10 Charming Small Towns Around the World You Can Visit by Train

From riding the Jungfrau Railway to Grindelwald, Switzerland, to taking the Jose Cuervo Express to Tequila, Mexico.

Switzerland, Grisons, Railroad, Arosa in background
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There's something about the soft rocking of the cars, the world inching by, and the low hum of an engine that all come together to make train travel the most romantic mode of transport. Sure, your daily commuter may not have this same allure, but a train pulling out of a small town depot will absolutely do the trick. Here are 10 small towns around the world that make for ideal destinations for your next whimsical trip down the tracks.

Talkeetna, Alaska

Shops in Talkeetna, Alaska
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Take a three-hour train ride from Anchorage with Alaska Railroad to Talkeetna, a down-home hamlet (population: 1,200) that's the base camp for Denali National Park, the site of the highest peak in North America, Denali, which touches the sky at 20,320 feet. The downtown area is a National Historic Site, with buildings dating back to the early 1900s, including Nagley's General Store, the Talkeetna Roadhouse, and the Fairview Inn.

Shop for made-in-Alaska products from local craftspeople, then check into the Sheldon Chalet, a luxury lodge in Denali National Park that's one of the best places to see the Northern Lights.

Grindelwald, Switzerland

Grindelwald Village By Bernese Oberland Against Sky At Swiss Alps
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Accessible by rail via Jungfrau Railway, the stop in Grindelwald Terminal is just a stone's throw away from the inviting town of the same name. Home to the Jungfraujoch, the highest point in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first natural heritage site of the Alpine region), expect scenic views in every direction.

To soak up some of that cinematic beauty, head 45 minutes from the terminal to Eiger Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps where snow falls year-round and where you'll find 360-degree views of France, Germany, and Italy, thanks to Jungfrau Railway's new Eiger Express tricable gondola. Or, simply mountain bike or hike to nearby waterfalls and alpine lakes with the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains serving as backdrops. Post up amid the hallowed mountain air at Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof, Bergwelt Grindelwald, or Hotel Belvedere.

Arosa, Switzerland

Aerial view of the Arosa ski resort in the Swiss alps in spring
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For another Swiss getaway, take the Arosa Line 3,000 feet in altitude and 16 miles from the valley town of Chur to Arosa, a village of 2,267 residents. Tucked away in the Swiss Alps, the beautiful ride on the Rhaetian Railway takes about an hour and delights travelers with the scenery of the Schanfigg mountain landscape and the Langwieser viaduct high above the river Plessur. When you arrive at the Arosa train station, you'll be in the center of town and within walking distance of several hotels.

Stay at the Tschuggen Grand Hotel (about a five-minute drive or 20-minute walk from the train station), which has a gorgeous spa and four restaurants. The hotel also comes with access to the Tschuggen Express, a cable car reserved only for guest use.

Imatra, Finland

Imatra, Finland, People near Center Hotel Imatra
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Hop aboard and make your way to Imatra, a welcoming outpost of 27,000 inhabitants in Southeastern Finland, about 160 miles from Helsinki. Take one of the five daily InterCity highspeed trains from Helsinki Central Railway Station to Imatra Central Railway Station, which takes about two and a half hours and treats you to views of glistening lakes and verdant forests along the way. In Imatra, you'll find an oasis ripe for adventure lovers with hiking trails that start within the town limits.

Indoor types also have plenty to do with museums like the Culture House Virta and the Imatra Modern Art Museum and architectural marvels like the Church of the Three Crosses by architect Alvaro Aalto and Imatran Valtionhotelli, a hotel built in 1903 that resembles a medieval castle.

Kashima City, Saga, Japan

Yutoku Inari Shrine in Kashima city,Saga prefecture,Japan
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With an estimated population of 27,915, Kashima City is famous for sake breweries and the 2021 opening of Hama Bar, Japan's first sake bar on a railway platform, which opened at Hizenhama Station. The nearest big city is Saga-City. To get to Kashima City, take a 40-minute ride on a regular train on the Nagasaki Line.

From Hizen-Hama Station, it's a six-minute stroll to Hizen Hamashuku, home to some of the best sake breweries around. Keep the sake theme in full swing and reserve a stay at Onyado Fukuchio, an upscale inn run by sake brewery Nabeshima. While walking the streets of the Hizen Hamashuku area, get a caffeine boost at Glad Coffee or a spirits boost at Hizen-ya, which peddles sake, shochu, and Japanese gin.

Lindau, Germany

Lindau, Lake Constance, Germany
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Located in the southwest of Bavaria in the Lake Constance Region (a.k.a. the "Bodensee") sits the postcard-worthy town of Lindau. The old Bavarian village has fewer than 3,000 residents, with greater Lindau home to around 25,000 people. Its stop, the Lindau Reutin Station, is about three hours from Munich or Zurich by rail or car.

