12 Great Rail Journeys That Prove It’s The Journey That Matters

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For those of us with itchy feet, the idea of a great rail journey may not seem too enticing. You want to get out on the streets, pounding the cobblestones along narrow village paths, or kicking up the dust on a sun-bleached mountain trail. You want to be in and out of shops and bars, chatting with the locals, finding unique vantage points for once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities.

But the great rail journey has so much to offer in place of these attractions. If you fancy a trip that requires a little less exertion than usual, but you’re not quite ready for a beach holiday, taking the train can be just as stimulating as a city break or rural expedition.

Scotland’s Jacobite route, for example, will give you angles on the Highlands that you might never have previously imagined. Riding high through Harry Potter country, it takes just a couple of hours to absorb the melancholy splendor of those rainy lands. When you arrive in the port town of Mallaig, you’ll have time to take in some sea air and the town’s famous smoked kippers before seeing it all the other way around on your way back to Fort William.

At the other end of the scale, the Trans-Siberian Railway offers a 5,623 mile, six-day trawl from Moscow to Beijing via Manchuria. Through city and desert, from Europe to Asia, your life will be on hold for a week as you build a rapport with your fellow travelers on this historic route.


With its vast expanses and startling diversity, Asia feels like the natural home of the rail trip. Perhaps none is more stunning than the Qinghai-Tibet line – nicknamed “the rocket to the roof of the world” for the sky-scraping heights to which it will take you. At 16,640 feet the Tanggula Pass is the highest railway point in the world – no wonder the service includes an optional oxygen supply!


Not too far to its west, the Kalka Shimla Railway has roots in the British Raj: such is the climate in this part of the world, the government would relocate to Shimla each summer in the late 19th century. The area became busy enough to require a rail service, and if it was a convenience then, it makes for a memorable holiday today: from the temples and gardens of Kalka, you’ll pass 102 tunnels and 864 bridges on your way to the bustling capital of Himachal Pradesh.


A fine American alternative to the Kalka-Shimla can be found in Peru, where the Cusco-Machu Picchu line runs through the similarly evocative country, through villages and astonishing scenery to your destination in the heart of the former Incan empire. If you’re traveling light, look for the opportunity to “Pack With A Purpose” – to use spare luggage space to transport supplies for local schools or medical clinics.


It’s a whole different kind of history on The Indian Pacific, so named for its coast-to-coast route from Perth on the Indian Ocean to Sydney on Australia’s east coast. Goldmines and ghost towns tell the tale of Australia’s own wild west. 


A somewhat dreamier tale is told on Argentina’s “Train to the Clouds”: the fifth highest railway in the world spirals through its own plumes as it zigzags towards the Andes in seeming slow-motion. 

The Eastern and Oriental Express is another alternative for the perennial dreamer. The two-day luxury Singapore-Bangkok line will introduce you to two deeply contrasting Asian cities: you’ll be treated like an emperor as you glide through gently unfolding rural landscapes, past temples, tea plantations, colonial cities, ancient villages, and historic monuments.


A more singularly iconic view can be discovered at the tail of Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen line, in the form of famous Mount Fuji. The bullet train is a must-do if you’re holidaying the land of the rising sun: this route combines gritty commuter reality with spiritual simplicity. Train travel is an ideal way to get around Japan and a Japan Rail Pass can make it reasonably affordable. 


Photographers will love The Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff: Canada’s underrated natural beauty, from mountains and lakes to grizzly bears, is on view in large format thanks to the glass-domed roofs of its premier class GoldLeaf Service. A more urban view of the continent can be discovered further south, where the New York-New Orleans ‘Crescent’ passes through an astonishing thirteen states on your day-and-a-half tour of the US.

And finally, train buff or not, no serious traveler can say they’ve done it all if they’ve not ridden the Orient Express. A cornerstone of European travel, the vintage experience combines luxury with scenic views of the UK, France, Switzerland, and balmy Italy. It’d take a while longer to do it on foot!

So next time you’re thinking about a big getaway packed with thrills, views, new friends, and unique dining experiences, think about getting the train. This new infographic from Pettitt’s gathers these twelve dream journeys into one memorable resource: run your eyes over that photography, and then get packing!

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John Cole

by John Cole

John is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specializing in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

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