Sunset on a rail platform (Shutterstock.com. See main credit below)
Article Words : Wanderlust team | 14 August

The Wanderlust guide to the best of rail travel

In this hyper-connected world there is no reason travel should be super-fast too. Discover why the romance of rail still rules

There’s just something romantic about travel by train. The rhythmic swaying, the views from the window, the alluring departures boards. Deep down, we are trainspotters all. Here’s your guide to getting your travels back on the rails.

Traveller waiting for train in South East Asia (Shutterstock.com)Backpacker waiting for train (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration

Chances are, you’ve seen Ethan Hawke and Julie Delph in Before Sunrise. So we don’t need to sell you on why taking the train is such an awesome way to travel. Take into account your reduced carbon footprint and it immediately becomes a question of ‘where?’ rather than ‘why?’

To that end, the Wanderlust Team have put together a list of the world’s 10 greatest rail journeys. From the Glacier express in Switzerland to the Eastern & Oriental Express from Singapore to Chang Mai, we’ve got every option covered. 

All you’ve got to do is decide.

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10 great rail journeysWanderlust Team

Rail Journey recommendationsWanderlust Team

Russian train driver (Shutterstock.com)Russian Train driver (Shutterstock)

The Trans-Siberian

This is it. The big daddy. The most famous rail journey in the world.

The distances spanned are immense: almost 10,000km and a seven-and-a-half-day journey between Moscow and the Pacific port of Vladivostok (for boats to Japan and Korea); and about 8,000km and six days between Moscow and Beijing via Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.

Thankfully our experts are on hand to help you tackle this massive undertaking. Bryn Thomas has put together his ultimate guide to the ultimate rail journey. Anthony Lambert gives his advice on taking the Trans-Siberian. He also nominates the 10 stops you should make on the journey, while local Russian blogger, Anastasia Malyugina, nominates her favourite four.

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Trans-Siberian: A guide to the ultimate rail journey – Bryn Thomas

How to take on the Trans-Siberian – Anthony Lambert

10 stops on the Trans-Siberian – Bryn Thomas

4 stops you must make on the Trans Siberian Express – Anastasia Malyugina

Train through market, Thailand (Shutterstock.com)Train through market, Thailand (Shutterstock)

South East and Eastern Asia

Asia is home to some of the most iconic rail journeys on the planet, passing through a variety of cultures and scenery. Mark Stratton sings the praises of travellling from Thailand to Singapore by train, while Roger Norum suggests lingering a little longer on the rails in Malaysia. A visit to Japan wouldn't be complete without a quick trip on the legendary bullet train.

How about a trundle to the world's highest railway station? You'll find that in Asia too, in Tibet. As Suzy Bennett warns, though, it's not a journey without controversy.

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Travelling across Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore by train – Mark Stratton

The Great Eastern: Malaysia by train and ferry – Roger Norum

A quick guide to Japan’s Bullet TrainsWanderlust Team

Tibet's controversial Tanggula Pass: The view from on board – Suzy Bennett

The Ghan (Shutterstock.com)
The Old Ghan, Alice Springs (Shutterstock)

Australia

Australian train trips are all about scale – with the longest stretch of straight track in the world (a section of the epic Perth to Sydney journey), this is the place to be blown away by the wonder of nothing. Just bring a good book, a bottle of Aussie red and watch the world chug by.

Anthony Lambert explains how to travel this vast network with aplomb, while Paul Miles recounts his journey through the heartland of aboriginal Australia on the legendary Ghan.

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How to travel Australia by rail – Anthony Lambert

The great train corroboree – Paul Miles

Train to Jhansi (Shutterstock.com)Train to Jhansi (Shutterstock)

India

India is a rail traveller's delight, a chaotic jumble of rolling stock, gauges, scenery and humanity. A lot of humanity!

It's not for the faint-heated. Anthony Lambert has put together a list of the five most iconic Indian rail journeys, as well as a collection of 10 short-hop India rail journeys for those who just want to dip their toes in.

Finally, Nick Boulos recounts his journey on the Maharajas' Express. It is guaranteed to banish any doubts you may have and get you down to the booking office.

