When you’re on a plane above the clouds, it’s hard to tell the difference between a Mexican river and a Scottish loch. Travel the old-fashioned way, however and the passing vistas are completely distinct. On these trains, you’ll have a front-row seat to the world’s most beautiful landscapes.
West Highland Line, United Kingdom
After splitting some 64 kilometres north of Glasgow, the West Highland Line offers two amazing trips. During the nearly six-hour northward journey to Mallaig, you’ll skirt the sombre and stark beauty of lochs Eilt, Ailort and Nan and pass the iconic curve of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, immortalised by the “Harry Potter” films. You’ll also pass glens, moors and castles before arriving at the aquamarine coast with Morar’s sandy shores and views of the isles. Alternatively, heading along the west coast to Oban, the highlights of the shorter ride include Glen Lochy, Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, River Awe, Loch Etive and the Falls of Lora.
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
While the train operates five rail routes, the 1885 Canadian Pacific route between Banff and Vancouver, which traverses the stunning Canadian Rockies, is probably the most interesting. On the two-day trip, you’ll get to revel in the breathtaking scenery of glacier-fed lakes, majestic mountains, dramatic canyons and ferocious rivers. You’ll also go down over the Continental Divide to Banff National Park. It’s the only passenger train working on this historic route. The track’s construction is one of the most important in Canadian history as it connected British Columbia to Canada.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, India
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the "Toy Train", runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Opened in 1881, the 78-kilometre line was built to a gauge of 600mm to enable the line to traverse the tightly twisting route through the hills. While travelling from the lower reaches of the Eastern Himalayas to the rolling hills and lush green tea plantations of Darjeeling, the romantic eight-hour trip offers views of Himalayan peaks as high as 2,256 metres, dense jungle, verdant valleys, tea gardens, different forests and ancient temples. You have a number of tourist train services on the railway, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Semmering Railway, Austria
The hour-long Semmering, which departs from Gloggnitz, crosses the Austrian Alps’ Semmering Pass to get you to Mürzzuschlag. Completed in 1854, The Semmering Railway, built over 41 km of high mountains, is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering as it is the first mountain railway in Europe built with a standard gauge track. It is commonly referred to as the world's first true mountain railway. While traversing spectacular mountain and varied landscapes, numerous hotels and mansions, the railway, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, passes over 16 viaducts and through 14 tunnels, all carved by hand into the rock.
El Chepe, Mexico
Connecting the states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa, the 13-hour El Chepe trip links the mountainous arid interior of northern Mexico with the Pacific coast, passing sheer canyon walls, valleys, high desert plains and the imposing landscapes of the Tarahumara Sierra. The 652-kilometre route stops at nine major tourist attractions that allow you to get in touch with the Raramuri culture. Divisadero has breathtaking views of the Copper Canyon, important communities of Tarahumara Indians and interesting regional food and handicrafts. Temoris station, the last stop, is a great spot for views of waterfalls, bridges, tunnels and ravines, with some as deep as 2,012 metres.
The Ghan, Australia
The Ghan, an abbreviation of the railway’s former nickname, the Afghan Express, goes from the bushlands and pasture surrounding Adelaide through the desert scrub and gum groves of the Clare Valley to the rust-coloured Red Centre (home to Uluru rock). It then goes on to the lush tropical zone of the Top End, finishing in Darwin. This two-nighter goes via Alice Springs and Katherine, where you can go on optional tours and experience the dramatic scenery of central Australia on the back of a camel and explore the ancient, awe-inspiring wonders of the Northern Territory. On this 2,979-kilometre ride you see Australia and its ever-changing landscape at its dramatic best.
Hiram Bingham Orient-Express, Peru
This 1920s-style Pullman train winds past misty mountains and the turbulent rapids of Peru’s Urubamba River as it goes from the high plains of Poroy (just outside Cusco) to the famous lost city of Aguas Calientes. The town is 7,500 feet above sea level and has a bus service to Machu Picchu. Named after the explorer who rediscovered the Inca citadel, the train takes you through some spectacular landscapes, including deep gorges, roaring rivers, verdant forests and colourful villages, against rugged mountain backdrops. During the 3.5-hour journey, you can enjoy the three-piece band performing popular classics.