The World's Top 10 Train Trips
Whether sparked by childhood tales of Thomas the Tank Engine chugging along or during college adventures backpacking the tracks through Europe, a love affair with the locomotive has been kindled within many of us from early on. We’re awed by the power of their engines, which promise to pull us on unknown adventures around the bend ahead, past window-framed landscapes and villages that we might never glimpse another way. We're entranced by their whistles, which ring of nostalgia for the golden era of train travel, long before the days of the plane or automobile, when it was clear that the trains were designed not just to get passengers from here to there, but to allow them to embark on a journey. This list of top train trips around the globe will put you on the fast track to an "I-think-I-can" rail trip that we assure you not only can embark on, but absolutely should.
The Bergen Line
A good train trip can take you places that you might never experience otherwise, which is definitely the case for the Bergen Line of Norway. Northern Europe's highest railway, it passes through scenic fjord inlets, and past snow-capped mountains and glaciers, on a 300-plus mile journey (much of which is above the timber line) between the culturally-rich city of Bergen in western Norway and its capital at Oslo. The seven-hour voyage also includes stops at charming mountain towns and ski resorts, and exhibits many feats of engineering en route — including passage through a spiral mountain tunnel. The smooth traction and steady velocity of the train does little to give away its constant battle against extreme temps, icy winds, and harsh snowfalls — against which a combination of skilled workers and high-tech equipment is constantly employed to out-maneuver.
The Blue Train
While no one can deny that the South African countryside is an amazing scene to wake up to, it has a worthy aesthetic rival in The Blue Train’s onboard opulence. This veritable five-star hotel on wheels touts passenger cabins with such refined features as deep-soaking tubs, fine linens, marble-tiled bathrooms, and digital entertainment centers. The train operates a handful of itineraries from Pretoria — South Africa’s administrative capital — of which our favorite is the one-night excursion to Cape Town, stopping at an old diamond rush mining town along the way. During this 27-hour journey, riders can experience gourmet dining accompanied by local wines, traditional high tea, personal butler service, and elegant lounges stocked with nightcaps and cigars — not to mention the landscapes of vineyards, waterfalls, and mountains whizzing by.
Denali Star Train
Navigating a state that's almost two and half times the size of Texas can be a daunting task: That’s why we recommend uncovering Alaska’s stark beauty and vast terrain — think snow-capped mountains, verdant forests, and sprawling tundra — via the Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train. Passengers can chug along on a memorable 365-mile route of scenic unspoiled backcountry between Anchorage and Fairbanks, catching glimpses of towering Mt. McKinley (weather permitting) and wildlife, from eagles soaring overhead to moose grazing in the distance, all the while traversing breathtaking river gorges via single-span bridges, making old-fashioned whistle stops, and stopping over at the legendary Denali National Park — to which the train pioneered tourism. Definitely consider upgrading to the first-class, double-decker "GoldStar" cars, with their open-air observation decks, upscale dining cars, and priority seating under panoramic glass domes.