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India by rail – Anthony Lambert

5 Indian rail itineraries – Anthony Lambert

10 short-hop India rail journeys – Anthony Lambert

Exploring India on the Maharajas’ Express – Nick Boulos

Train travelling through the Swiss Alps (Shutterstock.com) Train travelling through Swiss Alps (Shutterstock)

Europe

In Europe the train is king – while old-school Orient Express glamour will cost a small fortune, you can still make the iconic trip across the continent to Istanbul on regular services (with stop-offs in Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade) for much less. Sarah Baxter tells you how.

There are a host of other great rail journeys on the continent too. Christopher Howse has been travelling around Spain by train for over 25 years and reveals the tricks to help you make the most of the country's extensive rail network.

Back in the UK, David Atkinson explains why the newly extended Welsh Highland Railway is a joy for train buffs and hikers alike.

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Europe by train: the alternative Orient Express – Sarah Baxter

Take on the trains in Spain without the pain – Christopher Howse

Riding the Welsh Highland Railway – David Atkinson

Railway line through the Rocky Mountains (Shutterstock.com)Railway line through the Rocky Mountains (Shutterstock)

The Americas

Rail travel is a delight in the Americas. In North America most locals prefer cars and planes, which leaves the terrific trains free for travellers. Clear-domed viewing carriages open up views of New Mexican desert, Californian coast and Louisiana bayou, with rail passes making these a great-value ride. The Wanderlust Team have pulled together the USA's best rail journeys while Martin Symington relives his great American rail trip.

Latin America, on the other hand, is the place for rail nostalgists, a land of iconic journeys like the Copper Canyon in Mexico and the Devil's Nose in Ecuador. Anthony Lambert lists them all in his roundup of the last great Latin rail journeys.

More information

The USA’s best rail journeys Wanderlust Team

The great American rail trip – Martin Symington

The last great Latin rail journeys – Anthony Lambert

A train journey through the Peruvian Andes – Suzy Bennett 

Sleeper carriage, India (Shutterstcok.com)Sleeper Class carriage, India (Shutterstock)

Advice

Travelling by rail places unique demands on travellers. From what kind of bag to take to the most useful kit, decisions you make before you head off can have a major impact on the comfort and enjoyment of your epic rail journey.

Thankfully, long distance rail traveller Matthew Woodward is on hand with hard won advice on the best luggage for rail travel as well as 10 must-have items. He also offers more specific advise on how to sleep well on sleeper trains (more difficult than you may think) and how to eat well on a Chinese train (easier than you may think.)

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What is the best luggage for rail travel – Matthew Woodward

10 must-have items for long distance train travellers – Matthew Woodward

How to sleep well on sleeper trains – Matthew Woodward

How to eat well on Chinese trains – Matthew Woodward

Guard on Trans-Siberian (Matthew Woodward) Guard on Trans-Siberian Express (Matthew Woodward)

Capturing it all on film

Your rail journey will present you with a kaleidoscope of stunning images. But how best to capture them? Matthew Woodward is a rail adventurer and photographer and has put together a list of 7 tips that will help you take better photos from trains and keep them secure. Would you have thought of taking a sponge or wet wipes to keep your window clean?

If it’s inspiration you’re after, look no further than the photos taken by our readers on their rail journeys. They are epic.

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How to take better photos from a train – Matthew Woodward

Readers' photos from rail journeys 

Train rattling past waterfall near Goa (Shutterstock.com)Train rattling past waterfall in Goa (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Rail Journeys Travel Guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by our Rail Journey Experiences page too for information on individual rail journeys. We’ve rounded up the latest news about rail travel too.

If you have a particular question about rail travel, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about rail travel. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Rail Journeys Travel GuideWanderlust Team

Rail Journey ExperiencesWanderlust Team

Latest travel news about rail journeys

Forum posts about rail journeys 

Trans Siberian in winter (Matthew Woodward)Trans-Siberian in winter (Matthew Woodward)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours from our partners. From luxury train journeys through South Africa to adventurous rail trips into the heart of India, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

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Our Trip Finder can help you find your next rail adventure

 

Main image: Railway station at sunset (Shutterstock.com)