The world's greatest rail journeys to take this year and next

·13-min read
Photo credit: Andrea Badrutt
Photo credit: Andrea Badrutt

A great rail journey is one of the most wonderful ways to travel and we've rounded up our favourite once-in-a-lifetime rail trips for you to plan right now.

GREAT RAIL JOURNEYS

From reducing your carbon footprint to exploring the world at a slower pace, there's nothing better than exploring the world by rail.

Whether in the UK or in Europe, the world is packed with incredible rail journeys for unforgettable escapes.

Taking you back in time on steam train rides, allowing you to soak up all the nature around from their panoramic windows or giving you a seasonal experience on an iconic train, these great rail journeys are like nothing else.

For travellers going solo, planning a romantic escape or a luxurious celebration with friends, they provide unrivalled views, nostalgia and glorious scenery.

From North Wales to Switzerland, you don't have to travel far to experience great rail journeys, but for those who are after a far-flung adventure, Canada and Japan tick the right boxes.

Browse and book the world's 16 greatest rail journeys for 2022 and 2023.

1. Mont Blanc Express, France and Switzerland

Hop on board the Mont Blanc Express and you’ll witness magical landscapes as you travel from Gervais-les-Bains to beautiful Chamonix on one of the world's most scenic mountain rail lines. This great rail journey will take you through the magical Trient Valley, with its rocky outcroppings, forests and wild gorges.

The Mont Blanc Express has connected Martigny in Switzerland to Chamonix in France for more than a century and it’s a wonderful way to travel between picturesque alpine villages.

Photo credit: Switzerland Tourism/Francois Perraudin
Photo credit: Switzerland Tourism/Francois Perraudin

The train travels along the Montenvers rack railway, which climbs to 1,913 metres through forests, tunnels and over viaducts before opening up to a stunning panoramic view of the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France.

Try it: Country Living’s six-day tour of Mont Blanc and Lake Annecy includes a ride on the Mont Blanc Express from St Gervais to Chamonix, with departures from May to October 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

2. Snaefell Mountain Railway, Isle of Man

The unique little Snaefell Mountain Railway is a Victorian train that’s been treating passengers to glorious views since 1895. This electric mountain railway is only five miles long but will take you up to over 2,000 feet above sea level, from where you might be able to spot England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on a cloudless day. The railway runs along a steep valley, and you can spot plenty of interesting landmarks from the carriage windows.

Photo credit: Rosemary Calvert
Photo credit: Rosemary Calvert

One highlight is the Lady Isabella Wheel, the largest working waterwheel in the world and one of the most important Manx monuments. Jump on board one of the five delightful wooden carriages and enjoy this wonderfully nostalgic railway journey. It’s one of the best ways to enjoy the idyllic landscapes of the Isle of Man.

Try it: Country Living’s five-day tour of the Isle of Man includes a trip on the charming Snaefell Mountain Railway, as well as an hour-long ride on the Isle of Man Steam Railway, with departures in October 2022 and 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

3. Bernina Express, Switzerland

This spectacular train runs from Chur and St Moritz, taking you along the east of the tiny country on a fabulous four-hour rail journey. The Bernina Express takes in 55 tunnels, 196 bridges and three of Switzerland's four language regions (Italian, Romansh and German).

Photo credit: Andrea Badrutt
Photo credit: Andrea Badrutt

You can expect 90 miles of stupendous Alpine scenery gliding past you on one of Europe's great rail journeys. With its panoramic windows, you won't want to put your camera down for a moment. A highlight is the UNESCO-protected Landwasser Viaduct, which is straight out of a Harry Potter film.

Try it: You can ride the impressive Bernina Express during Country Living's exclusive eight-day holiday in October 2022 and May, October and December 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

4. Snowdon Mountain Railway, Wales

When it comes to terrific views in Britain, you won't find a better rail journey than Wales' Snowdon Mountain Railway. Offering you a ride up the mighty Mount Snowdon, this great rail journey is known for its top-notch scenes. It lifts passengers 1,085 metres up above sea level for a relaxing ride up the highest mountain in England and Wales.

Photo credit: Snowdon Mountain Railway
Photo credit: Snowdon Mountain Railway

As you depart from Llanberis, you'll pass over Victorian viaducts, the Afon Hwch River and past the Ceunant Mawr Waterfall. Look out for the remains of stone cottages that were once home to farming families, wildlife like the peregrine falcon and goats, plus a view all the way over to Ireland on a clear day.

Try it: Country Living's five-day rail journey in North Wales takes in Snowdonia, the hidden gardens of Plas Cadnant and more, with departures in April and October 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

5. Bure Valley Railway, England

As Norfolk's longest narrow gauge steam railway, the Bure Valley Railway runs between market town Aylsham and lively Broads town Wroxham. Running for nine miles, it treats passengers to gorgeous Bure Valley countryside and stops in lovely villages. You'll enjoy the stop at Aylsham Station, where there's a cafe, souvenir and model railway shop.

