montenegro)
- The Trans-Siberian (Russia)
- Sinuiju to Pyongyang (North Korea)
- The Qinghai Express (Tibet)
- Guangzhou to Sanya (China)
- Reunification Express (Vietnam)
- Java Express (Indonesia)
- Tazara Railway (Zambia, Tanzania)
- The Blue Train (South Africa)
- The Canadian (Canada)
- Machu Pichu (Peru)
- India Pacific (Australia)
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The Jacobite – Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland
The Jacobite Steam Train is a spectacular rail journey that will take you across some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes. Travel from Fort William to Mallaig and witness magnificent scenery unfolding with each changing panorama. Also, this railway is known as the Harry Potter Express as you’ll be passing through some iconic filming locations.
The start of this 84-mile round trip is next to Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The stunning backdrop is only a sneak peek of what you will discover along the journey. You will pass some impressive stops along the way, and the entire 1 hour 23 minutes will be gone in a blink of an eye as you marvel at the scenery.
The journey takes you from Arisaig to Loch Morar, which is the deepest freshwater loch in all of Britain! After that, you will stop near Loch Nevis, Europe’s deepest saltwater loch.
Mallaig lies at the end of the Jacobite’s line. It’s a port town founded in the 1840s which became Europe’s busiest herring port in the 1960s. Also known as the “Road to the Isles”, you can hop on a ferry to Skye from here. Usually, guests have around 90 minutes to enjoy the local milieu before getting back onto the Jacobite and heading back.
Written by Cazzy @ Dream Big, Travel Far
Read more about Scotland in my grandfather’s memoirs.
Oslo to Bergen, Norway
The 308-mile-long Oslo to Bergen railway connects Norway’s two largest cities and is one of the most scenic train rides in the world. Starting at Oslo Central station, the train travels through the suburbs, then into the rolling Norwegian countryside. It’s very pretty, but the best is coming.
As the train climbs into the mountains, the scenery gets wilder, the rivers it crosses more fierce, and the forests more sparse until you reach the Hardanger Plateau, where even in the middle of summer the landscape is frozen. One particular feature of the line are the many protective snow tunnels, which help keep the line open in winter.
Look out for the cute Finse station, which is the highest in Norway. The Hardangerjøkulen glacier can clearly be seen from the station. At Myrdal, you can change trains for the Flåm Railway which travels down a steep valley past some stunning waterfalls.
From Myrdal to Bergen the train travels through more tunnels and alongside rivers and lakes before reaching Bergen. Fast trains between Oslo and Bergen take around six and a half hours and are run by Vy, the Norwegian state railways. Tickets can be surprisingly cheap, starting at 249 NOK (around $30 USD).
Written by Helen @ Helen on her Holidays
Dacia Express – Vienna, Austria to Bucharest, Romania
The Dacia-Express travels the route from Vienna, Austria to Bucharest, Romania and was once part of the famous Orient Express. The route passes through some fantastic locations, most notably; Budapest, Sighisoara a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Brasov the 2nd most popular tourist destination in Romania. The route passes through some beautiful countryside at a slow pace, including the Carpathian Mountains.
The Dacia Express is a night train that departs Vienna HBF at 19:39 arriving in Bucharest at 16:00 the next day. The train exits Schengen at the Hungarian border, thus there are two immigration checks while on the journey, one entering Hungary and the other entering Romania. After crossing into Romania, sunrise happens usually in the mountains between Deva and Alba Iulia.
You can either book a room for yourself, sleep in a shared couchette or travel cheaper in a 2nd-class seat. There is a restaurant car, however, the food can be a bit hit and miss. As such, it is recommended to stock up on all the supplies you need for 24-hours on the train. If you want to explore places on the route, you can get off and catch the next day’s train. However, these will need to be booked as separate journeys.
Written by Richard @ RJ on Tour
Tito Express – Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro
The Belgrade to Bar train is both famous for its outstanding scenery as well as its history as the Tito Express. Considered to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in Eastern Europe, the train passes by beautiful mountainous landscapes as it winds its way through the Dinaric Alps.
The railway connecting Belgrade in Serbia to Bar in Montenegro is only 476 kilometres but takes over 11 hours. The nostalgic Montenegro express is not about speed. In fact, taking the bus would be much faster. It is all about embarking on a historic journey in the footsteps of Tito.
Tito was the leader of communist Yugoslavia. He was a huge fan of train travel himself and ordered the construction of the Belgrade to Bar railway. An engineering marvel as it required the construction of 400 bridges and 200 tunnels. Tito travelled the Belgrade to Bar railway in his own luxurious blue train. He even invited important leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Queen Elizabeth on his journeys to discuss political matters.
