Ride with it: 13 spectacular rail journeys around the world

Admire Canada's serene lakes from on board the classic Rocky Mountaineer, or spot wildlife along Zimbabwe's alternative safari tracks – take your pick from these wild and wonderful train experiences...

4 mins

There’s a certain romance to rail travel. Trains cut through landscapes you may otherwise be unable to reach, often at speeds slow enough to soak everything in. Some tour operators base whole itineraries around the world’s finest rides, some use spectacular sections to link historic, exotic, remote and exciting spots. Here are nine rich and varied railway adventures for starters…

1: Steam through Snowdonia, Wales

Ride a steam train through Wales (Rail Discoveries)

Ride a steam train through Wales (Rail Discoveries)

Take to the tracks of northern Wales on Rail Discoveries’ Railways of Wales 2019 tour. Hop on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Mountain Railway through rugged Snowdonia National Park, skirt the park’s foothills on the Welsh Highland Railway and steam alongside the River Dee aboard the Llangollen Railway. Also visit eccentric Portmeirion, travel by horse-drawn barge and stay in the lovely Victorian town of Llandudno.

Who: Rail Discoveries (01904 734939)

When: Selected dates March-October 2019

How long: 6 days

How much: From £495 (excl flights)

2: Slice through the Andes in Ecuador

Encounter locals in Ecuador (Journey Latin America)

Encounter locals in Ecuador (Journey Latin America)

Ride some recently reopened and scenically dramatic rails on Journey Latin America’s Picaflor: Ecuador on Track trip. Chug from the highs of the Andes to the Pacific coast at Guayaquil, via tropical lowlands, Otavalo’s colourful market, the Avenue of the Volcanoes and the switchbacks of the Devil’s Nose (above), where the train is powered by steam.

Who: Journey Latin America (020 3811 6079)

When: 4 October 2018, 13 June and 3 October 2019

How long: 10 days

How much: From £3,995 (incl flights)

3: View cherry blossoms by train in Japan

Osaka castle and cherry blossom trees (Ffestiniog Travel)

Osaka castle and cherry blossom trees (Ffestiniog Travel)

See a bit of everything Japan has to offer via a range of railways on Ffestiniog Travel’s Japan – Trains, Trams & Cherry Blossom trip. Ride along the black-sand Shonan Coast, take the steam hauled Tobu Railway to Kinugawa Onsen, see blooming trees from the historic Chichibu Railway, hop on trams in Tokyo, Fukui and Osaka, visit the Kaya railway museum and end in the tropical Okinawa archipelago.

Who: Ffestiniog Travel (01766 512400)

When: 19 March 2019

How long: 19 days

How much: From £4,995 (incl flights)

4: Hop aboard the Shongololo Express through Namibia and South Africa

Spot wildlife in Namibia (Shutterstock)

Spot wildlife in Namibia (Shutterstock)

Join Jules Verne to trundle through Namibia by Private Train. Traverse 3,000km of epic: pass through the ancient Namib Desert, spy wildlife in Etosha National Park, climb colossal dunes at Sossusvlei, peer into Fish River Canyon and traverse South Africa’s Northern Cape and Karoo to reach the garden city of Pretoria.

Who: Jules Verne (020 3811 5962)

When: 28 May 2019; 26 May 2020

How long: 14 nights

How much: From £4,895 (incl flights)

5: Choose a classic Celtic chug in Scotland

Loch Carron (Brightwater Holidays)

Loch Carron (Brightwater Holidays)

Mix it up on Brightwater Holidays’ A Classic Scottish Steam Break. Ride the Jacobite steam loco from Fort William to Mallaig (crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct), take a paddle steamer across the Kyles of Bute and cruise the Trossachs’ Loch Katrine by steamship.

Who: Brightwater Holidays (01334 897348)

When: 23 August and 11 October 2018

How long: 4 days

How much: From £595 (excl flights)

6: Explore Iran in style

Mosque ceiling (Golden Eagle Luxury Trains)

Mosque ceiling (Golden Eagle Luxury Trains)

Access Iran’s finest sights on Golden Eagle Luxury Trains’ Heart of Persia trip. Visit the magnificent mosques, shrines and palaces of Tehran, Isfahan and Mashhad, head into the Shahdad Desert, explore ancient Yazd and the UNESCO-listed ruins of Persepolis, soak up the culture of Shiraz and ride a pilgrimage train through the Alborz Mountains.

