At its best, train travel has that wonderful combination of nostalgia and refinement found in no other mode of transportation. Pair that with epic scenery along the world’s most stunning rail routes, and the fantasy trip of a lifetime is just a train ticket away. Which brings up another plus: Trains are one of the most economical ways to go, especially when you factor in comfort, accommodations and dining choices. There are varying levels of ticketing, of course, so you can choose how plush your ride on the rails ends up being. And on three of the planet’s most iconic rail lines, detailed below, what really matters is what’s outside the windows — and there really isn’t a bad seat onboard.
Glacier Express, Swiss Alps
Holding your breath at high elevation isn’t advisable. However, with stunning scenes around every bend, you might catch yourself waiting with bated breath for what’s next along the Glacier Express route. Rolling between sophisticated St. Moritz to the tiny ski town of Zermatt high in the Alps, you reach the highest point on the trip at Oberalppass, some 7,000 feet above sea level. Another highlight among all the jaw-dropping vistas is passing over the Rhine Gorge, known as the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland.” In order to span chasms between cliffs, engineers designed the towering arches of viaduct rail bridges, carrying trains and passengers at spine-tingling heights. One stunningly designed bridge, the Landwasser viaduct, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In places, the tracks disappear into tunnels bored into mountain sides, then pop back into the daylight for up-close views of the Matterhorn and other peaks.
Belmond Hiram Bingham Orient-Express, Cusco to Machu Picchu, Peru
Steeped in style and mystique, the Orient Express Belmond Hiram Bingham is a luxury train that harks back to the early, romantic days of rail travel. From the dark wood- and brass-appointed bar in the lounge car to plush leather club chairs, riders enjoy breathtaking views of sheer mountains while seated in the lap of luxury. Even before departure, guests are treated in high style with a welcome reception at check-in that features indigenous live music and dance as well as toasts with quinoa punch and Pisco cocktails. Your welcome gift is a handsome Belmond Hiram Bingham travel bag. Once onboard, you’ll chug steeply up through the spectacular scenery of the Andes Mountains on the way to the ruins of Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca citadel of amazingly engineered stone terraces. Lunch and gourmet dinner is included, as are all drinks (with the exception of select wines). Passengers in this class also receive bus service to and from Machu Picchu and the train station in addition to entry tickets to view the site during a two-and-a-half hour tour with a professional guide. The Belmond Hiram Bingham operates day return trips from Poroy station outside Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the station for Machu Picchu.
Tickets may be booked through Perurail.com.
Rocky Mountaineer, Banff to Seattle
Rolling through stands of evergreens beneath snow-capped peaks and past Puget Sound waterways, scenery on the Rocky Mountaineer is stunning to say the least. Rocky Mountaineer, a Canadian rail-tour company, operates trains on four routes through British Columbia, Alberta and Washington State. Combining the line’s “First Passage to the West” and “Coastal Passage” routes, this extended rail excursion chugs along for three days of all-daylight travel through the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian Rockies. Instead of missing scenery while sleeping, your train stops in Kamloops and Vancouver, British Columbia, for overnight hotel stays. Set out the next morning with a luxurious breakfast onboard, then relax as views of peaks, pines and water shift throughout the journey to Seattle.