At Wroxham Station, there's a second-hand bookshop with over 5,000 books to browse. One of the best things about this great rail journey is that it's perfect for combining with a cruise on the delightful Norfolk Broads, where you can spot pretty windmills and take in the nature all around.

Try it: Ride the Bure Valley Railway during Country Living's exclusive five-day trip to Norfolk with legendary cook Delia Smith. You'll also enjoy a Norfolk Broads cruise and enjoy a full day food workshop with Delia, with departures in October and November 2022 and April and May 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

Alternatively, take in the views from the Bure Valley Railway during a Norfolk tour with historian Lucy Worsley in May, July or September 2023, when you'll visit Sandringham with Lucy, too.

FIND OUT MORE

6. Centovalli Railway, Italy

Fans of the Italian lakes and Alpine Switzerland should check out the Centovalli Railway, which offers an unforgettable Italian rail experience. It's been taking passengers to some of Italy's loveliest towns since 1923, taking only two hours to travel from Italy to Switzerland.

Photo credit: Federica Grassi - Getty Images
Photo credit: Federica Grassi - Getty Images

A scenic rail journey through wild, romantic countryside, it was named after the so-called hundred valleys it passes through, where you'll spot chestnut woods, grape vines and lush waterfalls along the way. The specially-designed windows allow you to take in the breathtaking scenery and you'll love exploring the picturesque towns and villages, including Domodossola, home to a UNESCO-protected Baroque calvary, and Druogno, a great spot for walking and cycling.

HOTELS NEAR DOMODOSSOLA

7. British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England

Take a step back in time on the supremely elegant British Pullman, A Belmond Train, which has been beautifully restored with decadent 1920s interiors. Each sumptuous carriage has its own special story to tell. There’s Audrey, which has carried the Queen, the Queen Mother and Prince Phillip; Cygnus, which featured in the film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman; and Perseus, which formed part of Winston Churchill’s funeral train.

Photo credit: Belmond
Photo credit: Belmond

The British Pullman takes you on a memorable trip around the country, with a number of different journeys available. You could ride to Hastings, for a quintessential British beach day, or Bristol Harbour to see the SS Great Britain, once the largest ship in the world.

Try it: Enjoy a day trip from London to Bath on the elegant British Pullman this December for a Christmas market break. You’ll enjoy champagne, brunch and a four-course meal as you travel on the train.

FIND OUT MORE

8. Achensee Cog Railway, Austria

This 128-year-old railway is still steam-operated and provides one of the finest ways to experience Austrian Tyrol. Giving you some adventure and inspiration, it travels from Jenbach to the jaw-droppingly beautiful Achensee Lake. You'll ride a locomotive named after the likes of Hannah, Georg and Hermann as you experience Europe's oldest coal-fired steam engine.

Photo credit: YOSHIHIRO TAKADA/a.collectionRF - Getty Images
Photo credit: YOSHIHIRO TAKADA/a.collectionRF - Getty Images

You can expect to pass flower-strewn meadows and pinewood forests and you'll feel nostalgic as you smell the coal being shovelled into the furnace to power the engine. While this great rail journey is just seven kilometres in length, it climbs a whopping 440 vertical metres from start to finish. Once you've experienced the rail journey, you may wish to spend time relaxing with a boat ride across Lake Achensee.

PLACES TO STAY IN ACHENSEE

9. Jacobite Steam Train, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands' Jacobite steam train has always given us proof that you don't have to travel far for one of the world's greatest rail journeys. Featuring in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express, this magnificent train ride is one that surprises and delights passengers.

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Starting near Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis, the 84-mile round trip is one for taking in the incredible wild beauty of Scotland. You'l pass over the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, just like Harry Potter, and stop in Mallaig (a great spot for fish and chips). On a clear day, you may even spot the isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and the southern tip of Skye during this fantastic train experience.

Try it: Experience the Jacobite during Country Living's exclusive four-day Scottish steam adventure in June or July 2023. You'll also sail into the Falkirk Wheel and enjoy a Loch Katrine cruise.

FIND OUT MORE

10. Glacier Express, Switzerland

Another fine choice for a great rail journey in Switzerland and easily accessible from the UK if you decide on a flight-free trip, the Glacier Express is as magical as they come. Opt for a winter ride to take in Switzerland's winter wonderlands, with snow-covered forests and majestic peaks included.

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

It's known as the world's slowest express train as it's an eight-hour experience and travels over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels. The highlights include climbing the Oberalp Pass at 2,033 metres and feasting on a three-course meal as the snowy scenes pass you by.

Try it: A four-day winter break in March and October 2023 with Country Living Holidays includes a ride on the Glacier Express, a visit to capital city Bern and a cruise on Lake Thun.