If money is no issue you can still hire the original blue train, however, most people opt for the daily passenger trains. You can choose between a night train or a day train. The best scenery is in Montenegro from Podgorica to Bar. It is therefore best to travel from Bar to Belgrade. Bring enough snacks and water on board, because the selection that you can buy in the dining car is somewhat limited.
Written by Ellis @ Backpack Adventures
The Trans-Siberian – Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia
The Trans-Siberian is the daddy of all epic rail journeys and one of the most scenic train rides in the world. Spanning almost the entirety of two continents, this famous railway line stretches for 9,198 kilometres (5,778 miles). It starts off from Moscow in Europe and ends in Vladivostok in the Far East.
The journey crosses the sweeping Ural Mountains into Siberia where the train trundles along through the taiga forests of birch, larch and spruce. The train passes small villages and wooden dachas, stopping at small stations a few times a day. The train also follows the southern shores of Lake Baikal; the largest and deepest freshwater lake on the planet!
At larger stations in some of Siberia’s main cities babushkas line the platform selling an assortment of dried fish, bread, vegetables, beer and ice cream. These stops offer travellers the opportunity to stretch their legs for up to half an hour before the train carries on across the steppes and taiga of northern Asia.
There are actually three main branch lines from Moscow made up of the Trans Siberian (Moscow to Vladivostok), The Trains Mongolian (Moscow to Ulaanbaatar) and the Trans-Manchurian (Moscow to Beijing). There is even a Moscow to Pyongyang train that terminates in North Korea’s capital.
The journey from Moscow to Vladivostok takes seven days and eight nights. Tickets can be purchased online from RealRussia, but it is cheaper to buy at the station in Russia. Tickets are also heavily discounted by up to 30% in winter. Fares for a bed in a second class 4-berth kupe cabin start at around $600.
Written by Steve @ The Trip Goes On
Sinuiju to Pyongyang, North Korea
The train from Sinuiju to Pyongyang in North Korea is an epic rail journey that is not taken by many tourists but nevertheless is one of the most interesting routes in the world. For those starting the journey in China, the train departs from Dandong across the Yalu River from Sinuiju.
The train stops in Sinuiju for the border check and here you can get off the train and buy food and drinks, including North Korea’s famous and tasty Taidong beer, on the platform.
The train sets off across the lowland fields of the DPRK, passing small villages along the way which gives travellers a unique view of the hermit kingdom. You will see workers in the fields and villagers on bicycles going about their daily lives in the North Korean countryside.
This five-hour journey culminates at Pyongyang’s grand central station. To be able to travel on the Sinuiju to Pyongyang train you must book a tour. Young Pioneer Tours a wide variety of tours to North Korea to suit all budgets (I have been on two of these myself).
Written by Steve @ The Trip Goes On
The Qinghai Express – Xining to Lhasa, China/Tibet
A marvel of modern engineering, the Qinghai Express is the train that goes from Xining in mainland China to Lhasa in Tibet. Crossing the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan Mountains, this railway line is the highest in the world and reaches a staggering 5,068 metres (16,627 feet) at Tanggula.
The scenery on this railway journey is exceptional as the train crosses snowfields and high mountain passes surrounded by towering peaks. You will see frozen lakes with yaks grazing on the shores, eagles soaring overhead on thermals and some of the highest mountains on earth. At some points, you are sure to think you are on another planet!
The Qinghai Express trains are specially designed with a supply of oxygen that is pumped into each carriage, with additional outlets for those suffering from altitude sickness (there is also a doctor on board every train). Due to the giddying heights the train reaches, altitude sickness is a risk and bringing medication such as Diamox (unavailable in China) or Aspirin can help alleviate symptoms.
The journey from Xining to Lhasa takes 21 hours and costs from ¥571.50 ($90) for a bed in a hard sleeper to ¥808 ($125) in a soft sleeper and both are perfectly comfortable for the trip. Tickets can be booked online up to two weeks in advance on Trip.com. The journey from Xining to Lhasa is definitely one of the most scenic train rides in the world!
Written by Steve @ The Trip Goes On
Guangzhou to Sanya, China
This epic railway journey is unique in that the train is loaded onto a ship for the one-hour crossing to Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province. The train sets off from Guangzhou (Canton), the provincial capital of Guangdong Province in Southern China and finishes up in the tropical resort of Sanya.
The route will take you through mountains, tropical fruit plantations of mangos, bananas, pineapples and coconuts before arriving at the port of Hai’an on the southern tip of China’s mainland.