The real draw on Lindau island is its relaxation factor, whether you appreciate the view from New Lighthouse, a five-story lighthouse overlooking tranquil Lake Constance, or enjoy a day of boating on the water. Oenophiles can also savor some stellar tipples since the climate is well suited for vineyards. Try a private tasting at Teresa Deufel, though you can't go wrong with visiting any of the small winery bars around the lake, either. Rejuvenate at the Therme Lindau spa, and slink into the luxurious embrace of Hotel Bayerischer Hof, a five-star hotel on the shoreline.

Yemassee, South Carolina

Old Sheldon Church Ruins, Yemassee, South Carolina
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Yemassee, a town of about 1,000 people, has a lot of draws. To get here, take an Amtrak ride from Charleston and head out for activities like scouting out the Forrest Gump filming location to seeing the Old Sheldon Church Ruins in town.

When your stomach growls, head to Fletcher Finds for hits like potato salad, fried flounder, and milkshakes. We're also fans of Carolina Cider Company for a refreshing vintage soda, cider, hot boiled peanuts, a chocolate chip cookie, or all of the above. When it's time to count sheep, stay in the elegant bed and breakfast, The Inn at Cotton Hall, or Cuthbert House Inn, a waterfront mansion in nearby Beaufort.

Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

Tequila Town in Jalisco State Mexico
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How's an all-you-can-drink Tequila train sound? If you're nodding yes, it's time to embark on a journey to Tequila, a town of roughly 31,000, via the Jose Cuervo Express, which operates every other Saturday, departing at 9 a.m. from Guadalajara, zooming through the UNESCO World Heritage blue agave fields. Opt for Jose Cuervo Express' Elite Wagon with an open bar and huge windows to enhance the journey. In Tequila, you can participate in a jimador exhibition (an agave farmer illustrating an agave harvest), visit Centro Cultural Juan Beckmann Gallardo and Jose Cuervo's La Rojeña distillery, and have a tequila tasting, natch.

For an overnight, check into Casa Salles, a 25-room boutique hotel with a pool next to the La Guarreña distillery. Or, try the Hotel Solar de las Animas, which comes complete with a sky bar, pool, and views of the nearby volcano.

Ouchi-juku, Tohoku, Japan

Ouchijuku Historical Japanese Village in Autumn Light Up at Sunset
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Make your way to Ouchi-juku via Yunokami Onsen Station. It's a bit of a trek, but the juice is worth the squeeze on this destination.

From Tokyo, take the train to Koriyama Station and transfer to the Banetsu West Line to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. Then, transfer to the Aizu Railway to Yunokami Onsen Station. Ouchi-juku is about 10 minutes away by taxi or bus. To up the fun factor in transit, travelers can combine the bullet train and Fruitea Fukushima, one of the Joyful trains operated by Japan Rain East that serves tea and fruit desserts made by local chefs.

Ouchi-juku feels like an untouched historical gem as the isolated village's thatched-roof houses on its main street have been impeccably preserved. The town is ripe with history, has a shrine to a Heian-era prince, a snow festival in February, the Hange Mid-Summer Festival in July, and the Townscape Exhibition Hall so travelers can learn more about Japan's Edo period. Bring your appetite, too, as Ouchi-juku is renowned for its handmade soba noodles. Book your stay at the Ashinomaki Prince Hotel, about four miles from town, or Kutsurogijuku Chiyotaki, about 12 miles from town, both of which have hot spring baths on site.

Sandpoint, Idaho

Main street through the picturesque rural town of Sandpoint, Idaho
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Idaho has only one Amtrak station, and Sandpoint — population: 9,621 — is it. FYI: The closest city is Spokane, Washington, which is about an hour and five minutes away via rail. When you exit the train, you're smack in the middle of town, which is brimming with artsy energy and plenty of stellar restaurants like The Fat Pig, Second Avenue Pizza, and Trinity at City Beach.

The quaint town is perched on Idaho's largest lake, the 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, and is surrounded by three major mountain ranges — the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Bitterroot ranges — so pack your hiking boots and swimsuit. (There's even a mountain bike trail that starts directly in town.) After chartering a private yacht for an afternoon charcuterie cruise with Great Northern Nautical, stay at the waterfront Lodge at Sandpoint or check into the newly opened boutique Humbird Hotel at nearby Schweitzer Resort, which overlooks Sandpoint. Before your getaway draws to a close, raise a glass of Huckleberry Cream Ale, abundant with notes of the state fruit, at Laughing Dog Brewing.

Perri Ormont Blumberg is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. She's based in New York City, but is always dreaming of the Catskill mountains. Follow her on Twitter @66PerriStreet.

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