FIND OUT MORE

11. Mid-Norfolk Railway, England

A beautiful heritage railway that takes you through the heart of Norfolk, the Mid-Norfolk Railway offers a true way to step back in time. You can experience a period ticket office at Dereham, see displays of railway artefacts and enjoy the beauty of the county at Wymondham, with the Abbey Church and River Tiffey located nearby.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway, which runs between Dereham and Wymondham, offers wonderful views of the countryside, with wildflowers, deer and fishing lakes to spot. Be sure to take time to explore the stations at Yaxham, Thuxton, Hardingham and Kimberley, which retain original features.

PLACES TO STAY IN DEREHAM

12. Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

Established in 1832, the Ffestiniog Railway takes you on a 13 and a half mile journey from Porthmadog's harbour to slate-quarrying town Blaenau Ffestiniog. The rail ride takes just over an hour, with the trains climbing over 700 feet above sea level. As you'd imagine, the views are heavenly and take in some of the best Welsh countryside.

It takes you into the mountains, through spectacular forests and past crashing waterfalls. The highlights include the round horseshoe bends on the side of a mountain. It's one of Wales' best experiences and a must-do if you're planning a trip in the north of the country.

PLACES TO STAY IN PORTHMADOG

13. Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

For a luxurious ride that takes in amazing wildlife and views to die for, you'll want to venture to Canada and experience the Rocky Mountaineer train. This a great rail journey for nature lovers and ensures you take it all in with the panoramic windows making you feel up close to the wilderness.

Photo credit: Rocky Mountaineer
Photo credit: Rocky Mountaineer

There are dining areas, staff who will talk to you about the outside scenes and keep an eye out for any bears to spot in the area. You'll want to bring your camera on this trip as black bears, grizzlies, ospreys, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, elk and even cougars could be spotted as you travel at a relaxed 35 mph.

Try it: Country Living's exclusive nine-day Rocky Mountaineer adventure departs in September 2022.

FIND OUT MORE

14. Poppy Line, England

The North Norfolk Railway, or the Poppy Line as it is also known, is one of the greatest heritage railways Britain has to offer. This great rail journey takes you on a breathtakingly scenic ride from Sheringham along the coast to Weybourne and through the beautiful heathland to Holt.

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Lovingly run by volunteers, the train takes you back in time on a nostalgic ride, where you can sit back and enjoy the relaxing experience. It visits three Victorian stations, including Sheringham Station, where you'll want to check out the 1950s' waiting room and restored signal box.

Try it: Country Living's rail break includes a ride on the Poppy Line, as well as the chance to meet acclaimed historian Lucy Worsley at the Queen's estate Sandringham, with departures in May, July and September 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

15. Dartmouth Steam Railway, England

One of the finest steam train trips in England, the Dartmouth Steam Railway from Paignton runs for seven miles along the scenic Torbay coast to Goodrington Sands, Churston and into the Dart Valley and on to Kingswear, which sits opposite the pretty Port of Dartmouth.

Photo credit: steved_np3 - Getty Images
Photo credit: steved_np3 - Getty Images

From the heritage railway, you can expect to take in magnificent views right across Lyme Bay to Portland Bill on clear days.

Try it: Country Living has a five-day Somerset and Devon rail tour, with departures in September 2022.

FIND OUT MORE

16. Brocken Railway, Germany

We can't think of a better way to experience Germany's fairytale scenery than on a great rail journey on the Brocken Railway. Together with the Harz Railway and Selke Valley Railway, it's part of the railway network that travels to the beautiful Harz Mountains.

Photo credit: ezypix - Getty Images
Photo credit: ezypix - Getty Images

The steam train hauls visitors to the summit of Brocken, the highest peak in the mountain range. Once you reach the top, you're rewarded with breathtaking views of the mountains. Departing Drei Annen Hohne station, the train climbs for around 50 minutes, taking you past pretty meadows and pine forests for a nature-packed ride before you arrive at Brocken station.

HOTELS NEAR DREI ANNEN HOHNE

17. Little Yellow Train, France

The delightfully quirky Little Yellow Train has been running for more than a century over the peaks of the eastern Pyrenees. It’s a true emblem of the region and is renowned as one of the most scenic train routes in Europe. The great rail journey carries visitors in its wooden carriages as it winds its way along the Little Yellow Train route between Villefranche-de-Conflent and Latour-de-Carol, allowing you to absorb the local Catalan charm

Photo credit: Leonid Andronov - Getty Images
Photo credit: Leonid Andronov - Getty Images

You’ll enjoy spectacular views of the mountainous scenery as the train winds upwards passing through dozens of short tunnels, and over bridges and small viaducts.

Try it: You can explore the Pyrenees with Country Living, on a wonderful eight-day tour that includes a day’s adventure on board the Little Yellow Train, with departures from April to September 2023.

FIND OUT MORE

You Might Also Like