Who: Golden Eagle Luxury Trains (0161 928 9410)

When: 8 October 2018, 30 March and 13 October 2019

How long: 14 days

How much: From £13,395 (excl flights)

7: Appreciate the Inca by rail in Peru

Machu Picchu (Audley)

Machu Picchu (Audley)

See a fine slice of South America in style on Audley’s Luxury Peru by Rail: Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca tour. As well as touring Lima, you’ll view the Sacred Valley from the Hiram Bingham train and head south aboard the opulent Belmond Andean Explorer.

Who: Audley (01993 838620)

When: Year round

How long: 12 days

How much: From £6,450 (incl flights)

8: Zip through Spain and Morocco

Marrakech market (Planet Rail)

Marrakech market (Planet Rail)

Go overland to Africa on Planet Rail’s Morocco’s Imperial Cities by First Class Rail and Ferry trip. After city breaks in Barcelona and Córdoba, you’ll cross to Morocco, utilising a new service – Africa’s speediest train – to maximise your time in fascinating cities like Tangier, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech.

Who: Planet Rail (01347 825292)

When: Year round

How long: 14 days

How much: From £1,495 (incl outbound rail and inbound flights)

9: Go from capital to coast by train in Norway

Explore Norway's countryside landscapes (Discover The World)

Explore Norway's countryside landscapes (Discover The World)

Go Over the Roof of Norway with Discover The World. Soak up the sites of capital Oslo before riding the Bergen Railway – considered one of the world’s most scenic train trips – to Myrdal. Disembark here for the dramatic switchbacks of the Flamsbana Corkscrew Railway, then explore the waterfalls, fjords, peaks and cafes of pretty Flam and Bergen.

Who: Discover The World (01737 886131)

When: August-November 2018

How long: 6 nights

How much: From £1,042 (incl flights)

10: Take a classic route through China and Russia

Ice train (Trans-Siberian Experience)

Ice train (Trans-Siberian Experience)

Embark on a continent-spanning odyssey on Trans-Siberian Experience’s Classic Snow Train via Ekaterinburg tour. From the grandeur of St Petersburg to the ice festival of Harbin in China, roll through the epic Ural Mountains, pause at the fine architecture of Moscow and delve into the military history of Ekaterinburg as well as winter activities like ice fishing and husky sledding. A trip worth toasting a shot of vodka to.

Who: Trans-Siberian Experience (0345 521 2910)

When: 29 December 2018; 5, 12, 19, 28 January and 2 February 2019

How long: 17 days

How much: From £2,080 (excl flights)

11: Ride the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada and USA

Explore Banff National Park by train (Rocky Mountaineer & Australian Pacific Touring)

Explore Banff National Park by train (Rocky Mountaineer & Australian Pacific Touring)

Board a classic route on Rocky Mountaineer’s and Australian Pacific Touring’s joint Rockies Explorer and Alaska tour. Spend two days on the iconic Rocky Mountaineer, slicing through the rugged Canadian Rockies and toothpaste-blue lakes. Tread the riverine forests of Banff NP, spy whales off Vancouver Island and cruise around Alaska by boat, pitstopping at the icy Glacier Bay NP and Misty Fjords National Monument.

Who: Rocky Mountaineer & Australian Pacific Touring (0800 0126683)

When: Selected dates April-September 2019

How long: 20 days

How much: From £7,845 (incl flights)

12: Embark on a safari from a new perspective in Zimbabwe

Spot wildlife wonders while on board (Expert Africa)

Spot wildlife wonders while on board (Expert Africa)

Arrive to one of Africa’s wildlife wonders by rail on Expert Africa’s Yellow Billed Hornbill Safari trip. Peer over the Batonka Gorge at the thundering Zambezi River below, before taking the overnight Stimela Star train, waking up on the fringes of Hwange NP. Spy lions, elephants and zebra from the Elephant Express tram car and spend the next few days tracking the park’s residents via game drive and on foot.

Who: Expert Africa (020 3405 6666)

When: Selected dates August-November 2018

How long: 8 nights

How much: From £2,677 (excl flights)

13: Traverse alpine Europe through Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland

Neuschwanstein Castle (Shutterstock)

Neuschwanstein Castle (Shutterstock)

Rumble through the best of the Alps on Arena Travel’s Alpine Rail Discovery tour. Wander the Austrian medieval city of Feldkirch before hopping over to Liechtenstein to wind through its forested peaks and the rock-clinging castle of capital Vaduz. In Switzerland, ford through the valleys and gorges of Grisons and take the epic Albula Line up to St Moritz, before ending among the fairytale landscapes of Bavaria, including its iconic castle, Neuschwanstein.

Who: Arena Travel (01858 438450)

When: 3 May 2019

How long: 5 nights

How much: From £1,049 (incl return train travel)

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