Best Train Journeys in the World
Have you ever wondered what are the best train journeys in the world? Have you ever thought of taking a train instead of a plane?
When you hear the word ‘travelling’, first what comes to your mind most probably are planes and airports. Fast as it can be, a plane journey may be excruciatingly tiring. Jet lag, cramped cabins, weird food and hours at the airport. But there’s another, more convenient way of travel —trains. Travelling by train means more space, no jet lag and beautiful scenery outside the window.
And these are just a few reasons why train travel is so worth it.
Do you need inspiration for your next train trip? Check out this list.
The best train journeys in the world
The North-South Railway / The Reunification Express, Vietnam
Start – Hanoi; End – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Winding along the South China Sea, the North-South Railway is one of the best train journeys in the world and one of the best things to do in Vietnam.
With a total length of 1726 km, The North-South Railway connects Vietnam’s capital Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. It goes through rice fields, lush jungle-clad mountains, beach towns, small fishing villages, and crowded neighbourhoods of densely populated cities.
The North-South Railway is often referred to as the Reunification Express, to commemorate the Reunification of Vietnam — an event when North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) on April 30, 1975.
The highlights of this train journey:
- The backstreets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter where the train goes through on low speed
- Van Long Nature Reserve — a scenic nature preserve known for caves, limestone pinnacles and boat excursions
- Lush green rice paddies between Hue and Hoi An
- Beaches of Da Nang
- UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An
- Hue — a city in central Vietnam known for its UNESCO-listed Imperial City
- Ho Chi Minh City — the largest city in Vietnam
This train journey takes 31-36 hours, but you can split it into two or more parts and explore the places along the route. There are 4 ticket classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper.
The Maharajas’ Express, India
Several routes of varying lengths
The Maharajas’ Express is a luxury tourist train offering multiple itineraries of varying lengths. It is dubbed India’s equivalent to the Orient Express of Europe.
The Maharajas’ Express was voted “The World’s Leading Luxury Train” for 6 consecutive years at The World Travel Awards in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, and deservedly so. There’s no doubt it is one of the best train journeys in the world.
The luxury train comprises accommodation, dining, bar, lounge, and store cars. There are 4 cabin classes to choose from: Deluxe Cabins, Junior Suites, Suites and a Presidential Suite.
The Maharajas’ Express train has amenities such as Wi-Fi, an attached bathroom, electricity, hot water, a lounge, dining cars, a bar, a souvenir shop, porters, guides and butlers. Larger cabins have baths and spacious sitting rooms.
Last but not least — there is a range of guided off-train excursions which are included in your Maharaja Express ticket price.
The Ghan, Australia
Start — Adelaide; End — Darwin
The Ghan is an Australian passenger train that travels across the vast Australian outback between the cities of Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin.
It has been described as one of the world’s great passenger trains.
The distance of the journey is 2979 kilometres, and the train’s scheduled travelling time, including stops for passengers to do off-train tours, is 53 hours 15 minutes.
The highlights of the Ghan:
- Australia’s famous Outback
- Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge
- Crossing the Elizabeth River
- Crossing the Ferguson River
The Ghan offers two ticket classes: Gold Service sleeper and Platinum Service sleeper.
TranzAlpine, New Zealand
Start — Christchurch; End — Greymouth
TranzAlpine is a scenic New Zealand railway journey and one of the world’s best train journeys.
The train travels from coast to coast, between Christchurch, Arthurs Pass and Greymouth, on New Zealand’s South Island.
The journey takes about 5 hours and covers 223 kilometres. The TranzAlpine offers two seating options: Scenic and Scenic Plus Class. Both classes feature panoramic windows, an open-air viewing carriage and a Scenic Cafe. Scenic Plus offers At-Seat service, dining options and inclusive drinks.
The train goes through Arthur’s Pass National Park and offers spectacular views of the mountains and untamed natural wilderness.
By the way, Arthur’s Pass National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in New Zealand. That’s why we suggest you make a stop there and spend at least a day exploring the national park.
The park offers multiple walking trails such as Devil’s Punchbowl Lookout Trail, Mount Aiken Track, Arthur’s Pass Walking Track, Avalanche Peak Track and Scott’s Track Loop.
Once you’ve reached Greymouth, the largest town in the West Coast region in the South Island, spend some time exploring the wilderness of the West Coast. This remote area is known for its rugged, stunning coastline, mountains and glaciers.
The Trans-Mongolian, Russia — Mongolia — China
Start — Moscow; End — Beijing
Connecting Moscow and Beijing via Ulaanbaatar, the Trans-Mongolian is one of the longest train journeys in the world.
At the beginning of the journey, The Trans-Mongolian line follows the Trans-Siberian route between Moscow and Ulan Ude. Then following an ancient tea-caravan route the railway connects Ulan-Ude, on the Trans–Siberian railway, with Jining, in China, by way of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
The Trans-Mongolian is a good alternative for the Trans-Siberian, an impressive train journey that spans 8 different time zones and goes through diverse landscapes.
The Trans-Mongolian offers even more diverse landscapes and traverses 3 countries: Russia, Mongolia and China. It’s a great chance to explore three different cultures in a single journey.
The train journey itself takes almost six days, but you can split your trip into two or more parts and explore the places along the route.
The California Zephyr, the USA
Start — Chicago; End — San Francisco
The California Zephyr is Amtrak’s longest daily route and one of the longest train journeys in the world.
Running between Chicago and San Francisco, The California Zephyr is 3924 km long and takes 51 hours to complete.
Boasting views of the upper Colorado River valley, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada, it is one of the most scenic train rides in the States and one of the best train journeys in the world.
But wait, there’s more to it! Crossing the Mississippi River, the desolate landscapes of Utah, the Nevada desert and the Bay Area in northern California are among top experiences in the U.S (link to US article).
If you start your journey already in New York, with The Lake Shore Limited, and continue on the California Zephyr, you will cross the country from coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Start — London; End — Venice. Other routes available
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is a luxury train service from London to Venice.
The classical route is London – Paris – Milan – Venice, but there are several other routes to choose from.
Taking an Orient Express train is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It takes exploring the most beautiful cities of Europe to the next level — from a 1920’s luxury train window.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train offers several types of luxury cabins: Single Cabin, Twin Cabin, Cabin Suite and Grand Suite.
This luxury train comprises accommodation carriages and several dining cars. The carriages are beautifully restored but date back to the 1920s and 1930s.
Even though this is a luxury train, there are no cabins with en-suite bathrooms (exception — the Grand Suites). In each cabin, you’ll find a vanity unit with a sink. The toilets at the end of each carriage, and there are no baths and showers on the train. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express allows you to experience the train travel of the 1920s.
Train travel tips
- Book tickets in advance to get discounts and cheaper rates.
- Book train tickets online. Benefits of booking train tickets online: no more wasting time in queues; cheaper fares; possibility to choose your seat, comparing train fares and viewing the schedule.
- Pack snacks and water. Not all trains have pantry cars.
- Bring wet wipes, tissues and/or toilet paper. Do not forget about hand sanitiser!
- If you are travelling during the night, or if your train journey is really long, get a sleeper.
- Dress comfortably. Bring a blanket or hoodie as it may be cool on a train because of the air-con.
- Fully charge your electronics before boarding the train, because you might not find an outlet on a train. Some trains offer outlets, but it’s not a general rule. If you have a power bank, fully charge it and pack it with you. So you can use it later to charge your electronics.
- Arrive early — some 30-45 minutes before departure. Arriving early is necessary to get familiar with the train station and find your platform without stressing yourself out due to lack of time.
- Pay attention to which car you get on. Your seat and car is stated on the ticket.