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Our round-up of the best of the best:

Last updated: 02 March, 2023

Even if the words ‘steam locomotive’ or ‘narrow-gauge’ don’t stoke your fires, there are some train rides in the world that should be on everyone’s travel bucket.

Be it jaw-dropping scenery, a rich historical significance, the tradition and atmosphere of the train itself – or a combination of all three – here’s our round-up of the world’s best.

Table of Contents

British Pullman

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Steeped in the glamour of rail travel’s golden age, the vintage British Pullman train harks back to the roaring 1920s, with wood-panelled lounge cars, retro upholstery and liveried waiters serving Champagne and canapés. Steaming out of London, it operates a variety of themed tours, visiting bucket list British cities and attractions.

Best for ages: 18+ | £350 | 4+ hours

Bullet Train


Reaching speeds of up to 320 km/h, Japan’s iconic bullet train revolutionised high speed train travel when it first launched in 1964, only eclipsed in 2002 by new maglev trains. For locals, it’s a fast, convenient and safe means to travel between Japan’s major cities, including Kyoto and Tokyo. For everyone else, it’s a must do.

Best for ages: 4+ | £90 | 2+ hours

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Circumetnea Railway

Taormina, Sicily, Italy

It’s old, bumpy and slow, but the Circumetnea – built in 1867 – is still one of the great train rides of Europe. The antique narrow-gauge trains are charming and the scenery is spectacular as the train circles the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna.

Best for ages: 6+ | £7 | 3 hours

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Corsica Railway

Corsica, France

This scenic narrow-gauge railway traverses the dramatic river gorges and chestnut forests of Corsica’s beautiful interior, via 32 tunnels, 51 bridges and Gustave Eiffel’s spectacular viaduct. The line links Bastia on the east coast with the west coast town of Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon, whose one-time home is open to visitors.

Best for ages: 6+ | £19 | 2.5 hours

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Death Railway

Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand, Thailand

Built during the Japanese occupation of Thailand in World War II, and made famous by the eponymous 1957 movie Bridge on the River Kwai – the Burma-Siam train track saw more than 100.000 prisoners of war and civilian laborers lose their lives due to hunger and exhaustion, making it one of the deadliest construction projects in modern history (hence the name). From Bangkok.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Desert Express

Windhoek, Khomas Region, Namibia

A low-key luxury train offering a wonderful 22-hour overnight scenic journey between Windhoek and Swakopmund. Soak up panoramic views of Namibia‘s vast bushveld, wide open farmlands and golden coastal dunes near the coast – and take a safari en route.

Best for ages: 4+ | £200 | 22 hours

Ffestiniog Railway

Snowdonia National Park, Wales, United Kingdom (UK)

This vintage narrow-gauge train, world-famous for its engineering, was originally constructed in 1836 to transport slate from the mountain mines to the port. Snaking past lakes, waterfalls and forests in the Snowdonia National Park, it climbs 700 feet into the mountains on its 13.5-mile journey.

Best for ages: 4+ | £25 | 1-3 hours

Flam Railway

Flam, Western Norway, Norway

Ascending 867m from the edge of a Norwegian fjord, the 1:18 gradient of this cog railway is one of the steepest train ascents in the world. The 50-minute journey from Flam to the mountain-top village of Myrdal meanders through two dozen twisting tunnels and switchbacks on its spectacular journey.

Best for ages: 6+ | £42 | 2.5 hours

Glacier Express

Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

Europe’s most popular tourist train passes through an astonishing variety of landscapes: snow-covered peaks that dwarf the train, desolate moors above Andermatt, the limestone cliffs of the Rhine gorge, and the breathtaking climb to the Albula Pass.

Best for ages: 6+ | £140 | 7.5 hours

Gornergrat Railway

Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

A spectacular journey by cog railway from the ski resort of Zermatt to Gornergrat, site of a former observatory at an altitude of 3,089m. Opened in 1898, this is one of the highest cog railways in the world with fabulous views of the iconic Matterhorn peak and the Gorner Glacier.

Best for ages: 4+ | £100 | 2 hours

Hiram Bingham Line

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

This luxurious narrow-gauge train navigates the Peruvian rainforest to the foot of the spectacular Machu Picchu ruins. Managed by Orient-Express, the train is the epitome of luxury: learn how to make pisco sours in the lounge car to the strain of live Peruvian music before arriving at the Inca mountain citadel.

Best for ages: 18+ | £550 | 3 hours

Jacobite Railway

Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

One of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys – an 84-mile round trip from Fort William to the little fishing village of Mallaig along the west coast of Scotland. Spectacular highlands scenery all the way.

Best for ages: 4+ | £90 | 6 hours

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Kalka-Shimla Railway

Kalka, Haryana, India

One of the great hill railways of India, this narrow-gauge line climbs 1,219m on its 96km journey to Shimla, which served as the summer capital of the British Raj. The twisting journey offers incredible views of the Himalayan foothills. As Shimla nears, the scent of pines fills the air.

Best for ages: 6+ | £5 | 4.5 hours

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Lake Maggiore Express

Lake Maggiore, Lombardy, Italy

The Lake Maggiore Express is a great way to drink in the beautiful scenery of the lake and surrounding Alpine valleys. The route hugs the western shore of the lake before meeting the scenic narrow-gauge line to Locarno in Switzerland. Catch the steamer back down the lake for the return journey.

Best for ages: 6+ | £32 | 1 day

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway

Ravenglass, Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

First opened in 1875, this seven-mile line from Ravenglass to Dalegarth takes in some of the most dramatic and picturesque countryside in the Lake District. Four locomotives – one of which is the oldest in the world – chug along the route up to the high point at Miterdale, for spectacular views of the Scafell range.

Best for ages: 4+ | £12 | 40 minutes

Royal Livingstone Express

Livingstone, Southern Province, Zambia

Crossing Victoria Falls’ famous bridge, this historic steam train runs through the Zambian bush, enabling passengers to relive the glamour of colonial train travel. Along the way, the locomotive chuffs through the game-rich Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and across the Sinde River, while a five-course dinner is served.

Best for ages: 13+ | £150 | 4 hours

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The Presidential

Porto, Norte, Portugal

Portugal’s only current tourist train uses 19th-century historic vehicles of exceptional quality to transport passengers through the Douro Valley Cultural Landscape – a World Heritage Site – for a gastronomic lunch and port and wine tasting at a family-owned private estate.

Best for ages: 18+ | £475 | 10 hours

Train des Pignes

Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Get above the Cote d’Azur on the picturesque, human-scale, and wonderfully scenic Train des Pignes, which ascends 1,000m above Nice on its way to the lavender-growing town of Digne-les-Bains (151km away). It’s a spectacular route and a great day out: kids love it too.

Best for ages: 4+ | £22 | 1 day


South Island, New Zealand

A superb 5-hour (one-way) coast-to-coast train journey that takes you through New Zealand’s ‘Great Divide’, the spine of mountains running down the centre of the South Island. Glass-sided carriages showcase spectacular views of gorges and rainforests, lush plains and mountain passes.

Best for ages: 4+ | £100 | 5 hours

West Highland Line

Fort William, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

The line from Glasgow to Fort William and on to Mallaig is rightly regarded as one of the world’s great railway journeys. From the moment the train leaves Glasgow, it is a scenic delight, taking in some of the Scottish Highlands‘ best scenery including Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Best for ages: 6+ | £15 | 4-5 hours