5 Unforgettable Rail Journeys to Add to Your Bucket List

5 Unforgettable Rail Journeys to Add to Your Bucket List

If you love travel as much as I do, then you might agree with me that sometimes, the journey can be just as enjoyable as the destination. Because of this, I absolutely love rail travel – from the ordinary to the extraordinary. On top of that, train travel is considered more environmentally responsible than any other form of travel, especially when you’re covering relatively short distances like in Europe. Here are five of my favourite rail journeys that I believe are worthy of a place on everyone’s bucket list.


The Ghan

One of the worlds most iconic rail journeys is right in our own back yard. For over 90 years this route has been transporting passengers across the harsh and beautiful Australian interior. Originally you could only go from Adelaide to Alice Springs, but today you can travel all the way though to Darwin in relaxed comfort. The fiery colours of the outback landscape and wide-open spaces are definitely a highlight, but the off-train experiences and the friendly and sociable atmosphere on board are what makes this journey shine.

The Northbound journey will have you in Darwin after two nights, and includes great food and wine, attentive service and some interesting off-train excursions, but it’s the Southbound three-night itinerary known as “The Ghan Expedition” that really makes this route shine. The extra time means more immersive off-train experiences, including dinner and dancing under the outback night sky, and an unforgettable underground experience in Coober Pedy.

As The Ghan is a sleeper train, so you have a choice of cabin types which will determine the cost of your journey. The main cabin types are the Gold Single cabins (a great cost-effective option), Gold Twin (your own ensuite, but twin bunk beds, and Platinum Service cabins with twin or double beds, elevated product offerings and a dedicated Platinum Club car for dining and socialising.

The popularity of The Ghan means it sells out well in advance – which popular dates being snapped up a year in advance. To get the best deals, register your interest well in advance with me, and I’ll let you know as soon as the fares are released for the next season – that means you’ll get your choice of dates at the advance booking rates, which are substantially cheaper. Also, don’t discount the solo cabins – you’ll enjoy a lower price, and even though it’s a shared bathroom- it’s a full-size bathroom, kept spotless and you don’t spend much time in your cabin.


The Rocky Mountaineer

While this train company offers four different rail routes, the one I’d recommend for your bucket list experience is their “First Passage to the West” – an incredible scenic journey through the Canadian Rockies between Vancouver and Lake Louise or Banff. Soaring peaks, waterfalls, glacier-blue lakes and rushing rivers will keep you spellbound through two days of picture-postcard scenery. Added to that your on-board hosts provide a commentary of sights, history and anecdotes that will keep you entertained from morning to night. Even the most reserved passenger will leave the train with great memories and new friends.

The Rocky Mountaineer in Canada provides two distinct levels of service – SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf. Luckily the incredible scenery is the same no matter which class you choose to travel in. The Rocky Mountaineer does not operate through the winter months.

SilverLeaf carriages are single-story with massive picture windows that also curve over your head to allow you to view the high peaks. There’s no dining area, so meals and drinks are served at your seat. You have plenty of space, and seats are wide and comfortable with ample legroom.

GoldLeaf carriages are double story, with a glass-domed seating area upstairs providing incredible views, and a comfortable dining room downstairs where you’ll enjoy the delicious food that the train is famous for. With an elevated offering of drinks and superior dining, plus the famous glass-domed carriages and open-air viewing platform, you’re going to love everything about the journey. GoldLeaf passengers also enjoy an upgraded level of accommodation during their overnight stop in Kamloops

GoldLeaf is the preferred choice for most, but if you’re on a budget, I guarantee that you’ll have an unforgettable experience in SilverLeaf. I’ve done both, loved both and I’d do either class again!


The Jacobite Steam Train

Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, you would have seen images of this famous Scottish train crossing the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct in a magazine or on tv. Running from April to October the historic train runs between Fort William and Mallaig.

Train enthusiasts and history buffs will enjoy riding one of the UK’s last steam trains, and everyone else will enjoy the atmosphere and stunning Scottish scenery. Enroute you’ll pass by Britain’s tallest mountain range and deepest saltwater loch. You’ll enjoy the rolling and rugged Scottish countryside, the verdant yellows, greens and soft purple of heather. The one-way journey takes just under two hours to complete, and if you’re doing the return journey, you’ll get to spend around two hours in the town of Mallaig.

If you’re really looking at enjoying the scenery and the rail trips in Scotland, TravelMarvel does a great tour focusing on the country’s scenic railways journeys, called “Edinburgh, the Highlands and Islands”. If you mention this blog to me, you will receive $100 off per person.


The Glacier Express

In, a country as picturesque as Switzerland you will want to find the most scenic rail journey to take it all in. Whilst the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express both offer stunning scenic routes, the Glacier Express is the more famous, and travels between two extremely popular destinations – Zermatt and St. Moritz. It’s a slow journey to carry the name ‘Express’ taking just under eight hours to cover the 290km route, but that’s time you’ll spend being mesmerised by the scenery.

Although the journey runs all year round, I’d pick the summer season for views of chocolate-box villages, green hills and snow-capped peaks. The train offers 2nd class, 1st class and Excellence class carriages, and seat reservations are essential – even if you’re on a Swiss Rail Pass. All carriages offer big picture windows as well as a sloping window overhead to take in the tops of the highest peaks.  You can purchase food or drink onboard or take your own on with you.

Aside from the incredible views, this famous train route will astound for the sheer scale of the engineering required to build this rail network through the mountains. You’ll enjoy numerous bridges and tunnels on your journey and be left wondering how on earth they accomplished building the route over 100 years ago.


Rovos Rail

Stepping aboard this luxurious private South African train and you’re immediately transported back in time to a simpler and more elegant era. Rovos rail enjoys a worldwide reputation for providing impeccable service, top cuisine, and fine wines in sumptuous surroundings. The company offers a wide range of journeys all throughout Southern Africa, but their 4-night itinerary to Victoria Falls is by far my favourite.

From the private Rovos Rail station in Pretoria, near Johannesburg, you will head North crossing the Tropic of Capricorn and then the Limpopo River before journeying through Zimbabwe. You’ll discover bushmen paintings and learn about the cultural history and wildlife of the region as you head to Hwange National Park. Keep a look out for zebra and impala from the elegant lounge car and spot the big 5 on a game drive in Hwange National Park. Your journey ends in at the incredible Victoria Falls, and you will cross the arched Victoria Falls bridge for some of the best photos you’ll ever get of Second Gorge.

Rovos Rail offers three distinct classes – Royal, Deluxe and Pullman. All three classes offer heritage cabins with wood panelling and brass fittings, and ensuite facilities. The lead-in pullman suites are excellent value for money, whilst still enjoying great service and all-inclusive drinks and meals. The Deluxe suites are a good balance of price and space, with large cabins by rail standards. The royal suites take it to the next level with a full-size ensuite including a Victorian bath and private lounge area. These suites are huge, with only two per carriage.

If you want to be treated like a glamorous movie-star and travel through the stunning African landscape, then this is the journey for you. Boasting a long, proud tradition of fine service and some of the best food and wine from the region, it is an experience that will stay with you forever.

Ruan Ross
Based in Burrum heads, QLD
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