With the pause of many flights around the world as a result of the pandemic, there has never been a better time to rethink air travel. Pre-pandemic, the aviation industry contributed more than 2.4% of global carbon emissions. With short-haul, domestic flights being the biggest perpetrators, due to the intense emissions released during take-off and landing. The emissions produced per kilometre on a short, domestic route are thought to be approximately 70% higher than those on long haul flights.
This is why we are big fans of train travel, which is a much more sustainable travel alternative to flying and reduces carbon emission by over six times that of a short flight. France has recently banned short domestic flights where the journey could be taken by train in under two and a half hours, in an attempt to reduce transport emissions.
Train travel is undoubtedly a more eco-friendly transport option than flying or driving, but it is so much more than that. Travelling by train is not just a method of transport to get to a destination. The journey itself can be the biggest drawcard. Trains allow you to enjoy the views along the way, becoming more intimately familiar with your destination, and enjoying some pretty epic scenery.
Whether you’re jumping on a quick intercity trip or traversing across a continent, boarding the first-class cabin, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals, there is a train journey out there for you! We have rounded up some of the world’s best train journeys, to inspire your future rail travels.
The European Union has even declared 2021 as the European Year of Rail, to highlight this sustainable option of travel across the region. Train travel is a popular choice of transport in Europe, and the continent is well-connected by train.
If you’re looking for luxury, trains don’t come more romantic and iconic than the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Realise all your Agatha Christie fantasies travelling on various routes throughout Europe with Belmond. You can also experience the Scottish Highlands on the Royal Scotsman and historic England on the British Pullman, all with Belmond’s highest levels of service, comfort and amenities.
A grand suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (image via Belmond)
If you want to traverse Europe by rail on a more affordable price tag, self-guided high-speed trains are plentiful. Eurail offers handy rail passes that can be used to travel to over 40,000 destinations across 33 European countries. Travel at your own pace, with one easy pass giving access to trains all over the continent.
Crossing the English Channel from London to Paris by train in the world’s longest underwater tunnel is an experience for any traveller. Taking just two hours and 16 minutes, a trip on the Eurostar is included in some of the available Eurail passes.
It is possible to cross the world’s largest country, Russia, by train on the Trans-Siberian Rail. National Geographic Expeditions offer this iconic journey, across one-third of the world! Starting in the east of the country at Vladivostok, the 16-day journey ends in the capital of Moscow in the west of Russia.
Rovos Rail, based in South Africa, is considered the most luxurious train in the world. Offering journeys from 48 hours to 16 days, the train travels to some of Africa’s most iconic destinations, such as South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.
Rovos Rail train travelling through South Africa (image via Rovos Rail)
Alternatively, The Blue Train traverses the 1,600 km between Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa. The two-night journey is done in style, with guests choosing between a deluxe or luxury suite across the 19 carriages.
You can travel from Singapore to Bangkok, or vice versa, in luxury on Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express. The train offers guests a luxury, authentic cultural experience across Southeast Asia, featuring oriental design, and exotic local cuisines onboard.
India is synonymous with train travel, with 63,000 km of rail routes and 6,800 stations. The passenger rail network in India is the third biggest in the world after Russia and China. Indian Railways manages the public passenger network throughout the country, and is one of the biggest employers in the world, with over 1.4 million staff.
For a more luxury train experience in India, The Maharajas’ Express offers four different routes to 12 popular destinations around the country, such as Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur, Mumbai and Agra.
Travel across the Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaide, or vice versa, on The Ghan. No longer just a transit between these two cities, included in the journey is fine dining, private cabins and a range of off-train experiences in stops such as Manguri, Alice Springs and Katherine.
If you prefer to go east to west, not north to south, the Indian Pacific travels from Sydney to Perth, via Adelaide on a 4,352 km crossing. The train is named for the two oceans it visits on its trans-continental journey across Australia. Throughout the trip, you will experience Australia’s wide variety of landscapes, from mountain ranges, to arid deserts and rocky valleys.
These rail journeys can be booked via Journey Beyond Rail.
The Ghan travelling through the Australian outback (image via Journey Beyond Rail)
The beauty of the Canadian Rockies is best admired from a glass-dome carriage onboard the renowned Rocky Mountaineer. Offering three different routes from Vancouver to various stops in the Rocky Mountains, guests can experience Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Whistler by rail. If you’re lucky, you can spot grizzly bears, elk, black bears and eagles from the comfort of the train. The Rocky Mountaineer is not a sleeper train, so you don’t need to worry about missing any of the views overnight. Included in all journeys is overnight accommodation in towns along the routes.
The Rocky Mountaineer travelling through the Canadian Rockies (image via Rocky Mountaineer)
Travelling within, and between, states in the USA is easy and eco-friendly with Amtrak trains. Like with many other train journeys, it’s not just about the destination and many of the routes around the US are world-famous. The Coast Starlight is a particularly scenic route, running along the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. The train passes through forest, valleys and the Pacific Ocean coastline on the 35 hour journey.
Although lesser known, Mexico’s Copper Canyon is larger than the Grand Canyon. And you can experience the beauty of this canyon in northwestern Mexico by train! The Copper Canyon train journey starts on the Pacific Coast at Los Mochis, and travels 650 km through the Sierra Madre mountains to the city of Chihuahua. Stopping at 13 stations along the way, the track passes over 37 bridges, and 86 tunnels. And at one point, the tracks make a full 180 degree turn while descending down 30 metres inside the canyon walls! This journey is an engineering feat and offers beautiful scenery of the Mexican countryside.
The Copper Canyon train crossing one of 37 bridges (image via Copper Canyon)
Be transported to Machu Picchu, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, by train with Belmond. The Hiram Bingham, named after the explorer who rediscovered the ancient Incan city, travels from Cusco to Machu Picchu in one day, allowing visitors to explore the ancient wonder before returning to Cusco.
For an overnight train experience in Peru, Belmond’s Andean Explorer visits some of the country’s most iconic destinations, including Cusco, Lake Titicaca and the white city of Arequipa, with a backdrop of the spectacular Andes Mountains.
The Andean Exploring traversing Peru (image via Belmond)
If you’re captivated by a rail journey, The Sustainable Traveller can assist with planning train travel all over the world. We can help with booking train tickets, organising accommodation and tours off the train, and onward travel when you conclude your rail journey. Get in touch with our journey advisors today to start planning your rail adventure.