Epic rail journeys

Hop on board for a holiday with a difference

Epic rail journeys Venice Simplon Orient Express - © www.orient-express.com
By Time Out editors

The railway is not as vital to travel as it was 100 years ago, but in some countries there are lines that are as magnificent for their sheer scale and engineering prowess as they are for the views they offer through the window. Here are a selection of some of the best railway trips.

Passengers choose trains because they allow them to indulge – at least away from the likes of the TGV and AVE high-speed networks – in a slower, more social and very human mode of transport. When planning an epic railway holiday, you can either try to go it alone, using local services (which may involve some inconveniences and discomfort, and, in places such as India, marathon queuing sessions) or book a charter through a railway specialist such as Great Rail Journeys (www.greatrail.com), Rail Europe (www.raileurope.co.uk) or Ffestiniog Travel (www.festtravel.co.uk).

Across Canada in winter

Route Vancouver-Jasper-Winnipeg-Toronto-Niagara Falls-Quebec-Halifax.
Time needed 17-18 days.

Take in three of Canada’s biggest cities, the Rockies, the central plains, Jasper National Park, Niagara Falls, French Canada and Nova Scotia, including Halifax – the first British town in Canada, founded in 1749 – on the country’s superb trains. Some have see-through roofs so you can ogle the mountains and big skies. Contact Canadian Train Vacations (www.canadiantrainvacations.com) or Rocky Mountaineer (www.rockymountaineer.com) for further details.

Arctic semi-circle

Route Stockholm-Ostersund-Arctic Circle-Narvik-Trondheim-Geiranger-Bergen-Oslo.
Time needed 14-15 days.

Spend a day in the Gamla Stan (old town) of Stockholm before riding through forests and lakes to Ostersund. Enter the wilderness of Lapland and then the Arctic Circle, travelling round fjords and beneath looming cliffs to the port of Narvik. See the fjord of Geiranger, set against snowy peaks and waterfalls, then ride to fairytale Bergen, finally winding up in the elegant Norwegian capital.

India’s grand railways

Route Mumbai-Ellora Caves-Udaipur-Ranthambore-Jaipur-Delhi.
Time needed 10 days.

Get your fix of history – 1,000 years of Buddhist and Hindu heritage – and see the Indian tiger’s last home in the wild, on this trip from Mumbai to Delhi. Highlights include ancient monasteries and the artworks of the Ellora and Ajanta caves, the Amber Fort of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal. Travel in luxury aboard the Deccan Odyssey, which has ensuite loos and a spa.

Japan’s bullet trains

Route Tokyo-Hiroshima-Miyajima-Kyoto-Nagoya-Mishima-Hakone-Tokyo.
Time needed 14 days.

High-speed luxury meets slow-changing culture. See Tokyo’s ancient temples and markets, Hiroshima’s memorials, the shrines of Miyajima Island and take time out at old Kyoto – Japan’s capital for over a millennium. From Nagoya, take in the ‘Japanese Alps’ and untouched villages and springs of Hakone at the foot of Mount Fuji. End as you began, in Tokyo.

London to Marrakech

Route London-Paris-Madrid-Algeciras-Ceuta-Chefchaouen-Marrakech.
Time needed 10-14 days.

There are several good services between Paris and Madrid (including the luxury Trenhotel). After these great city breaks, head to Andalucia for jamón, flamenco, sunshine and bullfights; from Algeciras you can make side-trips to the Costa de la Luz and sherry region. Cross into Africa via Ceuta (or travel from Tarifa to Tangier). Discover the meandering medina of Chefchaouen before continuing to beautiful, chaotic Marrakech.

South Africa overland

Route Johannesburg-Pretoria-Mkhaya Reserve-Durban-Bloemfontein-Ripon-Oudtshoorn-Cape Town.
Time needed 14-16 days.

Ride from north to south on the luxurious Rovos Rail line through grasslands to haunting plains. Chase lions, elephants and antelope at the largest park in Swaziland, and discover the hideouts of some of the world’s endangered species. In Cape Town, tour the country’s finest wine-producing regions and drink as much as you like on this car-free odyssey.

Sydney to Alice Springs

Route Sydney-Melbourne-Adelaide-Alice Springs-Uluru (Ayers Rock).
Time needed 14-17 days.

Start with Sydney’s Opera House, nightlife and beach buzz, before travelling on to Melbourne for nature reserves and scenic beauty outside the city. From Adelaide, take the famous Ghan railway through Australia’s vast red centre to Alice Springs. End at the sacred Aboriginal sandstone rock site of Uluru.

The Orient Express

Route London-Paris-Munich-Vienna-Budapest-Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul.
Time needed 8 days.

You may have heard of a very posh train, properly called the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – that runs between Venice and Paris and is as fancy as it is expensive. Sadly, the original Paris-Istanbul/Damascus Orient Express no longer runs, so we suggest the above itinerary with stops in Munich for beer, Vienna for coffee and Sofia because none of your friends have been. Contact Orient-Express for more information (www.orient-express.com).

Trans-Siberian Express

Route London-Brussels-Cologne-Warsaw-Moscow-Vladimir-Yekaterinburg-Novosibirsk-Irkutsk-Vladivostok.
Time needed 16-18 days.

The Big Red Railway runs to Moscow time, but crosses seven time zones extending over 9,000 kilometres. Whether for natural beauty, a cultural odyssey or the longest vodka party of your life, all train buffs should experience the epic ride once in their lifetime. Contact Russia Experience for details (0845 521 2910, www.trans-siberian.co.uk).

An alternative route for this trip is to head south after Irkutsk on the Trans-Mongolian railroad to see Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar and Beijing, China.

USA Coast to Coast

Route New York-Washington-Chicago-Denver-Grand Junction-Durango-Flagstaff-Grand Canyon-Los Angeles-San Francisco.
Time needed 20-25 days.

In the early months of his presidency, President Obama told Americans how a new high-speed railway network would change travel in America; this marked a radical move away from the dominance of cars and planes. Ride from east to west like the cowboys who fought for the frontier on an odyssey through five of the nation’s most important cities, taking in the prairies of the Mid-West, the Rockies, Arizona, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon.

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