Here at Urban List, we back ourselves in saying that train travel is totally back; in fact, it’s a wonder it was ever out of fashion. What better way to see so much of a country? Totally beats jumping on a plane and skipping over all the unique landscapes.
Taking the train is often a money-saving choice, and a practical alternative to lugging all your stuff to the airport. But there are several incredible train trips around the world that are total bucket list stuff. We’re talking maximum scenic views, historic train routes and luxe like you’d never have expected.
We’ve selected what we think are the top ten train trips worth adding to your travel lists. PSA: this is by no means the extent of incredible train journeys! In fact, it was seriously hard to condense our long list.
Let’s start on home soil, shall we? The Ghan is a train journey you’ve likely heard of, but do you know why it’s so famous? It’s over 90 years old, running the length of Australia from Adelaide right up to Darwin, and gives you the best peek at our stunning Red Centre. It’s a pretty fancy train trip you’ll have to save up for. Still, you won’t be sorry – travelling through the heart of Oz, getting to see the landscape shift from bush to ochre sands to tropical wilderness is something else, plus there are off-train experiences you can book that let you hop off and get amongst it all.
Time: 54 hours
If you want to experience four seasons in one day, you need to take the Bergensbanen. Widely regarded as one of the most visually stunning train journeys in the world, this short (by bucket list train trip standards) ride is Northern Europe’s highest train line, and rides through snowy peaks, rain-soaked valleys and sun-drenched fields. If you can, book a night in Myrdal and experience the Flam railway, another famously gorgeous day trip.
Time: 6-7 hours
Sagano Scenic Railway
The shortest train journey on our list, the Sagano Scenic Railway is a historic, 25-minute ride through dense forests from Arashiyama in Kyoto to Torokko Kameoka Station. Designed for sightseeing, the train has a bunch of closed carriages with windows that open up for all your IG snaps, but our tip is to book a seat in the popular open-air carriage, where you’ll get 360-degree views of the landscape. Just bring a warm jacket! Autumn is a popular season, with the changing colours of the leaves making the scenery even more stunning, so this is definitely one to book ahead.
Time: 25 minutes
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express
Paris To Istanbul
Easily the most famous train journey in the world, The Orient Express, made famous by Agatha Christie, still somewhat exists. Technically, it closed in 2009, but luxury travel company Belmond bought many of the original 1920s and ‘30s carriages, and now runs the Venice Simplon-Orient Express. While it’ll cost you a pretty penny to board, it definitely counts as a bucket list train trip, all old-world glamour and class. Expect fine dining, opulent interiors and one of the most luxurious bars we’ve ever seen, Bar Car 3674. You’ll truly feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Can’t afford the full journey option? The Venice Simplon-Orient Express also has shorter trips, including one-night journeys.
Time: 5 days
The Reunification Express
If you want a wild experience that’ll make for excellent travel stories at the pub when you’re home, catch the Reunification Express through Vietnam. The 30-hour trip traverses rice paddies and literally cuts through packed cities, so to say it’s an adventure is an understatement. Luxury-seekers are likely going to want to skip this one. Still, for those on a shoestring budget who don’t mind doing it a little rough, you’ve got a bunch of seating and sleeping options, including soft sleepers that feature cushioned beds. Toilets are squat situations, and it’s best to bring your own food, as meals on trains are not always available.
Time: 30 hours
The Trans-Siberian Express
With Russia currently on the ‘Do Not Travel’ list due to the war with Ukraine, this is not a bucket list train trip to plan for right now. But, as one of the most famous train trips in the world, it would be nuts for us not to include the Trans-Siberian Express on this list. Hopefully one day you’ll be able to take the journey, which takes over two weeks and runs from Moscow to Vladivostok across incredible terrain, including the edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Baikal.
Time: 15 days
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway
One of the more recently-developed train lines on the list, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was only finished in 2006 but already has a stellar reputation for its amazing scenes. Getting as high as 5,000m above sea level, it’s the highest railway line in the world and connects Lhasa in Tibet with Beijing in China. Again, this is a no-frills train trip with no hot water, no showers and a basic dining car. Still, who cares about frills when you’re spotting yak and antelope from your window, cruising through cloud formations and traversing the Gobi desert?
Time: 2 days
The Rocky Mountaineer train is one you’ve likely seen on Instagram – it’s got glass-domed ceilings that make for views stretching from the sky to the Earth, something you don’t often find on bucket list train trips. Several routes run through Canada and into the USA, but the most popular (and our pick) is the First Passage To The West. This starts in Vancouver and ends in Banff, crossing the Continental Divide and zipping through the unique Spiral Tunnels before climbing jagged mountain peaks.
Time: 2 days
Glaciers? Switzerland? You know this iconic train trip is going to be good. Running through the always-breathtaking alps, including the ski town of St Moritz, the alpine town of Zermatt which has some of the best views of the Matterhorn, and the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland”, Rhine Gorge, the Glacier Express is pretty incredible. Naturally, this is a train trip that has views on views on views. Also, it’s a journey you can easily do in one day, so it fits nicely into any Eurotrip.
Time: 8 hours
The Riviera Railway
The Cote d’Azur is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world, and while most travellers will drive through to its main towns of Cannes, Antibes and Nice, did you know you can also catch a really affordable train that lets you settle in and admire the summer vibes? Hop on in Cannes and travel through to Ventimiglia in Italy for the best ocean views, and jump off along the way to explore the beautiful towns the train passes through, because this is a commuter line, there are multiple trains per day.
Train obsessed? Read on for the:
- Best Train Trips Around The World
- Reason Why Train Travel Is Back Big Time In 2024
- Case For Sleep Trains, Why You Need To Add One To Your Itinarary
Image credit: Belmond
Urban List Best Of has our highest stamp of approval—curated lists of the very best recommendations for you to eat, do, see, buy or book, carefully chosen by our Editors.