Got wanderlust? These train trips are not going to help. Trains are the new-old hot way of taking in a new country — which isn't news to any person who's picked up a Eurail pass to country-hop in Europe. But you may not have known that you can get a train through, oh, I don't know, the Canadian Rockies, or Darjeeling tea plantations, or game parks in South Africa. Or how about the middle of Mongolia? Venice? Have I piqued your interest yet?
Trains are often a great option for the cash-strapped, time-rich young traveller (though some of these luxury experiences might not actually be cheaper than an airline ticket, and would probably frown on backpacker attire). You get a "tour" of a huge swathe of your chosen route simply by sitting snugly by a window, with a route guide in hand. They're also perfect for lovers of the romantic vintage experience of train travel, who can spend hours scenery go by. (If you need constant action and excitement, long train journeys ain't for you.)
So, what kind of route should you pick? Depends on what you want to see, how much you want to stop, and how many — or how few — creature comforts you need. Some of these are stripped-down beauties, others are so ridiculously opulent Leonardo DiCaprio probably uses them for weekend breaks. Either way, all nine are going to blow your travel-loving mind.
1. The Trans-Siberian Railway
This is the biggie, very popular with 18-25 year olds who want to see two of the biggest destinations in the world — Moscow and Beijing — in one trip. The Trans-Siberian Railway is an astonishing, weeks-long trip through the huge plains of Russia, the steppes of Mongolia, and rolling rural China (you can catch it both ways), with frequent opportunities to disembark and spend time in remote parts of the world you'd never be able to access by plane. It goes slow — there are often days between stops and the facilities are sparse — but what you see out the window is likely going to make you feel like a serious old-school adventurer.
2. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
The name is a giveaway: the Simplon-Orient-Express line is a luxury throwback to the days of seriously decadent train travel that Agatha Christie rendered with so much love (and murder); with dining cars, beautiful 1930s-style cabins and personal stewards. The most popular journey is from London to Venice via Paris, and you're practically expected to dress up, put on red lipstick, and trade bon mots in the bar. Yes, of course there's a bar.
3. The Bergen Line, Norway
Norway's Bergen Line goes through the sort of scenery that may actually make you break your camera from trying to capture it all. It goes between Oslo and Bergen, essentially over Norway's center (its highest point hits 4270ft above sea level), passing lakes, abysses, and sprawling forests. It's so pretty you are almost guaranteed natural-beauty exhaustion. "Oh, another gorgeous glacier vista? I'm going for a nap."
4. The India Pacific, Australia
As an Aussie, I mostly know the India Pacific because it runs a special "Christmas train" every festive season to bring Santa and presents to remote rural Australian communities. (I mean seriously remote. Unpopulated-spaces-the-size-of-Texas remote.) But the rest of the year, it's a pretty spectacular journey in its own right; the name refers to the two oceans it connects, from Sydney on Australia's east to Perth on the west coast. It covers a whopping 4352 km of burning desert, rainforest and coast. And yes, you will almost definitely see kangaroos.
5. The Darjeeling Himalaya Line
If you saw Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson's tale of three feuding brothers with serious emotional problems riding through India, and came away thinking the scenery was glorious, you perhaps missed the point of the film, but you're correct — and you can take that train journey for real. (Sort of, and hopefully without the need for therapy afterward.) Anderson's train was loosely based on the Darjeeling Himalaya Line, a world-famous steam train line opened in 1881 to link tea plantations. It's a World Heritage site, and gives sprawling views of West Bengal landscapes — though you'll probably be more excited by the tooting of the horn.
6. The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Canada does everything well, so why not trains? (Smug bastards.) The Rocky Mountaineer train line is pretty baller, though. It heads straight through the Canadian Rockies during daylight hours over a variety of routes, including the famous "First Passage To The West," from Vancouver to Calgary. It's a wildlife bonanza, apparently — think bears and eagles — though the railway (hilariously) has to make a disclaimer on the website that they don't actually arrange animal appearances and that wildlife turns up when it damn well wants to.
7. The Californian Zephyr Superliner
The Californian Zephyr is actually the U.S.'s longest train journey, and has been since it opened back in 1949. It runs from Chicago to San Francisco and back again, crossing basically every major American sightseeing must-see off the list on the way. Rocky Mountains? Check. Sierra Nevadas? Sure. You know a route is particularly bonkers-beautiful when a train has a sightseeing lounge with 360-degree revolving seats so you can capture every possible vantage point on that vista. Or just spin around like Austin Powers. Your choice.
8. The Hiram Bingham, Peru
The Hiram Bingham is the emperor's real new groove. (Sorry.) It runs from Cuzco to the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru, in a designer luxury set of carriages meant to evoke 1920s Art Deco style. Because what else says llamas and ancient civilisations like Art Deco, right? The train itself, in case you were wondering, is named after the explorer who "rediscovered" Machu Picchu after it had been hidden away for centuries in happy obscurity. It's a one-day trip, and is so fancy that a travel bag is provided for all your day-trip needs. Best buy a cuter toothbrush.
9. The Pride Of Africa
The Pride Of Africa is most definitely a colonial throwback, but if you can get over having English tea and scones in a library while hurtling through a vast African desert, you're going to do fine. There are lots of epic train travel possibilities in Africa, but the Pride Of Africa is basically a guided tour: it can take you through the South African game parks, to Table Mountain, up to Victoria Falls, through Cape Town, basically anywhere. It's mega-posh, though, so save this one up for when you're old, doddery, and want somebody to hand you binoculars and point out the lions.