Somewhat greedily, the Swiss boast three world-class rail journeys: the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express and, most spectacular of all, the Jungfraubahn. Climbing to over 3,000 metres, the hourly train scoots up the north face of the Eiger before sliding across Mönch and scaling the Jungfrau to pull in at Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. Built in 1912, the line provides the most extraordinary views of the Alps you’ll ever see from a train window over the 50-minute journey. Jungfraujoch station is pretty special too – like something off the set of a science-fiction film.
• From £101 return from Kleine Scheidegg, discount cards available, sbb.ch
Dovey Junction to Pwllheli, Wales
From the lonely request stop at Dovey Junction, the Cambrian Coast line clings to the shore of Cardigan Bay so closely it is often damaged by sea storms. Chugging for the best part of 2½ hours along one of Britain’s most scenic railway lines, trains traverse the half-mile-long, 150-year-old Barmouth bridge, which spans the Mawddach river. They then pass lovely Portmeirion on the far side of the sandy Dwyryd estuary, and offer up choice views of Harlech and Criccieth castles.
• Explore Cambrian Coast rover, adult £12, child £6, family £21, arrivatrainswales.co.uk
Jasper to Vancouver, Canada
The pricey Rocky Mountaineer train is not the only way to cross the Canadian Rockies. Arguably the more satisfying option is to slide down to Vancouver from the ski resort of Jasper on The Canadian, the iconic train that rolls in across the plains from Toronto in far off Ontario, 20 hours away. As it squeezes its way through the mountains, passengers can gaze out from observation cars and stylish art deco-style lounges at moose, eagles and, if they’re lucky, the occasional bear.
• From £82 seat only or from £349 for a berth, viarail.ca
Windhoek to Swakopmund, Namibia
Since 1998 the weekly Desert Express has been ploughing its way across 220 miles of one of the harshest yet most captivating landscapes the planet has to offer. Leaving the capital, the train crosses huge sand dunes and seemingly limitless scrub on its way to Swakopmund, a beach resort full of old German architecture. You can either glide through this inhospitable environment on the luxurious Desert Express or choose a clear night and join the locals on the nocturnal Starline train.
• Desert Express cabins from £108pp sharing; Starline train from £5, namibweb.com
Chicago to San Francisco, USA
Since the California Zephyr is a daily service that powers all the way across the US from Chicago to Emeryville (San Francisco), taking in Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, several canyons in Colorado, the Rockies and California’s High Sierra among other attractions, it’s a wonder that it isn’t better known than it is. It takes a leisurely 52 hours to travel 2,437 miles so its passengers have plenty of time to watch the country unfold from the comfort of the train’s Sightseer Lounge and Café or a fancy cabin.
• Fares from £108 for a seat or from £385 for a cabin (roomette), amtrak.com
Kristinehamn to Gällivare, Sweden
The 800-mile Inlandsbanan forges up the spine of Sweden to enter Lapland, the domain of the nomadic Sami people, and pushes 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There are line-side reindeer and moose aplenty and you may even glimpse a bear, wolf, wolverine or lynx. Though the whole route is only open in summer (great for midnight sun enthusiasts) and requires some train hopping, a 14-day Inlandsbanan card allows exploration of the towns and villages along the way.
• Inlandsbanan card £182 plus £5 train seat reservation, inlandsbanan.se
Belgrade to Bar
The morning train to Montenegro passes graffiti-covered engines at Topčider that once hauled Marshall Tito’s private train, soon after leaving Belgrade. After a brief stop near the pretty monastery of Vrbnica, the train crosses the Montenegrin border and starts its ascent among some of the most spectacular Dinaric Alps peaks. The line winds along mountainsides over 1,000 metres above sea level before descending to Podgorica, crossing the causeway across pretty Skadar lake and reaching the glistening Adriatic at Bar. The cost of this heroic, 11-hour, 20-minute, 296-mile trip? £20. Though if there’s an offer on, you can do it for a tenner.
Cape Town to Johannesburg, South Africa
Table Mountain disappears behind the train and the shanty towns give way to the Cape vineyards at the start of this 956-mile, 26-hour trip. By the time lunch is served in the dining-car, the train has twisted through the Hex River Pass and is trundling sedately across the semi-desert of the great Karoo. After dinner, travellers can enjoy a glass or two in the lounge, then settle down for a night in a cosy private sleeper between fresh clean sheets. There’s plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before a late-morning arrival at Johannesburg’s Park Station. The luxurious and expensive Blue Train takes this route, but the weekly Premier Classe train makes the experience more affordable.
• From £190 including meals and a bed in a private room, premierclasse.co.za
Bangkok to the River Kwai, Thailand
One hundred baht – just over £2 – buys a third-class ticket on the twice-daily train from Bangkok to Nam Tok over the infamous death railway that once linked Burma with Siam. The cars are basic but comfortable, a welcome breeze wafts lazily through open windows, vendors amble up and down selling fruit and soft drinks – the fresh slices of pomelo are fabulous. Eighty-two miles and 2½ hours from Bangkok, the train calls at Kanchanaburi and soon afterwards heads slowly across the infamous bridge on the Kwai, hooting wildly and scattering tourists taking selfies on the bridge. The train goes along the peaceful river for several miles, hugging the cliffs above the river on the precarious but picturesque Wampo viaduct. There’s very little at Nam Tok – but sometimes the journey is the thing…
Alausi to Palmira, Ecuador
This 50-mile stretch of railway – a section of the 273-mile line between the coastal port of Guayaquil and the capital Quito – is something of a miracle. Engineers in the 19th century were faced with a climb of nearly 10,000ft and the small matter of scaling a mountain. Their solution: these astonishing zigzags carved out of the almost perpendicular cliffs of La Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose), a one-hour ascent that really gets the blood pumping (even though, sadly, riding on the train roof is no longer allowed).
• Train from Alausi from £25 including guidance and museum. The four-day Quito-Guayaquil tourist train from £1,170 (replacement bus for stretches currently) trenecuador.com
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