Many associate train travel with discomfort, heat and the weekly commute. However, when it comes to seeing the world by train, there is an old-fashioned appeal that cannot be matched by flying or driving. More often than not, you get to clap your eyes on some of the most hidden locations in the world from the comfort of your carriage.
Kenya: Jambo Kenya Deluxe
The Nairobi to Mombasa line is one of earth’s greatest train journeys and the train many opt for is the Jambo Kenya Deluxe. A first-class ticket costs just £30 and will secure you a two-bunk cabin with sink, a three-course dinner and a hot breakfast. Granted, the interior is a throwback to the 1950s but it only adds to the experience.
From coastal Mombasa, the Jambo Kenya Deluxe chugs its way inland to Nairobi through beautiful Kenyan wilderness. Many keep their eyes firmly on the windows at breakfast to spot giraffes, ostriches and other African wildlife meandering on the plains
Syria and Jordan: Hedjaz Jordan Railway
Work started on the Hedjaz Jordan Railway in 1900. The Ottoman people wanted to connected Damascus (Syria) with the ancient holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslims in Syria wanted easy access to Prophet’s Mosque, a major Islamic pilgrimage site. The work was completed in 1908 but the railway was subject to attacks in World War I to prevent the transportation of supplies to the Turks.
Travellers today can travel on the Ottoman route between Damascus and Amman in Jordan. Tickets can be purchased on the day of travel and soon you will be clattering through tunnels in mountains and past quaint towns nestled in the parched copper countryside.
Canada: The Rocky Mountaineer
Each year 100,000 guests board The Rocky Mountaineer. It is a world-class travel experience that can be experienced on one of four iconic routes:
- Coastal Passage – Seattle > Vancouver > Canadian Rockies
- Rainforest to Goldrush – Vancouver > Whistler > Quesnel > Jasper
- Journey Through the Clouds – Vancouver > Kamloops > Jasper
- First Passage to the West – Vancouver > Kamloops > Lake Louise > Banff
Whatever route you opt for, be prepared to feast your eyes on the Canadian Rockies. Opt for the Gold Leaf Service as their carriages have incredible panoramic windows, allowing you to take in the snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes and forests of alpine firs.
Switzerland: The Glacier Express
Connecting the two major mountain resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps is the Glacier Express. It is known as ‘the slowest express train in the world’ as the journey actually takes 8 hours. However, it is worth it for the views as the train crawls through narrow valleys and 91 tunnels, as well as crossing 291 bridges.
Both 1st and 2nd class coaches boast panoramic windows all the way to the roof of the carriage. The Oberalp Pass is a beautiful portion of the journey and reaches 7,000 feet. Switzerland’s alpine landscape is completely untouched and when the sun shines the mountains, valleys, flower meadows and trickling streams come to life.
Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand: Eastern & Oriental Express
The E&O is a five-star luxury train operated by the same people who run the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Don’t worry, we cover this later. As well as occasional rail cruises between 3 and 6 nights, the most popular journeys are those between Singapore and Bangkok.
If departing on the northbound service, you will begin at Singapore Woodlands station. The service will then roll out on the famous causeway which was built in 1923 to connect Singapore island with mainland Malaya. Having passed through southern Malaysia, the train takes a break at Kuala Lumpur’s colonial station built in the early 1900s.
Through Malaysian jungle the E&O chugs into Butterworth, where passengers alight for the morning and hop on the ferry to explore Penang island. Malaysia is then left behind as the E&O crosses into Thailand at Padang Bear and this is when you must make the most of the observation car; the scenery heading to Bangkok is other worldly.
Before journeys end at Bangkok Hualamphong station, the train passes trundles across the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai.
Europe: Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
As promised, we welcome you aboard what Vanity Fair described as ‘the train against which all other luxury trains are measured’. The privately-run train is comprised of beautifully restored 1920s, 30s and 50s coaches which sweep from London to Venice via Paris, Innsbruck and Verona. A historic British Pullman train takes guests from London to Folkestone, before swapping onto a Continental train of 1920s sleepers from Calais to Venice.
£2,210 per person one way may seem extortionate for a 24-hour journey. But, many who board say the experience exceeds their expectations. The vintage coaches, gourmet food, unparalleled service and incredible alpine views are worth every penny.
Russia: Trans-Siberian Railway
The longest, most famous train journey of all travels 10,555 kilometres across Russia from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. It should be on everyone’s bucket lists as the routes are endless; options to travel to Beijing via Mongolia or Manchuria are two of the most popular.
The route via Mongolia is argued to be the most captivating Trans-Siberian route, crossing the 7,621 kilometres in 6 nights. The train cuts through the Siberian landscape like a bullet, before travelling through Mongolia and the Gobi Desert before arriving in China.