At Hai’an the carriages are loaded onto a waiting ferry which then crosses the 20km to Haikou on Hainan Island. Passengers are locked in the train for the duration of the crossing, so those that are prone to seasickness should ensure they have medication.
The four-hour journey from Haikou to Sanya follows the west coast of Hainan and cuts through mountainous, lush rainforest, making it one of the most scenic train rides in the world!
There is one train per day and the total journey time is 14 hours. Tickets cost ¥416 ($65) for a hard sleeper and ¥651.50 ($96) for a soft sleeper. Tickets can be purchased online up to 30 days in advance through Trip.com.
Written by Steve @ The Trip Goes On
The Reunification Express: Hanoi to Saigon, Vietnam
Steeped in history and offering access to some of the country’s most majestic landscapes, Vietnam’s North-South Express Railway – otherwise known by the nickname afforded to the network of trains that ply it, the Reunification Express – is surely one of Asia’s most epic train journeys.
Established during French colonial times, the single track links Hanoi, the capital and metropolis in the north – starting with a jaunt over the iconic Long Bien Bridge – with Saigon, Vietnam’s largest city, in the south. After sustaining significant damage during both WWII and the America-Vietnam War, it reopened in 1976 as a symbol of the nation’s newfound re-unity.
Travelling on the Reunification Express is a wonderful way to experience the full length and breadth of Vietnam’s natural and cultural diversity. The majority of the 1,726 kilometres of track hug the coastline, taking you through the Hai Van Pass and along the Lang Co Peninsular. The full journey by express train takes the better part of 35 hours (that’s if there are no delays, which there often are!), but it’s better to take the trip in stages, jumping off at some of the 191 stations along the way, including Hue, Da Nang (for Hoi An) and Nha Trang, for a few days of sightseeing.
Depending on the leg, sleeper carriages, soft seats or hard seats are all available. Food is sold on the trains but remember to bring drinking water. If travelling north to south, choose a seat on the left-hand side for the best coastal views.
Written by Emily @ Wander-Lush
Yogyakarta to Jakarta, Indonesia
Indonesia has a surprisingly good rail system. The route from Yogyakarta to Jakarta is something of a hidden gem and offers some stunningly beautiful views. The journey takes around eight hours and is the perfect way to see the Javanese countryside from the comfort of a train seat.
Ticket prices vary and depend on the class you choose for your seat. Economy seats start as low as 9$ while First Class seats will cost around 25$. Booking tickets online in advance is recommended as some trains do tend to sell out. Prices may go up slightly if you book spontaneously. You can also buy tickets in person at convenience stores around Indonesia.
The train journey is quiet and slow. There are express trains that don’t stop as often or slower ones that stop at every small town along the way. Each train has a dining area where you can buy hot meals. However, bringing snacks is recommended as the selection of food onboard can be limited.
The seats for First and Business Class are comfortable and recline. Economy is a bit less spacious and seats are closer to benches which you might have to share with strangers. Definitely make sure to get a window seat so you can enjoy the stunning views of rice fields, volcanos and rivers.
Written by Victoria @ Guide Your Travel
Tazara Railway – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia
The TAZARA Railway offers one of the longest train routes in Africa. The 1,860 km journey between Kapiri Mposhi in Central Zambia and Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, takes approximately 2 days and offers impressive scenery on the way. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some African wildlife as the train crosses through the Selous Wildlife Reserve in Tanzania.
The TAZARA train departs twice a week and the ticket usually costs between 20 and 30 euros. If you’re looking for comfort and privacy, you can book a berth in the 1st class. To travel as cheaply as possible, you can simply book a seat in the 3rd class. For our journey from Zambia to Tanzania, me and my two travel companions – whom I first met at the ticket office– decided to pay a little extra for our privacy, so we booked a 6-berth 2nd class compartment for the three of us.
You can easily get a taxi to/from the train station in Dar es Salaam, but Kapiri Mposhi is a small town 200 kilometres north of Zambia’s capital Lusaka. A bus ride from Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi takes roughly three hours and costs about 10 euros. As long as you pack enough cash for the trip, the train ride itself should go very smoothly. The restaurant offers cheap, tasty meals and the amenities are surprisingly comfortable, so you can focus on enjoying the views and the journey.
Written by Arimo @ Arimo Travels
The Blue Train – Pretoria to Cape Town, South Africa
One of the most luxurious train journeys in the world, the Blue Train travels from Pretoria in the north of South Africa to Cape Town on the southern tip of the continent. The journey spans 1,600 km and takes 31 hours. The train route goes through the middle of the country, through some stark and beautiful countryside, with dramatic mountains in the distance.
