Adventures such as the Trans-Siberian, Rocky Mountaineer, and the Ghan are among the world’s best rail journeys. But, let’s face it, they don’t come cheap and can involve a bit of a time commitment – Moscow to Vladivostok aboard the Trans-Siberian takes a week.
If you’re pressed for time and cash, here are some equally stunning, but more affordable train journeys – and they’ll have you back for dinner.
Bernina Express, Italy and Switzerland
The Bernina Express is one of the most scenic rail journeys in Europe and also the easiest way of seeing the Swiss Alps, sans vehicle. The four-hour trip runs between Tirano in Northern Italy and Chur, in Switzerland. The track, part of which is World Heritage listed, is full of twists and turns as it travels up the sides of the mountains surrounding Tirano giving a great view over the Italian countryside. The carriages have huge dome windows revealing nearly every peak in sight as the train climbs. Get the full Swiss experience and snack on a Toblerone bar as you travel through the Alps. Travel Tip: There are regular connecting trains from Milan to Tirano and Chur into Zurich.
Jacobite Steam Train, Scotland
The Jacobite Railway has been a popular for decades, but it’s enjoyed fame of a different kind since featuring as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. Potter fans can sit in a carriage just like the one Harry rode in and travel over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was also shown in the films. The return trip starts at Fort William in the Scottish Highlands and travels out to Malaig, a coastal fishing village where you’ll stop for lunch. Travel tip: If you want the best shot of the Glenfinnan Viaduct for your photo album, stake your claim early at one of the door windows at the end of the carriages. They open just enough to reach out and get a shot without a window reflection.
West Coast Wilderness Railway, Tasmania, Australia
More than a third of Australia’s island state is beautiful, rugged wilderness and the West Coast is home to a big chunk of it. This one-way 35km journey takes about an hour and follows a former mining rail route between Queenstown and Strahan that closed in the 1960s. The train departs from each town on alternate days. The experience is just as much a history lesson as it is a chance to witness a remarkable part of the world. Travel tip: There is an opportunity to do some short walks at either end or on the lunch stop. The weather is unpredictable so dress accordingly so you can make the most of it.
White Pass Summit Excursion, Alaska
This seasonal rail adventure takes you into stunning terrain you’d struggle to experience otherwise. Travelling from Scagway in Alaska to the Canadian border at White Pass, expect to see mountains, glaciers, deep gullies and snow during the three-hour journey. Like the Wilderness Railway in Tasmania, this track is former mining infrastructure and steeped in history. Travel tip: The White Pass Summit Excursion operates from May to September and is a popular activity for cruise ship passengers. The times and dates are published well in advance so you can book early.
Coastal Pacific, New Zealand
There are several stunning rail journeys in New Zealand, particularly in the South Island. The Tranz-Alpine, which runs between Christchurch and Greymouth on the West Coast, is the more widely known route, but you can’t beat the summer sea views from the Coastal Pacific’s open air carriage. The Coastal Pacific travels between Christchurch and Picton – the departure town for the ferry to Wellington on the North Island. As the name suggests, the 98km trip follows the coast with views of the Pacific Ocean, the Kaikoura Ranges and New Zealand’s top wine regions. Travel tip: While it’s possible to jump straight off the Coastal Pacific and onto the Interislander ferry to Wellington and vice versa, it is worth staying in Picton and heading out to the vineyards in nearby Blenheim. Book a car in advance though.