The view from the window of a train allows you to see the world differently from most other travel. Train travel is both more scenic than a plane and more comfortable than a coach. The journey on a holiday by train truly becomes part of the overall experience, rather than simply a means of travelling from place to place. There are of course several rail journeys that might claim to be the “best”-here are the top five recommended by Railbookers rail experts.
1. Venice Simplon-Orient Express
There are rail journeys, and then there are experiences. Travel on the famous Venice Simplon-Orient Express is so romantic and luxurious, that calling it a mere “journey” seems a disservice.
Comprised of two heritage trains, the British Pullman from London to Folkestone and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express between Calais and Venice, it is impossible not to be temporarily transported from the mundane realities of life to the roaring 1920s and the Golden Age of rail travel. This is a journey made of memories that will be treasured for a lifetime – whether it be the sumptuous art-deco sophistication, the on-board service provided by the attentive and immaculately uniformed staff or the gourmet table d’hôte meals served in one of three stunning, vintage restaurant carriages. And that’s without mentioning the scenery – southbound the train runs via the spectacular alpine scenery of the Gotthard pass into Italy, whilst the northbound direction offers the equally stunning landscapes of the Brenner and Arlberg passes. Whichever the direction, a journey of a lifetime is guaranteed.
2. The Glacier Express
The Glacier Express is justifiably one of the most famous train journeys in Europe, and indeed the world. The word “Express” is something of a misnomer, as the journey travels at an average of 24 mph and takes seven and a half hours to cover the full 180-mile (290km) route.
If you travel from West to East, the journey begins in Zermatt nestling at the foot of the Matterhorn. Travel past numerous rivers, valleys, mountains and gorges as well as traveling over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels before crossing over the famous Landwasser viaduct and finally arriving 1775 meters above sea level at the ski resort of St Moritz in the heart of the Graubünden region. Here, the emphasis is very much on sitting back and enjoying some of the most breathtaking scenery that Switzerland has to offer. The train carriages have large panoramic windows that ensure none of the scenery is missed, and the train staff offers an in-seat service of lunch, drinks and snacks throughout. Beyond that, the launch of the new Excellence Class in 2019 offers the opportunity to enjoy this spectacular journey in maximum comfort, with services ranging from a dedicated concierge to a five-course menu with accompanying wines. With a maximum of 20 passengers per departure, these truly are the most sought-after seats in Switzerland!
3. Bernina Express
From Tom and Jerry to Lennon and McCartney, some things work best as a duo. Scenic Swiss rail journeys are no exception to this rule, and the Glacier Express is perfectly complemented by its equally stunning counterpart, the Bernina Express. An equally unforgettable trip, the whole route is UNESCO World Heritage-listed; a nod to both the stunning alpine scenery and the sheer miracle of engineering that can be experienced.
The journey begins in either Chur or St Moritz in Eastern Switzerland, before heading over 196 bridges, through 55 tunnels and around a 360-degree spiral en route to the small town of Tirano on the Italian border. The 90-mile (144 km) journey takes 4 hours and, at its highest point of Ospizio Bernina, reaches an incredible 7,391 feet (2,253 m) above sea level before beginning its stunning descent. With enormous panoramic windows enabling a perfect view of the beautiful landscape, it’s easy to see why the Bernina Express is a bucket-list experience for so many travellers.
Further North in Scandinavia, the scenic Flåm railway in the heart of Norway offers mouth-dropping views to wow even the most seasoned traveler. Running from the village of Myrdal, nearly 900 metres above sea level, to the small village of Flåm nestling on t shores of the Aurlandsfjord far below, the amazing scenery ranges from snow-capped mountain peaks to the stunning Kjosfossen waterfall, where the train pauses for photos in Summer. No trip to Norway is complete without taking in the natural beauty of the Flåmsbana, treating travelers to views only accessible by train.
5. California Zephyr
Travelling from coast to coast across America is a truly spectacular experience. There are several options by train, all of which have something different to offer.
With that being said, the most spectacular of these is undoubtedly travelling on the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago, and then departing the “Windy City” via the California Zephyr to San Francisco. The first section of this trip travels along the Hudson River. This route offers the opportunity to break the journey in Chicago before heading to California on a two-night trip of a lifetime, starting across the Mississippi from Illinois to Iowa. The views and landscapes are constantly changing, from the beauty of the Rockies and the Colorado canyons to the Nevada desert and the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, before running along the famous Bay Area. It’s well worth breaking the journey again, perhaps in the “Mile-High City” of Denver, which is perfectly complemented by a trip to experience the scenery and wildlife of the famous Rocky Mountain National Park.
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