No one likes to rush a good view, so what better way to experience the world’s best scenery than from the seat of a train? Released from a driver’s responsibilities you are free to gaze out of the window as the train ambles along. Embrace slow travel and take in the jaw-dropping views on these global journeys.
Scotland’s West Highland Line
The West Highland Line links Glasgow to Oban and Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands. Its most famous feature is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which you might recognize as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. But if you take a trip yourself on this magical ride, expect to look out at acres of moorland blanketed in purple heather and a seemingly endless backdrop of hills. Break up your trip to spend more time at some of the landmarks along the way, such as Loch Lomond and the Falls of Cruachan to make even more of the scenery.
The Adirondack from New York City to Montreal
Amtrak’s Adirondack service connects the Big Apple to the largest city in Canada's Québec province, trundling through the pretty Hudson Valley and skirting Lake Champlain. If you love gazing at fall foliage, autumn colors will wow you as the train enters the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains. If you find your way on this journey at another time of year, there are plenty of year-round opportunities for sightseeing such as Locust Grove Estate in Poughkeepsie, the former home of Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, and Fort Ticonderoga, an 18th century fort built by the French.
Tren a las Nubes, Argentina
In English, the Tren a las Nubes translates to “train to the clouds,” and this century-old Argentinian line is indeed heavenly. This heritage railway is one of the highest in the world, steadily gaining altitude as it puts the historic city of Salta behind it. When you board this train, you’ll zigzag back and forth as you climb into the Andean highlands, known locally as the puna. Along the way, you’ll be treated to the sight of the Quebrada de Toro, a colorful rocky gorge. This arid landscape is littered with cacti. The highlight of the trip comes as the train crosses the viaduct at La Polvorilla, which sits at an altitude of almost 14,000 feet above sea level.
The Bernina Express, Switzerland
The Bernina Express is so impressive it’s been recognized by UNESCO, scoring a place on its World Heritage list. You’ll soon see why this route is considered one of the finest in Switzerland as the train passes through the Domleschg region, which boasts a higher density of castles than anywhere else in the country. Nature’s just as much a show-off, adding drama with the twin lakes of Lej Nair and Morteratsch Glacier to spot. Even the railway itself demands attention: if you ride in the rear car, enjoy the sight of the engine crossing the Landwasser Viaduct. Meanwhile, everyone on board will be spellbound as the train spirals down the corkscrew Brusio Viaduct close to the Italian border.
Coastal Pacific, New Zealand
The Coastal Pacific is aptly named: the tracks hug the shore of New Zealand’s South Island as the train travels between Picton and Christchurch. Your ticket unlocks some of the country’s most jaw-dropping scenery, passing rugged coastlines lined with vast swathes of pristine white sand and miles of New Zealand’s most productive vineyards. As you near Kaikoura, look out for marine life such as seals and seagulls. It’s worth making a stop at this picturesque seaside town for a boat trip to spot sperm whales, humpbacks, orcas, and dolphins close up.
TAZARA, Tanzania to Zambia
Adventurous travelers are drawn to the TAZARA line, a Chinese-built railway which connects Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian coast with the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi. This long distance service bumps and lurches through grassy plains which give way to tree-lined mountain slopes. Now and then, you’ll be able to stop at bustling markets, with little regard for timetables and missed appointments; this is a train that frequently runs late, though no one seems to mind. For a while when you’re en route, you’ll traverse Selous Game Reserve, where you can spot elephants, buffalo, hippopotamus, and zebras as this train rolls slowly by.
Oslo to Bergen, Norway
Threading its way through some of the most breathtaking countryside in Norway, this train links the capital of Oslo to the historic port city of Bergen. The Bergensbanen was constructed in 1909 and takes around seven hours to reach its destination. For journeys starting in Oslo, after Ål, the line starts to climb and you’ll pass some of Norway’s premier ski destinations such as Gol, Geilo and Voss. Other highlights are the spectacular scenery of Hallingskarvet National Park, Hardangerjøkulen glacier, and Finse, the training ground for those planning expeditions to Antarctica. You can spot wildlife such as Arctic foxes and reindeer from the train, or hop off at Myrdal to ride the Flåmsbana (Flåm Railway) — another scenic treat.
Sagano Romantic Train, Japan
The Sagano Romantic Train carries tourists on one of Japan’s most scenic rail journeys, proving beautiful things come in small packages — the entire line is less than five miles long. The tracks follow the pretty Hozukyo Ravine, a delight no matter what time of year you visit. Look out at trees resplendent with cherry blossoms in spring; in summer, the view is lush and green. Come fall, leaves turn to rich russets and crimsons on the maples and acers which line the track, and by winter you’ll see a dusting of snow, making this a magical place. The Sagano Romantic Train is easily reached from Kyoto, making this a popular excursion for visitors to the area.
The Nariz del Diablo, Ecuador
The Nariz del Diablo is one of the most dramatic sections of railway anywhere in the world. The ride begins in Alausi, but to reach Sibambe it must navigate the sheer rock face of Cóndor Puñuna, nicknamed the Devil’s Nose. Over a century ago, workers carved out a series of long switchbacks from the rock which enabled the train to ascend or descend over 1,600 feet during the eight mile journey. It was an impressive feat of engineering, matched only by the beauty of the valley itself. In years past, travelers used to ride on the roof of the train to capitalize on those astonishing views. Modern health and safety concerns mean that’s no longer permitted, but you can still relish the opportunity to experience this extraordinary journey from the comfort of your seats.
Vietnam’s Train Street, Hanoi
Hanoi’s Train Street offers jaw-dropping views of a different kind. The famous Reunification Express squeezes through a busy city street lined with homes, shops, and cafes. While on board, you are treated to the sight of Vietnam in its essence as the train makes its way along this crowded urban space in the heart of the Old Quarter. Residents grab washing off the line and drag bicycles off the tracks for safe keeping as the loco signals its approach. And since the authorities cracked down on pedestrian sightseeing, the best way to witness this chaotic spectacle is from the train itself.
Main image by Franco Bix/Shutterstock.