Epic train journeys of the world

As you might have noticed when you’ve read my blog posts about the Trans Mongolian Railway, the day trip from Nice on the train des Merveilles and the best way to travel to Tibet, I have a thing for epic train journeys. There is something truly enchanting about the most scenic train rides of the world. Maybe I am a nostalgic wanderer or a romantic historian, but I find the great train journeys of the world something tremendously appealing. Do you have a train travel bucket list?

The Train des Merveilles is an excellent day trip from Nice, France. You can explore the villages of Tende, Saorge and Sospel as I share my experiences!

Trains in my Past

It wasn’t always been like that. Growing up, my dad was and still is an avid collector of model trains. These miniature steam trains were displayed in our house and soon I got bored with visiting train stores and watching the trains go round and round.

Epic train journeys of the world
Model trains at my parents’ house- photo by my dad

It wasn’t until I was 12 years old, when I first travelled by train. The yellow trains in Holland are not very exciting and during my time at university, I travelled each day by train.

The first time travelling abroad by train was much more excited. We got on a train at the local train station and went by train, boat, train, subway and train to Torquay in England. The route along the costs was scenic and very exciting.

After this, I’ve travelled far and wide by train. I travelled to Paris and Berlin by high speed trains, across Italy and Spain by local trains and took day trips from Nice by train. I also crossed the first two epic train journeys of the world off my bucket list, when I travelled to Nepal over land.

Read all about the Trans Mongolian Railway

Connected Lines on Earth’s Map

In 2007, I was contemplating of travelling to Nepal. I got hold of a detailed map of the European-Asian continent with colourful lines across it. I traced the different lines with my fingers from Moscow to Mongolia and Beijing. Onwards to Lhasa and then to Nepal.

I was intrigued by the possibility to walk out of my home, hop on board a train that would take me all the way to a country as far away as Nepal.

When I now see the long coloured lines across the continents, I want to know the history behind it. Why are they there, where are they going and who’s travelling along them?

Train Travel Bucket List

By now, I have a (long) bucket list solely consisting of epic train journeys of the world. I was already able to cross off some things of my train bucket list. Hopefully in 2016 I’ll be able to cross off another when I travel to Peru. But just for the fun of it, here’s my “Epic train journeys of the world” bucket list.

Trans Mongolian Railway. Done!

From Moscow all the way to Beijing. The train’s itinerary spans a vast 4,735 miles or 7,621 km from the capital of Russia, across sweeping tundra’s, it touches the rim of the biggest fresh water lake in the world (Lake Baikal that is) and crosses straight through Mongolia, into the green plains of China until it reaches its final destination 7 days later in Beijing.

It covers 2 continents (Europe and Asia) and you’ll pass 6 different time zones. This journey is a deviation from the original Trans-Siberian Railway, from Moscow to Vladivostok, which is among the longest train journeys of the world. Read my elaborate guide on how to travel the Trans-Mongolian Railway.

Epic train journeys of the world- Trans-Siberian Railway
the Rossia, the train from Moscow to Vladivostok

Epic train journeys of the world: Lhasa Express. Done!

Possible the youngest of all the epic train journeys, this high altitude railway opened shop in July 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is a real masterpiece of engineering. The route covers a 3,757 km (2,335 miles) and will take up to 41 hours from start to end.

The route is the highest railway in the world and the highest pass is at Tanggula Pass (5,072 m/ 16,640 ft.). You spend almost 80% of the journey above 4,000m and the route costs a whopping 3,7 billion US $, mainly because of the difficulties building at high altitude and building on permafrost. It comes at a price but this might be the most scenic train ride of the world and the best way to travel to Tibet!

What to do once you get to Tibet by train?
Read my Tibet travel story.

It connects Lhasa, the capital of Tibet with Beijing and other cities in China. Read more detailed information on this route in how to travel to Tibet for solo travellers.

Epic train journeys of the world- Lhasa express from Beijing to Lhasa
The Lhasa Express

Most Famous Train Journey – Orient Express to Istanbul DONE!

