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Having spent the last two and half years driving across Australia and New Zealand we’ve come to appreciate just how intimate the experience of overland travel can be.

With the freedom to explore far from the tourist trail and head off the beaten path to more rural locations, a self-drive itinerary is something we always strive for when planning our travels.

However, along with the freedom of a self-drive itinerary comes the responsibility of navigation, long hours behind the wheel and sourcing accommodation en route. So we thought we’d consider trying out a rail based excursion instead.

With our scheduled travels now almost complete, we’ve been contemplating future destinations. Beach retreats in Asia, rural European escapes, we’re not quite sure what we want to experience but we know we want to continue to travel overland where possible.

Having spent a few hours glued to my laptop I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of inspiring rail routes that snake across countries and continents like veins. The diverse mix of landscapes and terrain they encompass is inspiring to say the least.

So, I thought I’d share a few of the greatest rail journeys with you.


greatest rail journeysImage | Kabelleger

Chugging along at just 20mph, the Bernina Express is one of the slowest trains in operation. However, it travels at such a glacial pace in order to safely navigate the 196 bridges, vast chasms and 55 mountain tunnels that make up the route as it wends its way over the Southern Alps.

With staggering views overhead via the glass roofed panorama car that take in the surrounding landscape recently named a Unesco World Heritage Site, this sounds like a journey for the adventurous rail enthusiast.


greatest rail journeysImage | ShareAlike

One of the world’s highest cities, Cuzco is the start of the Incan rail line that shuttles backpackers and hikers 50 miles through the Andes to the cliff-top ruins of Machu ­Picchu.

This route is not for the faint of heart; plummeting from dizzying heights into the lush floor of the Sacred Valley and alongside the Urubamba River this looks like an unforgettable rail excursion.


greatest rail journeysImage | DBZ2313

Despite having already traversed much of Australia, The Ghan stands out as one of the most iconic rail journeys in the world and one we shouldn’t rule out. Especially as our Aussie road trip didn’t allow the time for us to visit Uluru.

A long established service which runs the length of Australia, dissecting the red centre with relative ease; this is a three day trip which covers almost 2000 miles. Initially mapped by Aboriginal people, not in the traditional sense but through the words of a song, this mysterious landscape still holds a wealth of secrets.


greatest rail journeysImage | Petr Jan Juračka

It can’t be disputed that the Trans-Siberian is the most iconic of all rail journeys. Traversing uncomprehendable distances this is a route I certainly wouldn’t like to drive on four wheels.

Covering a whopping 20% of the circumference of the earth it may come as a surprise that the route is actually the culmination of a number of sub sections. Encompassing parts of Russia, Mongolia and Beijing, this route is a marathon adventure and one that needs time to explore the many ports of call along the way.


greatest rail journeysImage | Loco Steve

Taking in one of the most scenic coastlines in the world, the double decker Coast Starlight links the cities of USA’s West Coast in one fluid line.

With the cascades, high Sierra, San Francisco and Big Sur all stopping points along the route, we think spending a few weeks station hopping here sounds like a great idea.

While in my head rail travel is a rather romantic notion, one reserved for those who want to see the world and travel in style, I’m slowly coming round to the idea that with the right itinerary to entertain you at each station, there’s an adventure waiting to be had.

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Have you ever incorporated rail travel into your itinerary? Share your comments with me below.

About The Author

Travel Blogger & Photographer

Freelance writer and blogger Charli has lived in 11 different countries but calls the Caribbean island of Nevis home. A qualified PADI Dive Master, keen runner and culinary enthusiast. She also has a penchant for crunchy almond butter.

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14 Responses

  1. Andrew Griffen

    Hi Ben
    If you ever travel to Vanuatu you may like to write about our villas. Seafront villas Vanuatu on face book and our website happy travels! Andy

  2. Ruby

    I’ve loved rail travel ever since Agatha Christie set a 10-year-old me dreaming about the Orient Express. I once rode the Sunset Ltd from New Orleans to LA, the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle, the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago and the City of New Orleans back to the Big Easy. Truly epic. It was back in the days before blogging but I should probably write it up at some point. The Trans-Siberian is high on my ‘Next’ list…

  3. Taina

    Nice to read this. In the train it is possible to read for example, in the bus I cannot. But – railways are not everywhere, what a pity.

  4. Oliver

    I love train travel since in contrast to air travel it gives me a sense of “arriving” at a new place, having the feeling of being en route. And train travel is also a great way to experience local life and people when visiting a country. I still have some incredible fond memories of rail journeys in Sri Lanka…

  5. Hanif

    Taking Tito’s Blue Train across Montenegro to Belgrade with Nate of @Yomadic and Larissa of @theblondegypsy along with 3 of my fave people ever. Seattle to LA on the list. Cheers

  6. 100trains

    Some amazing rail journeys there 🙂

    Just a wee bit of input regarding the Bernina Express if I may?

    (and this is the same for the Glacier Express train in Switzerland).

    Both of these trains are designed for tourists. They are invariably packed (the ones that I saw were) and those lovely curved panoramic windows don’t open. Which is a bit of a problem if you want to take photographs free of the reflection caused by the sun on the windows. And you WILL want to take photographs. Both trains pass through some truly spectacular scenery. My advice would be to take the “normal” trains operated by RhB (the same people who run the touristy trains). They travel along the same lines (so the scenery is identically spectacular), they are MUCH less busy (the trains I travelled on were about one third full), and, other than the ticket collector, there will be at least one Swiss local on the train 😉

    And, most importantly, the windows open (slide down) for those all-important photographs.

    Oh. And cheaper and more frequent too 🙂

  7. Franca

    We love travelling by train and we tend to instead of taking plains, we think we see more of the countries we cross if we travel by land. We almost took the Trans-Siberian train to get from Moscow to Beijing, at the end we had some visa issues and needed to give up, but one day we’ll plan it properly and do it!

    • Benjamin

      To travel on the Trans Siberian would be such an adventure. I hope you manage to make your travel plans a reality!

  8. Jen

    I absolutely love travelling by train and do so where ever I possibly can when travelling. I think of myself as a bit of a train nerd! I’ve spent months travelling through Europe on trains including the scenic Golden Pass through Switzerland and I have just spent 3 weeks in Japan travelling on their high speed network. Its such a relaxing way to travel and see the scenery of the countries. I’d love to do the TransSiberian rail one day and more of the scenic trains in Switzerland.

    • Benjamin

      How fantastic! We’ve never considered rail travel before, but the more I research it the more I find myself inspired by the opportunity to explore off the beaten path via the rail network!