Travel the old-fashioned way for a front-row seat to the world’s most beautiful landscapes. All aboard!
The Ghan, Australia
World's Most Scenic Train Rides
The Ghan, Australia
This two-day transcontinental north-south line brings you from the bushlands and pasture surrounding Adelaide through the desert scrub and gum groves of the Clare Valley to the rust-colored Red Centre (home to Uluru rock), and on to the lush tropical zone of the Top End. The ride finishes in Darwin, the laid-back capital of Australia's Northern Territory.
Train Trivia: The name Ghan is an abbreviation of the railway’s former nickname, the Afghan Express, from the Afghan camel trains that trekked the same route in the 19th century.
Insider Tip: If it fits your budget, go Platinum Class. Gold is one-third cheaper, but Platinum seats come with private cabins and en suite bathrooms.
Technicolor greens, brilliant saris, ancient temples: these are my clearest memories of riding India’s South Eastern Railway many years ago. I still recall the rickshaws and rivers full of locals bathing, as the tropical landscape passed in a constant, captivating blur.
My vivid memories speak to the power and allure of train travel. After all, a railway itinerary allows travelers the opportunity to experience a destination in a way that’s just not possible from the air. Above the clouds, it’s hard to tell the difference between a Mexican canyon and a Norwegian fjord. From a train window, the passing vistas are completely distinct.
Sure enough, says Mark Smith, founder of the train travel website Seat 61, many travelers are frustrated with the airlines. “People want to cut their carbon footprint, and they want to avoid the hassle,” he says. “They’re looking for a more relaxing alternative.”
But let’s be clear: some train routes serve up more scenery than others—a lot more. The ride from Calcutta was mesmerizing, but India’s natural beauty shines in its northern mountains as well. There, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway takes riders on an eight-hour ride through jungle and tea gardens to the base of the Himalayas, all from a 19th-century steam locomotive.
Closer to home, the Rocky Mountaineer traverses the dramatic Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary. The two-day route passes the snowcapped peaks of the Coast Mountain range, the rushing Fraser River, and down over the Continental Divide to Banff National Park.
Best of all, even the most spectacular train ride offers riders something many travelers crave these days: authenticity. “A flight across Vietnam is an identical experience to a plane ride in India, Canada, or Australia,” says Smith. “But a train trip gives insight into the culture of a country. The journey becomes part of the experience.”