Tickets Please: The World's Most Beautiful Rail Journeys

Sick to death of the screaming kids and stale farts of budget airlines but still terrified by the idea of 18 hour bus trips? Welcome to the peaceful, relaxing reality of the world's greatest train journeys.
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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe

Popularlyknown as the Orient Express, this privately owned, rolling palace is the standard against which all luxury train journeys are measured. An icon of Art Deco design, to step aboard this elegant creature of supreme comfort is to step back in time to a more elegant and refined age. During the London to Venice journey enjoy the comfort of luxury Pullman carriages, banquets for every meal and the kind of service normally reserved for heads of State. Don’t forget to dress for dinner.

The Royal Scotsman, Scotland

Perhaps the world’s most exclusive train journey, the Scotsman carries only 36 passengers at a time in 16 twin and four single, mahogany clad, Edwardian berths. Part luxury travel, part gentleman’s club the train’s observation carriage is all about cosy sofas and invigorating drams as you pass through pine clad mountains and still, eerie lochs. Then, as night falls, the train pulls into a siding to give you the most restful night’s sleep you’ll ever get on rails.

Coast Starlight, USA

Perhaps the most scenic of all train routes, the Coast Starlight links Seattle to Los Angeles, travelling along the Pacific Coastline in the shadow of the snow capped Cascade Mountains and across the San Francisco Bay. As a bonus there is also a daily tasting of local wines from the regions you travel through.

Great South Pacific Express, Australia

Riding Australia’s eastern seaboard from Sydney to Cairns, the Great South Pacific Express is known as the Antipodean Orient Express. Up to 20 carriages long and comprising en suite sleeping carriages, restaurant cars and an open air observation deck, the service is personal with a steward in every carriage. The trip’s highlight however is a helicopter-lift day trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

To combat the altitude, the train supplements thinning oxygen levels with gas pumped into the carriages, as well as offering personal cylinders for those feeling light headed.

Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Voted among National Geographic’s ‘Journey’s of a Lifetime’, the Rocky Mountaineer twists and turns its way through some of Canada’s most dramatic landscapes. Taking in Banff’s glacial peaks and the awesome Hells Gate gorge, this journey reveals nature at its very best. However, the man-made Spiral Tunnels, cut through the Canadian Rockies in the 1900s, are among the most impressive feats of engineering of the 20th century.

GlacierExpress, Switzerland

This ‘express’ train takes a mere eight hours to cover the 180 mile (290 km) journey from Zermatt to St Moritz, which isn’t bad when you consider this trip requires climbs of some 5000 ft (1524 metres) as well as 291 bridge crossings (including both the Rhine and Rhone), 91 tunnels and finally a traversing of the 6,700 foot high (2042 metres) Oberlap Pass. It is also probably the most relaxing journey you will ever take.

Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Crossing seven time zones on its 6000 mile (9656 km) journey from Asia, across Russia into Europe, the Trans-Siberian takes eight whole days and nights to complete its now iconic journey. Those in the know book one of the ex-Politburo carriages which come equipped with two bedrooms, a private sitting room and dedicated chef.

Copper Canyon Railway, Mexico

While perhaps lacking some of the luxury of other routes on this list, the Chihuahua al Pacífico, or Chepe, is an engineering marvel that took almost 90 years to complete. Opened, finally, in 1961 the line covers 390 miles (628 km) from the desert of Chihuahua to the Pacific Ocean, over 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels in some of Mexico’s most rugged terrain. Find a seat on the right hand side of this train and enjoy the ride.

291 bridge crossings, 91 tunnels and finally a traversing of the 6,700 foot high Oberlap Pass. It is probably the most relaxing journey you will ever take.

The Hiram Bingham, Peru

It takes four days to hike up to the ruins at Machu Picchu – or you could take Peru’s most luxury train and enjoy five star service all the way to the summit. Named after the American explorer who discovered the lost Inca city in 1911, the Hiram Bingham leaves Cusco in the early morning, provides you with a guide to the lost city for the afternoon and then returns you to modern civilisation with cocktails and a four course meal in the evening.

Sky Train, Tibet/China

A journey to the roof of the world, the Beijing express to Lhasa in Tibet takes two days, with 80% of the journey taking place at elevations above 13,000 feet (3962 metres). To combat the altitude, the train supplements thinning oxygen levels with gas pumped into the carriages, as well as offering personal cylinders for those feeling light headed. The engineering obsession of every Chinese leader since Mao, the line finally opened in 2006.

Palace on Wheels, India

A trip back in time to the days of the Raj this seven day train journey includes an elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari near Jaisalmer and an afternoon at the Taj Mahal in Agra. A heady mix of Rajasthani textiles and aromatic curries (with continental options for the more timid) this is certainly one of the top ten train journeys of the world.

Blue Train, South Africa

Carrying a staff of 27 for just 84 passengers, including a personal butler on call 24 hours a day, on the Blue Train you need never be alone - unless you want to be. Taking luxury service to new heights, the classic Pretoria to Cape Town route serves up moon rises over the Karoo desert and the majesty of Table Top mountain, all accompanied by the finest wines the region has to offer.

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