Whether you prefer to fly everywhere, take a cruise or are a supporter of overland travel, its hard to argue that some of the most scenic journeys in the world can only be experienced on a train ride. Step back in time and explore America's colonial past on a historic steam locomotive, traverse the Swiss or Ecuadorian Alps, experience sunrise on Taiwan's most famous mountain, or step off at the world's highest railway station in Asia. No matter what your interests are, there is a special travel magic that can only be experienced through an impressive train journey.
To get you started planning your perfect overland travel experience, here's a look at eight of the great train trips around the world.
Undoubtedly, the two best ways to explore Alaska are by cruise and rail. Choose from the Alaska Railroad or the White Pass & Yukon Route. The White Pass & Yukon Route connects Skagway with Fraser, British Columbia, while the Alaska Railroad goes from Seward to Fairbanks, stopping in Anchorage, Wasilla, Talkeetna and Denali National Park. Alaska's inland landscapes are primarily only visible from a train tour, as vehicles cannot reach the rugged terrain these tracks traverse.
If your travel plans include Taiwan, do not miss Alishan Mountain, the most visited National Park in Taiwan. One of the best ways to see Alishan is via the Alishan Mountain Railway from Chiayi. Opened in 1912, the narrow-gauge train was built for logging the cedar trees in the area. After the logging industry ended, the mountain region was ultimately declared a national scenic area. Unfortunately, a series of landslides after Taiwan's devastating Typhoon Morakot in 2009 have kept a portion of the railway closed. They continue to work on rebuilding, and over half the main line between (Chiayi to Fenchihu) have now reopened. Peak times to watch for include sunrise and Taiwan's Cherry Blossom season.
Cumbres & Toltec
Located in the southern corner of the Rocky Mountains, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is considered one of the best examples of a steam-era mountain railroad in North America. Built in 1880, these steam locomotives once hauled precious metals over Cumbres Pass. Today, travelers can experience this same historic journey passing by well-preserved period buildings and railroad equipment from the end of the 19th century.
With its beautiful Central Valley, called The Avenue of the Volcanoes, don't miss traveling at least a portion of the country via rail. Aside from the spectacular Avenue of the Volcanoes segment, check out routes like Path of the Ancestors, Devils Nose Route, Ice Train Route and Train of Sweetness Route.
Path of the Ancestors takes you to Riobamba, the first Spanish city founded in the Ecuadorian Andes. The Ice Train Route takes visitors to the glaciers of Mt. Chimborazo to learn about the once sacred ritual of extracting ice from the mountains glaciers. Train of Sweetness Tours will explore the route of the banana, cocoa bean, sugar cane, and other plantations that gave this route its name. Devil's Nose is the most popular, and is considered the most impressive section of the Ecuadorian Railway as travelers take an adrenaline fueled ride down the rocky slopes of the Andres from Alausi to Simbambe.
Not only is the Qinghai-Tibet train a scenic journey, its one of the most impressive examples of railroad architecture. Qinghai-Tibet Railway is one of the worlds highest railways, reaching over 5,000 meters at its highest point. It holds a number of other impressive records, including the highest railway station in the world (Tanggula Railway Station at 5,068 meters), and the world's most elevated tunnel on frozen earth (Fenghuoshan Tunnel at 4,905 meters).
Italian and Swiss Alps Bernina Express
The Swiss Alps are impressive on their own, but travelers can experience the beauty of these massive peaks close up on the Bernina Express. While the purpose is primarily to cross the steep Alps, thereby connecting Switzerland with northern Italy, it just happens to be one of the prettiest train routes you will ever see. The picturesque route even received recognition from UNESCO and was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 2008. The Bernina Express route includes 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, passing notable sights like Landwasser viaduct, Schyn Gorge, Morteratsch Glacier and Brusio spiral viaduct.
Operated by Great Southern Rail, The Ghan is scenic 54-hour train ride that connects the north and south of Australia, passing through Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin. It gets its name from the Afghan cameleers who once traveled this very route. Passengers get to experience the full diversity of the Australian landscape while exploring sights you'd otherwise miss by flying between destinations.
Bonus: You can also choose to cross Australia the other direction by taking the Indian-Pacific train from Perth to Sydney, or vice versa.
Crossing nearly a third of the globe between Russia and China, a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway is more than just a scenic train ride, it's an all out adventure exploring some of the most beautiful areas of Russia and Mongolia. Travelers can choose to do non-stops, plan multiple days in various locations, only book of the route or take several weeks or more to experience each of the popular stopovers.
Which of these legendary train trips do you want to take first?