INSPIRATION • November 2019

Eight of the world’s greatest rail journeys

Since the 19th century, trains have mastered the art of sit-back-and-relax travel. Throw in some old-school glamour, five-star views and a dash of wonderment, and you have yourself the trip of a lifetime. To find out which journey is the one for you, we've rallied the travel writers ready to put you on the right track

Belmond Hiram Bingham, Peru
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Belmond Hiram Bingham, Peru

Says who: Jim Dobson, senior contributor at Forbes
Even the most jaded travellers will be impressed as they travel aboard the stunning Belmond Hiram Bingham. It’s modelled after Pullman cars of the 1920s, and the journey is the most decadent way to pass through the Sacred Valley and into the Peruvian Andes en route to Machu Picchu. Enjoy a sumptuous three-course brunch in the luxurious wood-panelled dining car with crystal and silver settings. Gaze upon magnificent views from the observatory car or sip on pisco sours in the elegant bar with live music. When you board in Cusco, you’re met by local performers and endless trays of Champagne. Though the cost of the trip is as dizzying as the journey, it’s well worth it for the experience.
Honourable mention: Belmond Andean Explorer, the first luxury sleeper train in South America, offers an elegant two-night crossing into the Peruvian Andes from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.

Glacier Express, Switzerland
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Glacier Express, Switzerland

Says who: Lucy Aspden, ski editor and journalist
Switzerland’s Glacier Express is a staple entry on the bucket lists of snow-sport fanatics and intrepid travellers alike. The journey between Zermatt, home to the world-famous Matterhorn peak, and St Moritz, birthplace of winter holiday opulence, takes almost 11 hours and the Express, which opened in 1930, still proudly claims to be the world’s slowest express train. Its meandering route, across 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels, shows off Europe at its most picturesque, including the Rhone Glacier and the Landwasser viaduct. For those in search of once-in-a-lifetime luxury, its two Excellence Class carriages have floor-to-ceiling windows and a five-course regional menu.
Honourable mention: Norway’s Flåm Railway route oozes pinch-me scenery and provides access to some of Europe’s best off-piste terrain. It’s one of the steepest standard-gauge railway lines in the world, running from the end of Aurlandsfjord up through the mountains to Myrdal station, where it connects to the Bergen Line – the main route between Bergen and Oslo.

Stimela Star, Zimbabwe
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Stimela Star, Zimbabwe

Says who: Sue Watt, award-winning writer specialising in African travel and conservation
Running overnight from the spectacular Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park, Imvelo’s Stimela Star isn’t fancy, but she’s fun, with bags of charisma and smiling staff. Sip cocktails in the lounge before a hearty three-course dinner in the restaurant: both carriages exude 1950s style, with Formica panels, old photos of wildlife, and the colonial ‘Rhodesian Rail’ insignia emblazoned on original furniture and tableware. After a nightcap, head to your cosy compartment complete with classic pewter fittings, wood panelling and green baize. In the morning, a Land Cruiser takes you on safari en route to luxury lodge Camelthorn.
Honourable mention:
See the scenic Horn of Africa and experience local life by rail on the new state-of-the-art, cross-border train from Ethiopia’s lively capital, Addis Ababa, to Djibouti’s eponymous coastal capital. Get your visa beforehand, pack an open mind and some food for the 12-hour journey, then sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
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Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Says who: Alex Allen, North America enthusiast and staff writer at The Sunday Times Travel Magazine
The Rocky Mountaineer is the gold standard of Canadian trains, a Ritz-on-wheels, complete with panoramic glass-domed carriages and gourmet dining. There are several routes to choose from, but the most iconic is the west-east passage from Vancouver to Banff, with two full days aboard the train. Starting in Vancouver, keep an eye out for black bears as you glide through cloud-kissed pine forest, before hitting the winding river canyons and views of the coast and Cascade Mountains. You’ll overnight in the outdoorsy city of Kamloops, before hopping back on board to take in the sprawling prairies, luminous blue lakes and the dramatic bridges-over-gorges sections of the Rocky Mountains on your way through to the cute mountain town of Banff.
Honourable mention: The White Pass & Yukon Route takes you, on vintage rolling stock, from the frontier town of Skagway on the Alaska coast up into the Gold Rush hills of the Yukon. You’ll take in waterfalls, mountains, glaciers and gorges, as well as spotting the worn-into-the-rock trace of the original Klondike Trail, which brought gold prospectors here in the 1890s.

This article has been tagged Adventure, Travel Tips