This is truly a nostalgic train journey across Europe to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). These luxurious sleeper cars (wagon-lits) were the only means of transportation from London and Paris to Constantinople at the start of the 20th century. Running in some form as of 1889 this route was covered by various train journeys and routes until 2009.

Read more: Modern Orient Express

The Orient Express runs from Paris to Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul. As of 1920 the Simplon Orient Express joins the route, covering the southern line from Paris to Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Trieste, Belgrade and Istanbul. Who isn’t familiar with Agatha’s Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express?

The wars in Europe and the changes of modern age have altered the schedule and the route of this journey. As a matter of fact, the Orient Express is more a “concept” than an actually route on the map. It’s impossible to go to the train station in Paris and buy a train ticket for the Orient Express.

That being said, I think it’s a nostalgic concept to transverse Europe by train and travel to the city divided by 2 continents. I’ve been to Turkey on many occasions but I still hope to travel by train one day on one of the most famous train journeys of Europe!

Epic train journeys of the world_ORIENT_EXPRESS
Poster advertising the Orient Express

Top Scenic Train Rides in North America

The great big continent of North America is very inviting for train travel. You can cross Canada from Toronto to Vancouver on the Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer and you can go East to West in the States on the Californian Zypher. North America is a truly gorgeous continent so what better way than to cross the continent by train?

The Canadian across Canada

The vast country of Canada can be transversed by train all the way from Toronto to Vancouver. In Calgary/Banff or Jasper you can hop on the illusive Rocky Mountaineer, giving a striking view over the Rocky Mountains with its vista dome cars. This is a great train journey for train historians. The train consists of the original 1955-built stainless-steel coaches from the Canadian Pacific Railway’s “Canadian”.

The journey takes 4 nights and 3 days, passes 4 time zones and you’ll travel a whopping 4,466 km (2,775 miles). The journey will take you from the biggest city of Canada, past some of the biggest lakes, into the prairies and the Rockies, all the way to the Pacific coast.

epic train journeys of the world- rocky mountaineer
Vista dome inside the Rocky Mountaineer

The California Zephyr

For the next epic train journey, we’re staying on the North American continent. After crossing the whole of Canada, wouldn’t it be awesome to do the same in the States? The longest train journey is the stretch from New York via Chicago all the way down to San Francisco. This route covers most of the historic train routes of America, although today you can customize the whole journey to suit your wishes. From New York to San Francisco is a 4 night, 4,567 km/ 3,397 miles, train ride.

If you travel on the California Zephyr, you’ll pass the green country side in Nebraska. You will climb to the top of the Rocky Mountains around Denver and drop to the valleys of Colorado. You continue through the Sierra Nevada mountain ranch until you reach the Pacific coast and the San Francisco Bay area.

Epic train journeys of the world_californian zyphyr
Amtrak California Zephyr Green River – Floy, Utah” by Kabelleger / David Gubler (http://www.bahnbilder.ch)

Longest Train Journeys in Australia

Train travel in Australia must be part of the most famous train rides of the world. In the old days, people could only travel the huge distances of the continent by train. Nowadays, the the Great Southern Rail have 2 very attractive (touristic) routes across the continent. One from North to South, the Ghan Railway and the other, from East to West, the Indian Pacific, these are among the longest train journeys in the world!

The Indian Pacific

Indian Pacific runs from Sydney to Perth over 4,343km (2,698 miles). It’s famous for the crossing the Nullarbor Plain, the world’s longest straight section of railway, 478 km (297 miles).  Nothing but rails until the horizon and it will bring you from one side of the continent to the other in 3 nights (4 days). I’d love to take this train route and see if I can spot some koalas from the train window.

epic train journeys of the world- indian pacific australia
Indian Pacific on the platform at East Perth” by Hourann Bosci from Perth, Australia

Ghan Railway Australia

Now the Ghan Railway, runs from Darwin in the north, across Australia’s red centre, to Adelaide in the south. You can hop off at Ayers Rock and visit the desert and really get a good feel of the size of Australia. The name “Ghan” derives from the ancient route of Afghan camel drivers, taking this route across the desert.