There is only one stop, in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, a city renowned for its 19th Century diamond mines. The highlight is seeing the Big Hole, one of the largest hand-dug mines in the world, and the surrounding open-air museum. Otherwise, just pass the time between the delicious meals by sitting back, relaxing and watching the scenery. Dinner is also a formal affair on the Blue Train with multiple courses and a wide range of drinks available.
The three days on the train go surprisingly quickly and it doesn’t seem long before you arrive in Cape Town. The train trip ends at the station in the central city, making it an easy transfer to most neighbourhoods in Cape Town. It’s also possible to do the route in reverse, but there’s something magical about ending a long, inland journey at the coast, ensuring its place as one of the most scenic train rides in the world.
Written by Roxanne @ Far Away Worlds
The Canadian – Toronto to Vancouver, Canada
The Canadian train journey across Canada is one of the most beautiful ways to experience this country. The stunning landscapes and breathtaking views are sure to make you feel you have been whisked away to a different place. The train journey starts in Toronto and stops in Sudbury Junction, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Kamloops, Jasper and Vancouver.
As you can imagine, there are so many things worth seeing along the way! You’ll see thriving cities like Toronto as well as quieter places with small villages and farmland peppered between mountains and lakes. In some parts of this country, it’s more common for people to live in towns clustered close together while other areas have wide-open spaces where communities are spread out further apart. The diversity of scenery is what makes this such an amazing place to visit by train.
Canada’s great outdoors is there for you to enjoy on this train trip. You’ll see a vast landscape with rivers, lakes and mountains as well as small towns on the way. There are lots of opportunities to get off the train and explore too. If you travel straight through the journey takes four days but if you break your journey at the various stops, it often takes about two weeks to cross Canada by rail from coast to coast on a Via Rail train trip that is full of surprises and experiences.
The Canadian has three levels of service – Economy, Sleeper Plus and Prestige. Trains run every day so you can decide how long your trip will be. You can break up the journey by stopping off at places along the way.
Written by Christina @ Travel2next
Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, Peru
The ancient settlement of Machu Picchu is undeniably one of the most breathtaking destinations on the planet. The combination of incredibly well-preserved Incan ruins and imposing Andean mountains places Machu Picchu firmly on the bucket list for travellers from around the globe.
One aspect of Machu Picchu that isn’t considered regularly however, is the spectacular rail journey that must be embarked upon to reach the famous lost citadel.
The journey begins by hopping on board the PeruRail Expedition train at the Ollantaytambo station, deep in the heart of the Sacred Valley in Southern Peru. The foothills of the Andes transform into lush, dense forest before arriving in Aguas Calientes.
Along the 2-hour scenic train ride, you will be treated to unrivalled panoramic views of the dramatic Peruvian mountains. The train carriages come fitted with skylines, affording you the chance to view the impressive landscape from every possible angle.
With several daily departures from Ollantaytambo, there are a number of options available to reach Machu Picchu by train, but it is generally recommended that the earlier the train ride you can catch, the more time you will have to explore the famous ruins.
Visiting one of the ancient wonders of the world is always rewarding, but add a once-in-a-lifetime rail journey into the equation, and suddenly visiting Machu Picchu has become an even richer experience.
Written by Ben @ Ticket 4 Two Please
India Pacific – Sydney to Perth, Australia
The India Pacific train runs between Perth on Australia’s east coast and Sydney on the west (from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean; thus the name). This legendary railway line cuts straight across the outback and the country’s fabled “red centre”.
After leaving Perth, the train crosses the Nullarbor Plain (Nullarbor meaning “no trees” in Latin) which is home to the longest stretch of straight railway line in the world (a whopping 478km without a single bend).
The train then heads on across Australia’s desolate outback and if you are lucky you will see kangaroos hopping into the sunset as the world takes on a distinctly orange and red hue.
The final leg of the journey sees the train crossing the Blue Mountains before coming into Sydney some 4,352km (2,704 miles) from Perth.
The total journey takes four days and three nights and is on one of the most luxurious trains in the world, complete with fine-dining in the train’s swish restaurant car. As such, tickets don’t come cheap and a single sleeper will cost around $2,000 Australian dollars ($1,500 USD) if booked in advance.
Written by Steve @ The Trip Goes On
If you are looking for more inspiration about travelling on the most scenic train rides in the world, then check out my list of the best travel memoirs, which include books about some of the above Journeys.
Be sure to check out my interview with Mark Smith, AKA the Man in Seat 61!
About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang and now resides in the tropical paradise of Sanya on Hainan Island.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.
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