Top five Great train journeys, Taking the train on a long-distance trip is one way of seeing a country, or sometimes more than one, while avoiding all the agony of airport angst. Railway stations don’t usually have the same level of queuing stress, and have the bonus of being (usually) centrally located, rather than out of town. We have selected our top five cool train trips around the world which give you a chance to see the sights from the comfort of a ground-level seat, and do more than merely get you from place to place.
Seattle to Los Angeles
Americans love their cars, and therefore find it mildly amusing that visitors might like to take a train. Yes, this is not the fastest way to get to Los Angeles from Seattle (35 hours), but on board the impressive Coast Starlight Amtrak train you will see stunning scenery, especially along the coast, and get a great flavour of Americana thrown in. Book a sleeping car if you can, for the extra comfort and increased chance of getting a good night’s sleep, but the regular coach seats are large and comfortable. You might find yourself part of a singalong, doing a cheese tasting, or playing a game of cards in the café car. Currently National Park Service guides climb on board and talk about the wildlife and landscape for parts of the journey.
Rome to Venice
Sit back and smell the coffee on Italy’s extensive train network. You can avoid the madness of Italian nose-to-nose driving, as well as see the most beautiful of countryside views in a restful atmosphere. Frecciargento fast trains have air conditioning, at-seat power points, a coffee bar and can take as little as three hours 20 minutes for this magnificent trip. There’s more than 24 trains per day on this route, and each will give you the chance to drink in painting-perfect landscapes as you skim by. When booking, watch out for the various trains. Some are much faster than others and require seat reservations; InterCity trains are much cheaper, but slower. On-board food can be surprisingly disappointing, so our advice is to stock up on a picnic at the station. Remember to get your ticket stamped at the yellow station machines before you board.
Colombo to Kandy
Certainly no luxury trip, but train passengers do have great views during this journey into the hills of Sri Lanka. Taking the train gives you the chance to have a hands-on experience of Sri Lankan life that you won’t get from a car. Sri Lankan bonhomie means plenty of chances to chat to other passengers, and take in views of Sri Lanka’s stunning countryside as you bounce by. Take a picnic along and you will have the best of all worlds. Expect bumps and no air conditioning, even in first class. But this low-cost journey will leave you with great memories, the windows will be open, and you will see Sri Lankan life set out before you as you roll by, heading up to the hill country. The train trip takes about the same amount of time as driving the same routes, but is so much more fun. Book a first-class ticket; these are very low cost.
Edinburgh to Kyle of Lochalsh
Possibly the most beautiful train trip in the UK, despite competition from Scottish neighbour the West Highlands Line. Lap up the classic Scottish landscapes, including looking out over the Firth of Forth (remember that classic scene in The 39 Steps film goers?), and then take a tilt up towards those Highland hills on the way to Inverness via Pitlochry and Aviemore. Skirt the Moray Firth at Inverness where abundant sealife including seals and dolphins can be glimpsed, before chugging along the cute little line towards Kyle of Lochalsh. Don’t miss the sweet stations, which look like they are straight out of an old film. Finally get off at the water’s edge and contemplate the Isle of Skye, just across the water. Bargain hunters alert: some cheap Scottish-only rail passes exist.
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
A classic. Let the train take the strain (and it has to on some steep inclines) on this 35-hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) through luscious green fields and hills. Sit back and relax. Watch life pass by outside the windows as the train, nicknamed “the reunification express”, eases through the countryside at a leisurely pace. Food on board has a good reputation too. The section of the line between Hué and Danang has the best views of the coastline. Vietnam’s trains are air conditioned and have a good safety reputation, and tickets are cheaper than internal flights too.