Travel in Japan by Bullet Train

Although I rather travel slow and see the landscape change in front of my, it would also be super exciting to speed through Japan on one of the Shinkansen Bullet trains. The super high speeds trains can have a speed of approximately 240–320 km/h (150–200 mph).

The Shinkansen is not so much an epic train journey, although it would be an epic train experience as it connects Japan’s biggest cities by super modern and ultra-fast trains. If I get the chance, I’ll sure would like to try it. Read all you need to know about the Japan Railway Pass here.

epic train journeys of the world_ japan shinkansen bullet train
a Bullet train

Best Train Journeys in South America

South America doesn’t hold that many train routes, but some of them must be on my bucket list.

Read more: Train to Machu Picchu, Peru.

Tren a las Nubes Argentina

The train to the clouds is something high on my bucket list (pun intended). It’s a route on the Salta (Argentina)-Antofagasta (Chili) railway, mainly used for goods.

Nowadays, the Tren a las Nubes is a real tourist attraction. It’s not a long journey, but one that will leave a big impression. From Salta station it takes 15 hours to complete the  434 km (270 miles) round trip to the Polvorilla viaduct, located 4,220 m (13,850 ft) above sea level.

Epic train journeys of the world_tren a las nubes
Tren a las nubes crossing viaduct2 by presidencia.gov.ar.

The Andean Explorer Peru

This train journey goes from Cuzco to Puno, at the Lake Titicaca in Peru. Here is a quote from Norman from Annees de Pelerinage who travelled on this train in 2015. Make sure to follow him, if you want to read more about Luxury (train) travel.

I have to say I was quite impressed by my experience on the Andean Explorer. I did, in all honesty, not expect the train to be quite that luxurious (considering general South American standards) and most of all I did not expect the train journey to be quite so breathtakingly beautiful. I can definitely recommend doing it, even though I might not go again, mainly to save the time to explore other highlights around the area. Read the whole article on annees de pelerinage.

When I travelled in Peru from Puno to Cusco, I decided to take the cultural bus trip instead. Read on the blog why!

Epic train journeys of the world Andean Explorer from Norman from Annee de Pelerinage
Andean Explorer from Cuzco to Puno, image by Norman from Annee de Pelerinage

Best Train Journeys in Europe

Travelling around Europe by train is super easy, comfortable and affordable. Europe also has many epic train journeys. Maybe not among the longest but certainly among the most beautiful train journeys.

Flåm Railway Norway

With only 20.2 km (12.6 miles) long, this is one of the shortest train journeys but definately one of the most scenic train rides. It links Myrdal to Flåm in Aurland, Norway. You travel through the green Flåmsdalen and the railway connects with the Sognefjørd. The difference in elevation along the route is 863 meters (2,831 ft) and the maximum gradient is 5,5%.

epic train journeys of the world- flam railway
Through the Flåmdalen

Glacier Express Switzerland

When you say Switzerland, you must mean trains. The Glacier Express is a day trip by train from Zermatt to Davos or St. Moritz. On its way the train travels across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 2,033 m (6,670 ft) in altitude. It now runs year round, so you can enjoy summer and winter in the Alps. Would you rather experience this famous train journey in summer or winter? Need more reasons to rail around Switzerland? Here are the most scenic places in Switzerland.

epic train journeys of the world- glacier express
The Glacier Express in winter

Royal Scotsman

Although the different routes across Scotland are interesting, this is at the top of the luxury train journeys of the UK. With only 36 passengers, it is a perfect experience for people who want an intimate, luxury train journey. You’ll get a gourmet, five-star diner with wine and superior service. All trains depart from Edinburgh but different routes depend on the time you’ll have and the money you’ll be able to spend.

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The Royal Scotsman – image from luxurytrainclub.com

Well, there you have it: my not so short epic train journeys of the world bucket list. Which scenic train ride is on your train travel bucket list? Please let me know so I might get inspired too!

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